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Monday, September 26, 2016

what is Navarathri, & why should you care about it?

Navarathri is coming!
it's a powerful time, The Nine Days Of Mother Divine festival that happens twice a year, once in the spring, and once in the fall.

why is this important?

nature - the doorway between the natural and the supernatural

in the Vedic tradition from India, the cycles of Nature's energy are observed, and interacted with, in a dynamic fashion -- bringing the constant presence of the supernatural into the natural world through ancient spiritual technologies ranging from specific meditations to fire homas (yagyams, agni hotras, havans or fire ceremonies).

in our world, the summer and the winter are the two extremes of the seasons -- the seasons of dual polarity, between the light and heat and height of summer's brightness, and the dark, cold, short days of winter's darkness.   the two seasons are literally day and night, in the big picture.

in between the night and day of winter and summer, are the in-between times, like the dawn and dusk times, of spring and fall.  as transitional times between the two poles of light and dark, the dawn and dusk are considered a little shaky, unstable -- a time when the energy of nature, of humanity, of the supernatural, is flowing between the cracks of the more fixed poles (summer/winter)... and as such, during this time, Mother Divine (responsible for all of this manifest creation) is a little more prone to throw illusions, tricks, games, smoke and mirrors, and purification challenges to humanity at large, global-wide.  (whether we notice it or not).

sooooooo -- the Vedic saints and seers figured out that by observing The Nine Days Of Mother Divine, the Navarathri, in both the spring and the summer, honoring the Mother and Her Nine Planets (those astrological grahas, or 'pulls', on humanity) in a beautiful way, they could -- we could -- help to calm down Mother's wild maya and illusions during this time, and extract the nectar of Her blessing and love and pure compassion instead. even in the face of the maya -- going through the illusions of nature to touch Her supernatural creation abilities and blessings, and bring them INTO this nature in a focused, profound way.

and soooo, voila, we have Navarathri  

Nava = nine (think the Catholic tradition of "novena," nine days of saying the rosary - which contains high-level prayers to Mother as Mary).  Rathri literally means 'evening', or 'night', so the festival's real name is the Nine Nights Of Mother Divine.... but somehow the convention in English has become about the days.

Mother as Durga, riding her tiger into battle, with all her weapons

on the Navarathri in the fall (the one my tradition observes every year), there is a 10th day -- the Victory Day, or Vijaya Dashami, or Dassara (in South India).

this auspicious day is the day upon which the Mother in a fierce form as [insert name here - there are many - like Kali, Durga, Mahisasura Mardini, Chamundi, etc.,] defeats the worst negativity as epitomized by Yet Another Demon run amok, trying to dominate the planet (and other realms) through a boon obtained by Shiva, God the Father.   (yes, even the demons worship god -- it's an interesting twist in the Vedic understanding of the forces of light and dark in this planet. more about that some other time.)

who is this Mother Divine & why is She important? 

in the Vedic system, the divine energy of god is viewed as kind of a yin yang, with both the divine masculine (God the Father) and divine feminine (God the Mother), inextricably entwined and working together, dissolved into one being yet retaining separate energy identities as well.

the God the Father, Shiva, in his transcendental (formless) state as Paramashiva, is the Silence, the primordial bliss of the nothing, the space, that lies behind and within everything in this creation.  (think about how much space is between all the molecular, atomic and sub-atomic particles in your own body -- in fact, you are composed of more space than solid matter! -- and you have an idea of Shiva. or -- the space between the stars in the sky -- same.)

the God the Mother, Shakti (meaning 'power'), is the movement, the creation energy, in this universe -- She is the one who creates all the different forms of the energy (using Shiva's silence to do so), and the different souls.  from a blade of grass to an elephant to a human being, everything in this creation is coming from the Mother.  because all living things are temporary in their life-cycles, they are considered to be 'illusion,' aka 'maya,' in Sanskrit -- meaning these forms are not eternal.  they are here for a while, then dissolve back again into creation.

as Hamlet's mother tells her son so brilliantly in Shakespeare's colossal Shiva-lila play, Hamlet:  "Thou know't 'tis common. All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity." this is the essence of the illusion-creation of Mother's nature in this world.... ultimately everything dissolves back to the eternal, immortal silence/light that is Shiva.

"This creation is nothing but a romance between Shiva and Shakti." - Sri Kaleshwar 

I often think of the dance between Shiva and Shakti, Father and Mother, as the way sub-atomic particles operate -- in an atom, we are told, the nucleus is stable, unmoving, composed of neutrons and protons... but the electrons that are in orbit around the nucleus are in constant motion, a swirl of energy, and can bond with other atoms to create molecules.   Shiva is to me like the unmoving core of the atom, while Mother's wild movement, always abuzz with the energy of creating, creating, creating, is like the electrons flying around.

how can we understand Her? 

understanding the Mother and Her ways is a key cornerstone in spiritual awakening.  how She operates the maya, the illusion, (like the Matrix, or the 'veils' that some traditions talk about), is a huge concept and chapter of human awareness.  Her maya -- this world -- isn't a malevolent thing, or a bad deal in any sense, although the dramas are gripping enough that sometimes it seems like it's a bad thing.

the maya, the big illusion, is simply a part of Her nature -- 50% Mother is a huge loving Mother, who will drop everything when Her children cry out in need, and take care of their every wish.  but the other 50% of Her nature is the maya -- the smoke and mirrors of testings, of reflection in the mirror of nature (via the vehicle of karma), and can seem challenging, painful, even tragic when we look around the world and see so much, so much, suffering everywhere.

one of the deep levels in advanced spirituality lies in grokking enough about Mother's operating system to be able to handle and negotiate through Her maya, while keeping the focus and internal awareness on Her loving nature, Her pure heart, Her only real quality as a loving Mother who wants to help each soul wake up to itself as equal to Her.

like any human mother, the Divine Mother only wants to see Her children grow up and be functional adults.  in the divine reckoning, 'functional adult' means a siddha -- a supernaturally aware, enlightened character who knows the Mother directly because they've encountered Her, in person, directly, and interact with Her on that level repeatedly (for the benefit of humanity).  She needs her enlightened souls as much as we need Her -- and so, the balance and symbiosis of the spiritual evolution of this world is partly in Her beloved hands.

when you want to know the Mother, deeply, She is extremely interested in you and will -- must! -- reflect Her energy and blessing to you.  eventually, if you're versed in the right spiritual techniques and meditation practices, and linked to a spiritual guide who already knows Mother well, you can have the experience of meeting Her, in a 3-d form, in the flesh, as it were, in a darshan ('seeing directly') experience.

pages from an ancient palm-leaf manuscript,
showing Shiva's structure (left) and Mother's (right)

many great saints of recent history, from Sri Ramakrishna to Paramahansa Yogananda, wrote beautifully about their experiences in darshan and communication with Mother Divine as Kali, a fierce form of Her energy structure.

my master, Sri Kaleshwar, also was in constant communion with the Mother Divine, and was able -- through Her grace and the help of the ancient saints -- to introduce many of his students to Her, also as a form of Kali, over the years. (you can see the poem I wrote about one such experience with Mother Kali here on this blog.)

Mother is universal 

"Mother is Mother, to every soul in the universe. She doesn't belong to any religion." - Sri Kaleshwar

finally, it doesn't matter what name you call Her -- from Kali to Nature, Kuan Yin or Mother Mary or Magdalene, Isis or Fatima or Shekinah, Hecate or Athene -- the Mother is the Mother.  She is a primordial part of our creation, in all Her feminine forms... and through every human female, as well.

on Navarathri, we are recreating the way that Mother Kali -- a fierce, peak form of Ma -- was created time and again, throughout recorded (and Vedic) history... if you read the Devi Baghavatam, the puranas (epic stories) of Mother Divine, you'll see the same theme over and over, replay itself along the lines of a familiar script:

a demon, a powerful negative soul, gets a boon from Shiva (god the father), and then runs amok in the creation, killing everything divine through the superiorness the boon lent him. the divines alone -- male and female gods, angels, rishis, avatars, etc., -- are no match for this evil force, powered as it is by a divine boon -- and so need to band together, each putting a piece of their soul essences together into a big fire homa, and out of that blinding, blazing primordial fire comes a fierce, intense form of Mother Divine. She is then the sum total of ALL the divinity in the creation, and armed with the weapons of the various gods and goddesses, She goes onto the battlefield and destroys the otherwise invincible demon -- the intense, cumulative negativity that's been building up -- in a fierce, final battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.  

only a female character can defeat the worst negativity.


because ultimately, everything is going back to the womb of creation, the womb of the Mother Divine's energy -- She made the lion, She made the lamb, and all light and all dark is coming from Her.  She is the only one who can absorb, dissolve that peak negativity back into Her cosmic womb.

the Nine Days Of Mother - Navarathri

during the Nine Days, then, we create this creation of the Mother -- each day bringing another form of Mother into the holy fires.  though traditions vary in their approach to Mother Divine's Nine Days, ranging from the Durga puja in Bengal, to different traditional ways of seeing Mother's energy form, in our tradition we are going for the supernatural mechanisms, writ large.

we begin with the first three days dedicated to Maha Kali -- the Destroyer Mother, in the G-O-D formula -- god/goddess as Generator-Operator-Destroyer.   I love these three days the most -- feeling the fierce Kali/Durga energy build up, and come into form.  She has so much love, so much fierce protection feeling, that She will come to right the wrongs of our world, and re-balance the creation again (she appears on the 10th day, neutralizing the demon energies on the last day, in the Dassara, or Victory Day). Mother Kali comes to destroy our crazy negativity and blocks, first, so that we can go through the rest of the Navarathri in a clear, clear way, able to receive Her blessings in the more gentle, beautiful forms of Mother.

Lakshmi fire homa, Los Angeles, 2015 Navarathri

the next three days are dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance (both material and spiritual). She is the mate of Vishnu, the Operator, in this illusion creation -- responsible for all the dualities of the material world, the ups and downs of poverty vs prosperity, good health vs illness, attachment and detachment in relationships, spiritual awakening or ignorance.

finally, the last three days are dedicated to Saraswati, the pure goddess of knowledge, of the arts, and of sadhana.  She is the Shakti, the power, linked with Brahma, the Generator energy in this world -- in the formula of G.O.D., Generator-Operator-Destoyer -- She is the knowledge of HOW the whole thing gets created in the first place. and how the illusion operates.  and who is Mother, who is Father, for real. once we've been through the destruction of our crazy negativity from Kali/Durga, and the gentle, pure blessings flowing from Lakshmi, we can then absorb/implement the knowledge of how the consciousness works, to bring it to this world, to help heal and uplift humanity.

as within, so without - the microcosm is the macrocosm

all of this discussion of Mother and Father, Shakti and Shiva, the different forms and energies of the Mother, and of the negativity, is really talking about the internal mechanisms that each of us is experiencing as we walk through the journey of our lives.

Jagadambe, Mother of the Universe,
with the three deities representing the forces of the G-O-D,
Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva

we describe these forms of energies, these forces in the world -- as external forces (and sure, they are!) -- while at the same time, we are also containers for the Mother/Father energy, we also have negative impulses and behaviors that spring up in us (or blossom into full-blown character defects) like those the demons represent (especially egoism, greed, pride, arrogance, feeling left out, insecurity, etc.), and we also have a fierce divine consciousness inside, that can (and does!) rise up to destroy the negativity we're self-creating in our own heads, hearts, and lives.

so the promise of Navarathri -- and the beauty of it -- is that the whole creation is engaged in this rise-and-fall cycle of negativity run amok, then the creation of the Mother in a peak form to destroy it. while She is coming into that fierce form, Nature itself (inside and out) is swirling through negativity, anxiety, a feeling of divine instability, like not quite knowing what's happening or how to feel grounded/sensible.... and then, omg, the intense relief of the Dassara, or Victory Day -- when all is -- for a while -- peaceful, restored, harmonious, clean and clear again.

holy Navarathri fires in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz 

during this auspicious time, I will be doing (through UCBK) powerful fire homas, one for each of the days of the Navarathri and the culmination of Dassara, here in Los Angeles.  each fire brings the forms and blessings of the Mother, and the concomitant upliftment associated with that given form.

(a taste from a recent Ganesh fire homa in Los Angeles)

even if you're not in Los Angeles or Santa Cruz -- in fact, wherever you are in the world! -- you can still receive the blessing, healing, awakening energy from these fires, by sponsoring the fires (either individually or as a major 10-in-1 discount) on your own behalf or for a loved one(s) in need.

you can see the details on the two UCBK web pages, for Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, about the fires, the times, the dates and the rates.

Offerings going into the holy fire to receive Mother's blessing

and if you're not inclined to sponsor a homa specifically, you can still receive the blessing of Navarathri fires by 'tuning in' at the listed times and praying/meditating on the Mother, however you call Her or think of Her, opening your heart to Her energy and love, in front of a candle flame.

enjoy this blessed time of Navarathri!  may Mother's blessings and love pour into your heart, your life and your times...

if you have any questions about how Navarathri or Mother Divine, feel free to email me here.

Jai Ma!

Friday, September 23, 2016

feeling the spiritual burn... of purification

along my way in the deep spiritual dive of life (years in India with a living spiritual master named Kaleshwar who was a miraculous healing saint with the full command of Nature at his fingertips, tough as nails and loving as a pure dearest best friend).... I discovered the immortal poetry of the Sufi saint, Hafiz (as translated by Daniel Ladinsky).

Hafiz was and continues to be a total comfort, and inspiration, especially when the going gets tough.

and it's a guarantee, in a deep spiritual path, that the going will get tough -- when the inner burning and purification really starts, and everything seems wholly uncomfortable, inside and out.

purification is no joke -- and is the main reason why people leave spiritual paths, citing all kinds of excuses about this or that, but the truth is that buttons are getting pushed, attachments are being questioned if not broken completely, and the structure of ego, the false identity that every human being is born into and clings desperately to (in lieu of discovering what's real, inside, underneath the façade) is getting systematically decontructed.

and that deconstruction is PAINFUL.
(until one acquires a taste, and a gratitude, for it.)

at a certain point, every spiritual seeker, be they ever so sincere and dedicated, will hit the place where they want to run away from the purification of the Self....because it is so scorching in its pure love and total seems like 'too much' to the inner structure of blocks and especially the egoism. (except it's exactly what we're all dying for, yearning for, begging for, from our inside souls and consciousness.....the deconstruction of the illusion self, the resurrection of the reality self, inside.)

because all of that false stuff, the egoism, the preferences, the attachments, the behaviors and tendencies and negative emotions and desires... starts to burn away, leaving purity in its wake. and that inner purity can be, in the early experiences of it, disorienting, to say the least.

anyway, here's a beautiful Hafiz poem for the day... paired up with a photo from one of the healing fire homas I conduct twice a month -- really bringing home the burning and scorching theme that is so vitally important in spiritual life. (click on the photo to see it in a larger form.)

Monday, September 19, 2016

meditation.... from a book?

we live in an age of fast food and immediate gratification, in all areas of modern lives.

I've noticed in spirituality that people seem to want maximum results for minimal effort -- and now! -- which is fine, but may also lead to disappointment and increased challenges to faith (and patience, goes without saying), and quite possibly, frustration with the process of spiritual experience or growth.

book recommendation... 
along these lines, someone asked me recently what book I would recommend to learn how to meditate.  I didn't have to think very long before responding -- because I honestly wouldn't recommend a book as a substitute for a meditation teacher.  (same goes for apps, which are becoming all the fast-food rage amongst the New Age crowd with smart phones.....)

let me clarify, before you get your nirvana in a snit.

of course, someone can learn to meditate by reading someone else's book on meditation.
but HOW efficiently, clearly, well, and powerfully will they learn to meditate?  this is the question. and it's an imporant one.

in the Indian Vedic tradition, the meditation initiation is passed down from teacher to student as a live transmission; a living, breathing, electrified, energetic experience (in addition to whatever instruction accompanies the transmission).  it is a living tradition, a powerful passing on of soul energy and consciousness from one who has a lot of it to spare, to a relatively new, or untrained, individual.  it is in the live transmission that the energy and consciousness, the living presence of 'how to meditate,' is passed on to the novice.

side note about mantra meditation
generally, (and yes, this is a longer discussion than this blog entry today,) efficient, soul-increasing meditation is done via mantra.  there are hundreds of ways to meditate and a thousand different people will each have a unique definition of what (or why) they meditate -- however, some meditation techniques are more effective than others.

I would offer that mantra is the best way to meditate -- for a number of reasons, including the essence (to me) of meditation... which lies in increasing the open communication between the surface level of awareness (like the mind) and the deeper inner consciousness (beneath the soul).

sitting in the silence is fine.  staring at a wall is fine. guided visualizations are fine.  eyes open, fine.  eyes closed, fine. the list is endless......

.... and yet, none of these techniques accomplish what mantra does so effortlessly -- allows the mind to transcend itself, and the deep inner silence to be accessed rapidly.  in the inner silence, the soul itself is expanding, gaining more clarity, power, creativity, capacity and self-awareness.

given that mantra is so powerful -- why not just get a mantra from a book and repeat it all the time in meditation?

sure, you can do that.  many people do do that. (so does that make it good?)

the book component, the DIY approach to mantra meditation, is missing a few key things -- the first and foremost being the live transmission of an energized/charged mantra for you personally (and that's a very big deal) -- the second being a clear explanation of and on-going guidance into the nuances of the experience of meditation itself.

why settle for a fast-food approach? 
it's like wanting desperately to have a gourmet meal prepared by a master chef (while you watch, so you can learn how to create the same meal, yourself) or eating a frozen dinner that was produced in a factory.

yes, you'll get enough nutrition to keep your body going, with the latter.  but the quality of that nourishment?  not so much.

my response to my friend's inquiry, then, was to suggest taking a workshop with me on meditation, to get the proper instruction, complete with a powerful mantra, and all the nuances about the process of meditation including what is really happening between the mind, the heart, the soul and the inner consciousness at the different stages and experiences of using a mantra -- plus the direct transmission from an experienced, energetic teacher of a living, breathing entity of a teaching that goes straight to the soul.

since my friend lives in Europe, I helpfully posted a link to a pre-existing (recorded) webinar that I taught a few months ago -- thinking it's a total treasure trove for anyone wanting to learn how to meditate thoroughly and dynamically.

oddly enough, I never heard from her again on the subject.

meditation is precious
which silence brought me back to ruminating on the delicate, powerful process of meditating in a solid, dynamic way -- and how few people seem to understand just how precious an experience meditation really is.  or why it should be covered thoroughly by someone with a lot of experience in meditation.  or why a living tradition is so much more satisfying to the beautiful desire to learn how to meditate -- and as such, is well worth pursuing.

meditating effectively, with good guidance as you navigate the twists and turns of developing an on-going meditation practice, is a total treasure, and a priceless treasure at that.  meditation can make the difference between inner peace and total chaos in life, between heightened creativity and energy versus a tired, numb (lack of) awareness, and even a massive difference between ill health or radiance -- both inside and out.

take the time to find a real teacher
if you're a beginning meditator, or someone who's curious about the process of meditation, please, please, find a living teacher with a solid practice (hopefully a mantra-based practice).  it will make all the difference in the world to your experience.

you do NOT have to settle for fast food!  nor should you!

and if you can't find such a teacher, there's always my webinar -- ready to share the gourmet spread with anyone who asks for it.

good luck, and happy meditating.

om shanti shanti shanti.
peace peace peace.


Friday, September 02, 2016

walking with the angels

I've been thinking a lot, lately, about experiences of angels -- how people experience them, in different ways and forms, or wish they did. it's also true that in more ancient times, many more human beings were in direct contact with angels than we are now -- hearts were more open and pure, and the 'unseen' realms were more easily accessible.

what I've come to learn, from the ancient knowledge of spiritual India, is that the technology of angels -- how they're created, what forms they appear in, and when, how people connect with angels, how healing takes place through the auspices of the angels (and the divine souls who created many of them in this world, like a Jesus or Buddha, etc) -- is vast. it really is an ocean of knowledge; enough to consume one's whole life in that one direction of spiritual understanding and experience.

of course, the angels are all around us, all the time - whether we see them with the naked eyes or not. of course they can come in any form -- in a subtle, energy form, as a glowing orb, or a whirlwind, a disembodied voice, a strong floral scent, as an animal, a person.... sometimes our challenge, as human beings, is simpy to be alert in those moments, and stay open hearted, to recognize what is happening, or that it is in fact an angel giving a message.

toward that end, I'd like to share a beautiful technique I learned in India, many years ago.

The Four Questions In Nature - Meditation Technique

the great Indian saint Ramana Maharishi used to ask four big questions, deeply, and encouraged his students to contemplate them as a way to go deeper into themselves, their awareness, and the inner consciousness.

those four questions are:

- Who am I, really? 

- What is my purpose in this lifetime? 

- Where was I before I was born? 

- Where will I go when I die? 

if you'd like to connect to your deeper self, in a more direct and enlivened way, then try going into nature, meditating deeply.... and when you have gotten into a silent, still place inside, start gently asking these four questions.

the angels are automatically attracted! and they will come around you while you do this process.  inside, the answers will start to flow to you, directly from Nature itself -- through the angels.

so two things are happening in this process -- the first is that you're going deeper into your own relationship with your inner consciousness, by asking these powerful questions in the deep silence.  they are the questions that lead to self-realization, to the enlightened wake-up of a soul.

the second thing is that on the way into this inquiry, and an integral part of how the answers start to flow to you, is that you're developing your relationship with the angelic forces in nature. (this is beautiful!)

like any meditation practice, this is a process -- don't expect that the whole picture will be revealed to you in one sitting.  it takes time, dedication, persistence, and regular meditations  - always going deeper, always staying open, always asking, humbly, those questions - to receive the response, and awareness, deep inside yourself.

(and yes, it is entirely worth it...!)