Friday, March 25, 2011

The Final Words of Swami Rama Tirtha

In 1906, Swami Rama Tirtha, a much beloved ecstatic vedAntin, abandoned this world at the young age of thirty-three - like Jesus and Adi shaMkarAchArya. He was ill and during a bath in the river, he was drawn into a whirlpool. After trying four times to swim out of it, he was carried away. His body was found ten days later, frozen in the meditation posture, and his lips where like when he would sing OM.

These are his final written words,

O death, go and strike my body: I have millions of bodies to live in. I will dress myself in the moonbeams, in the gauze made of fine silvery threads, and pass my time in tranquil rest. I will sing my songs in the form of hill streams and brooks, in the form of the rolling waves; I will move on. I am the soft-footed wind which walks on in ecstasy. I am the ever-gliding form which does on as time. I descend as waterfalls on the mountain slopes, reviving the faded plants. I made the roses burst into laughter. I made the nightingale sing her mournful ditties; I knocked at the doors and woke up the sleeping ones, wiping the tears of the one, blowing the veil from the face of the other. I teased those near and also far. I teased you too. See, I go, I go, with nothing in my possession, permitting nobody to touch me.

OM shAnti

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Essence of advaita

Here is the video of a talk I gave at the SIG retreat back in the fall of 2009. There is no question that I totally butcher the Sanskrit. But, more importantly, the some of the great and worthy ideas of the vedAnta are introduced for meditation. And these are always valuable to revisit.

OM shAnti

Post update 11/05/2011: The original link seems to be no longer available. To watch the video click here. Thank you!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

His Bride

By Uma Gautam

For years,
I longed
And yearned
And lamented the dark night of the soul.
Separated from Him,
I searched for Home.
I read and wrote poetry,
And cried till my heart ached and eyes burned,
Begging Him to make me His bride.
But now I know -
It is not His fault.
I don't have the courage to say 'I do',
He was always married to me;
It is me who flirts and flits around
Talking of the long night of separation.
What can He do?
He, who is the Dawn,
How can He meet my dark night?
I need to trust,
For He is trustworthy.
Yes, a thousand butterflies trust, so fly...
A thousand trees trust, so sway...
A thousand suns trust, so glow...
Everything moves and dances and comes and goes
In this trust.
I too must trust.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Last night Jamie and I watched Babies. This delightful slow film documents the period from birth to the first steps of four babies: Hattie (USA), Mari (Japan), Bayar (Mongolia), and Poijao (Namibia).

There are notable contrasts between the girls who were being raised in developed countries and the boys who were not. We see Hattie learning how to be picky, Mari having a huge fit while playing and Bayar getting picked on by his older sibling. I was most amazed by the wonderful care Poijao was receiving - even though he is living amid dirt and flies.

Director Thomas Balmes has created an insightful film that is well-worth watching. Take a peek at the official trailer and see if you aren't completely hooked:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"i thank You God for this most amazing"

Here is an excerpt from a poem by the American poet e.e. cummings:

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Mr. cummings is famous for the playful use of language and presentation he incorporated in many of his poems. Just how famous? typing this poet's name into Google images and searching you can find a number of e.e. tattoos - such as this one!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why Slow?

Now that this blog contains over fifty posts, it is probably worth addressing the topic of Slow advaita. What is it anyway?

The basic idea is the result of observing that many advaita presentations in the West go to the extremes of being either overtly traditional, on the one hand, or, on the other, of being unwisely dismissive of tradition.

I am a person who is wired to go Slow. So I propose applying the relative wisdom of Slowness to the current unfolding of advaita in the West.


Overt traditionalists often immerse themselves unreservedly in a tradition, down to the details. While they are potentially following the wisdom being offered, they may also be adopting the Hindu diet (no meat, fish or eggs) and giving themselves an Indian name. Although these things are not deleterious in and of themselves, not building and exercising one's capacity for critical thinking can be.

To spend time obsessing over extraneous details also draws one's attention way from what is essential.

It is out of concern to avoid this sort of blind following that some risk falling into the other extreme of completely throwing out tradition. This is not prudent since tradition, at heart, is a deep-level dialogue. It is tragic to throw out the baby of time-honored wisdom with the bathwater of culture-specific details.


In relation to these extremes, Slow advaita is an opportunity to explore a pragmatic middle ground. One wants to keep the baby and only toss the extraneous.

For example, the upaniShad-s are typically dialogues between earnest, would-be disciples and wise forest RRiShi-s. The answers given by the RRiShi-s are not all that is important in these dialogues. The questions are important too; since it is often the case that earnest, would-be seekers do not often know what questions they would like to ask. So these model dialogues provide a two-fold example of what questions are worth asking and how to respond - in general.

I say "in general" because the strength of a given wisdom tradition is essentially in the way in which it provides a mean. Once a disciple has been accepted by the guru, and once the orienting generalizations of the mean have been introduced by the guru to the disciple, then there is a starting point for considering matters that were not addressed in the teaching.


These teachings are immensely valuable to both the guru and the disciple. To put it simply, they have an already-proven inherent perfection (relatively speaking), which is similar to the 'roundness' of a wheel. While it may be possible to improve on this quality of roundness, the possibility seems so remote upon looking at a wheel, that nobody is tripping over anyone else trying to re-invent the wheel.


Slow advaita is an opportunity for those of us who do not wish to be drawn in by the extremes - however acceptable these may seem to be in our fast-paced, instant-everything culture.

Rather we wish to pause and reflect, taking in what is valuable, as we see that value for ourselves, but leaving behind the husks of the non-essential.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What is Realization?

I remember once having a conversation at one of the two spiritual retreats I have attended. The man I was talking with had the view that realization was beyond the mind. "Why do you think we use the term realization?" I asked.


But what is realization? The upaniShad-s describe realization in terms of the macrocosm and the microcosm by using the word brahman to refer to the former and the word Atma to refer to the latter. Realization is realization of Atma-brahman. But then we may ask, "Who realizes?"

A person realizes, of course. The realization, as with every other realization, occurs in the mind - and is not limited by any manifestation, including that of the manifest person.

You do not have to take my word for this. Consider this quote from the kaTha upaniShad: "This brahman is attained through the mind alone. There is not diversity in brahman."


It is possible to object to the point I have just made by citing another shruti. The taittirIya upaniShad states, "Failing to reach which, words turn back along with the mind."

Here we have to consider that this shruti phrase is in fact comprised of words that we are reflecting on with our minds. So our next question may be, "Is this an example of contradiction within the Scriptures?"

The key here is that these shruti passages are addressing two different dimensions of our minds. The passage I just cited from taittirIya is addressing mind in its lower sense as manas, while the first passage, from kaTha upaniShad, is addressing mind as buddhi (the intellect).


Coming back around to the conversation I had at that retreat, the upaniShad-s actually support the view that realization occurs in the mind. But the mind has to be raised from its valleys and plains to its greatest height, its peak. And a mind can only ascend to this peak if it is fit.

The reason so many misread this important teaching and cling to misinterpretations of shruti passages, is precisely because the mind is by nature unfit. It must be made fit through diligent and focused effort.

The instances that would seem to give lie to this assertion can be explained easily when we consider that the diligent and focused effort may have been made in a previous lifetime. There is a widely-known passage of conversation with shrI Ramana Maharshi, in which the Maharshi was questioned about not having a guru. His reply was, "I may have had a guru at some time or another, and didn't I sing hymns to Arunachala."

I discovered vedAnta after the publication of words from an empty boat. I was gradually oriented to classical advaita teaching shortly afterwards, through the writings of Dennis Waite, the Italian sage Raphael and the jagadgurus of Sringeri.

Meditation upon such steady wisdom has made it possible for me to become a little more clear on the fine points of wisdom. But I should specify that the clarity is not the result of a vague 'spontaneity'. Nor is the fruit of mere nondualist autosuggestion. Rather it is the result of bringing my mind into harmony the words of the wise.


If it is possible for me to have some success in this, it would have to be possible for anyone else to have similar success. But the voices of distraction are innumerable. I spent years distracted by the hope of saying something unique, of somehow adding to wisdom or of discovering some new facet of wisdom. In the back of my mind, I was puffed up with these kinds of thoughts. It took time and effort to get some distance from them.


Without overcoming egotism, it is not possible to experience peace of mind. As another passage from kaTha upaniShad states, "Not by him who has not desisted from evil conduct, who does not possess shama, etc., who has not collected, who does not have a mind at peace can this be attained by praj~nA alone."

Egotism holds the mind to manas. However, by overcoming egotism, we are more readily able to ascend to the intellect, and in this way meditate upon the profound truths, such as those revealed by the Scriptures and the wise through words.

In short, although words and the mind "turn back" from Reality, they are also central to Its realization. Where the mind and words intersect, knowledge of whatever order is possible. As the aitreya upaniShad states, "The world is lead by knowledge. Knowledge is the basis. Knowledge is brahman."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Frithjof Schuon - On his Philosophy

Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) is perhaps the most formidable modern perennialist philosopher. In his books, his poetry and his art, we find a man out of time - which is to say he lived in a world of timeless - and time-honored - spiritual ideas and principles. The scope of Schuon's insight may be compared to two of his own favorite philosophers: Plato and shrI shaMkarAcArya.

There have been numerous other brilliant modern philosophers. Yet all of them have been noticeably influenced in their ponderings by temporal changes. Were Schuon took note of such changes, and then boldly rejected them, many others have used such changes as a foundation for presenting innovations alongside any time-honored wisdom.

Here is a brief video in which Mr. Schuon is asked about the essentials of his philosophy. In this case, his philosophy is nothing less than the universal wisdom of the ages.

A Plant with One Leaf

Several months ago my friend Joanne gave me a pathetic-looking plant she had considered throwing in the trash. It had only one discolored leaf. I took it home, watered it and placed it on our kitchen windowsill.

As days passed I was sceptical about whether this plant could survive. Still I continued to water it.

One morning a few weeks later Jamie called from the the kitchen for me to come look at the plant. At first I didn't see. Then I leaned in closer and spotted a tiny green shoot. Soon this shoot unfurled into a beautiful new leaf.

Then, tragedy struck. I found the old leaf with a bent stem - and held my breath as I pruned it away.

Currently the plant has shoots for two more leaves. And it has sent up a second plant - with a leaf of its own. This is the beginning of a plant colony.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Inedible Egg

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The Realm of Perfect Peace

Disciple: Oh wise and all knowing one, take me to the realm of perfect peace.

Master: If I take you to that realm, it will no longer be peaceful.


For more spiritual humor, click here.

brahman is One

Every week for the past five years, I have been meeting with anyone interested at a local coffee shop, to meditate on the Scriptures. Here is an excerpt from one of our recent meetings I hope you will enjoy!

Pointing to the One-Good

In the opening paragraphs of his Introduction to the Philosophy and Writings of Plato, Thomas Taylor gives the example of a pyramid. Philosophy, Mr. Taylor explains, may be compared to a "luminous pyramid, terminating in Deity".

A pyramid, we all know, is broadest at the base. Similarly a metaphysics or philosophy proper has a broad base. This is due to the fact that many human beings have a lot of questions and doubts regarding the nature of things. The broad base has to address these questions and doubts in a comprehensive manner.

After this, another layer of teaching can be added. Subsequent layers are added until the adhikArin (qualified student) is oriented to that which is highest and deepest within all.

As the apex of a pyramid points into vast space, the apex of a valid teaching will point into the boundless mystery of the Atma, or, to use the language of Platonism, the One-Good.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Good vAsanA-s

vAsanA-s can be bad as well as good. On the spiritual path (including the advaita path) we strive to eliminate bad vAsanA-s and cultivate good vAsanA-s.

In the bhagavad gItA, shrI Krishna teaches three principle yoga-s. These are karma, bhakti and j~nAna. In simple terms, the first is the obligation of everyone - even those who, as a matter of speaking, are not on the spiritual path. It is necessary for all to strive to do good action.

bhakti and j~nAna, on the other hand, are means for realization of the Atma. In this respect, we can say that bhakti is essential, since it is the way of loving God, and that j~nAna is sublime, since it is the way of knowing God.

For the adhikArin, the means of devotion and knowledge are of paramount importance. By helping us to realize Atma-brahman, these means provide the greatest foundation for the cultivation of good vAsanA-s.


By Jordan Klemons

When we stop for a moment and look at the state of our existence, on every level that we can see - from the microcosm to the macrocosm - stillness is non-existent. On the smallest, most minute scale, we could say that we are made of atoms and molecules. Modern science says that the particles that make up these atoms and molecules are in constant motion - even that they are constantly vanishing and then reappearing. Zoom out to the biological level. Every cell in our body is constantly moving and performing a function. There are cells that are currently being created and cells that are currently dying. Over the course of roughly seven years, every cell in the body is replaced so that there is nothing in your body today that was there when you were born....unless you haven’t turned seven which case, props to you for reading about vedAnta before your elementary school graduation! On a normal, day-to-day level, we are constantly moving. Waking up, showering, eating, working, walking, repeating mantras, itching, breathing, blinking, reading the upaniShad-s, cleaning, dreaming....repeat. Zoom out farther and we see that we are on a giant rock hurling through space! It feels like you are sitting still as you read this, doesn’t it? But you are flying through space as you sit and read this. I wonder how many miles I have moved since sitting down to write this. They even say that the universe is expanding which would imply that our entire solar system is flying through space as well!

So where, in all of this madness, is even the potential for stillness? With all the motion that exists on every level of the physical world, how are we able to experience the sensation of stillness?

“The Self is one. Unmoving, it moves swifter than thought. The senses do not overtake it, for always it goes before. Remaining still, it outstrips all that run. Without the Self, there is no life.” This passage from the ISa upanishad offers insight to our questions from the vedAntic wisdom. “The Self” can also be referred to as satchidAnanda - meaning “existence-consciousness-bliss”.

One way to try and speak about consciousness - which cannot be objectified or verbally described, except perhaps with satchidAnanda - is to say that it is the stillness that allows for the movements and actions of day-to-day life to exist. Just like a movie needs the stillness and emptiness of a white screen to be viewed, just like the mirage of an oasis needs the desert sand to sit on, just like the yin and the yang need the unchanging circle to dance within, just like the rushing rapids of the greatest river needs the unmoving and hidden earth beneath it to flow over - so too do the actions of our lives require the stillness of consciousness.

This consciousness, is our true nature. satchidAnanda is the natural state. Our thoughts will never catch up with it, our senses will never perceive it, and our actions will never achieve it, but this is good news! We do not need to go seek this beauty out in the world. It is in our own hearts, where it has always been and where it always will be. Graciously giving us what we call “our lives”, it is sitting in stillness.

"There is no self"

"There is no self." This is a teaching one hears frequently in current non-duality circles. This teaching comes from the Buddha, only in the cases to which we are referring, it is, in general, not being correctly understood.

Categorically stating "There is no self" is an idea, a concept in the mind - albeit a very subtle one. A person clinging to this idea - because it is so subtle - does not easily recognize what they are doing. However, others will observe and sometimes experience the rigidity that comes along with fiercely clinging to any idea.

But let us consider why this idea is so subtle. Firstly, the idea "There is no self" is correct from an Absolute perspective. There is no separation. There is only the Self. brahman (God) is one-without-a-second.

Nonetheless, no genuinely realized person outside of or inside of any tradition, including Buddhism, will state "There is no self" in a categorical way. This is because Reality is viewed as non-dual. If we look at the Sanskrit word "advaita" we see that "a" means "not" and "dvaita" means "two". So the term is indicating that what appears to be two is not. Here we can ask, "What two are not two?" These are vyavahAra and paramArtha, which is to say, the relative and the Absolute.

Secondly, once it has been categorically stated that "There is no self" the dimension of the relative is seemingly undercut - but from a subjectivist point of view, which maintains there is no ontological existence. Rather than categorically stating "There is no self", genuine non-duality situates the relative within Consciousness. This relative existence is considered to be mithya, underscoring that name and form are neither Real not unreal.

Name and form are not Real because they are not the Real, since the Real is by nature abiding and permanent. Simultaneously name and form are not unreal because they do have ontological existence, if only temporarily.

Instead of saying "There is no self", great vedAnta RRiShi-s and sages have taught that there is only the Self. This Atma, this Self, this Reality is not devoid of appearances; It is full of them. And emptiness is only one of those appearances. When we consider how emptiness is objectively verifiable (as in the case of seeing nothing in a cup), we are able to understand how stating "There is no self" is tantamount to saying existence is comprised entirely of one objective substance. It is like saying, for example, that Reality is stone.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Doing Good to Others

The late shrI Abhinava Vidyatirtha offers this profound teaching on the value of doing good to others:

God wanted to know, "What constitutes the heaviest or most exalted object in the world?" So, He said, "Bring a balance." He took the state of absolute freedom in which He abided and put it on one pan. On the other pan, He kept loading some object or the other; on it, He placed heaven, other worlds, wealth, etc. Yet, no matter what He placed, the pan with absolute freedom on it continued to remain low; it did not rise up at all. The Lord became afraid and thought, "What! Is there nothing at all to match absolute freedom?" Finally, He took "Doing good to others" and placed it on the balance. The pan that was above came down while the pan that was below went up.

The Lord deemed, "Doing good to others is the truly heavy object. So what should I do? I shall eradicate whatever problem any person in the world has and cause an arrangement of doing good to others to develop."

If even Ishvara considers this to be greater than realizing the Absolute, then it is imperative to always strive for this.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

the idea

was plato gazing

wondering what
makes a star
a star

or was he gazing
in a terrestial manner
a lowly

and wondering
the same

when his mind
opened to
the idea of
the idea

the question
of course
is not the point
of this poem
which is but the shadow
of the idea
of a poem

the idea shines
from heaven
to earth
to make a heaven
of earth

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Did God Create the Universe?

In his latest work titled The Grand Design, scientist Stephen Hawking has written, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist."

This view is in sharp contrast to Mr. Hawking's previous acceptance of Sir Isaac Newton's view (that the Universe was set in motion by God), as well to time-honored religious perspectives, which (excluding Buddhism) unanimously affirm that the Universe or - to use the more inclusive Greek term - the Kosmos was created by God.


advaita vedAnta is the finest example of a traditional spiritual metaphysic, and according to this metaphysical perspective, if we attribute causality to something on the manifest level, we have to ask what causes the thing that triggered the cause. Specifically, when Mr. Hawking sights the law of gravity as a cause for the Universe to create itself out of nothing, we have to ask, "If gravity allows this, then what caused gravity?"

We might also consider that nothing is a thing, due to the fact that nothing is objectively verifiable. For example, if a cup is reportedly empty, this report can be easily confirmed by looking to see that nothing is in the cup.


Ishvara, it must be pointed out, is not merely an elusive, anthropomorphic Being. Ishvara is Creator, Sustainer and Dissolver, which is to say, the First Cause or the Principle.

If it is acceptable to consider one thing (or some combination of things) as cause of another thing, then it will be incomprehensible to hold the view that causes are the effects of prior causes ad infinitum. For this reason, and for us to avoid believing any manifest thing to be the Cause of things, the Principle is offered.

Additionally, we may point out, the Principle or Ishvara brahman is only a thing to the degree It must be considered manifest. But brahman is also the Absolute, and so is found - however paradoxically - to be the the Cause of every cause, which causes are, in light of the Absolute, nothing if not mithya.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


to the upside-down
my dancing smile
is a vile frown

so i’ve thrown
the worlds

strange ghosts
follow me
their fingers
and lips
mindlessly mimicking
bits of
what they see

i pay them
no mind

no one can rescue
a ghost anyway

perhaps the voice of god
will kindly ask them
to move along
and gaze in the silent mirror
out beyond ideas

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Soul of a Sparrow

Today my manager noticed a dead bird on a second floor, inside window-ledge as she was walking down the stairs. I got out the tall ladder, put on some latex gloves and selected a black trash bag.

After gathering the bird - a stiffened sparrow - into the bag, it felt wrong to just throw it in the trash. Instead, I went out the back door and dug a small hole near some trees. Then I chanted a prayer for the soul of the sparrow, as I covered its cast off body.

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Am I a Good Disciple?"

Much emphasis is placed on the quality of our spiritual leaders. Are they competent to help us? Are they being good examples for us?

As necessary as these questions are, there is another question that is still more necessary, and it is this: Am I a good follower? Am I a good disciple?

For many in our society, the idea of being a follower is less than glamorous. And yet, this is worthy of our attention, since no matter what we do, and regardless of who we are, we are always by default more a follower than a leader.

We can consider how even a President or the CEO of a mega corporation is still more follower than leader, since he or she has to follow the doctors advice or the needs and expectations of the public and voters or customers and shareholders.

In vivekachUDAmaNi, a famous text attributed to shrI shaMkarAcArya, we find chatuShTaya sampatti or the fourfold qualification that is essential for the study and practice of advaita vedAnta. Verse nineteen reads:

Adau nityAnityavastuvivekaH parigaNyate |
ihAmutraphalabhOgavirAgasttadanantaram ||
shamAdiShaTkasampattiH mumukShutvamiti sphuTam ||

1) vivekaH is discernment between the unreal and the Real.

2) vairAgya is dispassion from sense objects.

3) shamAdi ShaTka sampatti is a collection of six behaviors the include shama (control of the mind), dama (control of the body and the sense), uparati (the neutalization of likes and dislikes), titikShA (tolerance of the ups and downs of life), shraddhA (unwavering faith in ourself, the scriptures, God, and the guru, as well as samAdhAna (one-pointed concentration on brahman).

4) mumukShutva is the burning desire for liberation.

On the advaita path, if we are working to accomplish this qualification, we can answer Yes to this important question.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Julia Roberts Goes Hindu

The USA TODAY column Faith & Reason reports today that Julia Roberts and her family are now worshiping and practicing sanAtana dharma, often referred to as Hinduism.

Here is a photograph of Ms. Roberts with her guru Swami Dharam Dev:

vedAnta is currently the main living darsana of a spirituality and religion that stretches back some five thousand years into the mists of time. Although the vedAnta darsana has no founder, since the foundational scripture, the vedA-s, are believed to be of Divine rather than human authorship, it was codified in the seventh century by shrI shaMkarAcArya. The other main Scriptures are the brahmasUtras and the bhagavad gItA.

Notably, there is no creed for conversion in any of these principle Scriptures.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Avoiding Judgment, Embracing viveka

On the spiritual path we practice in order to avoid judgment. As shrI shaMkarAcArya has stated, "A person who hears about the condemnation of another incurs sin. What need be said about the sin incurred by a man who actually engages in nit picking?"

Our practice is twofold: we don’t listen to judgments; nor do we indulge our in making them.

In addition to avoiding judgment, we also embrace viveka. This is to say, we continuously discriminate between Atma-brahman and the realm of appearances. There are three methods that can be used to bring about this discrimination. These are:


dRRigdRRishya viveka

bhAga tyAga lakShaNa

adhyAropa-apavAda involves putting an example forward and then, when the point has been made, retracting it. For example, we can say that the Atma is like space that exists around between and within a row of pots. However, after considering this example, we remind ourselves that it is only an example, since space can be objectified, whereas the Atma can not.

dRRik dRRishya viveka (sometimes referred to as neti-neti or not this, not this) is the practice of discriminating between the seer and the seen. If we can see an object, then this object is not the seer. Our practice is particularly helpful when we repeatedly consider how our individual sense of self, is but another object appearing to the ever-present, subjective seer.

bhAga tyAga lakShaNa is the practice of one way of seeing being eclipsed by another. The starting point for this practice is one of the mahAvAkya-s or great statements. For example the Sringeri mahAvAkya is "aham brahmAsmi" or "I am brahman". Usually we identify "aham" or "I" in a limited way. In this case, as SrI SankarAcArya has explained, "aham" refers to the Atma and not the jIva (the jIva being the individual, incarnate person comprised of the five kosha-s).

In short, we don't simply want to avoid judgment on our path. We also embrace the practice of viveka, which allows us to discover Truth.

Monday, July 19, 2010

skillful charmer

the heart
is filled with
many hidden maladies

everyone is searching
for the secret cure

like a fearless
skillful charmer
cobra after cobra
from some
little wicker basket

you came along
to bring an end
to the constant fatal

by casting your gaze
here and
placing your foot

this wasteland
tender life

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Sage, the adhikArin & the World

According to the late Douglas Harding, SrI ramaNa mahaRshi once explained that sometimes

the Self-awareness of the j~nAni is to the forefront like the treble melody in music. At other times it lies in the background like the bass accompaniment, which you hardly notice till perhaps it stops... The heartening fact is that true Self-consciousness, when sufficiently valued and established, can be trusted to go on at some level without any fuss or concern about keeping it up deliberately.

Probably this applies for the adhikArin as well. I have met folks who are eager to realize and when their continuous obsessing about Reality fails to get them realization, they redouble their efforts. My suggestions to relax and let things take their course, have sometimes fallen on deaf ears.

A disciple of SrI rAmakRRishNa was pursuing spiritual discipline, but he was unable to make much progress. One day he asked SrI rAmakRRishNa why he has been failing. The Master asked his disciple to follow and him to the middle of the gaNgA river. With the water up to their chests, SrI rAmakRRishNa placed both hands on the head of the disciple and pressed him underwater. He held him there for a few seconds or so and released him. As the disciple came above water, the Master asked the disciple, "What was one intense thought in your mind during the time I had you underwater?" The student replied, "I was intensely praying you would release your hand from my head, so that I could breathe." SrI rAmakRRishNa, then replied, "Your desire for mOksha should be this intense for you to make progress."

In this scenario, the disciple has been subjected to a force greater than his own will. The convergence of various circumstances afford him the opportunity to have the sudden, intense desire to be able to breath again.

Such intense desire emerges when the time is right.

Monday, July 12, 2010

the secret mystery

once it seemed
i had
a voice


a babbling ocean
its mouth

dear friends
all had to excuse
my stumbling

i was a
simple flame

when suddenly
the falconer
his command

and the hunter
took down
the deer of
my will

in the secret

of fire

The Value of Embarrassment

I recently was perusing a book titled Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. It was written by Dacher Keltner who is a professor of psychology at the University of Berkley.

As I was casually turning the pages, I stopped at a composite image of the the Buddha, Gandhi and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In the text around this image, Mr. Keltner explains that signs of embarrassment, which are generally believed to indicate confusions and lack of confidence, may also indicate "our respect for others, our appreciation of their view of things, and our commitment to the moral and social order."

According to Mr. Keltner,

Far from reflecting confusion, it turns out that embarrassment can be a peacemaking force that brings people together—both during conflict and after breeches of the social contract, when there’s otherwise great potential for violence and disorder. I've even found evidence that facial displays of embarrassment have deep evolutionary roots, and that this seemingly inconsequential emotion provides us with a window into the ethical brain.

In the book, Mr. Keltner further explains that individuals who exhibit confidence, on the other hand, have the potential to be violent and aggressive.

By Googling out of curiosity while considering this post, I found an adaptation of the passage here.

Jamie & Roller Derby

Recently, Jamie has been going with our friend Joanne to watch home bouts of the Charlotte Roller Girls. Until this past weekend, things have been innocent enough. On Saturday evening, however, Jamie came home with a button to wear on her work apron.

So what's the big deal about wearing one little button?

Well, since she is already calling Joanne "Smashin' Fashion", her own Derby name, I'm certain, is soon to be announced.

Meanwhile, here is a painting of Jamie I made last year.

The Way of Platonism

I have been studying Plato for close to a year now and find that his philosophy is much in harmony with SankarAcArya, the great sage and codifier of vedAnta.

Interestingly, although Emperor Justinian closed the Platonic Academia in 529 A.D., Platonism, as a spiritual Way, has never completely died out.

According to Raphael of the Ashram Vidya Order Platonism was,

highly regarded by the Fathers of the Church (Ambrose, Augustine, John of Damascus, Anselm from Canterbury, and so on). It continued to be the Doctrine approved by the Church until the XII century. During the Renaissance, it flourished even more thanks to the Florentine Academia (Marsilio Ficino, the two Pico della Mirandola, etc.) in Italy, and the Platonics of Cambridge in England (H. More, Th. Gale, J. Morris, at al.).

More recently has been the illustrious Thomas Taylor, who had married his childhood sweetheart Mary Morton. Mr. Taylor was so enthusiastic about the ancients, that he and Mary talked to one another only in classical Greek!

At any rate, Plato's teaching is invaluable for those wishing to "regrow wings" and soar into the eternal sky of the One-Good.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"I Heard God Talking to Me"

"I was out in my driveway with some old pieces of stone when I heard a voice telling me to pick up my tools and start to work on a tombstone. I looked up in the sky and right there in the noon daylight, He hung a tombstone out for me to make."

This is how the late William Edmondson explained his beginning to make stone carvings.

Later Mr. Edmondson got another message to begin carving figures. These are remarkably beautiful.

Here is Untitled (Three Doves). It's one of my favorites.

Friday, July 9, 2010

What is Happiness?

According to the late SrI candraSekhara bhAratI of Sringeri

Ordinarily speaking, we say that we are happy when we get the thing we are longing for. At the time when we desire something, our mind is in a state of unrest; but when we get that thing, the state of unrest is replaced by a sense of peace. Similarly, we say we are happy when we get rid of a thing which we loathed. At the time when we loathe something, our mind is restless; but when we get rid of that thing, our mind becomes calm. Therefore, happiness follows when a preceding state of unrest is ended. Happiness is identical with the feeling of rest or peace. Only he who knows mental peace experiences true happiness. And to still the mind is the aim of all spiritual practices.

To paraphrase: true happiness is peace of mind.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Our Neighbor George

Our neighbor George is a hardcore DIY guy. There's just not much he sees as trash.

Knowing I like to paint, George has provided me with a variety of frames (most I've had to sneak into the trash can - but only after looking both ways).

When he recently put up a trellis and an arbor - both made out of non-trellis and non-arbor objects - for his climbing spinach, I couldn't help wondering if George wasn't going a little overboard.

He also "borrows" Jamie's flower pots. Sometimes she'll look over at his porch and say, "There's the pot I was going to plant some rosemary in."

On the plus side, however, thanks to George, we now have an outdoor fire pit (found on the side of the road). We no longer have to dig a hole in the yard and keep an eye out for the Fire Marshal.

Also, I can ride a bike sometimes instead of walking, because someone gave George a bike, and then he gave it to me.

What's best about George is he has a heart of gold. He's the kind of neighbor anyone would want.

Need a tool? George has it.

Last year a wheel was broken off of our trash can. Before we even knew what had happened, George had rigged it so well, it still rolls like new.

Once, I was going to borrow a bike tire pump, and I found George under the tree beside his house, gathering persimmons into a small bowl. He planned to surprise another neighbor who enjoys them.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"God's Little Artist"

Gwen John was a Welsh artist who lived in France during most of her career.

Gwen was received into the Catholic Church in 1913. Her notebooks from this time are filled with meditations and prayers. She wrote of her desire to be "God's little artist" and "to become a saint".

Mrs. John mostly painted anonymous sitting females. However, we have a description from her model, Jeanne Foster, who wrote: "She takes down my hair and does it like her own...she has me sit as she does and I feel absorbed in her personality as I sit."

Here is her 1918-1919 canvas titled The Convalescent.

In 1912, Gwen wrote in a letter, "As to whether I have anything worth expressing that is apart from the question. I may never have anything to express, except this desire for a more interior life."

Adam's Questions

Adam had a few questions. So, after the morning gathering yesterday, I rode my bike to meet with him. We decided to walk while we talked.

Adam's questions came as a result of an earlier question he had posed. "What is a good spiritual book to read?" Taking his faith into consideration, I recommended several titles, and he chose Putting on the Mind of Christ by the modern-day mystic and public policy lawyer, Jim Marion.

As we walked and talked, Adam explained how, during his attendance at Liberty University, he was often viewed as an alternative outsider. Mr. Marion's writing was challenging notions of Christianity that he had learned while growing up and while at Liberty.

I listened to Adam as he described the openness of mind he had, toward ideas he was reflecting on for the first time in his life. His question was about how to share these ideas without coming off as judgmental.

Good as this question is, replying can be tricky and I said as little as possible.

Since I had to say something, however, I offered the metaphor of nurturing a plant into bloom. "It would be futile to attempt speeding things along," I ventured, "by pulling on the plant to make it grow faster."

Just like a plant, each of us grows naturally under the sunlight and rain of God's goodness. Mostly we need to relax and let the Divine Gardener do the work that belongs to Him, more so than to us.

I hope what I said will be helpful for Adam.

The advaita Manifesto

In the Introduction to his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan offers the following Eater's Manifesto. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

As simple as it may seem, the beneficial implications of this manifesto are enormous.

Recently, I've been offering classes on the bhagavad gItA and have discovered that there is a simple way to state the message of this beloved scripture. "Be good. Love God. See God everywhere."

Many on the advaita path are tempted to try and bypass goodness and devotion, in order to jump straight into seeing God everywhere. The trouble with this approach is that it is like bypassing necessary training and going straight into cliff climbing. The result will most likely be disastrous.

When one falls on the advaita path, one falls, as explained by the late Swami Adiswarananda, on the jagged rocks of egotism, loss of faith, intellectual understanding, and selfishness.

How to avoid falling in this manner is simple: Be good. Love God. See God everywhere.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lilian Staveley: a Hidden Saint

Lilian Staveley was born 1878 and died in 1928. Her body was buried in a Dorsetshire village.

Between these dates, Lilian grew up, was married to the Brigadier General William Cathcart Staveley, and came into a profound inner experience and knowledge that has since been compared with Saint Francis of Assisi and SrI rAmakRshNa.

Surprisingly, many people who knew Lilian unaware were of what was going on (including her husband). In short, Lilian was a hidden saint, and while outwardly, for example, she may have been found "shopping on London's Bond Street for a sensible pair of shoes" - inwardly she was absorbed in the deepest prayer.

Fortunately for us all, Lilian wrote three books: The Golden Fountain (1919), The Romance of the Soul (1920) and The Prodigal Returns (1921). These were published (anonymously, of course) by John M. Watkins of London.

Here is a brief excerpt on God-Consciousness, from the recent volume entitled A Christian Woman's Secret, that beautifully weaves Lilian's somewhat loosely written books into a more coherent whole:

The life of conscious connection with God is true living as far as we may know it in the flesh, an enormous increase over the petty and lacking life of the world. For in this life of God-consciousness is an immense sanity and poise, a balance between soul and body and heart and mind never achieved in the "normal" and "natural" life. Therefore the God-conscious life is not to be named an abnormal but the complete, full, and only truly normal life: a life in which both soul and creature have found their center, and the whole being in all its parts is brought to evenness, to harmony, to peace, and a greatly magnified intelligence. If all men and women attained this state, this world would automatically become Paradise. In this true life living and feeling alter their characteristics and surpass anything that can be imagined by the uninitiated mind.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

SankarAcArya & the Enlightened Boy

Once there was a a boy named hastAmalaka. He was born in a village called SrIbali, near gokarNa (Karnataka). There was something very unique about this boy, since he was born Self-realized.

Due to hastAmalaka's deep absorption in Reality, he was thought to be quite dumb - even by his loving parents.

One day hastAmalaka's father heard that the great Sage SankarAcArya was visiting SrIbali. He thought to himself, "The least I can do for my poor, dumb son is take him to see this venerable Master." So on the day of SankarAcArya's visit hastAmalaka's father pushed the boy toward the Sage, explaining the unfortunate situation.

SankarAcArya looked at the boy quizzically and asked, "My dear boy, why does everyone think you are dumb?" And in response hastAmalaka spoke the following remarkable verses.

SankarAcArya then received permission from the boy's father so that hastAmalaka could travel with him and train as a disciple.

hastAmalaka is said to have been appointed at the western advaita maTha at Dvaraka, under the guardianship of sureSvara.

More Nobody Than Thou!

Once two rabbis were at the Synagogue together and one prayed aloud, "O Lord, I am nobody." The other rabbi, not be outdone, prayed a little louder, "O Lord, I am nobody." They prayed this way for awhile, getting louder and louder, until they finally settled into silence.

During this episode, the janitor had been on his hands and knees cleaning in one corner. In the silence the rabbis heard him quietly praying, "O Lord, I am nobody and You are All."

Then one rabbi elbowed the other and said, "Well, look who thinks he's nobody!"

The "Sinner" Saint

One of the greatest saints of modern times is the late Yogi Ramsuratkumar. He lived in the guise of a beggar and often, to the chagrin of the majority of his Western devotees, referred to himself as “this dirty sinner”.

I once talked with an Indian women who had spent time with Yogi. As soon as I mentioned his name, her eyes lit up and she smiled the sweetest smile and exclaimed, "I love Yogi Ramsuratkumar!"

Everyone I've spoken with who knew Yogi has responded similarly, despite the fact that he offered no formal teachings; he also chain-smoked; and, further still, his idea of taking a bath was to go once a year, look at the bathwater and then run away.

Here is a photograph of Yogi with his close disciple Devaki Ma.

Yogi Ramsuratkumar Yogi Ramsuratkumar Yogi Ramsuratkumar Jaya Guru Raya

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Things, Ideas & Silence

Yesterday Jamie and I went to DuPont State Forest. Along the way, I read an excerpt (342c-344d) from Plato's Seventh Letter. In this excerpt the great spiritual master in the guise of philosopher describes how the four (names, descriptions, bodily forms, and concepts) are of "inaccurate character" and make nearly everyone "prey to complete perplexity and uncertainty."

Plato gives the example of a circle to illustrate how we have the name "circle", the description as "the thing which has everywhere the same distances between extremities and its center", the bodily form of a circular object, and, finally, concepts, which may be correct or incorrect.

As a result of the possible shortcomings of the four, Plato taught about the fifth entity. If I understand correctly, following the example of the circle, the fifth is the Idea of the circle. While the four belong to the sensible (or manifest) realm, the fifth belongs to the intelligible realm.

The reason we can know what a circle is, and not get it confused for a square or a triangle, is because the Idea exists within our consciousness. This Idea is not affected in the least by the sensible experience of circles. If all the circles in the world were destroyed the Idea would still exist within consciousness.

At DuPont, Jamie and I saw the spectacular Triple Falls, among others, as I was reflecting on this teaching from Plato.

However beautiful certain things are, a consideration of Ideas leads us into contemplative silence.

Monday, June 28, 2010

"The Longer the Beard..."

I once read that the late swAmI cinmayAnanda said, "Don't just believe what I say, but test it for yourself. The longer the beard, the more should be your suspicion!" His beard went almost to his waist.

But swAmI was not talking about beards, of course. He was making reference to the breadth of a teaching and how the devil (and not only the angel) is in the details.

Spiritual teaching is worthwhile when it actually helps. The point is to say what is correct in a way that leaves a constructive impression.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ben & the Atma

My friend Joanne has the fattest cat I have thus far had the pleasure of meeting. His name is Ben. After modeling for a number of paintings, Joanne mentioned that Jamie and me might visit so I could sketch her cats. Here is a sketch of Ben from that session.

Afterwards, I used the sketch to create this painting.

I often use sketching as a way to gather information which I may be able to use in paintings later.

On the spiritual path, various forms of sAdhanA are similar to sketching. It does not make us what we already are. Yet it opens a way for us to realize Atma-brahman and, on that basis, live a vibrant and beautiful life.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


some attempt to
the ego
through intense

and others by
indulging or grooming

and still others
by all-out

dear friend won’t you
rub a little
dust from the guru’s feet
on your forehead

the cure for
these mad ailments is
devotion to Ishvara

The jagadguru's Simple Wish

Once when SrI abhinava vidyA tIrtha of Sringeri was wishing to observe an insect that had burrowed into the ground, he poked a small hole in a leaf and placed a drop of water over it to create a magnifying glass.

It might have been easy for him to pass on his way, since he did not have a magnifying glass. However, SrI abhinava was focused on his intention to the degree that he was able to creatively use the resources available to fulfill his simple wish.

This is an excellent example for anyone.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Slow like Miró

On Wednesday Jamie and I visited the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. While purchasing our tickets, we opted to take along the complementary audio guide.

Near the end of the exhibit is a magical work. The audio guide explains how while Hans and Bessie Bechtler were visiting Joan Miró, they admired a rag the artist was using to clean his brushes and offered to purchase it. The artist declined, saying he still needed it.

Later, Miró sent the rag to Hans and Bessie as a gift, along with a warm note and some display instructions. Miró had transformed the rag into a beautiful work of art simply by adding a slightly curving black line and his signature.

In the spirit of Slow, Miró did only what was essential. On the spiritual path, we often try to do so many things, when we only need the essentials of knowledge, devotion and goodness.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cultivating Spiritual Kinship

In his new book Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, His Holiness the Dalai Lama includes a beautiful chapter on Hinduism. His Holiness discusses his many friendships with contemporary Hindu teachers and saints.

Most notably, he mentions his friendship with the late swAmI cinmayAnanda, who was a close neighbor to Dharmasala. swAmI was among the teachers who taught His Holiness about j~nAna, bhakti, karma, and rAja yoga.

Although the other chapters are also wonderful, His Holiness' chapter on Hinduism alone is worth the price of this book, as its joyfulness, simplicity and depth are a testament to the benefits of cultivating spiritual kinship.

Monday, June 21, 2010


two eyes look
into time and
into eternity

get to know
this other
eye by
training it on
the words of
the wise

worldly words
are trained
on rUpa
while wise words
are spilling

go to
the twilight entrance
and lose yourself
the way
nectar is lost to
gushing honeycomb

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

j~nAna yoga & Slow Thinking

j~nAna yoga is the yoga of knowledge. Only this knowledge is not intellectual in the conventional manner. Rather it is intuitive or, we might say, intellective (in the Platonic sense).

To acquire this knowledge one follows the triple method of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana, or hearing vedAnta teaching from a qualified teacher, reflecting upon it and assimilating it.

Although this method is not haphazard; neither is neat and tidy. It is organic. It dawns in the mind in a manner interdependent with our particular vAsAna load. It can not be forced. It has to be natural.

According to Carl Honoré "Slow Thinking is intuitive, woolly and creative. It is what we do when the pressure is off, and there is time to let ideas simmer on the back burner. It yields rich, nuanced insights and sometimes surprising breakthroughs."

I believe there is some resonance between j~nAna yoga and Slow Thinking.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Inviting the Soul

Near the beginning of his poem Song of Myself Walt Whitman writes, "I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass."

What is the soul?

In Western thought, the soul is a higher dimension within. Since the Atma is not a dimension, the corresponding idea in advaita is jIva. Only the jIva is not a portion of the individual; rather the jIva is the totality of an individual as he or she is made manifest by Ishvara.

According to taittirIya upanishad, this total manifestation is comprised of five koshas. These are annamayakosha, praNAmayakosha, manomayakosha, vijnAnmayakosha, and Anandamayakosha, which is to say body, praNA, mind, intellect, and spirit.

Ishvara is the face of brahman nirguNa. Similarly the jIva is the face of Atma.

By inviting the soul one is inviting the Whole.

Giving Problems Time

Whenever there is a problem, it is common for many of us to jump into action, hoping to resolve it. But since problems are natural, we often set in motion actions that result in still more problems.

I have noticed, however, that problems often stay at a minimum when I don't try immediately to resolve most of them, and this applies to big problems as well.

The core problem for spiritual seekers is of not yet being enlightened. Why try so hard to resolve it?

The bigger a problem is for us, the greater the disappointment when efforts fail.

our white door at night -
the slugs that have gathered here
will leave by morning

Delicate the Toad

The poet Robert Francis was born on August 12, 1901 and graduated from Harvard University in 1923. He lived in a small house he built himself in 1940, which he called Fort Juniper.

Mentored by Robert Frost, Mr. Francis wrote superbly crafted, deeply personal poems, often about nature. He died on July 13, 1987.

While most everyone knows of Emily Dickinson, Robert Francis was the "other" hermit-poet from Amherst, Massachusetts.

In 1965 Francis published a collection titled Come Out Into the Sun. The following is a poem from this volume.

And, if I may suggest, read it aloud. Although this poem is not specifically about advaita vedAnta, you might be pleasantly surprised at the sound of your own flute.

Delicate the toad
Sits and sips
The evening air.

He is satisfied
With dust, with
Color of dust.

A hopping shadow
Now, and now
A shadow still.

Laugh, you birds
At one so
Far from flying

But have you
Caught, among small
Stars, his flute?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Self & Image

I have enjoyed making art since the age of seven. It all began when my father and I sat at the kitchen table and he showed me how to draw a plane flying at an angle and the profile of a person standing, for a school assignment.

My grade was excellent, but that was only icing. Since then, making art has grown into a way of meditating on life and existence. The paintings and drawings are the tracks, the fading notes of a vast and edgeless inner music.

Here is a recent portrait of Jamie and I. We are not in the painting physically; and yet, friends who know us swear they can see us both.

Of course there is nothing strange about this. Each of us is present in a manner than can not be reduced to ideas or words. Nor can it be reduced to images.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Switching to Decaf

Until September of last year, I was drinking numerous cups of coffee each day. People would comment on my easy-going disposition despite all the caffeine.

This didn't last. Gradually I began to notice how agitated I was feeling and it was time to quit.

With ninety percent of adults consuming it, caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance and is legal and unregulated nearly everywhere. It is the drug of choice for our time-sick, speed-focused society.

When faster leads to faster still, everyone needs a boost just to keep pace. By stepping from this cruel hamster wheel, it is easier to quit acceptable addictions.

What Never Changes

Professor Guttorm Fløistad summarizes Slow philosophy this way:

The only thing for certain is that everything changes. The rate of change increases. If you want to hang on you better speed up. That is the message of today. It could however be useful to remind everyone that our basic needs never change. The need to be seen and appreciated! It is the need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love! This is given only through slowness in human relations. In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal.

advaita points to what never changes regardless of changes. Many aspects of Slow living are harmonious with classical vedAnta for exemplifying sattva guNa.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Value of Shade

Every Wednesday Jamie and I spend the day doing something we enjoy. Usually we slip away from town for some hiking and exploring.

Since Jamie was not feeling well this week, we stayed in town and wandered the trails of a local park. Later we decided to go over to the lake and relax. While sitting on a bench, I was dozing off and Jamie started feeling sleepy as well. So we moved to a bench that accommodated us both.

Later we woke up incredibly thirsty, because this other bench was not shaded. Although Jamie was unfazed, I still have a bit of heat exhaustion typing this post, despite drinking sixty-four ounces of Gatorade to restore electrolyte balance.

What this has me thinking about is the value of staying in the shade of time-honored wisdom, which is rooted in prasthAna traya.


In his book The One-Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka up-ends the commercial approach to farming by demonstrating, through natural farming, that many aspects of the commercial approach are extraneous. For example, rather than saturating his crops with chemicals, Mr. Fukuoka would simply mulch with straw.

Perhaps the most radical idea of natural farming is no-digging. Jamie has a garden out in the yard and she follows many of Mr. Fukuoka’s recommendations. When she is planting in a new spot, however, she calls me out to dig.

I am sympathetic to this radical idea, since an advaita teacher is focused on sewing seeds of goodness and pointing to what is. No digging is necessary.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Abiding Peace

Our minds can be frenetic. This is not a fault so much as a disposition that comes with birth as a result of mAyA and its effects.

vedAnta teachings tell us there is more to being incarnate than meets the eye. We have not only a physical body but also a subtle and a causal body.

Our causal body is the soil out of which the particulars of our subtle and physical bodies manifest. And this soil is filled with many different kinds of seed-like vAsanAs. Some are good and some are less than good. It is the manifestation of less than good which creates frenzy.

To rise above frenzy we change our ground dynamic. The way is simple: we cultivate goodness and follow the teachings of the wise. Such wise teachings point to essential Truth, encouraging us to discover the light of Consciousness already shinning.

It is steady realization "I am Consciousness", due to awakening of the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti, that results in abiding peace of mind and heart.