Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search


So… the title of this post is a real botch job, don’t hate me. I was combining the word karma into the word samskara. The terms are very different and yet intimately related. Karma, in its most dummied down translation, is “action” and samskara, in like form, means impression – a subtle impression that is carried with us. Have you ever reacted in a certain way and almost felt you had no choice? That was probably the influence of some kind of impression / samskara. Obviously, something like that would influence your actions (reactions) and so you can see the two are a closely knitted pair.

The Heartfulness path (aka Sahaj Marg) deals heavily with both of these concepts, although quite extensively with samskaras. The “magic” of this path and our practice is that the samskaras are “scrubbed” away through the diligent employment of our practice.

Recently, through a couple Daily Reflections delivered into my inbox, I received a nice lesson. Everyone thinks about karma and samskara in regard to thing you have done or might do. But our guru, Kamlesh D. Patel, helps us understand that there’s another side of the coin: Inaction. I guess this might mean those could’as, would’as, and should’as. The things you didn’t do or say that you should have or really needed to (not for your benefit but for the benefit of others). Many times when people speak of regret they speak of something they wish they’d said or done or somewhere they’d gone. Sometimes this feeling of regret really sticks to a person – like a subtle impression. And obviously, the application of all this is not limited to regret. After all, we’re talking about very subtle components of life. Many people wander through life practically oblivious to really blatant and mundane things, so it’s no wonder at all to consider that these impressions formed from inaction wouldn’t necessarily be on one’s radar.

In the second edition of Designing Destiny (2015), Shri Kamlesh-bhai said of inaction, “It is not only our actions that promote samskaras. Our inactions can create lethal samskaras that are worse than those created by our actions.” In the same chapter of that book, he also states, “Samskaras created by inactions, deliberate inactions, amount to the heaviest of the samskaras in our system. They can be removed, no doubt, but then a commitment of very high order is required. Your cooperation at every level is required.”

I think these quotes communicate some very serious and helpful information. Kamlesh-bhai uses the word lethal. That’s a heavy word. Means deadly, right? Without further research I won’t guess at what Kamlesh-bhai fully meant in the usage of that word, but from where I sit I see a connection to the usage of that word within the context of samskaras. For as long as we carry these impressions / samskaras, we’ll be saddled with karma. And as long as either applies to our existence, our existence will be tied directly to the wheel of samsara – which is the cycle of death and rebirth. Because death is not the opposite of life, but rather the opposite of birth, Kamlesh-bhai’s use of “lethal” seems to point directly to that connection between death and rebirth.

There are a number of things to take from our guru-ji’s words but this one implication – inaction being lethal – is really enough to give everyone pause and serious consideration to why you sometimes don’t do the things you don’t do.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti


Dance. Now.


Have you ever noticed patterns in life? I mean, we can see patterns in every leaf of a tree, in the structure of hair, in snowflakes. Whether it looks intentional like in the buildings humans build, or something seemingly accidental or natural or whatever – we see it everywhere we look. You can find meaning in things like that, or not – either way it’s literally unavoidable. Life is entirely structured. With that in mind, I often notice (and wonder about) patterns in my own life.

They say when it rains, it pours. I really think sometimes life makes a stronger effort to say, “PLEASE look at what I’m showing you. PLEASE understand this lesson!”

All within the last two weeks a good friend’s good friend passed away, a coworker’s father received a pretty grim cancer diagnosis, and I celebrated the death anniversary of my maternal grandfather. WHOA. On a less grim note, during about the same period of time I entered a new phase of my employment (additional responsibilities), I made the choice to reconnect with a path I once thought held very little compatibility with me, and my beloved has reached another annual birth milestone. Life has been giving me a message. Are you able to decipher it?

The structure of life evident everywhere – even in things that seem like coincidence – is something I recognize as Shiva’s Tandava – the dance of creation. It makes me smile, mostly. It used to scare me, but that’s no longer true. There’s something below the surface of that dance, though – something people might not be aware of. Creation is an active process. By its very essence, it requires change: What wasn’t, now is – or is becoming. It’s that easy whether you like it or not. And because energy truly is neither created nor destroyed, we’re left with one basic truth: Everything is made from what came before it.

The implication of that truth is something most struggle with. You see, in order for something to be created from material / energy that came before, recycling of that same “stuff” must occur. You can’t have an aluminum can, make something from that aluminum can, and still retain your aluminum can. The can must necessarily cease to exist if something else, something new (something better?), is to come from it. This change, which is really just the creation process (seeing this primarily as a destructive process is indicative of things most people don’t like to admit to), is something that should be celebrated – as tough as that can be at times.

Naturally, this applies to the human life and the human body. We know our bodies are made from dead stars. It’s literally true and not just about the human body. Star bodies ceased to exist through the course of their own nature and we later were formed from their recycled “stuff.” It follows, naturally, that the same should happen to our own bodies. And we weep.

Most people aren’t a fan of change, and almost no one likes death. It’s one of the very few things in our existence that we apparently have no choice in. Either way, whatever you attribute it to – no one likes losing someone to this part of the dance of creation.

As overused as it might sound, whenever someone “leaves” we should celebrate. As tough as that invariably is for most of us it’s true. Overused or not, it’s true. The same should be said about change in general.

And how do humans often celebrate? By dancing! There’s a strange and sweet kind of parallel to be seen here. The exact same way that the dance of life and creation intermixes with what we perceive as destruction of what we hold dear, when that “destruction” occurs we should recognize this Tandava and similarly allow the Shiv-amsha within to dance, too.

For a number of years – three in a row, as a matter of fact – my family lost loved ones. School and work are shifting for me right now. Religious and spiritual adjustments are happening also. A lot of this gives me pause. Some of it, I’m not yet convinced I like. But I know one thing is true: Dancing is beautiful. And dancing right now, with The All, is about as wonderful as it gets.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

The Mandala of Mandela

Taken from Google Image search

Taken from Google Image search

Every once in a while someone comes along and, whether in a subtle way or blatantly, things change. And then they leave.

I’m not one who’s very in touch with world events – at least, not usually until things are done and over. But I am often familiar with the feel of people, even if I’ve never met them. Sometimes, in life’s hustle and bustle, souls pass each other and seem to hardly connect and other times you hardly have to look at someone and you can connect with them, or “feel” them and in that way you can know them.

It’s a bit weird and more than a bit difficult to explain, I guess. But Nelson Mandela is one such person – soul – for me. Before his recent passing I knew not much about him. The basics only, really. But whenever he was in the news or if I came across photos of him, my spirit always smiled. Something about him, without actually knowing much of anything about him, “felt” good to me. I’ve read a few quotes attributed to him. I know in his lifespan he endured harshness and pain and challenge after challenge. But the goodness I know of him actually came from looking at him.

Goodness shapes you. Quite literally! Yes, it shapes your heart and your soul and your mind. And when it’s presence within you is nurtured and cultivated it shows not only in your actions, but in your physical self – your body. It’s like looking at someone’s face and noticing so-called smile lines. Of course, those lines are named thusly because the name references how and where they form. Still, they’re indicative on some superficial level, right? They indicate that the person bearing them smiles – likely a lot. Smiling often is also, in its own way, indicative.

When seeing Mandela, I also was often able to perceive some of the finer aspects of his personal mandala. So many traditions teach that one’s body is their temple. Health nuts use this reference frequently. Certainly, in the Hindu tradition as well as others, the temples we worship in are literally shaped in certain, precise, ways – the very architecture of which is meant to teach us and in its own way be highly indicative.

I can only hope that as my life is spent, people watching and those who look back on my own small life will be able to “feel” me when they see my unique mandala or photos of it and know some level of goodness. And it’s my hope, dear reader, as your life is spent that your own mandala shines as brightly as Mandela’s.

Aum Tryambakam Yajamahe – Sugandhim Pushti Vardhanam – Urvarukamiva Bandhanam – Mrtyor Mokshiyam Amrtat
Aum Shanti – Shanti – Shantihi!

Image take from Google Image search

Image take from Google Image search

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti – Shanti – Shantihi


The oldest dog in my menagerie will be ten in September. For many years already, she’s been prone to seizures (sp?). We’re still not sure what brings them on for the handful of times a year they occur. Our veterinarian hasn’t really offered much in the way of an explanation aside from many small breeds are prone to them and that we should avoid allowing her to have onions, because those can specifically cause them.

When they happen, Bodhi’s little body tenses up entirely – her little paws either curl up tightly or kind of reach out into space stiffly. She slobbers a little and passively, slowly, and subtly licks her lips. Her pupils dilate hugely and her eyes become “scared.” Sometimes she’ll grunt or make a very very soft whine, as if she’s hurting.

The whole ordeal lasts only a few minutes and upsets myself and my beloved. While it’s happening we usually just hold her close and softly repeat her name to bring her back to us.

My beloved has a “compromised” lower back. He virtually always has. In his teens, I’m told, he underwent physical therapy for it. Off and on throughout his adult life it’s been an issue. It’s usually something that only flares up when he’s been careless during one of our moves or during fitness activities or something. It flared up recently because of a combination of factors to do with fitness and grouting my inlaws’ spare bedroom floor. For most of this week he’s been in some sort of pain from it.

This morning the pain became too much. Sitting or standing was very uncomfortable. Being on the couch or bed, flat on his back, was about the only thing that brought even a little comfort. By the time I’d showered and was preparing for work, he decided that he wouldn’t be going to the office. We briefly discussed that he should likely seek medical attention in the form of a MedCheck of Emergency Room (He’s currently in between PCPs). I told him that I’d take him, and so we went to a nearby, new, ER.

Getting there and admitted was easy. They asked him questions about every aspect of his health, and the ER physician indicated that the plan would be to give my beloved three injections (Morphine, Valium, & Ibuprofen) and then send him home with a few prescriptions.

The first injection was Morphine and was administered to his left thigh. A few seconds passed and he seemed fine. As the RN was prepping his right arm for the second injection, I noticed him looking toward the ceiling.

I moved toward him and noticed his pupils were enormous. Soon thereafter his eyes were rolling backward, and his head was tipping even more backward. I moved closer still, began saying his name and touching him – and suddenly his body went rigid. His hands and fingers contorted into the familiar shape people use when making fun of “retarded” people, and at one point his right arm flew upward.

By now another nurse or two had arrived. I’m still calling my beloved’s name trying to coax him back to me. Suddenly, although remaining rigid, his body became still. His entire body then flushed very red and his breathing stopped. There was a kind of straining happening with his body, pressure that felt like it was leading to some sort of burst. This, of course, sent me into orbit.

Only a week ago we’d been watching the show, Downton Abbey, and a character, shortly after birthing, had died following an event that looked JUST like this. The episode made me cry, for many reasons – one of which was that this woman’s husband was by her side desperately pleading for her to return from her seizure. She didn’t. They were unable to make her breathe again and she left while her spouse held her hand. All newborns aside, my emergency room experience this morning mirrored that of the Downton Abbey scene far too closely.

Within a few minutes, as with my Bodhi, my beloved came back. By this point he had oxygen strapped to his face and more wires hooked to him than I knew to count. Aside from weeping like nobody’s business (a point which I’m nearing now simply recounting this ordeal, and which I’ve neared many times since the event because of images that keep flashing through my mind’s eye), the only thing I could do was kiss and hug and hold him in any way allowable and, of course, constantly inspect him for new or additional signs of more terror. I didn’t even care what the staff thought about my display – thankfully none attempted to stop me or remove me, or it’s a sure bet the ER would have had a few more patients right then.

The final verdict from the attending physician is that he experienced a vagal episode, more technically called a vasovagal response/reaction. Simply put: he passed out.

I disagree that he simply “passed out,” but vasovagal reactions are possible in response to opioid exposure, so whatever. He’s never getting Morphine again. This experience has taught me a few things, noted thusly:

1) Don’t ever let me fool you into thinking I’m succeeding at nonattachment within the context of Maya. It is a spiritual and personal goal of mine, but I’m failing horribly, and will likely continue to so long as my beloved is my beloved.

2) I will probably always be simultaneously trusting of medical staff and questioning. Honestly, as annoying as this may become to some, I’m not sorry. If we were to trust doctors simply because they are doctors, medical malpractice insurance wouldn’t exist.

3) I will never adhere to thoughts or beliefs that perpetuate any semblance of distance between myself and my Source. The distance experienced between myself and my beloved today during our stay at the ER is enough to have scarred me for some time and as with medical staff, I’ll continue to question and discern and I will surely drop any belief that matches this – there can be no Truth there, in my estimation, and if there is, it is a Truth that causes only longing and pain. I experienced misery today when my beloved was pulled from me only a little ways. It isn’t good. I will not have it.

That’s virtually all I know right now. I’m not sure it amounts to much of anything, but there you have it.

Jai Shri Ganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

A Cool Million

I pay for satellite radio in my car. I almost never listen to it. I wanted satellite because of the noticeable difference in commercials and interruptions to actual music. Still, as I said, I pretty much never listen to it. One evening, recently, on the way home from the gym I decided to turn it on and see what new songs had been released lately.

Because of my general disconnection with the world at large, I’m still not sure if this song is anything new. It seemed to me that this song carries lots of deep karmic implication. Most of us get lost in daily living and forget so much about our Self and our Life and how closely, how intimately, we’re connected to others. This connection, manifested as various daily interactions, provides each of us the opportunity to manipulate our own karmas and influence those of others. You might never know the difference you’re making – another perfect chance for renunciation of the fruits of your actions. The perfect way to be in the world, but not of it.

P.S. The homosexual in me finds this young man’s guy-ish looks a tad cute. That is all.

Om Shanti

Rules I’m Likely to Ignore, #42

The last post detailed something I came across in book I’m reading. This post is meant to do the same. For details on that book, please see my last post. Otherwise, I’m going to assume you’ve read that and jump immediately to the rule I’m planning to ignore.

This is apparently “another important form of retreat followed by all knowledgeable Hindus.” With that in mind, please allow me to just go ahead and lump myself into the “other” group of, apparently, ignorant Hindus. This so-called form of retreat indicates that “Siva’s devotees must observe a period of 31 days following the birth or death of a family member during which they do not enter temples or home shrines, perform worship rites or attend auspicious events.”

This rule also states, like with menstrual cycles or major surgeries, that japa and personal sadhanas can and should be continued during this time, and that the judgment of who is part of the family rests on the shoulders of the family itself.

Pardon my American English, but that’s bullcrap.

For one, when I lose a loved one (or gain one!), God is the first place I go. Usually, God within me first. Then, once the actual event in question has transpired, I go to God within my home mandir. And as soon as is practical after the event, I go to God within my local temple. I wouldn’t say I seek shelter or solace necessarily during these kinds of times, but I bring everything to God, regardless.

Forgive my frankness, but my current understanding kind of makes this seem ridiculous and unnecessary. Why should I stay away from worship for 31 days because my family welcomed another child? At the rate my family goes sometimes, and certainly with the openness my family considers others “one of us,” I could/would easily be required to go half the year without so much as a single aarti. I ain’t havin’ that. And, too, for most of the last few years just about EVERY month of January has meant a death for us. It’s bad enough to start the year off with a death, but it’s a double whammy for me to think of also starting the year off away from temple. Again, bullcrap. In my opinion, welcoming new life into the family OR parting with life in the family are both excellent reasons to absolutely go to temple – either out of gratitude, or to seek a comforting darshan. I don’t believe in using religion as a crutch during these times, but these times specifically, I feel, call for drawing as near as ever to the Divine.

As long as January continues to be a cursed month for my loved ones, I’ll continue to go to temple in January.

Om Tat Sat

Dhrishti and the Divine Goose

Anser_indicus_1921I’m fond of being in the middle of reading about 9 books, and then purchasing 20 more for when I finish the first 9. I realize I have a problem. But I’ve also realized that bookcases are more handsome when they’re filled with books. Plus, I find myself with an ample supply ready for the sharing, should I encounter someone who needs or wants one of these gems. A recent purchase of mine, “Methods for Immortality, Death: Beginning or End?” has proven to be mostly yawn-provoking, but did center around a very simple meditation/mantra technique that virtually anyone can benefit from. I intend to share suchery presently.

The author of this book, Dr. John Mumford (aka Swami Anandakapila Saraswati) calls this meditation the “Gayatri Meditation,” or “Gayatri So Hum,” and insists (as may be implied by the book’s title) that its ultimate purpose is to help strengthen the meditator in such a way as to facilitate a very conscious end of one’s current human life, which he alternately refers to as death and transition. He admits that this technique is not the only way of dealing with the life/death intersection, but finds it to be a very valuable contribution and that many will find it suitable.

This Gayatri Technique is founded on the breath, about which Mumford says, “Breathing is, for the human, the most basic biological rhythm that consciousness can attach itself to, and this process of respiration goes on automatically, twenty-four hours a day, to the end of life.” Another word for death is expired, which seems to be connected to our word for breathing: respiration. When a person dies, he exhales (ex-spirates, as it were) and does not inhale (in-spirate) again. Since the beginning of human history, there has existed a perpetuated belief that the soul exits the body with the final breath. Romans actually attempted to catch the essence of the dying by inhaling his last breath.

Most people aren’t aware that one breath actually consists of four parts: Inhalation (caller puraka in yoga), retention/momentary pause (this phase is called kumbhaka), exhalation (called rechaka), and finally suspension/momentary pause (this time called sunyaka). For other 1,000 years Yoga has centered on either controlling or becoming aware of all four phases of a respiratory cycle as a means for transcending the physical body or experiencing altered states of consciousness.

Sometime around 1200 A.D., a yoga master named Goraksha authored a yoga text called Goraksha-Samhita, wherein he detailed observations that correlate with modern knowledge. He observed that a full respiratory cycle takes place every four seconds, or about fifteen times a minute. He then calculated that within one full rotation of the Earth we breathe automatically 21,600 times. Goraksha then noticed that the in-breath and out-breath make subtle subliminal sounds, which translate into a mantra, thus the name of this technique: Gayatri So Hum. Gayatri is attached to this because a Gayatri is a hymn or mantra that confers freedom from bondage, or liberation from the wheel or death and rebirth. This practice is alternately known as Ajapa Gayatra, on account of its mantra being voiceless. What Goraksha noticed, and what has been passed on through his lineage, is that the exhaled breath makes a subliminal sound “haa” and the inhaled breath makes the subliminal sound “saa.” This continuous unconscious mantric vibration, often written as “Hamsa,” or “Hansa,” beginning at birth and ceasing at death, has special qualities including piercing the veil between life and death. Although we’re starting with the in-breath (so/saa), when you string the two sounds (so/saa & hum/haa) together end-to-end, you end up with a “hansa” sound, the middle n being mostly nasal. “Hansa” is the divine goose (Anser Indicus), a beautiful white bird often eulogized in Hindu scripture as a symbol of the Soul and its ascent into heavenly places. The Gayatri So Hum is the Hansa, or divine bird, carrying us from beyond life and death into the center of the transcendental Self.


I’d like to point out here, briefly, that the goal of any Hindu is not to make it to Heaven. Heaven and Hell are seen to be temporary, at best. Each lasts only as long as an individual’s karmas warrant. The definition of salvation for Hindus is to step off of the wheel of Samsara -the wheel of death and rebirth.

The author sums up in four steps how to begin this Gayatri So Hum/Hansa Meditation technique.

  1. Sit comfortably. Make sure all parts of the body are comfortable and supported, with the exception of the head. The head needs to be free so that you can notice if you nod off to sleep. Mumford says this isn’t a bad thing!
  2. With your eyes closed, begin to consciously become aware of your breath. Do not interfere or try to control it, just watch it.
  3. Proceed to synchronize your inhalation and exhalation with mental repetition of the Gayatri So Hum. Silently say “So” as your breath flows in, and similarly silently say “Hum” as your breath flows out.
  4. Continue this for a minimum of 20-30 minutes. Anything less is useless.

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Successful Meditation

  • Relaxed Wakefulness: Subjective contentment with warming of hands and feet, slowing of respiration, and lowering of blood pressure as well as raising of GSR (galvanic skin response) threshold.
  • Dreaming: REM and sudden flaccidity of the neck muscles, producing head nodding.
  • Deep Dreamless Sleep: Often accompanied by  snoring; it is possible to retain consciousness in this state -Yoga refers to it as Turiya.

In addition to the aforementioned four steps of this technique, one last factor comes into play.

  1. Move the left ring finger toward the fleshy pad at the base of the thumb as the breath flows in, and move it away as the breath flows out.

Wearing-White-MudraWhy the left hand? The left hand is used to ensure a “slight initial dominance,” or at least a direct contact, with the right hemisphere of the brain. The right hemisphere of the brain encourages holistic, nonverbal, spatial integrative experiences. Why the ring finger? When we focus on the ring finger, we tap into psychic and psychological inheritance that is both East and West. the ancient Egyptians believed a special cord or nerve ran from the ring finger directly to the heart, and many have attributed this to the custom of placing a wedding ring on the ring finger. Symbolically, the ring finger represents the Shiva Lingam and the wedding ring is the Yoni. since Roman times the ring finger has been identified as the healing finger or Digitus Medicus, and in contemporary India it is still the prefered finger for anointing the forehead with kumkum powder.

Mumford indicates that it may be useful for the student to utilize the Gnana Mudra, i.e. gently touching the tip of the left forefinger to the tip of the left thumb, forming a circle. This mudra carries profound significance and in itself signals the mind to prepare for meditation and accept absorption within universal consciousness. Mumford also says that as the meditation deepens, you may find that the movement of the left ring finger slackens or drops away entirely. This is acceptable. If you find yourself surfacing from the meditation prematurely, you can resort to the ring finger movements again. You’ll find this little addition taking up an amazing amount of slack and mental restlessness that people often experience.

… And there you have it. The Gayatri So Hum/Hansa pranayama (breath-centered) dhyan (meditation). It’s simple, but effective, and makes -if nothing else- a good foundation for additional meditation styles. If you try it, I want to hear about it.

Om Shanti

( OM ) Loka – Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu

There are three worlds of existence: the physical, the subtle, and the causal, termed Bhuloka, Antarloka, and Shivaloka.


The physical plane, or Bhuloka, is the world of gross material substance in which phenomena are perceived by the five senses. It is the most limited of the worlds, least permanent, and the most subject to change. The material world is where we have our experiences, manufacture karma and fulfill the desires and duties of life in a physical body. It is in Bhuloka that consciousness is limited, that awareness of the other two worlds is not always remembered.

The subtle plane, or Antarloka, is the mental-emotional sphere that we function in through thought and feeling and reside in fully during sleep and after death. It is the astral world that exists within the physical plane. The astral plane is for the most part exactly duplicated in the physical plane, though it is of a more intense rate of vibration.

The causal plane, or Shivaloka, pulsates at the core of being, deep within the subtle plane. It is the superconscious world where God and highly evolved souls live and can be accessed through yoga and temple worship. The causal plane is the world of light and blessedness, the highest of the heavenly regions, extolled in the scriptures of all faiths.

It is the foundation of existence, the source of visions, the point of conception, the apex of creation, abode of Lord Shiva Himself. The Shivaloka is the natural refuge of all souls.

(The above is taken from Jan/Feb/Mar 2013 issue of Hinduism Today)


Life is about learning. No? From the lowest level of conscious life on this planet, learning is a must – and it’s a blessing. In life forms that are “below” the human level, consciousness of differing degrees is found. And, in many cases in direct proportion to the degree of consciousness, there are degrees of learning capability.

In virtually every sub-human existence, pain in some form is an absolutely necessary part of the learning process. 12-stepping addicts everywhere would agree that this is true in every instance, never mind sub-humans. Most of the animal kingdom operates on a majority instinct level, and learning happens as a matter of survival for the most part -either to avoid pain altogether, or to lessen current pain. When learning for survival provides an organism (or a population of organisms) enough of an “edge” in its existence, sometimes consciousness begins to expand. I have a feeling that this is a foundational element of nature’s evolution, and is also a huge part of why evolution is, typically and literally, painfully slow. In “A New Earth,” by Eckhart Tolle (a book everyone should read, at least once) this “blossoming” of consciousness was first evident in flowers. His words on this, which I think I recall coming early in the book, are very eloquent and powerful, and enlightening. (Through his own dedicated effort, Tolle is certainly a modern living Jnana Yogi. Believe it.) There are many sub-human forms of life on Earth that don’t learn ONLY in this way. Many mammals and some bird species (among an entire host of other life forms) are known to have “deeper” components to their lives. These components point to a level of consciousness much closer to that of humans, although these beings are still primarily governed by instictiveness.

Human life, on the other hand, has allowed its animalistic components to atrophy a bit in favor of a more developed consciousness. An unfortunate aspect of this trade is a simultaneous increase in ego, but that’s for another post. One of the biggest benefits of this swap, however, is the developed capacity for humans to learn without the aforementioned pain so often necessary for other animals. In truth, there are a number of animal species who have been discovered to have this capacity, too, but only in humans is this particular evolution of consciousness so well-developed and potentially (depending on the human individual) so finely tuned. Here, precisely, is where human consciousness has one of the greatest gifts. We can learn by the usual and common method of pain, but that mustn’t be the only way we learn. Indeed, we’re one of the only animals on the planet who are able to learn solely by observation, and we’re certainly the only organism on the planet to be able to learn so thoroughly in this way.

At this point, I’m recalling a common saying among my Nichiren Buddhist friends. I think it comes from the Daishonen’s sayings somewhere, but the idea is that through chanting we’re able to tap into “Myoho,”  and transmute our karmas into something more, thus elevating our life state. I’ve known these great and optimistic humanists to be fond of speaking about “turning poison into medicine.” To me, this points at even deeper component to the human existence. We’re not only in control of our learning, but we’re responsible for it.

As we find ourselves in the middle of the yearly holiday season, many of us would do well to take a look at our “poisons” and search how we might turn them into medicines for our betterment. A poison might be defined, superficially, as anything that seems to rob us of happiness. Anyone who’s followed my writing at all, might be aware of how deeply I adore my parents. For me personally, few things in my current existence are likely to be as painful (…potentially poisonous…) as the eventual death of either of my parents. Certainly, I anticipate very few things with as much dread and immense pre-emptive sorrow as either of these two events.

With this in mind, my heart and thoughts go out to anyone who’s lost a parent, and faced such (potential) poison. Sadly, I’m able to list a number of acquaintances who fall into this group, from this year alone. For this post, and for sake of a wonderful example, I’d like to mention someone who is perhaps surprisingly, and definitely increasingly dear to me. And that’s my mom’s brother’s wife, Wendy. What I know about Wendy tells me that she’s a truly great human. Without spilling everything about her, I can surely say that she loves her family and friends and is loyal to them. She works hard in her career, like so many others. She does her best to enjoy life. And she fights her battles as best she’s able and keeps moving, knowing she has to be strong for the next. One of these battles, recently, was the loss of her own mother.



Three days from now will be Wendy’s first Christmas holiday without her mother. Without a doubt this season will be a trying time for her. Certainly, Wendy has experienced ups and downs in her time managing her grief. You can find her story about the poison she faced here.

One thing I’ve noticed is that she’s consistently able to “turn poison into medicine.” She could easily be paralyzed by her loss. I know I would be. She didn’t have much time at all to prepare for the poison she was about to face. Instead, she continues moving forward. She still works. She still loves her family and friends. And she’s investing more of her time in pruning her internal landscape in very practical and hopefully effective ways, which will be the surest sign that the poison she’s experienced has been transmuted into very powerful medicine.

As humans, we don’t need pain to learn. Ideally, we’d be gifted with both the foresight and the time to prepare and learn on our own so that the Universe and our karmas don’t have to facilitate this learning for us. For those of us, like Wendy, who aren’t allotted ample time for preparing for what we don’t want to come, it’s my hope that we can at least enter into such unfortunate experiences with a fully human awareness and, like Wendy, with the capacity to take that experience and turn its poison into our medicine.

As this year and holiday season comes to a close, my prayer is that your awareness and mine will expand and cause our hearts to swell. Realize what an incredible boon you have, being born a human. What an immense opportunity has been awarded to you to assume the responsibility for your own growth. Face the poison in your life, and let the divine with you change it into medicine for your betterment and healing.

In the coming year, all the grace that is mine to give I gladly forward on to you.



I went recently to the wake of a young patient I knew from work, whose life ended on the 18th. Working in oncology, I see death more than many might. It’s not super pleasant, but the more familiar it becomes, the more you realize how personal death isn’t…. at least not inherently. Being born is like stepping into line at the BMV: at the start you grab a number, and in a completely logical and predictable and impersonal manner, when you’re number is reached, it’s your turn. I mean, it’s not any more personal than your fingernails growing.

Ummm….but sometimes it is. I’ll try explaining.

The first big reason death is impersonal is that it happens naturally to everything that is born. The crazy cycle here is that we all already know this, but because it’s such a part of life, we’ve become desensitized to it in a bizarre and perverted, forgetful kind of way. Because of this forgetfulness, we’re perpetually shocked by it. And so, we’re entirely unfamiliar with something that has been with us since we were born.

Secondly, almost all people die of some kind of “natural” thing. Think cancer, heart attack, stroke, old age. There’s nothing personal, in any way, about these. I can vouch that this is true, at least from a purely clinical standpoint. When cancer shows up in someone, it’s not a personal attack. I promise. The real problem here is that folks attach their sense of self to their body. Which is why people sometimes ask, “Why me?” Ummm….not you, dummy. Your body. Two different things. When you think you are your body, then you’re bound(as in “caught in the trap of…”) to take whatever happens to your body as a personal attack. Lame.

Thirdly, many folks take death to be so very personal because they view it to be an “end.” Life, though, is not the opposite of death. Birth is. This is why everything that’s born must die. Life can have no more an opposite, than can energy ever actually be created or destroyed. Simply not possible. It should also perhaps be noted that many many times, dead things are born. And so, congruently, birth also does not equate life.

Those are just three reasons I find suitable for a discussion as to why death shouldn’t be taken personally. There are lots more that could be gone into. I know many will disagree with me and I’m not disturbed by that.

However, there is an instance in which I think death is quite a bit more personal than it normally is.  Care to guess?


This is how the young patient mentioned earlier died. He’d had cancer a number of times, beating it each time. He was healthy. Although he maybe didn’t stay cured for long, he was a survivor by most definitions. After the last “win,” it was determined that a stem cell transplant would benefit him, so he did it. He underwent the procedure, recovered, and then sometime after he seemed fully recovered and doing well he had a “nervous episode.” He was placed into psych care, I think, and was never the same thereafter. Eventually he was back into the normal swing of things, and functioned well-enough, but just… different. Same old kid, minus the sparkle he once had. We found out not long ago that he’d taken his own life, and tonight I went to his wake to say good-bye to his body.

For Hindus this word, suicide, is atmahatya. Culturally, atmahatya is frowned on. It’s viewed to be a violation of ahimsa(nonviolence or noninjury or non-aggression). It’s equal to murdering another. And according to lore, it leaves one to become a wandering ghost in the next life, punished in some kind of severe hell until the karma created by the act is spent-at which time the atma is reborn. The form taken is said to be either the form of an animal which is a level or two below humans, or a human life once again where certain karmas that weren’t fulfilled in the prematurely-extinguished life are given another try.

Umm… with all due respect to my chosen dharma, I think this is (mostly) bullshit.

I know for a fact that my religion, in certain cases, allows for suicide. The word we use for it is prayopavesha. Technically speaking, it’s a sanctioned form of starvation with all kinds of rules attached to it in regard to how and when and why it’s permitted. According to multiple sources, it’s meant as a controlled means of leaving this life for someone who has no ambition, no desires, and/or no responsibilities. It’s strictly regulated. But it’s still killing yourself, and herein lies the distinction. If suicide leads the jiva to wander as a ghost in hellish states of existence, then even the sadhu/monk/holy man who consciously ends his life is cursed in this way. Nonsense.

Stay with me.

If I take a gun and choose someone, and then shoot them. It’s murder. If someone comes at me and attempts to harm me, the very same action is labeled self-defense. The difference? The state and condition of my mind, as obviously influenced by my surroundings, when my finger pulls the trigger. Many would argue that the difference has more to do with the circumstance that caused the shooting. I’m certain it doesn’t. In this case and in all other cases, shooting a gun is simply shooting a gun. Doesn’t matter whether you’re in sun or snow, standing or sitting, murdering or defending. The action is literally the same. The only possible difference, as far as a person’s karmic patterns are effected, pertains to the internal landscape of the person when the shooting takes place. (This, among 800 million other reasons, is why emotions should never be any sort of governing force in a person’s life, and why bhakti is something to be chased slowly and in a very regulated manner instead of dove(dived?) into. If my emotions run everything, I’m incredibly more likely to react instead of act.)

My point is that the action itself isn’t what matters. It’s simply an impersonal aspect of that individual’s karma-phala. What does matter is the level and quality of awareness behind that action.

So, in the same way that death is simply death-nothing more, nothing less, I think so is “suicide.” The wisest way to approach this when someone encounters an instance of self-killing, is from a place of atmajnana/atmavidya. You have to know that the body and the person aren’t synonymous. You have to realize that the person and their mind and their emotions are also different entities.

Although there have been exceptions throughout history, most cases of atmahatya don’t occur before an audience. And truly, whether they do or don’t, it’s virtually impossible for anyone other than maybe the most advanced sages to know what’s going on inside that person. As such, it shouldn’t be assumed that the automatic result of suicide is a hellish, tormented, ghostly wandering of the underworlds until punishment has been exacted.

The young male patient, whose body I visited, has moved on- his future dictated by his karmas and self-realization. Aside from whatever karmas were already due to him, I don’t foresee that he’ll be punished for this act automatically. For reasons I’ll never know, and don’t need to know, the components of his past existence as a young man, a cancer patient, a son, brother, and boyfriend… his mind and emotions and physical body… they were done. Just done. The very same thing, literally, will happen to you and me in our own time, although perhaps not by our own hand. He’s quite literally non-different from you and me and shouldn’t be judged by us any more than we’re willing to judge ourselves. At any rate, given that we’re in Kali Yug, I’d wager that most of us hardly know ourselves as well as we should, let alone a young male cancer patient.

I suspect the only (real) tragedy here is that which my mind and emotions and attachments assign to it, which ultimately has little to do with Ultimate Reality.

Om Shanti, shanti, shantihi