O Mystic Nuns!

Photo by Abee5 on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Thy love was not of earth; no woman’s soul 
For mortal love craved with such a yearning. 
So thou didst wed great God Himself! O Goal 
Beyond our ken, beyond our dim discerning! 
And soul to soul, like sunbeam unto Sun, 
Thou didst vanish away, O mystic Nun!

~ Sri Devendranath Sen

 

At all times, India has embraced the love and longing for God as a privileged access to our ultimate reality. This path of love or devotion, called bhakti, was trodden by countless seekers and poets who have offered their verses to posterity. Amongst them many women. Women who, alone, have walked the steep path to God, going against the society of men, marriage and conventions, with only one goal: to reach divine love. I present here three such women — Andal, Akka Mahadevi, and Mirabai — these mystic nuns, whose personality and poetry are an unforgettable milestone to this day in India and elsewhere.

Through devoting or directing their love to a god, be it Krishna or Shiva, these devotees were searching to experience the bliss of their own being, the happiness that is the very nature of their self. But by conditioning their love to an object, they also experienced suffering, longing, sadness, anger, which all came to feed their poetry, their songs, all these exquisite expressions. These were the very vector that supported their spiritual search. But don’t think that this is a path that is limited or lacking depth. For though directed towards an object, the love they feel is always their own. The forms of Krishna or Shiva were a vehicle to lead them to their very self, to realise that their longing is and has always been for their own unborn nature, for love itself, the oneness of their own being.

This tension between the love for God as a form, and for being or oneness as a principle, between saguna and nirguna bhakti, as it is expressed in the Indian tradition, is at the core of the bhakti endeavour, of the journey to divine love. In ‘The Embodiment of Bhakti’, Karen Pechilis Prentiss wrote: “The lord is characterized by both ‘paratva’ (otherness) and ‘soulabhaya’ (ease of access). He is both here and beyond, both tangible as a person and intangible as a principle.” These nuns were expressing this tension with various degrees in their many songs and poems. Listen to their voice. Listen to how Krishna’s forms and attributes, ramblings and happenings are only expressions of a deeper reality, of the understanding and tensions at play in the seeker’s very being. They are their paths whose completion will lead to the recognition of their own true self. […]

Listen to the poetry of Andal, Akka Mahadevi, and Mirabai… (READ MORE…)

 

I, Lallā

‘Lady With Duck I’ – Jahar Dasgupta, 2002 – WikiArt

Though He is One, Alone, and All,
Yet I am caught in the War of Two.
Though He has neither colour nor form,
Yet I am caught in His wondrous forms
.”
~ Lal Ded (14th Century)

 

In the wake of the 14th century, Kashmir was an extraordinary place, at the crossroads of major religious influences: Kashmir Shaivism, Buddhism, Islam through the rise of Sufism, not forgetting the Vedantic tradition in place for centuries. Great political changes were taking place as the first Muslim rulers came into power. It was there, in a beautiful valley south-east of Srinagar, in the profuse nature of this area, close to the Himalayan mountains, that one of the brightest star of spiritual achievement was born. Her name: Lallā, which can be translated as ‘seeker’ or ‘darling’. Lallā, which Baba Dawud Mishkati would later present in these terms:

 

In the cradle of the earth, absorbed in god, was she, Lalla Arifa, constantly aware. 
She was one of those who wander in the wilderness of love
wailing and lamenting (for the Beloved);
and she was a knower of the path of the valley of truth
.” 
~ Baba Dawud Mishkati (in 1654)

 

Lallā was born in a Brahmin family around 1320, close to Srinagar. It is said that she was married when she was twelve. She left to live nearby, with her in-laws family, as is the tradition in India. She had a good education and developed a strong spiritual interest even as a child. It is said that she was martyred by her mother-in-law, and that she was the target of many reproaches and critics, which lead her to become unhappy and resentful of her new family and husband. Probably some questions must have risen in her mind, due to her actual state of affairs and her growing religious inclinations:

 

For ever we come, for ever we go;
For ever, day and night, we are on the move.
Whence we come, thither we go,
For ever in the round of birth and death,
From nothingness to nothingness.
But sure, a mystery here abides,
A Something is there for us to know.
(It cannot all be meaningless)
.”

~

I will weep and weep for you, my Soul.
The world has caught you in its spell.
Though you cling to them with the anchor of steel,
Not even the shadow of the things you love
Will go with you when you are dead.
Why then have you forgot your own true Self?

[…]

The life and path of Kashmiri woman saint Lal Ded… (READ MORE…)

 

Khetwadi Lane

The small village of Kandalgaon had just woken to a new day. The heat was slowly gathering in strength, and a few columns of smoke were the signs that another working day was on its way. “Maruti! Maruti!” Parvati Bai was once again calling her son. She was always worried about her six children, especially the last one, so unsettled, always running around. They came here to cultivate the land after having lived in Bombay, where Maruti was born in 1897. Shivrampant Kambli and his wife were deeply religious parents, and had named their last son Maruti after the god Hanuman, whose festival was taking place when he came into the world. Maruti loved the many works in the farm, tending the cattle, helping in the fields. He had a good mind, intent, curious, and loved to listen to his father’s Brahmin friend Vishnu Haribhau Gore, when he came home. He found him to be such a wise man, and so kind! 

In the land, life was running its course, year after year. When Maruti reached the age of eighteen, his father died. He had to follow his elder brother to Bombay, to support the family, accepting various little jobs. Eventually, he ended up running a little shop of beedis, these small hand-rolled country cigarettes. While raising his small enterprise to stability, he got married with Sumatibai. Once again, life had settled for Maruti. His business was working well — he had now eight little shops, he had a family with four children, and he seemed to be destined to a quiet shopkeeper life in this corner of the busy, tentacular Bombay. So be it!… But life had more in stock for the little Bombay beedi seller. One day, when he was 36, he was invited by his friend Yashwantrao Bagkar to go and visit the guru Siddharameshwar Maharaj. From this moment on, everything changed. The words of this guru were a blessing for Maruti’s simple, eager, one-pointed mind. As he later recalled: “I abided in one thing only: the words of my Guru…”

I simply followed his instruction, which was to focus the mind on pure being, ‘I am’, and stay in it. I used to sit for hours together, with nothing but the ‘I am’ in my mind and soon the peace and joy and deep all-embracing love became my normal state. In it all disappeared — myself, my guru, the life I lived, the world around me. Only peace remained, and unfathomable silence.”

[…]

Continue reading this homage to Nisargadatta Maharaj… (READ MORE…)

 

Insights into Wholeness

‘Science against Obscurantism’ – Giacomo Balla, 1920 – WikiArt

 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour

~ William Blake 

 

It really was a thrill. The day when David Bohm was announced to come and participate at our staff meeting. This was back in the years when I was working in Brockwood Park, the school founded in England by J. Krishnamurti. Just realise: one of the greatest theoretical physicist of the 20th century, who worked closely with Albert Einstein and had numerous insightful dialogues with Krishnamurti — participating in creating this very school we were in — was here a humble friend amongst us. My poor English at the time was making rather challenging the understanding of this man’s soft, monotonous voice. But the quality of his thinking and analysis, the speed with which he would come up with and express meanings to the questions that were raised during our dialogues, were indeed impressive. Above all, his humble and unassuming demeanour was touching beyond measure. He was truly a gentle man. 

David Joseph Bohm was born in 1917 in Pennsylvania, USA to a Jewish family of Eastern European descendance. His early career around the Second World War started rather spectacularly, since he was asked by Robert Oppenheimer to work with him in the secret laboratory created to design the atom bomb, but was refused access because of his youthful acquaintances with communist ideas. Soon after this, while completing his Ph.D., he made some calculations that proved useful to the very project which he had just been barred from! But because they were now classified, he “was denied access to his own work; not only would he be barred from defending his thesis, he was not even allowed to write his own thesis in the first place!” wrote his biographer F. David Peat.

 

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David Bohm – Wikimedia

Science itself is demanding a new, non-fragmentary world view, in the sense that
the present approach of analysis of the world into independently existent parts
does not work very well in modern physics
.” 
~ David Bohm (Wholeness and the Implicate Order, 1980)

[…]

Continue reading about David Bohm’s life and insights… (READ MORE…)

 

The Unattainable One

Parvathy Baul – Wikimedia

If you want to attain 
the unattainable One,
Free yourself from all that is
Fragile and temporary.
Know yourself
.”
~ Rasika Dasa

 

In the deepest villages of Bengal, there remains today a community of vagrant singers, both mystical bards and wandering minstrels, the Bauls. For centuries they have been treading the dust of the roads, with a firm and aerial step, at the rhythm of their daily needs and highest aspirations. The term ‘baul’, derived from the Sanskrit ‘vatulā’, means ’he who is affected, or carried away by the wind’. It might also refer to the term ‘vyakula’, meaning ‘impatient eagerness for god’, or ’auliyā’, a word of Arabic origin meaning ‘holy’, ‘ascetic’. But the asceticism of the Bauls is not lost in penances and meditations, is not only about achieving the set goal. It is rather a kind of refinement in the expression of the moment, a healthy ‘madness’ expressing through dance, music, and songs, the love of the divine and the spontaneity of living. Coming from both Hindu and Muslim religions, the Bauls retain nevertheless a fierce freedom of spirit and are rebellious to any ideology, following no ritual, referring to no scriptures. They are ’outside’, offbeat, refreshing and unique. […]

Continue reading about the Bauls of Bengal… (READ MORE…)

 

At the Feet of the Rishis

The true prevails, not the untrue.”
~ Mundaka Upanishad, Hymn III.1.6

सत्यमेव जयते नानृतं

~

 

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In January 1950, in the wake of her freshly acquired independence, India adopted the motto that was to adorn the base of the Lion Capital of Ashoka, one simple phrase: “The true prevails, not the untrue.” How revealing that this country has put on her national emblem a mantra excerpted from the Mundaka Upanishad (Hymn III.1.6). This mantra is a profoundly significant spiritual message, and it will be inscribed on all Indian currency and official documents. The author is unknown, as is the case with all authors of the Upanishads, these ancient texts which Eknath Easwaran described as “towering peaks of consciousness”. The time has come here to pay tribute to these anonymous sages or rishis who produced these famous hallmarks of spirituality.

The Upanishads are a collection of hymns that have been, according to tradition, ‘seen’ or ‘heard’ (Shruti in Sanskrit, ‘that which is heard’), and transmitted orally. They ring in many a spiritual seekers’ memory with names like Isha, Kena, Katha, or Chandogya, and as a source of sacred knowledge. They were embedded in the Vedas – meaning ‘knowledge’ – which are old bodies of text formulated in Sanskrit between the 17th and 8th century BC in northwestern India. These Vedas are made of four collections of hymns – usually in verse – that form the basis of the Vedic religion, namely the Rg-Veda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Atharvaveda. The community and domestic religious life in these ancient times revolved around complex ceremonies, which could easily last a day, a week, or sometimes even weeks or months. This vast literature is filled with cultic formulas, liturgical chants, mythological stories, praises to a God, magic hymns, commentaries, the purpose of which was most often to obtain favors from the Gods. The most important hymns were the ones to Agni, the fire in all its forms, to Soma, the drink of immortality and a special offering in any ritual act, to the Gods (Indra, Mitra, Varuna, and many others) or to nature (the Sun, the Earth, Heaven, Night, Dawn). They may also contain some early philosophical speculations.

What thing I am I do not know. 
I wander secluded, burdened by my mind. 
When the first-born of Truth has come to me 
I receive a share in that self-same Word
.”
~ Rig Veda, I.164.37

Discover and read the gems contained in the Upanishads… (READ MORE…)

 

Photo by Cornelia Kopp on Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Rumi

“We are all returning.”
~ The Koran

 

“On the seeker’s path, wise men and fools are one.
In His love, brothers and strangers are one.
Go on! Drink the wine of the Beloved!
In that faith, Muslims and pagans are one
.”
~ Rumi, Quatrain 305

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در راه طلب عاقل و دیوانه یکی است
در شیوه‌ی عشق خویش و بیگانه یکی است
آن را که شراب وصل جانان دادند
در مذهب او کعبه و بتخانه یکی است

 

Rumi is a giant. Somebody whose words resonate with the perfume of truth, but about whom we paradoxically know very little. At least I didn’t. Quoted far beyond the small circle of spiritual seekers, he is taken for granted, like a distant angular stone of spirituality. His verses are shared, loved as so many gems of human history, but without showing off. And yet, what depth of understanding they convey! In what subtle and intricate ways they describe the torturous alleys of spiritual endeavour! And with what simplicity!

 

Why do you stay in prison
When the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
Flow down and down in always 
widening rings of being
.”
~ ’The Essential Rumi’ (Translated by Coleman Barks)

 

Rumi was a Sufi. He was born Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, in 1207, in Balkh in present day Afghanistan, in a family of Sufi tradition. Sufism, which could be defined as ‘the inward dimension of Islam’, has its origins shrouded in mystery. How did it suddenly grow, nobody knows. The word comes from ‘sūf’ which refers to the woollen garment worn by the first mystics who broke away from the mainstream Islamic religion. Sufism didn’t grow in opposition to Islam, the religion that gave it birth around the 9th century, but as a deepening, a going back to the very source and meaning behind traditional Muslim orthodoxy. The Sufi devotee wanted to feel, to know God as the true presence in the heart, not putting an illusory figure at a distance to be worshipped. That’s how Sufism placed love, the love of god, at the centre and expressed it in the most exquisite poetry. That’s how music and dance were allowed and praised. Sufism is understanding and living this primary statement of faith in Islamic religion: ‘There is no god but god.”

Immerse yourself in Rumi’s path of divine love and poetry… (READ MORE…)