Bhakti, the Song of Love

Don’t forget love;
it will bring all the madness you need 
to unfurl yourself across the universe
.”
~ Meera Bai (1498-1546)

 

I intend here to continue exploring the three different pathways towards realising our true nature. I have some time ago given my attention to Jñāna, which in the Indian tradition is the name given to the means of attaining truth through the investigative qualities of the mind, which are mostly thinking and the power of discrimination. The two other paths towards realisation are the tantric path, which involves the senses, and the path of love, which involves feeling, and is the subject of this essay.

The path of knowledge requires a certain steadiness, orderliness, being thorough, constant. But even somebody set on this logical path of knowledge will be exposed to ineffable, timeless moments of pure love. Some people are best suited to a more loving, encompassing pathway, that would allow them to be just as they are, with all their confusion and overwhelming feelings. I can be the me that I am, as long as I am too this loving, embracing presence to which I can offer myself. In love there is no theory, no guidelines to follow. And it is not a surprise to find this expression of truth as one of the means to the realisation of our true self. This pathway of love has been called ‘Bhakti’ in the tradition of India. All the Indian faith, at least in its more popular expression, is of a devotional nature, and has elevated this simple love for god or truth to the rank of art. That seemed to me a good starting point to embark on this path of devotion, which the Śivānanda Laharī (verse 61) describes as: “The way needle seeks magnet, the way creeper seeks tree, the way river unites with ocean and the way the mind seeks the lotus feet of Śiva.”

An exploration into Bhakti, the path of love and devotion (READ MORE…)

 

Jñāna, the Song of the Self

Without me here, to know experience, 
how could this experience be?

~ Aitareya Upanishad, I,3,11

 

It happened long ago, during a morning stroll behind my house. I was contemplating my deep sadness and my desire to change, when a simple intuition came uninvited. I felt that it was possible to change and I had the power to initiate it. I felt that this change, this cure for my unhappiness was to be found in myself. I felt that it was all happening here, in this me-presence, and that the necessary tools were all provided in me. No reliance on any external authority. It was the intuition, not that I-the little me with its conditioning could do it, but that there is an inward process for accessing this change, this seeming transformation, in other words, happiness. And this process could be implemented, carried out through the tools of thinking, logic, understanding, which are my natural inclination. I had just discovered the very nature of the path of knowledge.

So I’d like today to make an attempt at better understanding this path of knowledge which has been named ‘Jñāna’ in the tradition of India. It is an interesting word which shows the family ties with many of our European languages. In Sanskrit, the word means ‘knowledge’, the root ‘Jñā’ being close to our English word ‘know’, or the Greek ‘gnosis’, the French ‘connaître’, all words that convey the idea of ‘knowledge’. Jñāna is one of the three main pathways towards realising our true nature, namely the path of knowledge, which involves the process of thinking, the path of love, ‘Bhakti’ in India, which involves feeling, and the tantric path, which involves the senses and thereby the so-called external world. It seems to me that there is some value in understanding the nature of each pathways and seeing how they can blend in our daily living and Sadhana.

An exploration into Jñāna, the path of knowledge (READ MORE…)

 

The Churches of Rome

This is the end of my old ways, dear Christ!
Now I will hear Your voice at last
And leave the frosts (that is: the fears) of my December.
And though You kill me, (as You must) more, more I’ll trust in you.
For though the darkness and the furious waters of that planting
Seep down and eat my life away
Yet my dark night both eats and feeds me,
‘Til I begin to know what new life, green life springs within my bones
.”
~ Thomas Merton

 

Ah the churches of Rome! Here I am, trodding for the second time the worn, disjointed, unsettled paved streets of the eternal city, with one thing in mind: visiting and admiring some of its most beautiful basilicas, churches, chapels, oratories… It is said that there are about 900 churches in Rome, so the choice is wide and elegant. One thing to remember here: this place is the cradle of Christianity and hosts the Holy See of Catholicism, a religion to more than a billion people in the world. The sheer number of tourists and pilgrims is huge and many want to see the Vatican in their lifetime, with its most famous Sistine Chapel, the Coliseum of the ancient Roman Empire, or the Trevi Fountain. I have just come from a retreat in the mountains of Umbria, and I wonder what will touch me here, after this week of thinking and meditating on the non-dual nature of experience. 

I am the light of the world.”
[John 8:12]

What strikes me most here, is not the gigantism and wealth of the most famous basilicas, nor the beautiful art that you will find hidden in the innermost corners of many churches: Raphael, Caravaggio, the Baldacchino and Ecstacy of Saint Teresa of Bernini, the Pietà and Moses of Michelangelo, the frescoes of Gaulli and Pozzo. No, something else touches me profoundly. …

An essay on the churches of Rome and their deeper meanings (READ MORE…)

 

Speaking of Shiva

When I didn’t know myself, 
where were you? 
Like the colour in the gold,
you were in me.
I saw in you, 
lord white as jasmine,  
the paradox of your being
in me
without showing a limb
.”
~ Akka Mahadevi

 

If you have been to India, you are likely to have met a beggar who came to you imploring, asking you to relieve him from his suffering, but also being a little rough, with something in his voice sounding like a reproach. You probably froze for a second, feeling guilty, not knowing what to do. You felt caught between giving or not giving, between an easy way out or a shameful flight. None of them satisfactory. Torn by this conflict, you may have missed the giving, salvific part of it all. You may have missed that in the profuse tradition of India, one of Shiva’s many forms is the ‘Supreme Beggar’. You may have missed that, in Krishnamurti’s words, “Conflict is the measure of the ‘I’.” Shiva came along to give you a chance, a beautiful opportunity to see that there is in you a way out of yourself, of your little ‘I’, in which you could both give and receive. I’d like to call this freezing, this second of conflict and confusion, the ‘knot of Shiva’. I had this knot undone once, long ago, and was allowed to sneak a peek at Shiva’s face. Evidently, he had some secrets to tell. Let’s walk the road from the egoistic, immature thoughts and images of Shiva, to the more understanding, universal realisation of his true identity. Let’s unravel Shiva’s mysteries…

An essay to explore the many aspects of India’s most famous god (READ MORE)

 

The Path

A monk asked: 
« What is the true path on earth? » 
Fayan said: 
« Not a single path on earth is true. » 

~ Fayan Wenyi

 

I’d like to tell you a story, a parabolic tale I wrote long ago. It’s a story that has already been posted here on its own. It is called ‘The Truth Seeker’, but could have been called ‘The Path’, as it exposes, describes some of the stages we find along the spiritual path. This expression has been used, overused in spiritual circles. There seems to be so many paths, so many avenues of understanding. The Christian path, the Sufi path, the Advaita path, the tantric path, the direct path, the progressive path. The story that I’m about to tell you was written in Madras, on the grounds of the Theosophical Society, where the young Krishnamurti was ‘discovered’. Twenty years later, he rejected all organisations built around him and pronounced these famous words: “I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect.” So what is this path we so often hear about? What is its reality? The title ‘The Truth Seeker’ gives us a clue. It would be reasonable to say that a path, spiritually speaking, is everything that results from the activity of seeking truth. That’s one way of seeing it, but in that case, as seeking can be endless and so often leading nowhere, such a path is really not a path at all. Let’s see what our story has to say: 

     « A man, Admita, was living in a harsh and hostile desert. Surrounded by sand and swirling winds, he led a life of wandering without help or hope. He has well heard of stories that described places of lush greenery and great beauty, where valleys, forests, meadows, rushing streams and great rivers were home for countless animals, where mountains stood above deep blue seas, where the sun was warm and the air filled with a gentle breeze. He did not believe that such places really existed, but in front of so much loneliness and adversity, he could not help thinking about it and hoping to discover this wonderful land. » …

A playful exploration into the nature of the spiritual path (READ MORE…)

 

 

Destroyer of Darkness

We continue our series of texts or essays on different subjects of spiritual interest. The subject here is about examining the figure of the spiritual teacher, or the guru…

 

Be a light unto yourself; 
betake yourselves to no external refuge. 
Hold fast to the Truth. 
Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves
.”
~ Buddha Shakyamuni

 

It knew better. This thing, so dense, so light, that took me into its lap, that invited me for a dance with eternity, with infinity, would not leave me alone, unattended. Not even two days after encountering this mystery, after dipping into this bath of love and beauty, I was being shown a way. I believe it is inevitable when there is an opening. In a burst of synchronicity, a friend materialised and handed me a copy of Newsweek magazine where there was an article about a spiritual teacher who had died a couple of weeks earlier. I was immediately drawn to him. It was the beginning of a ten year journey into his teaching. I wasn’t the easiest friend though, nor the most faithful. Just a couple of weeks before, among the temples of Khajuraho, I was explaining to a German lady guru who invited me to her meetings, how little I felt about spiritual authority, how important it was to find out by myself, not to be influenced in these matters. My new spiritual teacher wasn’t the friendliest towards the figure of the guru either, but nevertheless he was my first help and pointer, my first pathway towards understanding. “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”, it is traditionally said.

An exploration into the function of the spiritual teacher (READ MORE…)

 

Blown Out

We continue our series of texts or essays on different subjects of spiritual interest. The question here is about ‘having a spiritual experience’, and delving into the nature of what is called ‘awakening’…

 

There is a safe place in view of all, but difficult of approach,
where there is no old age nor death, no pain nor disease.
It is what is called nirvāṇa, or freedom from pain, or perfection;
it is the safe, happy, and quiet place which the great sages reach.
That is the eternal place, in view of all, but difficult of approach.

~ Uttaradhyana Sutra, 81-4 (Buddhism)

 

Nothing much, really. Something just like peeking out of the window. But let’s not be overly disdainful, for this can bend the course of a life and change it in a profound way. To have a spiritual experience is a blessing, a call, maybe a rehearsal for the final dissolution. It leaves you puzzled, wanting to understand, and above all, searching to have it again in the future. It can be just a flavour suddenly lingering at the back of your mind, or a spectacular awakening, or anything in between. In all cases, you meet something new, that is outside any known experience, and yet has a familiar flame, like an old forgotten memory. Above all, peace, love, and happiness are attached to it. It is the DNA of any genuine experience, its vital core, and what makes it so desirable. After all, do we want anything in life but a lasting happiness? It can last for seconds, minutes, or days. It comes as a grace, unexpected, uninvited. One important characteristic is that it fades away, finally disappears. Otherwise we wouldn’t call it an ‘experience’. A spiritual experience is an awakening that failed.

An essay to delve into the nature of Awakening (READ MORE…)