Tag Archives: enlightenment

On the Fallacy of Spiritual Perfection

Don Quixote“I’m only human,” the saying goes. To my perfectionistic Virgoan ears, it always sounded like a cliché, or worse, an excuse for shoddy work or behavior.

But, thank goodness, like many other quixotic notions I have had to let go of, I unshackled myself of this, too. Not only does it make life harder and more stressful than it is supposed to be, but aspiring to the impossible is a most subtle form of arrogance, worn in the guise of “high standards,” or worse, spiritual advancement.

Of the latter, one of my teachers in the healing tradition, calls it “purple-washing.”

Because purple—color of the crown ckakra—is thought of as a spiritual color, this expression refers to the tendency of spiritual people to think of themselves as “above” certain emotions, fancying themselves, for example, invulnerable to fear, or anger.

“How lofty of me!” She jokes.

The reality is, perfection is unattainable for three main reasons:

1. Life is change. It was the Buddha’s starting point and the keystone for the body of his teachings. If all of life is impermanent, then we are too. Thank goodness! This means that we are always evolving. Perfection implies that a resolution has been achieved, and is, as such, a frozen state. Thus, perfection and change are a contradiction in terms.

2. The fantasy of perfection is born of ego. What would perfection even look like? It’s unanswerable, since for every ten people asked, there would be ten different answers. It’s relative. And why would we want to be perfect, when we saw, in the above passage, that perfection (if it existed) means no more growth? But back to the point about the ego…by virtue of the fact that perfection is nonexistent in any objective sense, its pursuit easily slides into the realm of narcissism. As psychoanalyst, Karen Horney, has pointed out, it is not narcissistic for a person to value a quality in himself which he actually possesses…the problem arises when narcissists admire themselves for qualities that have no foundation in reality. It seems the pursuit of perfection is the ultimate neurosis!

3. We are supposed to go through emotional trials. It’s part of the game of being human, of being part of this play that the Yogis call Maya. As a teacher, there is thought to be a practical purpose to it all; we go through our own challenges to be able to show others the way through. Having traversed the rough terrain ourselves, we can then show others the potholes. And from the perspective of a healer, we can better recognize the energetic vibration of what we have come to recognize in ourselves. Besides, in every wisdom tradition, from the Kabbalah, to the heart of Yogic wisdom, emotions are thought to be a compass, giving us feedback about where we are on our own journey. So, even as we’re pulling someone else up the mountain with one outstretched arm, we’re simultaneously clearing debris from the path with our other arm. The overarching point is that there is a reason for emotions that are considered “imperfect.” As the teacher of my teacher famously said, “we are spiritual beings having a human experience,” meaning both, that we are limited by virtue of our human embodiment and the challenges that come from limited seeing, and that we are subject to the experiences that come from being trapped in this realm and the duties and interactions that go along with it

In the meantime, we forgive ourselves and others as we stumble our way through the wilds of human life, as we search in vein for the way home. Because after all, as the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz discovered, and as we too will discover for ourselves…it was right here, all the time.

Relationship between Presence, Prana & Wisdom

Prana_chi_intuitionYou’ve probably heard by now, that being present stills the mind and all its turbulence.

But…the greatest block to this state of presence is our mental turbulence.

This is like being told you need experience to get the job, but how are you supposed to get experience if they won’t give you the job!

This is a fine predicament.

The answer to this pickle comes in the form of a question:

Have you ever been so engrossed in a task that presence was inevitable?

Tasks of a physical nature are especially adept in bringing us here, since the mind, left to its own devices, soon falls into its customary habits. And we all know, the mind likes to swing.

The physical Yoga postures known as asana do this for us.

Just about all activities that require our active engagement do this for us (watching TV generally doesn’t do it).

Sometimes Yoga instructors will even tell you to find your edge. This is because when we are at our edge, we receive instantaneous feedback that enables us to make corrections as needed.

As it happens, this is where transformation happens.

As with the concept of flow, this is because when we are at our edge, we are at a point where the challenge slightly supersedes our skill level (clearly, if the challenges are too high, this will cause stress and if too low, boredom may result—but this is a slight digression).

When the balance between challenge and skill is just right, presence is obligatory, often at the risk of personal harm; for example, in a balancing pose, or more dramatically, while hanging from a rope on the edge of a cliff (Some of us, myself included, would rather hang out in a balancing pose rather than on the side of a mountain, even though we like mountains very much).

So, it follows that being comfortable is not the best condition for improvement and growth.

Why does transformation happen here?

Because loss of self-consciousness happens in this state of total engrossment.

Self-consciousness is, not surprisingly, what all the spiritual traditions speak of as enlightenment, albeit in myriad ways, e.g., as the loss of the small self, or, as the merging of finite with the infinite, etc.

Now, as it happens, these same conditions also entrain intuition, something we talk about often, in Kundalini Yoga. Intuitive awareness is a form of knowing that goes beyond the ordinary ways of picking up information, in other words, beyond the words and ideas, concepts and data that are the usual ways of exchanging and receiving knowledge.

One of the reasons why this vivid state of undivided presence cultivates intuition is because in this way, the whole body is alive with awareness. In this state, the energetic flow within us is flowing and unobstructed. In fact, as my own teacher used to remind us, when we are aware that we are breathing, we actually take in more prana. Same amount of oxygen, but more prana (or as the Chinese would say, more ch’i). This means our whole body becomes a receiver and transmission instrument (our mind is not localized in the head).

Prana is energy and if everything is energy, as Einstein said, then we merge into everything as just another aspect of this flowing energetic awareness, when we enter this state. The Yogis call it…well, the Yogis call it Yoga. Merging with divine awareness. Or, merging in divine awareness.

The only thing that holds us back from this state, is our own mental stuff and our attachments to that stuff. Flexibility moves us back to center, which is to say, back to everything and everywhere, and so, in this way, the best definition of non-attachment is actually…flexibility.

*Image courtesy of www.easternhealingcenter.com

Why Meditation Works

morning meditateWhen I was growing up, it seemed everyone was impressed with those who could fix computers or who were technologically savvy in some way. They’re so intelligent, they’d say. And then there was always that family superstar who could answer the questions on Jeopardy before the contestants. Everyone would ooh and ahh, admiringly.

But, from the point of view of our soul, we are not here to fix computers or recite historical data.

Philosophy was impressive, too. While I wasn’t the one you’d call for a hard drive on the fritz, nor the one yelling out the answers to civil war trivia, I could talk about free will or argue about the existence of God. Of course, I didn’t choose this line of study in order to impress people, but as a girl in my twenties, I could already count on the type of reaction I’d get when asked what I’m majoring in.

That is…until I went to a real Zen monastery.

When I was in my 20s, I was already drawn to the eastern traditions—I knew about Zen and emptiness. I had read Alan Watts and even knew about koans. And for the first time, no one cared.

The bald man in robes, who they referred to as “Roshi” spoke that day. He said we were all there because we were “neurotic.” No words were ever truer! None of the brilliant papers I’d written seemed to matter at that moment. I still had my hang ups, just like everyone else. Because I still had that head of mine. All the studying in the world doesn’t seem to do much when it comes to true transformation.

That was when it dawned on me: Even the geniuses are screwed up! It’s like this passage:

Have you seen all these people who drink, who search for a partner, and who look for drugs? They start the search in earnest, or have the urge to do it, after 4 p.m. Why do they need drink? Why do people feel they need to take drugs?  They do all that out of an instinct to seek stimulation. At those times their biorhythm has gone down, and they feel irritated. They cannot exist like that and have to have a change…The root cause is that your basic biorhythm of energy, your mental projection and strategy are not reflected in a unisonness of character. Those zones are natural times that shift your energy level, your mental projection, and your performance. That is the time you must direct the mind, refine it, and create a consolidated unisonness of character and projection. ~Yogi Bhajan

The point is, what we are really here to do is guide the mind rather than let it be guided. Guided by what? By our own emotions, by other people’s expectations, by traffic, by disappointments, by the media…by endless, daily provocations (the worst of these being our own thoughts). Neither techie skills, nor historical data, nor a big bank roll can do this for us.

To me, it all boils down to this question: Are you a sanctuary for yourself?

Can you be still in your own solitude? We become a refuge for ourselves only when our mind is at peace. And only then is it remotely possible to be a source of peace for others — because our mind is the wellspring of every word we speak, every decision we make and every action we take.

How do we become our own sanctuary? When we discover our neutral center—the crowned sovereign over all the noise, the judgments, the neurotic outbursts and the incessant tug of war between positive and negative. The neutral channel is the balm that quells the drama that turns people’s lives upside down.

That neutral eye sees right though the drama. Thus, this quality creates vastness of character. This is true greatness. And this is what we’re here for.

If you have not established some vastness in your attitude, then your habits and facets, your fears and pettiness will betray you. ~Yogi Bhajan 

What is meant by “vastness?” No matter what spiritual tradition we’re speaking of, it all comes down to union, or, said the opposite way, letting go of the illusion of separateness. Where is that illusion kept? In the mind. Zen calls it the small self. Yoga calls it the finite self. No matter what we call it, this ego-based identity is what drives the pettiness in our lives, which in turn, makes spiritual union impossible. This is why governing the mind is the first task in any spiritual practice.

How do we refine the mind, in this way? It’s too bad you can’t just take a 6-week course, or a workshop, or an intensive. The old masters weren’t lying when they said you have to sit. There’s no way around it. It’s not as easy, of course, as taking a course and sticking some degree on your wall, but that’s also why there are so few truly enlightened beings in the world.

So how does it work?

Consider this car analogy: Before driving off to work in the morning, you warm up your car for a few minutes. As the engine warms up, a distinct alteration takes place within the engine that affects the oil pressure and viscosity, which prevents wear and tear on your car and gives you a smoother drive. In a similar way, it is through meditation, that we “warm up” our systems by better preparing our minds to handle the stress of daily living, to make the choices that need to be made and to navigate our way through our own doubts and anxieties. Through the refinement process that only meditation affords, we give ourselves a smoother drive.

Not only is there an alchemical process taking place, via the glandular system and the nervous system, but by coming to stillness, we develop a capacity to stay present even when things seem unpleasant. This translates into less reactivity and more patience in the “real world,” as we interface with difficult people and everyday dilemmas.

Through meditation, instead of simply reacting at once, we create space around every stimulus, whether pleasant or unpleasant and whether internal or external.  Our minds challenge us at every turn, like a toddler pulling at our pants for an ice cream, but as we persist, we become solid. We become a witness to the ways of our own minds, which is what Buddha meant when he urged us to study the Self.

To be sure, being a witness does not mean being passive. Nor does it mean being narcissistic. Not passive because we retain our intention to cultivate our awareness even when we get up off the cushion. Not narcissistic because as spiritual warriors, we know all too well the effect of one mind on the world at large.

We know that even a few minutes of warming up our engine daily, will shape every decision we make, in every area of our lives, from relationships to work. This is why it is the highest form of self betterment—because we are getting to the root of our being.

But, What if the New (fill in the blank) Makes Me Happy?

buddhaMy students and I were talking about the aging cover model in the story, how she was willing to go into debt just to get her neck done. In her warped sense of reality, maintaining the appearance of youth and the false promise of hope that she might have a second spin in this harsh industry, it made perfect sense. This story is part of a grouping of short anecdotes, called The 10 Houses of Suffering, that I wrote to give a better idea of what Buddha really meant by Dukha—the root of human suffering.

Then one student asked a reasonable question about our right to spend money on whatever makes us happy:

Student: Isn’t it our right, as mature individuals, to buy things as we like? I mean, what if the new BMW…or the new iPhone…or the new Kobe shoes, makes me happy?

Me: In a practical sense, yes.

But don’t miss the subtle implications of what you’re being asked to consider. If, as the Four Noble Truths go on to explain, our deep-rooted discontent and enduring lack of fulfillment is caused by incessant desires, then those desires must either be inherently wrong or else misguided. And our equally ingrained tendency to cling to stuff, must derive from some confusion on our part, about what it is we’re looking for. Whether it’s the new techie gadget, hairdo, nose job, your college admission letter, or something more intangible, like your idea of what life will be like once you get to UCLA, desires crop up like weeds, with a new one popping up to replace the old one, just as quickly as it’s satisfied.

So we fasten our grip, time after time, around some new fantasy that we think will fix everything. So the pickle we find ourselves in, is about more than the consuming. It’s about the wanting. It’s about what we’re looking for and the ways we go about finding it.

The drug addict (one of the 10 Houses) has the right to dope himself up one more time, for that quick fix, the instantaneous thrill and quick-lived sensation of gratification. But from the outside looking in, we see that he’s sedating himself into a half-dead stupor, an action that he’ll repeat until his death. Unless he wakes up.

This is the shadow-side of all attempts, in fact, to find happiness through external means. They are interminable and our desire for them is insatiable.

The more profound question is whether we are akin to this fellow.

For millions of people, turning on the TV is automatic. But consider the message that is relayed, the minute it lights up: if we wear Chanel No. 5, you’ll find ecstasy; if you lose 10 pounds before the holidays, life will be perfect; if you’re a bald man and you suddenly grow hair, five bikini-clad 20-year-olds will come and sit on your lap; if you win the lottery, you’ll live happily ever after; if you party in Las Vegas for the weekend, and lie to your partner about your whereabouts, your problems will disappear, and it will be your secret.

I would like to clarify a common misperception about spiritual disciplines and desires. We’re not talking about just any desires, but rather, the desires for things that we think will make us happy.

And that’s the crux of it…those things then become conditions of our happiness.

The Importance of Self Love

self-love-KundaliniI decided to repost this short article about Self-Love. I added the third notation, as well as the meditation, that follows. It is a meditation that I just did recently, at a training retreat. I loved doing it—I hope you try it and that you love it, too! The way I see it, the words are for our understanding (for our head) and the meditation is for our realization of Self-Love (for our heart).

For the Head…
We are so often told, in spiritual teachings, as well as in self-help manuals, that in order to love others, we have to love ourselves first.

Is this true?

It is!

Why?

Firstly, because if we are angry and hateful on the inside, we have only those emotions to project. Your body and mind respond to those feelings, consciously and unconsciously, and this negative reverb squeezes the joy out of life. What can you bring the world if there is no joy behind what you are doing?

Secondly, because if we’re angry and hateful on the inside, the object of those emotions is automatically set upon ourselves and this sets in motion, a mechanism of victimization. By directing negative energy onto ourselves, we make ourselves the object of our own discontent. Then, our mind gets to work to find a source of blame in opposition to that object. Simply put, when we make ourselves into victims, the rational mind, in its inherent dualistic structure, will then seek a culprit.

Unable to find one, everyone becomes an offender and those negative emotions are then displaced outward unto the whole world—we become angry at the world.

Thirdly, when we do not find within ourselves, a cozy sanctuary to come home to, we tend to relate to others from a place of neediness—a need for approval, validation and affirmation of self-worth. But, when we begin to nurture a connection to our own divinity, we begin to heal within. This kind of love has nothing to with egoism—it is where compassion begins. We forgive our faults and accept ourselves as whole and complete, as we are, before we can do the same for others. In this wholeness, we feel centered, empowered and no longer need to place blame on others or look to external sources for fulfillment. And when we take our power back, in this way, we begin to truly heal.

We feel love, which when real, needs no object at all—it’s a projection and an opening of the heart space.

For the Heart…
Meditation: Affirmation For Self-Love

Posture: Sit straight in a cross-legged position.

Mudra/Movement: Place your right hand on your heart and say, “My heart, I love you.” Place your right hand on the eyes and say, “My eyes, I love you.” Move to the top of your head and say, “My head, I love you.” At the navel point say, “I love you.” And placing your hands on both your knees say, “I love you.”

*Find your rhythm and continue on, for at least three minutes.

Two Stories: An Opportunity for Growth Rather than Grief

forgivenessHere are two situations which I present as examples of ways we allow ourselves to be negatively affected by others. But I show that they may be seen as opportunities for liberation, rather than suffering. Although I have fictionalized them by changing the details, they both resemble recent events in my own life.

Situation #1: You work in an office. You came up with a wonderfully creative idea that you’re sure will be adopted by management. This plan is likely to win a new contract with a highly sought-after company and will also guarantee your upward mobility in the company. But, to your shock and distress, you learned that as soon as the new guy obtained one on one time with the boss, he represented your idea as his own. You feel betrayed and disappointed.

“Wisdom Balm for Situation #1:
” Convert your anger, your hatred and your betrayal into compassion. Suppose somebody betrays me. I feel that god is very kind because he has given me the energy to tolerate it, and I am not the one who betrayed.” ~Yogiji

Situation #2: You wrote a screen play over a year ago. You just got word from your agent that a well-known film producer has made an offer to buy the rights to it. You always had faith in this project and knew in your heart it was a story that needed to be told. You also know how hard it is to get this kind of recognition here in L.A., where the market is so saturated and competitive. When you sent out a celebratory e-mail to your friends and family, most everyone responded with accolades, except the people that matter most to you. You feel hurt and unacknowledged.

“Wisdom Balm for Situation #2:” Happiness is your birthright. It cannot be taken away from you.” ~Yogiji

The first situation portrays an action that is taken as a betrayal. The second is rather, the omission of an expected course of action. What these two stories have in common — for the spiritual practitioner — is the need for forgiveness, or as I like to say, “forth-giveness,” since, as implied in the word, it is through the process of forgiving that we allow ourselves to go forward.

If we permit ourselves to feel victimized us, we are giving away our power. This is especially poignant in the first situation. So, when you see the occasion as an opportunity to practice and go higher in your way of looking and ultimately, in your spiritual awareness, you unchain yourself, at once. Say, thank you for this blessed challenge. And you come away feeling lighter. And lightness is closer to the divine.

In the second situation, the wisdom quote is deceptively potent. Just as we give away our power when we allow ourselves to feel victimized, we do it still, when we wait for someone’s approval to validate our sense of worth and accomplishment.

What difference does it make who notices?

No matter who notices, there will always be plenty who don’t, so this becomes a fruitless concern. You can authorize yourself to enjoy it. Besides, it is likely that the others don’t understand. Especially in a situation like this one—a family in the midwest, for example, simply wouldn’t understand how huge it is to sell a script in Hollywood! They’re probably just waiting for you to get a real job, anyway. The point is that your celebratory moment was never about others’ recognition, at all. It’s about you serving the world in a way only you can. That takes it to a higher level.

And higher still, is to realize, in both cases, that the perceived wrong isn’t about you. It’s about them. It’s a betrayal of their own consciousness. It indicates where they are in their own evolution. They are driven by their own demons, their own fears and insecurities. Far from making us more bitter, this recognition enables us to have compassion for them, since we’ve all been there. To this end, there is a teaching in our Yoga tradition that urges us to recognize that the other person is you.

This way of seeing brings us immediately into humility, as we begin to understand that everyone is ourselves at a different stage. And when we’re humble, we stop fighting and we heal.

So, we become at once, empowered and humbled. Empowered because we let go of our own victimization while authorizing our own experience of joy. Humbled because we come to see that our mission is less about impressing the world than it is about serving it.

A Prayer Called “Krishna’s Flute” (What Is Devotion?)

Krishna and RadhaThis is a picture of a vintage print. It is from my personal collection and hangs on the wall in my meditation room. The actual size is 18″ by 18.” It depicts the Hindu God, Krishna and his beloved, Radha. He stands behind her, seducing her with the enchanting sounds of his flute. Yet she looks away. Why?

Krishna the Amorous
All the girls in Krishna’s town of Brindavan, loved Krishna. Upon catching a distant high-pitched note or two from his flute, carried by the wind, through the open windows of their homes, the cowherding girls would escape into the night to follow him. He was irresistible and delightfully mischievous. For example, he would hide the clothes that they had hanging to dry—anything to rouse them into play. They would suddenly find themselves overtaken by an unbearable need to follow him, along the river and through the forests, and where ever he may lead them. As his notes transformed into the most delicious melodies, they would lose themselves in irrepressible bliss. And they would all dance together in mutual joy and delight.

Heartbreak & Longing
Because everyone loved Krishna so much, it was unendurable to withstand his absence. And so, whenever he would leave the village for any reason, his beloveds, especially his most adored Radha, would ache from the pain of his separation.

Merging
Their sadness and despair were inconsolable until they realized that his love was within themselves, all the while. He was never separate, at all! With his song, He led their souls to Spirit. This is why Radha looks away. She is in the ecstacy and bliss of divine communion—a love so great, so pure and so all-encompassing that it is beyond the confinement of the body of her lover.

The Role of Krishna
To borrow a phrase from Paramahansa Yogananda, each spiritual path is part of an all-encompassing “divine highway,” leading to union with our true Self. Each path invites us into the stillness of the sacred space that lies within—the wordless tranquility that emerges when we quiet the noise. The challenge is always the same, no matter how we refer to it—to become empty like the hollow reed Krishna brings to his lips. To become empty of resentment and distrust. To transform ourselves into a clean and beautiful vessel fit to receive God’s light. (Would you want to live in a dirty house?)

Just as Krishna’s breath blows softly through his flute, Spirit expresses itself through our selfless surrender to the divine will. Here is a prayer I wrote, as a gift to you, that you may use to give voice to this inner longing and purpose, if you find it helpful:

Prayer: “Krishna’s Flute”
Oh, that I may become like Krishna’s flute—an instrument for the melody of divine song…Oh, that I may see through your eyes, hear through your ears and know through your heart…Oh, that I may vibrate at such a high frequency that my absorption with the infinite becomes inevitable…Oh, that I may recognize in my heart and in every cell of my being, the spark of divinity…Oh, that I may see through my temporary role in this grand play and know that I am really an eternal soul—and that I am perfect, as I am…Oh, that I may have the courage to live as a witnessing consciousness, disabused, finally, of my illusions as a do-er.

What Is the True Role and Meaning of Devotion?
It brings us into grace and ease. As my own Dear teacher explains, “when you get a sense that you have to hold everything together, you’re not living in trust.” We all feel overwhelmed at times, but we forget that struggle is the ego’s game. We feel we are more productive if we fight everything at every step. Letting it go requires trust. It doesn’t mean we stop putting in the effort, it just means we detach from the outcome. This is what it really means to live in a state of devotion. And it requires no object. It’s simply a state of being and a way of living. It is not a matter of being devoted to something any longer. It is, rather, a matter of surrendering, in humility, the false illusion of doing. It is allowing whatever needs doing, to get done.

True Freedom Is More than Free Will

“It might sound funny coming from a guy in prison, but never before have I felt so free.” ~Denzel Washington in Flight

The kind of freedom the philosophers talk about in the west is quite different than the freedom of the saints and mystics and Yogis.

The philosophers speak of defining our own purpose and identity through the choices we make, of carving out our own paths and therefore, living an authentic life. In philosophical terms, it means rejecting the traditional notion of destiny and the corresponding idea that things are inevitably the way they are, set and fixed, in a pre-planned, determined universe.

Existentialists like Sartre—so called, because our very existence is ours to shape—would famously ask, where is this plan? The very idea left too much room for excuses, he said, since it would then be all too easy to pawn off our actions on circumstances, falling back on such clichés like It must have been in the cards, or That’s just the way I was made. And so, the urging was to use our free will, the natural byproduct of being born as a conscious human being.

Is this the same as the injunction, in the eastern mystic traditions to wake up? To actively shape our own Karma by making conscious choices and to reshape our plethora of long-established, unconscious habits through mindful awareness? Insofar as we are to create our own lives, with all the responsibility that goes along with this freedom, there is a parallel.

But existential freedom has more to do with conscious choosing than one’s state of consciousness.

For thinkers like Sartre, consciousness is the source and spring of free will. But, this unyielding and often rigidified consciousness is exactly the source of trouble from the point of view of Buddhist and Yogic teachings. Existential freedom (free will) is an ability to choose from among genuine alternatives that exist in the world, whereas the freedom the Yogis speak of refers to an awakened state of mind that shapes what we see as choices in the first place.

* For more on this topic, see my book, Buddha in the Classroom (Chapter 19. Sartre and Buddha—True Freedom is a Settled Mind)
* The next post will expand on this theme, exploring the differences between spiritual development and traditional methods of self help.

The Brahmin and the Cobbler (A Story of Enlightenment)

Here is an old story from Indian lore. It takes for granted the spiritual expectation, in Vedic philosophy, that with good karma and spiritual advancement, we may gratefully escape samsara, the seemingly endless cycle of birth and death that keeps us trapped in the torment of our own karma and misery. It also takes for granted the assumption that the Brahmins—the high-caste priests—would have earned the privilege of liberation first. But watch for the twist! Here, The God of time, Narayan—another name for Lord Vishnu—offers a surprising decree. I am retelling the story as I remember it.

—   —   —   —

Once on a sunny day near the Ganges, a Brahmin priest, who had just finished his oblations, came across Narada, the messenger of the Gods. After bowing deeply in respect, the Brahmin took the liberty of asking the divine sage for a favor:

Brahmin priest: “Could you be so kind as to ask the supreme Lord, Narayan, when I’m going to be liberated from this world and joined with him in holy bliss? I know it will be soon because of my station, and all, but I would just like to know, all the same.”

Narada: “No problem, my sir. I’ll ask when I see him.”

Further along down the river, a lowly cobbler, fixing shoes by the wayside, also stopped Narada, as he was passing through, and chanced to approach the great emissary:

Cobbler: “Could I appeal to your kindness by asking you to speak to the great God on my behalf?”

Narada: “I’d be happy to.”

Cobbler: “You see, I’m growing more weary each year, and I’d just like to know how many more lifetimes I am doomed to suffer in this material world?”

Narada: “I’ll be sure to pass on your message.”

And Narada continued on, passing seamlessly through to the spiritual world. When he saw the great Lord Narayan, he bowed to his feet, as is the custom in approaching great spiritual masters. The Lord then asked if there was anything he could do for Narada, who proceeded to put forth the concerns of both the priest and the cobbler.

As Lord Narayan can see through the barriers of time, and into eternity, he thus knows all. With a brief pause, he informed Narada of the destiny of his supplicants:

Lord Narayan: “The cobbler will come to me at the end of this present lifetime. But the Brahmin will live through at least 100 more lifetimes.”

Seeing the confused look on Narada’s face, the Lord only smiled and gave these instructions:

Lord Narayan: “Next time you see the cobbler and the priest, they will ask you what I was doing when you saw me. Tell them I was threading an elephant through the eye of a needle. When you see their reactions to this, you will then understand everything.”

So, Narada went on his way. The first man he saw was the Brahmin, who was shocked and insulted by the news:

Brahmin priest: “A hundred rebirths in this hell! I don’t believe it! You probably didn’t even see the Lord! Tell me, what he doing when you saw him?”

Narada: “Threading an elephant through the eye of a needle.”

Brahmin Priest: “Threading an elephant through the eye of a needle? That’s totally absurd! You must be lying about everything!”

So, Narada excused himself and pressed on until he found the cobbler. He gave him the news that he would soon be liberated and would be joining the realm of the Lord at the end of this lifetime, at which point the peasant exclaimed in joy:

Cobbler: “Oh, what blessed and glorious news! But, alas, tell me my good sir, what was the Lord doing when you saw him?”

Narada: “He was threading an elephant through the eye of a needle.”

Cobbler: “Lovely. Absolutely lovely.”

Narada: “You mean, you believe that?”

Cobbler: “Why, sure! You see that huge old oak tree up the hill? It grew from a tiny acorn. So, if the Lord can squeeze a gigantic oak tree into a little seed like that, He can just as easily thread an elephant through the eye of a needle.”

And with that, Narada understood the difference between the priest and the cobbler, as well as why the priest was not yet ready for liberation.

What’s Wrong with Distractions?

Can you just sit, without the need to go shopping, have a drink, play some slots, meet some girls…or guys,  place a bet, see the game, look at magazines, call people, surf the net or have a smoke?

But what’s wrong with those things? You might ask.

In philosophers’ patter, let’s presuppose three things: (1) That the highest purpose of human existence is to awaken our consciousness (2) That by ethically wrong, we mean the deliberate causing of harm to a sentient being (3) That there is a difference between ethical wrongness and and spiritual wrongness.

With that in mind, we first have to understand what is meant by “wrong.” We can rule out the idea that anything is ethically wrong with those things mentioned (presumption #2)—because in doing them you’re not causing direct harm to yourself or others and you probably have no intention to. But, those kinds of attractions may be considered wrong in the sense that they fail to support us in our longing for true inner contentment. Moreover, they don’t serve in bringing us nearer to the most exquisite goal of spiritual awakening (presumptions #1 and #3).

We’re talking more about what an activity doesn’t do for us than what it does do. And it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ever engage in amusements for the sake of amusement. It just means that we shouldn’t expect them to deliver what they are incapable of delivering.

Joy and happiness never derived from the external world. It is only the ego that looks habitually and incessantly for the next new thing—attached as it is, to the illusion of fulfillment by these things, as well as to the illusion that fulfillment happens at some other time. So, we are deceiving ourselves, from the beginning, by looking for happiness from anything, amusements, novelties, fantasies, experiences, in short, from things—things external to ourselves, things whose novelty quickly wears off, whose initial thrill wears away and whose very fabric wears out. All external things have a shadow side. The addict crashes every time and every time goes looking for another fix. The shopper needs the current issue, the gamer needs the latest version.

We even look to other people as potential sources of happiness, thus converting them into possessions and approaching them in the spirit of ownership, with negative emotions, like jealousy, suspicion and resentment the inevitable result of such an arrangement.

Meanwhile, we become prey to our own never-ending search for fulfillment out there. By doing so, we are essentially giving up our power to the world. And when we disempower ourselves, we become further distanced from the ultimate goal of awakening and further entrenched in illusion.

In Zen terminology, true joy comes from waking up to this moment. In Yogic language…from the realization of your own divine, abiding Self.

Nothing is more empowering than our liberation from the chains that bind us to the mistaken belief that joy is external to us. Distractions, by definition, keep us from this realization, thus leading us astray from our spiritual goal, wasting our time and disparaging our sacred purpose as humans.

And this, we may call spiritual wrongness (presumption #3).