Tuesday, August 20, 2013

This Blog's New Name

My first impulse when creating this blog was to call it "Consciousness is Everything".  This is the title of a book on Kashmir Shaivism by Mahamandaleshwar Swami Shankarananda.  I had already read it at this point and, incidentally, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  So I asked his permission to use the title and called the blog "The Shiva Drishthi" in the meantime.  In a nutshell, the "The Shiva Drishthi", the viewpoint of Shiva, is the recognition of the fact that Consciousness is everything.  But I digress.

Swamiji graciously agreed to let me use the title of his book for this blog.  Below is his kind response, which I share because it both sums up the reason that I wanted to use this title and because Swamiji's warm personality really shines through:

Dear Swami Anantananda, 
Om Namo Narayanaya! It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I'm glad you're enjoying Consciousness Is Everything. I am honoured that you want to use my title for your blog. You can use that with my blessing. There is no greater philosophy than the non-dual philosophy of Consciousness. It's nice to meet you via facebook. Please give my love to Swami Swaroopananda. 
With love,

Mahamandaleshwar Swarupananda is my Guru.  I had mentioned that he spoke highly of Mahamandaleshwar Shankarananda.  In fact, they were both performing sadhana together in their Guru, Baba Muktananda's ashram many years ago.  I am told that they are old friends.

His very excellent book, Consciousness is Everything, is, in my opinion, the best introductory work on the subject of Kashmir Shaivism that there is (The Splendor of Recognition by Swami Shantananda taking a close second).  My first impression of Kashmir Shaivism was that it was stuffy, antiquated, and riddled with entirely too much archaic technical language.  Just thinking about it gave me a headache.  Swami Shankarananda's book really showed me how this ancient philosophical system and corresponding mode of practice is just as relevant now as it was in the 9th century.  Its cogent analysis of this often heady material clearly illumines the philosophy of the siddha saints, making it accessible to our own era.  Additionally, the depths that Swamiji's insights plumb and the wealth of experience from which he draws really underscore the point that this system is ultimately about the realization of something entirely outside the realm of mind; something infinitely more beautiful and perfect than one can possibly comprehend until mind is transcended (although that is not to suggest that mind is something other than That).  That was what did it for me, personally.  If it sounds like your cup of tea, do yourself a favor and check it out HERE.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


I have noticed that it's very trendy to profess one's lack of need for a Guru.  "But nobody has all the answers," people like to say.  Irrelevant.  The Guru's job description does not read, "answer questions".   "But the Guru is within you!" someone somewhere will counter.  Actually, this claim is true, but the person citing it in this context is invariably misunderstanding the real implications of what this means.  If there is anything that is perceived as other than yourself, you will seldom, if ever, be able to tap into the guidance of the Guru within.

"But even the Buddha said, 'If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.'"  If the Buddha did really say that,it is prudent to remember that he was an Indian yogi and he was a Guru in every sense of the word.  He obviously was not saying that you don't need a Guru to become enlightened.  However, if you see the Buddha as something distinct and separate from yourself, it is completely profitable to "kill" that erroneous distinction.  The Guru, as one who is awake to his or her own true Self beyond the body, mind and personality, is instrumental in the awakening of others.

But let's back up a bit.  Many of the people I see denouncing the need for a Guru are people who either don't have anything resembling an accurate concept of what the enlightened state is or they refuse to believe it exists.  In either case, these people are not trying to find what the Guru is able to show them.  Therefore, they are correct: they don't need a Guru.  He wouldn't do them much good anyway.

A guy named Vikram Gandhi made a documentary called Kūmārê where he faked being a Swami and a Guru.  He taught his followers that he was "an illusion" in an attempt at hinting that he was a fake. . . in a way that resembled (but definitely was not) the non-dual philosophy of Advaita Vedānta (which points at the unreality of the world or anything other than the homogeneous Self).  Furthermore, after he came clean and admitted that he had been joshing everybody, he shared that he wanted everybody to realize that they had improved their own lives by simply taking his advice to have more confidence in and love for themselves.  Indeed, they had.  However, Vikram's subsequent assertion that they had never had any need of a Guru is a massive and unwarranted leap.  It presumes that nobody there was interested in what it is that a Guru is there to offer in the first place: self-realization.  Either that or that they were capable of realizing the true nature of Self all on their own which, of course, nobody in this case study did.  The subject of enlightenment was never even addressed.

Interestingly, upon deeper investigation, one finds that it is not only the ignorant who claim that the Guru is not necessary.  Jiddhu Krishnamurti is famous for becoming enlightened and then denouncing Guru-Paramparā, the tradition of self-realization being conferred from Guru to disciple in an unbroken lineage stretching back to the dawn of time.  J. Krishnamurti's teaching was something along the lines of, "You are already the Self; just realize it!"  And he was correct.  However, he gave no method of doing this and criticized others who did.  "Truth is a pathless land," one famous quote goes, "and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect."

People followed this person who was so anti-guru, as if he were their Guru, for his entire life.  Yet the general consensus seems to be that there was some flaw in his teaching.  A woman I met when I was offering satsang on the the Santa Monica Promenade one time informed me that she used to frequent Krishnamurti's talks.  She seemed to share her teacher's mistrust for Gurus but also acknowledged that the other people frequenting his lectures were not becoming enlightened.  It is not hard to see why.  While his descriptions of his own experience were often clear, to the point, and quite beautiful, there is little-to-no practical benefit to this alone.  According to the scriptures, the company of saints and self-effort both are necessary to achieve self-realization.  People may have benefited from J. Krishnamurti's presence but he did not provide the other piece of the puzzle and actually discouraged people from making use of this advantage.

Personally, I think that his fundamental flaw was failing to speak in terms that were appropriate for his audience.  For example, one of his teachings is that "Awareness is not the outcome of practice."  From his perspective, or from that of one who shares his state, that is true.  Cause and effect are transcended at a certain level of awareness.  I have no doubt that he was speaking purely from experience.  However, for one who is not able to perceive reality from this transcendental state, cause and effect are very much in play and practice is prerequisite to the unconditioned awareness that J. Krishnamurti enjoyed.  Ironically, in his adamant refusal to join the ranks of what he deemed to be "spiritual exploiters" by offering any sort of path, he did much less to help bridge the gap between the level of awareness his audience showed up with and his own than others who were not above such dynamics.

Let's compare him to one of his contemporaries, Osho, in regard to the matter at hand.  J. Krishnamurti undoubtedly held himself to a more rigorous code of ethical conduct.  If half of the stories about Osho's antics are true I, personally, would not have had anything to do with him.  He would not have been my Guru.  However, he did provide his devotees with a mode of practice which would deconstruct the mental conditioning which colours one's perception of reality.  He may have been more of a dick - certainly more fallible - yet somehow he was more effective in his role as a guide.

Another noteworthy character is U.G Krishnamurti (no relation to J. Krishnamurti).  He is very well known for claiming that Gurus are "sellers of shoddy wares" because there is no such thing as enlightenment.  However, he does acknowledge such a thing as a "natural man" and that his own "cataclysm" event was the precursor to his experiencing this "natural state".  Personally, I am not convinced that U.G. had realized everything that there is to realize, if he realized anything at all.  And if he did, he is a hypocrite because he spent something like 12 years following J. Krishnamurti, he spent time with Ramana Maharshi, and he spent several years with Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh.  He acts as if he had whatever realization that occurred to him in spite of his austerities when, in reality, any realization he did have occurred due to his austerities and in spite of himself.

Anti-gurus like the Krishnamurtis - and guru-phobic sentiments in general - are massively popular among the ignorant.  But is it really of any benefit for one to hold onto this idea?  The ignorance of the transcendental Self is due to the fact that it is obscured by erroneous mental conditioning, which can all be traced back to ego.  The biggest ego trap there is is to assume that we do not need the assistance of someone who is already self-realized: who sees through our mental bullshit.  Performing the austerity of serving a self-realized master as Guru is the most surefire and expeditious way to burn off the mental conditioning that keeps us from fully and permanently realizing our natural condition: the enlightened state.  The insistence by the ignorant that no such thing is necessary is purely egoic self-preservation.  While a couple of people who had left ignorance behind did push this idea, that does not mean that they were correct.  If you don't believe me, just go and get yourself lost in any bustling metropolis and ask a local how to get to the intersection of Fifth and Main.  In almost every case you will find someone knows how to get there him or herself but isn't capable of giving you reliable directions.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Beyond Mantra - Protocol For Higher Meditative States

As you saw already if you read the So You Wanna Meditate post, the tradition that I represent makes use of mantra as a tool for becoming self-realized.  It can be used, as described previously, in seated meditation.  It can also be repeated mentally throughout the day as often as one can remember to keep it going.  The more the better.

In meditation, there are many stages that come and go.  Sometimes, if you perform this practice long enough, you will hear a noise arising from within.  This is called nāda.  The ear plugs I recommended in So You Wanna Meditate will make this a lot more obvious when it happens.  The inner sounds of nāda may take one of many forms.  It can sound like a high-pitched hum, like bells, harps, divine music, or thunder just to name a few possibilities.  When it becomes consistently audible and uninterrupted, you can drop the mantra and give nāda your full attention.  If at some point it becomes inaudible again, simply go back to the mantra.

Other times you may suddenly observe that the mantra is no longer occurring.  Then you may also observe that no other thought is arising either.  If this happens, just sit in that silence as long as it stays.  When thoughts begin to arise again, then you can resume the mantra (or go back to nāda if that is applicable).

Finally, you may notice unaccounted-for gaps in awareness.  You might never notice except that you realize there is "missing time".  If this were to happen, you might think you fell asleep if it weren't for the fact that when you came to, you were still sitting upright, had never stopped repeating the mantra (you had just stopped being aware of it), or something along those lines.  That is called nirvikalpa samadhi.

If none of these things has happened yet, just continue to meditate as instructed in So You Wanna Meditate.  They will occur when that becomes necessary in your particular case.  If something along these lines occurs, just follow the new protocol and know that you are making good progress.

This blog entry is part of a series.  For more information on meditation, see also So You Wanna Meditate, The Immeditate Benefits of Meditation, and The Outlook of ShivaThese articles are excerpts from the meditation handbook, So You Wanna Meditate.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Immediate Benefits of Meditation

So you've read the "So You Wanna Meditate" entry and you've been giving it a go. Within a week or two you should begin enjoying the benefits of a more disciplined mind.  Detrimental and counter-productive states of mind are essentially habitual thought patterns that people get swept away in.  These, in turn, result in behavior that is generally counter-productive to one's own well-being.  The mental discipline that meditation imposes breaks up these patterns.  For example, let's say that the water bill always arrives between paydays, normally causing you to get sucked into a vacuum of worry and anxiety.  However, on this particular day, you have been practicing the meditation that I have just described to you for a week prior to opening the water bill.  This time, you notice the thought, "What if I don't get paid as much as I need to cover my overhead?"  Normally a stream of thoughts like, "Man, I'm so scatterbrained at work.  My boss hates me.  I'm a failure.  I'm going to be living in a box by September." would be right on top of the first, snowballing and burying you in an incapacitating sense of anxiety, helplessness, and despair before it would even register that an imaginary story was starting to unfold and that you were buying it.

This time, however, you notice a break in the continuity of the stream of thoughts.  Just after the initial thought-reaction to the letter, you find an empty space that isn't normally there.  It's small.  If you blinked you'd miss it.  But it's enough that you have time to notice the first thought, recognize it for the worthless baggage that it is, and simply let it go; just like you have been practicing letting go of thoughts in meditation.  At this point you make use of this new-found free time to go follow up on some leads that later land you two significant contracts at work the next day.  Whether this example may or may not describe a specific pattern that you deal with, the thought-reaction mechanism underlying it is universal.  It is only the details superimposed over these tendencies and the degree to which people are influenced by them that vary.

Meditation gives us the space to break out of the boxes we shut ourselves into.  It gives us a chance to drop the stories that we carry around.  What is left in their wake is the opportunity to approach each moment and each situation fresh; free from the influence of the mind's unrelenting chatter.

This blog entry is part of a series.  For more information on meditation, see also So You Wanna Meditate, Beyond Mantra, and The Outlook of ShivaThese articles are excerpts from the meditation handbook, So You Wanna Meditate.

The Outlook of Shiva (Śivadṛṣthiḥ)

Śivadṛṣthiḥ literally translates, "outlook of Śiva".  It is entirely a matter of perspective.  Śiva, Brahman, Consciousness, GOD - or whatever you choose to call it - It is nothing other than yourself.  You are nothing other than Śiva in all of his freedom, glory, transcendence, and splendor.

Why then is it the experience of most people that this is not the case?  Most people are acutely aware of their own limitation.  They suffer.  Why is this so?  Because of the erroneous presumption that they are the ego, the body-mind complex, the personality, the jīva, alone.  They mistakenly place their faith in the notion of "I" as distinct from "an other".

"GOD exists within you, as you", to quote Baba Muktananda.  But, in the case of the average person, Śiva is peering out through layers upon layers of caked-on mental conditioning.  In this case It sees reality through the distorting lens of duality.  Thus, we must not simply accept the idea that everything is GOD, lest we continue to suffer the ups and downs of gain and loss, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, clinging and rejection, ad infinitum.  We must resolve to settle for nothing less than the direct experience, in all of its fullness, that one is nothing other than the Being of which everything is an expression.

Then the conviction of the reality of the world is rendered inert like a seed that has been cooked in oil.  Experience attests that the world exists, but the unfiltered experience of reality attests to the existence of being something that is more real.  The jīva becomes Śiva by merit of this shift in perspective.

We can only see in this way by scraping off the mental conditioning that has accumulated over the course of an unthinkable number of lifetimes.  The way that we do this is through sādhanā, spiritual practice, AKA tapasya (austerities).  Along the way, you will have flashes of self-recognition as Śiva, peering through a chink in this mental armor, catches a glimpse of himself, the only "thing" that exists.  The first glimpses of this that we see are the spaces that I mentioned in "The Immediate Benefits of Meditation" that break up the continuity between external events and the conditioned responses that tend to follow them.

Eventually, the fire of yoga burns off all of these mental impurities and all that is left is a solitary and blissful Śiva dancing in the ashes of his former bondage.

You see, the mind throws up a veil.  That is what we are used to seeing.  But when the veil is torn away, everything is only one unified field.  Perhaps you can imagine a world where everything is only the Beloved but, just in case you can't, I will tell you what I can.  It is beautiful; it is perfect; it is bliss; it is already here; and it is worth the effort to realize this.  Whether this is understood or not, the fact remains that this Reality is the sole support of everything that is worth-while in life.  I have seen this and, consequently, the only thing left for me to do in life is clear out the clutter that keeps me from constantly maintaining this perspective and to help others do the same.

This blog entry is part of a series.  For more information on meditation, see also So You Wanna Meditate, The Immeditate Benefits of Meditation, and Beyond Mantra. These articles are excerpts from the meditation handbook, So You Wanna Meditate.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

So You Wanna Meditate

Being a Shaivite (a topic for another day), the method I will recommend is meditating on the initiatory mantra of my lineage, "Om Namah Shivaya" (pronounced: Ohm  Nah-MAH  SHEE-Vie-Yah).

Sitting or lying, with eyes closed and spine straight, recite the mantra internally.  Synchronize it with the breath.  Repeat the mantra once on the inbreath and once on the outbreath.  This should initially be done for 15-20 minutes up to 2x/day.  Set an alarm so you aren't watching the clock. 

You may wish to invest in a set of reusable ear plugs and/or an eye mask to keep out external sound and light.  However, we ultimately want you to be able to “. . . . meditate in the center of Grand Central Station,” as Guruji put it.  As such, don’t let the accessories become a crutch.  Use them for up to three weeks to establish that certain things that are arising from within are, in fact, arising from within.  

When you find that your attention has wandered to something other than the mantra, which it almost certainly will, be kind to yourself.  Know that that is to be expected.  Simply acknowledge that attention has slipped and redirect it to the mantra.  Repeat as often as necessary.  If you have to redirect your attention 1,000 times in one sitting, that's OK.

Think of it as an exercise in repeatedly letting go of thoughts and stories.  Benefits will certainly come from the exercise.  Let there be no doubt of this and, therefore, don't worry about it.  When meditating, we are there for the exercise, not to experience any particular outcome.

Imagine you are at the gym.  It's your first day and you're watching your form in the mirror as you perform a set of dumbell curls.  Now would you go and get disappointed upon not morphing into Arnold Schwarzenegger before your very eyes as you're doing this?  Of course not.

It's equally unrealistic to expect to be transported to another world, experience light phenomena, enter ecstatic states, or achieve "no-mind" early on in your practice.  However, if you focus on just getting really into your practice and establishing a good solid momentum, you will hit all these marks without even thinking about them.  The trick is to figure out how to like your practice so you will keep going.

This blog entry is part of a series.  For more information on meditation, see also The Immeditate Benefits of Meditation,Beyond Mantra, and The Outlook of Shiva.  These articles are excerpts from the meditation handbook, So You Wanna Meditate.

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