Jnana Yoga – Unthinking Ramana

The great Sage Ramana Maharshi was always advising his visitors and students to ‘come back to ones deeper self’, these were not his words but this is partially the essence of what he discussed. He reminded us to stop running into the world and getting caught in the trap of things that sparkle and shine and turn the attention to the awareness of what is behind the experiencer of the world/s, to escape the mousetrap, the room full of mirrors with distorted images.  Often Spiritual aspirants and philosophers translate Ramana’s perspective of what some would erroneously define as reality into what they think he is saying.  As we are attempting to discuss something that is outside our normal way of thinking, it does seem obvious that it would be easy for there to be misinterpretations, or more specifically there are many misassumptions made.
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Digging into Ramana’s Words
I was looking at some  text which is an extract from the book ‘Who Am I?’ and am  once again reminded how if we are not alert, we can place a beard on the Mona Lisa, by this I mean add something that is not really there, we end up walking away with an impression in our thoughts that wasn’t said by the one who spoke the original words.  The mind (or more precisely the part of us that creates our understanding of the world) interprets it and adds something of it’s own, it goes into the subconscious and we end up with yet another program that runs in the background and undermines us and blocks the view.

What is called ‘the world’ is only thoughts.

When the world disappears, that is,
When there are no thoughts, the mind experiences bliss;
When the world appears it experiences suffering … Ramana Maharshi

Any Sage who is worth his weight in pure honey straight from the honeybee will always tell you the world is only a network of thought, this for many people is easy to reflect on and go “yes, yes, sure thing”, there is a feeling that we have resolved an aspect of the mystery of life, in support of this we may even reference Particle Physics concepts and say things like “it’s all just atoms in motion and nothing is static”, we feel there is a resolve because an idea has come to rest and assume we don’t have to think any more about it.
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The Great Void of Existence
Where we often get into trouble is with the line ‘When the world disappears’. I am in agreement with bliss emerging when the mind disappears, this is a no brainer for a long time deep meditator.  When we enter the Silence, the Great Void, the Emptiness, we take nothing with us, there is a dissolving.  The human being, well at least what it is generally perceived to be a human being, has limited parameters, a series of senses and if we reach in a little deeper we will see we have what I will for this article define as ‘super-senses’.  Regardless of these extra-normal super-senses they also have a finiteness about them, they have boundaries and they also don’t have a gate-pass into the Silence.  It seems to be common to some Indian Spirituality (and this is not a criticism but an observation) to always want to transcend the world, to go beyond it, always running, getting out, it’s as if life is poison that must not be drunk, the beauty around us is our enemy, the world is an enchantress who has to be denied and turned into a widow if we are to find freedom.  Although my foundation is in Jnana Yoga, I do not prescribe to this limited view, this is the Mona Lisa’s mustache added by others. Jnana Yoga although is perceived by many great yogis to be ultimate state, this is not so.
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Putting an End to the War Within
If we have the attitude that the world needs to be denied, that what is Spiritual is beyond, we end up being at war with the world around us.  We need to rethink this, to arrive at something that allows us to taste the pure water of the mountain stream, to feel the wind against our face, watch the birds twist around in the vast blue space, to be moved into ecstasy at the sound of master musicians, to embrace the beating heart of another being, to gaze at the gaps in the trees as breeze moves them, to be enchanted by the colours of spring. Human life is a blessing and the bitterness and misunderstandings of the yogis who are running ‘inside’ should not be our guiding light, they have not reached the heart sanctuary, they are caught in a limbo and do not fully understand the role of the human species. Beyond question, it is necessary to drop into the great Void inside, however we need a reminder that everything emerges out of this and the future of man is in the creative potential and the secret of dissolution is in constantly abandoning oneself into it and spiraling out again . Partial truths are an entrapment and just because it sounds good and people can use the words of (supposedly) Sacred texts to back up their world view, does not mean they have an understanding of the very words they quote. Experience is greater than philosophy.
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Thought, it’s All Thought
At the core of our problem is thought, and it is a universal problem; this is undeniable but that is where the road splits. Although most of the yogis will agree that thought is the problem, we are not necessarily speaking the same language; and i am NOT comfortable with “there are many paths and they all lead to same place” this is nonsense, it is a flippant statement used by people to close down dialogue.  I am confident there are two paths, and I am hesitant to use the word paths, because it implies going somewhere.  There are two perspectives.  One is a ‘going somewhere’, trying to Become something, and the other is Being.  The first is a movement away from the self, it is an endless journey of looking under rocks for the treasure; unknowingly it is enforcing a hidden mantra of ” I lack”, it is an attitude of I am not worthy, I will one day be better if I try, if I do a lot of Sadhana (Spiritual practice) then one day I will reach the goal.  A wise man or woman would refer to this as the Path of Endless Becoming,  and this path is what religions and half-baked-yogis thrive off.  ‘One day God will save you or find you worthy’, can you see the problem with this?  I was saying thought is the problem.  All the seeking, beckoning for help is in essence running away, it increases a sense of ‘I’ , the ‘I’ has no substance, it is purely a conglomeration of thought, joined together it creates an imaginary being, this being is in constant flux, the idea of making the being better is seriously flawed.  It is just thought.  So we need to look at thought more closely.  The word Ego is given too much attention, by trying to get rid of it, it strengthens its imaginary existence. It’s like a man who goes to a shonky doctor, and he tells the man he has a disease, the man runs hither and thither for a remedy, but he can never find one because the disease is not real, he spends his time and money attempting to fix the unfixable.
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Rethinking it All
What I struggled with in the translation of Ramana’s text was ‘When the world appears it experiences suffering’. This is incorrect and it stems from the misunderstanding of the relationship between suffering and attachment.  Where there is clinging there is pain.  The world with all its beauty, its endless unfolding and cascading is an expression of the Underlying Super-Consciousness expressing itself; our eyes and those of other beings, our senses and our super senses are the only thing that will experience this externally, how can this be suffering? A form that emerges will experience it on the inside, that part of consciousness has a right to exist.  It is the obsessiveness and morishness that is common to the human species that creates the problem.  The mind is an empty canvas like the sky, sprinkled with thought-possibilities, but if it holds it too long, if it surpasses the use-by date of the relationship, then the suffering begins.  Life itself is not suffering, it is the endless holding onto things, like a dog biting a leg that brings about pain.  This is where the half-baked Yogis and I have a fork in the road.  Yes thought is the problem, but in the same way that a fine surgeon or master wood craftsman uses their tools, beauty can emerge;  in the hands of a buffoon, tools are dangerous.

” When the world appears, embrace its beauty
Then like the setting sun, let it fall back into space
Be empty like the sky,
As clouds pass by watch with wonder as they bid farewell”

Tilopa 2.0

Real Yoga and the End of Maya

In a way we have all been fooled.  If we think back to when people were in agreement that the world was flat and they imagined it went off in all directions further than anyone could walk and they might fall off, only the dreamers would have imagined anything else, some would have looked at the moon and noticed at a period of time there was something up there that would change shape and from the pondering there would be numerous wondrous stories.  Others would have kept silent their dreams for fear of not fitting in to the community and being ostracised for thinking differently.
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A Kaleidoscopic of Tribes 
Anyone who has lived in isolation would have no idea what’s going on over the hill, each tribe in their own jungle has a special way of doing things, a specific language and what’s happening elsewhere would be incomprehensible.  Even today a percentage of the community does not realise that many of the concepts relating to classical physics have been replaced by the challenging and quirkiness of quantum physics, things have become a little more frisky, the familiar world is not so solid any more; things are named when we look at them, but everything quickly moves to another spot.  In one fast swoop and brush of the hand, this new perspective and understanding manages to disintegrate the world we knew, and unless someone is a dreamer it can make people feel a little uncomfortable, the ‘bird has flown’ when it comes to what we once knew or believed true.  Meanwhile religious dogmatists continue their rhetoric and stand their ground regardless.

It’s on the Internet, it Must Be True 🙂
With the emergence of technologies that have stemmed from quantum physics, we have a tsunami of information available that varies in quality, some life changing, other info may be trivial and ‘wannabe’, also there is monolith of material that is not even questionable but is straight out lies…or better I could say, “is from tribes from another jungle.”

When it comes to religion and spirituality, we also have quite a number of dishes at the smorgasbord, many of us are born into a familiar style of cuisine that is so normal to us that it seems so appetising, we feel satiated, so why eat elsewhere?

The World is Only Temporarily Solid
Contrary to popular opinion, the world is not what we think it is. ‘Thought’ plays a major part, and our inherited habit of ‘naming’ things is where we need to look if we want to make greater sense of what may be going on; we unknowingly have tricked ourselves, and everyone around us is part of the game, not intentionally; and not in a ‘paranoid’ sense, it’s the old story of actors in a play who get so carried way with the story, they forget their other normal daily existence.  A good point of reference to go to is Lao Tsu, he supposedly said, “The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth.  The Named is the Mother of myriad things.”  This may not seem overly important at first glance, it’s easy to flit past the endless feel good and philosophical thoughts that populate the cyber universe and bookshelves, but it’s critical to stop for a moment and ponder words by men and woman who are giants, they don’t speak flippantly, their dialogue is designed to destroy the known world, and to take us into new territory.  When wise men and women speak, what they say is something to dig into.  Lao Tsu said, “The named is the mother of all things.” If we go a fraction West to the Indian subcontinent and roll out the Vedic texts, we find the word ‘Maya’, a word often twisted by spiritual and religious zealots.  The relationship between Maya and the Named cannot be overstated.  Maya is interpreted in many ways and is often referred to as meaning ‘illusion’,  I will take the liberty of saying if you call it an ‘illusion’, it is misleading and is slightly incorrect.

Twisted Philosophy
The problem with defining the world we move in as ‘Maya’ is, if we follow that line of thought and our viewpoint or philosophy is in some way extreme, we will have a tendency to ‘run’ from life. Running will in some cases lead us away from obligations, things such as family, developing our skills, and if are not cautious we may minimise what requires our attention.  From my experience I have noticed some people who get caught up in the idea of Maya, are inclined to use phrases like “the world is material”, “it’s all God” as petty excuses to look away from life’s issues.  Many years later a person may find themselves in a situation where ‘regret’ kicks in, when the Maya philosophy bubble bursts, there are often casualties.

Maya, what it really is about is a ‘trick of the mind’, our thoughts have a natural tendency to create stories; this is inbuilt in human nature.  When we look at a tree, we name it, we don’t see the many facets of it, the colours, nor do we think about its relationship with the rest of the world, the eco system it is part of, and because it is ‘familiar’ in the sense that we KNOW what a tree is, it slips past us; we have a story of what a tree is, and don’t ‘second thought’ it.  But when we stop for a moment and look more closely and think it through, that tree that we see is just temporarily a ‘tree’, it will never be the same again, we subconsciously create parameters where the tree starts and stops.  What an awareness of Maya will tell us is we automatically ‘name’ everything, and with it comes a story, we miss what is underneath, we can be so distracted by the sparkle and glitter that emerges constantly in the world around us, we end up looking away from what is at the core of all things, and more importantly what is within ourselves.

Humanity’s Spiritual quest will have a series of milestones; I will simply of say there are markers at various points, and this is not something i would overthink or have as a rigid truth. I have often heard it said that there is a ‘different path for everyone’, this I see as a partial truth pointing to the individual having a unique experience as the kaleidoscope around changes, but at the core, ‘awareness’ hasn’t gone anywhere.  However, I am comfortable to say there is NO PATH.  What this means is there is a labyrinth, the labyrinth is constructed of thought, it goes in a circular motion; the parameters and boundaries are created by the limited view we have; the more way say “that’s not possible”, the tighter the restrictions will be. BUT if we are more detached from opinions about everything, the looser the chains will become.  Thought is the prison house and MAYA is nought but the relationship between the sparklies in the field of life and the way we lose ourselves in it.

So What on Earth Can We Do
From my experience I am comfortable in saying ‘Don’t do anything’; this is a difficult thing for many people because it requires an ‘undoing’ of the way we function.  We are generally goal driven.  The normal order of things is: do this, this and this and you will get ‘that’ at the end.  We are used to being ‘rated’ for what we do and often fall short, always ‘not good enough’,  forever we are away from the destination, or at the other extreme, there are those who are so self obsessed they consider their shower water is fine wine.

Coming Back to Me
By not doing anything we come back to our ‘awareness’, the experiencer, to something that is sensing the rise and fall of the play of life.  This way of doing things is hard for people, education is about striving, so there is habit and an assumption that this way of doing things would also be consistent in relation to the Spirit.  And in defense of the other way of doing things, there are numerous scriptures to quote; there are many words to reference that keep the world hypnotised.  Everyone is in a hurry to BE SOMETHING, but this is Maya at it’s best. NOTHING will always be at odds with Maya, they will never meet.

Maya has NO SUBSTANCE in the sense that EVERYTHING IS IN MOTION, but the centre, the ‘imaginary canvas’ is still, it is THOUGHT that is the SLAYER of the REAL.  And the REAL is the EMPTINESS, the AWARENESS at the centre of all.

A Prayer for Humanity
As the shadows and light move across the stage of life
May we always let them go when they must leave.
May we always treat others in the way we wish for ourselves
May our hearts soften to embrace diversity
May all Beings live in Harmony
May each new generation rise in love

Tilopa 2.0

The Yoga of Navigating a Mad World

I wonder why we hold back tears, the shame of showing emotions?

The world of ‘hold it together’, don’t let ‘them’ see your brokenness; men are expected to be strong, don’t be a wimp, all that stuff written by buffoons, those people who value worthless things. It may be that tenderness is sacred, and is something that needs to be treated with the utmost respect, in our private cave of transformation.
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Weakness is something that is misinterpreted; the big, the bold, the haughty, the emotionless types, they often go for places of power; they can have them, by raising themselves up high, their foundations get weaker, their fall from (a lack of) grace is too common to mention. History only remembers the tyrants, and the wise men and women, each one of them brings a feeling of ‘who they were’ into the present and future. In them is a teaching on how to live our lives with dignity, to leave something sublime for our descendants, to add something of value to the kaleidoscope of humanity.
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Out of Time with the Hustle and Bustlers
About two years ago, I was walking down a busy street in Melbourne. My version of walking, generally involves an invisible path about two metres wide, and the propulsion of my body in a forward direction oscillates plus or minus 27% from whatever I set as the average tempo. This sort of meandering I will admit can be annoying to others, particularly those who are in a hurry at peak hour. A guy flew past me, I think he had an invisible ute, a dog in the back, tonight’s grog in his work bag, a half eaten corned beef samich with tomata-sauce and a bit of yesterdays dinner on his shirt. Among the expletives were the words “surely it’s not too hard, can’t you walk straight.” A bit slow in my response, I will answer that now. “Well, NO?” It is virtually impossible, in the same way that a child or a puppy heads off in all directions, it is not one of my superpowers, I am busy with life, I am a dreamer, a wanderer of the stars in my head.  Musicians may hold a solid tempo in a song, but it’s the relationship to the beat that gives it the beauty; a poet may create pictures in the mind-space by placing ice-cream in the sky instead of clouds, an artist may omit lines but still be able to tell the story. If I become an android, please someone give me a heart transplant, my life needs feeling, swing, glitches and twitches, asymmetry, bumps and mysterious flavours. My clothes need wrinkles, my face the odd whisker that the razor missed, and sand in my bed is a necessity after I go for swim in the ocean, I love the salt stinging my skin; my tribe of monks dress in non uniform colours.
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Lao Tsu, My Invisible Friend
The old sage Lao Tzu says, “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard.” I like this guy Lao, I walk through the busy city streets with him, no one ever knocks him over, he is too alert. I have invisible friends.
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The constant straightening of the world around us may make the journey faster, the excavating of the rolling hills to run a ‘quick track’ through for the hordes to get to and from the cities, we lose the beauty of the curves of nature, we create a backdrop to move in, it resembles anorexic models who are showpieces of a form of still-framed beauty for those who suffer from extreme narcism who are hypnotised by an illusory image of self; flattening out what is enticingly voluptuous in nature, to rush to and from a designer box full of gadgets, to work places where many spend their days on automatic, watching the clock for any exit moments.
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Comfortable Uncomfortable
The creating of a ‘contrived’ world and our addiction to its ingredients is deeply related to our failure to feel, to avoid a sense of realness and honesty. And the creation of a ‘spiritual fabricated Utopia’ is just a ‘virtual’ extension of this mania or dis-ease that hypnotises humanity. It is all about ‘running’, being ‘away’. And I am not confusing ’emotional indulgence’ with feeling, the former is an addiction, being caught in a loop of wanting a hit of the same ‘feeling drug’ because it’s comfortable.  Getting a little uncomfortable is what this is about; when we are in that vulnerable space, we allow what needs to arise release itself, those things that are calling for our attention. On the screen of life, the scenarios take centre stage and present themselves; our choice is always to face them when we are ready or have them arrive at some other time, maybe with more potency and baggage.
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The Blessing
May there always be wiggles, may there always be women with curves and some naturally without, may there always be rolling hills, waterways shaped by nature without man orchestrating their pathway, may the wind blow our hair and there be little bits of leftover food on our face, the smell of a wood-fire stove cross our pathway, cracks in the pavement with weeds growing through. May we weep for what has gone before and move graciously detached into forever.

Tilopa 2.0

I found this article among my hundreds of articles and not sure if I have posted before, I am currently working on two longish articles, “will the Revolution Be Televised?”, and Music 

The Yoga of Ouch

Lots of my friends are Astrologers, some real ones and others are just sh!t scared of Mercury in retrograde, and every time their technical incompetence gets in the way, they blame the planets.  I am not big on astrology but I love the stars and solar orbs, I don’t think they are overly interested in any of us, our self importance is usually the big problemo.  By nature, as human beings it is difficult not to feel important or suffer from its inverse, a lack of importance, we are educated into a self of ‘I’ from birth.

Discipline Without the Big Stick
Many of my buddies are yogis, and yoginis, I admire their commitment to task, getting up at silly hours of the morning and tying their bodies in a knot, spreading their ‘feel-goodness’ and creating harmonious spaces where others feel ‘washed’ when they pass through, the world needs playful people; I love and need these people, the woman I love is one of these.  I am very self -disciplined, this ‘disc’ word is at times my friend and has also bitten me on the bum quite a bit. Some of my buddies are extraordinary musicians; their skills came from a lot of clever work, and this requires going without certain things and immense attention to detail, they are all ‘d’ word people.  Not to be confused with the other discipline, the big stick type of ‘d’ word, that only creates frustration.  The trick to life is to ‘find something that is good for us, and get addicted’.  Knowing it, the addiction is a ‘path that leads nowhere’ is critical; all paths lead away from ourselves.  This view is contrary to most of the schools of yoga, but that’s not my problem; when you understand this, the real ‘work’ starts, the ‘work of undoing’.  Addictions are good, however it is important to see them for what they are, temporary safe landing places in space, caravanserais to let our camels rest until we can let go.  If we treat them incorrectly (no not the camels, the addictions), they will get in our way and block the view of the lens we use to perceive the world.

The New Yoga of Future Yogis
Apart from being addicted to playing music, I am from a number of streams of yoga, slightly off the mainstream, although much of the work by the great teachers of these yogic schools that have nurtured me, are regularly referenced by the more common yogic pathways and schools of thought, often those people from other streams don’t really have an understanding of them…. however, there is another school of yoga that we all know well, one that we are initiated into at birth.  As it has never been defined properly, I hereby dub it as the “Yoga of Ouch”.

The Mindful Swordsman
I remember reading a Zen story years back, I will tell it a bit differently than how I first heard it:
There was a young guy, wanting to be taught the fine art of swordsmanship by a great master.  He felt quite broken for a period of time.  He made a commitment to his path and decided to leave home to live near the dojo; instead of going straight into the group of young wanna-be sword masters as would be expected, the great teacher gave him the job of working in the kitchen.  He was distressed and his disappointment knew no limits; what was helpful was he had the virtue of forbearance, and accepted his lot of chopping carrots, carrying water, testing the soup when no one was looking and saying quiet prayers over the meals so that anyone who ate the food would be blessed.  One day when he was dreaming and looking out of the window and automatically going about his kitchen-ness, the great teacher sneaked up behind him and jabbed him just under the rib cage with a wooden spoon, although it was soft, it was just enough to startle him back into (supposed) reality.  As he turned he saw a fleeting shadow and the slight flicker of a robe pass through the kitchen door and disappear into emptiness; his apprenticeship as a swordsman had begun.  From then on, every moment he had to be alert, knowing the teacher may arrive with an almost fatal blow when he least expected.  Like a true Master, his every day life became his swordsman apprenticeship.  He eventually emerged as the greatest swordsman in the land. “Yay!”

We can wander through life in a semi-conscious state like somebody who feels they are a slave to their lot, wanting air-conditioning to permeate everything we do and feel. Lukewarm, not overly hot or cold, “not too much hurt please”, the rhythm of life must suit ours; and people better behave how we want them to, if they don’t, then one of our many ways of resolving the blow to our rib cage will come into play…this can be disastrous.

Here Comes Ouch Again
The world goes ‘ouch’ on a regular basis. When I dig into the catalog of spiritual tales embedded in my subconscious, I think of Shakyamuni the Buddha.  His father a king, spent years of his life protecting the young prince Shakyamuni from the world.  His papa had an agenda, the Royal Astrologer had foretold his future as a renunciate, this led the king to create a wall around the young prince’s life both physically and emotionally so he would always feel happy and content, lost in bliss and never explore the normal set of experiences we all traverse.  As many would know, at night the future Buddha sneaked out and saw the world of suffering, this became a puzzle/challenge for him to look at and ultimately resolve.

Slaves of the False King
The false-king with the crooked crown lives within all humanity, in each of us. There is a part of us that wants to look away, something that is scared of entering the world in its rawness.  Some of us were over or under parented, and many of us are guilty of doing the same as we try and help our children prepare for their future life.  Ultimately, we and others are faced with the normal gamut of emotions and experiences, they are not going to disappear, they are going to be there whether we push them down with drugs, alcohol, sex, too many belongings or other diversions, addictions to digital trivia, sports or keep ourselves busy with things, even valuable obsessions.  Life slaps us.

Run Run Run
We are  all ‘runners’, avoiders of feelings; unless we are one of those New Age touchy-feely people who dramatise the ingestion of every grain of sugar, accidental/intentional addition of a pinch of MSG to an Eastern meal, or get stuck on the fact that someone didn’t say ‘thank you’ for something trivial; some people have done far too many workshops with self-centered people in leotards or have been schooled by ridiculously over-emotional people.  By understanding ‘running’, we can resolve a lot of issues in our lives, in fact at the other side of it, is what we are probably looking for.  We place everything in the way, and then we define the ‘us’, the ‘me’ as the ‘relationship between the experiencer and the experienced’; we believe ourselves to be the combination of everything we have gone through in our lives; we have unconsciously cultivated an imaginary personality.  If we look closely, we see we can go from Sage to ignoramus within a split second; if we are astute this leap in character change will catch our eye; a dullard will miss it, but it ought to be of great interest to anyone who is alive and thinking.  By seeing the extremities in this lightening change in the personality, the questioning mind would automatically start to ponder, ‘Who am I?’, the dull mind misses it and lives out its days in confusion, goes about its business with distractions and petty addictions.

The Beauty in Dissonance
‘Ouch’ is OK, ‘ouch’ is not our enemy.  I think this is where most of us go wrong, we misunderstand experience and want to pad ourselves from what doesn’t feel OK; we attempt to put something we perceive as ‘good’ in its place.  As soon as the world ‘hurts’ or anything from left-field arrives through the left stage door, we bolt towards the right door.   In music we have harmony, consonance and dissonance, if there are only ‘pretty’ notes, the music becomes very bland; like a shopping centre where everything is ‘nice’, or one of those religious groups where everybody is sort of smiling to make new-comers feel welcome; we need diversity in life to be able to extract wisdom.  Wisdom comes from emotions, emotions come from DIVERSE experiences; those experiences may not be safe ones.  We have a tendency to chase away what is ‘not nice’, feels not so good’, ‘big hurts’, all the things that we decide are not OK, we want to get away ASAP, as quick as possible.
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At Peace With Ourselves
By understanding the Yoga of Ouch, we can begin to live, not to run, we can re-enter life. By knowing everything is in constant flux, in motion, we can learn to be at peace with change and allow ‘what is going on’ to have its time on the stage of life,  we do not need to cling to those experiences either, they will pass.  Until then,  if we are not present, we are chasing apparitions about what we believe ‘ought to be’, we will be ignoring the gifts of the varied emotions that lead us to our wisdom;  from wisdom comes a deeper experience of life.
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Tilopa 2.0

Not This – Neti Neti

The Endless Unfolding
The Ocean of Consciousness unpacks itself and rolls across the Multiverse, in the same way a painter splashes paint on a canvas, flicking the brush around in a detached, almost uninterested manner.  There are numerous forms coming and going on the screen of existence, most may never be seen and their presence will be felt from within themselves, only known by the internal pulsing, like a heartbeat we hear when we sit in our silence. No-one there to ‘name’ what presents itself or to add a ‘story’ or give any type of meaning or understanding to the ‘what is’.

Self Questioning
“Neti Neti” is a form of Vedic Inquiry, it is used by those exploring the Yoga of the Self to negate anything that presents itself in consciousness. The loose translation of it would be ‘Not this, not this’.  A simple example would be if a phantom appeared in the mind-space of a meditator, a God, a Master a great Yogi,  enticing him or her into an experience of some sort, the experiencer would use the phrase “neti, neti” to detach from the passing phantoms.  It would be done in a manner without a struggle, gently pulling ones attention back into the underlying emptiness.

Misunderstandings
This ‘detachment’ is at the core of Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Knowing, or in truth would be better to be called the Yoga of Unknowing. There are many misunderstandings regarding Jnana Yoga.  In the same way that if you give a musical instrument, a hand made lute to someone who doesn’t understand how to play it, they would make strange sounds that don’t really resemble music, such is the fate of Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Being at this point by the populace in space-time.  When people interpret Jnana Yoga who  come from other forms and traditions of yoga such as Bhakti  (the Yoga of Devotion), Karma Yoga (the Yoga of doing good stuff to sweat off all the supposed bad deeds and balance the account)  or those who come from any other practice,  all these others look through a window that has their own set of rules, visions and understandings.  To be quite clear, I will say it’s the wrong set of eyes.  And also there are those who are exploring Jnana Yoga who start to intellectualise the process and create a philosophy instead of being able to speak from a depth of experience, it all goes skewiff.

Making Sense
One of the very common pitfalls and misunderstandings of Jnana Yoga is there is a tendency to ‘run’, to attempt to transcend life, to turn things into an ‘us and them’, a ‘spiritual and a material’, as if spirituality was an island and everything outside of it is evil, ‘it’s gonna come and steal your fruit and veges or eat your porridge, it’s coming after you’; and if ‘life’ grabs you, you will be lost in the tunnels of time forever, a slave to delusion.  If we are serious about spirituality, we need to stop this nonsense and bring some sort of order and practicalness to it all; claim it back, do ‘our thing’ whatever that may be, and leave Jnana to its rightful owners instead of everybody having their tuppence worth about something that is outside their comprehension and field of experience, in the same way that a brain surgeon knows his or her area of expertise and stays out of dentistry, and does not attempt to use those annoying sounding drills on their friends and family.  Christians need to take back Jesus from the church, in fact all the faiths need to get their statues and baggage out of the way, it only interferes with the transformation process of the individual; without moving things out of the way, it will just reinforce the walls between ‘supposed self’ which is just thought, and Self… and i use the term Self with great caution, a word which has a lot of erroneous interpretations.

Not This, well What Then
Firstly and maybe mostly, the Universe is not our enemy,  I think this really needs to be addressed.  I have grown up around and in a number of so called spiritual communities; the division between ‘material’ and ‘spiritual’ seems to be a ‘constant’ that presents itself far too often.  In Buddhism (and I must state I am not a Buddhist), there is a leaning towards a middle-way, something that has a self discipline that allows life to mingle with practice, this is healthy. Having said that, any ‘ism’ will have zealots, we will always be able to identify them because they fit closest to the ‘ad’ and tick all the right boxes.

Misunderstanding ‘Not This’
When we take ‘not this’ to the extreme, we may find that we put ourselves in the situation of trying to walk on water, to live a life with a fear of water, as if we will drown if one drop gets on our skin.  It’s a bit like being chased by a dog across the heavens, avoiding its bite, not realising that it’s a tame puppy, or a shadow puppet. When we stop and look at the beauty around us, and give thanks to the rising sun, the chubby smiling faces of kids, savor the chocolate, or the kiss of someone tender to us, when we watch the colors of spring and autumn, feel the joy of someone overcoming something against all odds, watch a shooting star or an otter playing around…. when we stop to feel these things, then we have come home, heaven and earth are in balance. If we continue on ‘running’, separating heaven and earth, we will lose our spark, a withered vine, no grapes, a barren vineyard will be what we move in, tasteless, barely alive.

Dumping the Gods
Where we get into strife is ‘clinging’ to something; wherever we go, bringing the past with us, like a bag lady with her bags stacked on a shopping trolley; dragging our ‘story’ that we have left behind with us; swallowed and a slave to our acquisitions.  If we want life, the bitter and judgemental Gods need to be put out with the garbage, buried as landfill.  False Gods and their hypnotised followers are often life haters, they create a vision of how they think the world ought to be and pollute it with their ‘unnaturalness’, they push against the flow of the river, they train people in fearing life and pass it on generation to generation.  We do not need these people telling the world what is wrong with it and offering salvation and liberation.  With an alert questioning mind it is easy to resolve most things, to bypass what is not needed; most morality is ugly, it is not virtue, it is not integrity, it is fear and control based. Virtue unfolds in acts of natural kindness, tenderness to the world around us, by softening and trying to understand ‘our’ differences with others, constantly ‘giving in’ without submission to selfish agendas, by looking outside our square and attempting to make sense of the pain and needs of others and allowing them to be.

The Art of Neti Neti
Neti neti,to me is the ‘practice of constantly abandoning’, of letting things rise and fall in our consciousness with an attitude of ‘is that so?’; it’s a way of arriving at a form of constant unfolding peace.  Trying to define the ineffable is the job of madmen, not the Divine Madmen, the other ones, the ones who miss life and try and package the universes into a bucket, it just ain’t gonna fit, we don’t need their help.  The poets can point in the right direction, the quantum physicists can write formulas to imply the nature of ‘things’ to help break down traditional thinking that imprisons much of humanity. The lovers smile and the poets dream, the musician pulls the strings that touch the heart of the listener, children laugh, and the camel spits…. ahhh the beauty of life.  It is “not this, not this”, but if we allow it to have it’s moment on the blank canvas of the universe, to do its thing then take a bow and move on, then we are not bound.  Heaven and Earth are in order, and I am grateful.

Tilopa 2.0

Yoga and the Rawness of Being

The World Goes Ouch
It’s a ‘normal’ to feel raw, a little closed in, as if the Universe is a size nine pushing against a size ten body; something isn’t quite right.  For me, it started yesterday, and has puzzled me, I do like puzzles.  Instead of becoming a slave to it, I decided to be on alert, I don’t mean the anxious state like someone crossing a busy road in Mumbai,  more like a cat watching a mouse trying to escape, although the sensation inside me, is closer to that of the mouse thinking “this aint lookin’ too good, Fluffy hasn’t had his breakfast tuna yet, and he isn’t going anywhere”.   From my life’s experiences, I know that being both the cat and the mouse is where the wisdom will lie.

The Stream Out of Contol
The crowning glory for me today, where my rawness peaked, was something that would lead most men to despair, it was when Facebook, the insensitive digital matrix, offered me the opportunity to share a photo of my long deceased beautiful son, send it out into the world of lunch photos, selfies, narcissistic home business posts, yoga-mamas in leotards, poor translations of scriptures, political hatred memes, Donald Trump’s hairpiece, glorious backyard wisdom, Leunig cartoons, tales of my dear friends lives, and other snippets of genius.  Fortunately I gave up long ago; it’s not the giving up of a broken man, more like seeing the absurdity of trying to say ‘no’ when there isn’t any way of stopping ‘yes’, or saying ‘yay’ when ‘no’ is going to unleash a tsunami of grief bigger than my ‘island of self’.

Doing Easy the Hard Way
There is a skill, and it looks like it comes easy to some people, I will assure you in most cases it doesn’t.  It’s the same as when you watch a master musician play his or her instrument, fingers effortlessly moving in the same way a bird slowly flaps its wings and makes almost invisible body adjustments to navigate the sky-scape, great musicians spend hundreds of hours trying to resolve the idiosyncrasies of all the elements of music in search of the perfect note or phrase, that’s what brought about ‘naturalness’, it is often just a seed given at birth which flowers in time when nurtured properly.  The skill that I learnt, is to ‘sit’, to allow things to rise and fall on the screen of life and not overstep its rhythm by one moment and be out of time. The journey to this state of ‘doing nothing’ is like that of the master musician who along the way dropped a lot of beats, missed the cues, some times early, others late.  Doing nothing sounds easy, it is and isn’t, this ability has a lot of flexibility and depends on our ever changing emotional state.

I mean Yes and No
I have always liked the ‘yes and no’ answers to things, not the indecisive version of ‘yes,no.’  When we answer a question with ‘yes and no’, the chances are we are thinking, digging in.  It’s easy to form a rigid opinion, lock it up safely like an ice-cube in a freezer and just leave it, this is a lazy mans way to resolve things. That type of mind will never find peace in relation to the spirit, it will always be at war because downstream, when the ice melts there will be trouble. Great pain will arise in recognising that everything we believed to be true is always in the process of crumbling, there is eternal transition, (fundamentalists will often roll out the ‘eternal truth’ story, it won’t help you here).  By having the ability to see two sides of everything and maybe temporarily accepting one as a truth is very freeing, this is at the heart of ‘sitting’ and ‘alertness’, being able to maneuver our way through what life throws onto our screen and says ‘deal with this, you can’t run, just stay here, it’s not going away, you must be here’.

Wisdom Tools
I had a wonderful teacher, he taught me something years ago at a time when I was struggling with the ‘shape’ of my universe.  If I had to list a handful of wisdom tools I use, this would be on my Nobel prize shortlist.  It is very simple, it’s in these handful of words, “Do you accept me as this?” That may not seem like much, so let’s go there and extract what’s in it.  If I take the Jnani perspective (simply put: Everything is part of the same Being),  I have no enemies, only allies; duality brings a double sided coin, it is binary, 1 or 0, true or false; although that type of thinking is the social-norm, it is not where I need to be, it’s dangerous territory.  When something happens, whether it be in the field of my life or arising in my ‘thought environment’, I see it as a ‘form’ of the Great Being that resonates in all life, call it whatever you like; this endless shape-shifting entity speaks to me, it says, “OK, this what you are experiencing is just a part of my form, you are always wanting beauty, without its opposite, that splendor you crave is not possible.  You are seeking rest, if there is no movement and chaos, how can there possibly be a peaceful state?  What’s this wisdom thing you speak of, without unknowing, how can deep understanding ever take its place?  Without the depth of emptiness, how is the world of movement, form and shadows ever going to be? Without suffering, do you think the emotions that lead to its fruit wisdom, can take shape?”……. So I sit and watch the show, if I enter it, I am doomed, suffering is overwhelming, if I run it will chase me,  but if I stay with it, and move myself to the side and watch it in a manner that doesn’t involve ‘me’ or my opinions, its life-cycle will follow its natural course and at the other side of it, will be a softer more flexible and understanding man.  If I go to war with it, I will lose.  So I rest in it as it transits through the viewing-screen of my consciousness.

To Suffer or Not to Suffer
We can be a slave to suffering, or we can extract what’s inside it.  Inside it is an endless well of untapped wisdom.  When I see the homeless, people that seem broken, it would be easy for me to look away, to have judgments or to feel sorry for them, this would be normal.  At the time of an ‘encounter’, there may be an opportunity for me to enter into their ‘field of experience’.  If I am cautious and sensitive, I can behave in a manner where it is clear to them that we are equal, there is no above or below in our encounter, it is important that they don’t seem more broken by meeting a person who from observation would seem to have a sense of balance.  There is a way I can ‘meet’ them because of the understanding of the journey through suffering that we all take; there is no real method, no system or technique to use; apart from being able to ‘sit’ through the experience, in the same way that we go through our own pain and suffering or whatever presents itself.

Compassion and empathy emerge from stillness, from our rawness, the part of us that hurts.  Turning suffering to wisdom is at the heart of all life. And this is Yoga without leotards.

Tilopa 2.0

Overthrowing the Guru

Welcome to the Spiritual Circus
When we look from the outside at what is going on in ‘spiritual’circles, it would be very easy to say, “these people seem mad”, rest assured it’s madder than anyone would imagine on the inside, and I don’t mean on my inside, I mean within the walls of the ashrams, the monasteries, the yoga schools and the retreats, it is insanity.  However, we live in a very mad world, so why should madness stop at the ‘supposed’ gates of salvation?

There is a type of elitist arrogance in religious and spiritual groups that is often referred to as ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’, it comes from a biblical passage about the end days; it’s the core of the ‘us and them mentality’, the saved and the lost, it’s a prepubescent attitude that can linger and be passed from generation to generation, or from the guru to initiate. Let’s leave that aside now that I have normalised the environment.

Hook, Line and Blinkers
By nature, humans are easy to sell to, if you do it right, people will buy anything.  The classic example is the dummy in the window, a person wandering down the street,  looks through the glass, a desire emerges, imagines themselves dressed as the dummy, thinks ‘wow I will look better than that’, goes into shop, walks out with a spring their step, new outfit in bag.  This is very similar to what happens when newbies first find some type of perceived pathway out of pain, heartache and chaos of life. Because of a natural innocence and naivety with spirituality, people often don’t know how to act in a spiritual group, it turns into a monkey see – monkey do, instead of being oneself.  And this is where the trouble starts.

The Sanity of Skepticism
As a long term Ufologist and OOBer (out of the body traveler) it would seem odd for me to say that if you are interested in religion or spirituality, get yourself a friend who is a skeptic.  A skeptic will fast track you through all the nonsense, and on condition that your new skeptic buddy is not an extreme fundamentalist skeptic or very arrogant and condescending , he or she will probably ask the right questions.  Because the honeymoon stage of any new spiritual group can seem euphoric to most because of the new friends, supposedly liked minded seekers, happy people, revelations, the open arms, the feel good quotes, the challenge, the hope of a glorious future; it is critical that the new hot-air-balloon that you have hopped aboard, has a few sandbags to allow a descent back to earth.

Being Well Informed
I have been around a number of cults and sects, it started early in my life as I wanted to be a priest, fortunately I realised ‘that’s not it’,  I stole back Jesus from the Catholic clergy abusers, headed east, and into the mystic doctrines instead. Being well informed on doctrines, scriptures and approaches for transformation made it reasonably  easy to see who was just doing ‘dress ups’ and had hidden agendas, and who could push the visitors through the doorway of foreverness.

Overtaking the Teachers
So where is this going?  As I have been a musician for most of my life,  one thing that was critical has been for me to find my own music, to get inside sound, to get an understanding of how it all works and to abandon the idea of ‘being or playing somebody else’, and to some degree, to disregard the known.  This attitude is something that I consider important when dealing with the sublime subject of spirituality.  When I was about twenty years old I studied guitar with a great musician and he said to me, “I don’t mind if you go past me”. This statement and pass-out to freedom was a great gift.  And this is an attitude that is worth considering when it comes to spiritual teachers, gurus, masters or anyone who has sat a crown on their head in the spiritual empire.  Ultimately we need to go past them. Dependency is the enemy of the spiritual aspirant; it would be very easy for people to start throwing scriptural quotes in my direction in response to this statement.  I did have a great teacher, I owe him a lot;  his death was a major milestone in my endless transformation, it meant I had to put into action everything that I had remembered, this was not comfortable, I had to become responsible for myself.  But we don’t need somebody to die, for us to die to them.  And dying is what this is all about.

Death of the Known
The process of meditation is what I would call the drinking of slow poison. Generally if we think of poison, alarm bells go off, images of sickness, a slow and painful exit from the body, a lot of sweating, gasping for air as we squeeze the last words out of our being.  OK, let’s change our definition of poison to it being an elixir, something that pilgrims have been seeking for eons.  In meditation everyone is equal, in the Silence there are no show-ponies, there is no feet kissing of gurus, no bowing or prostrating, there are no phantoms, by understanding this, a lot of unnecessary stuff can be dumped.  It is important to not confuse the world of forms and sensations, or any real or imaginary spiritual hierarchies with where we are going, or more precisely, with what is at the core under our awareness. In ashrams and monasteries there is a tendency for the ‘been here longer, know more’ attitude to exist, this structure can be a little delusive because the newbie may use a more ‘senior’ member of the community as the model to shape themselves on.  The ‘disciple mannequin’ is then the point of focus and what happens is the newbie takes on the habits of someone else, thinking the accrual of habits is development.

When the Guru Stuffs You Over
So what if not only the ‘senior’ monkeys have got it all very wrong, but the guru or teacher themselves, they may be a schyster; people are giving up not only time, but are placing some sort of future life importance around someone who has gotten it total wrong or may just be a control freak?  What to do?  This entanglement is dangerous, it may even cost us our friends, family, money, our thinking, our precious life.  We see this all the time, betrayal, abuse of power, sexual abuse, misappropriation of monies, the building of empires at the expense of others. There are a trail of corpses on the guru trail, there have been numerous tragedies where there has been betrayal; if one were to say “the Spiritual Path is treacherous”, it would be correct from the point of view that a great teacher is rare. Personally I think it is important for everything and everyone to be become our teacher, as life emerges we can savor the wisdom

Growing Outwards
I had the greatest of teachers, this gives me a good window to look through that allows a certain amount of empathy.  I get this ‘teacher thing’, I understand the feeling of obligation that people have; the hooks, the feeling of loss when it doesn’t work; the strings that are similar to being in a family.  This relationship being like our families, may be a clue to how to navigate in, through and out of the many spiritual and religious groups we may encounter.  With families, we are born into an environment that allows us to grow, we don’t have a choice, in some cases we are nurtured, cared for, guided, but there are situations where people are in fear, are bullied, feel worthless, dis-empowered. Regardless what the family structure may be like, we do know that good natured, well balanced people come from varied family backgrounds.  My dearest friend, the man who was my teacher grew up in an orphanage, but he morphed into the wisest man I ever met.  With this in mind, if we can learn to take from our family backgrounds and grow into versions of self-reliant independent thinking, emotionally intelligent people, we can also ride through the various ups and downs, wisdom and insanity of the spiritual circus and not get ‘caught’.

Claiming Ourselves Back
What I learnt from my teacher, and this was from the very first meeting, was to start letting go of everything that was in the way, from the outset it was critical that I let go of him, I had to come back to myself and get rid of everything in the way; to see the teachings, the gurus, the experiences as something on the periphery and secondary; to not have anything in the way to block the view; and ultimately that anything else was ‘looking away’.  When we are lost in the drama of cults, religious institutions, gurus, practices, spiritual teachings, they sit between us, or more specifically they create a division; where we need to be is in ourselves (not totally up ourselves with some story of spirituality), all these things create ‘another’ and are things that are rising and falling on the screen of life, just consciousness and energy.

An attitude of ‘not betraying God, our guru or teacher’ by claiming back our power is critical.  The Universes we move in are benevolent and it is our playground, we are not its slave, and freedom is in coming home to ourselves, not moving away.

Tilopa 2.0

The Tao of Not Naming the Universe

All, or maybe most of our problems come from wanting to place things in the Universe where they are not, or wanting to remove them from where they landed.  If we can sort, or at least understand this problem, then the chaos in our thinking ‘softens’, and ‘thought’ becomes easier to manage. It is our ‘hardness’, rigidness, tightness that is stifling and leads to pain.

Thinking Scattered Across the Room
Someday’s it’s as if our thoughts have been put in a blender, or I could offer an even better description.  Remember when you were a kid and someone said, “Do you want to play a card game?” and you go “Yep”, and they say, “Let’s play fifty-two pick-up”, and you go “OK”, then your world suddenly goes temporarily out of order as you watch them throw the cards in the air and they land everywhere.  That’s what thought is like, there is a similarity to the cards on the floor and the disorder in our thinking.  We have a rough idea about the ‘elements of thought’ in the same way that we know there are hearts clubs, spades and diamonds on the cards but the lack of order is where the struggle seems to be.  We humans are constantly wanting resolve, to bring order into the world, to align things in an effort for our minds to be at peace.  The great teacher of life Lao Tzu hinted at this when he said, “The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth, the named is the mother of myriad things”;  it may not seem obvious at first but in this text from the Tao Te Ching there is something there that is worthwhile for us to unpack; everything is always waiting for our wisdom to kick in.

The Naming of Things
We live in a world of descriptions, or better said,  we apply descriptions to the world we experience and move in. This ‘naming’ allows us to place things where we like them and then we can go about the business of everyday life; when we are ‘uncomfortable’, it may be because our thinking can’t file something in the right place.  When my oldest boy suicided some years ago, like every parent who has been to this precipice, I struggled, it was like having raw chili rubbed into every molecule of my being; when I thought of his death it was unbearable, debilitating; but then magic happened, something that I am exceptional at is ‘magic’ (I would describe it as the art of deceiving the observer).  As the observer of my own life, I managed to reshuffle my ‘naming of things’ and said to myself, ‘he passed over’, this masterpiece of thinking, ‘wisdom-magic’ allowed my son to jump to another part of the universe.  Regardless whether my beautiful son now moves in a new form or is in deep rest within the glorious Emptiness of Being, is not so important here; freedom came about by a tiny adjustment in my ‘thinking’, without this, if I had stuck with an old worldview, my vision of my universe, it would totally disempower and destroy what I sometimes refer to as ‘me’.

Renaming the World
When we fall in and out of this ‘love’ thing people speak of, we bring to it a story.  In the society we live in now, it has become more complex, there are now numerous descriptions on how we relate to each other.  Even children have labels for friends ‘my besty’, and then suddenly the child’s besty does something, whether it be knowingly or unknowingly, there  will be a version of heartbreak.  No longer is the ‘besty’ fitting the model that sits in the thinking of the child.  What normally happens is we as big children, have some type of ‘subconscious order’ of how people fit into our lives. Our besty stuffs us over and then it’s, “ok, alright,  I never saw that coming” and there’s a game changer;  depending on our smarts and ‘Emotional Intelligence’ (that mysterious-wisdom-thing we have built up through our lives and does a runner when we most need it), we ride the waves of change and settle on new descriptions such as ‘ex-besty’, ‘they who cannot be mentioned’, ‘dickhead’,  ‘ouch, do not say that name’, or ‘gee i miss that person’.

Wait a Minute
I think of all the skills things that are required to navigate life, it would be ‘patience’; and I do not mean the patience of inaction. There is an Indian word called thamas, it implies dull or inactive; no I don’t mean that type of waiting, there is another word from the Indian dictionary that is better to align ourselves with, it is called sattva.  Although there would be many descriptions, I will simply say it implies harmony or balance, not being over-excited nor dull.  From my experience and also from  watching everyone else get more deeply entangled in chaos, confusion and sink deeper into the quicksand of life, this skill of ‘waiting’ is the one most needed to be nurtured, (non-rocket science moment here). When we don’t wait, what happens is our story of the world, our understanding of how we imagine things to be gets in the way and we act on impulse.  If we are not cautious and we lack patience, we end up placing things in our universe at locations where they don’t really exist, we make decisions that lead to pain for ourselves and others.

Un-designing the Universe
If we want relief from unnecessary suffering, what we need to consider doing is to readjust our thinking, to expand outside ‘our known’, to allow things to emerge on the screen of life that we have never considered, seen or experienced before.  And this is where freedom lies, it comes about by gradually disintegrating our ‘story’ of the world, by disempowering our limited view of the way we believe things to be, or expect them to be.  Emotional pain can gradually dissolve without a fuss if we start to get rid of the labels that divide us, those ones that imprison us, that disappoint us when we find out that what’s in the packet is not what we assumed was there, and to let things be as they are without ‘our story’, without putting our desires and outcomes on things and situations that are totally out of our control, things that are placed ‘elsewhere in the cosmos’ and not at the address we assumed them to be; what comes about is a natural detachment and thoughts that may trouble us will fall into emptiness.

Love Knocking at the Door
One of my super-heroes, the sage Jiddu Krishnamurti,  once said,”Only the free mind knows what love is“.  Love is a little frisky, when we try and hold it, it runs; when we try and define it, even the great mystic poets Kabir, Shams, Rumi and Hafiz are lacking in words, they point to the beauty of the moon and it’s up to us to go there; but when we soften our thinking, something extraordinary happens, it, love comes through our door and lies with us, comforts us, touches our being, wraps its arms around us and holds us until we fall into a divine forgetfulness once again and wander through the corridors of space-time in wonder and awe.

Tilopa 2.0 (13th April 2016)

the Essence of Kirtan

This Kirtan  article was written after seeing a need to articulate what is going on at a deeper level during kirtan/bhajan/indian chanting 

The INVISIBILITY of the KIRTANIST


When we look around at the ‘spiritual’ haunts these days, we would notice there are many people ‘doing’ kirtan (a simple explanation kirtan = Indian chants), some are held in the various holy cities and places of pilgrimage of India, with its rich tradition; others boppin’ and singin’ in temples and halls in the West, or in local revamped churches, and more commonly now, in one of the numerous yoga schools where rubber bodies seem normal and at any moment you’d expect to see someone scratch their ear with their toes; and there are all those who are at home practicing in the lounge room, a stick of incense burning, a candle, the sunlight or moon gleaming through the window, a few flat notes here and there and only one other living being (that you can see) called Puddles the cat.

What is kirtan?

The word ‘kirtan’ is interchangeable with others; in various Indian traditions it will differ, some might call it Bhajan, Indian Chant, devotional singing; if someone is too pushy about correcting you on what is the ‘right’ name for it, my suggestion is run like buggery, else you may be in for a long period of indoctrination into a cult and “warning, warning, trouble brewing downstream”, it is just a matter of when. What i am talking about here is group singing, where the name of some God, deity, formless principle or a type of benevolent ‘intention’ is used as a focus; the name does not necessarily need to be associated with Indian Gods (whether real or imaginary). The Sanskrit language is often used, and according to some, is the flavour of choice because the words are charged up and I will agree to some degree with this, however so many of us probably don’t get the pronunciation right, nor can discriminate between Telegu, Hindi or whatever other language is used; i will not waste my time with pedantic differing opinions relating to indoctrination and uptight schools of thought. After doing this ‘chanty’ stuff for over 30 years, i think i have experienced and suffered every attitude known to man relating to devotional singing. A great being once said to me “musicians play”, so that is what i do, or more correctly i will say ‘not do’. And this is what this article is about, not-doing.
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Not Doing
I am from a long line of ‘not doers’, and that doesn’t imply melting into a sofa, eating pizza and watching sitcoms with canned laughter, bombarded with not-so subliminal advertising at very regular intervals, and reawakening each day to the same experience repeating something from the day before. Those of us who are from a (genuine) Jnana Yoga background, are always ‘disintegrating’. And I say ‘genuine’ because the word jnana is often translated as knowledge, however it is really about experience, and the word ‘knowledge’ is a variable and often described poorly. For those people who don’t know their ’40 famous words from the Indian continent such as chai, karma, kama, sutra, gulab jamun, pranava, dosa, samosa, backshish, total-tosser, train-not-coming’ etc; Jnana yoga is the yoga of the Self, i will loosely say ‘the view point that the Mind of God is everywhere’, the perceiver is the sought, and any movement towards God or liberation is a journey away from where we need to be, (there is no need to elaborate here as this is about kirtan, transformation through music). Many people in the kirtan community are from a Bhakti perspective, where by ‘doing’ things such as prayer, meditation, ceremony, austerities, the (imaginary temporary thought of an) individual moves closer to what is sought (the Divine in some form or formlessness), they the seeker, will eventually get enough bonus points up and receive grace or liberation and be freed from the beautiful world of ice cream, chocolate and intimacy. And there are those who sit between the polarities of Jnana (already Being) and Bhakti (do stuff to get a result), quite comfortably jumping between the two stories and are unknowingly at ease with it (and i would have to say that this is the most common approach)…. no big deal, not my business, just an observation. It is critical though for this article to make sense to separate out Being (Jnana) and Becoming (Bhakti).
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Kirtan Session
A kirtan session, is not about the (lead kirtanist) singer, however ‘exhibitions of devotion’ have been known to occasionally happen. At the other extreme, there is an attitude among some people who think if you can play your instrument or sing well that you are ‘performing’ kirtan, this is drivel dreamed up by people who are often musically incompetent or have some sort of difficulty with something else that is troubling them; however that does not mean that there is not a place for everybody in the community somewhere if a person hasn’t yet unfolded the musical genius within or never plans to do so and they just enjoy doodling with the names of the Gods. If we come back to basics and fundamentals of music: in time, in tune, with feeling, it’s the right platform to build on; if these are not achievable, it is best not to attempt to sing at the opera house but to keep it within a small cosy framework or just give endless joy to Puddles the cat. From my observation over the years, if the basics are constantly bypassed, people won’t come back to a community kirtan session, there is a gradual flitting away of participants. Thus the need for home based and small community kirtans are essential for the kirtan ‘culture’ to continue to exist, it not only nurtures the individual to be able to step into a slightly larger environment, it also creates a platform/space so everyone can explore this fascinating tool of transformation in an encouraging safe environment, instead of a larger one where a person may become a little too self-conscious. From my experience, I have seen some people step into an environment where they are out of their depth and they end up never going back as they feel like a failure, it’s a tragedy, I think if we are smart, we can avoid this, the benefits of kirtan are multi-faceted.
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The Elements of Kirtan
KIRTAN when we look at the big picture and break it down, involves many elements, it includes the whole congregation of people, those singing, clapping and playing instruments, the chai-makers, the venue helpers, the acoustics of the room, the tunes, the lighting and audio equipment, the ability of the kirtanist to ‘hold’ the space, the intention of the kirtanist, the attitude of those putting on the event, and at it’s extreme worst it could include whether there is a hidden agenda of ‘converting’ people to become members of a cult or sect (RUN, RUN FAST), or it’s subtly a business venture and the main consideration is about the amount of bums on mats; (having said that, kirtans, the bigger they are have overheads and as a musician, this is understood and unless there is a benefactor of some sort, it can be difficult to maintain public kirtans). There are also certain invisible things relating to the musicians on whether they ‘play the singer’, instead of themselves. If the musicians, regardless how skilled they are, do not follow every nuance of the singer where humanly possible, and decide to play their musical history ‘intentionally’, then there will often be a little tension, the singer will be ‘saying’ one thing and the musicians will be ‘thinking’ their way through the music and overlaying things that may not be needed. A skilled musician will have a musical vocabulary in his or her subconscious and it is on tap and will emerge when needed. As a musician I must say regardless of the simplicity of melodies and implied harmony or chordal structures it can be a difficult music form to navigate as there are numerous subtleties and the music happens in the moment.
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Disappearing at Kirtan
The ‘process of disintegration’ in kirtan is what appeals to me, it is THE critical element that I have never really heard discussed or written about. I am confident that this is the undisclosed and often unrecognized open-secret of all kirtanists, it is what can pull people unknowingly into a deeper state and/or allow what i call Bhakti-Tears to roll down the cheeks of those present.
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Although we may arrive at ‘disintegration’ from different pathways, I think it is not unreasonable to say the greater the ability to ‘drop into emptiness’ in meditation or prayer, the easier it is to create the space for ‘invisibility in kirtan’. The deep meditative states allow space to evolve in kirtan because although ‘thought’ may be there, we can develop an unconscious method of allowing thought to do its own thing without us, a bit like walking through the rain in a raincoat, wearing citronella oil when being attacked by mosquitoes who want to munch on us, ‘detached awareness’ is a form of citronella for thought. As the world we move in is in constant motion and nothing is solid apart from when we ‘freeze frame it’ in thought, I have found there is very little difference between when I am moving on the edge of the deep trance states, that ‘gap’ period when I am about to go in or am coming out, or when I am in a chair with a guitar, a microphone and an ‘intention’ to sing. In my underlying thinking, I perceive all solid objects as thought, the ability to ‘sit on the edge of worlds’ is a given, but not spoken of.
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If I came from the perspective where my intention is any other than disintegration, it is much more difficult for the ‘kirtan’ process (my definition of it) to happen; and this is because ‘I’ am in the way. This ‘I’ is not solid it is the imaginary story of who I believe myself to be, this is an ever changing kaleidoscope of ideas that throw themselves on my screen of consciousness which is based in my interactions with the world around me, my ‘within’, my history and where I believe myself to be going. So unless this is abandoned, or it would be more comfortable and less demanding say “to come from the attitude of ‘detached’ from”, there are layers of thought in the way of the kirtan process preventing it to kick in.
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The Empty Chair of the Kirtanist
If I arrive to the ‘space’ as a musician, a singer, with an agenda (subtle or big intentioned), I will have to claw my way past and side-step anything that arises in my thought field that will derail me, it will place ‘someone’ in the chair, instead of having an empty space. In kirtan, we just borrow the body (no this is not a channeling dolphin moment); the body which is a manifestation of thought, has with it numerous tools such as the ability to play a musical instrument that we would have developed on our journey through life; the natural skill of making sound; the memory that holds and then recalls the structures and various elements of music such as rhythm, melody, intonation, and other nuances such as relationship to beat. All our musical and other required elements are called from our subconscious.
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Riding the Frequencies
From my experience (and I think it is important always to speak from experience, and although observation is a great tool, experience for me has a priority over observation, this is because with experience, we are inside a situation, not outside looking across) a more skilled musician or singer does not make a better kirtanist, nor a worse one. There are many fancy musicians, clever, well trained and precise (and i would fall into this category); and there are singers who have a natural tendency for song, and these people can add to the musical quality of kirtan, and be pleasing to the ear, and also touch people emotionally with their music (and I also was given a small dose of that). But I have to say that there are many pathways into the listener and the great kirtanists ride another frequency, not the same one as a normal singer. I will avoid the word ‘Heart’ because it has a lot of new age fluffy baggage with it that often relates to ‘feel good’ and ‘euphoria’. It would be easy to say ‘heart’, but I’d rather dig around a little more and define it differently.
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Getting Our Skills in Order
Having said this, it does not mean that I am supporting the notion of ‘it’s the feeling that counts’, that’s a lazy mans thought. I consider that if someone enters the landscape of kirtan, it is important to work on the core elements such as timing, intonation, musical dynamics, how to communicate with other musicians and singers, how to read and feel the response, how to ‘hold’ the kirtan or chant where you want it and not have it roll down hill out of control; and there would also be all the additional elements that would include not only caring for ones voice and practicing simple vocal techniques, but also necessity to learn how to work comfortably with equipment such as microphones. In order to get the desired result of ‘music’, there are standard rules, hints and guidelines to assist; when all this is in order, the process is easier, it’s very much like planting a tree, a certain amount of care is required, it is not just a matter of throwing the seeds on the ground and going back for the fruit, it may work for pumpkins but in other cases you have to dig in.
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Ultimately what is required is a kirtanist needs to get up to speed in the basics of music, it makes it easier for not only themselves but those supporting their kirtan; AND it is important for musicians entering into the land of kirtan to leave everything at the door and listen. If a musician preempts and attempts to ‘think’ with their musical history, it won’t be fresh and the kirtan can be pulled in the wrong direction; we all have a musical history and hear in our mind differently. If possible prior to a kirtan, if you have a role as a musician or support singer, it is better to say to the kirtanist “whatcha thinkin?” It is complex as a kirtan support musician because everybody may not have grown in the same kirtan tradition or in any tradition, not all kirtanists speak the same language or give the same cues. In the situation where there is a revolving group of kirtanists from many different backgrounds, of various skill and experience levels, and in many cases may not have come from the world of ‘music’ , they are not aware there is an unspoken common language, the kirtanist may not realise that they are giving subliminal cues to the musicians and singers and everyone supporting is guessing what is going on. It is easy to misread cues, and to develop some type of working system, it can take some time for all those involved to get a good working relationship as we are working in an environment that includes Indian and Western music, musicians and devotional singers. Musicians often can’t play what a kirtanist is thinking, but will play what they think the kirtanist are subliminally telling them. From my experience of playing numerous styles, great musicians play with an invisible beat or orchestra, and can imply what is not there, and space is quite a safe place when everyone trusts that there is a rhythmic thread holding it together, some kirtanists are not immediately aware of this, and also they may not realize that they are in charge of the rhythm section, not the other way around.
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Going through the Door
I think it is important to leave everything at the door when we go to kirtan, start fresh, leave the world at the edge of the Ganges sort of stuff. This ‘work’ of leaving the world behind, starts outside of kirtan and relates to food. Food is what we see, what we hear, what we eat, what we recycle in our thoughts, what we ‘associate’ with; unless there is a detaching from what clutters the mind-space, there will always be something else that is ‘riding’ the frequencies that we are putting out while we are kirtan-ing. It is not only the old adage of ‘we are what we eat’, I will add ‘we sing what we are’, and if we are (temporarily) noise or mind-chatter, then what we are feeding into the field around us and into the world, will reflect that ‘feeling’; thus the quest for emptiness becomes increasingly evident.
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I have no illusion that a kirtanist can every moment be ‘absent/ in a state of total emptiness’ at every kirtan, from my personal experience it comes and goes in the same way as things happen in the meditation process, there are layers and numerous factors that are at play, such as our ability within the moment to detach, the environment, head-noise, and what we are dragging with us, and by that I mean the bundle of recent or deep seated experiences that we carry with us which rise and fall in our consciousness; but I do know that if we are well prepared, then something extraordinary happens.
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Quantum Kirtaning
From my personal experience what happens in kirtan is, we sit on the edge of a number of worlds, the viewable human world of the senses and a number of others, and we pull on strings that connect each other at various levels. We are connected ‘invisibly’ no doubt in a similar way to which we move in the same air-space, share the same sun and are made of the same elements and molecules, also the ‘fields’ around us overlap. There are parts of the brain that are turned off, and I will confidently say that it is some of these areas that come into play when we enter or encounter other states of consciousness, there is a communication at specific frequencies going on that are indefinable; however we do know intuitively that something is going on, there is a shift, we are being moved at a greater depth of our being.
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There is no particular spiritual group who owns kirtan, there are many different ways of doing and ultimately ‘not-doing’ it. It is an unfolding process that is like a great river of sound rolling through space, it sweeps us away with its beauty, its elusiveness and the quest to embrace its sweetness is mesmerizing, alluring and is more-ish, once tasted there is no going back.

Tilopa 2.0

Chocolate and the Mystery of Liberation

Constant Liberation
‘We are always in a state of liberation’, this idea would seem contrary to many spiritual doctrines, religious texts and paths ‘towards’ enlightenment; but as I have wandered this landscape for many years, I will trust my own experience and ‘back myself’.  If we start to dig into the topic, we will see that this view, is not necessarily in conflict with other approaches, we may find it will loosen the constrictive belt around us and take some of the pressure off, and a new timeline of experience may emerge.

Givens
When we look closely, we begin to see there are core things that are ‘a given’, things that we agree on that we may not need to ponder too much about.  And although I think taking ANYTHING for granted is not a great idea, I will say with a certain amount of confidence, there are two things that are self-evident about life’s mystery.  They are unity and separation. There is unity, a cosmic glue, a ‘something’ that wherever we go it seems to be there, sitting just a breath away, beneath the part of us that is aware.  I will say this based on the fact that although ‘I am aware’, someone elsewhere is not having the same ‘awareness’ experience, there is a similarity in the fact that we would both have an awareness, but this awareness is of different things; there are micro universes happening simultaneously.  We probably should add ‘awareness’ to our list of ‘givens’, there is something doing something, a type of self reflection. Regardless of this awareness being similar and diverse, if we drop beneath the ‘surface’, underneath thought, away from the world of shadows, light and changing forms on the screen of life, we are unified in Emptiness, in the deep Silence, similar to the way ‘space’ dangles and holds the stars and planets in the heavens.  And although there is this ‘unity’, the beings that we are, seem to be separate from not only each other,  but there is an age old seeking built into humanity that longs for unity with something ‘sublime’, something that is intuitively there but slightly out of reach .  There is a quest to know, to find out the answers to specific questions relating to our existence and life itself.

The Search for Chocolate 
Humanity is in a situation where it resembles a Chocolate Easter Egg Hunt, as if some big Being hid something and said ‘go find it’. Like any lover of chocolate, once the thought goes to the salivary glands and virtual chocolate bunnies, hearts or squares start racing through the thought fields, there is no relief until the chocolate hits the lips and the desire is satiated.  If it is young children on the Easter Egg Hunt, at a particular point, a parent or anyone who is organising the search, will drop hints such as ‘I don’t think it would be next to the tree’, ‘i wonder if a bunny would leave them in the letterbox’; we do not like to see children suffer or turn the game into something that would bring tears.
In the same way that parents and others drop hints to minimise the suffering  of chocolate egg hunt, if we look at the history of humanity, we will see that every now and then, there emerges in the drama of life, various people who point us away from suffering, although there are people with numerous, diverse approaches, the (genuine) Jnana Yogis are pretty good at this ‘minimising suffering’ because they can short-track the quest and help strip away a lot of the misconceptions and misunderstandings which have been added to many schools of spiritual thought by well intentioned people who speculated and interpreted the words of others without first-hand experience.

Benevolence of Life
From my perspective I see life, the cosmos, the nature-of-things as benevolent.  The return of the spring, the autumn colours, the rolling waves, the birth of new animals, stillness of the forrest, the rising and setting of the sun, our ability to feel, to love, to tingle, to laugh, to hold someone in our arms, to be enticed by a sweet melody and weep at its beauty, these things to me, are the evidence of the splendour, and the wonder of the ‘being’ we move in.  My personal experiences of rising above trauma, grief, deep longing, heartbreak and other loses; and still being able to look out into the foreverness of the galaxies in awe, and to be inquisitive about some day going there, is what tells me that whatever seems ‘temporarily’ like turmoil, something will unfold that is healing, nurturing and is expression of wonder.

So What’s the Problem?
It’s quite simple, we are LOOKING AWAY; always running, always seeking, and due to this ‘absence’, we miss the obvious.  We have heard things like “God is closer than the heartbeat”.  If we ponder this simple phrase for one moment, something extraordinary may slap our face.  I will say it again, “God is closer than the heartbeat”.  I guess I better claim the word God back from the zealots before I go any further.  The word God has a lot of baggage, it can come with some hideous attachments ‘doom and gloom, judgement, war, guilt, power, patriarchal society, pomp, misuse of power, vengeance, karma, control, bigotry’, this is not my God.  This is the God of lonely men who do not understand their own beauty nor have the ability to see past the differences of culture, the need for diversity of nature, the necessity for sovereignty of the individual, nor can they see the beauty of the uniqueness being or flowering of wisdom.

Redefining God
This ‘just past the heartbeat God’ is what we move in, it’s the essence of our being, it’s what looks out our eyes, it’s what holds the hand of someone in need, it’s what we see in the eyes of others when we disintegrate, it rises every day in the east, this God thing has multiple forms.  Not only does it have shape or mass, it has sensations, feelings, emotions, and aspects that would be categorised loosely as thought.  There is not a place where this presence is not. And at this point my writings resemble something like a fish mumbling about water.   But we, our point of awareness touches it most deeply in the formless attribute, and from my understanding, I see there a reason for this.  There is nothing permanent, or totally solid, even the physicists for some time have agreed on this.  Everything is thought, temporarily pulling together various elements that are perceived by the senses

Coming Back to OurSelf
So let’s solve this riddle.  If the world around us is thought manifest; and thoughts are supposedly present and are constantly in motion inside of us; if we are seeking in temples, texts, or going to gurus, masters, yogis (not bears), preachers and pundits; ultimately if we look closely we will see that all these people and things are manifestations of thought; this is all relating to the God of form. But it is in formlessness, the depth of Silence where we are united most deeply.  It is through contact with the sublime part of us where transformation happens.

It is the Emptiness, the Silence, the Great Void, the Ocean that brings forth all Consciousness, this is where Liberation is, it is always present.  It is thought that is in the way, and it is following these thoughts away from ourself, that is the problem.

I am not implying that anybody ought to stop doing any sort of spiritual practice, but I if the focus is on managing ‘thought’ instead, and letting the sublime peep through in the gaps, instead trying to become anything, there will be instant change.

Coming back to ourself has taken a long time, but we can rest safely in the Silence without running after fantasies and false Gods.