Good Morning, Friends,
Let us be humble and Loving toward every being we encounter (and) Let us all turn deeply within. Thank you very much…
Okay, ending there - that was like a joke. I don’t exactly tell jokes, but sometimes I tell things that are ‘like jokes’ and my Sweetheart Cindy, tells me that I should label them as such: “That was like a joke” so that you’ll know. Cindy is “breathtakingly level-headed” as J.D. Salinger once wrote and (really, she is so much more than that), and so, I usually take her advice.
Ramana Maharshi, one of many great Teachers, was a saint, a Hindu sage, who lived in India – and spent pretty much his entire physical life on a mountain called Arunachala between 1879 and 1950 (though if you’d asked him about those dates, it would mean nothing to him). Someone asked Ramana what he thought, generally, of Organized Religion. Ramana answered, “When the excellent cool summer breeze itself is blowing – what is the use of holding a hand fan?”
When I was around 9 or 10, everything began to happen that year – Everything. The Beatles appeared, and simultaneously, so did my understanding that organized religion didn’t know very much about God. I saw, too, that the borders of nation states were just an illusion, and that, in fact, those states themselves do not exist. I vowed Nonviolence and declared that I would never serve in any military nor engage in any act of violence. I also saw that Love alone is the vehicle to the Divine, to the Essence, to Truth. And, despite my Catholic schooling, I grasped that God is both male and female, and simultaneously, neither male nor female – all at the same time. I remember thinking, “Why should this be so hard for people to comprehend?”
That same year, when, on any other day my skull might have been buzzing with I Wanna Hold Your Hand, on one particular summer’s day I was gazing upon a still pool of lake water. Then I was suddenly kind of thrown out into the Cosmos. If I were to try to talk about this, now, I could maybe say, I just – in one instant – saw everything, every single thing, in all the multiple Universes – all at once. Now, don’t let me be too dramatic here – but it was something like that. I don’t know how to approach talking about it, but I will tell you this: I saw that it was all One Being. This is not my “belief” – this is what I experienced, then as I do now.
When I was 13, I bought some books about meditation, and tried to do what they told me to do – gaze at candle flames and so on. But it didn’t come anywhere near what I saw at the lake that day. By the time I was 17, I was reading the Upanishads and the Gita, and was finally initiated by another human being into actual Sitting Meditation practice (because this is not something you can learn from a book, or the internet, for God’s sake! See? Throwing “for God’s sake” in there – that’s like a joke).
Anyway, all of this is to say that, because of people like George Harrison, I was encouraged to follow my natural desire to dive into deeper and deeper realms of experience. George said, “Yeah, I’ve taken LSD and it’s opened some doors, but it didn’t open the real doors – for that I needed Meditation”. I took that advice to Heart. I didn’t take drugs, and even though I hung out with others who did acid and hashish, none of this was the absurdly trivialized stereotype we see in movies and tv – “Hey Man, wanna party?” No, what we wanted was to look into the eyes of God. That’s the only reason we did anything.
Meditation, which I’ve been gratefully practicing for 45 years now, enabled me – as a young man of 17 – to move into deeper and deeper levels of stillness and silence. I had no idea what was possible. The busyness of daily thoughts and gibberish continually club us senseless and inflict much more suffering than most people ever even realize. When Sitting, one follows either mantra or breath into deeper levels of Consciousness, and gradually thoughts dissipate. Practiced daily, one moves into deeper, more subtle levels of still, silent Consciousness, and what happens there is not something I’d even try to talk about. But the Upanishads tell us this:
“The Imperishable is the Real. As sparks innumerable fly upward from a blazing fire, so from the depths of the Imperishable arise all things; and to the depths of the Imperishable they again descend”. We are the sparks, and it just keeps going like that, until we grasp our True Nature.
When Ramana Maharshi was sixteen years old, he fell down on the floor of his home and felt himself dying. He lay there on the floor and felt his body atrophying around him. And suddenly he asked this question, aloud: “Who is dying? Who is this ‘I’ that dies?” He at once became keenly aware – that his true nature was Imperishable. The boy saw that he was not his body, mind, nor his personality. That realization stayed with him forever.
The atrophy passed, but not the question, “Who is this ‘I’?” He stood up, walked out of the room, and after a few weeks of tolerating school, he just left the house one day and walked to Arunachala. He gave up all money and possessions and entered a cave, and, his sense of individualism gone, he stayed in there for months. Eventually, one of his cousins traced the path & found him in the cave –wild matted hair, long, curled fingernails, and insects taking their sustenance from his body, a body that he no longer seemed to be cognizant of.
He was not speaking at that time, but he didn’t need to – the intensity was emanating from every pore. They bathed him, cut his hair and nails. He would eat if they asked him to, and didn’t bother to if they didn’t. But he refused to leave Arunachala, never straying more than two miles from its base, ever after. Enlightenment came to the boy as Grace, with aid from no one. Later, as an adult on Arunachala, when pressed to name his Guru, he said, “The Mountain is my Guru”. Ramana had no intentions, of doing this or that, or anything, yet people began to gather ‘round. They felt deeply compelled to bathe in that Energy.
He’d sit on the mountain in the blazing sun or the blinding rain, and people worried that he would perish. So they built a platform about 20 feet away from him & then sort of herded him onto it. They added half walls & a roof, and this open air patio became his home from then on. He was available to anyone, humans and animals alike, 24 hours a day, there on that verandah. In time, enough people came to be near him that an ashram was built adjoining the porch, and Ramana, who wore only a loincloth and owned nothing, would rise at 4 AM to wash and chop vegetables in the kitchen, to feed those who came to call themselves “devotees”.
Many endless thousands, over many years, came from all over the world, to be in his presence. Much of his transmission was done in silence. People would sit there with him, silently absorbing what came through this walking Mystery. He would go through long periods of silence, people would gaze into his eyes, or watch the monkeys run back and forth across his path, and be blessed and changed by his darshan.
And then, fortunately, there would be long periods during which he’d speak and answer questions, and it was all written down. In some ways, it wasn’t exactly “new” – but he said it more profoundly, directly, boldly, and more succinctly than any other source that I’d ever seen.
Hinduism tells us TAT TVAM ASI meaning “Thou Art THAT”. You aren’t your body, or your personality, or your career, or your possessions – No; your True Nature is beyond all definition or concept. Hinduism says that beyond its elaborate pantheon of gods & goddesses; that ultimately, everything melds into Brahman (And, of course, they know that “Brahman” is just a word someone made up to try to speak what can’t be spoken – you know, like ‘God’). One can use any word or form to try to cognize Truth, or the Essence – God, Jesus, Vishnu, Parvati, Laksmi, Allah, and on and on, but IF that word or form limits you into believing that you’re “right” and everyone else is “wrong” or “damned” or whatever, then friend, let me say this as Lovingly as I can – you know nothing of God and you’re just wallowing in ego. Let’s try something else.
They say, in both Hinduism and Buddhism, that OM is the sound that all of existence (Remember the One Being that I talked about earlier?) makes as it hums and vibrates throughout every expanse of imagined Time and Space. We don’t get to keep anything in this world – nothing - so we meditate on OM, we chant OM as a way of maintaining a constant, conscious, daily intimacy with THAT which is Eternal. Don’t get trapped in definition – that’s just ego – Whether you say Eternal, Essence, Consciousness, God, OM, I’shkh, Allah, Truth, Christ Consciousness, Buddha Nature, or The Self – transcend your attachment to words - Simply because words don’t make it.
People would say to Ramana, I want God, or I want Realization, or I’m lonely, I want to marry, I’m afraid, and Ramana would always, lovingly, patiently bring them back to the same question:
“Who is this ‘I’ you keep talking about? Find out that”. He would say, “Reality is simply the loss of the ego. Destroy the ego by following the ‘I’ thought to its source, to its origin. Because the ego is no entity, when sought out it will automatically vanish, and Reality will shine forth by itself.” That Reality is what you are. Every human being says “I”, but what we don’t grasp is that we’re all talking about the same “I”.
Ramana said, “When we are in the waking state, we say Consciousness and waking are present. When we are in the dream state, Consciousness and dreaming are present, and when we are in the state of dreamless sleep, we say that Consciousness and deep sleep are present. But in truth, only the Consciousness is Real – all- pervading -the rest is just passing by, like images on a cinema screen”.
Okay, I’m throwing out a lot of wild information now – quoting a saint – information that can make our egos and brains run everywhere in terror, so let me tell you a few lovely stories to calm them down – stories about Ramana & animals.
Animals came & went all the time in Ramana’s room & he refused to let anyone shoo them away. One time, a woman gave Ramana a banana leaf filled with cooked rice and vegetables to eat. Quickly a monkey swooped in and grabbed handfuls and started eating ravenously. The woman scolded the monkey, and the monkey hissed at her. Ramana put his hand on the monkey’s back and said, “It’s okay – she’s one of us”. The woman laughed and Ramana and the monkey went on eating together.
Another time, he’s on the patio, sitting on the floor with many devotees all around, when a large cobra slithers onto the porch and heads directly for Ramana. This is a cobra. It’s India – everyone’s terrified. The cobra curls up in Ramana’s lap, stays there for maybe ten minutes, and then continues on his path, and off the porch. Everyone was relieved, “Ramana, we thought you were going to die! It was so horrible! We were so scared! How did that feel?” And Ramana answered, “Smooth and cool”.
Another time, the writer Somerset Maugham witnessed this. A white cow named Lakshmi often hung out on the porch. One day, Lakshmi and Ramana were gazing into one another’s eyes, his hands wrapped around her cheeks. Tears were running down both of their faces. Lakshmi backed slowly away. Bowing her head and the front half of her body toward the Earth, she did not turn her back on him until she was completely off the porch. Some of the devotees told Maugham that this was common for Lakshmi to take her leave of Ramana this way.
Okay, now that we’ve had a little breather, let’s go back to smashing our illusions, shall we? Actually, through Sitting in stillness, and from delving into the lives and thoughts of great Gurus and saints like Ramana, Neem Karoli Baba and Anandamayi Ma, one thing I’ve come to understand is that Freedom actually IS Free. It can’t be bought through militarism, guns or killing. It can only be found within your True Nature, within the Essence of Consciousness. Go Within.
Now, please hear my disclaimer. I’m not pretending that “I” have successfully destroyed “my” ego - not at all. But I just know that it IS what I have to do, what we all have to do, if there is to be any Peace. Jesus, Buddha, Al Halaj, Ramana, Mirabai, Lalla, and more – they all said so. I’ve been fortunate enough to at least grasp that much. And it’s Humility and Love that will take us there.
Here’s another disclaimer, for your comfort. Let me just say that if you give up your ego, it doesn’t’ necessarily mean your fingernails will get all curly. You know, Dalai Lama – nice fingernails, no ego (See? Like a joke).
I keep harping on Humility because (maybe you’ve noticed) nobody talks about it in this country anymore. Why? Because it doesn’t feed capitalism, it doesn’t make money. The Machine feeds on ravenous egos feeding off of it. So, how important is it that we turn within and contemplate the essential quality of Humility? Well, have you seen the poor, twisted creature that inhabits the Oval Office lately?
And yet, here’s the paradox – There is only One Being. The word that Jesus used “bisha”, in Aramaic, which has too often been translated by very uptight puritans as “evil”, in fact didn’t mean “evil” at all; it meant “unripe”. Some people understand the Holiness of all life, of the One Being, and some don’t – because they just haven’t ripened yet. They don’t get it – yet. Sometimes it takes years, sometimes many lifetimes. Meanwhile, should we protest unripe false authority? Yes. Resist? Yes. AND, if we are wise, we will do it all with Great Love & Compassion. What I want for that twisted, atrocity-wielding, self-appointed “emperor” is the same thing I want for you and me – Awakening, Enlightenment.
Ramana makes it very clear that when you realize that your True Nature is Holy, then you see the Holy One in everything – because there is nothing else. You don’t gun down “others”, or lock children in cages, because, everywhere you look – it’s all God. They asked Ramana, “How should we treat others?” He said, “There are no others”.
I know that some have been deeply wounded by organized religion, or by fundamentalism, and they’re uncomfortable with talk of God. I understand and respect that wound. But whatever any of us believe is kind of irrelevant, it’s ego entrapment. There is a Truth (beyond all concepts) at the center of every molecule, and it can’t be named by anyone. Just be that Truth.
I’ve always thought of the body as a kind of overcoat. If you wore the same overcoat, every day, all your life, until it started to disintegrate – would you identify with that old coat as being “your” “self”? When the coat fell apart & in a sense – died – would you think, “I am now dead?” Or would you think, “I no longer need the overcoat”?
In response to a devotee’s question concerning re-incarnation, Ramana once said, “When seen through the sight of the supreme Self, the illusion of taking birth in this…world is found to be nothing but an ignorance of identifying the body as “I”… He said that those who have come to see beyond that false identification will remain in that new, elevated state, devoid of both birth and death. He said that we have this habitual tendency to mistake the body for “I” and, in doing so, we forget, or miss entirely, our true Self.
They asked him, “What happens after the body dies?” Ramana said, “You do not know what you were before you were born, and now you want to know what will happen after death. Do you know what you are now? Find out that, and all doubts will be answered”.
The Imperishable, my friends, is the Real – and Thou Art That.