Jesus Revisited

jesus

From about February till May or June of 1972, I was living in a stone woodcutter’s hut in the Kumaon Hills of India. The view from my tramped earth verandah looked something like this:

kumaon hills

source: http://gkamesh.wordpress.com/tag/kainchi/

Every morning, my two roommates, Naima and Ravi Das, and I walked down a winding dirt trail to the ashram on the banks of the river for darshan of Neem Karoli Baba. I often stopped along the way to bathe under a waterfall on the side of the path. Aside from picking small stones out of rice and dry lentils, my days were spent waiting for Maharaji to come out of his room and entertain us. He rarely if ever preached, so “entertain” is the right word.

I’m the guy with his hand on his hip at the back of the photo.

On March 30th, the day before Good Friday, Maharaji instructed us to go home and read the Bible. Although he told me on no uncertain terms that he was not my guru, I always did as he instructed, so from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, I stayed at my hut and read the New Testament from cover to cover. As I read, some passages seemed to shine like gold, while others were merely in black and white. Amongst those that seemed to be written in gold were the Beatitudes, especially these:

  • Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

On Easter Sunday, I finished my reading. I set down my New Testament, but continued pondering one passage that still confused me. “Take, eat: this is my body,” Jesus said at the last supper as he broke bread for his disciples. What did he mean by that? Just as the sun touched the distant hills, a voice quietly whispered in my ear: “Take, eat, this is my body.” At the same time, all the energy of the universe began pouring into me. The experience was so intense, it terrified me. As a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, which came to me later, says:

If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One and I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds.

Robert Oppenheimer made those words famous in the Western world, but as far as I’m concerned, his comparing the “thousand suns” to the explosion of an atomic bomb is pathetic. For one thing, an atom bomb isn’t even the tiny flame of a cigarette lighter in comparison to a thousand suns. For another, an atom bomb is a tool of destruction. The energy I felt was that of pure love. The terror I felt was the terror of my ego, whose existence depends on separation from the purity of all-embracing love. Best to keep a safe distance from the sun and bask in its rays. Get too close and you’ll be vaporized.

From that moment to this, I’ve been living in limbo. My life has been far from exemplary, but the only thing that makes sense to me is love.

Why did Jesus single out the the poor, the meek, the merciful and the peacemakers as blessed? All you have to do is substitute their opposites to get the answer. Would it not be absurd for the incarnation of God to say:

  • Blessed are the rich,
  • Blessed are the powerful,
  • Blessed are the merciless, and
  • Blessed are the war mongers?

As spiritually absurd as it is, those are exactly the qualities our governments, corporations, financial institutions and even religions embrace and promote.

Who is Jesus?

Who is Jesus? I’m no more qualified to know for sure than anyone else (including those who say they do), but, like others, I have an “inner Jesus.” The life of my Jesus may have gone something like this . . . . .

Jesus’ mother, Mary, became pregnant, but the father didn’t want to take responsibility for the baby, so another man, Joseph, who had loved her from afar, offered to marry her. Mary felt loved for the first time in her life and gladly accepted.

Joe and Mary were so poor, they were homeless when Jesus was born. It wasn’t that Joe was lazy. In fact, he was hard working and conscientious, but there wasn’t much money in making plowshares for a living. Eventually, Joe was able to settle down and build a small house for his family. They were always dirt poor, but what Jesus remembered the most was that his was a loving family. His mother remained faithful to his father and his father never took his frustrations out on his wife or children.

When he came of age, Jesus left his family to make his own way in the world. As a poor Jew who spoke the crude language of Aramaic, he was socially ostracized. Neither the wealthy Jews of the city nor the Romans wanted to know him. He could have become a thief, but his family had brought him up well, teaching him the virtues of honesty and integrity.

Looking for answers to life’s big questions, he turned to some of the fringe gurus who had small followings in Jerusalem. One of them, John the Baptist, taught him some radical ideas that rang true to him. Not content with intellectual truths, Jesus decided to leave Jerusalem and fast and meditate in the desert until spiritual truth was revealed to him. He found a cave that was close enough to water to sustain his life while he fasted. Taking a gourd of water with him, he went deep into the cave and vowed not to come out until truth was revealed to him as it had been to John the Baptist. For several days, nothing happened and he was tempted to leave the cave and find something to eat. Resisting the temptation, the pangs of hunger diminished and in the total darkness of the cave, he started having visions. Some of the visions were horrific, reflecting the consequences of living a life of greed and corruption. Others were divine, making him feel bathed in oceans of bliss. Finally, a blinding light enveloped his being and Jesus knew the truth.

Returning to Jerusalem, Jesus started telling whoever would listen about his experiences. He also became a political activist, exposing the hypocrisy of the top echelons of the Jewish hierarchy and their Roman counterparts. On one occasion, he got so pissed off, he overturned money changer’s tables at a big temple. That and other acts of protest earned him some notoriety and a small following.

Jesus fell in love with one of his followers, a pretty girl named Mary Magdalene. Some of his other followers were scandalized by this. “She’s just a whore,” they told him. Big mistake. “Who are you calling a whore!” he said. “Are you or I or anyone else here perfect? Mary did what she had to do to survive. So what? I know what’s in her heart and that’s all that counts.”

For awhile, Jesus was considered a harmless nut case by the authorities, but as his popularity grew, they decided it would be best to keep tabs on him, so they sent a spy into his inner circle. Jesus knew full-well that Judas was a mole, but didn’t expose him. Judas reported back to the authorities regularly. Finally, when it looked like he posed a serious threat to both the Jewish hierarchy and the Romans, they decided he was a terrorist threat and had to be disposed of.

When Jesus was crucified, his followers couldn’t handle it. They consoled themselves by taking some of his words out of context and interpreting them literally. He was literally the one and only “Son of God” and would literally come back to save them. While they waited in vain for his return, some of them started writing down his words of wisdom. How many gospels were written, nobody knows, but at least two, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomas were tossed out in favor of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, which are all pretty fundamentalist in nature.

I’m reasonably confident Jesus didn’t look like this

I’m sure you could have a field day picking apart my version of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Still, I’m confident I’m closer to the mark than Fox news presenter Megyn Kelly, who created a stir recently when she said, “Jesus was a white man.” Then there was the bumper sticker that said, “Immigrants: if English was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for you, too.” It’s way, way past time we took Jesus or any other religious figure and appropriated them for cultural, racial, or political ends. Here are some probable truths about Jesus to think about this season:

  • Christmas isn’t Christmas. It’s the winter solstice. The Gregorian calendar wasn’t even invented when Jesus was born and no one is really sure of the real date of his birth. Like Easter and many other Christian myths, Christmas was ripped off from “pagan” religions.
  • Jesus wasn’t white and didn’t speak English. He was brown, Jewish and spoke Aramaic, the language of the poor.
  • The village Jesus grew up in didn’t have a Walmart. It bore a greater resemblance to the villages in Pakistan our drones strike every day. For that matter, Jesus bore a closer resemblance to the people our drones kill than he does to any of us of European descent.
  • He’s not going to come down from heaven to save a bunch of fundamentalist Christian Americans and leave everyone else to fry.
  • America hasn’t been blessed by Jesus with a bunch of useless stuff nobody really needs.
  • If Jesus saw salvation anywhere, it was in the people we crucify every day: the poor, the meek, the peace loving and the merciful.
  • IF JESUS WERE ALIVE AND PREACHING TODAY, HE WOULD BE UNDER SURVEILLANCE AND PROBABLY ON SOMEONE’S HIT LIST.

If you’re interested, I tell more of the story of the year I spent in India in My Guru Who isn’t My Guru.

Kirtan with Krishna Das

Krishna Das kirtan2004 was a pretty major year in my life. Just after the New Year, I had to leave my family in Australia for several months to look after my Dad, who was dying of stomach cancer. Dad really wanted to see his favourite niece before he died. She kindly flew out to California from Wisconsin, stopping off in Santa Barbara first to pick up her daughter. They then drove out to the desert together.

“Oh thank God! I don’t have to listen to that music anymore!” was how my cousin greeted me.

I turned to her daughter, who was grinning from ear to ear and asked what she had been tormenting her mother with. “Krishnadas,” she said. “Have you heard of him?”

“I think I used to know him!” I replied. “Let me listen to something.” Sure enough, the short kirtan she played sent me straight back to India, circa 1972. Before that moment, I didn’t know whether Krishnadas was alive or dead, much less that he had become a “superstar” of chanting.

As it turned out, Krishnadas came back into my life just when I needed a reconnection to Neem Karoli Baba the most. I got ahold of his email address, reminded him who I was (“I was the guy Maharaji didn’t like”) and told him how his CDs had transported me back to that magical year in India. Although his schedule didn’t coincide with mine at the time, he said he would be touring Australia later and we would meet then. The timing couldn’t have been better, because that was when things had just about hit rock bottom. It was as if Maharaji’s finger was tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me he was still around.

Rather than bore you with my story, I’d like to let Krishnadas do the talking. I will leave you with one quote from this interview in New York, though, because I believe it encapsulates everything we learned about “spirituality” when we were hanging out with Maharaji:

If you want to know if you’re making progress on the so-called spiritual path, see if you’re kinder to people; see if you’re a little easier on yourself; see if you obsess about your own self and all this stuff in your life a little bit less; see if you’re happier in the day in a simple way, more content; and see if you’re treating people more like you would like to be treated. That means it’s working.

Update 17 Feb 2013 – Alas, I removed the video because it has been removed from You Tube due to “multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringements.” At least I was able to keep that little gem of a quote.

Go See Sai Baba in Bangalore

If there was one guru I didn’t want to see in India, it was Satya Sai Baba. Between his dubious miracles, his afro haircut and the way he put on such a show, something about him really turned me off, even before I started hearing the rumours about him. So I wasn’t exactly thrilled when Neem Naroli Baba told me to “go see Sai Baba in Bangalore.”

Neem Karoli Samadhi at Vrindavan

Neem Karoli Samadhi at Vrindavan

In this case, it was a “direct order.” Maharaji was leaving his Vrindavan ashram. As was often the case, he wasn’t telling us where he was going and we were expected to leave the ashram. I got the rare opportunity to briefly ask him a question before he left, so I asked him where I should go in his absence. I was reluctant, though, so I decided to take a roundabout way of getting there.

First I went to Mumbai (then still called Bombay by most), where I called in on a soothsayer a lot of people swore by. He proceeded to tell me I would lead a relatively unremarkable life. I would never be rich, but I would have enough. I was going to have an indeterminate number of children and my later life would be more challenging and successful than my middle years. In retrospect, I can see that he was dead right, especially about the children, which he couldn’t see clearly. Well, I have two biological children and now have four young children who call me ‘Papa’ and who depend upon me.

Anjuna Beach, Goa - 1975

From Goa Gil's Photo Gallery: http://www.goagil.com/photogallery/Scrapbook/

From Mumbai, I took the ferry to Goa. I’m told Goa is much the same today as it was back then only bigger and more upmarket. Back in 1972 (or was it still ’71?), all that existed in the way of backpacker accommodations was little shacks on the beach and I’m sure there were no big hotels or resorts. The weather was glorious and after such a long stretch of time away from the beach and the hippy lifestyle, I decided to take a break from “the spiritual life” and try hedonism for a few days. Without going into graphic detail, let’s just say I pulled out all the stops, largely because of a beautiful French girl wearing nothing but a lime green loincloth (mine was day glow orange) I met on the beach on my first day. That interlude lasted all of an hour, because she and her boyfriend were leaving, but it set the stage for the remainder of my sojourn in Goa.

After a few days naked in the Goa sun, I developed a bad case of sunstroke. To top it off, I had diarrhoea, probably from the suss food I was eating and water I was drinking. Wasted and miserable, I decided to move on to Bangalore, as instructed by Maharaji. I still wasn’t excited about seeing Sai Baba, but it seemed prudent to take a break from the Goa lifestyle.

Sai Baba in 1972

Sai Baba in 1972

The truth is, I don’t remember anything about my trip to Bangalore except the moments before and after the occurrence I’ll describe shortly. I don’t remember how I got there, where I stayed, what or where I ate or how long I stayed. It’s all wiped from my memory banks. I do remember running across an old friend from Maui, because it was he who told me how my girlfriend had died two years previously. I knew she was dead because my former employer had sent me a telegram, but it was Bob (who had changed his name to ‘Baba’ and pronounced himself a guru) who told me she had driven off a cliff on the road to Hana. Strangely enough, I don’t remember meeting another friend and “saving his life” when I found him suffering from a bad case of hepatitis: his son told me about that some 20 years later when he stayed at my house in Australia. This is my one vivid memory from my trip to Bangalore:

Satya Sai Baba giving darshan

Satya Sai Baba giving darshan

It had to have been on the first or second day of my stay in Bangalore because I remember being barely able to drag myself to the scheduled Satya Sai Baba darshan. I wasn’t in the least bit keen to do it, but that’s what Maharaji had told me to do, so that’s what I was going to do. Somehow, I got a “front row seat.” From memory, there was a wide central pathway (I even remember a red carpet?!?) on either side of which long rows of devotees awaited Sai Baba’s appearance. While they waited in breathless anticipation of his arrival, I slumped miserably in the  half lotus position, which was comfortable for me then, waiting for it to all be over.

When Sai Baba made his appearance, it was exactly as I imagined it would be. He sauntered down the aisle, stopping now and then to bless a random devotee or make a little vibhuti. As he got closer to me, I became increasingly determined not to touch his feet if he came up to me or show him any other kind of respect. By then I had heard about his alleged sexual exploits. In fact, I think it was “Baba” (Bob) who warned me about him, but I could be wrong. As the story goes, he was a hermaphrodite who liked to have sex with boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 21 – or something like that.

Anyway, I was thinking about these things as he approached. Together with my sunstroke and diarrhoea, I was in no mood for niceties when Sai Baba sauntered up to me. I didn’t even bother to sit up straight, much less touch his feet. In fact, I positively glowered at him. What did he do in response? He smiled, said, “Acha! Very Good!” and tapped me gently on the top of the head.

I remember a rush of energy rising up my spine. I’d felt it many times before in meditation, but never that intensely or instantly. It actually spontaneously straightened my back and lifted my head. Whether what happened next was samadhi or not, I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you anything. It wasn’t samadhi as I had (possibly – it depends on one’s definition of the word, I suppose) previously experienced it. There were no waves of bliss. It was more like a waking deep sleep – no mental activity at all, but no loss of consciousness. When I “awoke” from it, I had no sense of time having passed, yet the courtyard was nearly deserted, so Sai Baba’s darshan must have ended some time before.

It took me a few minutes to regain my bearing and stand up, but when I did, I realised that my sunstroke was gone. I felt strong and healthy again and my mind was crystal clear. This didn’t come as a revelation or relief to me, though: it was just what had happened. Surprisingly, it didn’t change my attitude towards Sai Baba, either, other than to make me less judgemental about him. I felt no compulsion to have another darshan and I never did. Instead, I must have made arrangements to travel back to Brindavan, because I remember passing through Rajasthan on my way north.

Interestingly, this marks, more or less, one year since Satya Sai Baba’s death. Even that is a matter of controversy. Some say the actual day of his death was earlier than Easter Sunday, 2011, but those in charge kept it a secret in order to give the day greater significance. To be fair to Sai Baba, here is something he had to say about the current state of the world that rings true to me:

The passage of time has clouded the splendour of the message, the fascination exercised by the material and the worldly has drawn them away from the path, and the expansion of science and technology has made them conceited and wrong-headed. So, people now relish the very things prohibited and promote the very things condemned by religion. All religions teach that one should revere the parents and evince gratitude to them; but, ridiculing them and neglecting them have become fashionable now. All religions lay down that the aged are to be honoured, since they are the repositories of experience and their guidance is indispensable; but, now elders and the aged are treated as nuisances and handicapped. All religions insist on truth; but now, the man who sticks to truth is laughed at as if he were a fool. Cruelty and violence, condemned by all religions, have raised themselves to the status of weapons of progress and means for desirable ends. However, the basic truths of religion are not affected or tarnished by the evil that men practise or the competitive propaganda they indulge in.

Breakfast in Sihanoukville or “Nearer My God to Thee”

Is that an intriguing title or what? Let me explain:

This little café is in an unlikely setting for a retreat. It’s on the busiest street in Sihanoukville, is usually crowded and with little parking space, it’s often hard to get into, much less park my motorbike or even my bicycle in front of. Nevertheless, it’s one of my “magic” spots in Sihanoukville. Maybe it has something to do with the great fresh baked bread and pastries or the friendly and efficient staff or maybe it’s just magic, plain and simple. All I know is that every time I come here, I feel respite from the world.

click image for source

This morning I really needed respite and as soon as I sat down, it happened again: I felt at peace with the world and was content to set my mental and emotional baggage down and just ‘be’ for awhile. Then something weird happened: the words, “nearer my God to thee” popped into my head out of nowhere.

I knew they came from somewhere and that they were Christian in origin. I also knew that under other circumstances I would have found them annoying, like something a Jesus Freak, evangelical preacher or devout grandmother might say. Under these circumstances, though, they were quite comforting and reminded me of a day back in 1972 when similarly “Biblical” words popped into my head. That memory inspired me to do what I’ve been promising myself and others to do for ages and continue my Guru Who isn’t My Guru series of articles and that’s exactly what I’ve done this afternoon. Although it’s third on my list, it’s the chapter I’ve written first, about the time when Neem Karoli Baba told me to “go home and read the Bible.”

Neem Karoli Baba Kainchi ashram

Neem Karoli Baba Kainchi ashram (click image for source)

As you can see, that was in a decidedly more appropriate setting for a spiritual experience, but then again, the setting should be incidental. At any rate, I’m all blogged out now and just wanted to grab your attention. Just click the link above and read about what happened after I did what Neem Karoli Baba told me to do.

 

My Slough of Despond

The past few weeks haven’t exactly been good ones for me. They haven’t been all that bad, either, but they’ve been bad enough for me to come up with the title of this blog, My Slough of Despond.

Christian in the Slough of Despond by William Blake

Christian in the Slough of Despond by William Blake

It started with a flu that happened to coincide with a downturn in work. At the same time my flu degenerated into a reasonably bad case of bronchitis, members of my family started falling ill and a neighbour suddenly died. All of these events put an enormous strain on my limited income and made me wonder, once again, how I’m ever going to be able to provide for my Cambodian family indefinitely.

On a more global scale, I read about how the fallout from Fukushima is much worse than has been reported and have watched the rhetoric for war in Syria, Iran and Central Africa pick up speed. Here in Cambodia, a Chinese company is turning a large chunk of virgin rainforest and turning it into a city sized resort/casino and a Cambodian rubber baron is destroying another swathe of land in Ratanakiri.

I didn’t write a post last week because I was just too depressed. On Sunday, my title came to me, but stuck in the slough as I was, I couldn’t get beyond it. Looking for inspiration this morning, I googled ‘slough of despond’ and discovered that I’m not the only one who is feeling or has felt this way.

My first search took me to the transcript of a podcast written in 2006 on a blog simply called Shane’s Pages. This is how it begins:

Do you still listen to or watch the news or have you given up in despair? Do you often have a real sense of foreboding and unease? Do you find yourself staring off into space wondering what our world is becoming? If you do, you’re not alone.

A little further along, Shane says:

We hear, read or watch the suffering of innocent civilians caught up in somebody else’s war and identify with them. We cheer on the aid workers and medical and relief teams as they do their work in trying to alleviate the suffering. At the same time we watch, read or hear about the importation of more weapons at another port that will, in a few short hours, be used to inflict more carnage in the innocents. All this is information is thrown at us and in some way we try and cope.

Had the page title not simply been August 2006 #1, I would have thought it had been written yesterday.

Shane, who sounds like a really interesting guy, by the way, went on to say something spookily relevant to my personal slough of despond.

While waking up to the news of a child who will forever wear the scars of her ripped face due to some bullshit masculinity which deems keeping animals bred to kill in your backyard as a rational thing to do, you overhear the waking whimper of your own children and wonder if its luck, genetics or just good timing that separates you from parent of the other child.

Fortunately, the story is not quite as tragic here, but another source of frustration and despondency for me and my neighbours has been the pit bull some idiot brought over from America. After killing two street dogs, the neighbours asked him to destroy his dog before it attacked a child, but he refused on the grounds that it was an expensive dog.

That story has a “happy” ending. Even though he promised to keep it enclosed or on a lead, he continued to take it out for exercise and it was hit by a car the other day.

The next place I looked for the slough of despond was in images. I found this one by Wm. Blake on a blog called this Public Address. Interestingly (to me), the author is also a woodworker as I was and still am inside and also likes Stickley furniture. There was no text with the image, but on the home page, I came across an excerpt from an interview with artist Jim Dine, who says:

Yes, that’s the running thread—the alchemical aspect of it—turning shit into gold, hopefully. That’s always been my intention.

Last week, my daughter Chloe brought my attention to Kony 2012, a documentary about the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. The documentary has gone viral and has brought Kony into the public spotlight for the first time. However, Kony and his army have not been active for years and it’s only recently that the United States has decided to do something about it.  Is it a case of “better late than never” or is there something sinister behind it?

This morning I got what I believe may be my best answer to this question in my inbox. The title of the article is KONY 2012: Merchandising and Branding Support for US Military Intervention in Central Africa. Its author, Nile Bowie, sets up his argument in the opening paragraph:

Edward Bernays believed that society could not be trusted to make rational and informed decisions on their own, and that guiding public opinion was essential within a democratic society. Bernays founded the Council on Public Relations and his 1928 book, Propaganda cites the methodology used in the application of effective emotional communication.

He then goes on to examine why the video may be part of a propaganda campaign aimed towards garnering “mainstream acceptance of US presence in Africa through a proposed archipelago of AFRICOM military bases in the region.” He questions the necessity of such bases with lines like this:

According to Invisible Children’s own LRA Crisis Tracker, not a single case of LRA activity has been reported in Uganda since 2006.

I’ll leave it to you to read the article if you choose to do so. I definitely recommend reading it before or after watching Kony 2012.

I like to wrap up my posts with something positive, but I’m still in the slough of despond and nothing’s coming to me. How do you turn the “shit” that’s happening in the world into gold? I suppose you can get all your information from CNN and CNBC and believe that the world’s only superpower and its allies are engaging in “humanitarian intervention” and that an “economy recovery” is occurring. Maybe you can pin your hopes on the outcome of the next election or the one after that. I can’t, but maybe you can.

Right now, I’m pinning my hopes on karma. The man’s pit bull was killed by the car and no longer threatens our neighbourhood. Was it a random accident, divine intervention or karma?

Christian dragged out of the slough of despond by Help - Wm Blake

Christian dragged out of the slough of despond by Help - Wm Blake

Of course, seeking karmic vengeance when you feel otherwise hopeless is a pretty pathetic way to feel hope, but right now it’s hard for me to “love everybody” as Neem Karoli Baba suggested we do. I think I’ll take my readers’ advice and finish My Guru Who is Not My Guru pages and see what happens. Thanks for your words of encouragement, everyone. That’s a story that’s worth telling and one of the few that only I can tell. I promise, I’ll do it this week.

In the meantime, this cover of Nirvana’s Come as You Are by Malaysian artist Yuna definitely helped restore my faith in some parts of humanity. Thanks, Chloe, for helping me out of the slough by recommending it.

Why I Like My Frontal Lobes

Two recent events inspired this post. The first was a big increase in traffic to my site and subscribers to my newsletter thanks to Neil Slade’s recommending this site to his readers. The next was a Facebook exchange about Ron Paul that got me to thinking about religion and what it means to be religious. I have never thought of myself as religious, but I am sympathetic to the core values of religions, in spite of the evils done in the name of religion. “Why is that?” I asked myself. Then I asked myself, “What are those core values?” Then I started thinking about where my own core values came from. This is what I came up with:

  • My personal “conversion” to the core values of religions came to me when I was 20 years old. At the time, I was practising meditation as taught by Paramahansa Yogananda, whose Self Realization Fellowship calls itself the “Church of All Religions.”
  • A year later, I moved to a spiritual retreat in Northern California run by a direct disciple of Yogananda’s, Swami Kriyananda. There I taught hatha yoga and was able to meditate in an ideal setting for 4 months of the year during retreat season. I was thoroughly blissed out for those 4 months, but things got rougher when I had to return to the city in October.
  • My disenchantment with Kriyananda led me to go to India, where I spent a year. Much of that time was spent with My Guru Who Isn’t My Guru, Neem Karoli Baba.
  • Shortly before I had to leave India, Neem Karoli Baba told me to spend Easter weekend in retreat in my little woodcutter’s cottage in the lower Himalayas reading the New Testament. On the evening of Easter Sunday, I finally finished the canonical gospels. As I watched the sun set, I was asking myself what Iesu (Jesus) meant when he said, “Take, eat. This is my body.” As I contemplated these words, the universe seemed to come rushing into my body. As it did so, it said, “This is my body.” The experience was so overpowering, it was terrifying, but I was left with the lifelong conviction that God really is Love.

That was my peak experience, but others that came before and after have led me to have some core values that I associate with the highest ideals of the world’s religions. These values are not beliefs I adhere to because I read them in a book or was taught them by a guru; they are there because of those peak experiences which, I believe, changed me for the better. They didn’t turn me into an awesomely wise and saintly person by any means, but they did change me to one who found value, meaning and even personal gratification in behaviours usually associated with spirituality. I find it more gratifying to:

  • Be kind, rather than cruel
  • Love, rather than hate
  • Give, rather than take
  • Forgive, rather than judge
  • Be truthful, rather than lie
  • Be gentle, rather than harsh

The list goes on, but I think you get my drift. I rarely have those whiz-bang peak spiritual experiences I had when I was younger any more, but even as I write this, a peace comes over me that is worth more to me than all the money or power in the world. This tells me that I am in tune with my “religion” as best I am able to be at this moment in time.

At the same time, I know I’m quite capable of indulging in behaviours that are quite at odds with my “better half.” Like philosophers and theologians throughout the ages, I struggled for years trying to find answers to why this was so. Unable to settle for a theological explanation, I found one that works for me when I stumbled across Neil Slade’s Amazing Brain website and learned about the function of the amygdala in the brain. The pieces all fell into place:

  • The way I learned to meditate was to focus on the Third Eye (the point between the eyebrows). This was, according to Yogananda, where Christ Consciousness was located in the chakra system. This form of meditation worked brilliantly for me as long as I was able to do it regularly.
  • When my circumstances changed and I was no longer able or willing to meditate, I knew of no means of switching my higher consciousness on and a period of about 20 years of relative “darkness” ensued, with moments of illumination coming only randomly, usually triggered by memories, when I was doing stuff with my kids or when I was alone out in nature (especially surfing).
  • When I started experimenting with amygdala tickling, I had a big “brain pop” early on. I think it had something to do with having “primed the pump” with meditation early in life.
  • After I started switching my consciousness forward into my frontal lobes regularly, I had a great deal of success with my experiments with energy healing, something I previously thought was only for the gifted few.
  • I started listening to my intuition rather than my intellect; using my intellect as a tool, rather than as a master.
  • I’m happy inside for no particular reason far more often than I ever was before.

This list, too, goes on, but again, I think it gives you the idea. If you’re looking for happiness and fulfilment, the answer is right there between your eyes. That’s the way I see it anyway.

Spirituality versus Activism

This blog has taken a turn in recent weeks as I write about social issues. When I began A Cookbook of Consciousness, it was in order to share my thoughts about higher states of consciousness. I was working on Sea of Joy at the time and was tired of keeping my thoughts to myself.

After Obama was elected, I assumed that America would back off its imperialistic ambitions and focus on fixing the U.S. economy. Like so many others, I was wrong. This, and the writing of The Curse of the Internet, led me to take an interest in politics and economics. The more I learned, the more upset I became. Although I’m just another voice crying in the cyberspace wilderness, I felt like I had to express my views on the important issues facing us today. In essence, I became an activist. I was a reluctant one, though, because in the past, I believed that spirituality and social activism didn’t mix. I’ve changed my mind.

Ram Dass and Friends

Ram Dass and Friends

A minor miracle helped make my mind up. When I opened my email last week, an old newsletter from the Ram Dass Love, Serve, Remember Foundation miraculously opened. I say miraculously because it simply opened by itself. It contained this quote by Ram Dass:

You use the things that are on your plate, that are presented to you. So that relationships, economics, psychodynamics—all of these become grist for the mill of awakening. They all are part of your curriculum.

At that moment in time, I was having second thoughts about my decision to take on the responsibilities I’ve taken on in the past five years. I used to live a quiet, almost hermetic life and lived in an almost constant meditative state. Since moving to Cambodia, I have had to confront life head-on as I face the challenges of life here. Had I abandoned the spiritual life? That miraculous email, which I had only cursorily read the first time I saw it, convinced me that I had not.

I’ve been taking a lot of time off of my regular writing assignments to read and write about the social issues that face us today. You’d have to be blind not to notice that we’re on the edge of an economic and, more importantly, political precipice. I’m well aware that I don’t have a following, but also strongly feel the need to express my views. Is my foray into activism just a waste of time?

Although it isn’t as spectacularly miraculous as having an old email spontaneously open, this morning a new Ram Dass “Words of Wisdom” quote came to my inbox. This is what it said, in part:

does working on yourself have anything to do with whether you protest, march, drop out, drop in? No, it has nothing whatsoever to do with that, because at any moment you are consciousness involved in a nature package

Let me make it clear: Ram Dass is not my guru. I met him when I was in India. We both were drawn to the same guru – Neem Karoli Baba, the “guru who is not my guru.” However, in these two instances, at least, I believe that Maharaj-ji was speaking to me through Ram Dass. I am at peace with myself again. Acuun Trann (thank you), Ram Dass. I don’t have words to express my gratitude to Neem Karoli Baba. That’s okay. He knows what’s inside my heart.

 

Being There Now with Be Here Now

I ran across Eckhardt Tolle’s bestseller, The Power of Now the other day. It’s an interesting book and highly recommended, but that’s not what this post is about. As soon as I saw the title, I went on a trip back in time, to when Ram Dass’s Be Here Now was the Now book of the moment. That’s what this post is about.

I met Ram Dass back in about 1969 or 70, after his guru, Neem Karoli Baba told me to go see him in Nainital, a beautiful city in the foothills of the Himalayas. I didn’t hesitate to go, but it wasn’t for the obvious reason – that Ram Dass was famous. In his incarnation as Richard Alpert, he was famous as the infamous (in conservative circles) Harvard professor who, along with Timothy Leary, helped popularize LSD. When he  traveled to India seeking enlightenment, he was introduced to Neem Karoli Baba and subsequently became Ram Dass. It’s a long story and one he tells best himself. If you want to read his story, check out his website.

The reason I did as directed was simply because Neem Karoli Baba told me to. I had only gone to see Maharaji out of curiosity, because he happened to be in Vrindaban at the same time I was, but after just one brief visit, I was already under his spell, if that’s the way to put it. There was just something about him. He shattered my preconceptions about what a guru should be like, but remained compelling to me in spite of my firmly held yoga purist’s convictions and prejudices.

I went to see Ram Dass as told and found him to be a really nice guy – warm and friendly and unpretentious. I also met some other devotees of Neem Karoli Baba. They came in all sorts of personality packages, but I found them refreshing. At the time, the world of Western Hinduism as I knew it was the world of yogic discipline. My summer job at the time was teaching hatha yoga and meditation at a retreat in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Maharaji’s followers didn’t seem “spiritual” at all. They just liked to hang out with Maharaji. No, they lived to hang out with him. I could relate to that, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why.

This will be a very long blog post if I don’t get to the point. The original title of this post going to be, “A Journey into Darkness.” It was going to be about how I let myself be driven by fear for a good portion of last week and the terrible realization that this and other negative emotions – everything from despair to greed, anger and pride – seem to be the driving force behind so many people’s entire lives. I’ve been aware of this intellectually for years, but the other day it hit me like a sledgehammer.

There were remnants of fear in my consciousness this morning when I sat down to work. I was going to bang out a quick blog post and then get back to work. Because I had been reminded of Be Here Now, I thought I’d google Ram Dass and see what he was up to. Then I randomly clicked this link and my eyes fell on these words from Neem Karoli Baba:

“The real contentment comes only when there is no desire, no hankering in your mind for anything. How can you say that you have got everything and do not want anything more when you are holding an empty vessel in your hand? You might be saying this with your mouth, but there would always be the worry in your mind about how the pot could be filled, always looking from side to side with the expectation that somebody will come and fill it up. Well, how can you call this contentment? When one sees that when the pot before him is full to the brim, it is emptied, and when it is empty, it is refilled of its own – that is contentment. If anyone wanted to give him anything, he would show that the pot was full already. What would he do with anything more? Even if he wanted to share it with others, where would he put it? This is the real contentment and it comes only through the grace of God. When you have full faith in Him, full reliance on Him, when you can surrender everything to Him, then that grace comes to you by itself – you do not have to ask for it or make any effort. Such is the value of faith in God.”

Neem Karoli BabaNeem Karoli Baba doesn’t look much like your stereotypical guru. He didn’t act like one, either. The only words of spiritual advice he ever gave me were, “love everybody and eat jalabis” and, when I asked him if he was my guru, he gave me an emphatic “No!” Jalabis are delicious Indian sweets, by the way, not a mysterious psychedelic drug. Make of his words what you will, they have been with me ever since that day.

I want to go on writing forever about the year I spent in India. To say it was magical would be an understatement. It’s time to close now, though. Thanks for visiting.

notes: I originally posted this about 2 years ago. I’m the guy with his hand on his hip at the top of the photo. It should be obvious who NKB is.