Thursday, August 7, 2008

THE GAME OF LIFE (A PARABLE)

I am going to tell you a story. Actually I am going to tell you two stories, one is a fictional story and one is a real story; at least I think it's a real story. Let's say that it is as real as I can make it. The make believe story may sound realer than the real story, but I want to tell it to you to help you understand the real story. Hopefully, that will make more sense as we go along. Also, the make believe story begins before the real story begins. I start there so that you can better understand where the real story begins. Confusing? Sorry, but just bear with me. Here we go.

The make believe story is about us, you and me. Let's suppose that a very long time ago we were good friends, really good friends. Suppose that we became such good friends that we lost our interest in doing much of anything besides being with each other. And when we were with each other, since we knew each other so well, it was sometimes hard to tell the difference between where one of us ended and the other began. I seemed to know how you would respond to something at the same moment that you actually responded and you knew the same about me. We developed our own secret language and we didn't even have to use it that much because as time went on we could just tell what the other was thinking by the subtlest movement or gesture.


Was this a sexual relationship? No, not really. A sexual relationship is based on separation and coming together. In a sexual relationship there is a feeling of desire, and a consummation of that desire. In this relationship, yours and mine, there was no real separation, therefore no real desire. Being together at this level did not feel like sex or the consummation of sex; it was not pleasurable in that way. If anything, it was more like the peaceful, bonded feeling that you would experience with a lover after sex; that sense of no desires and no barriers between the two, of oneness and complete openness.


As time went by we lost interest in all activities, even in the activities that we would normally do to maintain our bodies. We ate and drank very little and got almost no exercise. What did we do? We dreamt. At first I would explain to you what my dreams were like, and you would tell me about yours. And we would share these things in our own secret language that I mentioned before. We talked less and less. It seemed that just by uttering a few words, you would know exactly what I had been dreaming and vice versa.


As I said, we were eating and drinking very little. We had almost no desire, no energy in our bodies to do anything. But we did feel energy, not our own, but a kind of energy that was coming to us, that we were receiving. We first felt it as a tingling on our skin and especially at the top of our heads. At that time our dreams were normal dreams populated by the people and animals and objects of every day life. But then, as our own energy continued to diminish and the energy we were receiving became stronger and stronger, and we began to feel it, not just on the surface, but all through our bodies; after that our dreams, in a sense, became more primitive, more essential. Instead of imagining objects we started imagining fields and patterns of energy and color and sound and these seemed to underlie and contain all the objects that we had been dreaming about before, but in a more essential form. Not only our dreams but our actual perceptions of the world around us transformed into these patterns as well, and soon it became hard to distinguish our dreams from our reality. At that point we could no longer feel the contours of our bodies, just this rich flow of energy passing through us. Our bodies began to feel like indistinguishable parts of an endless and boundless energy pattern, so that it became impossible to tell where your body ended and mine began or where both of our bodies ended and the surrounding environment began. And as we continued to dream, the separate colors of these patterns that surrounded us consolidated into one color, and that color was white; and the separate sounds of these patterns consolidated into one sound, and that sound was AUM; and the separate energies of these patterns consolidated into one energy, and that energy was love. And all the colors of the world were contained in that white color, and all the sounds of the world were contained in that AUM sound, and all the energies of the world were contained in that boundless love. And where we ended and where the light and the sound and the love began was impossible to tell. There was no longer a separate listener and a separate sound, a separate seer and a separate sight, a separate lover and a separate beloved. There was only One.


.......And now I have to interrupt this story, which, as I said before, is a fiction, to let you know, just for a moment, that this is actually the beginning of the real story, which I will get to later.......


How long we stayed in this place of perfect peacefulness and unity is impossible to say, because there was really no way to judge the passage of time. But at some point, which I assume (and I may be wrong) was a very, very long time later, something strange happened. We began to get bored. As perfectly peaceful and comfortable as this existence was, and it was far, far beyond anything that we had ever experienced before; nothing ever changed. From within this perfect peacefulness began to grow a little restless seed. It was a kind of nameless desire, a desire not for anything specific, but more like a desire for desire. We wanted the excitement, the up and down, the satisfaction and even the frustration of having any desire at all. And this desire formed a separate squiggle of energy that was separate from the endless energy that we were swimming in. And with this new separate energy we began to do things. The first thing we did was eat. First we ate anything that we could just pick with our hands, like fruits and leaves. When we ate the fruits and leaves we still felt the universal energy, but it had receded to the surface of our bodies and our separate energy had gotten stronger. It was then that we noticed that the world had broken back down into the separate patterns and colors and sounds of energy that we had seen before. Then with this extra energy we built a fire and started cooking. Now we were able to eat root vegetables and grains. When we ate these root vegetables and grains we could still feel the universal energy, if we focused on it, and we felt even more separate energy in our bodies. It was then that we noticed that the world had returned to being solid shapes and forms, although we could still sense the energy running through it. So now that our bodies were strong again and we had all this energy, we needed something to do.


So we decided that we would play a game. It didn't matter which game we played. It was a long time ago and games had different names then, but they were games just like the games we play now: checkers, Monopoly, basketball, foot races, ping pong, etc. Whatever the game, we divided ourselves into two teams. I was black and you were white. I was skins and you were shirts. I was East and you were West. I was male and you were female.


Now our early attempts at playing these games were a complete failure. For instance in the case of basketball, as soon as you would get a serious look on your face, or push into me with any intensity as you dribbled past me, or let out with a victory yell when you made a basket, I would look at you, you would look back at me, and we would both devolve into giggles. No matter what game we played as soon as one of us got the least bit passionate about it, got the least bit involved with trying to win, even got a determined look on our faces, the other would do something to remind the passionate one of how silly he was being, and we would get weak-kneed at the ridiculousness of it all. Whatever intensity there was in the game would disappear. For a while this kind of superficial dabbling was great fun, but we grew weary of it. We longed for the experience of real involvement, of passion, of real victory, even if that also meant, which it invariably did, the experience of real defeat.


So we came up with something. The best way I can describe it is a kind of hypnosis, or a self-induced forgetfulness. We found a way to convince ourselves that we were really strangers, that we had no connection to each other at all. Then, when we played our games, we began to play with unbridled passion. We were no longer two inseparable beings, one of whom happened to be on the black team, and one of whom happened to be on the white team, one of whom happened to be on the male team and one of whom happened to be on the female team, one of whom happened to be on the rich team and one of whom happened to be on the poor team; we became in our own minds simply black or white, male or female, rich or poor. And since we had erased any memory of who we really were or where we had really come from, our complete identity, our entire sense of ourselves, revolved solely around how many victories or how many defeats we had managed to accumulate. (I should note that at this time as we were trying to conquer each other, we began to conquer animals as well. When we started eating lots of animals we became filled with even more of this separate energy, and competitiveness. Our separate energy got so strong that we could no longer feel the universal energy coming into our bodies, or sense it as it flowed through our surroundings. All we could see was physical objects.)


After a while these games proved unsatisfying too. No matter how many games I won, you never seemed, ultimately, to be defeated. You would always find some way to eke out another win. And I, also, perhaps goaded by the sting of a humiliating loss, would try that much harder and eventually turn the tables on you. We yearned to settle this thing once and for all, so that one of us would enjoy an ultimate and permanent victory and one would suffer an ultimate and permanent defeat. So we invented a new game, and we called that game war. But when we played that game a funny thing happened. At the end of a long battle, when we were locked together in mortal combat, as I was trying to wrest from you the knife that you had pressed against my throat, our eyes locked. As we were looking, not so much at each others eyes, but at the being that was emerging from behind those eyes, we both sensed, albeit dimly, a whiff of recognition of our common past and the love that we once had shared. All the energy that we had mustered to lock each other in a grip of death, at that moment, instantly drained from our bodies, and we stepped back in bewilderment. Who was this other person? Were you my enemy or my brother? Did I hate you or love you? Were you really this fearful stranger or just another aspect of myself?


As we looked at each other, not with hate or competitiveness, not with the objective of trying to detect vulnerabilities that we could exploit, but with unfettered and deep curiosity, we began to see in the other a whole new person, and these new perceptions, the way that you smiled and moved, the way you sounded and smelled and felt, each characteristic reverberated in another rusted tuning fork deep in our memories, and from behind the veil of our self induced forgetfulness (that nowadays we call the subconscious) came stirrings, vibrations, and each of these carried with it more memories of our mutual love. So we rushed at each other again and locked each other, not in a death grip, but in a loving embrace. And instead of devolving into giggles, as we had once done, we devolved into tears. We wept for all the injuries that we had caused each another in our attempt to defeat an enemy who wasn't an enemy at all. We wept for all the injuries that we had caused ourselves as we drove ourselves mercilessly to earn the respect of someone who had loved us from the very beginning. We wept for our inability to not find a way to participate and compete enthusiastically in this life without having to forget that we were really one and that separation is a game that we play, and that in honoring our competitors we honor ourselves. And we wept for the waste; the wasted time that we spent worrying and fretting and driving ourselves into despair about a competition that was really no more than a game; the wasted energy that we spent in arming ourselves and protecting ourselves from an enemy whose only reason for trying to harm us was because he thought we were trying to harm him; and we wept for the insanity of it all, the deluded sense of self importance and entitlement that we enjoyed briefly when we experienced a few tawdry victories, and the intensity of our shame when we suffered a few trivial defeats.


And when we had repented all these past mistakes, and rekindled the love that we had once felt, we tried to figure out a new way forward. Should we give up our games? Give up all competition? Well, certainly the war game, and any game whose goal was to inflict injury on the other, had to go, but we realized that through these years and through all these competitions we had gotten much stronger, sharper and more alert than we were in our dreaming days. We had learned many things and had many amazing adventures. We didn't want to go back to the lethargy and passivity of our dreams any more than we wanted to go back to the violence of war. The question was, how could we stay in the knowledge of who we really were, knowing that we were one not just with our competitors but with the entire universe, and still participate and compete with enthusiasm in the world of separation? Then we realized that these two things were not at all contradictory. In fact, when we knew we were playing a game, when we knew that it was really only just a game, then we actually had more enthusiasm and energy then when we took ourselves and the outcome of our competitions too seriously. In the old days when we had laughed at our silliness, we came to understand that what had made it ridiculous was not the competition itself, but the life and death seriousness that we had imagined it had. We were laughing not at the game, but at the distorted importance that we put on the outcome of the game. Remembering that it was a game actually liberated us to put more focus and attention on each moment instead of splitting our attention between our participation in the moment and our worry about the outcome of our participation.



And finally, we came up with a trick, a trick that is still in use today. We learned how to watch ourselves. Just like today, when we get very caught up in an intense moment of trying to eke out a victory or avoid a defeat, when we are about to do something that we might later regret, we are often able to suddenly step back and look at ourselves and in so doing change the course of our behavior. But in those days we didn't step back and remind ourselves that we shouldn't behave that way because we were Christians, or Jews, or Hindus, or Muslims, or Buddhists, or family men, or mothers, or respectable members of our community. In those days we had no such identities, no such labels, no such sense of ourselves. Way back then, in that more primitive time, we would simply remind ourselves that we were each other.


So that is the end of the make believe story. It really doesn't have an end, because this balancing act between unity and separation, between the spiritual and the material, between being and doing, never ends. The moment we pride ourselves in coming up with a final answer, an ultimate strategy for negotiating the shoals of life, is the moment that we are punished for our pride.


And now here's the real story. I told you that I will try to make it as real as I can, but that is only from my limited human perspective. The real story was not written from a human perspective; it was written from God's perspective, from the cosmic consciousness' perspective. And that is something that we can think about, that we can contemplate, but it is far, far from our ability to comprehend. For instance, the beginning of the story, which I mentioned above. In my make believe story two humans were experiencing the Ultimate, but from their perspective. They were lost in the Ultimate, they were immersed in the Ultimate but they were not generating the Ultimate. It's like sunlight. An infinitesimally tiny piece of it comes in our window, and that is real sunlight. It has real warmth and real light and it fills our room and we can enjoy it, we can even immerse ourselves in it. But we are not generating it. And if we were much closer to the generative source of that power we, in our human form, would not enjoy it at all; we would instantly be overwhelmed by it. And keep in mind that I am not talking about being spatially close. The metaphor of the sun is useful but only to a degree. The Divine is beyond space and time, so this generative intensity that I am talking about is everywhere. A more useful metaphor might be the power of the atom. We are surrounded by countless atoms each of which contains within it an enormous force. That force is undoubtedly there but, fortunately for us in the case of the atom, it remains in a latent form.



Some people, due to their training, their devotion, their constitution or their karmic destiny, are able to get a lot closer to that generative source than others. Master Kirpal Singh, Swami Satchidananda, Swami Chidananda, and Werner Erhard transmitted an energy that was palpable and undeniable. If these people were your teachers, it wasn't so much that you were studying with them; it was more like you were absorbing them. If being next to God was too much for our body/brain to take, being next to a step down transformer like Kirpal Singh, was the closest we could come to it in this life. And those are just the people that most strongly impacted me when I was ripe to receive such knowledge. All great religions are always producing saints (that's what makes them great) and you can always find one if you sincerely desire it.



When the two friends decided to play games, and divided themselves into teams, black and white, male and female; that was a way of humanizing an event that Taoists refer to as the bifurcation of Infinity. It is also, I believe, the meaning of the biblical phrase, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," (the actual physical planet Earth happened later). It is a separation into two opposing, but really complementary, forces. It can be called yin and yang, positive and negative, centrifugal and centripetal, heaven and earth, in and yo, etc. And in the endless interactions between the two, the physical world is formed. Yin and yang oppose each other but they cannot exist without the other. We cannot conceive of anything without its opposite. In another post I discussed the impossibility of a fish understanding water until it was lifted out and had an experience of 'no water.' The same is true for hot and cold, light and dark, front and back, up and down, time and space, etc., etc. These things only come into being in duality, in pairs. The concept day only has meaning if there is also night. There can be no concept of hot unless we have an experience of cold to contrast it with. Hot and cold, male and female, strong and weak, light and heavy, space and time, etc., etc. are all known only in relation to each other. It is important to remember that none of these qualities existed in the unity before the bifurcation and do not exist in the Unity that we experience as the Self now. All of these qualities manifested, came into existence, with the bifurcation and the resulting interplay of yin and yang. This occurrence, the separation of unity into duality, is often thought of by devotees of eastern religion and thought, as a physical event. Some physical thing or some kind of energy that was unified separated into two physical things that were opposite but complementary. But this is not accurate. The unity predates the physical universe. The unity was and is spirit that contains the physical in a latent, non-physical form. The act of bifurcation was an act of will. Spiritual unity created physical diversity because spiritual unity WANTED physical diversity. The creation of the physical universe was and is an act of will.


Well, how could this possibly be? To try to understand it let's look at it the only way we can look at it, from our human perspective. Everything that we do and everything we accomplish on our human level is also an act of will, a movement from the spiritual to the physical. I was sitting with someone at a barbecue recently. Through a mouthful of potato salad she scoffed at the idea of 'manifestation.' "Manifestation, manifestation", she said, "what is this manifestation that everyone talks about? I've never seen it." I asked her how that potato salad happened to wind up on her plate. She said that she wanted some, simple as that. But where in the physical universe is that simple 'wanting' located? Through what instrumentation could one observe this 'wanting?' Yes, you might be able to pinpoint electrical and chemical excitation in the brain that preceded that wanting, but without a non-physical being to translate that excitation into a desire, and without that non-physical desire to galvanize the brain into a plan of action, to martial her nerves and eyes and bones and muscles to find that potato salad and the plate to eat it on, it would never have eventually made its way into her mouth. To find a manifestation she had to look no further than the food that was sliding down her esophagus and the skeptical words that she was forming with her lips and her tongue. And if humans have created whole empires from nothing more than a dream (and every empire is nothing more and nothing less than a manifestation of a dream) than why is it hard to imagine the Almighty willing a universe?



How could we get bored with the ultimate experience of love, peace and oneness? Because we always had it; because it never changed. We (and understand I am using We to refer to all of us that were part of the Unity that preceded the diversity) realized that we couldn't fully appreciate it, just like dark and light, and hot and cold, unless we had an experience of not having it. So we decided to create separate beings that felt separated sometimes and united other times. But we didn't just create those beings. We became those beings. From the universe's perspective, the games that the two friends were playing, are actually life times as different beings. We had to first create a physical universe to house those beings, to give them something to enjoy, to interact with and play in. We did this by setting in motion a series of inviolable laws, which through their interplay, generated and continues to generate the physical universe. When the physical universe was prepared, when it was ready to host the simplest of creatures, some of our unity temporarily separated and became microbes.


Now this seems like an insane thing to choose to do, to choose to go from being an inextricable part of the Godhead to being a microbe, but that is because we are looking at both the choice and the experience from a human perspective. As humans we choose to go on roller coaster rides, to see how long we can hold our breath, see what it's like to eat a whole garlic, swallow a goldfish, run barefoot in the snow, etc., etc. We subject ourselves to all kinds of experiences simply for the experience of it. Of course we wouldn't do it if it was going to last for a very long time. We do it knowing that it is only going to last for a moment. And in that knowledge, that it will only last for a brief time and that it will not damage us in any permanent way, we feel free to indulge in all kinds of crazy experiments, JUST FOR THE EXPERIENCE OF IT. To decide to go from being a god to being a microbe would be insane if it were forever. But to go on the microbe ride at the Divine Amusement Park, knowing that whatever happened you would get off the ride being the perfect being that you were when you first decided to go on it, well that doesn't seem crazy at all. That just seems adventurous. Also this is the Divine Amusement Park. All the rides are built and maintained by the Almighty. You have the Almighty's guarantee that whatever happens while you are on this ride, whatever you become and whatever you think you have become, you will always return to being the inextricable part of the Godhead, which you always were anyway, but simply chose, while you were on this ride, to forget.


Our judgment as to the craziness of this decision is also based on what we think a microbe's experience might be like. As humans we can never know for sure, but we can speculate. First, there would probably be no thought. And this seems like a terrible loss, but only if it's for a long time. From the point of view of eternity, the life span of a microbe is an eye blink. From this perspective, then, a brief respite from thinking may seem welcome, even exciting. But what could you experience? You probably have only the sense membrane of one cell to experience anything with. True, there would be much less variety, but would there be much less intensity? If I prick you with a pin does the fact that that pin only touches one point on your body diminish the sensation that you feel? What about a pleasurable taste on one taste bud, or one skin cell? And we are talking about a sensation that we feel that is distributed throughout our one hundred trillion celled body. What if our body was only one cell and a substantial part of that cell was a sense membrane? And a microbe has needs. It may not have many complicated needs, and it almost assuredly doesn't have any emotional or social needs, but who needs those every moment of eternity? No, these would just be one or two very basic survival needs.


The satisfaction of our human needs is extremely pleasurable. With food and drink, the hungrier and thirstier we are, the more pleasurable the satisfaction of those needs become. This is the way we are set up; or this is the way that We (before we were separated) set it up. Desire and the pleasure that we experience in the satisfaction of that desire is the system that guarantees that all of us get enough to eat and drink, or at least, that we are always trying to get enough to eat and drink. And this has to be the same system for all creatures including plants and microbes. Searching for food, receiving and digesting food all takes energy. Why would plants and microbes and animals keep expending that energy if they didn't want to? The relentless way that lower forms pursue nutrition leads me to think that what they experience is even more overwhelmingly pleasurable that what we experience. Beyond desire and the pleasurable satisfaction of desire is a third experience that I think all creatures including microbes experience, and that is the experience of no desire. No desire is not the same as no experience. No desire, and especially when one is in the environment to which one is so perfectly adapted, is not pleasurable in the same way that desire satisfaction is, but it is a feeling of peace and connectedness, of quiet rightness with the world. The universal energy that I was talking about in the fictional story, and that we begin to feel when our own personal desires are reduced, and feel most strongly at moments when we have no desires at all; this energy flows through all of us, microbes included. The motivation for satisfying desires is not just the pleasure that the universe has built in to the satisfaction of desires, but we, all living beings, look forward to that state of no desire, of returning, of being reconnected to the universal energy. It feels good. And that is why, when we are near plants and animals that are not needy (that are not experiencing a famine or a drought, and that are not fearful for their safety) we feel their peacefulness, their happiness, their connectedness, and it makes us feel happy and connected. Again, these are only my human conjectures, being neither, at this moment a god or a microbe, but it makes perfect sense to me and I hope it does to you.



And the last thing I want to say about the microbe ride, and I say this with perfect confidence: From the perspective of the universal consciousness, which is beyond space and time; size definitely does not matter!


All the rides at the Divine Amusement Park are made from proteins. We picked proteins because they are the best transmitters of electrical and chemical signals that allow the rider to stop, start and steer the ride when he desires to. But proteins are somewhat delicate. It took us a long time to get the park ready so there could be any rides at all. The temperature and atmosphere had to be just right, and the ground had to be stable enough for even the simplest, hardiest rides. As time went on and we were able to stabilize and moderate the temperature and atmosphere and ground and water ( we have many underwater rides, too), we were able to add more and more complicated and delicate rides because we wanted to provide a more exciting experience for ourselves.


The simplest rides are on tracks. The rider can start or stop, move faster or slower, but that is about it. He may collide with another ride and his direction may get changed, but the track changes direction too, so he is never really steering himself. The more complicated rides don't have tracks and riders are free to move in several directions along a surface. The most complex rides have many directional possibilities in all dimensions and the possibility of joining with a wide variety of different riders, thereby creating new directions for both. And these most complex rides even come with the possibility of the rider contemplating the ride itself. On these the rider can even choose to leave the ride in the middle of the course, or the rider can discover that he can be with us (the park administration) in spirit and physically stay on the ride at the same time. Those riders who manage this feat report a much smoother, more enjoyable experience.


You may think that I am trivializing the importance of microbes, that without them higher life forms could not exist. For starters, their metabolic actions are what oxygenated the planet, and that's not a game. But it is. If we continue looking from this perspective, their vital function allowed the development of more sophisticated life forms which allowed the possibility of more complicated games. I am not saying that these functions are not important. I am just wondering why we can't enjoy ourselves in the process of performing them. The most important thing I ever did in my life was helping make my children, and I hope you want fault me for having a good time while I was doing it.



Does this perspective, even if it is basically accurate, lead one to a very casual attitude toward this life and an indifference to the suffering of others? No. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. If you think that this life is your entire existence, then anything that can be construed as negative is a tragedy. With age usually comes a wider perspective, if not an eternal one. But in observing children you can see the pitfalls of a limited perspective. When a child's ice cream cone drops on the ground, this is, for that child, a horrific tragedy. Why? Because from her limited perspective that is the only ice cream cone in the universe! There will never be another ice cream cone! There will never be another moment when she will enjoy the taste of ice cream again! Adults, even the kindly ones, are gently amused by this distortion and try to reassure the child that there are many more ice cream cones in the universe and in her future. We have a broader perspective and we know that life is a lot longer and more varied than this child imagines it to be at that moment. But with something like a chronic illness or a lifelong debility, we lack the perspective to give this sufferer the same kind of reassurance. When we are clear that we are not our traits, but the timeless divinity that enlivens our traits, and the sufferer is not her traits, but the timeless divinity that enlivens her traits, then we are able to give this sufferer the exact same assurance that we gave the little ice cream lover. There are many, many more experiences to be had, and many more arrangements of traits and experiences through those traits. And the end to having traits and having a separate existence, is not the end of existence, but the end of separation.


Also, believing that we are nothing more than our mortal and one time only traits, leads us to the endless obsessive comparing and contrasting of ourselves with others; the categorizing of our traits; and the arranging of them in hierarchies, and the arranging of our society in rigid hierarchical structures based on the values that we ascribe to these different traits. All of this is a shallow, joyless game in which, ultimately, there are only losers. In our trait obsessed and over competitive society, it is literally only perhaps the first hour after birth that we, the parents, experience the true miraculousness and divine nature of our children. Then the charts get whipped out. We find out that our baby is an inch shorter or an inch taller than the norm, a pound heavier or a pound lighter. We discover, to our great delight, not that she took her first step, but that she took her first step a month sooner then little Tommy down the block took his, or, God forbid, a month later. And how is her speaking coming? Is she in front of the curve or behind the curve? And what about her IQ? Will she be 'identified gifted' and of great value, or unidentified and, by default, worthless? Now, hold on there! You say she's gifted, okay. But is she 'highly gifted'? Is she? Is she? Huh? Huh? Huh? Maybe she's not all that valuable after all! Compare and contrast. Compare and contrast. Where does she fit in this hierarchy or that hierarchy, in this ordering or that? And in the whirlwind of all this frenetic evaluating, in the midst of this fear and this boasting, this demeaning and being demeaned, in the middle of all this sheer and complete insanity, what happened to that little newborn who we knew was as conscious and willful, as intelligent and full of love as we were? What happened to that perfect being who looked out at us from behind her perfect eyes and who we knew was perfect regardless of anything that she would ever do or not do, and regardless of anything that any other child on this planet ever did or didn't do? What happened to her? Well, let's wait and see how she does on her SAT exams!


So this is not a trivial distinction. It is not merely the subject of an interesting philosophical debate. It goes to the very nature of our society and the quality of our experience here on this planet. Do we consider ourselves to be merely a collection of traits, and a random collection at that; merely part of the world of duality, of good and bad, of better and worse? Or are we at base beyond duality, an inextricable part of the One, miraculous and incomparable? Many traditional, pre-industrial societies had this understanding. Only twenty years ago, in the foothills of the Himalayas, in Nepal (where one dare not go now for fear of being kidnapped, or worse, by Maoist rebels!) when encountering a stranger one would be met by, what was for this Westerner, an uncannily open and warm look directly into one's eyes and the greeting, 'Namaste!,' which means, 'I salute the God within you.' And that is the perfectly fitting one word summary for this entire post. Namaste!


Let me hear from you. I welcome your feedback.

Monday, August 4, 2008

MY DAD, MY GURU AND ME

This post will be a little different from the other ones. Please consider this post more as a part of my profile than an actual post. I didn't write anything in my actual profile because I didn't want it to have any bearing on the way in which you considered the ideas expressed in the blog. The ideas should stand or fall on their own merit and when or how I came up with them is irrelevant. I hope you read and enjoy this post, but I will not be publishing any comments about it. There's nothing here to agree or disagree with. It's just my life.

In 1968 I was working as an actor and I was on a tour up and down the East coast. My girlfriend was back in New York and I would call her regularly (although, to be quite honest, I cannot remember now if she was actually my girlfriend at this exact time or not. Keep in mind that this was 1968 and relationships were.....perhaps the best word would be ephemeral.) Anyway, I was speaking with this woman with whom I had some sort of relationship, and she told me, very excitedly, and I do remember these exact words, that she was doing "exercises that made you high." What? I had never heard of such a thing. I had experimented very minimally with some drugs but was not really enthusiastic about any of them. Back then, I considered acting to be my drug of choice, but the idea of 'exercises that made you high' really intrigued me. They were called yoga, she said, and I resolved to take some yoga classes as soon as I returned to the city.


I wound up at a place called the Integral Yoga Institute on West End Avenue in Manhattan. The classes were taught on one of the upper floors of an apartment building, and, yes, those classes did make you high. At least they did for me. It was not just exercises. The class began with chanting in unison, then physical exercises, then breathing exercises, a deep relaxation, a brief meditation and some closing chants. The classes were taught by disciples of someone by the name of Swami Satchidananda, who the teachers referred to as Swamiji. I hadn't met Swamiji yet, but from the way these teachers spoke about him and from the effect these classes were having on me, I was very anxious to do so. Swamiji taught every Friday night, in those days, at a church on Central Park West, and after a few weeks of classes I decided to go.


Now I was not a child at this time. I was a fairly sophisticated adult in my twenties who had lived most of his life in a huge city (New York) and had attended an excellent university. But in all that time I had never met a radiant human being. Swami Satchidananda was radiant. And he was radiant in a way that filled that large church on Central Park West and made it literally impossible for anyone sitting there to entertain a negative thought about themselves, about life or anything else. And, of course, I was enthralled. In short order I had received a mantra from Swamiji, was eating a vegetarian diet as he prescribed and practicing yoga and meditation regularly. And, of course, every Friday night, religiously, I would attend his lectures and sit as close as I could, so that I could absorb not just his words, but the energy and love that was always emanating from his presence.


I was pretty estranged from my father at this time. He was not thrilled with what he perceived to be my bohemian life style or my choice of pursuing acting as a career. And I, in turn, was not taken with what I perceived to be his rigidity and his center right politics. So I was surprised when he expressed an interest in coming to the church to hear one of Swamiji's Friday night lectures. I consented, but I was ambivalent. I wasn't completely ready to share Swamiji with him and felt a bit like he was encroaching on my territory. I don't remember for sure, but it was probably at my insistence, that we sat separately; I, up front with my fellow long-haired and beaded regulars, and he, in the rear, in his white shirt and tie (he was a pharmacist and had come straight from work).


Swamiji's talk that night was about Oneness. His actual words escape me now, but it was, of course, as all his talks were, simple and penetrating, humorous and enlightening, and I was managing to enjoy it almost as much as I had enjoyed all his other lectures, except that I was a bit distracted by the fact that my Dad was also present, and taking everything in at the rear of the church. At the end of the lecture I met Dad as we were both emerging onto Central Park West. "So, what did you think of the lecture?" I asked. "It's just like Judaism," he replied. That stopped me in my tracks. "How do you mean?" "You know, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One."


I was livid, incensed. Here I had introduced him to this amazing man, this saint, and all he can say is, "It's just like Judaism;" as if it's nothing new, as if it's something that he's heard a thousand times before. How dare he compare the tawdry, middle class, corned beef and cabbage Oneness of Judaism, with the exotic, transcendent, jasmine and saffron Oneness of Hinduism!

So after standing all day at his pharmacy, waiting on customers and filling prescriptions, after wolfing down a lonely dinner and racing to the church in the hopes of re-establishing some rapport with his son, as a thick cloud of gloom and separation descended between us, he went his way and I went mine. He to his apartment in Queens and I to my place in Greenwich Village.


Dear, dear Dad. How can you forgive me? How could I not see that my behavior was exactly the antithesis of everything that we had just heard in that lecture that night?


My father died suddenly a few years later when I was living in Boston. Perhaps he can hear me now. I really don't know. But what I want to say to him is this:


I loved Swami Satchidananda. He was a great, great treasure in my life, and he inspired in me a ten year spiritual oddysey that changed me forever. Love flowed out of him effortlessly, like an endless fountain of the Divine. But what I realized was that the love that you had, which you were often too shy to express and which was held in check by my adolescent anger and was often buried beneath the cigar smoke and mustard stains, was every bit as deep and profound and knowing as Swamiji's. This was almost forty years ago and I still remember Swamiji with great affection. But when I think of you, when I think of your quiet, non-complaining, patient love, and your great wisdom that went, for the most part, unrecognized, my heart explodes with love. I wish I could have told you this a long time ago, but Dad, you were my guru all along. I just never realized it.


And that, dear Reader, is why I have no patience for the idiotic parsing of religions by theological scholars and fundamentalists. Oneness is Oneness. Saints are saints. God is not a thing, and it is not a concept. Different religions have used different language and different concepts to try to communicate the ineffable in a way that is meaningful to different cultures at different periods in our history. 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is One.' Not one religion as opposed to another, not one people, or culture, or society as opposed to another. Not even one God as opposed to another. The Lord is beyond opposition. The Lord is One!