With apologies and thanks to Walt Whitman for the title lifted, a brief ode—first published in Inspiration-Letters—to the now faded, sun-filled days of childhood, and the eternal summer of meditation, where the inner child, bathed in a sunshine that will never fade, eternally plays.The journey from child to man is said to be a passage, but for me childhood and adulthood were separated not by distance but a straight line, worlds cleaved apart as if by sharpest knife. My childhood was idyllic for the most part. I grew up in an outer suburb of Wellington, New Zealand, city in name but near rural in nature, farmland on one side, motorways and city the other, green and blue, sun all around. I do not have unhappy childhood memories—perhaps in this day and age I am a little unusual in that. Mine was a simple upbringing, an only child of a solo-parent, little money but also little need, and other than at times being lonely I was usually happily self-occupied, and satisfied. Reading, writing, art and sport passed my time; outings to friends houses and return visits planned as frequently as parents would allow. Not entirely appreciated at the time—such ingratitude is the human way—this childhood now looms like a golden age against that which followed, a purple mountain majesty receding across the horizon of a sea that no longer shines. My trauma of heart is trivial compared to many, but the first of something is always the hardest to endure, and shifting house and country for the first time was for me just like a first broken heart—a rawness of pain and despair that, in the manner a burn causes a scar, in some ways never fully heals. At age eleven, with almost no warning and no small augury, my mother uprooted our tiny family unit for overseas, tore me out of the nurturing soil of the only home I had ever known, completely against my will. Friends had names and faces that could not be replaced, and like a timber native to a particular soil and land, I simply could not imagine taking root anywhere else, could not accept that love, like the sun, might shine upon every land. Not that I was really consulted—one doesn’t pause to barter, discuss the terms of God’s offer or will. In answer to my mother’s prayers, destiny was delivered one mid-winter evening, fate sealed by a thin, rain-soaked envelope, placed in our letterbox as if by Providence Himself. Unaddressed, no writing inside, there was an untraceable, slightly sodden $8000 bank cheque within. The only home I had ever known, surrounded by the only friends and city ever loved, were suddenly to be no more. Already possessing sufficient measure, this cheque gave my mother the means to be a missionary for a year, in voluntary service of an international Christian organisation. I would be placed in involuntary servitude, sent to Canada and the father I had never known. I remember well a living room conversation not long before the hammer of destiny fell. A friend of my mother paid a visit for tea and talking, of matters presumably beyond my junior years. Not a part of the conversation and not even in the same room, I remember somehow the grasped fragment, “When the time is right, one door will close and another open, in answer to your prayers.” An $8,000 door did open soon afterwards, and the all-reaching, all-guiding hand of fate was framed within. First gained at this early age, the intuitive knowledge that I was not fully in control of my destiny would stay with me for years. As has been the case so many times in my life, I did not willingly greet nor reach for the beckoning hand of fate, did not walk of my own volition across the threshold of destiny’s door. Just as many years later, when I became a student of spirituality, life conspired to choose the path I would follow, without signature or consent, a fait accompli served as if dinner upon prison cell plate.
Superiority to fate Is difficult to learn. 'T is not conferred by any, But possible to earn A pittance at a time, Until, to her surprise, The soul with strict economy Subsists till Paradise.” —Emily Dickinson* * * To say that my father and I hit it off immediately would not exactly be correct. Although at heart a good, kind man, he was, perhaps from the example of his own father, acutely uncomfortable in expressing his feelings or love—something of a shock for a child accustomed to a mother’s love and warmth. Years of being told how much my father loved me were never confirmed in person, shown neither in word nor deed. Although by no means Dickensian, things were hardly easier at school. Technically the same age as my peers, I was younger physically and emotionally by at least several years. I felt inwardly, stood outwardly an inch smaller, and culturally, with my strange, hard-to-place accent and shabby, out of date clothes, I was not even on the same page. The schoolyard affairs in which I was an expert—sport and games—were now all hopelessly immature, sidelined by the new, unfamiliar playing fields of sophistication, romance and fashion. Being academically successful was also derided. Where in New Zealand being the best with words or numbers had been sought after, and a point of pride, I now found myself first in everything, yet nobody’s friend. I remember being shocked every time some schoolyard disagreement would come to blows, schoolmates literally running to form a circle around the protagonists, chant “fight, fight, fight” with more bloodlust and passion than those actually blooding noses. Perhaps I was from a world more innocent than most, perhaps my little corner of New Zealand more Garden of Eden than Mitonian paradise lost, but in the face of this not so brave new world I was nothing but unworldly, and hopelessly ill-equipped. Neither entirely at home in my new home or school, I made much of my glass being half-empty, although such was hidden stoically from family and classmates. At times drowning in self-pity, I swam quietly in a sea of never admitted home-sickness, lost in remorse for what could no longer be. If this dislocation, alienation in a foreign land was bitter medicine administered for my own benefit, it would be years before I had heart or wisdom to recognise it, for like a butterfly in a cocoon, I had not wings to fly beyond the happiness of an only known home.
Stay near me--do not take thy flight! A little longer stay in sight! Much converse do I find in thee, Historian of my infancy! Float near me; do not yet depart! Dead times revive in thee: Thou bring'st, gay creature as thou art! A solemn image to my heart, My father's family!” —William Wordsworth, Excerpt from To a ButterflyI had always been a city boy, and after living in Canada, would be once more again, but for one brief year I lived in the country, in an old farmhouse surrounded by farms, on the outer edge of a town not at all big. I would leave our property and roam when it all got too much, discover a new tree to climb, or lie atop a giant bail of hay, ponder, bemoan my fate to empty fields of sun-gold wheat. Walking as far as I could, to the edge of homes and other lives to which I could not escape, I would hope against hope that paradise might be found somewhere unexplored, like the lost city of Atlantis, a golden age of the past to be rediscovered beneath the waves. Yet those times alone in nature were like early moments of meditation. On my back, doing no more than watching clouds drift unhindered overhead, my self-pity, mourning for happiness lost would be scattered by the wind, dissolve into the nothingness of an infinite blue sky. That such comparatively small dramas caused so much misery and angst may seem looking back absurd, but one should not be too harsh a critic of childhood self, still without the tools or means to influence, shape his own fate. And I was yet to realise that such tools were, even then, within grasp of flailing hands. Soon after I began my year’s sojourn with my father he became a vegetarian. Meat was banished from the table in his presence, and semi-vegetarianism became my unwelcome lot. Junk food too gained a meaning broader than of any dictionary I would look up: hot dogs, served once a week at school, were banned because of “carcinogens;” McDonalds was too salty, white bread too unhealthy, soft drinks and chocolate bars the same. Already without much missed family and friends, it was as if the ingredients of life had all sweetness and taste removed, and the missing flavour of the food I was forced to eat—tofu, guacamole, chickpeas and tabouli—absolute horrors all to this child’s palette—further compounded the blandness of the world I was forced to consume. I didn’t discover until years later that my father had become a vegetarian in order to join an Indian spiritual group, and he had given up smoking and alcohol as well. I do recall strange, new books appearing, with metaphysical titles and authors unpronounceable, but, judging a book more by the man reading it than cover, I was more than suspicious of each and every page. Fate may at times be cruel, but destiny is more kindly—a mistress with a sense of humour, prone to poetic flourish and cosmic joke. Who but she could have known that in less than a decade I would have read all the books upon my father’s shelf, and be vegetarian as well. * * * The end of my year in Canada came with a trip to England, to join my mother for a month of holiday and summer before returning to New Zealand and school. Getting on the plane for London was my own flight across the Red Sea. No pharaoh or tyrant was my father, but all I had dreamed of that year was the day I would pass over the Atlantic, escape from unwilling bondage in a foreign land. And after the snow and ice of Canada, my mother’s warm heart and an English summer really were promised lands. I spent most of that month in the West Midlands, in an old reform school for wayward youth transformed into headquarters and home for wayfarers to God, centre of operations for the international Christian organisation my mother had dedicated her year to. Idyllically nestled amongst sheep and castles outside the town of Oswestry, birthplace of Wilfred Owen and bordering Wales, I did not find a great deal of Christianity in the traditional sense—in fact I do not recall once going to church. But I do remember meeting people for the first time who had been truly touched by God—you could feel it quietly, like a silent, hidden strength within, or slowly radiating love. There was a brotherly, sisterly oneness: single, married, young and old—all were demonstrably part of the same family. I still remember clearly a man well into his seventies, enthusing unbidden about the goodness and greatness of God, on the shore of a Welsh lake. He would point to rocks, pebbles, the water and slowly rippling waves as if carried away in private rapture, lost in contemplation at the beauty of what he saw. Many would have called him mad, or more kindly eccentric. I now call him sane. There were miracles too, talk of the kind of coincidences that seekers of all religions claim as happenstance and everyday, once feet are planted firmly upon chosen path. Talk of prayers being answered, oft-mentioned doors opening and closing, as if by hidden hand; even a photograph of Jesus, arms outstretched, divine protector amidst lightening and clouds, picture taken through the window of a plane caught in a tumultuous storm. I was touched by God in England. The touch wasn’t anything concrete, did not come in words or angels singing, but I felt a new, compelling inspiration to do something with my life, to have a purpose and somehow be of service. I fell in love with England that summer, and upon returning to New Zealand never felt at home again. I had craved New Zealand every one of three hundred and sixty-five days away, almost held my breath until returning, but when I did everything was different. Like a square peg into a round hole, my memories no longer slotted into the reality of the present. My childhood was gone, and I would never be the same again.
You can see the summit but you cant reach it Its the last piece of the puzzle but you just cant make it fit Doctor says youre cured but you still feel the pain Aspirations in the clouds but your hopes go down the drain —Howard Jones, Excerpt from No one is to blame* * * Back at the same school I had left, old friends were more or less as worldly, as mature as my Canadian peers across the waves, and all seemed to be adrift, seemingly without misgiving or regret, in a grey mist between childhood and adulthood, where innocence or simplicity can never navigate again. As months and years passed, the calling I had felt in England, as those Christian missionaries would have called it, was still there, but it had no outlet, or discernible place to claim as home. Several churches were tried, but without success—I would sooner or later flee the stilted atmosphere so unlike that experienced in England. I found the people dull, as if atrophied, and without love. Yet the calling would always be there, to a greater or lesser extent, the burning fire of inspiration to be and do. I can remember it arising most powerfully to television images of Gorbachev and Perestroika, the end of the Cold War and dismantling of Iron Curtain; also when watching the Olympics or listening to music. I remember a vivid dream not long after I returned to New Zealand, of a most beautiful young woman who took me to house where many people were meeting, and above the head of each a small, shining speck of light. The woman, whom I instantly felt a deep, wordless love for, explained this point of light as the soul. Her name may well have been Destiny, for that was what I found upon joining Sri Chinmoy’s path. There would be another seven long hard years before I discovered meditation, two more until I became a student of Sri Chinmoy, and childhood joy in my heart was born again. From this distant vantage of surmounted wisdom and knowledge, it seems as though I was unerringly, inexorably drawn towards my present point, as if all along I was riding the tale of a giant snake named Destiny, whose head had already reached where I stand today. From the time when I was torn from New Zealand until when I learned, through meditation, to seek happiness within, it was as though I was in a race to get somewhere, and all the major events of my life, consciously unplanned, mostly unexpected, were hurdles to cross on the way. Now they are like barriers to prevent me ever turning back.
Because you are a born-heart, My child, I tell you for sure, No, not even the greatest doubter Can blight you. Because you are a child-heart, My child, I tell you for sure, No, not even the worst possible rogue Can spoil you. Because you are a oneness-heart, My child, I tell you for sure, No, not even the most powerful Hostile force Can divide you. A born-heart, a child-heart And a oneness-heart Are unparalleled treasures Here on earth. —Sri Chinmoy, 10 October 1980, Excerpt from Aurora-Flora
As featured in Inspiration-Letters 17, a biographical account of a journey in search of self; a journey in search of the sunlit path.He was a bear of a man, with a bear-like, straggly grey beard, the last vestige and visage of the Rabbinical life-path his Hebrew parents had probably intended, in a preacher-like occupation—Religious Studies professor and faculty head—secular Rabbi to the hundreds of truth-seeking youth who passed through his lecture theatres and tutorial rooms each year. Post lecture, sermon from the mount of Intellectualism, dozens would congregate around him for curriculum advice or, just as likely, words of learned wisdom. For a while, those many years ago while I was under his tutelage, I felt it my mission in life to tread the knowledge-paved road of academia, climb the spiral staircase of learning’s ivory tower, one heaped stack of books at a time. Thus I found myself in his office one afternoon discussing a post-graduate pathway, when a throw-away comment made more of an impression than all the academic advice combined. Like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle only I was building, something about this comment fit into place, rang true within the broader tapestry of my life’s finely woven experiences. “I left home and went to India when I was a teenager, convinced that the world was an illusion. I soon found out that it was very real...” I was far more interested in this apparently banished, near-forgotten youthful self than the mature one behind the desk before me—the version of my Religious Studies professor that could be ambitious, audacious enough to believe that everything around him, everything he knew might be wrong, than the version convinced that everything he knew was right. You see, I too used to think the world was an illusion, and I too found out that it is real, or at least not to be lightly, easily denied. * * * The Boyds were our neighbours for several years, a family of five in a yellow, L-shaped two story house, just over the neatly trimmed hedge from my Mother and I. Mr and Mrs Boyd, their two cats and three “spirited” boys—spirited to their grandparents maybe, highly mischievous to anyone else with two unclouded, unrelated eyes—soon became friends as well as neighbours, parents spending time and company upon gold velvet lounge suite worth a year’s wages to some, watching living room centre-piece walnut cabinet inlaid television set often conversation-piece as well, while children were banished to invite trouble in myriad ways—starting fires in the backyard to test the efficacy of a toy fire truck; firing stones a hundred metres or more down the cul-de-sac street to mayhem and collateral damage unseen, using slingshots made ingeniously and very dangerously from dressmaking elastic and off-cuts of two by four; exploring a just larger than juvenile body size tunnel whose length was never satisfactorily determined because a working party of concerned parents, not as unaware of our childhood havoc as we might have hoped, permanently filled it in. It was a time when televisions might still be made somewhere other than Japan, and the faux gold lounge suite matching floral pattern wallpaper tracing its way round window and door was fashionable in its own right, rather than in a retro sense, and one suspects, looking back over broader, taller shoulders, that Mrs Boyd, alone all day long in upper middle-class, neatly trimmed and weeded suburbia while Mr Boyd approved mortgages and balanced ledgers in a city bank, might have been quietly going cuckoo, or to use the New Zealand parlance, had a few sheep running loose in the top paddock. Conversations would turn more often to her two cats than matters walking upright and on two legs, and aside from quite magnificently managing the kitchen which produced our Sunday lunches, the rest of her time appeared to be spent assembling kit-set tapestries, cushion covers and floor-mats—all featuring embroidered cats—and reading books more fringe than her hand-crafted rugs. One book in particular stands out in my memory, its cover still visible in mind’s eye where others have faded. Funnily enough I never actually read it—at that stage of my childhood I hadn't graduated to the adult section of the library, let alone books on fringe science on dusty, taller shelves—but a few comments made by Mrs Boyd as she pressed it upon my Mother lodged in a very curious mind. “You know that working watches, thousands of years old, have been found by miners deep under the earth. And that there was once an advanced civilisation in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?” Microwave ovens were big at the time, and the conversation soon rotated to plastic container cooking techniques. Although borrowed by my Mother, I suspect this book was never read by her either, as it unceremoniously became prop under right corner of our living room piano. Impossible to prise from beneath hundreds of kilograms of badly tuned keys and wooden frame, one word, more important than thousands of others unread, was prised from a single, capitalised and bold sentence on a pyramid illustrated, rather crushed cover—“EVIDENCE FOR THE LOST CONTINENT OF ATLANTIS!” The thought that civilisation could be older than commonly accepted, and, in a broader sense, life be full of hidden mysteries, at an age where—Santa Claus unmasked and tooth fairy banished—life was fast losing its magic, was a powerful fascination to this child—a siren’s call to a shore of promise existing still, just beyond sight. Something felt right in the idea that there was more to life than met a still immature eye, just as it also felt right that “I” had existed longer than my two handfuls of years. Television programs like Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not became weekly tuned to, never missed favourites, watched eagerly for anything to do with lost civilisations, and I spent an entire school holiday mostly indoors, reading every book I could both find and carry home on Atlantis. It was an age and spirit of curiosity, fascination, even seeking, and I could think of nothing more fulfilling than being an archeologist or explorer, crashing through jungles, sifting through mud and sand, searching needle in haystack like just to capture some remaining proof and vestige of glories lost, knowledge drowned. And if it such couldn't be found, I was desperate to get to heaven, just to finally have the answer to earthly mysteries I assumed none who were living had. Interests come and go in childhood, especially when one has not the means or resources to further them, and after reading every author I could lay my hands upon, and no few crackpots imitating such, Atlantis slowly sank from my mind, replaced by more age-typical concerns like the momentum and trajectory through the air of foot and cricket balls, or how to acquire music when tapes and records cost weeks of pocket money. 1980's synth-pop and MTV-imagery became my lucre sought for a while. Atlantis rose again in my imagination several years later when, age 15, summer holidays and boredom turned cohorts and captured interest in idle hands, prompted me to visit a new library where a wealth of books on the lost continent could be dredged. Somewhere, amidst tenuous theories based on yet more theories and scratched together half-fragments of evidence, arose something unsought and unexpected: “psychic” evidence. Framed in parenthesis as soon as dreamily uttered, mixing together fact and fantasy as readily as hallucination and dream, psychic evidence is empirically the most tenuous evidence of all, but it wasn’t the veracity or otherwise of anything spoken over a crystal ball that caught my imagination, but rather a single idea first discovered. Atlantis, the well-thumbed, often withdrawn book suggested courtesy of a psychic of unknown repute, was the obverse and reverse to our civilisation of present day, opposite side of coin to our physical, materially-centred culture—a civilisation where that which was inner was light to our outer dark of night. It was heady stuff to my younger self, the idea that everything around one could in a sense be false—that inner landscapes could take precedence, have higher importance than the bricks and mortar of outer surrounds—so heady in fact that I woke one night from fevered, reality shaking dreams, previously stable concepts like ‘here’, ‘now’ and ‘self’ beginning to tremble, the house of my reality starting to subside. It was a two in the morning existential crisis, a wide-awake bad dream, and like self proscribed and administered medicine, I pretty much dropped the ancient civilisation quest there and then. Chopping at the roots of the reality tree is a dangerous occupation when your own reality, barely teenaged, is more a sapling and still growing, and though hugely enamoured of those new found, mind-altering metaphysics, I was still young enough to push to one side something that, neither cricket bat nor football, couldn't be caught or passed in the right here and now. It would be university before I wrestled with and attempted to wield the axe of knowledge once more. * * * Just inside the entrance to the Religious Studies Department, a Victorian era former suburban home encroached and eventually swallowed by an ever expanding campus, next to the main office where students would queue to ask procedural questions or get copies of lecture notes, was a poster of Swami Vivekananda, pre-eminent disciple of Indian spiritual master Sri Ramakrishna, be-turbaned, arms wrapped powerfully across chest, twinkling eyes piercing infinity and far, far beyond from an original poster for his immortal 1893 Chicago Parliament of World Religions address, where, with the simple opening words “Sisters and brothers of America” he near single handedly introduced and charmed the Western world to the colossal spiritual heritage of his native land. Opposite the Indian spiritual giant and atop descending staircase, as if warning of academic failure and some slippery slope that lay beyond, a poster depicting scenes from the Tibetan Book of the Dead—the seven lower worlds, gleeful fiery demons and the torments of hell. I was on a slippery slope when I entered the Religious Studies Department, and I would wince awkwardly, almost guiltily in front of Vivekananda’s iron, soul-penetrating stare. I had started meditating almost two years before, and after an extended honeymoon period of experiences and near daily unfoldment, was now the living embodiment of the smouldering poster on the opposing wall. Whether tormented for some karmic transgression of a previous lifetime or just the follies of this one, my experiments with self-styled spirituality had lead me down slippery slope to more unhappiness rather than less, confusion multiplied rather than decreased. I had attempted to transcend the here and now, yet was increasingly struggling to live the minute by minute. You wouldn't have picked my torment outwardly. I cruised through my Eastern Religions paper with ease, answered questions on Hindu deities and Buddhist philosophy almost as easily as if the answers were already written upon the page, but when it came to living, breathing spirituality, to the happiness and joy which even the textbooks will tell you every religion promises as its core, you could say I knew nothing at all. In the quest for self-knowledge I had armfuls of knowledge and nothing more. * * * University wasn’t what I expected it to be. While I had drifted through high school with neither inspiration nor enthusiasm, passing but never applying self to anything studied, university I had hoped, in the vague plan of my life that didn't really follow any plan, would change all that, finally be the “it”, golden shore and destination that something deep inside said life could be—something to be inspired by, enthusiastic about, seized with both hands rather than dropped or avoided. I didn't go to university for any conscious reason or aspiration—I had no idea what I wanted to be or do, and had no enthusiasm or feeling of having found what I was looking for in anything offered from the dictionary sized academic prospectus, but I had always assumed I would go, and in the end chose subjects somewhat at random—Philosophy, Psychology and German pencilled into an application form as the lesser of many evils. I ended up failing everything that first semester, in part because none of the subjects, or university itself for that matter appealed, and in part because for the first time in my life not applying myself ended up having a price. But failure did lead me to finally apply myself in an altogether different direction. Unenamoured of anything I studied, almost at my wits end and desperate for anything that might give me meaning and hope, I was quite randomly reminded of my passing interest nay obsession with Atlantis years before, and how there had always been one book in particular, source and reference for many others, that I had never been able to find: Edgar Cayce on Atlantis. * * * Inside the City Library, past the music section where self-conscious, befashioned youth with dyed hair and knee-high black boots flipped through racks of CDs while trying not to catch the eye of other youths dressed just the same, past the book worms who didn't care for catching eyes beyond those dotted on the page, was the spirituality section, a dusty after thought in the far corner of the second floor where the predominant foot traffic was to the bathroom just beyond. Despite being listed on the Library computer, I didn't find that particular book amongst those lonely shelves—it had been stolen so many times the exasperated librarians had stopped replacing it—but I did find a biography of Edgar Cayce, and within its pages, quite considerably more. Born to a simple farming family in Kentucky, 1877, Cayce was a photographer, Sunday School teacher and devout Christian now better known as “The Sleeping Prophet” and “Father of the New Age”, who by accident discovered the capacity, from a self-induced trance state, to quite simply explain the miraculous. From yet to be invented medical cures to the history and spiritual destiny of mankind, the trance uttered, never charged for words Edgar Cayce were a total revelation, and he and the truths he revealed became a life-transforming figure for me. What was the purpose of life? “To become one with God,” Cayce intoned sagely from a sleep like state. How to do this? “Through meditation, and the example of a spiritual master like the Christ” he asserted, with the same voice that could diagnose disease and prescribe cures from a distance of thousands of miles. That was all I needed to hear, the illumining words I had been pacing aisles and scanning shelves to find my entire life. In the midst of nothing at all—disinterested academic failure and discouraging living squalor—I had found my life-purpose and mission. I started meditating the very same day. In Edgar Cayce and the practise of meditation, I found certainty and surety where previously there had been none, the belief that there was truth in the world and a purpose to life, and that truth, just like knowledge of some lost civilisation, could be found in the here and now. Truth and the ultimate knowledge—self-knowledge—could be found within. * * * Somewhere along the way, countless books and myriad authors read—I travailed the alpha to omega of that library’s spirituality section over the next few months—I gained the impression that the spiritual life is, in practical terms and application, more a mixture of self-discipline, iron will and self-analysis than peace, love and joy. With a ready-mixed, perhaps not fully baked combination of the New Age, Eastern Philosophy and Jungian Psychology, I began, together with daily meditation, a Nietzschean quest to make myself into something more than human. It was like Japanese author Yukio Mishima’s odyssey for perfection of the body, but the subtle body rather than body physical—an attempt to sculpt heart, mind, thought and emotion as though limbs out of shape, transform weakness into strength as though training with weights—through repetition and force of will alone. With its roots in the idea gained all those years ago in a book about Atlantis that the outer world was less real than the world within, I developed my own version of spirituality in which everything in life could be made secondary to will and truth, and began the Herculean task of attempting, a little like the Deconstruction Theory popular in universities at the time, and very much like my world-denying Religious Studies Professor years before, to reduce the people and events around me to something more essential—eagerly sought for, otherworldly phenomena. I had without realising it started down a well-trodden path, the path of Jnana Yoga or “Path of Knowledge”, and a major sub-branch, Advaita Vedanta—the ancient Indian philosophy of Non-Dualism. Founded by the philosopher Shankara in the 9th century, Advaita Vedanta is the belief that the world and all its phenomena are ultimately a “Lila” or play of God, an illusion produced by and inseparable from the workings of the Divine Forces. While not untrue or mistaken in a philosophical sense, denying yourself and the living, loving breathing realities around you is not the ideal starting point for self-knowledge, and if spirituality can be described as a myriad of different routes up a mountain, the path of denial and negation is hardly the sunlit one. In fact, the path I had begun picking my way over was more akin to scaling a cliff-face, if not traversing a giant ravine. Constantly digging, dividing, negating and scouring for a glimmer of truth, some bedrock of reality upon which to stand safe and secure upon, I succeeded in nothing more than making myself more and more helpless and insecure. You can negate your family as arbitrary, this life-time only human relations; relegate friends as people unaware, ignorant of truth; push aside the entire world as materially based and imperfect in every way—and root out every trace of same in yourself—but in trying to shed your humanity like the skin of a snake, just like a snake you are trapped on your belly, crawling only in the mud. The problem with self-analysis is that you tend to miss the wood for the trees, run the risk in turning over rocks of only finding dirt instead of nuggets of gold. Spending your time thinking about your weaknesses and failings is neither affirming nor strengthening, and not at all a basis upon which to build true self-knowledge. Furthermore, in self-analysis you become trapped within the very imperfect, leaky vessel which most needs to be perfected, stuck within the unlit, always tending towards doubt reasoning mind—the limited human mind that is barely capable of seeing or embracing the infinite reality into which we all must grow. Of course, if I had been following Advaita Vedanta strictly, I would also have known about the necessity of studying under a Guru...
“You want to realise God, but it is through aspiration that you have to realise God, and not through self-analysis. If one expects to go to God through analysis he will be on a very long, tortuous, almost impossible path. The mind is constantly protecting itself by its human logic. If the mind says today, "This is the truth," tomorrow it will say that that very thing is falsehood. The mind contradicts itself at every moment, and when you become one with the mind you just enter into a sea of confusion.” —Sri Chinmoy, The Hunger Of Darkness And The Feast Of Light, Part 1“Yeah hello, I'm calling about the meditation classes advertised?” The man on the end of the line sounded busy, and despite being the owner of the answerphone’s cheery new age tones and wafting, soothing flute music—encountered on several previously discontinued calls—seemed neither embracing nor interested in conversation. “They start next week, Monday at 7pm...” ‘Was there anything else?’ the unspoken but implied, impatient following line. I persevered. “Well, see, I've been meditating for a little while already, and was wondering if you could tell me a little about the course?” Meditating by myself for two years, at a complete loss with how to deal with the morass of my own making I was stuck within, I was desperate to just talk, swap notes with a fellow practitioner, meet a kindred spirit who might know a little about what I was going through, perhaps be able to offer some guidance or advice on treading the inner road, more muddy trail I was knee deep within. “On Sri Chinmoy’s path we consider everybody to be an absolute beginner...” I ended the call none the wiser than before I made it, yet further resigned to the fact that life had, dead ends if not gaping ravines on every side, construed to leave me no course of action but to follow the sunlit path, next Monday evening. * * * Waiting for the first night of the meditation course, I read a book by Sri Chinmoy, and the words of the God-realised master struck a chord, rang an inner bell. Sri Chinmoy’s poetic, deceptively simple writing matched, nodded in agreement with everything I had gleaned so far, but my university over-educated mind was unable to grasp the simplicity therein, was prone, like a lecturer, to talk over the top of the deeper, plain-spoken truths on every page. In the Indian tradition within which Sri Chinmoy has his roots, a single word like “God”, “Truth” or “Love”, said as mantra and repeated countless times, is enough to lead one to enlightenment through realisation of the ultimate truth contained, but if truth was a coin, I was a greedy magpie, too intent on collecting and hoarding than spending or recognising the wealth I already possessed. Love, devotion and surrender are dictionary words we can all know the meaning of, but each can take lifetimes to fully realise. I read of love, the spiritual heart, God and the soul in Sri Chinmoy’s writings, even had my share of fleeting glimpses of all, but was unable to identify or hold on to any because, like drawing water from the ocean with a woefully tiny cup, I was attempting to do so with the reasoning, intellectual mind. This is why Sri Chinmoy advocates meditation in the spiritual heart as the safest, surest way, shortcut and golden path to self-knowledge and God. The heart identifies, expands, embraces and loves—it has the capacity to become the very thing it focuses upon. If meditation in the mind is a treacherous, rocky path, meditation in the spiritual heart is safe and sunlit.
The mind knows That there is a sunlit path, But it refuses To walk along the path. —Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 25I walked around the city block for a second time, heart palpitating, sweat forming, not from exertion but an irrational, sourceless fear. I had arrived early for the central city Sri Chinmoy Centre meditation course, and every ounce of my being was screaming to turn around and go back home, just forget about the classes, do them some other time. Meditating by myself for so long, the whole time spent wanting to find and join others who also meditated, I now for no reason any finger could be placed upon wanted to join only myself, as though, no longer looking for truth under rock or stone, the light of sun was far too intense. In this case, over-practise of mental gymnastics and force of will really did come in use—I simply spoke, yelled over the top of panic and fear, told my mind to shut-up, climbed the stairs to the second story venue as if symbolically reversing down the academic ivory tower. “Is this the meditation course?” I asked a smiling, welcoming lady sitting behind a small classroom style desk. “It certainly is,” she said, her smile doubling as she offered me a registration form, “welcome to the sunlit path...”
Across the Ocean to Swim or Sink He was a bear of a man, with a bear-like, straggly grey beard, the last vestige and visage of the Rabbinical life-path his Hebrew parents had probably intended, in a preacher-like occupation—Religious Studies professor and faculty head—secular Rabbi to the hundreds of truth-seeking youth who passed through his lecture theatres and tutorial rooms each year. Post lecture, sermon from the mount of Intellectualism, dozens would congregate around him for curriculum advice or, just as likely, words of learned wisdom. For a while, those many years ago while I was under his tutelage, I felt it my mission in life to tread the knowledge-paved road of academia, climb the spiral staircase of learning’s ivory tower, one heaped stack of books at a time. Thus I found myself in his office one afternoon discussing a post-graduate pathway, when a throw-away comment made more of an impression than all the academic advice combined. Like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle only I was building, something about this comment fit into place, rang true within the broader tapestry of my life’s finely woven experiences. “I left home and went to India when I was a teenager, convinced that the world was an illusion. I soon found out that it was very real...” I was far more interested in this apparently banished, near-forgotten youthful self than the mature one behind the desk before me—the version of my Religious Studies professor that could be ambitious, audacious enough to believe that everything around him, everything he knew might be wrong, than the version convinced that everything he knew was right. You see, I too used to think the world was an illusion, and I too found out that it is real, or at least not to be lightly, easily denied.
Pure Zen Quote from The Karate Kid: The Karate Kid: Hey, where do these cars come from? Mr Miyagi: Detroit.Perhaps all those cranky, letter to the newspaper editor writers are right. Discipline and patience are, high-scores on a Playstation aside, mostly foreign to my generation. Rather than fighting an actual opponent, karate lessons would culminate in hours learning kata—stylised, dance-like movements performed in a series and, initially at least, in slow motion. Kata is said to represent the technique required to simultaneously fight and defeat an overwhelming number of opponents—a theory of combat put into action most famously by master Japanese swordsman and strategist Miyamoto Musashi. It was a little like learning to swing a golf club or a tennis racket—learning the correct form, through repetition, to master perfection in physical action. There are around 100 kata in total across the various disciplines of karate, with the ultimate said to be Suparinpei, a word of Chinese origin which literally translates as “108”—the number of actions in this supreme kata. For those who, like the subtle flavours of a sushi roll, prefer to find meanings wrapped inside meanings, the number 108 is not only an “abundant,” “semi-perfect,” “tetranacci” and “refactorable” number in mathematics, but a total of great spiritual significance.
The Spiritual Significance of the Number 108
- the essence of the Vedic scriptures, considered to be the greatest heritage of India and foundation of Hinduism, are the 108 Upanishads, or writings which expound the philosophic principles of the Vedas;
- Japa mala used for repetition of mantra contain 108 beads;
- Hindu deities are said to have 108 names;
- Many Buddhist temples have 108 steps;
- The number of sins in Tibetan Buddhism total 108;
- At the end of the each year in Japan a bell is chimed 108 times to finish the old year and welcome the new. Each ring is said to represent one of the 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana.
- There are said to be 108 energy lines converging to form the spiritual heart chakra;
- 108 is the sum of “the numbers” in the at times mystical TV show Lost (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42). I admit that the spiritual significance of this last fact may be questionable...
Kata and Perfection Through Perfect FormThe word kata, like karate, was born in Japan, and translates literally as “form.” Kata is more than simple outer appearance, structure or method; it is derived, both in word and concept, from shikata—“way of doing things”. Like “the Way” of Taoism, shikata is synonymous with a striving for perfection: a perfect way of doing will eventually reveal a perfect way of being, just as the course of a river wears smooth the jagged surface of a stone. Over the course of centuries kata evolved to the point where there became a perfect way of doing everything. Every facet of existence in traditional Japan was perfected, down to the arrangement of food upon a tray or flowers within a vase. Kata however is more than a purely physical concept, more than action or object of the human hand. Zen Buddhism, which entered Japan from China in the 12th century, introduced into the national consciousness the insight that perfection has an inner component as well; that mental training was just as important, if not even more so, than physical mastery in achieving the perfection of any skill. Illumined by the the influence of Zen, mastery of kata came to mean the attainment of a meditative oneness with the action or discipline practised. A painter would seek not just to paint, but become the brush upon the page; a swordsman become one with the sword in hand.
“Early in their history the Japanese developed the belief that form had a reality of its own, and that it often took precedence over substance. They also believed that anything could be accomplished if the right kata was mentally and physically practised long enough.” —Boyé Lafayette De Mente, Kata: The Key to Understanding and Dealing with the JapaneseKata, the correct, harmonious way of doing things, links the inner and the outer in Japan—it links body and soul, man and the gods. The inner order, which the Japanese call “heart,” is linked directly to the outer, cosmic order by correct form—the spiritual realm manifested in the physical through perfect action.
“To the Japanese there was an inner order (the individual heart) and a natural order (the cosmos), and these two were linked together by form—by kata. It was kata that linked the individual and society. If one did not follow the correct form, he was out of harmony with both his fellow man and nature. The challenge facing the Japanese was to know their own honshin, “true” or “right heart,” then learn and follow the kata that would keep them in sync with society and the cosmos. —Boyé Lafayette De Mente, Kata: The Key to Understanding and Dealing with the JapaneseJapanese will not accept a minimum standard as a goal; rather they expect absolute perfection—nothing is considered finished or complete until perfect. Which of course, lofty Zen masters aside, is near impossible for the average mortal to achieve. Hence the Japanese expression Kiga Susumanai—“my spirit is not satisfied.” Trapped between the inflexible postures of kata and insurmountable heights of perfection, Japanese are said to suffer constantly from this chronic spiritual dissatisfaction, a deeply felt discomfort at their inability to be perfect in everything they do:
“This spiritual discomfort burns in “pure” Japanese like an undying flame, constantly spurring them on to do more and do better...” —Boyé Lafayette De Mente, The Japanese Have a Word for It
The Path of My Own PerfectionI was not born Japanese, and have spent no more than ten days there in this life, but the quest for kata and perfection rings true in me without cause or reason, speaks if from an instruction manual to self lost before birth. My path to mastering kata in this life however, quelling the dissatisfaction of imperfection was neither straight nor direct, for I never did get that far with karate. I studied for three years, attained a purple belt and attended, without notable success, a solitary tournament—the experience literally of getting kicked in the face. An extended period overseas then saw my burning desire to acquire a black belt, and I presumed, the eventual attainment of mysterious insight and powers, thwarted. But desire for martial perfection was not lost so easily, and I am to this day, somewhat impracticably and yet to defeat a group of opponents with my bare knuckles and toes, dissatisfied at my imperfection in this particular kata or form. I guess there will be another lifetime... Life, the greatest teacher and master of them all, doesn't give up easily when there is a lesson to learn, and some decade after ceasing lessons in karate I discovered the practise of meditation, first introduced briefly in those childhood sparring halls. In meditation, I found the kata of perfection I had always been seeking, a perfection requiring a form and method within.
“If we say that someone's body is perfect, then we are just giving an overall view. But when we say "perfect perfection," it means that each cell is perfect; everything that is inside that body is perfect. Perfect perfection is the perfection of the entire being. Whatever the being has and whatever the being is, is perfect.” —Sri Chinmoy, excerpt from Philosophy, Religion And Yoga.
Age does not matter. Until his passing at age 76, Sri Chinmoy proved that to me. Through his life of meditation and self-transcendence he showed me that perhaps I am not as limited as I think. I hope to continue forgetting how old I really am. I hope to feel amused, rather than bound, if I do happen to remember, and grateful to Sri Chinmoy, especially if others find it funny too.The torch is passed, the wheel turned. And so it goes...