It’s Amazing – But is it Spirituality?

Spirituality vs New AgeThe other day my mentor GD mused, “In the past, people worked from 9 to 5, month after month, to buy a fancy car; these days they just try to manifest it using affirmations and visualizations. So things are not that different! We have simply found more clever and subtler means to fulfill our desires. It is not wrong in itself, but is it really spirituality?”

This is a question I have asked myself for many years too. Today, we have a plethora of healing tools and processes on the planet to upgrade our life experience. As a lifelong process junkie, I have explored many of them myself, but I have wondered: is this spirituality?

Spirituality, in its purest sense, is the quest to find your true nature: who am I?

However, in Eastern tradition also, the scope of spirituality was not limited to sitting meditation and self-enquiry. It embraced physical mastery like yoga, tantra and t’ai chi. But the goal was always to transcend body, sexuality and the world. It wasn’t in order to get ‘killer buns’ or ‘a bodacious booty’. And an attempt to manifest a new chariot would probably have come under the realm of sorcery.

The quest for happiness is innate in beings. And the attempt to find it through persons, objects and experiences is natural. The difference is that in its original definition, ‘spirituality’ begins where this search ends. As the outer begins to be questioned, the inner becomes relevant. Today, perfection of the outer often becomes the goal. The focus – instead of being on the question ‘who am I’ – is on ‘what I want’ and ‘what I need’. And tools for ‘abundance’ are never used to attract an abundance of awareness or emptiness.

The tricky part, which took me years to understand, is that dismissing these tools of manifestation and mastery would be throwing out the baby with the bath water. We are fortunate to live in a time when more powerful energetic tools for healing and transformation are available than ever before. I would recommend anyone who is unfamiliar with this treasure chest to explore it and transform their life – there is no glory in living a stressful, conflict-ridden lifestyle. But time and again, do pause and question: are the dreams you are seeking to fulfill through these spiritual tools really yours or just advertising-fuelled consumerism?

Don’t justify a quest for material abundance as an affirmation and celebration of Life. Celebrating the world is not clinging to the world; just as owning a forest has nothing to do with enjoying a forest. And I’m not suggesting real spirituality needs renunciation. You don’t need to become a monk and sell your Ferrari – just keep in your garage, not in your heart.

The mind is always searching for that one practice, insight, technique which will give it control, security and happiness-without-sadness. And whether it is getting a new job or a new-age practice, neither seems to finally deliver it. This, to me, is the awareness that is at the heart of true spirituality. Fulfilling personal desires is not wrong, but whether the tools come from Harvard Business Review or Higher Entities, I see that they are amazing, but question if they are spirituality.

At some point, the focus must shift from polishing the persona to transcending the persona. Healing and bodywork must go beyond the vain pursuit of a perfect body. And even meditation must evolve beyond seeking repetition of a higher octave of pleasant experiences. That is the real miracle worth manifesting.


An imaginary person, an imaginary journey & an imaginary destination

Imaginary Self

A few months ago, my brother and mentor GD shared a radical perspective on life that put everything in question, even spiritual seeking. Here, in condensed form, is the essence of what he said:

“You are an imaginary person
walking on an imaginary path
trying to reach an imaginary goal.

Whatever we think we are, is simply our imagination.
Whatever we think we are becoming is also part of imagination.

And our so-called spirituality is mostly about
fixing or freeing an imaginary entity in our heads.

Our entire ‘life’ is lived in imagination.

We are dreaming throughout the day, thinking we are awake.”

His words rocked a core structure. If the ‘me’ is a fiction created out of words and beliefs, then ‘who’ needs to be enhanced or liberated? Moreover, did this mean that working on transcending ‘me’ was coming from the false perspective that there is a ‘me’ present at all? Was spirituality not about progressively losing concepts and clearing beliefs? After all, even enlightenment is a carrot promised in the future to a person who is taken to be real. A ringing silence inside told me GD’s words were true. An unmistakable clarity and lightness settled in the space where the noisy ‘me’ had been.

Soon after, I got to see the down-to-earth value of this, when the conversation shifted gears into a prickly situation concerning my mother. As my wife, my mother and I expressed our strong points of view, GD asked us to notice how quickly the imaginary ‘Sense-of-I’ appears real and solid again. Sure enough, righteous thoughts had begun sparking. I noticed the loudest thought: “WHY AM I BEING UNFAIRLY BURDENED!?

As I replayed the thought again consciously, it became obvious that this ‘I’ was just a word, a sound, an empty container! The picture of a sad ‘me’ being burdened was no more real than a cartoon illustration. Suddenly, the booming voice within sounded tinny, fake and meaningless.

Laughter erupted. Not as a result of a gradual healing system, a clearing process or guided meditation. Just the ‘I’ – that false wooden peg-leg upon which the whole problem stood – had been momentarily knocked off. In an instant, there was open space, irrepressible laughter and love.


The Sky Of Your Being


Jeff Foster Quote


Gyandev GDAt 14, he had an experience of oneness and clarity that haunted him and eventually changed the course of his life. At 28, he quit his career as an advertising executive to live with his spiritual teacher. Today, he is a pyschic empath and intuitive healer living in Pune, India, with a happy backyard menagerie of squirrels, coucals, pigeons, mongooses and a cat-without-a-name. Read his story on my updated ‘About GD‘ page with a gorgeous new digital painting and details on how to contact him… 🙂

GD Speaks, Life-Saving Tips

The Endless Running Inside

Subway Surfer

My son’s favorite iPad game these days is Subway Surfers. For those who haven’t played it, the objective is quite simple. It’s set inside a train yard. You play as young vandal Jake who is on the run from the grumpy inspector and his Pitbull dog. You dash from train to train, and jump from track to track, going faster and faster. There is no finish line, you just keep collecting coins endlessly. Or until you collide into a wall or an oncoming train.

It strikes me as being such a great metaphor for the mind. A thought comes, and we hop on the train of association – one thought leads to another, then the mind jumps to a feeling, then hops onto a stray passing memory, then changes tracks to a fantasy. And this goes on all day. The trains and the environments keep changing but the running continues. The mind does not really care which train it hops on. In fact, most of the time we don’t even know that we have hopped on. We just keep endlessly surfing the subways of our minds, and keep colliding with oncoming life.

The opposite of this insane, perpetual-motion state, my brother and mentor GD says, is being in Presence. Being in presence is just a remembrance. There is no push. It’s the reverse of push – it’s a letting go. A gentle awakeness. It’s a very gentle questioning. It’s questioning the dream all the time. He often suggests some interesting questions to bring people back to Presence:

Am I truly ‘Awake’ in this moment, or am I lost in the dream?

Am I truly CONSCIOUS, or am I lost in the jungle of mind?

What stories and imaginations am I making real in this moment?

Or, you could use the question I quietly ask myself these days to snap out of the dream: Is my mind subway surfing again?


GD Speaks, Poems

Thank You For Nothing

GD Gyandev

As my blog completes one year today, I would like to offer a thank-you for the one who inspired me (and kicked my scared butt initially) into starting it: my brother and spiritual mentor GD. Of course, his contribution in my life goes far beyond this blog. Here’s a little poem I wrote for him.

thank you for nothing
thank you for the silence

thank you for never giving me
any ground to stand upon

for the kindness of pretending
that my problems exist

and then for the kindness of
showing me they don’t

thank you for the emptiness of meditation
thank you for the fullness of heart

without you, my life would be



The Spiritual Gifts of Parenting

Spritual Parenting

This morning I heard a talk by the insightful Buddhist meditation teacher Deborah Ratner Helzer about her year as a monk in Burma. Living in a hut frequented by snakes, scorpions and spiders the size of her hand, she braved malnutrition in the most challenging experience of her life. Everything after that would be easy, she said. Until she became a parent.

Being a parent has been the most rewarding and difficult part of my spiritual life too. At times, I have been almost moved to tears by the lack of control over my schedule. The concept of a lazy day of solitary ‘me-time’ is as extinct as the Dodo bird. ‘Silence’, ‘Space’ and ‘Neatness’ are relics of a bygone era Deborah Ratner called “BC” (Before Children).

For many months, I searched for support on this subject in the form of books or spiritual teaching but found precious little. Recently, though, I have begun to consider the spiritual gifts parenting could bring.

The overwhelming experience of loving someone more than yourself is the most noticeable change for most parents. Nothing broke my self-centered bubble like this incredible love did. In spiritual terminology, it is the perfect heart chakra opener for introverted, ‘mental’ meditators.

Then, there is the obvious privilege of watching Pure Consciousness without stories functioning in human form. And the wonder of re-seeing the world through a child’s eyes. Living with such an unconditioned being throws into contrast your own lazy, solidified behavior patterns.

Another gift, Deborah Ratner Helzer pointed out from her experience, is that being a parent gives a sense of urgency to your spiritual practice. You must carve out the time for your daily meditation – you can’t be casual about it.

Yet another gift, my wife reminded me, is that we become conscious there is a sensitive being who is absorbing our fears and neuroses: a real impetus to look within and clean up our act.

Over the last two years, I have noticed there is also a sense of heightened awareness of the world we are creating for our children. And a responsibility to try making it a little better, kinder place.

But as I learnt during our recent summer holiday to Dharamsala, perhaps the most unexpected gift of parenting is how effortlessly a child can destroy our spiritual ego.

We took little Nirvaan to see the Tushita Meditation Centre. It turned out a retreat was in progress and the entire campus was a Silent Zone. Try telling that to a three-year-old! While I struggled to connect with a little moment of silence and browse the bookstore, I could feel a tug on my jeans every few seconds.

“Papa, can I have a sweet?”
Shhh, in five minutes.
(10 seconds later) “Papa, I want a sweet now!”
Yes, just give me two minutes.
(5 seconds later) “But I want a sweet NOW….”

Being forced to play ‘the-scattered-tourist-with-a-noisy-kid’ in a place where I would normally have been at home, I felt angry with my situation. The frustration continued to brew within as we sat for lunch in the noisiest Tibetan restaurant in Dharamsala. Then it struck me to question which part of me was upset. Was it the spiritual ego that desperately wanted to show off my meditative calm to the spiritual folk there? It was. And thanks to my son, I had failed completely. Seeing this let go of the complainer within, and a silence fell in the midst of the restaurant. This was not the cultivated silence of a garden, it was the genuine, deep stillness of a forest.

I realized that what happens on the black mat during retreats is called ‘practice’ because it is practice for the real thing: Life. At times, real life can seem like a hard, rocky road, but with those rocks, you can also build your church.


GD Speaks

Specialness ~ An extra-ordinary talk by GD

Deepti Gujar’s “extra-ordinary” post on Specialness includes a free audio download of GD speaking on the subject. Where all do you still try to maintain your specialness? Where have you become imprisoned by your talent and cut off from life? A worthy exploration…

Flowering of eternity

This is one of the best talks I’ve ever heard. It is one of those group sessions where GD opens to a page in A Course In Miracles, starts reading it, and opens up a discussion in the group based on the lines. This is a talk I kept visiting once…twice…thrice and every time I did, I became more aware of acting out from specialness. Eventually I just sat down with my journal and started making a note of all the places where I play out this specialness, pausing it at very intervals. GD has so incisively pulled out the many different angles to this subject that it is one hell of an ego buster! Though of course, he does it with his characteristic humour that softens some of the blow 🙂

I invite you to hear it with this context – Are you aware of the many ways in…

View original post 362 more words

Journal, Quotes

Behind The Mind: The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin

Zen Landscape

One of the most beautiful and unknown gems in Eastern non-duality, whom I recently discovered thanks to my mentor GD, is Wu Hsin. Born a hundred years after Confucius, his name literally means ‘no-mind’. And true to his name, there is no trace of him available – no profile, no wikipedia entry, one single image. This is just how he would have liked it I suppose – after all, what is the value in deliberating over the life story of someone who says our life story is a dream?Wu Hsin

Behind The Mind’ is a collection of his short daily discourses, some of them literally just a few sentences long, at the end of which he tells students to ponder over the words till the next day. Like the recent and better-known Nisargadatta Maharaj, Wu Hsin’s words are stark, unsentimental and powerful. “Listen to Wu Hsin,” he says, “but do not expect to benefit in any way. Who is there to be benefitted? Any seeming benefit is only another stitch in the tapestry of the personal narrative.”

A few timeless pointers from this must-read collection: 

An imagined entity desires to become an enlightened imagined entity. What’s the point? It is like trying to measure space. Yet, this will continue until such time as the distinction is made between this that I am and that that I appear to be.

Dismount the pendulum of fear and desire. That ground beneath you is the Source and Support.

See that you create the space in which the world moves, the time in which it lasts. Come to realize that the world is only sand. You may play with it, you may walk on it, but don’t build your house there. There is no journey, as such. It may not seem so, but we are always back where we started. What we were in essence, and what we will be in essence, is what we are in essence.

All thinking is imaginary because the person talking to you is imaginary. There is no self talking to yourself; in fact, there also is no “yourself”. Stay a time in silence. Do not accept these words; look for yourself for “yourself”.

The two great delusions are that life is controllable and that there is an entity, me, who can exercise said control. But if we cannot even control the thoughts that appear to us, how can we possibly believe we can control what occurs to us?

Wherever you go, you carry with you the sense of here and now. This is what distinguishes any present experience from memory. It reveals that space and time are in you and not the other way around. Most people are not acquainted with the sense of their being but only with the knowledge of their doing.

Enlightenment is one more concept to add to your collection, yet another idea regarding improving yourself, discovering yourself, or obtaining peace and happiness.

Don’t take life personally. The sun has no care for what passes through the sky.

* * *

Image used under creative commons via Avard Woolaver
Life-Saving Tips

12 Pitfalls After That First Glimpse

Bridge To EnlightenmentOne of the rare writings I have cherished and revisited many times over the last many months has been a piece by nondual teacher Scott Kiloby on the long (and confusing) phase between initial seeing and full liberation. Little is written about this subject, and Kiloby has some truly eye-opening insights to share. I urge you to read the entire piece called ‘After The Fall’ on Scott’s website here. Meanwhile, an extract on 12 things to watch out for in this phase. Download it for your weekend read, you will treasure it for a long time. 


If you will allow me to use language freely….

These days, it seems that more and more people are experiencing shifts in perception or initial realizations of Oneness or no self, much like a satori experience in Zen.  The seeing or event isn’t always accompanied by bells and whistles.  It isn’t always one grand moment where absolutely everything drops away into a deep recognition of Oneness.  It may be more subtle than that, like a shift in perception that quietly dawns upon you.

But I’ve been around the awakening scene long enough to know that these experiences aren’t usually the end of the seeking entirely and that there is often more to see.  Yet the “more” isn’t as much about seeking some later point in one’s story.  The “more” is actually “less.”  Stuff falls away gradually after these events, eventually leaving one surrendered in and as the flow of life, “living naturally in the present moment,” as they say.

Before one stabilizes, there is often a lot of stuff, emotional and psychological stuff, and even leftover seeking that arises.  I call this “oscillation,” which is the seeming movement back and forth between the sense of “I am my thoughts and emotions and sensations” to “I am not these things, but they still arise.”

The road to freedom is often bumpy, confusing, and filled with doubts, shadows, and old stories of deficiency, “I’m not good enough” or “I’m weak” or “I’m unlovable.”   Somehow the momentum of this old way of being in the world wants to stick around, almost as if it is hanging on for dear life.

And teachers aren’t immune from it either.  I’ve seen in myself and virtually every other teacher things like competition, jealousy, shadows, fundamentalism, control, and at the more extreme end greed, abuse, and even cult-like behavior. […]

Here are some other things I’ve seen through the years. By just spotting them in yourself, you can see through them. 

1) Avoid beliefs like “I’m not there yet” as well as “I’ve arrived.”
Both are often mental landing points of the ego.  Life is fluid and ever-changing.  The ones who claim to have arrived, either implicitly or explicitly, are often holding onto a belief that life is static and that there is someone who can “arrive” at life or even awakening.  Or perhaps the belief is “there is no one to arrive, I have arrived at that realization.”  It’s a subtle, backdoor way of saying the same thing.  And the ones that claim “I’m not there yet” are often still believing in the story of someone who can awaken, still seeking some ultimate, fictitious point in the future.  Once these beliefs are dispelled, it all gets a lot clearer.  How do I know these are beliefs….?  Because they were beliefs I’ve held, but couldn’t see.  And that’s not a statement that I have now “arrived.”

2) Watch for selective memory
Once there is a recognition that this moment is all there is, or some similar insight, it can be easy to assume that all the inquiry, methods, meetings you attended, and books you read had absolutely nothing to do with that.  It can feel like all of that is some faint memory.  It’s then tempting to want to tell everyone else who is doing inquiry, engaging in methods, and attending meetings and reading books to “STOP, JUST STOP.”  But could you just stop?  If you could have, you would have and all those inquiries, methods, meetings and books would not have been necessary.

There is a whole debate happening around whether methods are helpful or not.  Why not simplify it down to this:  methods seem to work for some and not for others.  That takes the debate right out of it.  It sucks for the ego when it can’t be right anymore.  Can any of us know what is best for another?  If you begin teaching or just helping a friend and you say, “All there is, is liberation, there’s nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one to do it,” apparently there WAS something to do i.e., listen to your words or attend your meeting.  If there were truly nothing to do and nowhere to go, no one would show up and you would not need to utter a single word about “what is” or “liberation.”

When awakening dawns, and we assume that inquiry, methods, meditation, or whatever had nothing to do with it, it’s like a guy going into a donut shop.  He eats one donut but it doesn’t make him full.  Then he eats another, then another.  Still not full.  Then after the 12th donut, he eats a muffin and says, “Damn, why did I eat all those donuts, when I could have just gotten full from eating this muffin?” We can never know how methods and inquiries are or are not helpful for others.  We can only speak what worked for us, and let the cards fall where they may.

3) Avoid denying relativity
First of all, how can you deny relativity and how would you actually do this?  When you speak or think, those thoughts divide reality up into parts.  It doesn’t matter whether the thoughts are really profound or really dumb.  They are thoughts.  The very act of denying relativity is a thought.  Pretending to be beyond relativity is a relative thought that divides life into Absolute and relative.  This writing is a relative viewpoint, and not objectively true.  It won’t even resonate with every reader.  The suffering comes from believing that your thoughts are representing a true, accurate, and objective picture of reality.  That’s the rub.

Once you begin seeing that you aren’t thinking objectively, relativity is fun, like a play. Transcending relativity is only important when you see relativity as a problem. And of course that problem is created through thinking, which is relative. Trying to eradicate pronouns or any reference to yourself or others may simply mean that you still experience what you believe to be an objective self that must censor itself.  We are always playing around with language.  But rearranging our thoughts isn’t necessarily a sign of awakening from identifying with thought. It’s just rearrangement.  And we will rearrange thoughts in any number of ways to find some landing point that divides a self against the others.  Recognizing an unshakeable silence is not personal.  Yet, we love to make it personal, like “I’ve recognized silence and you haven’t it.”  It’s another rearrangement of thoughts, an investment in some objective self.  What is there to transcend when the play of life is seen to be empty, and not actually full of real divisions?  Love it, or hate it, but at least see it as a play.

4) Keep it simple
This relates to the relativity part above. Anything you perceive as right/wrong, good/bad, enlightened/unenlightened, valuable/valueless about yourself, others, the world or reality isn’t there objectively.  It’s your thoughts.  Think away if you wish, but don’t be confused about this simple, basic point.  Of course, that goes for everything said here.

5) Avoid Dangling Carrots, Then Investigate
If you read somewhere that someone seems to have had a deeper recognition than you have, assume it’s a dangling carrot first, then investigate. People have a way of wording things that makes it look as if they are special. When they speak of stages and levels, notice that they always place themselves near the top of the stages or levels (or they place THEIR teacher there).  And this is often just a self-centered way of saying, “I’m more special.”  They may have added some belief about themselves that subtly gives them a sense of being higher or more awakened then others. Don’t fall for it.

If it pulls you into seeking into the future, it’s a carrot, a mirage, a belief that there is something presently wrong that you have to get away from or move beyond.  But do investigate.  It may be that this person has stabilized (so to speak) and is not experiencing some of the sticky points mentioned here.  Find out exactly what they are talking about and what beliefs were seen through.  Ask them.  Don’t assume you already know the answers.  It may be that they are not offering a carrot to chase into the future, but rather a deeper recognition or seeing through of some belief that many people carry around.  You may find that it’s not a matter of reaching some later stage, but more like the falling away of something believed and held to be reality.  Awakening is like that.  It’s not that you gain more. It’s that you lose.  And what you lose was not reality.  It was just a belief you were carrying.

6) Avoid the Belief that all concepts are false
That, itself, is a concept.  If you look, it is not that concepts are the issue, it’s that there is a sense of self that grasps after them.  When there is no more grasping, thought is seen to be beautiful and very much a part of human experience.  Like everything else, it is welcomed, and not made into some enemy that needs to be eradicated. Thoughts may quiet naturally, but that’s just because one loses interest in one’s story, drama and fixed conceptions of reality and even one’s story of being awakened from the story, the drama, and all fixed conceptions of reality.  What’s left?  …The capacity to express and think or not, whatever arises.  Any way you slice it, everything we say is a concept, including concepts about silence or non-conceptuality, and even the concepts that try to eradicate other concepts.

7) Be Transparent (tell on yourself at all costs)
Whether you begin teaching or helping others or not, the tendency after the fall is to be blind to the movements of self that are still operating.  And the tendency, even when you see them, is to downplay them and only speak of the plush bliss or infinite peace or beyondness or radical freedom that you have come to know.  For example, you aren’t likely to talk about how unblissful it was to puke your guts up the other night after getting food poisoning or subtle feelings of inadequacy that still pop up in your marriage.  “All that messy humanness” is irrelevant.  But how irrelevant is it?  Is this just the mind hiding behind a belief, “I’m awakened” or even “there is no one to awaken” or some other belief in transcendence?  If you have transcended all human messiness, why are you still getting upset in certain areas of relationship?  Why are you still trying to prove something to other humans, even that you have transcended everything?  Isn’t that still human stuff?  Do turtles brag about transcending turtlehood?  Do birds try to make personal claims about recognizing the air more than their fellow birds?  Stick with the simple seeing that no one cares nearly as much about your awakening story or insights as you do.  Share them freely, but see they are just part of the story of you, even the parts that talk of transcendence.  […]

8) Virtually everything comes down to fear
If you don’t know what is disturbing you, assume it’s fear and just feel it, without story.  Fear of anger, fear of fear, fear of intimacy, fear of being wrong, fear of death, fear of uncertainty, fear of being nobody, fear of not being loved, etc, etc.  Just feeling fear directly, without story, makes stabilization happen more smoothly, without the need for a dramatic “dark knight of the soul” process.  Sometimes it looks like something other than fear.  For example, getting really busy intellectualizing a grand scheme to explain intricate levels of awakening, discomfort with real intimacy with others, or a reaction against what someone says doesn’t always appear like fear at first, until you check into the body.  And there it is.

9) See through body identification
One can see “no self” when it comes to the story or pattern of thoughts and emotions, but still have a very visceral sense that “I am this body.”  Body identification accounts for a lot of the struggle experienced after the fall.  Get with someone who has seen through body identification.  It clears up a lot, especially the very subtle movement to resist uncomfortable sensations as if the sensation is you.

10) Look for any place where you are rejecting
The ego can be seen as rejection of emotions, thoughts, views, experiences, and other people.  This can continue on after the fall.  Wherever you are rejecting, notice that it is often out of fear and a continued belief in a separate self. You are afraid, even if you are trying to claim “there is no me.”  Admit it to yourself and let the emotion, all emotions, be as they are without story, facing them fully, seeing that there arise and fall and that they cannot kill you or even harm you. They are temporary energies.  That’s it.  What often trips people up after the fall is an inability to be with the most painful emotions, a subtle rejecting of your own experience. Open to it. If you have seen there is no self at the core, there is nothing to be afraid of with regard to emotions.

11) Trust your own experience:
This is one of the hallmarks of the period “after the fall.”  This is about your happiness and freedom, which can only really be found in your own experience.  Eventually, you will come to see that there is no authority.  You will come to listen to other views, and take them in, while remaining true to your own experience, finding your own voice, and letting awakening unfold for you in its own way.  If you find yourself still following every word of a teacher, re-examine that belief.  This includes what I’m saying here.  Don’t trust me. Look into these things for yourself.  Everything written here is second hand knowledge.

12) Avoid extreme views
If you find yourself uttering any opposites as if one is true and the other is not, let that be an alarm bell that lets you know you are still possibly holding onto beliefs about the experience of awakening, still trying to land somewhere.  As Buddha said, “Don’t be attached to conceptions of self or no self.”  Don’t be attached to your ideas about awakening. They are YOUR ideas, that’s all. This includes all opposites.

Scott Kiloby

Image courtesy of pixtawan /