Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sri Daytona Sutra

Like potter's hands on spun clay, he rests firm on the turning kalpas. Still it's hard to tell: is it they or Shiva that moves, the spinning ages or the helmeted Lord -- master of the wheels of dharma, serene #1 as cars of illusion shark behind him? 

Heedless drivers surf the track that dips and rises like rough waves; a few have wiped out already, when steep Turn 3 tossed them four stories down or the Wall accepted their hasty offering. In that sea of heat and din one flinch, one luckless blink ends the game, if not in flames then sudden crush: 160 to nothing in half a second, weight of galaxies punched into a teaspoon. 

As the starter's stand sails past once more, Ganesh perches atop waving a blue flag. Shiva checks his mirror, sees the black Fusion cut across his tail-- she's back: red-silk warrior girl, hot fury with flaming fenders. She tries to knife her way between him and the Wall--impossible, suicidal stab. He squints ahead at the gray unfurling road, he can't bother with her--remain in bliss--but she nudges forward, backs off, nudges forward again, keeps coming, coming so close and so fast a touch would smash them both. He guns it, finds a hole, and moves over, rocking on his own forward motion and the tides of her speed. 

She's swishing her ass side to side, spoiler ablur, daring him to retake the lead. He feels a stirring: anger? battle thrill? lust? Are these possible for the Lord of Dharma? He should just lay back, let her chase her illusion: he is complete in himself. He lets off the gas a little and inertia tickles his groin. Right then #83 slams past, hurtling into the next turn, bursting the Lord's reverie. Shiva stomps the pedal through the floor.  

The grandstands shimmer with waving hands, flags, cans of beer; the crowd is on its feet dancing, cheering the duel -- a cyclone of kazoos, bells, vuvuzelas joins the engines' giant Om in a roar that shudders the roof beams of the cosmos. 83 angles for position like he's sliding in oil, but however swiftly or subtly he tries to edge around the Fusion, she fends him off. It's Kali, then 83, then Shiva into the Superstretch, all other contenders carlengths behind as the stands pulse and writhe with one life, one voice. She's getting away now, pulling so far ahead that Shiva thinks she's doped her gas or welded a nitrous tank in her trunk. The Lord's hands tighten on the wheel. 

He rockets to a hand's breadth of the second-place car, eases off-- at this speed, a tap of bumpers could tangle them into jagged flame, wrench them into ruin. He'll dance on 83's tail, psych him out, force him over or into a mistake, into the Wall if that's his fate. Shiva doesn't see her anymore, doesn't see that way up ahead she's had the same idea in reverse-- but no restraint, no care for calm or Lordship. She's doing the one thing you don't do: her foot's off the gas, she's in horizontal free-fall, looking dead still as Shiva shifts his gaze from 83, who, too eager, grazes her, then jerks away in panic, nearly sideswiping Shiva. 

He whips out and around 83, half in the grass, wheel in rock-wall grip as, just behind now, she floors it. Cars piling up behind them: 83 t-boned, plowed before a surge of twisting metal as smoke rears up like Vishnu's cobras. Tires, fenders fly; a yellow Dodge vaults porpoise-like over the massing ruin and tumbles away across the infield as, above, the sky pinks with sunset. 

A few cars make it around the pile-up, but Shiva isn't worried about them--it's Kali he wants. Not winning, not the checkered flag; order must be restored. Shiva must smooth the waves, must rise above them to take his throne once more in serene Himalayan cool. She's back in front but not for long.

Easy motion, add pressure on the gas, hands firm on the wheel but not locked. He speeds up to catch her as she nears the next turn. The turns are banked 31 degrees, steep enough that drivers coming in too fast climb the track and hit the Wall, and those coming in too slow slide down into other racers or onto the grass. He knows her MO, knows she's going to enter the turn low, edge up the incline, then shoot out faster than she went in.  

She slows as the turn looms, he closes the gap between. They go in like beads on a chain: Kali in front, Shiva just behind. He eases up a little as she starts to climb, miming loss of nerve. He has five seconds: give it some gas, climb closer, nudge her fender, then let off and slide down to safety, smoothly accelerating out of the turn as Kali spins out behind him. No other cars near; she'll bang the wall and it'll look accidental and she'll try to right herself and then fishtail and wipe out in the time it takes a yokel in the stands to whoop or sip some beer. 

Four seconds: they're neck and neck in the turn: track lights strobe through Shiva's window net, the stands crackle and spark with a hundred thousand flash bulbs. He drifts up, closer; Kali swerves his way in warning. He backs off to psych her out, just enough time now to come back up fast and wallop her. He glances over to begin the assault but the black Fusion fills his window as a cricket bat smacks his solar plexus. 

The chest punch wrenches him over and aloft and balls-dropping high, wavering, floating as the car's thin metal catches air, wavering aloft as blood catches up with car mass and threatens to squirt out his eyeballs. His flying car slows, drops, and with spine-crunching thump lands an instant, bounce-whirls, smashed and flying again in skies of lacerating noise. She's with him, must have hit him when he landed; he's hammered to pieces by what must be the ground and the Fusion. Eyes burning and blurring with sweat and smoke, he sees raceway lights and moon spin into streaking sparks as his mind's eye plays a video of their cars locked in tumbling embrace across the track, across the grass, into the night, over all walls and into eternal, black Nothing. 

The crowd roars, yawps, wails--not to mourn, not for mirth, not for blood, but because they are here, here now, together, wavelets who rise and flow in matrimonial joy of this night, of moon, of Mom and Dad whose flames light their hearts-- the crowd cries for Now, brief now, now so soon it can't be said, just shivered in like skin.

Friday, August 26, 2011

"Cultivate Grace"

Narada, in his essential, monumental -- are there adjectives for such a thing?-- Bhakti Sutra, after speaking of the immense blessing of "the company of great souls," advises us to, above all, "cultivate grace." 

But, wait. How the heck are we supposed to "cultivate grace"? Isn't grace, by definition, unexpected, unwarranted, and undeserved by worms like you and me? Doesn't grace always already elude our grasp? In mainstream American Christianity it might, but this is bhakti, where we dance with our chosen deity (think about that--) in mutual joy, mutual seduction for some of us, but at the very least: She wants you. She will do anything to get you to Her breast, Her lap, into Her infinite loving arms... but it helps if you're paying attention.

The re-direction of attention is, in fact, the main subject of the Bhakti Sutra; it's a medieval meta-programming manual, as a look at its Spark Notesy Wikipedia entry suggests. Narada depicts the mind as a feedback loop that can either be left alone to spiral ever deeper into obsession with ego and sense objects, or that can be harnessed and repatterned until "God... becomes manifest in the awareness." His formula basically works out to:
  • Spend more time loving God and singing His/Her/Its praises than doing anything else.
  • Put real passion and intense emotion into your worship, and worship as frequently as you can, in whatever ways your circumstances permit. 
  • Stop hanging out with people who are fixated on wealth, status, and negative emotions; start hanging out with people who are high on God. 
  • Get picky about who or what you rent your mind to-- the Hare Krishnas pricelessly translate: "One should not find entertainment in news of women, money, and atheists." (More sensitive translators unpack the metonymic "women" as "sex"; for "atheists" you usually see "worldly people," and I've even seen "celebrities"!)
As people like Aleister Crowley and, well, yours truly have demonstrated, you don't have to believe in a deity for this formula to work. Belief, when it comes down to it, matters very little in most religions outside the Abrahamic bubble. To paraphrase a famous guru: do or do not, there is no believe.  As the Sufis say, "Beat the dog and the lion will obey," or, more prosaically, discipline your body and your habits and your mind will follow along. DIs at Parris Island don't yell at recruits and call them names and wake them up at 4:00 a.m. because they don't like them; the Corps, like military outfits going back before the Iliad, knows that bombarding the senses and moving the body re-shapes the mind.

Religion itself is not immune from Narada's version of "Turn on, tune in, drop out." Narada urges us to "[Renounce] even the scriptures," for, as translator Prem Prakash puts it, "The great lovers of God leap from the edifice of social consensus and religious identity in order to soar in the sky of God's love. They have rendered unto God what belongs to God, and having found that everything belongs to God, they are unfettered in their minds and hearts." Kali wants everything, including your religion. In sum, Narada maps out a way for us to transform ourselves by love and surrender, demonstrating the great Ramprasad Sen's observation that "The substance of your thoughts becomes the reality" that you experience.

Eventually, Narada says, you'll get to a state where God is all you want to think about and talk about. Your body will literally shiver with delight at the thought of your Beloved; you will cry when you think about Her or when you read the scriptures. Giving things up to Her-- sensual delights, success, the esteem of your peers, anything-- will seem sweeter than gaining these things for yourself. Muggledom is now permanently replaced by a new, Her-centered self-organizing system, a love-spiral that sustains and reproduces itself. As Narada says, "Spiritual devotion is its own fruit," or, alternately translated, "Bhakti begets bhakti." This is all true. It works.

In the life of Jadunath Sinha, author of what is still the only complete translation of Ramprasad into English (and thus the source for most 'versions' on the market), we see the fruit of bhakti and of the company of saints. I just stumbled on an excellent, brief biography of Sinha that spoke to me deeply as a Shakta and as someone who, like Sinha, has walked a labyrinthine spiritual path. It's all the more interesting because Sinha didn't put his spiritual experiences out there for public consumption; his son uncovered them in his diary after the older man's death. Sinha's experiences will sound "paranormal" to some, but they are really the result of his shifting his attention to a parallel realm that is just as real and just as "normal" as this one.

Sinha, particularly late in life when he dedicated himself to spiritual practice, lived part in our world and part in Her world. He was a professor, college administrator, and accomplished scholar who was elected President of the Indian Philosophical Congress -- yet he frequently fell into ecstasies and trances, he saw visions and heard voices, and he interpreted every moment of his life as another step in the dance with Kali. As a young man he had the odd experience of being initiated by a guru simply with one glance, that is, he experienced what in the West we would call a "psychic" or "telepathic" initiation. I myself have experienced drik diksha (the technical term for this) and I can tell you it's quite real and quite unsettling. It isn't "supposed to" happen; it seems as though it should be easy to explain away or recover from, yet one's entire life can change from a single glance and one, it seems, is powerless to alter the fact. Sinha didn't even spend that much time with his guru, meeting him only a handful of times, but he knew this man oversaw his spiritual growth. At times Sinha beheld deities as if they stood in front of him and, like Ramakrishna, his visions went beyond the anthropomorphic to a more refined, esoteric plane: "The entire universe," Sinha wrote in his diary, "became a sea of light-- light, light, moving, surging light."

Sometimes Western skeptics single out such blessed individuals as Sinha, oddly, as examples of a putative deity's ill will. "Why them?" the plaint goes. "What makes them so special? I guess God doesn't care about the rest of us schmoes." No, I would hazard the guess that, as in any other field of endeavor, spiritual practice makes perfect, or near so, and Sinha benefited from a combination of practice, natural ability, and persistence-- the same things that made, say, Richard Feynman a math whiz. Imagine saying to a Dawkinsite, "Why Feynman? Why can't I revolutionize physics!? Why is science so unfair?" Any such person with any sense would tell you that maybe you could; you don't know until you sit down with some calculus and physics books and get crackin'. Don't blame Maxwell if you don't get Maxwell's equations; if you don't turn on the radio, you can't hear the music.


don't get me wrong. Grace can just happen, too, of course. It happens all the time, it falls upon us like luminous snowflakes, as Andrew Harvey saw once while wide awake and sober. It feels like stumbling across that Sinha bio was grace, and really it feels like a lot is grace if I just slow down and breathe deep and get my mind off my current wants and ouches. It's all grace, they tell me. Since I couldn't believe this even if I wanted to, I'm going to keep practicing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

From an Assignment I'm Working On

--for my writing students. It's a "technology memoir," about their use of and relationship with technology. I don't know why I'm posting this other than my blogger's license is about to be revoked for inactivity. So here's my filibuster 'gainst dispersion and silence--

For example, I have been a music fan my whole life. When I was a college freshman, I had a collection of vinyl albums (uh, maybe look that up on Wikipedia?) that took up a lot of space and weighed a lot. If I wanted to take that music with me on a trip out of town or even to the grocery store, my best bet was to make a cassette tape of each album (look that up, too!), which took at least 45 minutes per tape. There were albums I searched for, for years, just because I’d read a review of them. I had no real idea what they sounded like, since there was no way to listen to song samples unless—you already had the album. Most of the music I liked wouldn’t have been played on the radio in a thousand years, and there was no way other than albums, tapes, or radio to hear new music. I skimmed obscure catalogues and zines and drove to faraway towns, hoping to find new, interesting music, and often did. But then I had to order it via US Mail or haul it home with me. Once I heard from a guy who knew a guy who had an album I was looking for; a meeting was set up in his dorm (by word of mouth—there was no text messaging, and the guy I knew wasn’t sure of the other guy’s phone number. Plus, he’d have to be in his dorm room at the exact time we called—there were no cell phones). Somehow we met and the album was mine.

Now I have 75.3 days of music on my iPod. That’s 1807 hours. 1807 hours of music, 23,497 songs, more than 2000 albums; it would take up 20 linear feet of shelf space in vinyl form and weigh about half a ton. But with the iPod I can plug my 23,000 songs into my car stereo, I can take all 23,000 of them anywhere I go, I can listen to them as I wash dishes, I can bring them to work, much to some of my co-workers’ chagrin, much to the delight of others. My 75 days of music take up less space in my pocket than my wallet or my phone. I can get new albums in seconds by clicking a mouse. I can listen to snippets of thousands of albums on the Web and decide if I like them or not. I can do more music shopping in one day than I could do in a year in 1985.

I know we're supposed to interrogate late-capitalist narratives of technologically-mediated identity and critique the notion of progress and all that stuff, but I'm damn grateful for my iPod! 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Company of Great Souls

Narada, in the Bhakti Sutra, says that the company of great souls is the most efficacious route to higher consciousness and union with God. We normally interpret this as "you should hang out with saints, gurus, sages, rishis, mahatmas, swamis, aghoris, avadhutas, and other extremely spiritual people."

Such people, of course, are vanishingly rare and tend to reside on the tops of mountains, in cremation grounds, in caves, and at ashrams far, far away. If you're in Calcutta, they're in Kerala; if you're in East Podunk they're in Napa -- "always somewhere else," to quote Terence McKenna on daimonic happenings. I have to agree with Narada that the company of a genuine saint can do more to aid one's evolution in a shorter time than anything else but a direct zap from God, and I have to get down on my knees to Kali Ma (I'll literally do this once I hit "Publish Post") and thank Her and thank Her for the many saints She has allowed me to meet and learn from.


I was driving to school this morning, as I do nearly every morning, singing along with some bhajans on my iPod. It was the song "Radhe Govinda," and I was thinking that Radha, in all her meekness and prim beauty, is scarier than Kali, scarier than all the fierce faces of the Mother, for Radha embodies pure love to the point of total negation of self. She is so devoted to Krishna that She loses Herself in Him, asks nothing from Him but His glance, though She wants so much more. Radha, like Christ, calls us to the Abyss, and I have to steel myself even to sing these beautiful songs to Her; I feel like lightning will strike at the mention of Her name and I will be called on, that instant, to give Kali everything I am, give Her everything I have and want and don't want and everything I can be  -- everything I know and love, all of it rushing up, up in a hideous cloud of surrender-smoke.

So I'm thinking all of this and of course my family comes to mind; first and foremost, they are what I do not want to give up, cannot imagine letting go of. I think of my dear, brave step-daughter Molly -- a surpassingly wise soul, a soul who loves with all of her, an artist of astonishing depth, a young woman I admire more than anyone, save her mother. I think of James, and there are tears in my eyes again as I write this, James whose wit at age nine is sharper and sports more sideways angles than most New Yorker writers ever sprout, James who can race to the top of a tree fast as a squirrel and with as little fear, whose heart is as wide as the worlds he draws, filled with flying sharks and laser-eyed chimeras.

I think of Sophia, mother of these children and image of The Mother; I think of Sophia whose love and trust nearly shame me, whose beauty is itself a song -- to Radha for love, to Kali for power, to Matangi for sidereal vision. I think of Sophia who is a miracle; "only in the sense that we all are," she protests, but if you were to ask James and Molly and the people whose lives Sophia has touched with her art, her organizational genius, her teaching, and her friendship, I think the answer would be "there are miracles and then there are miracles." I think of Sophia and the thousand big and little ways she loves us, every minute, the thousand ways she Creates and Sustains, like the One from whom she flows; I think of Sophia and James and Molly and I think, "I have the company of great souls, every day." Kali, with the devious loving gravity She uses to pull us all in, has brought me to Vrindavan in the American South, has brought me to the feet of rishis in my own home.

Vrindavan has been suffocatingly hot lately, as always in June. Today, though, a soft, almost cool breeze is blowing. I need to be working, chained to my computer, not going outside; I shouldn't even be writing this-- so I wasn't going to leave my office. But my computer had a conniption and I decided to walk across campus to return a book while it restarted. So I went outside my plastic bubble of busy-ness and walked over to the Science building, hoping like hell I wouldn't run into the book's owner (there's no time to talk!), which of course I did.

And what did the book's owner do when she saw me, but summarize this very post I'd been writing this morning: "Wow, your life is so different now. I used to think of you as the guy who would just go to Paris whenever he felt like it. But now you're married and you have kids -- how is that working?"

It's working like the unexpected soft breeze caressing my face, a breeze that "shouldn't" be there in any normal world and that, as a bhakta, I feel as my Lover's touch. It's working like the soft glow of seven billion years, galaxy fire sped across oceans of space to land one night on your front lawn as you pause to look up at the stars.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Eleusis, Gods, Angels

Erik Davis's podcast hosts poet and translator Charles Stein for a fascinating and very well-informed conversation on the Eleusinian mysteries. Normally I would tweet something like this, but Stein is worth dropping everything for if you're interested in technologies of transformation, the Greeks, or Goddess stuff.

Somehow the Greeks crafted a ritual that freed its celebrants from the fear of death. This ritual is one bit of glass in the vast rose window of spiritual practice that humans have made in response to the immensity of beauty and mystery surrounding us always, and most importantly, dwelling within us-- "closer than your own jugular vein," as the scripture says.

[Angels get a passing but very insightful mention at 57:10, though the etymology given is much more true in lived experience than it is in historical linguistics.]

Now Optimized for Mobile Phones!

Image by Joydeep Mukherjee      

Yes, children of Kali, WiHW is now mobile-ready. I just checked 'er out on my Droid and things look great! You can access pictures, links, etc. just like on the web, and the text is very readable.

Now you can take me to the car wash, the checkout line at Wal-Mart, the waiting room at the doctor's office-- all your favorite places! (I recommend the beach, but that's just me.) (Or your favorite graveyard, at 3:00 a.m. -- maybe I've been listening to too much Coil lately.)

(Thank you for reading. The divine Shakti -- Her infinite unfolding, Her infinite love -- flames all around you, blossoms within you. Don't forget ♥)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How Did a Nice Suburban White Boy End Up Worshiping Kali? Part 4

I'm reading Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati yet again, this time with my Spiritual Autobiography students, who are the age I was when I first read it. I don't have to tell you it's a different book now; I'm not 21 or 31, I'm close to 50; I have my own Angel (in the day, I could only read of Wilson's and Crowley's with puzzlement or cautious envy); I have my own family, my own history, my own map of the world, made with my own hands. What also makes this very formative book different is I have to explain it to people who wouldn't have chosen to read it, which means I have to understand it in 4D: Leary and the field of psychology, Crowley and the Western magical tradition, quantum mechanics, Fortean phenomena, conspiracies, the 1960s and 70s, where it all came from and how it all fits together...

and the big Venn diagram of all these ideas and happenings links with my personal oval, and my oval links with others and others in a braid that adds up to Kalibhakta's cultural DNA. Cosmic Trigger and the work of Wilson and Leary and Crowley have been part of my genome for so long, yet still cast such long shadows, they're like the Age of Reptiles. [Right now, in fact, I feel I should apologize to the Shade of Wilson for not writing this in E Prime.] My more recent DNA comes from from Andrew Harvey, Shree Maa, and from my Angel (are those last two different? I'm not sure--). I've evolved from a confused vision-haver into a neurologician and now into a devotee, a child in the lap of Kali. Wilson's mind trip, on my evolutionary branch, has become Ramakrishna's heart trip, stirred with rock n' roll and splashed over ice from Walden Pond.

I wrote to Wilson in the late 1990s, at a low point, codependent and scared and trying to keep the earth turning on its axis, asking him how to do the Sufi heart chakra exercise that saved his life when he lived in the slums, on welfare, trying to feed his kids and keep his Sirius-struck head. He didn't write back and, having heard of his generosity, I wonder(ed) if his silence wasn't, at least tangentially, on purpose-- the kind of "correct mistake" sages make. Had I got the Word from The Master, I might not have pursued my own tantric experiments or joined Al-Anon, might not have had to jimmy the heart-lock myself ...I might not have been pushed into the arms of Shree Maa, and Kali-- unthinkable! --but then again all it took for me to end up in Her cremation ground was one book and one month of experimental mantra-saying. Had Wilson written me back, I could well be a Sufi now, writing a blog called On Tenement Roofs Illuminated... not that there's anything wrong with that...wherever you go, there you are.

Where I was, in the 1980s, the first time I read Cosmic Trigger, was in the rayon depths of the Reagan years, 2 a.m. and three hits of acid, on a roof staring down at trees morphing into Chinese dragons-- solemn, twisting parade dragons breathing gold fire-- well, not for the whole decade. Many nights I worked at my best-ever McJob, night watchman all alone in university buildings reading books, snooping in labs, bread-crumbing my way through forgotten passages and basements, a Columbus of derelict worlds. One day in the 1980s I agonized, so poor was I, over whether to buy a used paperback of Rimbaud someone had used as a joint-rolling aid, pages filled with enough pot to stuff a bowl to accompany my reading once I came to my senses and bought it. In college, out of college, always trying to learn and always confused; in relationships, then free and happy but wanting validation of being owned; tripping, drinking, wake n' bakin', early a.m. scrub-the-sink speedin'; up four days on post-shroom high, Burroughsian arcana in the Rare Books Room, green hair, SST Records, slam-dancing, Milwaukee's Best, Lake Country Red, combat boots and flannel shirt, junkie friends, friends straight out of Demian up talking 'til 6:00 in cherished trust, soft shadows in candle light and street glare; lusting always, though laughably repressed, wanting, wanting what I didn't know, save it was knowledge and sex and sustenance and derangement all fried into one grilled cheese... envying the confident, the "together," mistaking their projected selves for their lived realities, which I could have known no better than a random ice lump from the rings of Saturn.

Myself I saw as deformed, always awkward and wrong, yet a friend later said, "You were intimidating. You were the bohemian ideal." What?? All that altered perception and I couldn't see how altered my own self-perception was, couldn't imagine there was something of worth in me besides "potential" that would ever sleep beneath cold tundra. I wouldn't live long enough to be who I was supposed to be, or some disaster would overtake me, or They wouldn't let me. Some nights in the 1980s I was high and afraid because the chemicals that let me peer into Canaan also sunk me into rodential fear, taping construction paper over the windows in the door so They couldn't see in, sensing demons at my back about to scalp me with three-inch claws.

Back in my twentysomething Dreamtime, I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of failure, afraid of girls, afraid of pain, afraid of pleasure, afraid of Reagan, afraid of flunking out of college, afraid of germs, afraid of the future, afraid of commitment, afraid of being alone, afraid of the Religious Right, afraid of normal people whose nonchalant gliding through life pointed to my ill-at-ease incompetence, afraid of money, afraid of violence (but less afraid after I was violently mugged one night), afraid of the police, afraid of my parents, afraid of clinging out there on the last branch in the stormwinds of mind as the dark chews me into dust, scattered like Osiris by mad thunder... afraid of the loss of self I sought in acid, in reefer, in pain pills crushed and snorted while knocking back red wine... afraid but I pressed on like a fool, like The Fool, not knowing what I was doing until one night a much-accustomed hit of weed and the same old chaser of nitrous oxide took me past all experience and memory, a place so far out of normal highs and normal normals that now, 25 years later, I am still on the path that began that night.

Fear maps onto the axis of ego like the arc of a Stinger missile, and until you have a perspective on who are you and what you are, you will likely spend much of your time afraid, worried, or manifesting fear and worry as cruel tangents, taking them out on other sentient beings or on yourself. My neurotic fears and basic confusion persisted for a decade after what happened; it's not like I was "cured" or even "converted" that night-- far from it. I did, however, catch a glimpse through a Window out of those negative minds, which I won't call God or Kali, though Kali is the name I now see over the window. What I saw that night was a window out of all the ways I'd ever known a person could experience the world; I was pushed out the window, really, having looked through it once or twice before, in my teens and on LSD in my 20s-- but this was so far beyond those experiences I was blasted out of myself and this reality completely, for one brief, eternal gnostic instant.

I wasn't looking for gnosis. I'd lit up and done whippets a hundred times and it was fun and mildly obliterating, very predictably so. This night, in August, 1986, it was like I lit a firecracker and leveled a whole city. I breathed in the cold nitrous and shot up into black space, looking down on Earth, and-- Earth-- She was alive, wobbling in ecstasy, floating in consciousness. She was alive, She was aware, if on a scale so vast it made me an atom, and it seemed She wanted me to see Her as I floated there, Her little satellite. I stared, I almost gasped but had no breath, I tried to breathe, to form a thought, but -- whap! slammed back to the floor, to the waking world, to Reagan and the "Papa Don't Preach" and the scared, inadequate life that was already changing because Something had broken through, alien as horses in the New World yet more real than the floor I was sitting on.

But if I went to bed that night buzzed and confused, jittering with mystery, it was nothing compared to what happened next. For a week, the world turned all gauzy, another world quite visibly shimmering just beneath it. On the second or third day, I got an intuition to work with anther plant spirit, morning glory, and took about 60 seeds. It was similar to LSD but milder and more "organic"-- the trip was more centered on the world around me and not my flanged and phase-shifted thoughts about that world. Incredibly, I began to hear the voices of two female spirits, one of whom did most of the talking and said, "We're going to show you some things that will make sense now, and some things that won't make sense until later." These girls took my hand and waltzed me through the gauzy world billowing around me and showed me It was alive, It is Her, and all women reflect Her, and everything is alive and nothing dies. I didn't learn until years later that the Aztecs believe that eaters of morning glory seeds are visited by two female spirits...

The girls initiated me: into what, I didn't know. Some kind of ageless cult where one worships God through every act, including-- especially-- deliciously-- but so, so difficultly-- sex. And just as hard, eating and drinking and, hardest of all, working, coping, doing things you don't want to do... though at the time they presented it a little more glamorously. At the end of my week in the astral girls' care I was reset to zero, and then naturally spent years running away from the experience and years making sense of it, in turn as an atheist, a Catholic, an amateur Buddhist, a pagan, an agnostic experimental philosopher who had to admit he had come face to face, tongue to tongue with the Infinite and could not deny it or reason it away and had no idea what to do with it. Every box I tried putting Her in-- box of hope, box of Mary, box of Goddess, box of Brain Is -- Wider than the Sky -- every box was a little bigger and explained a little more, but none was adequate, none served, none made sense in Light of what She was and what She had burned into my heart. But I kept looking, kept after Her, even, eventually, when all hope was lost.

I wasn't looking for gnosis, but I'd seen good claims that it was possible. I have to thank Robert Anton Wilson, Aleister Crowley, et al., for that, for the fact that when the universe broke open I had another way of understanding it besides "I'm crazy" or "I'm possessed." People who lead us out of ourselves to better selves are called guru-- in the words of the Upanishads, one who leads from dark to light. Maybe in English there's no better term than Illuminati.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Princess of the Underground"-- Sufis, High Art, A Kali Devotee, and the Path of Paths

This might be the best piece of religious journalism this year: a must-read. Lex Hixon makes an appearance, as does Walter de Maria's Lightning Field and that cultural lightning rod, the "Ground Zero mosque" [sic]. At the center of it all is Sheikha Fariha al-Jerrahi, née Philippa de Menil, "a strikingly beautiful spiritual seeker and youngest scion of the Schlumberger oil fortune."

In addition to its many other charms, the article contains some uncommonly perceptive remarks re the fuzzy borders between "Western" and "Eastern" and "sacred" and "secular."  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why We Love Him

Swami Saradananda, in Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play, recounts a Vaishnava hymn the Master was fond of singing, one that begins "Brother, joyfully cling to God; / Thus striving, someday you may attain Him..."

Saradananda says, "sometimes the Master would quote the second line of the song .... While singing that line he would suddenly exclaim: 'Fie on you, rascal! What is this 'someday you may attain Him'? One should not have that kind of lukewarm devotion. Have self-confidence and cultivate this attitude, 'I shall realize God right now; I shall see Him at this moment.'"

Ramakrishna: my rock n' roll rishi.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


New York Times article on celebrations of the Hindu spring festival Phagwah (Holi) in Queens:
In India, Holi festivities often include drinks laced with bhang (cannabis indica), but in the United States, “we stick to bourbon,” said one woman, who would not give her name because, she said, Hindu women traditionally do not drink alcohol, even on Phagwah.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Tired Sutra

World falls, neck snaps, and, in between, noctilucent clouds of bliss.

Neck snaps, the world returns: computer or wobbling book or, God forbid, steering wheel and dark road.

Not again. Establish intent. This world will stay, you'll keep it palmed in spite of yourself. Grip tight those rubber nubs and hold the ball like death, as sleep's small forward slaps at you, slaps soft and unseen, slaps and steals. And once more purity, wholeness.

This time for sure. Thrust eyes open with all your blue might, Shiva, or you'll kill the universe.

Samsara, ananda, samsara, ananda, samsara, ananda. Eternity just a beat of the cosmic heart, the bounce of a ball.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

From the Kularnava Tantra

"...parrots and mynah birds recite before people sacred words with delight. Are they to be regarded as great scholars from such talk?"

"Animals like pigs bear the winter cold and summer heat and for them food fit or unfit is alike, are they Yogis thereby?"

"... such privations and self denials are only for deceiving the world while direct knowledge of truth alone is the means for liberation."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kalibhakta Sutra, Part Five

Verse 5: 
Trace Her waves and clefts; know with Her, in Her, never ceasing to know Her until you are One. 

Vibhanga vibru. 

Kalibhakta's MS shows his first translation of these words as "You can't help trying to make sense of it all and you can't help being wrong when you do." The present editor is grateful to him for his perseverance in creating a finer version. He also experimented with the translation "Chase Her that She may overcome you," which, while more poetic, still lacked precision. (One wonders sometimes at Kalibhakta's free hand, so to speak, with the Sanskrit language.)

Vibhanga means "waves" or "furrows." Again, the Kabbalah is alluded to: successive emanations of divine light, waves of divinity creating space, time, consciousness, matter, and evolving into a self-reflecting intelligence that yearns for union, for oneness with its source. As the Masonic tradition says, "Gather what is scattered" -- just remember that we inhabit a scattering universe, so don't fall in love with your own model of that universe. Vibhanga implies a chaotic emanation, fittingly, since Kali's essential nature is play, which leads to a different model of divine love--not based on separateness (lost purity, sin, and redemption) but on a game, a chase, with deity and devotee pursuing one another towards the eventual oneness that is the object of these sutras and of all spiritual aspiration. 

According to Monier-Williams, vibru means both to "posit" or "argue" (e.g., to advance an interpretation of the universe) but also "to be mistaken" and "to disagree." The verse calls us to interpret the universe at the same time that it remarks upon the need to constantly question and revise our interpretations. In short, the verse is a call for spiritual knowing according to both the scientific method--"scientific illuminism" à la Crowley, "info-psychology" à la Leary-- and the "picking and choosing" so despised by the orthodox. "Make your own Bible," as Emerson wrote. The verse is a call to empiricism, observation, whether through science, Thoreauean natural philosophy, or combining the method of science with the aim of religion. 

Implied therefore is the great advantage of arriving at one's own conclusions, independent, if need be, of all previous (alleged) sages or experts. Indeed, individual modeling of the divine totality is essential, for in Kalibhaktian theology the aspirant's attempts to understand the Divine Mother and Her creation and to act on this understanding constitute the second half of creation. "Creation never ended; chaos never died," goes the aphorism scrawled in Sharpie above the door to Kalibhakta's study-- or so legend says, though the Hakim Bey allusion seems too perfect. 

Note that, in English, the first five verses of the Sutra begin with V; Kalibhakta intended this as an allusion to the downward-pointing triangle of the Kali yantra and to the five downward-pointing triangles of the Sri Yantra--symbols, of course, of the waves of Shakti creating the cosmos in every moment. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Separated at Birth?

I simply don't know what to say (and as you know, for me that's almost unheard of)...

but here you have, on the left, the symbol of the Ordo Templi Orientis, Uncle Al's magickal order, and on the right, the official emblem for the Boy Scouts of America's 2011 Scout Sunday observation.

I'm not saying the Illuminati have taken over Boy Scouts or anything. The real question is, who would be more offended by this, The Beast or your average Ned Flanders scouter? Or is BSA taking ecumenism to new heights???

I realize the OTO adapted their lamen from earlier sources-- some very early sources... and that the dove and the chalice and the sun are all time-honored symbols... but someone at BSA is surely having a bit of fun. The BSA emblem (inside the "0" in "2011") as All-Seeing Eye is a bit much-- though if you've ever been involved with BSA you know there's some truth to it!

Monday, January 31, 2011


An 1860s-ish photo of the Kali temple at Dakshineswar! You can see it here, along with a link to a photo of the Durga temple at Ramnagar and some other views of Calcutta, including this Ramakrishna-era shot.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

That Voodoo That You Do

The last straw was a financial crisis: in 2009, Romania’s economy shrank by 7.1 percent. To pay state wages and pensions, the government negotiated a 20 billion-euro loan with the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the World Bank. To close the deficit, new sources of revenue were needed. Last September, Alin Popoviciu and Cristi Dugulescu of the ruling Democratic Liberal Party drafted a law wherein all witches and fortune-tellers would have to produce receipts. More problematic was the law’s specification that witches would be held liable if any predictions they made failed to pass. The senate initially voted down the legislation and Popoviciu accused his fellow legislators of being afraid of hexes. Instead, the witch tax was worked into new labor laws for 2011. --Religion Dispatches

So let's see: to pay for the failed prophecies of a group of government-authorized, MBA-bedecked wizards, another group of wizards is annexed into government supervision and told that if their prophecies fail, they will have to pay.

But can the witches force, say, weather forecasters to fund their bad calls? And then the weathermen could get reimbursed by-- I don't know, public-health types whose bird flu predictions go south? And... soon they'll have to hit up lotto players whose kids' birthdays don't pan out. No, I know-- high-school graduation speakers! For each graduate who never joins the high fliers who soar to great heights, that'll be 500 bucks.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"There Is Grandeur in this View of Life," Interlude

"I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim."

What if we don't all die in a blaze of existential tragedy? What if we aren't little mind-modules adrift in cold space? What if each of us, if everything, down to the last bacillus and baobab, is a filament of the same Being, and what if we're at home right here and right now? What if we don't need to be redeemed, or spared from the Angel of Death?

I wrote (at length, alas) about Tennyson's view of death and the cosmos because it's close to the way most people in our culture see the world, whether they know it or not, whether they're believers or atheists or faitheists or what have you. Like Tennyson, most of us see death as anomalous, as a disease in search of a cure, whether the pill be heaven, cryogenics, self-sacrifice, or the stiff upper lip of materialist reason. It's fitting that In Memoriam uses the Christmas season as a marker of the passage of time: not only does Christmas signify the redemption that Tennyson craved--a cure for death-- but Christmas is also for many of us the closest we'll ever get to gratuitous grace: a faerie season of charm and surprise, of magic and mystery, and if the child's saturnalia gives way to the adult's headaches and social woes, it is the child's vision we can't escape and that goads us on to Christmases yet to come. And since we don't see grace as perpetual but as a rarity bestowed like a costly gift, and since in the back of our minds we think we have to earn grace and love (and new toys), and since those things live on the high shelf, for the worthy and not perhaps for us-- Christmas grace gets grabby and the magic morning slides into dull dinners revved up by too much booze. It's that way with all holidays, all escapes.

Of course we don't want to hear that death is inescapable, that death is the way of things, and much of the time we can't: our nervous systems congeal the world into a seductively stable "It" even as they hoodwink us into thinking we're an "I": separate from the world, in it but not of It-- unique, ineluctably ourselves and utterly Other from all else. Every human who's ever lived, save some bodhisattvas and avadhutas and a few plain old crazies, has walked this earth utterly convinced of his or her specialness, wondering how It could have existed before them, refusing to believe It could persist one picosecond without them. This illusion of separateness and specialness is what allows us to navigate the world long enough to pass on our genes and memes, and it is what keeps us from the lap of God and causes us untold suffering. It is the lie that makes us, the lie that keeps most of us enslaved until the verge of that last breath, that moment when we know without question that It will outlast us, is outlasting us already and speeding far past even as we try to cling.

Afraid to die and afraid to admit it, atheists make much of the evils of religion, and religionists, also afraid, make much of the evils of other religions (their own evils belong to a safely remote past or arise from simple doctrinal error). I think, however, that much of religion's evil stems from the urgency inspired by that last breath: bitter fear, the misguided wish to rescue, dimwitted innocent joy in one's own salvation/specialness, hindbrain overload at the thought of The End, all overflowing into the fantasy that there is some way out of death, The One True Way. If death is so terrible, if the world is so jumbled and if ruin is a perpetual half-second away, then there must be that one perfect tree to climb to escape the leopard of chaos. There must be a way to keep going, to not have to face It going on without us. 

That fantasy of safety and salvation is the social contract's big lie, exposed in the Third Degree of Masonry and in every true relation of the dealings of God with men and women-- the tree is the leopard, life is death, there is no safety save that of pure surrender, pure loss of self. Oneness with All means your personal bulb merges with the great Broadway, thus there can be no heaven, no afterlife reunion with Aunt Gladys and Mom and Dad. Easeful death means death of self, absorption by a Peace so immense that we need no one, nothing, no past, no love. As waves arise in the ocean and dance and disappear, so do we arise and live and dance and return to the One Thought, our waveness evanescent, all others we have loved and danced with evanescent too. It doesn't mean you can't dance. It means: the dance isn't all there is, the waves aren't the whole deep ocean, life and death are not the antipodes we make them out to be... dying of throat cancer, Ramakrishna saw Kali with a glowing, golden wound in Her throat.