Tag Archives: Grace

The Nectar of the Name- A Story about Kirtan, Lila, and the Hanuman Chalisa

“People don’t know- every line of the Hanuman Chalisa is a Maha Mantra”
Neem Karoli Baba 

Many of us have come to kirtan and felt inspired, felt our sorrows lifted, or even experienced a deep healing or surrender. These are beautiful experiences that are meant to be cherished, but they are also ultimately just initial doorways into a rich and satisfying journey to God. Kirtan is more than just a temporary experience or emotional high. It is an opportunity to gain a taste of the nectar of devotion.

Just like in any worldly relationship, we first feel an attraction to someone, and some “high” in our body tells us we like them. If this initial attraction turns into a relationship, then over the years it has the opportunity to deepen into something even more satisfying than we could initially imagine. It has the possibility of offering an incredible healing and deeper sense of safety in the world. If this is true for a worldly relationship, then what to say of a Divine one?

What if our Lover was Perfect? What if They had no desires of Their own, save maybe for us to attain our own liberation? What if this Lover lived in our own heart as our True Nature? What if falling in Love with Them meant falling in Love with everyone, including ourselves? What if this Love affair fostered a sense of safety that stayed with us? Even through our most difficult times? Even through sickness, old age, and death? This is what kirtan can offer us- a chance to gain a taste of this nectar and to deepen this Holy Relationship.

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The Problem with Grace

If I were to pick one word that is central to my spiritual worldview, it would be Grace. And yet, I often find it to be the most difficult to talk about. It is profound as Truth and simultaneously problematic as a concept. It is a word that points to the deep nature of Reality and our soul’s relationship with God. But any explanation I can possibly think of is problematic if taken literally and applied inappropriately.

For instance, the words, “Everything is Grace,” can be either a soothing balm or a dagger to the gut depending on our understanding and application. They can be used to minimize danger, trivialize the suffering of others, or to spiritually bypass our own journey. They can also be that deepest reminder of our inherent OK-ness, even when our body, mind, and life circumstances are not OK.  They point us to the indestructible nature of Being, even in the face of death.

Ram Dass has often taught that the words, “Suffering is Grace,” are a tool that should only be applied to one’s own self. It should never be imposed outwardly on others. This is, of course, good practical advice and a safeguard from becoming a total dick, but it also points towards a deeper understanding than the words.

The semanticist Alfred Korzybski coined the now famous phrase, “The map is not the territory.”  Our ideas about the Universe are not the same as the Universe itself. A map is only useful if it takes us where we want to go. “Suffering is Grace” is one map that can be used to lead us right to the heart, even in the midst of extreme pain, but only in certain circumstances.

This map can also be used to circumvent our discomfort in witnessing another’s pain. Rather than using it to let go of our own discomfort, we instead minimize the other’s suffering. But Grace is not a concept to minimize pain. It is a force erupting from Infinity that grants us the capacity to hold it.

The concept of Grace is like a finger pointing at the moon. Move the hand, and it points us astray.

Sometimes Grace is what we pray for, like a mariner raising their sail and waiting for the winds to come. Other times Grace is more like dusting off an old window to allow in the light of the Sun.

Grace is all-pervading. That means that there is nowhere that Grace does not exist. It is the fabric of Existence itself, and yet… when I think of humanity’s worst atrocities and the most traumatic experiences of the human condition, there is no way I can call any of that Grace.

These inconsistencies create a doorway into a space that is deeper than words, where I no longer need to pin concepts to intuitive understanding and where I can truly rest in the spaciousness of Grace.

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Guru Kripa

It is not necessary to meet your guru on the physical plane. The guru is not external.

-Neem Karoli Baba (Miracle of Love)

For me, the Guru is how God becomes personal. The Guru shows me that God is not just an Eternal, Impartial, Truth, or even an All-Pervading Essence of Love, but is also a Being who loves me and all of us unconditionally. Before meeting the Guru, I had faith in God, but not a personal relationship. It was the Guru that gave that to me. Now I see that the lines of the Guru Stotram are true: “There is no truth higher than the Guru, no practice higher than the Guru, and no knowledge higher than the Guru.”

For some of us the Guru can take the form of a physical person on earth. A true Siddha, or Perfected Master, is a Being that has no ego. When you look at Them, all you see is the divine radiance of God shining through. There are no impurities to block the light. This Divine Presence is within all of us as our True Nature, but it is clouded by a web of desire and self-identification. A Siddha has none of that. You can clearly hear the voice of God in Their words, and Their body is a living Murti.  Their very life is the wisdom of the Vedas.

Such a Being cannot die. Their physical body may fall away, but the God within was never confined to that body anyway. We can still use Their form to connect with Them. We can look at Their pictures, sing to Them, travel to Their temples, and experience Their Grace through satsang with other devotees. The Guru shows Their devotees that They are still here, often times through dreams, synchronicities or miracles, but always through an inner knowing of the heart.

“When two or three people gather in my name, I am there” Christ (Matt 18:20).

The personal relationship with Christ experienced by many members of the Christian faith could be seen as an example of this. For me and for other members of the Neem Karoli Baba satsang, we refer to our Guru as Maharajji, a Siddha that left His body in 1973. Of course, if we don’t feel called to a specific form of the Guru, we can still connect to Her.

The Universal Guru is the God within every heart, and we can connect to Him by reading about any of the saints we are drawn to. Each one is a different mask of God, as if She just swaps bodies the way we might change clothes. This analogy took on new meaning for me the day I met Ram Dass for the first time. Still jolted by the Shakti of that encounter, I had a vision that night as I fell asleep on the beach. I saw two figures hovering in front of me, Jesus and Maharajji. They were both levitating a few feet off the ground, and a subtle light illuminated their bodies as they each shapeshifted back and forth into each others’ forms. Jesus would turn into Maharajji at the same moment that Maharajji would turn into Christ. This lasted for maybe 5-10 seconds, and then I fell asleep.

Some of us might not require any form. Since the Guru is within, if we are truly quiet, we can hear that still, small voice. The moments when I am connected to my intuitive heart are when I can most clearly see that the Guru guides every step of the journey.

I remember a dream I had shortly before I moved in to live with Ram Dass. Maharajji and I were both in a room together. He was barking ridiculous orders at me, and I was blissfully complying with all of them. “Bend over! Now point one arm up towards the sky! Point the other arm down! Spin in a circle! Now walk backwards!” We both laughed hysterically as my body spun around in the most awkward shape. I woke up from that dream in a state of incomparable joy. The message was clear- Maharajji is the puppet master, I am the puppet, and this dance we enact together is one full of rich, cosmic humor.

Even moments of confusion are the Guru doing His needed work. In suffering I find I am often ripped away into the deepest surrender. It is these moments that I cling to the Guru, not as a spiritual practice or an exercise in devotion or faith, but out of necessity. Sometimes it feels like hanging on for dear life. Other times it’s like I’m completely helpless to do anything, and yet there the Guru is, holding me when I can no longer hold on to anything.

“You can leave me. I won’t leave you. Once I catch hold of you, I don’t let go.”

-Neem Karoli Baba (Miracle of Love)

This is Guru Kripa, or the Grace of the Guru.  It is the realization that we are His, that the Guru has us wrapped up in Her warm embrace, that every aspect of our lives serves to draw us towards Them. All we need to do is listen to our heart, and, even when we forget, that too is a part of the Perfection that is the Grace of the Guru. It is through this Grace that we gain faith. This faith is not the same as a belief. Belief is in the mind, but faith is deeper than that. It is a knowing of the heart that the Grace of the Guru is with us every step of the way.

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An Encounter with Christ

Below is a record of the day when there was no doubt that I had met the Guru. Its the day that I gained a true faith in Grace. Since that day She has taught me that there is only One, True Guru, and He/She/It is beyond anything that we can grasp.  The Guru is within. It’s the deepest reaches of our own heart, but It’s also a relationship. It’s not just love in an impersonal form, but that which loves us and wants nothing more than our evolution towards that love. Its that gentle hand of Grace that helps us along our path. It can come to us in the form of an angel, spirit guide, or our own Inner Voice.  For me, the Guru has come to me in the form of the great Indian Saint Neem Karoli Baba, but my first meeting was not in that form.

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

It was the Summer of 2008. I had just turned 23 years old. I moved to Eugene, Oregon for the summer to work as a wildland firefighter. This was my second summer in Eugene doing this work, and so my plan was to stay with Alden, a fellow firefighter, as we waited for the call to action. Due to a paperwork error at my fire company, I was not eligible to firefight when the call came to ship out to California.

It was a big fire, and the entire company was sent down there except me. This left me alone in Eugene, waiting until the error was fixed so I could go with them. In the meantime, the lease on Alden’s room was up and his next house would not be available for ten days. Alden and I were going to stay with some of his friends, but now he was out on fire and had no cell service. The only people I knew in town were firefighters who were all gone as well. So I made the best of it and decided to sleep in the city park until either the house became available, or I got the fire call.

In the meantime, I was dead broke and had debt to pay.  About seven months earlier I had been scammed out of 8,000 dollars, all of the money I had in my savings. (That is a story for another day.) After this I decided to move to the desert to work on myself and do some soul-searching. I was camping on the outskirts of Las Cruces, New Mexico and working just enough to buy food, see my spiritual healer and pay off my student loans. The solitude of desert life allowed me to practice pranayama, meditation and other spiritual exercises, thus I experienced some extreme spiritual highs. This was a big deal to me because it was the first time I had ever been “high” without the use of drugs. I used these peak experiences as a marker for my spiritual “progress.”

I was not saving any money, however, and on my way back to Seattle I had car troubles that ended up maxing out my credit card. My credit card company, as a penalty for maxing out my card, raised my interest rate to 30 percent. I was not even able to pay off the interest as it accrued.

Not only was I broke and in debt, but emotionally broken. Once I returned to Seattle, all of the spiritual work I had done felt like it had completely shattered. I was having trouble reconnecting to my old friends and found myself still in love with a girl I had worked very hard to get over.

So here I was, homeless in Eugene and extremely depressed. I began having intense periods of longing for some Guru to come and take me away on my path to liberation, some Divine Being who could make everything alright. I had read Be Here Now, and I remembered its solemn words, “It’s really just another cop-out to be searching for the Guru.” God is within, and by waiting for some external thing to save me, I was just pausing the inevitable.

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Faith and suffering

I love suffering. It brings me so close to God

-Neem Karoli Baba

These words have often been my lifeline when it feels like I can’t breathe. When the constriction from my own mind has cut me off from the world, and when I am unable to connect with anything or anyone outside of myself, these words remind me to relax into my suffering and arrive at its unmistakable truth- that God is here, in this moment, in this suffering.

The suffering is still here, but now there is no where else I would rather be. There is a space around it. There is room to breathe.

In these moments I’ve found that true joy can coexist with suffering. An unbearable love can be found within even the most horrendous agony.  I’m often awestruck by the unexpected arising of gratitude. I become thankful for this unasked-for pain and for losing my balance enough to catapult me into a deeper stillness.

It reminds me why I am on this path and why I do these practices. I don’t write for people to read, I don’t sing for people to listen, I don’t meditate to be calm, and I don’t pray for some reward. I may believe that tomorrow or even in a few moments, but for now… this is the gift, here, in this erratic pain.

This strengthens my faith. It becomes evident that, even when I forget and mistakenly try to stroke my ego or to fulfill my desires, it does its silent work.  Through singing the Names, through looking at my Guru, through service, and through prayer, grace shines its holy fire on the rope of my narcissism and cinders its threads even as I work to tie knots.

I have faith that I will be brought back to this Truth, again and again, even through pain as long as its needed, for once its fire has burnt the last thread, there will be no more rope or the tying of knots.

 


Reflection