Laughing Buddha

The 11 Commandments Of The New-Age-Ego

unnamed

The ego, as you know, is clever, very clever. It can utilize everything for its own protection and perpetuation – including spirituality. With the very tools created for its dissolution, it can etch out a new version of itself. And since the old big-bad-ego has got more bad press than Kim Jong-un, it has been reinventing itself across the world in a new avatar: the new-age-ego. Since it is even more deceptive in this crystal-addicted, incense-sniffing guise, GD and me had a sit down to identify this new-age-ego in all its new-age glory. At the end of our hilarious session, we identified its eleven most important commandments, which are active below the surface at all times.

  1. THOU SHALT NOT REST
    Speed is one of the most under-appreciated tricks of the new-age-ego. Busyness, anxiety, rushing are all hallmarks of a superlative ego at work. Of course, the new-age-ego chases new-age goals, which are indisputably noble. Between perfecting your downward dog and saving gay humpback whales, the ego ensures you don’t keep any time for yourself.
    Even when you are on the potty, the ego won’t let you rest – it will insist you reply to at least three emails, read two pages of Eckhart Tolle and retweet Rumi on Twitter. After all, you have to ‘live up to your full potential’.
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  2. THOU SHALT ALWAYS HAVE SOMEONE TO STAND AGAINST
    Without an opposition, any good ego would just wither away, so it needs to maintain the perception of an enemy. Whether it’s the corporations or the cults, whether it’s old feudal religions or new two-minute-noodle sects, the ego must have opposition. What’s the point of all your spiritual learning, the ego whispers, if you can’t even use it to prove how unevolved, lost and clueless the others are! To create a powerful ‘I’, one must create a powerful ‘you’.
    Tip: To create an ultra-strong-industrial-strength-ego, judge the entire planet and everybody that lives on it.
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  3. THOU SHALT ‘SPIRITUALIZE’ YOUR WORLDLY DESIRES
    Let’s make this simple. Working hard for months to earn money for a Ferrari is bad, but visualising and manifesting a Ferrari is good… and spiritual. Instead of revealing your desperation to impress chicks, let the Ferrari be proof of how open and receptive you are to abundance.
    Wise ancient teachers intoned that ‘greed’ is the cause of suffering, so no problem: simply chase ‘abundance’ instead! Say “I am not greedy, hungry, desperate and insecure – I just want abundance!” That way, you can be completely entangled in the Maya while still maintaining the glow of transcendence in your Facebook posts.
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  4. THOU SHALT GLORIFY THY MUNDANE EXISTENCE
    Thou shalt give spiritual meaning and interdimensional interpretation to everything. Name your kid after an unheard of Sufi Mystic. Name your dog after an unpronouncable Zen Master. See mysterious synchronicities in Facebook posts. And mistake truck headlights for landing Plaeidian spacecraft!
    If you have a toothache, it is because of an X-class solar flare in Sunspot AR2291. And if you fart like a bulldog, you are merely purging your root chakra!
    Bottomline: To create a spectacular, topped-to-the-brim ego, make sure there is nothing simple or ordinary about your life.
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  5. THOU SHALT NOT BE RESPONSIBLE
    Misapply the principle of non-doership to suit your needs. Take credit for everything that’s going well, and blame the universe/karma/life lesson for the rest. Bottomline: if you make a pile of money, attribute it to your high vibrations and connections with the ascended masters. But if you go bankrupt, call it the ‘dark night of the soul’ and throw an about-to-be-enlightened party.
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  6. THOU SHALT SEEK BUT NEVER FIND
    Keep up the appearance of spiritual seeking, the ego advises, but remember to always remain in the state of ‘I’m-almost-there’. Become a workshop junkie or a guru shopper but remember what you seek should always remain ‘just-around-the-corner’. If you are the armchair seeker variety, scrounge hungrily on Amazon or YouTube to purchase even more books you will never read and mark new videos you will never see.
    Bottomline: Scatter all your energies on the internet, follow dozens of teachers simultaneously, pontificate on chat groups, go to bed every night confused, overwhelmed and exhausted. Become so addicted to seeking that there is no space for finding.
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  7. THOU SHALT BE OBSESSED WITH THE BODY
    Keep asserting that you are an ‘infinite being beyond time and space’, while keeping a hawk-eye on every pimple, wrinkle and milligram of flesh on your waistline. Use all your spiritual tools to look younger, fitter and manifest a neon halo. Perfect your soul beads, your esoteric body processes, and your macro-vegan-lactose-intolerant-glutenfree diet.
    Tip: Being obsessed with the body is the best way to maintain a rock solid six-pack ego!
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  8. THOU SHALT CONSTANTLY BE LOOKING FOR A PERFECT PARTNER
    Your purpose in life is to find the One who will fulfill you, complete you and make you eternally happy. No, no, what made you think we’re talking about God? We are talking about your soul mate!
    So thou shalt be constantly looking for the perfect partner… even if you just got engaged last week! In case you don’t have any luck, switch to Plan B: Thou shalt constantly try to perfect your existing partner.
    Tip: Being obsessed with the ‘other’ is like Viagra for the new-age-ego.
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  9. THOU SHALT OBSESSIVELY PROTECT YOURSELF
    It very important that you feel increasingly vulnerable and sensitive as proof of your enormous evolution. So you must need more and more protection from entities, black magic, negative energy… and especially your spouse and relatives! Gift yourself a fortress of crystals, candles, talismans and other expensive energetic protection tools. Because you’re worth it.
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  10. THOU SHALT FIND YOUR ‘SPECIALNESS’
    What’s the point of being spiritual if it does not even make you feel special and unique! So find a guru who makes you feel uber unique… or find disciples who make you feel super special. Or find a complicated spiritual system with obscure terminology and infinite levels which only a chosen few understand – that too after they pay $1,11,111 (local taxes extra).
    Tip: it is not important that you understand the path or process, as long as it is expensive and the salesperson is impressive!
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  11. THOU SHALT NEVER EVER ASK THE ONE QUESTION
    This is the final and the most important commandment of the new-age-ego. Don’t ever ask the question ‘Who Am I?’
    Never, ever question – who is the one chasing desire, who is the one seeking the soul mate or who is still miserable after so many years of spiritual searching.
    You are allowed to travel to Machu Picchu, eat Spirulina till you turn green and spend a lifetime chanting Sanskrit verses, but stay away from stillness at all cost.
    Stay obsessed with past lives or future prophecies, just don’t come to this moment.
    And don’t ever, ever relax, pause and become silent. Because that is the one thing even the new-age-ego can’t survive.
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    Hungry for more spiritually irreverent humor? 
    Check out 'The Foolproof Guide To Becoming A Guru'

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Cartoons

Epifunny #6: The Right To Remain Silent

Buddhist Miranda Law

This one came out of a random, hilarious conversation between my brother/mentor GD and me. Originally, it was something about a strict guru reading a disciple his Miranda rights. We had such a laugh we decided to dedicate an ‘epifunny’ to it. Hope you enjoy it. 🙂

Artwork, GD Speaks, Journal

The Two Types of Creativity

Creativity2

To read the PDF text version to this post, click here.

Cartoons, Shah Rukh Khan

ShahRock: Chennai Express Avatar

SRK Chennai Express

Many, many years ago, I had created a cartoon character called Shah Rock for my friend, actor Shah Rukh Khan. Someday, we both hoped, we could do a live action + animation movie starring Shah Rukh and Shah Rock.

Over the years, I have updated Shah Rock in the many movie avatars of Shah Rukh. Here’s the latest – for his film “Chennai Express” which is set to get the biggest opening of all time.

Journal, Parenting

Look Pa, No Rules !!!

Nirvaan at The Beach

My son is at an age when he creates the rules of whatever games he plays. And still gets that the point of every game is to have fun. So if he dashes into a wall in an online game, he claps with glee. Collecting the maximum widgets doesn’t make sense to him yet. He is just as happy prancing around aimlessly.

As he grows up, he will be taught that every game has a purpose. And rules. And only one correct end goal. He will feel sad when he doesn’t reach that end. And frustrated when he feels he’s not good enough. He will get stressed playing the same game. He may begin to feel that if he hasn’t completed or mastered something, it was a waste of time.

Gradually, as he becomes an adult, he will completely forget that the rules came afterwards. Not just in his play – which will become serious and competitive – but in life too. He will forget that the bottomline of the game of life, too, is to have fun. He will believe that collecting the maximum widgets called ‘money’ is the only correct point of this game.

He will buy into the rules: that you can only be happy once you can be described as successful or rich or have a perfect body; or that you can’t live ecstatically until you find the perfect partner or perfect enlightenment. He may add rules, limitations and conclusions around his creativity that don’t allow him to be spontaneous and original. He may even lock himself down with judgments about what he can wear, what he can eat and how he should live in order to not ‘fail’ at life.

But maybe, someday, his own child will come running, squealing with joy towards him across the grass… and tumble. And then laugh with wild joy and do it again because falling is so much fun! And hopefully, that day, my son will remember that it is only a grown-up rule that falling down is bad.

And, in fact, that rules in life are actually arbitrary. The solid realities that bind us are enforced by thoughts and concepts that we have breathed life into. He will realize he can still choose any rule… but he doesn’t have to! And he may join his son in laughing because he will instantly feel freer than he has felt in many years. He will have fun once again in that moment when he is playing the game like he did as a child — without someone else’s rules.

Picture courtesy Vishal Punjabi @ The Wedding Filmer

Journal, Laughing Buddha

Shh! Don’t Tell Anyone I’m Happy…

Fear of Happiness

“We really have a good life,” my wife says to me on a Monday afternoon as she snuggles into bed in her favorite pajamas and snug old t-shirt. As a healer, she doesn’t have fixed work hours, and now, as a consultant, neither do I. So we spend some happy daytime hours with our three-year-old son. But I feel a familiar twinge inside me: Don’t say it, it might go away.

“I sometimes use you as an example of someone who has a good marriage, a great job and is a great father,” my brother and mentor GD says to me on the phone. Even before I can feel the compliment, something contracts in my chest: Don’t celebrate it or something bad will happen!

You see, I have an irrational superstition about acknowledging the goodness in my life. Like I need to hide my little happiness from some nasty Ogre of Destiny who walked past little ole me – and blowing the party whistle may just make him look down: Hmmm…. How did I miss YOU?

In the past, my paranoia went so far that I was terrified of taking an action to assert confidence of continuation or (gasp…!) permanence. As if the very act would tempt Fate. An example: when I was dating my current wife, at one point I was living in at her apartment. But I never kept my toothbrush in her bathroom stand, preferring to carry it in my bag every day: Don’t claim to know the future! It sounds funny now, but in my head, the placement of that toothbrush decided the fate of our future offspring.

So I have lived with an inner certainty that it can and will all come crumbling down anytime now. And that every smiling picture I take will someday be used with a caption: ‘In Happier Times’. I try to convince myself that things aren’t as wonderful as they seem – no matter how it looks to others – so I don’t get ‘carried away’. The mind advises that it’s the best way of protecting myself from the shock of tragedy, when it does happen. (“Because Life is meant to be a painful struggle, and every sane, sensible person knows that happiness is fleeting, temporary and delusional” – the Mind)

But unfortunately, this is also the best way to keep joy and ecstasy outside the door. Focusing only on what needs to be fixed makes life an endless To-Do List. Acknowledging your happiness may make you a target of jealousy, but it’s also likely to make you a source of inspiration. And that’s worth it. For just a little while, I can relax the resistance against fully feeling joy and let go of the radar that’s constantly scanning for trouble.

And I can re-examine this ancient fear that if I celebrate my life, the happiness will go away. Maybe if I celebrate my life, then the happiness will definitely stay for at least for one more moment – this moment! And the next moment will be born out of this moment. And moment by moment, a virtuous circle of celebration will be created. A rolling snowball of joy that resonates with others who also celebrate their lives. And someday, even if a shock of tragedy comes, it will be cushioned within this soft expansive love for Life; and staying numb is a dumb solution anyway.

Because all said and done – I can say it now – I do have an amazing life. What about you?

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?

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Uncategorized

The Picture Perfect Relationship

The Myth of The Perfect FamilyA car parks at dusk in the gravel driveway of a picket-fenced suburban home. A square-jawed man steps out, joyfully greeted by a bounding dog. His photoshop-perfect wife, just back from her high-profile job, kisses him at the doorstop: ‘Oh honey, you must be so tired. Let me fix you a cup of tea.’ As they settle down on their favorite couch, they share the funny incidents of their day. Laughter. They move to kiss. Fade Out.

If this is not what your relationship looks like, this post is for you. If this is what your relationship looks like, come back again in a year.

This post is about the box into which we try to fit our relationships, the parameters of which we have got from books, movies, advertising, sitcoms and ‘80s pop songs. We have an investment in believing things can and should look a certain fixed way. Which involves impossible words like unconditional and eternal love, total trust and unbreakable commitment. With mind-reading ability thrown in.

After the first flush of hormones, it becomes clear that these aren’t happening as natural by-products of romantic love, as we had secretly hoped. So we begin to ‘work’ on our relationship. Instead of altering the ill-fitting suit, we bind and cut off parts of ourselves to fit into it. The beauty is that we are mostly not aware of this at a conscious level. It’s an unspoken struggle between a couple employing cajoling, rewarding, shaming, aggression and threat to get to the picture perfect.

Is it possible that instead of one perfect relationship, there are seven billion different possibilities of perfect relationships, my mentor GD asked me the other day. What if our relationship didn’t need to look like our parents’ relationship – or the rebellious opposite of theirs – to be right? What if a relationship was as unique as our thumbprint?

I find just being open to this possibility immensely relieving and freeing. As I deeply open to this question, I find I am present in this moment to my partner instead of trying to load upon her the heavy shell of how-she-should-be. Even if there is a ‘problem’, instead of an umbrella judgment and rejection, there remains a simple statement of what action of my partner doesn’t work for me.

The best part is that in giving her the freedom to not be the picture perfect wife, I free myself. In this freedom, love, like a happy little brook, comes quietly bubbling up.

Parenting

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.

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Journal, Parenting

A Huggable Gratitude Mantra From A Three Year Old

Boy Hugging Planet

A few days ago, I was dejected: the boutique hotel we had chosen for our family holiday called to say they had been sold out just a few hours before. As I walked off into my room gloomily, my three-year-old son tagged behind me, asking me: what happened, papa?

Papa is sad, I told him.

Why, he persisted.

I looked into his serious eyes and decided to give him the truth even though it would not make any sense to him: “The hotel we wanted to stay in for our holidays does not have rooms for us so papa is sad.”

He screwed up his forehead trying to understand, then replied: “But mama is still there.”

I stopped in my tracks. Yes, it was true: I did still have his mama, and him, and my family. And so much more to be happy for in that moment. I took a deep breath. And I realized I had more than enough air to fill my lungs for the rest of my life. I had enough earth to explore for the rest of my days. And my life itself is a pure gift – none of us can ‘earn’ even a moment of it.

That tiny exchange with my son triggered off a little snowball of gratitude. Over the week, I began to see that what I called my ‘burdens’ were blessings I was blaming to avoid facing the real issues; and those ‘real’ issues didn’t actually exist outside of my thoughts. Perhaps the only thing as amazing as seeing how much is perfect in your life is seeing how easily the mind gets locked onto the tiny apparent imperfections.

It turned out to be a challenging week, with a few unexpected expenses, delays and stressful moments. But whenever I found myself pulled down into negativity, I reminded myself: But mama is still there. It made me smile and became my personal code to remind me of everything that is all around serving me in that moment.

Eventually, our hotel room worked out perfectly too, as we have found an even better option – a mountain cottage – for ourselves. But the greater joy is in knowing that, regardless of whether it happened or not, ‘mama is still there’.