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Thoughts on a Modern-Day Book-Burning: How a novel I wrote was destroyed by the NYPD at OWS

November 16, 2011

About five years ago now, as a humble English major in Upstate New York, I started writing a metaphysical, slightly surrealistic story that eventually turned into a full length novel only a year and a half later. Three years of grueling editing later, with several professors guiding and mentoring me all along the way, I had my very own published novel. How cool! Little did I know that only a few short months later, the presence of my novel would apparently prove so offensive to the city of New York that it would be destroyed by the NYPD. But only a few short nights ago, that’s exactly what happened.

When the NYPD–decked in riot gear–violently raided the heart of Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park in the middle of the night a few nights ago, they destroyed the People’s Library in the process. All told, over 5000 books were destroyed, including (but certainly not limited to) my very own.

Well then! I always wondered what it’d feel like to have your book burned — and I have to admit — having your book destroyed by the violent arm of a corporate state is a very special feeling.

But eventually I began to ruminate on the irony of the situation, connecting the storyline of my novel to its eventual destruction at the reckless hands of Mayor Bloomberg’s own private army. My novel isn’t political at all, nor is it inflammatory. Starting from the mundane premise of a college student having troubles with a mysterious girlfriend, the novel eventually transforms itself into a metaphor for the uncertainty of truth and the discovery of spiritual Truth, hiding ever-present behind the narrative fictions we all spin to make sense of our nonsensical lives. The novel doesn’t seem like it ought to be connected with a politically motivated modern-day book-burning in the slightest — and yet somehow, the act of its destruction seemed a deeply symbolic one to me.

About a month ago I wrote a post entitled Occupy Your Mind, in which I wrote about how the deepest import of a practiced spirituality is that it has the ability to link our inner journey with our outer purpose. By realizing the Oneness of all things experientially for oneself through the power of meditation, one’s relationship with society and the world at large changes forever. At the subtlest layer, beneath all the tropes of character, metaphor, style and plot, this was what my novel was all about. Realize the Truth within: change the world without. The title of my novel, In the Smoky Air, points to the chief metaphorical inversion of the novel: rather than fog being a force that “obscures” Truth or knowledge, that act of obfuscation itself points to the Truth shimmering right there in front of you all along.

“The fog allows you to only see where you yourself are,”  one of the characters, Ivan, observes, “and not up ahead and not back behind.” Smiling, seeming immensely pleased with this, Ivan then tells us that we are therefore forced to “live in the present.” Armed with true knowledge, only then can we move ahead.

“A true revolution begins with a revolution of consciousness,” I once wrote, referring to the Occupy movement. “Occupy your mind.” Since the beginning, I have felt that this was the essential dilemma of the Occupy protests, first in their inception at Wall Street and later around the world — not a problem of methodology, of goals or even of PR, but of consciousness.

Don’t get me wrong — Occupy Wall Street has already effectively raised the level of consciousness all around the globe. But why? What for? Where are we headed and why do we want to get there? Moving from vague objectives and symbolic, physical occupations, the recent raid on Zuccotti Park is forcing the Occupy movement ahead to phase two. My fellow occupiers, bereft of sleeping bags, of tents, of comfort, now find themselves in the metaphorical “fog” of my novel. Rather than hindering their forward movement, I’m more confident than ever that Occupy Wall Street has, is, and will continue to change the world. Why? Because this is no longer a physical occupation. The genie’s been let out of the bottle. The occupation has moved from the space of a park to the hearts and minds of every American. This is a revolution of consciousness — the revolution is happening now, and the revolution is here to stay.

Everything is connected. This is not a mere belief, nor is it a platitude. It is a scientific fact; even more deeply, it is spiritual Truth, substantiated by the Realization that can only be found within. I don’t need an authority to tell me what to think, who to be, what to buy. I have seen the Truth for what it is, deep within my mind in the silent murmurings of my meditations. It is beautiful; it is everywhere.

Think the Corporate State finds this sentiment offensive? Ask the NYPD what they did with my novel. You tell me.

Interested in my novel? Click here for more info, or check out my Amazon page here.

How Does Meditation Work?

November 10, 2011

Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing about how meditation has the power to effect profound, transformative changes in the quality of one’s consciousness. By changing the way we relate to ourselves, meditation unlocks a secret power within us to change the way we relate to others: to our families, our friends, our loved ones, to strangers, and even to the world. I’ve insisted throughout my posts that–far from being a remote set of abstract ideals–the reality of meditation is one that you can experience for yourself, so long as you put in the work to practice it on your own.

But there’s been one large question I haven’t yet really touched on, and that’s the obvious question of: how does it work? I’m insisting to you that it does work, after all — before you sit down for yourself to see if I’m right, I should be able to at least explain myself, shouldn’t I?

Ironically, although the question is one of the most basic ones that could be asked, it is also one of the most difficult questions to answer. Meditation is a mental practice, after all — to explain it, we’ll have to discuss the workings of the mind. How does the mind work? What does the mind really want?

A few years ago I did my meditation alone in my room, as I do everyday. It was a nice meditation, but nothing life-changing. Just an ordinary, pleasant meditation. Afterwards I went downstairs, where my roommate Bryan and his friends (whom I had never met before) were watching the Yankees game. Watching the game for about five minutes, I started to realize that I felt extremely happy. Five minutes later, it was becoming a little unreasonable. Five minutes after that, and I was so overcome with it that I thought my brain was going to explode to reveal the universe for what it really was: endless, shimmering light vibrating with the very presence of the Divine.

Bryan suddenly woke me up in that moment. “Hey?” he asked, looking at me from across the couch. “Are you okay dude?” Looking at him, I suddenly saw myself, reflected right back at me through his own eyes. Looking around at the whole room, the Divine Self was all I saw, all I felt, all I could understand. Finally reaching the brink, I broke out into uncontrollable sobs.

“I love you so much,” I tearily confessed to my poor, confused roommate. “I love you all.”

You can only imagine what these perfect strangers thought of me, but funnily enough, it was well-known in my typical college house that part of living with me was that, every once in a while, something like this might happen. “Don’t worry about him,” they would sometimes say to others. “He just meditated.”

So — how does it work? How does it happen?

Meditation works upon a basic principle of the mind that people rarely consider: “as you think, so you become.” Or, to quote the Buddha, “you are what you think, having become what you thought.”

But what does this mean? Well, let’s consider even the most mundane thing the mind can do: sensory perception. For example, the action your mind takes in order to read the words I’m writing here right now. Light reflects off the monitor and reaches your eyes, which sends signals to your brain. There in your mind, an image is created of the words on the screen that your mind interprets.

But! Something just happened here. Something powerful; something profound. Did you catch it?

Close your eyes for a moment, and imagine a pink elephant. Make it as realistic as you can. Imagine the wrinkles of its skin; its long, pink trunk; the ivory of its tusks.

Pretty easy, right? The fact that you can imagine not just an elephant (which you’re not physically seeing), but an imaginary pink elephant, proves that there is a portion of your mind that is almost like playdough or silly putty, shape-shifting constantly into whatever form the mind commands it to take. To return to our original example of reading the words on a screen, that same part of the mind that can assume the form of a pink elephant in this case takes the shape of the words perceived initially by the eyes and the brain. In other words, to read the words written here by me, a part of your mind has to become the shape of those words so another portion of your mind can interpret them.

Thus, we can say that there is an objective mind, which takes the form of whatever you think or perceive, and a subjective mind, which commands it.

This understanding raises serious questions as to why we should ever rely on our five senses as our only source of knowledge. What are you actually perceiving? When you drink a cup of coffee, for example, what are you tasting? Are you actually tasting the coffee? No. As this line of thinking clearly shows, a certain physical portion of the coffee activates your taste buds, which sends a signal to the brain. A portion of your objective mind then becomes the taste of the coffee so that your subjective mind can either enjoy or not enjoy it. You’re not even enjoying a shadow of the coffee, in other words, you’re enjoying a shadow of a shadow of the coffee — rather than experiencing anything directly, your mind enjoys a mental creation of a reflected portion of a physical object. Ultimately, it is only enjoying the mental creation, and not any physical object directly.

There’s an easy way to understand this. Imagine your favorite food. Pizza, tacos, pasta — whatever it is, imagine it. Imagine eating it, and imagine how happy it will make you. What’s the more reasonable statement? That happiness is somehow intrinsic to your favorite food and eating it allows you to somehow magically access the happiness held within the food? Or, that eating that food arouses a sense of happiness that is already there within you? The fact that your favorite food only arouses happiness that is already there dormant within you proves that what you are actually enjoying isn’t the food in-and-of itself, but your mental creation of it.

As the mind literally becomes whatever it thinks about, whatever it does, whatever it perceives, it becomes apparent that what we choose to think and do is extremely important. Thoughts and actions literally shape our minds.

This is already an established precept of psychology — we call it conditioning. If, for example, you spend your whole life telling yourself that you’re not “good enough,” this distorts the mind incredibly, creating negative, destructive emotional patterns that repeat themselves throughout your life endlessly. Very likely, by telling yourself that you’re not “good enough,” you ensure that you never will be. The opposite is also true.

To return to that very basic aphorism of meditation: “as you think, so you become.” Or, to once again quote the Buddha, “you are what you think, having become what you thought.” And to return to our original question: how does meditation work? Very simply, by using our subjective mind to command the objective mind to take the shape of, not merely a positive, empowering thought, but a liberating thought.

Mantras and visualizations are powerful methods of meditation, and by understanding the mechanics we have just gone over, it’s easy to see why. The objective mind is constantly assuming shapes and forms, and very often these tend to be negative, destructive ones. We live in a materialistic world, after all. By constantly meditating on crude matter, the mind will tend to develop a fragmentary, alienated sense of self that endlessly tries to categorize things into safe, limited little boxes. Spiritual meditation is the opposite. By meditating on the oneness of all things, on the oneness of our Selves, we begin to perceive that Truth everywhere we look. Much more than just a “positive” way of looking at the world, rather than our previous “negative” way, meditation allows us to see the Truth behind all things, transcending both positive, negative, as well as all dualities. We see the unity in diversity, suddenly; we see synthesis instead of analysis.

How does this happen? It happens because rather than simply finding a “positive” object to meditate on, spiritual meditation is meditation upon one’s deepest, innermost Self. The Self alone has the power to liberate us, because the Self alone is infinite in character. By meditating on something that ultimately transcends our little, limited, ego-driven “selves,” our mind is able to overcome its own barriers and see the Self for what it really is: infinite. This is a truth that can’t be realized intellectually, it has to be realized experientially — intuitionally. It can only be realized by your OWN personal practice — not by anybody else’s.

Realization of the Self is different from what you might think. It is something much more powerful than simply a content feeling of being “in tune” with yourself, because your true Self is completely beyond the wildest dreams of your “little” self. Sitting in the room with Bryan and his friends watching the Yankees game, after all, I didn’t just feel that my “self” was infinite — I saw the True Self within, reflecting itself in everybody in the room — not just me.

To quote the Christian mystic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” This is your ordinary waking life. Meditation, very simply, allows you to harness the basic mechanics of your mind to see yourself and everything as it actually is: spiritual.

What is the Guru?

October 30, 2011

Today a good friend of mine asked me a pretty important question: How do you explain the concept of guru to people?

The question needs some context. Some people are afraid to admit it, but I’m not — I have a guru. His name is Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, and if you want to read more about him, his official Wikipedia entry is here — but it’s not really that important for you to know who he was to understand what the Guru is.

People are often afraid to talk about their guru because I mean, let’s be honest, it’s a little weird. It is perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts in all of Yoga and meditation. On the one hand you have New Agers who water down the concept as being an abstract “inner voice” that reinforces their already pre-established points of view through various religious archetypes, while on the other hand you have forms of avatar worship that — on the outside, at least — look pretty similar to the way Christians look at Jesus. But what is the Guru really all about? More importantly, why does it matter?

I can only speak from my own experience. Luckily for me, as I talked about in my last post, one of the beauties of meditation is that it is a practice whose results are meant to be replicable by any aspiring practitioner — they are something anybody can experience. For me, early on in my practice I had an extremely vague, if not totally inaccurate idea of what the guru was. I knew who the guru was, of course — or at least I thought I did. I was living in a house with yogic monks and Anandamurti’s photo was hanging on the wall of the meditation room. He was born in the 1920’s, I was informed, and died in 1990. “Well that sucks,” I thought, “I bet he was a pretty okay guy.”

It goes without saying that my connection with the guru pretty much stopped there. Sometimes I thought that it must’ve been really “cool” to have met a genuine spiritual master — sometimes I even envied others of the time they might have spent with him. Otherwise, I didn’t really see what this man who lived and died in a foreign country had much to do with me.

Everything changed one night, however, when a friend of mine who had been meditating for decades told me a story about the guru from his own personal experiences. According to him, he was on his way to learn meditation from a Yogic monk when along the way he was stopped by a man on the street he had never met before, short, bald, with big, thick glasses. Apparently, the stranger stopped him and cordially asked him for directions to somewhere. Looking into the stranger’s eyes, my friend said that he was suddenly struck dumb, as if mesmerized.

My friend was at a loss for words even retelling the story to me. “It was the like the whole universe was in those eyes,” he said. “It was all reflected there.”

Not being able to help the stranger, my friend then continued on to the local meditation hall where he was shocked to see a photograph of the stranger he had just met on the wall.

“Who’s that?” he wanted to know.

“That’s the guru,” the monk replied.

Far from being a story that stirred any mystical yearnings or even questions or doubts within me, I walked away from the story feeling incredibly pissed off.

“Screw this,” I thought to myself. “Who needs a guru if he’s already dead?” Moving beyond the apathy or even envy I had felt before, I had finally moved to anger. Could this story possibly be true? I had heard literally a hundred stories almost exactly like it over the past few months I had spent living in this house with these monks. If even one of them proved to be even partly true, then I had in fact completely missed out on the life of one of history’s greatest spiritual masters. What the hell was the use of a guru? I thought. He had lived and I had missed him, and now he was gone.

Alone in my room later that night, I lay in my sleeping bag on the bare floor and cursed the world, cursed the guru and cursed my bad luck for being only five when he died. “The guru is everything,” one of the monks who lived with me assured me. “The guru never dies; the guru’s always here.” Great, I thought. Just what I needed: another voodoo-zombie-Jesus-fable. There seemed to be a fundamental disconnect between the difficult, intellectually rigorous and at times sublime philosophy underlying meditation that I had been studying and the whole concept of the “guru,” which seemed religious, dogmatic, and almost vestigal. Once again, I thought the thought again: “who needs a guru?”

It’s a little unreasonable how angry I got that night. I spent the whole rest of the night being upset about it in a way that I rarely get upset about anything. What matters isn’t so much how angry I got that night but what happened after I fell asleep.

That night I dreamt I was in an old, leaky basement, smelling rank of mold and mildew. In the dream I was a hunchback, crippled and deformed. Anandamurti was there, too, and so were his followers. His disciples would come once in a while, receive some teaching from him and leave happily, but I never approached him — my only job was to fix the leaks. The whole dream I spent trying unsuccessfully to meditate. Meditation was difficult, almost impossible, with all of my dreamed up disabilities. If all I could do was fix a few leaks, then so be it.

At the end of the dream, I finally approached Anandamurti myself. I asked him one question: “Why is it so difficult to meditate?”

“You have no devotion,” he replied. It was a response I wholly unanticipated. “The purpose of your life is to develop devotion. You must learn the true meaning of the word.” Finally, he asked me if I was ready to lead “a life of Cosmic ideation” and touched me on the forehead, which promptly led me to pass out and wake up from my slumber in an altered state of consciousness — a state of consciousness so exhilarating, so transformative, so ecstatic that it took me many, many minutes to return to “normal”. I felt that the entire body of the universe was contained within me — that the universe was a projection and reflection of my own cosmic Self. A long while later, blinking as I looked about the room around me, things looked different and yet looked the same. Anandamurti’s photo was hanging on the wall, but it wasn’t the same photo I had seen so many times before. I had changed. I’d never be the same again.

It’s easy to misinterpret my story. I don’t blame you — I had professionally misinterpreted every story I had ever heard about the guru, up until that moment — the guru and the relationship of the guru and the disciple are notoriously considered some of the thorniest, most esoteric concepts in all of Yoga. I return to my good friend’s initial question: How do you explain the concept of guru to people?

Both the theory and practice of meditation teach that at our deepest, rudimental Self, we are all connected as One. More specifically, this entire universe can accurately be considered a universal, cosmic Consciousness that experiences Itself subjectively through each of Its manifestative “projections”: through you, through me, through all animals and all plants. We are quite literally God, gradually coming to realize Himself. Or Herself, if you prefer 🙂

By this reckoning, who is the Guru? The guru is often thought of as a “guide.” Really speaking, the guru in this case must be our deepest, innermost Selves. The practice of meditation is self-realization, after all — it must be the Self who is the true guru.

To take this a step further, if our spiritual journeys are really the process by which we truly come to know our Selves — and if that universal Self is manifested in EVERYTHING, good AND bad — then the whole universe must be the guru, always whispering to us the answers to our questions in the hope that we are listening. You are the guru speaking to me and I am the guru speaking to you. The guru speaks to us through the wind, through the sky, through the earth and through the trees — through the beggar, asking for change and through the rich, rolling in wealth. The whole universe is teaching us, after all, because the universe itself is our Selves, reflected.

But here’s the problem: this is an ideal that sounds pretty cool in theory, but in practice is a state of non-dualism that takes perhaps lifetimes to completely achieve. Unless and until that state of non-dualism is realized in its totality, how do we actually behave? How often do we really listen to that innermost Self, and how often are we actually just listening to ego-constructs, self-created in an unconscious effort to maintain our comfortably preconceived notions of the world? The necessity arises, therefore, for a guide, and not just an internal one — for someone who’s been to our destination before — for someone who can show us the way.

The literal meaning of “guru” is “dispeller of darkness.” Spiritual darkness can be defined as the feeling that “I am an entity separate from all others.” It is a state that, at its best, creates a sense of existential dread and isolation and, at its worst, breeds irrepressible greed and violence. This darkness has been likened metaphorically to being lost in a cave. Like a flashlight, set there to show us the path, the guru, in its deepest sense, has the same power to tear the shroud of darkness and lead us to our desired goal.

To return to my own experience, what really happened that night in that dream? Did the spirit of this legendary, mythical guru who “never died” and was “always with me” descend from some heavenly realm to give me some profound, mystical experience in my sleep to show me I was on the right path? Certainly not. What spirit? There is only one spirit and that same spirit reflects Itself through all forms, in all places. Imagine you walk outside one night, and see the moon reflected in so many pools of water. How many moons are there? Are there innumerable moons, or is there just that self-same One moon, reflecting itself in the innumerable pools of water? What I experienced in my dream that night wasn’t a communion with the man whose photo was on the wall — the man who was born in the 20’s and who died in the 90’s — what I experienced was a communion with my own innermost Self.

Is there a contradiction between the inner guru and the outer guru? Of course not. The external guru, after all, is someone who has already reached the goal. What is the goal? Union with the deepest, innermost Self. Not lowercase self — uppercase Self — the same Self that reflects itself imperfectly in me. What is the difference, therefore, between the God within me, struggling to realize Itself, and the God within my guru, already self-realized? Only this — knowledge. Not intellectual knowledge, but experiential knowledge — intuitional knowledge. The goal of meditation, therefore, is to realize that the Self, God and the Guru are all one and the same entity. There is no difference. And what is the role of the external Guru? Merely to inspire us and show us the way. The guru is a bridge — between the world of forms and formlessness. Why did my deepest innermost Self take the form of Anandamurti in my dream? The answer is simple. The Supreme Consciousness is formless, after all. Anandamurti appeared to me because Anandamurti is the form that I recognize. 

The Guru isn’t the form — the Guru is the entity operating behind the form. And that how is how I explain the concept of Guru to people.

Occupy Your Mind: The Link Between Spirituality & Social Justice

October 16, 2011

Last week I wrote about how the practice of meditation can change the quality of one’s consciousness, the culmination of which is the realization of one’s deepest, innermost Self. This realization has been described by countless traditions by terms as varied as “nirvana,” “moksha,” “enlightenment,” “salvation” and the like — all words that their respective traditions tout as something as lofty and paramount as the very purpose of human life.

But here’s the problem: what do any of these obscure words even mean? How can something be the very goal of one’s existence if all it helps is yourself? Is it even possible? Why does it matter? With the world seemingly going to hell in a handbasket and protests raging in the street, it seems almost silly to sit for some self-serving meditation practice, doesn’t it? What difference does it make? Who cares?

The first time I experienced even the littlest bit of what I write here today, I was a cart boy for a supermarket, and had only been meditating for about two weeks. The night before I had gone into a very deep meditation, and the next day, almost forgetting about it, went to work. I was in for quite a surprise.

It’s funny, but you know, the experience didn’t just “reveal” itself to me all at once — it kind of crept up on me. Going to work, I felt happier than usual. I felt pleasant — maybe even peaceful. But then it got stronger. And stronger. A few hours later, my friend Dan came by to visit me, and asked me if there was something wrong.

“Why?” I said, grinning like an idiot.

“Well,” he said, “you’re grinning like an idiot.” And so, I was.

The rest of the day I wandered through work in such an immense, engulfing bliss that after awhile it became difficult for me to function normally. The sunset was the very universe swallowing me in its infinite vastness and the breeze blowing in my hair was the very embrace of God. The next day, back at work again, I was so out of my mind with the experience of it that a shrub, growing out from a crack of the sidewalk, seemed my very closest and divine brother. We were all in this together.

Meditation, at its heart, teaches one thing and one thing alone: we are all connected. Even deeper than that? We are One. Step back for a moment and really try to connect with that idea, if only for a moment: that deep within every single atom of creation, a single, universal, divine presence shines within, connecting everything as if along an infinite, shimmering thread. How do you think that realization would change the consciousness of the world, if people not just thought it with their minds but felt it with their hearts? How do you think it would change you?

The contrast between that experience of “enlightenment” and today’s lived reality could not be any more stark. Today we live in a world in which people in one country die from starvation while people in another country die from overeating. Far from living in a world of scarcity, we live in a world of staggering abundance whose riches have been hoarded by the now infamous “1%.” I quote the great Yogic Master, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, a man who never minced his words:

“To accumulate massive wealth, [capitalist hoarders] reduce others to skin and bones gnawed by hunger and force them to die of starvation; to dazzle people with the glamour of their garments, they compel others to wear rags; and to increase their own vital strength, they suck dry the vital juice of others… As material wealth is limited, over-abundance for one leads to crippling scarcity for others. These infinite human longings can be fulfilled only through psychic and spiritual wealth.”

The words are almost shocking when coming from the mouth of what many would considered an “enlightened” master. Perhaps the most fascinating implication of the quotation above is that Anandamurti goes far beyond simply pointing to unchecked greed as the root cause of today’s global crises. Rather, he points to the fact that wealth is of three kinds: physical, mental and spiritual. Physical wealth is limited; mental and spiritual wealth is not. The dilemma is deepened even further when one considers the scope and breadth of humankind’s thirsts and desires. Think of it this way: if a genie came to you and told you he would make you happy for five years, and then the happiness would be replaced by misery, would you be satisfied with that setup? What if he promised to make you happy for ten years or maybe even twenty? The truth here should be obvious: people don’t just want happiness for a little while, they want it infinitely. Human longings are infinite and the world isn’t. This isn’t just a problem for the world — it’s a problem for us: all objects have a beginning and an end, and so any happiness derived from them will also certainly have a beginning and an end.

And so, we seem stuck; people have limitless, infinite desires on the one hand with limited, finite physical wealth on the other. If people run endlessly and rapaciously after materialistic wealth then not only will their desires never be quenched (at least not for long), but they will inevitably hoard so much wealth that they will directly inhibit their human brothers and sisters from even the basic necessities of life. This is the world we live in: a world of war, famine, suffering and disease; this is the world delivered to us by the empty promises of materialism.

True happiness can only be attained within, because only within will we ever find that limitless, endless source of infinite peace that we’ve been searching for all along. This is not just some esoteric ideal or religious belief to be read about in a blog or a book somewhere, nor is it meant to be a meaningless platitude droned off by yoga teachers — it is verily the supreme Truth, and can only be attained for oneself by a deep, cultivated practice of introspective mindfulness.  This alone leads to the “enlightenment” or “salvation” described variously by the sages.

To paraphrase  a good friend of mine, talking about, reading about, appreciating or studying meditation and its goals is a bit like talking about or reading about swimming — it’s not terribly useful unless you put the theory into action. This is the beauty of meditation — its speciality. Meditation isn’t a religion, it’s not a faith — it’s a practice, the fruits of which can be experienced for oneself. To that effect, meditation has been variously described as a “spiritual science” that a practitioner “tests” in their “mental laboratory.” The teachings of meditation are not a set of distant, utopian ideals; nor are they meant to be “holy truths” to be writ in immutable scripture and passed down from mountaintops. On the contrary, the philosophy of meditation teaches that the one spiritual, immutable Truth is something that stands as an absolute behind the workings of the mind and so is beyond all relativity and — by extension — all language. Thus, the philosophy of meditation is just a way of describing the path and the goal — it is not Truth in and of itself, and is only useful if it is put into practice. And so we see, the words “moksha,” “nirvana” and the like have no value in and of themselves — they are simply words that describe an experience, the ultimate value of which you have to experience for yourself.

The moment a spiritual aspirant is able to touch that one Supreme Consciousness deep within themselves is the moment they realize, with every cell of their body, that they are intimately connected to everything and everyone else. Once this realization is attained, standing by abiding injustice becomes an impossibility. To quote Anandamurti once more, these realized souls don’t just sit in selfish, idle, peace and bliss — they develop “a flaming moral courage” in which “greed, oppression and exploitation shrivel before the fire in [them].”

True spirituality, therefore, stands not just for individual, but also collective welfare. In the realization of the Supreme, all man-made divisions of race, status, gender and caste dissolve away; the true spiritual aspirant is able to not only recognize others in themselves, but themselves in everything. All of creation becomes one divine family, bound together by the ties of cosmic fraternity. With such a realization, how can the exploitative separation between the 1 and the 99% be tolerated or allowed to continue? Rather, the aspirant will throw themselves headlong into the fight for social justice, and will see that fight as service to God.

Enlightenment, we now see, is not just an individual affair. In its deepest sense, spiritual practice has the power to link individual with collective welfare. Moving away from materialistic paradigms that describe “progress” as how much power an individual has to consume, we now see that true progress comes from how much power we have to give, to share and to grow — together.

A true revolution begins with a revolution of consciousness: occupy your mind.

Want to see how what an occupied mind looks like? Watch the interview below with Dada Pranakrsnananda, a Yogic monk who was the first of the over 700 arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge during the Occupy Wall Street protests.

The Secrets of a Mantra

October 8, 2011

Baba Nam Kevalam.

Sitting at my computer to write my first blog post, it seems like an obvious place to start. The “siddha mantra,” it’s sometimes called — in English, the perfect words that lead to the liberation of the mind. But why? What makes it so powerful? Why is it so important?

It’s often taught that mantras are powerful because they are incantative, pulsative and ideative (all words so long-winded, by the way, that my spellchecker insists they don’t exist). Since I can hardly guess at the “incantative” power invested in a series of words as simple as Baba Nam Kevalam, I’ll settle for the ideative aspect, and attempt to do my best.

When I first learned meditation as a five year old at the Progressive School of Long Island, we were all collectively told that Baba Nam Kevalam translated to “love is all there is.” That was fine by me, until at the age of 19 I realized that neither “Baba,” “Nam” or “Kevalam” translated to the word “love.” Suddenly feeling mistrustful, I did a little research and found that Baba Nam Kevalam actually translated to “Only the name of Baba.” Needless to say, this freaked me out. “Baba” being the way one refers to the guru, I became convinced that we were all mindlessly chanting the name of some guy whose photograph was on the wall, and got turned off. Baba Nam Kevalam, I decided, was dogma, and “love is all there is” was just a way to trick innocent kids like me.

It took me many years more to really understand the true “ideative” power of Baba Nam Kevalam. Nam is a straightforward enough word — it means “name.” Kevalam means “only that.” It was always on the “Baba” bit that I kept getting tripped up. Why was it so important to chant the name of this “Baba”? Who was he, and why was he so important? And how on earth was this not some weird religious dogma?

In meditation we try to realize the existence of the infinite and feel its presence in all persons and things. Far from being just a revelatory “experience,” this is a practice that has to be taken up anew, every day. The only problem with the infinite is that, well, it’s infinite. How are you supposed to relate to an abstract principle? To something so beyond the conception of the mind that it is beyond both is and is not?

For starters, you call it by a name.

Mysticism is the use of symbols to approach something which is ultimately beyond symbolization. Take the infinite, for example. We are taught in meditation that the ultimate reality that permeates all things stands at the rudiment of our Being; that in the deepest of all possible senses, we are all fundamentally, integrally connected as one Cosmic Consciousness experiencing Itself subjectively. Philosophically speaking, this is by definition an impersonal entity — it is as equally connected to a blade of grass as it is to you. It takes the form of your mother who loves and nurtures you and also takes the form of the virus that kills you, painfully. Beyond all attributions, it stands as an absolute. The word “God,” in this context, is almost irrelevant, as it becomes obvious that “God” must have been an idea that we as human beings created in order to talk about something that is beyond language itself.

But here’s the thing: this notion of God may be impersonal, but we’re not. We’re extremely personal! And the beauty of meditation is that when we begin to feel the existence of that one Cosmic Consciousness within ourselves, we don’t feel it as some dry philosophical, impersonal “absolute” — we feel it to be something closer to us than our own thoughts, more precious to us than our own feelings — something which has been with us from the beginning of our existence and will never, under any circumstances ever leave our sides — we feel it to be our most intimate beloved. None of this is a matter of “faith,” as religions so dearly preach to us — it is a matter of direct, unmediated experience.

In the highest state of realization, the spiritual aspirant realizes that both the Supreme Consciousness and oneself are in fact one and the same entity — once again, an experience that goes substantively above and beyond any notion of “faith” typically espoused by religions. Unless and until that merger completely occurs, however, there remains a sense of duality — a feeling of “I” and “That.” The “that” that one experiences in meditation can never an impersonal one — it is the most personal relationship that one can have. You’re a human being, after all, with personal feelings and a personal sense of self — the moment you encounter that deepest Self, it will absolutely feel like a personalized entity. Thus the power of meditation lies precisely in the power of our emotions to drive the engine of our spirituality to its final goal. Meditation isn’t dry, nor is it mechanical; it is a deeply emotional practice, whose consummation is only reached at the pinnacle of our loftiest and most intense passions.

The question still remains: why Baba? We understand that unless and until one knows oneself to be that one, limitless, endless consciousness, one thinks of it as a separate, albeit intimately connected entity — but why Baba? Why not Jesus? Jesus Nam Kevalam has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Here’s the catch: Jesus, Mohammad, Krishna, Buddha — these are all names of entities — entities with particularized attributions and qualities. While they may be useful for a personal practice, they are not at all universal — especially since the true “God” hiding behind the mask of these “gods” stands as an absolute, transcending all barriers. Jesus Nam Kevalam, therefore, is by its very nature unchanging and lacking in dynamism. The “nam” we use can’t be a static one, otherwise where is the scope for growth and progress?

The beauty and simplicity of Baba Nam Kevalam is that “Baba” isn’t the name of an entity — it’s the name of a relationship. This is where the true power of the “ideative” meaning lies. Baba is a Sanskrit word whose etymological origins points to an entity that is “nearest” and “dearest” to us. It is a term of endearment, akin to “darling” or “sweetheart.” To quote a good friend of mine, “nobody signs a check as ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart.” The same goes for “Baba.” Baba, being the name of the relationship we have with the divine, is a relationship that constantly changes with time — minute to minute and moment to moment. To repeat myself, mysticism is the use of symbols in order to approach something that is ultimately beyond symbolization. The Supreme Consciousness that stands as our true, innermost Selves is ultimately beyond the scope of even the mind — it is an absolute. Any conception we have of it, therefore, can never grasp its totality. Whether we understand that consciousness, that divinity as a lover, a friend, a guide, a guru or Jesus or Krishna, that relationship we have is ultimately just one we are able to understand and relate to in that moment — never mistake it to be the infinite fullness of Truth.

There’s a famous moment in the Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna, finally fed up with having to convince Arjuna to fight in the battle about to ensue, reveals Himself to be God. Krishna doesn’t reveal Himself as a Christ-like figure, however — there to love and guide us and ensure our salvation — but God as an absolute — as an impersonal philosophic principle that both creates and destroys us. Arjuna, naturally, becomes terrified at this “universal vision” and begs Krishna to go back to the way he was before. Krishna, consenting, returns to his typically beautiful, kingly form and tells Arjuna, “You should relate to me this way.” The rhetoric here is clear: If the universal vision is sublime, then Krishna is beautiful. The relationship is similar to “The Father” and “The Son” of Christianity — of Yaweh and Jehova — of Consciousness and Baba.

The mantra Baba Nam Kevalam, therefore, accepts the emotional reality of being a human being. Accepting the Tantric notion that the whole world can, with its proper use, become an engine for liberation rather than a cause of bondage, the chanting of Baba Nam Kevalam is a practice that is at once both universal in its theory and personal in its praxis. Baba always changes and yet never does; Baba, ultimately, is us.

Baba Nam Kevalam.

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