Books and Writings
According to my mother my very first words were "Read, Read, Go, Go" All my life I wanted to hear stories and I read a tremendous amount as a young man. Reading opened up worlds to me far beyond what I could hope to experience in one lifetime, and I wanted to experience a lot. I am so grateful I could benefit from the lives, experiences, successes, failures, mistakes and ideas of others through their stories and books.
Now that I have 'come of age,' entering my sixth decade which marks the beginning of maturity in many cultures, I feel I am old enough to tell my own stories, to retell the stories I have heard, and because of the great amount of mistakes I have made, to write about what I have experienced and things done wrong and right.
In the Indian Tradition they say that the bird of wisdom has two wings. One is the wing of experience. To truly know something you must experience it for yourself, but this is only one wing of the bird. With only one wing a bird only flies in circles on the ground. There is a second wing needed to fly . . . the wing of understanding or story. This 'wing' is what I create in my writings. I do not want my small cup of experience to go to waste. After all, if I found a road that went nowhere, why not let others know about it? And if I found a road that went somewhere and traveled it, should I not share that as well? If I made a mistake, and I have made many, should I not share it? As an Ayurvedic practitioner, if I detect the early warning signs of a disease should I not share that so the person can correct his or her actions and avoid the suffering that has not yet come?
I feel not only a desire to do this but also an obligation, one that I usually delight in performing, although sometimes it feels like a burden when I realize I could write for many years and still have more stories that cry out to be told. But such a burden is one I am happy to carry. As Carl Jung once wrote, "Freedom is doing gladly what I must."
If this is true, I am living in freedom.
I have written poetry, short stories, a novel, erotica, children's books, magazine articles, letters, papers and songs and the stories are still coming. Some of them I have put to music with sound effects. I made a documentary film on the great Indian Saint, Kabir and other short videos on various subjects.
Because I have written a book does not mean that story is finished. There is even then much to comment on and consider. Every thing is linked to something else. There is a prequel to the book and its sequel; within the story of a book are other stories, like varied colored strings of yarn unraveling from a cloth. Sometimes I even tell the story of writing a book and all that crossed my path in that process.
'The winds of grace are always blowing. We just need to put up our sails."
– Brahmananda Saraswati
Life is full of signs, omens, people and events full of meaning. To write a book is but a beginning. It is a place where seeds planted by experience are noursihed with understanding. Perhaps a great tree may someday grow from one of them and offer readers some shade of understanding from the blinding sun of their own experience, and there are fruits for pleasure and even seeds for the future. In all of this I express a fundamental desire: may these stories bring more light into the world; may all beings be happy.
Now, let me tell you more of my recent story.
WHERE I AM
I am standing on a path on the holy mountain Arunachala, in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, South India. This path goes up to a cave called Skandashram, which was home for a while to Ramana Maharshi, one of the greatest Sages of modern India. During the first half of the last century he spent nearly all his life on or about this mountain and the Maharshi was considered to be the greatest exponent of Advaita Vedanta in modern times.
Nearly every morning, I wake early and around 4:30am and walk from my house to the back gate of Ramana Ashram, past the houses and huts of very poor people, which line a small alley along the back of the ashram, threaded by a narrow path. Cows are tied outside their houses. Small girls fetch water from a central tank, and at nearly every house some woman is bent over at the waist, drawing a beautiful kolam, a colored chalk mandala on the ground, invoking the blessings of the Gods.
Women splash water from buckets on the ground and then sweep the earth in front of their house with brooms made of stiff reeds. Short-haired dogs roam around and small children walk naked outside in the warm air. Some of the houses have music playing, usually devotional, and there are ghee lamps lit outside the doors of the dwellings, their soft light suggesting the invocation of blessings. Eventually, my walk brings me to the path that leads up to the cave, which begins at the back gate of Ramana Ashram,
directly at the foot of the mountain.
As I begin to walk up the stone path, the quiet deepens in the early morning. Nature, trees and air are clean and fresh, scented with the smell of herbs carried by the soft breezes that descend the mountain every morning. As I walk, I remember that Ramana Maharshi and my own Guru and Teacher, Adi Da Samraj, also walked here. I think of the huge cave that is said to exist inside the mountain, where ancient Rishis and sages still meditate. In the early morning as the sky brightens, the air is singing with stillness, the mountain is a tangible hill of blessing, a living incarnation of Lord Shiva and for me a very good place to be.
What I do Here
I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma.
In the afternoon I put it back again.
– Oscar Wilde
Although I never spent a whole day on a comma, I understand what Oscar Wilde is talking about. I came to India because I could not afford to live anymore in America unless I spent my days at some job and I wanted more time to write and to live . . . outside of working at a job. To create a good story one needs time to craft it. A story never comes out perfect on the first draft . . . at least that is my experience. Writing a story is like carving a statue out of a block of marble. Once the idea or vision of the story has come, then you have to remove what is not needed; it is only after the vision of what you want to create that the hard work begins and sometimes in the work the vision becomes even more revealing.
The India I live in is a third-world country, where life moves more slowly, structured around the cycles of the moon and religious celebrations. It is an inexpensive place; I do not have to work most of the day just to keep my head above the flood of financial obligations that were threatening to drown me in the west. There is time and plenty of it. Hours in the afternoons and mornings spread out like a long, deserted beach with possibilities extending to far horizons. There is time for work and creativity and time for relaxation as well. There is time to walk up the holy mountain in the morning and to listen to the Vedas being chanted in the evening. There is time for friends and lots of reading. And too, there is time for frustration, when the power goes off for hours at a time in the hot season, and my constitution (particularly heat sensitive) mutinies at living another day in South India.
(This is why I now live in the Himalayas during the hot season– March-November)
It is said that the dominant theme of a culture can be determined from the tallest building you will see when you come into town and the tallest building in Tiruvannamalai is a huge, ancient Shiva temple, the largest one in India. The culture here is very different from any city in the west. This small town exists in the shadow of a religious culture and to a considerable degree, life still revolves around the dominant themes of worship and for a few, Realization. I came to India to bathe in this culture and here it is embodied
in a thousand-year-old stone temple dedicated to a God who is still remembered,
fervently prayed to, infinitely mysterious and often invoked.
I created a Blog recently: INDIA IS MY WALDEN POND. It has my writings and stories on different topics created since I came to India. The theme of 'Walden Pond' is appropriate, for like Thoreau, I too have retired to a place removed from the hustle and bustle 'modern world' and I came here much like he went to Walden Pond; to step outside the mind, culture and expressions of business and commerce of 19th century New England life. He wanted more out of life and I do too. I came to India to drink more deeply, digest the experiences I have already eaten, and prepare a meal to leave behind for others. I came here because life is short and I wanted to create something I could leave behind.
I want to leave cairns upon the path. Let me explain what I mean by this:
Many years ago, I climbed Mount Washington in New Hampshire. The Appalachian Trail crosses the summit of the mountain at nearly 7000 feet and above the tree line, we encountered heavy fog and clouds as we passed amongst huge fields of rocks and clambered over scree and boulders. The fog and clouds blocked out everything more than ten yards away, no trail was discernible and we would have been lost if it were not for the cairns or piles of rocks left by earlier travelers to mark the path. Without the work someone else had done on those wild rocky slopes, if not for the cairns they left behind, we would have gotten lost and spent a very uncomfortable night, exposed to the elements on the mountain.
I also want to leave some cairns. I want to leave piles of stories and books, full of questions and considerations. I want to mark the path I have traveled so others can find their way when one is up above treeline on rocky scree and the clouds close in, the day is darkening and the winds of inevitable dilemma's blow wild. When the trail is lost and they are not sure which way to go, that is the perspective I have written from, that is the point on the trail.
I write so that even if you go your own way in spite of what is suggested, perhaps you need not go all the way down to the far, bitter end of a wrong path. You need not waste your whole life traveling towards a dead end if someone who has been there before you says, "Brother, I have been there," and describes the signs and markings and what lies down this valley or up that pass. But up on the high mountain, when the fog of doubts covers the landscape, a traveler will look round and if there are no cairns, they are on their own and it becomes quickly clear that things can become far, far worse. Perhaps if I leave cairns of my own passage and mistakes, perhaps I might be of help and others can see more clearly
and figure out better where they are and which way to go.
Where I Live Most of the Year
This is the view from my small cottage, looking up at year-round, snow-covered peaks at the head of the Manalsu River Valley. I live in South India only during the winter months, from November thru February. It is far too hot for me during the summer as I feel constantly sleepy and cannot write. Therefore we (my partner and I) travel by train and bus to our spring-summer-fall home located in Himachal Pradesh, the north Indian state that presses up against the Himalayas, at the southern side of a mountain pass that goes from the Kullu valley up to Ladakh, close to China and Pakistan. The small valley in this picture goes on up to a bowl of snow in the higher peaks and the water that flows through our valley, the Manalsu River, is sourced there, clear and cold, frothing as it spills over rocks and rounded boulders. Day and night we hear it rushing through the valley, spilling its way down to the Beas River (formerly pronounced –
Vyas River after the great Veda Vyasa).
The headwaters of the Vyas-Beas are at Vyasa Kund, a small lake near the top of the Rohtang Pass, the year-round 14,500ft snow-covered pass that ascends up to the Tibetan plateau of Ladakh. The Beas runs down the Kullu Valley. This highest part of the Kullu Valley used to be called the 'Kulanth Peet,' or 'the end of the habitable world,' for when you go up into Ladakh, the geography, people and religion are dramatically different. The people are primarily Buddhist, not Hindu, and their faces are round and Tibetan, not like the Hindu-Indians from the plains. I share this small valley with the indigenous Kullu people, some of the most beautiful, healthy and happy people I have ever known.
My cottage is at an elevation about as high as Mount Washington (7500ft). From my porch I look up at snow-covered peaks in three directions. It is quiet, remote and accessible only by walking 15 minutes from the closest dead-end road. Our house has a single room (now as of 2018 two rooms) with a kitchen and a wood stove for heating. Amazingly, we also have high-speed internet; certainly mine is the first generation to have access to the wider world in this area in history.
The rushing waters of the snow-melt river in the valley below whisper mantras of delight. There are apple and apricot orchards at these lower elevations and Deodar forests of cathedral-like beauty. At night, stars crowd the sky and a deep silence hushes the land, which bursts forth with birdsong in the mornings and very few planes jet their way across the sky. I like to think this is where Henry David Thoreau might have settled had he lived in the 21st century..
Old Manali is where the boat of Manu, who was the progenitor of mankind and the archetype on which the much later story of Noah was patterned, came to rest after a great flood that destroyed the world. Here, Manu and the seven Rishis, the mind-born sons of Brahma, stepped off their boat in the place where life could begin again, the Paradise which is now called, like many others in the Himalayas, the Dev Bhumi, the 'Valley of the Gods.' You can read my story about it HERE .
There is at least one story about everything in India, and usually many more; it makes sense after all, stories have been told in India for longer than any other place on earth. It is story that makes a place, a thing or a person come alive, often even more than a picture. Still, pictures are good and you can view a photo album I made of this area HERE .
What I plan on doing
There is a saying in the Jewish Tradition: "If you want make God laugh, tell Him your plans." I would like to hear God laugh, so here are my plans:
Stories cry out to me, wanting to be told. Many of them are for children. Tales like:
If you took the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita and Aesop's Fables and mixed them up in a hearty soup, spiced it with the essence of fairy tale, and took a spoon of singing soul to taste it with, that would be the poem I have been writing for years. Listen to some of it here, it is called:
De Felly Frog . This piece is not yet published in book form.
It is a modern-day epic, written and sung in rhythmic, musical jive, a sort of cross between the Bhagavad-Gita and the Brer Rabbit Tradition. It tells the story of a frog who wanders into the deep forests of life. He encounters difficult challenges and extraordinary teachers in the many characters and situations he meets. Some we will recognize and some are pure fantasy, but each and every one presents some archetype or principle. De Felly gains wisdom from everyone, but even so, he eventually finds himself at a dead end, not sure what to do in a critical moment - as the knowledge and principles he has learned so far, all lead him to a dilemma, a choice between equally un-doable alternatives. At this point, he meets the Maha Mama Mukhi and the Papa Ou Mau Mau, Papa Ou for short, who bring him the Transcendental Wisdom of life. This is a story for all ages, to be enjoyed by children, adolescents and adults.
There is a story from my own life in the late 60's when I was hopping the freight trains out of Chicago: Train out of Cicero .
I used to hop the freight trains all around the United States. One day in the late fall, as winter was coming on and the nights were cold, I caught a train out of the Cicero yards in Chicago, bound for Denver and the West coast. On that empty boxcar I ran into an angry man who taught me a lesson on how to deal with aggression and violence. This story has been put to music. It begins in a freight yard and ends in a jungle in India with a story from Ramakrishna, joining together the world of the Blues and Vedic Culture. This piece is not yet published in book form.
The Jubilee: the nearly forgotten Sabbath practice, is an amazing idea and principle: Demanded by God in Leviticus in the Old Testament; laid out in several other books of the Bible; identified with by Jesus, who said ' I am the Jubilee,' in his first utterances in the synagogue in Nazareth after he returned from 40 days and nights in the desert; the Jubilee principle of 'forgiveness of debts,' is prominently placed in the Lord's Prayer and even inscribed on the Liberty Bell of the United States. The Jubilee is a religious practice centered around the forgiveness of debt and is an idea whose time has come again. One way or the other, whether debts are forgiven or just not paid, there must be a Jubilee in our world.
Because they did not practice the Jubilee, because they did not forgive their debts or set their slaves free (part of God's commandment regarding the Jubilee), Yahveh forced the Jews into exile in Babylon and Egypt. This ancient practice of the forgiveness of debts, adopted in one form or another by many cultures throughout history, will help the world break free from the inevitable iniquities of the capitalist system. When I first discovered this principle and practice, I felt like one who had found a great treasure and I knew for I did not share it with the world, I would not make my parents proud. This piece is not yet published in book form.
Mistakes and Cybernetics: how to steer one's path through life. On July 4, 1976, I had dinner with Buckminster Fuller in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Right before dinner he said, "A drunk cybernos (helmsman) makes less mistakes than a sober man." I replied, "Bucky, I would not want to be in a boat or a plane with a drunk at the helm." He replied, "Unless you make a mistake, you will not correct the course." The hidden truth of the necessity of mistakes, like a wonderful joke, is what led me to this subject. This piece is not yet published in book form.
True Wealth is not Threatened: a consideration of the recent financial crisis from the point of view of a religious-studies scholar. The main point - We are having a financial crisis, not an economic one. Over the last few years nothing has changed in our 'economics' - our ability to provide food, shelter, clothing, transportation and medical care has increased. In fact, except for the degradation of our environment by grredy and irresponsible use, the beneficial aspects of technology and the corresponding ability to accomplish so much more, using so much less and less material and energy, has now, for the first time in history, given us the ability to provide for every man, woman and child on earth a lifestyle equal to the kings of old. Obviously, however, almost none of this is happening.
The True Wealth: of our World is not threatened by the financial crisis, unless we confuse money and finance with our economy. When we think, 'even if there is enough food, a person also has to have something called money to pay for it,' we erroneously link the economy and finance together. If we think our living is based on money, then, yes, there is a terrible crisis in the world. But this is a mistake and is not necessary. We have confused our economy with the world of finance. We are having a financial meltdown, but there need not be an economic one. The roots of our confusion are, for the most part, unexamined and unconscious. In this story I try to throw light to the situation. It seems like a pretty important point to make. This piece is not yet published in book form.
The Loss of Tragedy and the Rise of New Age Thinking One of the basic tenets of New Age thinking is "Whatever you envision, whatever you think, will become Reality." I believe this to be false, born of a culture intoxicated with its ability to control things through science and technology, not noting how along with our great successes, we have failed miserably and are on the very brink of destroying the whole world through nuclear weapons or environmental destruction.
We have lost the ancient sense of life, that life is tragic and that we are driven by forces outside of our control. With this error, we have abandoned our faith in God and respect for the Devil, both of whom represent forces beyond the control of man. Instead, we have come to think that one day we will be able to control everything. With our vision of life no longer inclusive of what is ultimately out of our control, (what used to be called- God and the Devil), we have given birth to the shallow philosophy of New Age thinking. This piece is not yet published in book form.
These are but a few ideas that come to me. I have a list of nearly 300 more that need to be told and the list is growing.
I can hear the laughter now. . .