considering Nobody-ness... & the power of humility
my life story to date is hardly a private one, with the major timeline events forming the major bullet points of my resume & biography.
you can find my bio all over the internet (including years of spiritual training in India, teaching & healing in Paris and Singapore, then returning to the US to co-found a successful healing center and temple, training hundreds of students and healers along the way, and over the years).
indeed, I spent many years (five in residence, 13 total back and forth) living and studying in India, being groomed to be a Somebody of sorts: a top spiritual healer. in effect, a master.
over those years of intensive study and discipline in India, which was really like going to medical school to become a soul doctor -- rigorous, meticulous work/training -- I never questioned the outcome of having a top Ph.D. in spirituality from the highest 'school' imaginable: I would take my place in the world as a spiritual yogini in the West, playing my role in the divine plan to help ease the suffering of humanity. I would become a soul doctor on duty, ready and able to help.
I never questioned the inexorable course of my own destiny, in this respect. and I never doubted that this was the role I'd come to this life to play, and play well, thanks to the intense, unrelenting training I experienced with my beloved master Sri Kaleshwar in India.
this to say that I never doubted I would inhabit the role of a spiritual healer. and I never questioned the weight and the attachment of that label, that identity, ever, or how much importance I'd endowed that identity with, in my own mind/ego/heart structure.
until the last year or so.
"First you come as a Body
then you think you are Somebody
then you realize you are Nobody
then you become Everybody!"
- Adi Shakti
it's been my extreme blessing in this life to enjoy the friendship of a number of high divine souls, and that of my dear friend Adi Shakti, a Singaporean saint, is one of the most sublime. (you can find her website here.)
when I first met her in 2003, in her humble apartment in Singapore (that is still her ashram, even to this day), the back of her altar had a beautiful painting of four flames, each overlapping layer from the orangest, darkest inside flame to the lightest, almost pale yellow flame of the outer-most edge... when I asked her about this striking image, she laughed, and told me that Mother Divine had instructed her to paint these gradations of flames as a metaphor for the evolutionary stages of a human soul in spirituality.
the innermost, darkest flame symbolizes the initial human life experience, when we've been born as a Body, the next our young achieving years where we're full of self-identity (profession, education, marriage, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc.) and think we are indeed Somebody.
the third state -- when a human being has passed through all the Somebody nonsense, to realize that the self is, in fact, Nobody -- aha! THEN, Adi explained triumphantly, "you become Everybody!"
what she didn't say at that time was that in my own life, I was still hugely caught in the ideas of myself as a Somebody -- and hadn't even yet begun the journey into Nobodiness.
(I'm not sure I would have believed her, then, if she had tried to tell me such a thing.)
but the sheer adventure of a life dedicated to spiritual awakening and being of service as a healer in this world, able to help alleviate the pain & suffering of humanity has led me to this most expected but unexpected twist and turn in my journey to date:
the delicious, and terrifying, and liberating, beginning recognition that I am, in fact, Nobody.
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us--don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
- Emily Dickinsonit's an old saw in yogic spirituality that name & fame, and the pursuit thereof, or attachment to these qualities, is a big problem to anyone looking for real enlightenment. they're the most subtle and pernicious of ego traps that even a well-intentioned individual can get caught in, and held by, without noticing the ensnarement until it's too late.
this is why seva (selfless service), discipline, meditation, surrender to the Guru principle, self-contemplation and the willingness to be humble, even uncomfortable, along the spiritual journey are such vital components of development and maintenance -- they really help a human being stay grounded, simple, unattached to the shiny allure of material life and gains, and hopefully avoiding the major illusion-attraction to crazy self-aggrandizement like the pursuit of name and fame.
many stories of the great saints of any spiritual tradition celebrate the relative anonymity of these holy souls -- living simple, austere lives devoid of glamor, celebrity, material wealth, or masses of devotees. some of the greatest saints of humanity are unknown to any but a select few by name -- many many many holy characters have simply lived in the background, anonymous lives of intense meditation and service to humanity behind the scenes -- unsung heroes and heroines of humanity's evolution.
in my own case, I noticed that being sent out to the West to teach and heal, sharing the extraordinary body of ancient spiritual knowledge and treasure that I'd been so generously given over years in India, presented a series of enormous challenges to the egoism in me.
it was difficult to understand, initially, and even more difficult to accept!, that hordes of students weren't just flocking to me to receive these luminous teachings at every turn. it was inconceivable to me to advertise a workshop in the heart and depth of spiritual expertise, to have four or five people vaguely sign up for it (and maybe three actually show up to the class).
looking back, I can see that in my inner idea of 'how things should be,' I fully imagined classrooms-full of eager students, hanging on my every word (which is not my speech or knowledge, but that of the top sages and saints of ancient India) -- leading to a good, solid reputation as a teacher and healer, a steady income, and a life of peace and ever-expanding teaching experiences and opportunities.
at the time, although I was vaguely aware of these inclinations, I would have denied that this was my thinking, or ambition, or idea of myself and my identity as a teacher of Sai knowledge.
and it is true, as well, that the work itself was immensely satisfying, and the feeling of trail-blazing in America, helping to restore the profound, and tremendously practical/helpful knowledge of healing from India back to people in extreme need of this kind of experience and teaching, was in many ways its own reward. and it was absorbing -- fully -- and often didn't leave me much time or opportunity for considering the concept of attaining Somebody-hood, or occupying it already, without my conscious notice.
but... well, it's staggering to see how perfectly Emily Dickinson, in her own austere, silent, removed life (in, as it were, her Massachusetts ashram), nailed the concepts from deep inside her own experience.
her poem, above, a real ode to the joys of Nobody-hood, and containing such a world-weary contempt for the illusory traps and enticements of the lure of Somebody-hood, makes me catch my breath in admiration at her clarity.
and I realize that, frog-like, I had the strong, repeated impulse to advertise myself and the work that I do, not only from the desire to spread its helpful influence and healing magic, but to reinforce in myself the conviction that I mattered, that I had an 'important' identity, even a special one... as a Somebody.
oh, dear. what an unfortunate state to find oneself in -- and what a kind of spiritual hole to have to dig out of, having recognized the weight and depth of such a self-idea to be nothing more than a pure, self-limiting illusion.
"The misery you will have to endure in realizing enlightenment is nothing to the misery you will endure in life after life if you do not realize it. To get an arrow out of the flesh, you have to probe the wound. That hurts. But be grateful that you have understood enough to choose this misery. Not just grateful, be happy. It is important to be happy."
- Thuksey Rinpoche
"The ego rediscovers its real and fundamental nature, the Self or the pure Consciousness principle, only when it is separated and becomes aloof from everything. No matter what method we use in our spiritual practices, be it prayer, worship, mantra, meditation, pranayama, austerities, rituals, devotion to a form of God, or selfless service, these methods will bring their positive result only when the ego is separated from its field of activity and its instruments which contact the outer world."
- Baba Hari Dass
2011 was a phenomenal year for my work, the spiritual community I've shared it with in the Santa Cruz, CA, area since 2005, and for the spiritual upliftment of the US.
in 2011, a group of students from UCBK in Santa Cruz, under the guidance of Sri Kaleshwar, and led by Jonathan (the co-minister and co-founder of UCBK) and me, traveled to South India to receive a series of peak spiritual/enlightenment experiences, involving contact with Jesus Christ. it was an incredible victory for our community group -- many of whom had been working extremely hard, with enormous discipline and a willingness to go deep, into meditation, into their own self-assessment of their negative qualities, to purification of mind, body, heart and soul, since 2005 and 2006 with Jonathan and me.
for them all to walk in the door and experience the Christ Consciousness directly was an unspeakably powerful moment -- and it felt, in many ways, like a graduation day in spirituality.
there were two missing pieces in that spiritual victory, which were given to the group in quick succession in May and then July of 2011 -- a visit to UCBK in Santa Cruz by Sri Kaleshwar, gracing the grounds and environment of the UCBK temple and facility, and a link to the experience of pure consciousness, given that summer to our group, on another visit to South India for a program entitled "Immortal Enlightenment."
concurrently, with this series of spiritual enlightenment experiences and incredibly victorious moments, my own position in spiritual life, as a teacher and healer, underwent a subtle but fairly radical transformation.
to that point, I'd always been a kind of trail-blazing, tireless teacher and leader -- again, I was groomed to be a Somebody, I thought! -- teaching long, intensive workshops every weekend for about six years, at that point, conducting numerous rituals, sacred musical concerts, weekly satsangs... a grueling, relentless schedule that also went a long way towards defining me as a kind of star teacher in the Kaleshwar firmament, training healers and spiritual students who were then capable of doing powerful work in their own right.
... in the next scene in the dream, I was outside the auditorium, in the highly manicured lawn area of the hotel complex, reclining in a lawn chair, meditating deeply. and completely alone.
oh my god, I'd been benched!
sent to relax peacefully and develop my own inner consciousness in a lawn chair -- while everyone else was inside, clamoring for the teachings and acknowledgement, the physical presence and support of the master.
it felt completely bizarre to be separate from everyone else, and in my own process, there in my lawn chair -- and it also felt completely sensible, perfect, timely, and peaceful. just what I needed.
and so, I began to recognize that my own layer of spiritual development had begun to diverge from many of my colleagues, students and friends in this spiritual Sai tradition - that my master had put me on my own track, slightly apart, in order for me to learn and digest, develop and evolve on my own. and in the background, not in the foreground, of everyone else's awareness.
in one fell swoop, it seemed, I had become a background, behind-the-scenes player in the spiritual drama -- not a principle actor in the highly visible spotlight on the stage that I had easily inhabited for many years up to that point.
I was at once amused and dismayed by this turn of events.
but also, something inside me began to relax and appreciate, and then embrace, the far more invisible role that was now mine to play.
the divine was really beginning to peel me away from the world I thought I knew -- one of accomplishment, attainment, spiritual visibility, a leadership role, a position of authority and gravitas, and of a kind of small 'name and fame.'
relieved of a command post, as it were, I thought with amusement that this was a wildly different role for me -- a lawn-chair, sedentary kind of luxury beach bunny, as it were -- and I also thought, "it'll be an interesting phase. I wonder how soon it'll be before I can get back to my regularly scheduled work and pace."
"therefore it is said
that the wise man has no accomplishment
the spiritual man has no achievement
& the true sage
has no name."
which brings me back to Shirdi Sai Baba, my kind of grandfather-master. (in the lineage of gurus I represent, Shirdi Sai Baba is the direct master of my own master, Kaleshwar.)
although Shirdi Sai Baba was (and still is) one of the highest spiritual, supernatural souls ever to grace this earth -- operating on par with the likes of Mahavatar Babaji and Jesus Christ -- he lived a long life in a tiny, obscure village in West India, as a humble beggar in torn clothes, begging bowl in hand, eating scraps that people gave him, often sharing them with the dogs and other nearby animals.
his utter humility -- a kind of king of the world, the universe, a time-lord, and master of miracles (he did achieve a kind of notoriety for the healing miracles he performed, later in his life) -- in spending a whole life as a simple beggar, with no apparent worldly possessions or riches, and no apparent 'accomplishments' per se... it's a striking example to me now of the dharma (mission) of a holy soul, and how it can seem so completely insignificant on the surface level of life and perception. even while it's one of the most shining examples of an enlightened soul with whom humanity has ever been graced.
Shirdi Sai Baba was a living embodiment of the principles enumerated, above, by Chuong-Tse, himself a great Taoist sage. even his name, Shirdi Sai Baba, a household name today in India and among Indian communities world-wide, shrouded him in perfect anonymity.
"Baba" is a generic term for 'Father,' much in the way that a Western priest is referred to as 'Father' So-and-so. there are thousands of Babas in India today -- the term is a kind of honorific but maintains that feeling of anonymity at the same time.
"Sai" means "holy" in the Parsee language (the Persians, Farsi-speakers, who moved to India many centuries ago, became known as Parsees in India). a Parsee man saw Shirdi Baba walk by, exclaimed involuntarily "SAI!!!!!" in reverence at the sight, and the name stuck!
and "Shirdi"? it's simply the town that Shirdi Sai Baba was sent to live in, at age fourteen, by his own master Venkusa.
so "Shirdi Sai Baba," in translation, comes to 'the holy father living in Shirdi.'
in other words, and in the words of Chuong-Tse, that "true sage had no name."
I never used to think about Baba's life as a kind of road-map charting my own way in this spiritual adventure I occasionally like to call, jokingly, 'my life.'
but I'm definitely thinking about his life, and his anonymity, and his sublime greatness in that anonymity, a great deal these days.