Sunday, September 26, 2010

Of Wine and Wonder

Edna, Adi, and I had dinner the other night at the home of two dear friends and their two Greyhounds, Hallie and Baci. We dined on their porch while the “girls,” Goji and Shisha, remained inside away from Adi and me. I’m allergic to cats and Adi seems just a little too interested in cats for everyone’s good.
As always with Cynthia and Paul there is wonderful food, good and plentiful wine and easy graceful conversation — often about food and Greyhounds, and the general stuff of life. This early fall evening was no exception.

Anyway, somewhere into the second or third bottle of wine I floated the question. I’d have to say it was born of a whim because I really had no agenda behind it, but I had been contemplating it earlier on my walk with Adi. So at an appropriate break in the conversation I said something to the effect that I had a question for the evening and was wondering how everyone would answer it. The question began, “From the time you get up in the morning to the time you go to sleep at night, how much time do you spend thinking?” I explained that I meant all thinking: high thoughts, low thoughts, intentional thinking on particular subjects, as well as automatic thinking that just seems to happen, and all talking to ourselves both aloud and in our own heads.

After some discussion and clarification of what I meant, we all pretty much agreed that we are constantly thinking from the moment we awaken to the moment we go to sleep. My follow-up question was, “How much of that thinking is intentional — motivated by a decision to think on a particular subject and to monitor the conversation to keep it on track?” (I don’t think I used exactly those words.) I was asked if the quality of the conversation mattered — if the conversation needed to be “productive” or “positive.” I said it didn’t matter.

I noticed that everyone was genuinely into the discussion. Everyone made really interesting points and brought up things I could not have anticipated. A remark by Paul about getting up in the middle of the night with stuff on his mind elicited a comment from me about watching the breath in order to control thoughts, which led Cynthia to observe that it had been so long since she had engaged in such a conversation that she felt she no longer could find the right words to accurately express her experience. I found this revelation to be quite remarkable. Cynthia then went on to explain that years before, both she and Paul had been seriously involved in a self-actualization group that explored such questions as we were now discussing, but now, after so many years, she felt inarticulate and unable to adequately express herself. Ironically, it seemed to me, she articulated the situation with all the clarity and insight she claimed she was lacking.

More wine was poured and consumed, the greyhounds stretched and exchanged their beds, maybe there was some dessert and the conversation continued. It was around that time, sometime late in the evening, that a very brief exchange took place between Cynthia and me that may very well be my inspiration for this posting. But before sharing that exchange I must, as is said, digress for a moment to create some context for our exchange.

There seems to be some universal agreement between religions, spiritual teachings, disciplines, and etceteras that the goal — the aim — the purpose — of life is to somehow gain, acquire, claim, or be granted an eternal state of bliss and happiness called Heaven, Nirvana, The Kingdom of God, Union with the Beloved, Union with Self, etc. etc. and that these same religions, spiritual teachings, disciplines, and etceteras offer the way and the means to get there. Where there is not universal agreement is what actually happens after one somehow makes it into this exalted state.

Enter the world of the Avatar and the Perfect Masters. The term Avatar is a Sanskrit word that has been interpreted as the light that comes before the dawn. Avatar is a seat held by the first soul to achieve union with God while in the human form, and who after eventually dropping His body, revisits His creation every seven hundred to fourteen hundred years in order to give a spiritual push to the whole of creation. (Dropping the body is a term that is used for the death of a God-realized individual.) Some examples of past Avataric incarnations are Krishna, Ram, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Mohammed, and Meher Baba.

Perfect Masters share the same eternal state of realization as the Avatar, wielding infinite knowledge, power, and bliss for the spiritual benefit of creation, but contrary to the Avatar, Perfect Masters never come back after dropping the body but continue to experience the aforementioned state of infinite knowledge, power, and bliss eternally, without any consciousness or awareness of the creation they left behind.

Now returning to my exchange Cynthia, while talking about the efforts we make, I repeated what I have heard from Meher Baba and others, that just a moment in the physical presence of the Avatar or a Perfect Master is worth more than lifetimes of personal efforts in the countless forms of fasts, penances, austerities, and good deeds — just a moment in their presence.
And it was then that Cynthia simply said, “It will probably take me three years before I can get there.” (At least I think those were the words she used.) What I thought she was saying was that she would have to go through all manner of “stuff” to get to the point where she would really understand and be able to accept the reality of what I had suggested. Very good, I thought while remembering a line from a poem by Kabir, “Until you experience it, it is not true.” I said nothing to Cynthia in response however, feeling that her own higher intelligence was all she needed and I personally did not need to do anything to expedite her “getting there.” But the fact remained that I was very impressed with what she said and how she said it. There was nothing dismissive in her tone — nothing at all negative in her response — just an openness without acceptance or rejection of the idea. What would have to take place, what transformation would have to occur in those three years was a mystery to me — a mystery I did not feel I needed to solve or even to understand.

Later, in light of the dinner conversation between Edna, Cynthia, Paul, and me, I began to reflect on a question I have recently begun to explore. Meher Baba has said that the present cycle of time, the Kali Yuga, which we have been experiencing for thousands of years, is coming to an end, to be replaced by the age of Krita. In the ancient Vedic teaching Kali is considered a dark age, an age where the shadow of God is experienced and appears to be longer than the very light which creates it. Krita, on the other hand, is a golden age, an age of light and the experiencing of the effulgence of God. So, it would seem to me that being so near to the coming Golden Age, we should by now be experiencing an intensity of spiritual aspiration and longing, or as the old song goes:

“Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation.”

But my own observations of recent times seemed to go against this idea. In fact, since January 31, 1969, when Meher Baba dropped his body, I have observed a very definite waning of interest and close-mindedness in many people regarding what P.D. Ouspensky once called, “The search for the miraculous and the possibility of man’s possible evolution.”

The change did not happen all at once, but over time the openness to the conversation began to close. People ceased to bring up the subject; often the ones who did did so only to promote some fixed and narrow religious dogma or point of view. Many people seem to have lost the ability to discriminate between religion and God — between religion and the perfection of consciousness in order to realize God. There are large photos of Meher Baba and statues of the Buddha openly displayed in my home and studio and generally speaking no one asks about them or the ones who do only nod at my answer and quickly change the subject to work or whatever twenty-four hour news cycle happens to be de jour.

But Meher Baba said we are entering a new age. My personal calculation based on what I have learned from Vedic teachings and things Meher Baba has said places the line to be crossed will occur in about 670 years or roughly around 2669. Certainly enough time for enormous changes, but still…

Now there is a couplet by Hafiz, the Perfect Master and master poet so renowned in the East:

“About what you hear from the master never say it is wrong
because my dear, the fault lies in your own incapacity to understand him.”

So I was not arguing, just wondering why things have seemed to me to be moving in the wrong direction. And then it began to dawn on me, based in part on the recent conversation with our friends, that perhaps part of the reason for what appears to be a movement in the wrong direction is due to the fact that life is so sped-up these days, deep down inside people are very scared. In one of his poems, Meher Baba once said, “Life; it never was or will be anyone’s beloved.”

I think that people are beginning to get that now, that there is no real security in life, nothing that can be counted on — and in fact maybe this inability to trust life is part of the process of man’s awakening. In the Peter Brooks film The Mahabharata, a wise king explains that sometimes in order to further dharma — dharma is a Sanskrit word that suggests the path to God — that in order to protect dharma, dharma itself sometimes must be destroyed. Perhaps that is what is happening these days — that is why the shadow appears more real than the light that casts it.

I once read an amazing statement in a book of discourses given by Meher Baba that there needs to be a pact of aggression between a healthy disgust for life and a growing love for God. Both sides, he explained, are necessary and maybe it is this other side, this emphasis of the negative over the positive, that we are seeing and experiencing these days.

And this brings me back to the statement that just a moment in the physical presence of the Avatar or a Perfect Master is worth more than lifetimes of personal efforts in the countless forms of fasts, penances, austerities, and good deeds.

I read once (sorry, but I don’t remember where) that Jesus said, “There was once a time when the Kingdom of Heaven could be conquered by violence, but those days are no more. Now the Kingdom of Heaven can only be won — through love.” I later came to understand that the word translated as “violence” was a reference to various kinds of penances and austerities that were common at the time. Today their equivalents would be the various yogas of the East and the various forms of “work on oneself” as practiced by some in the Western word.

Being a right-brained pragmatist (is that even possible?), I firmly believe in the truth of the old saying, “Trust in God — but tie your camel first.” But I also realize that if you are locked in a prison you don’t spend time making your cell more comfortable. No, what you do is put your energy into trying to escape. But what is the best way to escape? Having watched a gazillion prison movies in my day the answer is clear. You get help from someone who is already out. Still, in these days of fear, these days of the shadow — when people’s lives seem to have regressed to the concerns of the animal kingdom, i.e. eating, keeping from being eaten, procreation, and sleeping, with an emphasis on the first two — in these days you will have a hard time trying to tell people that associating with the Avatar or Perfect Master is the best, if not the only, way to achieve God-realization or what is sometimes called the Kingdom of Heaven. This returns us to Cynthia’s comment that it would take her three years to “get there.” How spontaneously intuitive and wise.

And so, in honor of the odyssey to “there” that we all have undertaken, consciously or unconsciously — to the odyssey with all its trials and tribulations — I offer this prayer, for Cynthia and us all, by way of the words of the song from the Incredible String Band:

May the long time sun shine upon you
all love surrounds you,
and the pure light within you,
guide you all the way home.

© copyright Michael Kovitz 2010