Puja of the Form of the Self

I am of the form
of Om Namah Shivaya!
My straight spine the haft
string and faultless
My head the spear
and the crescent Moon
Three tines, piercing Heaven,
the Lord’s divine Trident.
My legs the tri-leafed base
of perfect support.
Omkara surrounds,
vault of the night sky,
stang of the Trishul upholding.

I am of the form
of Om Namah Shivaya!
Dragon Seat and semen
the food and water offered
to the stillness of the Lord.
Heart the lamp and blood the fuel
the Lord’s Light cast back,
offering Him to Himself.
Prana itself the incense,
the only perfume fit for the Beloved,
lit at the Heart’s own flame.
My brain itself Ambrosia, Soma,
bloom-nectar arousing His smile.

I am of the form
of Om Namah Shivaya!
My soul clings to Her hem,
Shakti’s feet my refuge
Father and Mother embrace
The child held safe and vibrant
Watching as radiant cascades
of Maya and Lila gambol and dance
Flowers waving in the soft breeze
of Mother’s tinkling laughter
Her bloody tongue lolling
as Mother and Father enjoy
the child’s innocent garden play.


On Finding a True Teacher

I’ve recently been undergoing a significant disillusionment with the whole occult and esoteric community. I would not say that I’ve been suffering it, as all told it has lifted great weight from my shoulders and revealed a lot of what is and is not worth my time and energy. I hasten to add that it is not with esoteric spirituality—nor with magic, etc.—that I have made a break, but with the people and organizations who have decided that they speak for it. Sadhana, practice, is the thing, and all the metaphysical philosophizing, lodge ritual, seminars, guided visualizations, and shared-around ordinations and consecrations in the world cannot help you if you aren’t willing to put in the work on your own.

It may seem odd, therefore, that I’m spilling more ink here on teachers. In Western ceremonial magic, conjure, and other forms of sorcery, teachers may be helpful but are not necessary if you’ve got access to books and other materials. Mysticism, however, irreducibly requires a mentor who has gone before you. A lot of people today really hate hearing this, but it’s no less true for that. Moreover, some modalities do require an initiation of some sort, a sharing of lineage and force, to really enter into the stream. For example, you can get something out of Tantric ritual and mantra practice just by following directions from a good book, but certain depths will be out of your reach without Guru’s grace. You don’t have to like it, and you may choose to push against the point, but that’s the way things are. It’s an experience I’ve shared with many others that as soon as one realizes this fact, a sort of despair takes hold. One may then start to chase down every inviting avenue trying to find a teacher, or else one may give up entirely thinking that the chances are just too slim to find a reliable teacher or proper lineage in this age. Or, like me, you may ping-pong between these two extremes on what seems a daily basis; the once-inviting avenues of the search reveal themselves to be blind alleys, so despair descends, only to give way to a flurry of web searching, correspondence courses, and temple visits. Wash, rinse, repeat.

And, boy, are there a lot of blind alleys masquerading as yellow brick roads. Herein lies the root of my increasing lack of interest in the many teachers, organizations, discussion groups, and such: most of them are more or less harmless enthusiastic amateurs who, like amateurs in any field, desperately want to share the world which has opened up to them with others of like mind, but enough of them are some combination of tigers waiting to pounce or, maybe worse, the sincerely deluded. This latter category is the hardest to deal with because they so often look like the real deal, but an observer can watch as their peccadillos expand to engulf them and their followers as their pain-bringing obstructions grow. I have recently watched this occur with an occult writer and teacher of some note, and not without some degree of sadness on my part as I watch his following build. This, indeed, went a long way toward precipitating my present distance from the occult world; conversation about it brought a friend of mine to suggest this very blog entry.

There’s no bullet-pointed list of specific traits to look for in a real Guru, initiator, guide, or mentor because there’s no one way of “being enlightened”, no one-size-fits-all way of teaching, and no perfect human being. A good rule, however, goes back to the last paragraph. Everyone who is still embodied will carry with them some conditioning; that’s what having a brain is all about. A genuine Guru, one who has walked far along the Way, will know this and acknowledge it. They will therefore also know their own quirks well enough to mostly keep them out of the way. They will not permit mere conditioned preferences and prejudices to negatively impact the sadhana of their students. This is one of several big reasons, but among the biggest, why the majority of even the most sincere spiritual practitioners just aren’t teacher material. (This, by the way, includes me.)

It is entirely possible for a spiritual teacher to, for example, have political opinions, and it is possible for his or her students to agree or disagree with those opinions without the Guru-sishya relationship being in the slightest way disrupted. It all depends on the good faith of both sides. There is no avoiding problems, however, when said teacher tries to enforce their politics as part of their spiritual teaching or make their spiritual teaching a mere appendage of their politics—a topic about which I’ve written before, though I would have been a bit more forceful about it had I known then what I know now. This is just one example of how a teacher’s lack of self-knowledge and self-control can disqualify them. Greed, power-hungriness, egotism, and a host of other issues can arise with the unqualified. Again, it isn’t as if a true Guru will entirely lack these altogether human traits, but he or she will know about themunderstand them, and, most important of all, be able to control them through this self-knowledge and perspective. As a fellow-Nath once put it, we don’t seek perfection but excellence; perfection implies a flattening-out, while excellence enjoys the best of texture. As long as the Guru has a body and brain, just like the rest of us, the knots and pain-bringing obstructions are there; what distinguishes the Guru in this vein is that he knows them inside and out.

When one does not have this depth of self-knowledge but tries to take up the mantle of teacher and/or initiator, the pain-bearing obstructions (ignorance, egotism, attachment, repulsion, and fear of death) will tend to grow in whichever directions present the least resistance. If allowed to continue unchecked, those barriers which exist in other directions will be absorbed and used by the kleshas to continue to grow like tumors siphoning the body’s nutrients for their own use. I don’t mean to speak, here, like a Yogic physician who is expert in this process, but I have watched it happen more than once from several angles.

Be on the lookout, therefore, for hypocrisy. Even minor examples of “do as I say, not as I do” implies an underlying problem which will likely burst forth sooner or later, especially when surrounded by sycophants. Use some subtlety here. It is possible for a teacher to assign a practice to one student that he or she does not assign to all students equally, even a practice which the teacher him- or herself does not generally use. This is simply because a good teacher will dynamically respond to the different needs of people who are in different places, with different karmas and conditioning. This is fundamentally, and recognizably, different from passive-aggression and petty double standards which conflate authority with authoritativeness.

All of this certainly plays into the old standard “by their fruits you shall know them” and this is certainly a good rule. Again, some subtlety of observation is necessary, but if a person claims powers which are not supported by the reality of their life, do you really want to learn their magic? If they speak about refinement and transcendence which is nowhere evident in their behavior, what do they have to teach you of mysticism?

Ultimately, a good teacher is found by a good student, and vice versa. Tantric sources suggest a karmic necessity to the arrangement, and I think that this is true. But even if you find that hard to accept, there does seem to be a sort of magnetism which brings a ripe student and their teacher together. Much Yoga literature therefore focuses on the qualifications of the student rather than those of the teacher. Some have observed that this seems like an imbalanced arrangement, putting the vulnerable seeker at the disposal of any number of people of bad faith. In truth, it puts the seeker very much in the driver’s seat. If a teacher is actively recruiting students, that’s a strike against already. Making oneself available is very far from putting up a billboard. Some fanfares are earned, and some merely purchased. To tell the difference often takes discrimination. Let the seeker, therefore, develop a practice which builds and encourages intelligence. Concentration and meditation, the conscious direction of one’s own mind, are a good place to start, as is a devotional practice to one’s chosen deity which tends to bring to the mind and perceptions a new level of clarity.

Some books which have been helpful for me in these reflections:

  • Bhagavad Gita, because Krishna is a good model of a Guru; he does not hide or deny his quirks but uses them to bring dynamism and personality to his teaching;
  • In Days of Great Peace by Mouni Sadhu, as a sympathetic telling of the author’s journey through the “occult rat-race” to his own Guru;
  • Concentration by Mouni Sadhu, for presenting a series of exercises leading to lucidity of the mind;
  • Initiation Into Hermetics by Franz Bardon, for giving a self-paced and well-rounded practical education in both magic and mysticism which puts one in good stead to find a spiritual home;
  • Guru Gita, as devotion to the Divine Guru within and without is a proven method of ripening to meet the human Guru;
  • Yoga Sutras by Sage Patanjali, for lucidly expressing the aims and core methods of practice leading to an awakened intellect;
  • The Phantastikos by Shri Gurudev Mahendranath (Dadaji), a lucid and non-dogmatic account of the searches and results of a Tantric Guru’s own journey, prefaced by my own Guru Sri Gurudev Kapilnath telling of how he came to Dadaji’s tutelage (two for one special!).

I wish every reader here the absolute best, whether you are looking to enter the stream of mysticism or searching for the sorcery to enhance your life here and now. Either way, choose your associations carefully, practice with sincerity, watch for results, and keep your wits about you.

The Road to Hell

The Road to Hell

I was recently given a rather pointed reminder of the bitter fact that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. This proverb has become such a cliche that we don’t often think about what it means; it gets thrown out to try and shut up those with whom we disagree in social, political, economic, or religious matters and as quickly dismissed by our interlocutors for the silly gambit it was, but it is never used as intended: introspection. Turn the phrase on yourself and see where it leads you. Sincerely ask yourself—and, by God, don’t answer immediately!—”What motivates me here?” Often, we quietly, so quietly we do not hear it ourselves, bury our ignorance, egotism, attachment, repulsion, and fear under a pile of philanthropic projects, community outreach programs, educational pursuits, or simple free-floating sentiments of humanitarianism and good-will.

For a time, there, I was multiplying my public obligations: working on writing some books, advertising my work as an astrologer and Tarot reader, teaching a meditation class, giving “talks” on various topics, and so forth. But this is precisely why we have need of the Guru. My preceptor, in a gentle but clear way, brought my attention sharply around to what I was doing. So now, I’m pulling back.

This doesn’t mean that I’m cutting all of my public involvements, nor would I presume to tell anyone else to do so. Rather, I was given the opportunity to look my own motives and needs in the face and that’s my only recommendation. Do not “vote in haste and repent at leisure” but consider why it is you want to do something, support something, say something.

This is not a repudiation of compassion. I’m sure that some will want to take it that way, but that, too, is a defense mechanism for the ego: “If you aren’t coming out in vocal support of my priorities, it’s because you must be The Enemy.” Remember, whether you are tempted to say this to someone else, or someone says it to you, it is close enough to 100% that it’s just an ego trying to protect its own borders. Real compassion doesn’t often look like either an Internet meme or a Facebook rant. It’s often much more like the Karma Yogi’s quiet willingness to do what he knows he ought, apart from any expectation of enjoying the fruits thereof. To put it sharply, “Compassion sometimes looks like indifference,” if only because the observer’s field of view is limited.

Neither is this a repudiation of taking care of one’s self. To the contrary: the understanding of one’s own motives is an irreducible necessity for real peace, freedom, and happiness. When we know why we want something (or want to avoid something) we can make more intelligent decisions as to whether or not it is worth our while. Does this actually help anyone’s attainment of peace, freedom, or happiness, or is it just another entanglement?

This is all something we have to gradually awaken to. It is the Yogic capacity for discernment—Insight, buddhipratibhā—so it does not serve us to too harshly flagellate ourselves when we fail to exercise it. It does, however, serve us to take notice when we’ve dropped the ball. For this, a spiritual friend who has walked before us along the way is invaluable. But even if you do not yet have such a person, you can always try to remind yourself: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Of the Limitlessness of Magic

There is an epidemic: magicians who don’t believe in magic. This takes many forms, from Western ritualists who don’t understand even the rudiments of astrology upon which most Western ritual magic is founded to activists who think that magic is just performance art, from witches who think it’s a fashion statement to Crowley fans who think it’s all psychoanalysis with fancy costumes—it’s a plague of missing the point. For the most part, I don’t care. People will do what they want to do, and usually do what makes them feel good regardless of how much good it actually does. Those who crave something deeper, however, will often find themselves stuck in these whirlpools of occult stagnation simply because that’s how they’ve been taught and don’t know of alternatives. I’ve seen too many promising students simply retreat back to normality because nothing they’d read or been given worked.

Even worse, the occult world is filled to overflowing with well-educated, intellectual, pop culturally aware magicians with perfectly acceptable political views—in short, utterly respectable people who are more concerned with looking respectable than they are with challenging themselves or the boundaries of the structures around them. Prioritizing social acceptability and cultural relevance over looking into dark corners and knowing wonders does not an esoteric adventurer make.

I normally do not discuss my own experiences with these things in public, and very rarely even in private. I take that tired old “To Keep Silent” thing pretty seriously, besides which it generally does no good for anybody to talk details. I’m momentarily breaking that rule, however, because I want to remind you that weird things happen. This isn’t the most impressive such tale, nor is it presented as evidence or proof of anything; it is an anecdote intended to illustrate that while these practices may be primarily mental in nature, the power unleashed thereby is not therefore all in our heads.

Years ago, I purchased a sword to use in my magical practice. I was doing some work at the time as a diviner and healer, and so needed to have my magical toolkit as full as possible for any eventuality and had to replace my last sword for an assortment of reasons. I went looking with certain criteria in mind: it had to be simple in design, full tang, balanced enough not to be awkward in my hand, and hypothetically usable as an actual weapon. The one I purchased was very blunt-edged, but able to be sharpened. I was alright with that at the time because I didn’t want my cat hurting herself on it in my one-room living arrangement.

I had been working through the evocation practices of Franz Bardon’s Practice of Magical Evocation at the same time and was at the point of going through the elemental realms and making allies in each of them, evoking said allies to visible appearance one at a time to fully integrate the forces of the elements on every level. I decided then to use the opportunity of evoking a particular elemental lord with whom I had made contact for the consecration of my new sword. The ritual went particularly well, lasting no more than an hour; I carried out my evocation according to my usual rubric and, having place the sword in the area of manifestation in advance, requested that great spirit to “bless and empower the sword in the name of the Most High and Most Inward God that it may serve me in all operations of magic henceforth”, etc. So far, so good.

Having concluded the operation, I ensured that the spirit had returned from whence I had invited him, closed the temple down and took a few minutes of rest before packing everything away inside my altar cabinet. As I took up the sword to return it to its leather scabbard for storage, I noticed that something had changed. Most immediately, it felt lighter in my hand. This being a purely subjective thing, I assumed that it was just my brain responding to the preceding ritual action but then, as I looked at the blade to guide it home, I noticed something a touch more dramatic: it was no longer blunt!

As the sword had never left the corner in which I stored my altar and magical supplies in my loft room, I was left to understand that the edge of my sword had been sharpened at some time during the ritual of evocation. 

Once again, I do not offer this anecdote as proof, for no anecdote can be proof to another of anything and to the individual supplying the story only insofar as it proves that an experience was had. I supply it, however, as an example, however minor, that the forces we work with in spiritual practice of any sort (magical, theurgic, alchemical, meditative, or whatever) are not mere psychological complexes with no relation beyond symbolic with the world around us. The psychological aspects of these forces do exist, and are generally those with which we have the most direct relationships; if, however, we take seriously the fundamental esoteric doctrine that we are all integrated, even if unconsciously, with the Totality, it must be that these points of psychological connection are just our first-line interfaces with a Reality able to reveal so much more of itself to us as we make ourselves open to it and are gifted with its revelations. Just as many traditions hold that gods are showings-forth of the All-in-One through a variety of faces, the spirits with which a magician forms relationships and the individual consciousness of the magician himself are also such masks. If I and every single manifest person or thing with which I interact are all Self-revelations of the deepest living Truth, how can I doubt that wonders occur?

The Heart of Freedom, part 3: What We Give Back

If we want to be healthy and blessed with long life we must become like Jupiter—generous, joyful, and wise. Generosity is about overcoming our habituated self-centeredness, our sense of limitation, of fear of the future, of not having or being enough. […] In this we imitate the Masters we wish to be like, and in doing so, fulfill the function of Assumption of the Godform, not as an image, but as a real, living, breathing act.

~ Mark Stavish, Child of the Sun: Psychic & Physical Rejuvenation in Alchemy and Qabalah

Just as there are some who enter the spiritual Path wondering, “What’s in it for me?,” there are always those who wonder, too, “How do I use this to save the world?” I’m not going to sugarcoat this point, because it deserves being made forcefully and forthrightly: You don’t. It is not your job to save the world (and from what?), but it is your job to be available to the people of the world and to be of benefit to them.

Śri Ramana Maharshi was fond of using parables from everyday life to illustrate the subtler points of sādhana, of those practices which clear the obstacles between ourselves and wakefulness. One that he employed on many recorded occasions concerned our responsibilities to the world as they relate to our spiritual practice: Two men board a train at the same station and are headed to the same station in another town. One of these men holds his bags for the entire trip, worrying over them and straining to ensure that they reach his destination with him. The other man sets his bags down in the appropriate holding compartment and leisurely watches the landscape go by as the train speeds along.

It is sometimes easy to misunderstand Ramana’s teachings, seeing as how most of us in the modern West lack the context of a Hindu upbringing with its attendant (at least passing) knowledge of the need for preparatory religious practices and philosophical study to understand and properly apply many of the sādhanas discussed so casually in his terse discourses. That being so, it may seem as if the parable is telling us to forego our responsibilities, relaxing and pretending that they aren’t there at all. In fact, he has given us a sophisticated diagnosis of our problem and prescribed a treatment for it all in one tight package.

We have a tendency to want, on some level, to carry our baggage endlessly. We almost revel in our emotional problems, showing them forth as what makes us unique and special, demanding that they be accommodated and sheltered rather than plucking them out by the root. In any case, we fret over them, and fretting just makes them bigger and heavier—if not actually, then at least in our perception. If, however, we set them down and allow the process of our spiritual practice to move us along, everything that we need to reach the end with us will come along for the ride. In short, it is all too easy to put our effort into the wrong thing out of fear and anxiety, but that only increases the fear and anxiety.

Tooth-gritting heroics rarely do much long-term good. Muscle-flexing can create a bit of breathing space, but as soon as your arms tire out, you’ll find yourself quickly surrounded. Gnosis is not about what you learn as much as what you unlearn, what you clear away so that Reality can shine forth. Very often, then, it means knowing when you can help and when you cannot, when effort will be useful and when it will be wasteful. In the Yogi-sampradāyas of Patānjali, of the Siddhas, and the Nāthas, we recognize five kleshas, five afflictions which, like knots, bind us up. All five of them are obstacles here.

Ego, attraction, and repulsion are the middle three afflictions. Ego, in this context, is not merely the sense of “I am”, but the ongoing process of mistakenly identifying yourself with all manner of things which are not really you at all. Whenever someone asks what you do, and you immediately respond with, “I am a lawyer,” or “I am a construction worker,” or any similar formula, you are displaying ego in this sense. The same is true, though, if you say “I am a Catholic,” or “I am a Hindu,” or “I am a Republican,” or, well, you get the idea. These identities can be useful if we consciously wear them as the costumes they are, but we usually wear them in such a way that we forget who is wearing the costume and think that only the costume itself is the real person. This leads inexorably to attraction and repulsion, by which we say that one thing is good and another bad, one thing clean and another dirty, according to the expectations of the costume-identity rather than the individual wearing the costume. Now is not the time to get into the depths of nondualism, wherein nothing is inherently unclean (aghora), but it is enough to say that we might instead focus on the usefulness of a thing and forget about questions of inherent goodness. Might a thing be applied skillfully by us in order to enable our own awakening and the awakening of others? If so, we may call it provisionally useful and move on. If not—whether by the nature of the thing or by our own lack of skill—we may safely leave it aside for someone else to handle.

We might say that the final two kleshas, the first and the last in the usual order, are both root and fruit of the three above. Ignorance is the primal klesha, the one which gives rise to the other four, but ignorance is also reinforced by them. The final klesha is “clinging to life”, which may also be stated as “fear of death”. Clinging to life is the fruit of the preceding four, but it is also firm and strong enough to support them, thus bolstering their power. Ignorance contains the other four kleshas in seed form, as potential diseases, while clinging to life contains them as a plant must contain the genetic information which guides its growth and the nutrients which fuel it. (The observant may see a direct connection to the five elements in this discussion. Useful experiments may be performed along these lines, and I am writing a book about exactly this line of work.)

Now, here’s the kicker: The stronger the influence of any klesha upon me, the worse I will be at being of help to anybody else in any absolute, lasting sense. This is precisely why we cannot seem to shake our most fundamental problems in human society. We are always acting from within the kleshas. Look, for example, at how technology is increasingly concerned with “curing” death. You have Google and other firms dealing with artificial intelligence who have explicitly set for themselves the goal of digitizing “human consciousness” so that, after a person’s death, their personality can still be around in the form of a computer program. Within medicine, researchers are feverishly predicting the inevitability of bodily longevity by way of all manner of pills, injectables, and genome treatments. Rather than dealing with quality of life, the concern has shifted to quantity, as if a long life were inherently better or more meaningful than a short one packed with artistry. “Curing death” is of less inherent value than effective cancer treatments; when a person is dead, the quantity of their life is no longer a concern, while the quality of their life has enduring impact (whether or not one accepts survival of consciousness), but cancer reduces both quality and quantity of life. This is a very fundamental shift in focus deserving of our attention, but it also serves as an example of how the kleshas flavor our every pursuit.

Spiritual practice is no different in this way from any other human engagement. It is so common for egotism or greed (attraction) to drive our spirituality that whole books have been written about this topic alone—for instance, Chӧgyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. In Western alchemy, the term “puffer” has been applied to those who were more concerned with the gold which came out of the transmutation than with the transmutation itself. And then there are the megachurches, the Vatican’s thrones of gold, and the Prosperity Gospel salespeople… The list could continue endlessly, wrapping itself around the world just as it weaves its way throughout human culture in every geographical point through which it passes. The point is this:

Not everyone is destined to create a global organization which impacts the lives of thousands or millions through charity. Most of us will do far better in improving ourselves, awakening ourselves, so that we will do more good in our immediate community. Even if we could start those global organizations, they usually become corrupt very quickly once legally incorporated and flowing with funding. Movements become denatured or defunct once their founder retires or dies. You can’t save anyone else if you can’t save yourself. This is neither cold pragmatism nor bitter cynicism. When goodness flows, it flows through an individual, not through a legal abstraction or a mob. Whether or not the movement of goodness seems “fair” to you, it flows like water, and like water it needs to be pressurized through the plumbing of a single human being if it is to have enough force to accomplish anything. One of the main functions of spiritual practice is to first clean out one’s own plumbing and learn to properly maintaining it so that when the pressure does flow, we don’t suffer a blowout. The takeaway from all of this is to work on yourself, do what you can do within your own community—however you define that, though the more local the better—and don’t fret over what you can’t control. If the world is to get any healthier, that is how it will happen.

The Heart of Freedom, part 2: Spiritual Practice & Its Benefits

Being a magician is a stage in the process of developing spiritually. It is not the height of development; in fact, it is only a step in the first part of the range of real human development.

~ Draja Mickaharic, from Practice of Magic: An Introductory Guide to the Art

Discussing the “benefits” of spiritual practice is a difficult thing. For one thing, those benefits are often very slow in arising, and usually take a lot of time to stabilize once they have arisen. Backsliding is notoriously easy in esoteric practice just as in changing one’s diet or exercise routine. For another thing, though, we are perhaps too obsessed with benefits in the first place. Everybody comes in the door wanting to know, “Truth sounds nice, and all, but what’s in it for me?”

As Mark Stavish of the Institute for Hermetic Studies recently remarked in an online comment concerning what he tells his students upon entering the classroom, “You have no rights, only obligations. I am here to speak to you about your obligations for this class. If you want to talk about rights, then tell it to the mountain.” The same that Mr. Stavish says of his classroom may be said of life in general, and goes double for the life of the soul. With the popular imagination captured every few years by something like The Secret , the Prosperity Gospel, or whatever the current iteration of New Thought goes by, it is easy for us to forget that no millennia-old tradition of spiritual training out there has ever taught that God is a vending machine into which we can feed the printed paper of “good thoughts” and receive back the many material conditions we believe will make us at last content with our lot. Those who have assiduously applied the practices of magic and genuine prayer know that it is entirely possible to gain materially by the mental progress which comes from spiritual labor, but the sacrifices made to achieve these things rarely permit that they will even-out to as much money and stuff as could be had by just working with intelligence and vigor in a career field. In other words, don’t turn to magic to make you rich, though it certainly may help the well-off to get more or the poor to survive and may help both to feel more stable and confident with whatever their level of income may be.

But, some may ask, doesn’t spirituality bring peace and happiness of its own sort, even apart from stuff and things? Yes, of that there can be no doubt. Remember, though, from my last post that the three great accomplishments—the Mahā-Siddhis, if you will—of peace, freedom, and happiness are like all other “occult powers”: tools. Peace, freedom, and happiness are not themselves liberation, but they are the most powerful tools we humans can apply en route to liberation. Peace and the equanimity which it brings are our armor and shield, freedom the sword we use to cut asunder whatever is useless, distracting, or harmful, and happiness supplies us the verve with which we wade into the battle. We can unpack even further.

Peace is not merely calm. Calm is easy; it happens when one is able to gain a bit of mental distance from a situation, which often happens quite by accident. The brain will even create calm in the face of trauma; we call this “shock”, thus showing that calm alone is not always either good or pleasant. Peace must be deeper than calm. Peace comes not just when the water of the pond is still, but when the garbage has been dredged from the bottom and removed and the pollutants carefully sifted from the water itself. Then, when the water goes still, we have not just calm but peace. The ecosystem restored, everything returned to its nature, there can be genuine equanimity: everything is seen for what it is and may be treated accordingly. Trash is seen as trash and tossed aside, not out of malice but because it simply does not belong. Peace can thus be seen as the faculty of mauna—inner silence, being a mind both clean and still.

Freedom is not the same as license, at least not in the sense of following the whims of hedonistic impulses. It is not, therefore, immorality but a specific sort of amorality. Morality has a role to play: it allows for the survival of social units at every scale and the more or less smooth operation of the individual within those social units (household, family, clan, town, county, region, state, province, nation, etc.). According even to Śrī Dattatreya in the Avadhūta Gīta, the Yogi may follow social and religious convention for the sake of both avoiding unnecessary conflict and encouraging the people in pursuing their own purification through those practices. Rules of morality therefore do have a place in genuine spirituality, and that place needs to be acknowledged and respected—but the Yogi is himself not necessarily obligated to follow those rules beyond a certain point. Freedom therefore implies responsibility, but also the capacity of budhi—a discriminating intellect capable of sifting through the contents of experience and picking out the gems from the grit without the burden of prejudice. Freedom is the ability to strike away what is harmful or useless within one’s own life. It is emphatically not doing whatever one wants without any thought to the consequences to oneself and others, but knowledge of what is good beyond the need for rules based in the organic trans-dualistic (dvaitādvaita) experience of Reality.

Finally, happiness is the dynamo which powers forward progress. It allows us to turn inward without fear of what we may find, as well as to turn outward without fear of being made separate. Happiness arises from the certain knowledge that Reality is one perfect living organism (parapinda, in the twilight language of Yogi-Guru Gorkhnāth) and that no part of that organism is ever separated from It. There is no mortal sin, no damnation, no irreversible error in the spiritual body of God—and there is no conceivable “outside of God” to be banished to for any infraction. Happiness is not yet the perfect realization of Śiva, but the perfume of that flower which arises as we make our approach.

While Grace and Power flows through every channel of the Path of Return, impelling us forward from the depths of each soul, responsibility is still the name of the game. As Śri Dhruvanāth, my own honored teacher now beyond the limits of his body, once told me: “The Śakti will meet you halfway, but the impetus to transform comes from you.” While there is much to be gained on the Path, there is also much work to be done, so I think it more useful to approach from that angle. To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, the question is not what my spiritual practice will do for me but what I will do for my spiritual practice. The rewards will rise as surely as the Sun, but running after them apart from the great Journey itself is a fool’s errand down many a mental blind alley and psychic cul-de-sac.

Disloyal Mind

my mind is disloyal
to Guru and guide
—never to my God,
with whom I am
on friendly terms
since years back,
first on terms of
Hi how are you
and now on terms of
When will you be home for dinner
—because the moment
you put a human face on it
it’s all
Hey that guy’s teaching something else
Something comfortable and easy
But my teacher gave me something
and said
Dig into this,
Mess with it,
Make it work
and part of me is offended
by the Hey this ain’t
warm and cozy and fun
This shit is work
But my friend God
comes in late for dinner again
and says past a mouthful of fruit
He’s right, you know,
Just doing what I told him
And now you’ve got to
Do what he says
So I sigh
Because God gives pretty good advice.