Head-y Heart Games

Taken from Google Image search

Taken from Google Image search

A friend recently accused me of employing hindu head games. He didn’t mean the accusation literally and the context in which the accusation came is too removed from here to really go into. What he was getting at – from a superficial level – is that I push people into areas of thought they may not go on their own and that person’s unfamiliar territory often causes them to rethink a few things. Little by little, this gets the ball rolling in other directions and if the effort is maintained and followed through, it can bring wonderful changes and growth. However, this is something I think runs far deeper than even he realizes and I want to discuss, as briefly as I am able, what I think might be the very best of Hindu head games.

In many branches of Hinduism, we’re taught that our (little) self isn’t much to speak of although usually very problematic and that our (big) Self is our truest essence and is a sliver of God and is essentially the same from one person to the next. This bit of belief is actually of supreme importance.

There’s a story (which I’m certainly about to butcher) of a robber running into a monk on the roadside one day. The robber either attempts to rob the monk or asks the monk for a boon or something along those lines. By the end of their discussion the monk has convinced the robber that he can give him a mantra that will bring the robber more riches than the monk could ever hope to possess, let alone be robbed of. The mantra was, “Mara.” I now forget what the exact translation of that is supposed to be, but I think it was along the lines of “bitter” or “Devil” – certainly not anything positive, which apparently appealed to the robber’s sensibilities. And so off goes the robber, repeating his mantra, “Mara” hoping that he’ll gain riches from it. The monk, though, has tricked him. The thief starts off, “Mara, Mara, Mara, Mara…” and, as would happen naturally with speech the ending of one repetition is sewn into the beginning of the next and so the thief gradually and almost seamlessly goes from, “Mara, Mara, Mara…” to “Maramaramaramaramaramaramara…” which little by little is the same as “Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama…” And so, the thief has been subtly “tricked” by the monk into chanting one of God’s names and is thereby changed into a good person. End of story.

If there are Hindu head games, this story surely illustrates one – and one that is paralleled in the concept of self / Self.

Most people live and behave very selfishly – centered around the (little) self. This is the only identity some people ever realize in life. I need this. I need that. I am this. I am that. This feels good to me. That does not. However, most teachers (although not all) within the Hindu belief system encourage their students to go deeper and deeper into things like meditation, prayer, and jaapa. Sometimes these practices appeal to people who are seeking peace or happiness. “Look within” says the Hindu guru. And so, in an effort to serve what they perceive to be their self, people might start this – their motives at this point are almost invariably selfish (little). They’re entering these efforts perhaps to escape thoughts and energy that habitually cycle and recycle around and around within their minds. Like seeking the most comfy spot on the couch to chill out, these people enter sadhanas for the results the think they will get. And they may get them.

But there’s something else they’ll get, too. (Big) Self-realization. A major difference between this and the thief / monk story is that the monk pretty much tricked the thief. In other settings, his kind of guile isn’t needed or employed. Still, if we were to take a clear look at why many enter sadhanas of various sorts, we’d find a great many reasons that are (little) self-centered. And yet they enter, and with any luck they gain depth of experience here. And so then what happens?

They go deeper and deeper into their practice. And as they do, they gain an increasingly clearer picture of the (big) Self. As more time is spent gaining familiarity and transparent access to the (big) Self, the very definition of that Self is experienced and the seeker will eventually learn that This is common to all sentient things. As that new experience becomes increasingly familiar, a weird thing happens. You enter through the door of you, but as you learn of the Self and experience it, when you come back out you are using the door of that same Self – but in others. That is, you realize and experience That which is you to be identically true and paralleled in every living thing. This is the essence of a teaching of Jesus I referred to a couple posts ago where we’re told to love our neighbor as our self. It’s like diving into the swimming pool in your own back yard, but surfacing in the pool in your neighbor’s yard.

Some pools are above-ground and some are in-ground. Some are heated and others not. Some are circular, some are rectangles, and others are amorphously-shaped. Yet the water in your own pool (in each pool) is not different than the water in their pool (or any other).

Our neighbor, truly, IS our Self and I think this is the best Hindu mind game.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

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संन्यास / वैराग्य

Image take from Google Image search

Image take from Google Image search

My best, as mentioned in the last post, is going through a bit of a rough time right now. If he were inclined at all toward writing, I’m sure he’d have more than a few readers who would read his words and relate all too well.

I think also indicated in the last post is that my best is moving into my home and will be residing in my temple room. Would you believe, one evening around the time of my regular sadhana (and for about 15 seconds), I very seriously considered giving him the master bedroom in my home and moving the beloved and I into the temple room instead of bringing someone from the “outside” into that room. It really is very nearly hallowed ground for me. But that notion passed, for obvious reasons.

When my best makes the transition into his new residence, he’ll be downsizing considerably. He’s already posted on Facebook a number of pictures of virtually all of his furniture – he’s taking the best offer he can get. He needs as much cash as he can get while also staying focused on the purpose of the downsize, and retaining the context that all of this was brought about in. I believe most of my readers probably, not knowing him well at all, don’t realize what a cut this is to him. He has one of two choices though – keep the big picture in sight and decide things according to that to allow doors to open and progress into a better life condition, or decide things (like how to part with his material belongings) according to the mode his old self usually operates in and continue his self-inflicted struggle through life.

My best has made some incredibly poor choices that don’t actually reflect what’s in his heart. His actions belied his true values. Sadly, our actions are what our karmas are built on and now he’s dealing with some very nasty, unfortunate karma.

Truth be told – and I hope by now, dear reader, that you know I’d tell you nothing else – there’s amazing potential here. For a long time, the best has wanted the best but not really deserved it – and so he’s struggled. He’s wanted a better life. And he’s done SOME of the work for it. And prior to recent events, his life wasn’t bad. He’s now facing a period in his life where quite literally EVERY choice he makes matters much more than it might have before.

In situations like this, for most people, the pain is usually great. However, the potential is even greater. He can finally start working through some karmas – building new ones without negative consequences. He can help others who need the material things he’s parting with, but can’t pay much for them. He can test how “big” of a person he really is and use that as gauging while he moves forward. And he can begin steps in the direction of nonattachment – vairagya.

I can already see the sweet humility he’s developing and I’m looking forward to the person he’s becoming and will be when this is done and over. I hope he is, too.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

The Elephant in the Room

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20131107 was a Thursday. I don’t write about these things very often, but I had an experience during that evening’s puja and when I shared tidbits about it with a friend, I received encouragement that this end up bloggered. So here you have it… To be clear, my daily pujas are REALLY simple. Short and sweet. I think the most the whole ordeal only ever really takes is something around 15-20 minutes. On particularly “holy” days, I do a bit more in terms of worship.

Last night was only different from any normal week night puja in that my home mandir has been newly decorated with some white Xmas lights. I’ve done this before and really enjoy the warm, glowing effect it has on the entire temple room. But that’s not entirely true about last night’s puja only being different because of Xmas lights. Last night was also different because “something” happened. When I mentioned this to my friend, I think I put it in terms of a “visitation” but the closer reality is likely that it was more of a “clarification.”

My home mandir currently

My home mandir currently

I’m sitting before the mandir like always, doing the ritual like always. I recall a certain point in the process when I almost suddenly felt like I wasn’t alone. My immediate perception was that Shri Ganesh-ji had “arrived” and was in the room with me. Mind you, the beginning of every puja involves an invocation, so technically He’s always present during puja. I call to Him. He arrives. And I worship. This time however, the air in the room felt like it was more occupied than usual.

Toward the end of the puja I spend time in contemplation, dhyana, japa. It was at this time that I felt particularly aware of the room and everything happening in it. The glow from the mandir was pleasant. The asana I had wrapped myself in was hugging. The incense, a recent Diwali gift from my bahin in Atlanta, smelled great. For a very short time I seemed to feel the vibrations from the shlokas and other things intoned during the puja – as if they were reverberating throughout the room still. Then suddenly, and very sweetly, I realized that I wasn’t alone in the room. My first thought was something like, “Whoa-shit! Ganesha’s here big time!” The only form of Ganesha that I actually saw was the Vira-Ganesh murti in my mandir, but I really felt another, far-fuller, Presence.

Some readers are likely entertaining thoughts like, “This kind of stuff is all in his head.” And, I believe, that is the truth. Now, before anyone gets all huffy and puffy on me, let me say that I’m not implying that Ganesh is imaginary. What I intend to say instead is that Ganesh and I are essentially non-different and what I really, truly, and actually felt then was my Self.

I recall Shri Eckhart Tolle telling of a time when he was at his lowest and had grown suicidal. One of the last thoughts he recalls from the moments before he planned to go through with the act was “I cannot live with myself.” Strangely, right then, it dawned on him that there were two entities in that thought. There was first the “myself” that couldn’t be lived with and then there was also the “I” that seemed to be speaking and could no longer tolerate an existence with the “myself.” He questioned right then who was the “I” that couldn’t live with his “myself.” It was then that he realized that there is a component of who he is that isn’t touched by the misery of the “myself” and had grown weary of experiencing that misery.

Some would maybe say that this sounds a little like a schizophrenic break, but the reality is: We are not our mind.

The mind is an immensely powerful thing. And the ego, necessary for functioning in this life, maintains an incredibly close relationship with the mind. One of the results of this relationship is that we begin identifying with our thoughts and consequently believe that we are our mind – or that our thoughts reflect our truest selves. It’s not true.

There’s a saying, which this post is titled after, that mentions “the elephant in the room” and references something not spoken about, but potentially quite obvious. The elephant felt to be in the room with me during the final moments of last night’s puja is That. This elephant could well be called Ganesha. It would just as well be called my Self – the timeless spark of God that lives in each of us. The “I” that lives with “myself.” It’s very much like “the elephant in the room” because it’s not spoken of hardly ever, yet it’s all that there really is. I suppose within the Advaita Hindu view of things, this elephant is in the room and pervades the room, and IS the room. I often am able to separate my mind/ego from who I am – even to the point that I can watch the mind/ego function, and as Tolle says, it’s madness. But it was a blessing and true surprise last night when my Self became the Ganesha my worship was directed at – and that the connection was so complete that “I” filled the room and even surprised my own mind.

The friend who encouraged me to publish a post about the experience, when I initially refused, encouraged me to write – not so much to say, “Look how awesome this was” as to say, “Look what’s out there.” Reader, please know You are what’s out there. You are what’s worshipable. And You are far more awesome than even yourself realizes.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

Good Company

Naga Sadhu

Naga Sadhu

I recently went to my favorite book store, Half Price Books. I have made a promise to myself that I’d frequent the place less because I need clothes currently more than I need books and since I’m not as likely to shop for clothes, this will hopefully help balance me a little as well as eliminate some bills I have, which will in turn contribute to another goal. None of that is actually very relevant right now, though. I went and bought a book ( more than just one actually ) and I wanted to share a bit from it with you.

The title is “In the Company of a Siddha,” and pretty much the whole thing is a series of documented interviews with Swami Muktananda. This lineage, I believe, comes from Kashmir Shaivism and his sect focuses a bit more on the practice of devotees receiving shaktipat from the lineage leaders – gurus who are qualified to bestow that kind of thing. There’s part of an interview between Muktananda and several interviewers from a German (Munich) newspaper called Esslinger Zeitung that I found interesting. I’ll have to double check the book, which isn’t in front of me currently, but I think the interview I’m pointing to took place not much prior to the Baba’s mahasamadhi. Knowing this, I get goose bumps – most people simply never know when someone else’s last moments as they currently are might arrive.

This dance in life is quite literally unstoppable. It is what allows for physical existence. It’s the very process of maturation. And it also serves as the means to transcend our material bonds, allowing for escape from the wheel of death and rebirth. It is supreme and all will have to bow to it at some time or another.

The impermanence of the human lifespan isn’t what I intend to focus on for this post, though. Rather, I want to discuss a little about the impermanence of religion. I think Baba Muktananda’s words in the interview I’ve mentioned do well at expressing what I believe in my heart of hearts. The words are shared immediately below.

EZ: You know the condition of people here in the West. What do you think are the reasons for it? Is religion wrong? Is the church wrong? Is society wrong? What is the cause of it?

BABA: It is hard to say where the fault lies. You cannot say that the fault lies in religion because if it is a true religion it cannot be wrong. If a religion is founded by a great being, it cannot be false. Maybe the followers are at fault. Westerners take a lot of interest in outer pleasures and think there is truth in them. They take very little interest in the inner Self. That is why misery has increased.

EZ: People here who begin to take interest in the inner Self, don’t go back to their old religions. They take interest in the religion and philosophy of the East. What is the reason for this?

BABA: After people take interest in the inner Self, for them orthodox religion is dry. You should understand what religion is. In Sanskrit the word for religion is adhva, which means “a path.” One who has become absorbed in the bliss of the Self no longer takes interest in the path.

EZ: A path is just a means to reach the goal.

BABA: Yes. When you are thirsty, you look for water. After you quench your thirst, you no longer need it. A saint once said, “When my mind has become soaked in the holy river of the heart, why should I take a dip in the Ganges?” In the same way, one who has become immersed in God’s love takes no interest in formal religion.”

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

The dance of life, Shiva’s Tandava Nrtya, that’s mentioned above applies to everything everywhere – including humans and how they rely on religion. From the human perspective this dance is a fine one, indeed! On one hand, humans are encouraged to find within religion and spiritual practices the structure necessary for growth. That growth though, is meant to enable the transcendance of religion, which was itself only ever meant to be a tool. When a tool has served its purpose, it should be placed aside. I think many humans find problems – indeed create additional problems – by remaining ignorant of a tool they possess, possessing improper understanding of that tool’s usage to begin with, and inadequately understanding when to set that tool aside – although the last issue is less of a burden because for some this happens somewhat naturally, depending on what path their maturation has taken.

It’s important for someone to do the homework necessary to remove this kind of ignorance. Hinduism, being an experiential religion, mandates that you can’t simply know or feel. You can’t just read about Truth. Singing and dancing ecstatically will only get you so far. You must make yourself transcend. You must make your path. You can get far on knowing and feeling, but without experience you’ll be missing a big part of the picture.

I would encourage you, dear reader, to exercise your “knowing” and your “feeling” and use that experience to realize Shiva-ji’s Nrtya, His Tandava. Without fear, actively dance in this life. Dance through it. And then, when maturation and karmas coincide, dance beyond it.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

Dead Horse

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

Partially because of my own boredom and partially because kicking dead horses is just plain rude, this will likely be just about the last post I make for a while when it comes to sorting out religion from superstition… at least until the next time I employ fire magick and begin questioning things anew.

So… last night, as part of my intentional avoidance of all school responsibilities, I found myself driving around town with my best, visiting our favorite bookstore: Half Price Books. They’re currently having a store-wide 20% off sale, and while I have no business buying more books, I simply can’t resist. I might also note, if I can do so without sounding proud, that my relationship to my best is often in a “teacher” capacity. Of course, for all teachers, the ultimate goal is that the students should themselves become teachers and last night while driving around my best definitely was a teacher. It all began when I asked him to differentiate between religion and superstition. A few times we talked in circles. A few times no sense was to be made. But in the end, using the idea of a fire and the fuel going into it, we almost sufficiently (for me) sorted out the difference between the two.

Interestingly, a big part of the fire equation hinged on hope, devotion, or bhakti. We determined that bhakti would act as the wood, the fuel. It’s essentially the foundation – without hope or devotion behind any action, that action is ultimately a dead thing. The animating force, the starting place, is hope or devotion. Without SOMETHING to ignite, there can be no fire. In that context, I find it interesting that many of the devotional poets from many different cultures have written about their devotion burning, or burning up. Fuel indeed! The fire itself, then, would be the ritual, religion, or superstition – respectively. This means the action itself. “The fire that kindles,” as my best put it. I find this in itself to be poetic. If you sit around a fire, everyone knows something is being burned to make that fire, but the fire itself is where the attention is ultimately afforded. It’s the big, showy exterior of the chemical change happening right then and there. Religion is definitely the fire. The big showy exterior that results when we set fire (action) to our hope.

Ultimately there’s a very very fine line between religion and superstition where ritual is concerned, and through chatting with another dear pal it was kind of determined that religion is superstition + validity. To go back to my best and his wisdom from last night, a big part of the validity is cultural influence, although let me be quick to say that cultural influence isn’t automatically where this so-called validity begins or ends – but it is definitely a significant factor.

So, we go back into human history. In the case of Hinduism, we can easily go back into prehistory – in fact, some of our scriptures mention a time when it was almost too cold for humanity to survive on our planet, aka the last ice age. But I digress. If you go back far enough you will no doubt encounter “religion” which today would amount to little more than superstition. People responsible for these kinds of studies will confirm as much. Our ancestors noticed that when they danced in a circle under very specific stellar arrangements, the rains necessary for good crops invariably came, which in turn ensured the survival of the community. Suddenly, puja and jyotish are born! Add about 7,000 years to that, and add humanity’s increased development in the areas of language and science, and you end up with “official” Sanatana Dharma. Through the eons, throughout the planet we inhabit, as we gained increasing dominance over nature we sought the rhyme and reason behind that dominance. As we gained that knowledge we codified and systemized it, and rightly marveled thereupon.

Why marvel? Because it’s marvelous. Duh. We’re talking about dark-n-wondrous, truly ancient stuff. This same stuff has made all the difference to us as a species. It’s THE evidence that proves our humanity – humanity being an interesting mix of the physical and nonphysical, mostly differentiated from other similar mixes according to our consciousness and awareness. We are the proof that’s in the pudding I mentioned in the last post, and our religions and superstitions are how we document our proof-ness.

Add another 4,000 years, a laptop, and a gay white Hindu in Indianapolis, and you find yourself with the current picture of yours truly and I’m telling you, finally, that it doesn’t really matter. Not really. I mean, if you want effectiveness and about all the pudding you can handle in your life (as I feel I’ve been blessed with), then you surely want to look into human knowledge that has a strong foundation. A system of thought and belief that touches the clouds, but doesn’t have its head there. Look for so-called superstition that has well-documented science behind it. There’s nothing wrong with carrying around a horse shoe, if your intention is pure and focused – indeed, if your intention is pure and focused and carrying a horse shoe seems to bring about the desired effect, then trust that your “fuel and fire” may well constitute real religion.

I’ll close by once again referencing my recent post about superstition and religion. Religiosity is a small part of my life really. Too often people see religion as the end AND the means to that end. That’s a trap. Another trap is to be found in thinking that your religion is inherently better than someone’s superstition, as both involve the same fires and woods. There might be evidence of it, but I’m not sure you’re allowed to actually think yours is better. Not really. Some would find supplication to an elephant-faced stone statue to be ridiculously superstitious. I don’t. Every single time, without fail – and I mean that as literally as I am able – that I have petitioned my conception of God for what I need, and often what I want, it has been given. From where I stand, my personal superstitions are effective in every regard. And this is where they factually transcend being mere superstitions. I’m speaking about the wood and the fire that lead me to, and provide me with, Light that enables me to see and Warmth that enables me to experience – this is Jnana. They equate my religious experience and facilitate my spirituality.

– Jay Shri Ganesha! –

Om Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

ShubhRakhi : 2-in-1

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When I was very young, I almost invariably played by the rules in every instance. As a first born and closeted young person, my way in the world was found in being a good boy. To this day, the thought of disappointing my parents in any way causes me to cringe and break out in a sweat.

However, in my teen years some of that changed. This shift occurred primarily when I was forced to part with the first religious community I formally knew. It was a time of immense pain for me. From then since, it’s been of high value to me to always engage in the effort needed to know my heart, and then to follow it.

One way this manifests, yearly in fact, is a Hindu holiday known as Raksha Bandhan. I don’t know if, like many other Hindu things, there are multiple versions of this holiday’s origin, but the one I’m most familiar with involves Krishna (I think?) protecting his sister, which she then returns with a gesture of devotion by tearing part of her sari and making it into a bracelet around his wrist. Since the time of this supposed event, every year Hindu brothers and sisters celebrate their affection and devotion to each other. Brothers bring their sisters gifts and sweets and promise to always support and protect them. In turn, sisters tie a bracelet of sorts around their brother’s wrist, offer him treats as well, and likewise promise to support and be devoted to that sibling relationship. But that’s not exactly how I roll.

There are a number of people in my life, of no blood relation per se, who I value truly very much-ly actually quite-ly and immensely. Every year, for Raksha Bandhan (and in fact for months ahead of time) I purchase gifts to the best of my ability and bestow them upon my loved ones. If I can be honest, it’s the second most expensive time of the year for me, after the American Christmas holiday. Gift bags are assembled and packages are placed into the post… and when it’s all said and done, my wallet is usually, literally, more than empty. But my heart is so full. This holiday, celebrated almost entirely backward by yours truly, is my personal mahabhakti celebration.

More along the traditional lines of the holiday, though, is my relationship with my only blood sister. We’re about six years apart in physical age, and if ever a big brother had a baby sister… oh boy! Of the children brought here by my birth mother, my sweet sister and I are the only siblings remaining in the state. You can look at us and tell we’re related (because of a fine mix of Native American and European, we both have almond-shaped eyes and high cheek bones). I’ve included a photo of her in this post. Another likeness we share is our birth mother’s sheisty, feisty attitude. I think my sister’s absolutely beautiful, and I’m certain she hasn’t yet realized her tremendous worth to the world. I’m committed to helping her see this value and using it for her betterment and for the benefit of those others in her life. We talk/text regularly, and I love that we talk about boys. 🙂 If ever a sister expressed her devotion and support to a brother, it’s when my sister speaks to me. And if ever a brother was committed to protecting his little sister, it would surely be the brother who threatens to break the legs of any guy who causes her heart pain. Probably half of the communication between us is simple exchanges of “I Love you, bubby” and “I love you, too!”

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More than anything in this life, people need to know how much they mean. The value found in the simple fact that they are breathing is something lost on most. Generally, I’m good about telling others how I feel about them – for good or bad! But this is the one day of the year when I really mean it when I say I’m glad you didn’t die when you fell down the stairs, or that I’m glad you are who you are and that you are amazingly beautiful whether you’re closeted or not, or how truly important our times in the rivers means to me, or that you are my sweet sweet little sister and I will always be here for you.

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When it comes down to it, I really have no words. Not any that are adequate, anyway. Every morning and every night when I sit in my temple room before my mandir, my heart becomes obese – absolutely obese – as it sings the song within it. My sincerest hope, my brothers and sisters in this life, is that you know you are the very song of my own heart.

Jai Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

Ganesha-Lila, Do

Here’s another myth about Ganesha that I find humorous and interesting. I’ve encouraged others before to be bold and even bossy toward God. This story could have come from my own heart, except for it’s a story of bhakti. All the same, it’s wonderful.
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Once there was a fair honouring Ganesha near a temple outside a village. A little girl pestered her mother to let her join her friends who had all gone to participate in the festivities. Eventually her mother agreed and gave her daughter two churma laddoos, ‘Feed one to Ganesha,’ she told her daughter, ‘and then eat the other yourself.’

The little girl went straight to the Ganesha temple, offered a laddoo to the deity, and settled down in front of the image waiting for him to eat the offering. Hours passed and dusk approached. The little girl refused to leave until Ganesha ate her laddoo. She waited and waited. Eventually Ganesha, moved by her devotion, manifested Himself before her and she fed him the laddoo.

Then she grabbed one of His hands and refused to release her hold. Ganesha said that he would grant her whatever she wished if she would let him go. The little girl remembered the old saying: when offered a boon, ask for benefits that will extend over three generations. So she said, ‘I want to see my grandson eating from a gold katori in a palatial haveli where I am surrounded by seven sons and seven daughters-in-law. My husband is with me and together we watch our grandchildren playing.’

And so, indeed, it was.