Wednesday, June 15, 2016

From ‘The Edgar Cayce Handbook. For creating your future’ by Mark Thurston, Ph.D. and Christopher Fazel

This mental body is the living memory of all the thoughts, attitudes, and actions that you choose – moment to moment – throughout your life……Cayce maintained that the mental body becomes your home when you are finished with your current physical incarnation! In other words, after death you live in the body that you have mentally built during your life.

Your peak moments in life provide clues about your core spiritual ideal.

….the human soul requires meaning….Viktor Frankl….While an inmate in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, Frankl found that the prisoners who had a reason for living were the ones who were able to withstand the most horrible conditions imaginable….Cayce’s readings encouraged people to find a purpose in life bigger than themselves and then to work responsibly toward it. ….We should stop asking what we expect from life, he counseled, and instead ask what life expects from us.

…..finding your soul’s purpose…..
1. What is your spiritual ideal? In your peak spiritual moments, what have you recognized to be the highest truth about yourself and about life?
2. What are your key talents and abilities?
3. What words capture the essence of your mission? …..Your mission statement should more precisely fit your talents and the contribution you are here to make.
4. How will you put your mission statement into action? ….Formulate a plan that involves two or three practical initiatives that will test the accuracy of your mission statement….

….Russian acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavski …… “There are no small parts, only small actors.”

The Sumerian king Ur-Nammu in the third millennium B.C. saw to it “that the orphan did not fall prey to the wealthy, that the widow did not fall prey to the powerful, that the man of one shekel [a monetary unit] did not fall prey to the man of sixty shekels.”

….anthropologist Margaret Mead …. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The Cayce readings placed an unusual value on names ….In one instance a woman…..never liked her name and wondered if a change….would help their relationship. Cayce disagreed, suggesting they make no change because their very names were significant……..At other times, ….Cayce recommended that people might benefit from such a change. ….Cayce often supported the idea of changing a name to stimulate new influences or “vibrations”……

……….The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus……..Many of the sayings in this book are also found in the official Gospels …. “You see the mote in your brother’s eye, but not the beam in your own eye.”

Grace is much more accessible than we may realize. For example, to one man plagued by stress, Cayce promised that in a mere thirty to sixty seconds of meditation the man could contact inner strength and vitality. That’s how accessible the grace of God is to us all!

From ‘An Italian Education’ by Tim Parks

Perhaps more so in Italy than elsewhere. Children are magnets for women’s attraction. ….Italy, for all its faults, must be one of the most civilized places in the world for a child to grow up.

….Dr Maroni …..mentions French and Russian experts, American research centres. Such references score highly in an insecure country that doesn’t quite believe it could itself be responsible for any major scientific discovery.

Generally, it is not easy to make appointments in Italy, since it is important for the person offering a service to appear to be extremely busy, and hence successful. Any shortcomings in the service, in terms of slowness, will thus seem to be a guarantee of its qualities. I have even had a courier service in Verona tell me that they cannot come to pick up a package for forty-eight hours because they are so busy, and of course they are so busy because they are so fast.

As part of the obsession with security that manifests itself in tall iron fences defending bristling vegetable patches, prescription for every medical test under the sun an instinctive fear of any food that does not form part of the traditional national diet, it has become a generally acknowledged truth in Italy that a couple should not embark upon a family until they own the bricks and mortar they live in. …… In gioia e in lutto la casa e tutto, says the proverb – In joy and in grief, the home is chief.

….in all the years I’ve been in Italy, while the housing market in the UK has gone through the roof and then under the floor, I think I can safely say that property here has always been a seller’s market, so greedily is it desired, so rarely sold once gained…..

bisogna fare sacrifice per i figli – one has to make sacrifices for one’s children.

It is not common to see Italian men pushing kids’ buggies around the streets. If they are doing so, it will be in the company of their wives, usually with a slightly bent and beaten posture, waiting to be free.

The elderly ladies use little dialect words to express their affection. Babies are public property. They tweak his nose and pinch his cheeks…….a girl is kissing him and putting his cap straight and feeling how chubby his knees are. Clearly it is quite wonderful being an infant in Italy, so much so that one fears nothing will ever be quite so good again ….

Within five minutes of its birth the child has already been smothered in diminutives, many invented: sinfolina, ciccolina, ciccina ….It must be one of the areas where Italian most excels: the cooing excited caress over the tiny creature, uccellina, tartarughina ….Little birdie, little turtle…..

The nights were spent, as the Italians say, in bianco – in white - awake

….the glass of wine I’ve drunk is beginning to take a few corners off the world….

… Frate Indovino, a sort of calendar cum almanac, says:
‘Your son. From nought to five he is your master, from five to ten your servant, from ten to fifteen your secret counsellor, and after that, your friend – or your enemy.’

Children, Rita remarked, ….were perhaps healthier in German-speaking countries, but certainly sadder.

…..there is no man in greater trouble than an Italian husband who has been careless enough to let a child catch a cold. It’s far, far worse than mere desertion or problems with alimony

…..a large number of Italian couples have all four grandparents at their beck and call.
The availability of nonne – grandmothers – is then further increased by the fact that women in Italy retire at fifty-five (in the civil service the age of fifty), and in fact have all sorts of incentives for getting out even earlier, thus leaving millions of healthy and frighteningly energetic middle-aged grannies with nothing but time on their hands.

……Italy has the most generous maternity leave regulations and the most enlightened system of pre-school care of any country I know. Everything, it seems, is done to make child rearing easy and attractive. And still the birthrate falls.

Pilotato is a favourite word in the Italian press. It refers to the way some decision-taking process may be secretly manipulated – piloted – by those with personal interests, a sort of sophisticated technical euphemism for the more brutal English ‘fix’.

Just as the Italian household must be perfectly clean before one can relax in it, so the sky must be scrubbed an immaculate blue, every smudge of cloud polished away, before one can feel safe, before one can feel that the universe is behaving as it should, that things are fair…….

The Italian countryside is never just landscape or nature trails, never just a scroll, but full of roadside gods, reminders, little idols, so that you can hardly take your children out of the house here without discussing religion, life, death, and, above all, miracle.

It’s incredible how early schools start giving hours of homework in Italy, how seriously and traditionally they teach grammar and maths. It warms a parent’s heart.

….in England the women often do the gardening. But not here. Here it’s the man’s escape. Monks are famous for their gardening.

It’s hard to spot a man with his child.

…what is it exactly that the Italian mother does to generate this extraordinary bond, this wonderful and wonderfully sick phenomenon that the Italians call mammismo. ….Well, I suppose most of all what Mamma does is be there…….. Mothers may be away at work during the week, but they are there during the weekends when Daddy isn’t. …They don’t want the children to be out in the hot sun, in the cold air, they don’t want the children to be over-tired, to fall off a mountain, fall I nthe river, or, even worse, miss a proper meal. When a father does take the children out, on his return he will have to hear: ‘Oh, but he’s exhausted, he’ll be ill…look at the scratch on his elbow……’……. A father taking his child out on a walk, on a trip, is a man on probation. His wife’s thoughts stalk him everywhere.

All’amore dei figli, non c’e amore che somigli….To the love of children, no other love can compare.

The tradition of feeding stray cats is old and strong all over Italy….

On official occasions Italians come out of a sense of politeness, and to be part of lo spettacolo, but not to listen……The headmistress…pulls out her speech…she proceeds to read, as all public speakers do in Italy, for there is no merit attached here to the ability to think and speak on one’s feet ….I always find it curious that though Italians are wonderful performers in their private lives, in public they actually strive to plod….

How Italians love diplomas, commemorative documents of every kind! Diplomas for having gone to a skating course, for having taken part in a volleyball competition, for being present at the inauguration of some institution or other. It’s rare to do anything in a group in Italy and not end up with a diploma…..

Italians have a lovely expression for getting things both ways, they talk about having ‘your wife drunk and the barrel full’; i.e. she’s off your back and you can drink to your heart’s content. Or, you’ve made your wife happy without even spending anything….

…….I weighed Michele’s school backpack one morning. Five kilos of books…
But however heavy they may be, their backpacks will never smell of sandwiches, because the food is so good no one would ever dream of opting out of school meals. Or rather, the mothers would never dream of letting the authorities let the food get so bad that anyone would want to opt out.
And they’ll never smell of football boots either. For school offers no games, no extracurricular activities. There are no music lessons, no singing lessons, no school choir, no carpentry for the boys and cookery for the girls, no hockey, no cricket…no sports day, no school teams. The school doesn’t, as it does in England, pretend to offer a community that might in any way supplant the family, or rival Mamma……There is no assembly in the morning, no hymn singing, no prayers, no speech day….if children want extracurricular activity of any kind, they have to go outside school; the parents have to look for it, and take them there …..and pay.

On every banknote it says, ‘THE LAW PUNISHES THE MANUFACTURERS AND DISTRIBUTORS OF COUNTERFEIT NOTES’. It’s one of those warnings that, rather than instilling terror, just reminds you how common the crime is, suggests it almost……….

….hundredandtwentythousandlire …..numbers are always written together in this cautious country to prevent anybody adding anything in between…..

….an Italian father can make no greater mistake than not making sure his children have the appropriate footwear for any trip that takes them away from their mothers.

….like many Italians of his age he can’t swim; he never learnt…..

….caring what…people think…seems to me …a peculiarly Italian anxiety. I never used to worry so much in London….

…..further down the Italian boot, where life is wilder,….the newspapers will report on mafia bosses being arrested because they have come home to spend their holidays by the beach they like best, near their mothers ….The Mediterranean epic, from Ulysses on, was ever one of return.

…Pescara, an apparently unprepossessing seaside town ….a town …I believe has more to tell us about Italy today than all the monuments of Florence, Rome and Venice put together…..

…the key to every official discussion about an Italian holiday is pretending that it is undertaken entirely for health purposes, whereas all the images you actually seem, on those posters, on TV, and later on the beach itself, are screaming Fun, Pleasure, Sex….

…..if someone does swim seriously, it is a boy. None of the girls seem to swim. The girls stand at wading depth….

….its a generally acknowledged truth in Italy that a man cant be expected to look after children on his own for more than a couple of hours….

….while it is tru that in summer, and above all on holiday, most Italians like to have a siesta, it is equally true that children the world over do not.

…Stefi …informs me that when her friend Francesca had a little baby sister it was because their parents bought it for her. This is the euphemism parents use in Italy. ‘We’ve decided to buy you un bel bambino

Azzurro is the colour of all Italian national sports teams who are always known as Gli azzurro, the blues.

….it crosses my mind that Italians have as yet made none of those concessions to other cultures the British have: turbans on ticket collectors and chadors in the nursery. Life’s bric-a-brac here is still solidly Catholic. But the sense of inertia is growing. The immigrants are milling at the train stations, and the Italians are mislaying their rosaries amongst the clutter of their economic success.

….the Italian expression for ‘prince charming’ is principe azzurro – a sportsman…

What always surprises me…is how Italians will go off to pet and canoodle in groups, large groups, occasionally breaking off and shouting jokes to each other. They have none of the trepidation and secrecy that seemed such an inevitable part of the package in my adolescence.

The radio will tell you that nearly forty percent of Italian thirty-year-olds still live with their parents.

…..he announces, as if it were the world’s greatest truth, ‘Gli schiaffi dei figli sono carezze per i genitori.’ ….. ‘A child’s blows are caresses for the parents.’ After a silence of about ten seconds we both burst out laughing….

‘No better place to grow up in Italy,’ I tease him… father-in-law is quick to correct me: ‘No better place,’ he says, ‘not to grow up!’

Saturday, June 11, 2016

From ‘Kaleidoscope City. A Year in Varanasi’ by Piers Moore Ede

…it was in Varanasi (known as Kashi in the scriptures, or more recently Banaras) that the full possibility of what India might be seemed to announce itself. Here was a vast experiment in human cohabitation that had been going on for five thousand years; a river city containing every facet of humanity, every creed, colour, caste, both astonishing beauty and the most harrowing ugliness and desolation. Here was the madness of India, as well as its wisdom, the sublime poetry of its spiritual traditions and the dirty imbalance of corruption. Here were Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Sikhs, as well as infinite sects pre-dating any of these major traditions, but which persisted happily within the larger whole. All of it combined as the city itself: one entity, a composite of spirit and form.
Until then I had supposed India was essentially unfathomable: it was too fast, too swiftly changing to yield to any categorization. In Varanasi….it seemed abundantly clear that there was something unique about the place, an energetic quality….There was an intensity to the alleys and the dust, which was part of the makeup of the citizens themselves, the most passionate, lively people I’d ever encountered

…in Varanasi that energy seems more highly charged: spinning faster, amplified somehow so that basic human tasks such as simply going to buy rice become shattering experiences of navigating two-hour traffic jams, throwing oneself against the side of an alley to avoid being crushed by a roaring Tata motorbike, or weaving between unruly cattle in the course of crossing the street. The crush of human numbers, the crumbling medieval architecture built upon and compressed by concrete structures, the hissing charge of frayed electric wires used as ropes by monkey troupes, the appalling pollution and a thousand other environmental factors combine to make the city an alchemist’s crucible, transmuting all who live there. Should you, after returning home across the city, wipe your face with a white cloth it will be stained black from the traffic fumes. Your lungs burn, your eyes stream, your stomach purges, and yet despite all this your spirit soars.

Though almost everything ever written about the contemporary city seems to use the word ‘chaos’, I found an unexpected serenity in these narrow galis – some of them too slender even to allow two people to walk abreast….Walking these mohallas, getting lost, and almost always finding a profound hospitality and kindness, was a key way I got to know the city.

And yet, despite this, the simplicity of life in the old medieval alleys, the poetry of the city’s rituals and beliefs, seemed to me to represent the best of India, the best, perhaps, of the human condition. There was a straightforward friendliness to the people there, a jocular sense of humour.

Virtue does not grow easily in Banaras. And vice has no better place. For all come here to burn.
-          Raja Rao, On the Ganga Ghat

‘Fire has a cleansing capacity,’ continues Gupta…. ‘which is why the bodies of children are never burnt. They’re already clean, you see: their souls are pure. In those cases we merely take them to the centre of the river, attach a large boulder to them with rope, then tip them into Ganga. The Holy Mother will carry them home. Sadhus are not burnt for the same reason.’

…how could a young man bear the austerities such a life [a sadhu’s] would entail? India seems to allow for such behavior like nowhere else on earth, I think.

Though prostitution is officially legal in India, related activities such as pimping and operating brothels are not. Historically this has allowed the industry to thrive, while relegating the sex workers to a murky legal grey area, denied even access to normal labour laws.

A folk saying from these parts warns: ‘Beware the four perils of Kashi: widows, bulls, steps and holy men.’

Between the eleventh and the seventeenth centuries, virtually all of Banaras, was demolished by successive invaders. In the late twelfth century Qutb-ud-din Aibak, a former slave who became a sultan, almost levelled the city to the ground, destroying more than a thousand temples in the process. The sixth Mughal emperor Aurangzeb razed many more, including, in 1669, the Kashi Vishwanath temple, Hinduism’s holiest site

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

From ‘four seasons in rome. On twins, insomnia and the biggest funeral in the history of the world’ by Anthony Doerr

…a headline from the newspaper: Marriage and Children Kill Creativity in Men? ……Here’s Einstein himself: “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so.”

…I ….read…..Pliny’s Natural History. He is half-genius, half-lunatic….The more pages I turn, the more I find an endearing sweetness in Pliny; he is so curious, so ardent. The elephant’s “natural gentleness toward those not so strong as itself,” he writes, “is so great that if it gets among a flock of sheep it will remove with its trunk those that come in its way, so as not unwittingly to crush one.”

Near the vegetable market we pass a man holding hands with a little girl. She gazes at the boys [twin boys of the author] with a bright, impersonal wonder. Her father whispers something to her as they pull even with us; she laughs; it is as if skeins of love are passing invisibly between them. And suddenly the gulf between me and the Italians of the neighborhood seems navigable ….

….a Tom Andrews poem… “The dead drag a grappling hook for the living. The hook is enormous”

“Habitualization,” a Russian army-commissar-turned-literary-critic named Viktor Shklovsky wrote in 1917, “devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war.” What he argued is that, over time, we stop perceiving familiar things – words, friends, apartments – as they truly are.

The oldest building in Rome with its original roof still intact is the Pantheon, rebuilt atop an older, fire-damaged temple by the emperor Hadrian around AD 125….Its doors are twenty-one feet high and weigh eight tons each. The sixteen columns on its porch are thirty-nine feet high and weigh about sixty tons each, roughly the weight of two fully loaded eighteen-wheelers, crushed and compacted into a cylinder five feet across. The columns…were quarried in eastern Egypt, dragged on sledges to the Nile, rowed across the Mediterranean, barged up the Tiber, and carted through the streets of Rome. They are ocean gray, flecked with mica, glassy and cold….The vault of the Pantheon is made of concrete and has a diameter of 143 feet…..For thirteen centuries, it was the largest dome in the world. For nineteen centuries, it has resisted lightning strikes and earthquakes and barbarians.

Neither [of the twins] seems very interested in food. Both want to be held all the time. Is this what it means to be a parent – to constantly fail to be in control of anything?

In 1890, in New York City, a drug manufacturer named Eugene Schieffelin, who wanted to make sure that every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays was introduced to America, released eighty starlings in Central Park. A hundred and fifteen years later the United States alone has 200 million – and angry wheat farmers and flocks sucked into jet engines and histoplasmosis, a respiratory disease that originates in starling feces.

….Christmas ….gifts …The Italian ones are easy to find: wrapped gloriously. The Italians could wrap a used textbook and make it look like gold and frankincense.

…..mushrooms, how the stems and caps we eat are only fractions of the real organism. The vast percentage of any mushroom, it turns out, lives underground, in a network of extremely fine fibers, or hyphae, that prowl the soil gathering nutrients. A single cubic centimeter of dirt might contain as much as two thousand meters of hyphae.
Rome is like that, I think. The bulk of it lies underground, its history ramified so densely under there, ten centuries in every thimbleful, that no one will ever unravel it all.

… are fifty times more likely to die on the roads in Rome than you are in Los Angeles or London.

Out here in Umbria, perhaps even more so than in Rome, you begin to get a sense of how long Italy has been home to humans. Everywhere we walk there are centuries-old groves and sleep-soaked farmhouses and ruins of walls.

Watching teething babies is like watching over a thermonuclear reactor – it is best done in shifts, by well-rested people.

A line from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead comes back to me. “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”

Olive oil was the muscle, hair tonic, soap, and lamp fuel of the Empire, the flavor of its meals, the illumination of its dramas…. Soothe a toothache, alleviate stretch marks, grease a chariot axle, cool your scalp, anoint a dead Christian…..

“Italians,” our friend…says “will stop anything for pleasure.” And the longer we’re here, the more we feel he’s right. Expresso, silk pajamas, a five-minute kiss; the sleekest, thinnest cell phone; extremely smooth leather. Truffles. Yachts. Four-hour dinners.

Romans discuss death over dinner; they wait in line to examine the corpses of their dead heroes; they take the arms of revered old parents and escort them through the parks on Sundays. Six or seven times, since coming to Italy, I’ve seen young people on park benches reading novels to grandmothers. I’ve seen hundred-year-old women picking stolidly through eggplants at the market…..

What is Rome? …..Its a feast every damned week. Its maddenly retail hours. It’s a city about to become half old-people’s home/half tourist museum. Its like America was before coffee was “to go,” when a playground was a patch of gravel, some cigarette butts, and an uninspected swing set; when everybody smoked; when businesses in your neighborhood were owned by people who lived in your neighborhood; when children still stood on the front seats of moving cars and spread their fingers across the dash. It’s a public health-care service that ensures assistance to both Italians and foreigners in an equal manner ……Its an economy in recession, the lowest birthrate in Europe (1.3 children per woman), 40 per cent of thirty-to thirty-four-year-olds still living with their parents. It’s a place where stoplights are open to interpretation, lattes should never be ordered after lunch, and a man is not considered a failure if he’s forty years old and still spinning dough in a pizzeria. It’s a country where parents let their kids play soccer in the streets and walk home from school unaccompanied, where your first thought when you see an adult man talking to a child in the street is not necessarily Child molester.

….from the poet Belli: “I’m not myself when I exert myself.”

Roma, they say, non basta una vita. One life is not enough.

From ‘All Kinds of Magic. One man's search for meaning across the modern world’ by Piers Moore Ede

All kinds of magic are out of date and done away with, except in India, where nothing changes in spite of the shiny, top-scum stuff that people call ‘civilization’.
(Rudyard Kipling …)

….Environmental writer Gregg Easterbrook …wrote: ‘capitalism renders its chosen covetous, insecure, unfulfilled, constantly twitching…Materialist obsession has performed the amazing feat of making unprecedented abundance unsatisfactory to its beneficiaries.’

Despite enormous poverty and social problems, the Indians seemed to have an awareness of their place in the scheme of things very different from our own. Although anxious neither to idealise the East nor demonise the West, I couldn’t help but see a thread of meaning in Indian life, long since exorcised from my own culture. It was the meaning provided by religion, and it was evident in a thousand sparkling details on any given day: a rickshaw wallah touching his statue of Ganesh before a journey, a smouldering incense stick or the Muslim call to prayer, echoing through the dawn. Despite having been an atheist for as long as I can remember, I found this intensely moving.

Inside my rational empirically driven culture nothing was allowed a significance beyond itself. But in India, the opposite felt true. Everything, both animate and inanimate, was filled with a living spirit.

Like nowhere I’d ever been, India seemed to shine in my mind’s eye as somewhere alive with possibility.

……sadhus …..They lived life on their own terms. Their obsession with their inner journey was such that they’d given up everything to pursue it. They were romantic figures without the burden of possesions, worldly ambition, money of any kind. ….They weren’t trying to ‘be’ anything, unlike the rest of us. They were interested in absolute freedom and that suggested a sort of evolution to me.

In the East, religion has always been more about practice and experience than dogma……What was important for these pilgrims was not so much the writtten scriptures of the canon of any specific tradition. It was the idea of religion as practice, as lived experience bringing one closer to God. ….Ramakrishna, the Bengali saint of the nineteenth century. For him the scriptures were ‘a mixture of sand and sugar’ and science ‘mere dirt and straw after the realization of God’. Learned people, to him, were like wanderers in an orchard, who count the leaves and fruit and argue over their value instead of plucking and relishing the crop.

…a Swedish Indologist… ‘The opening up of the self to the mystical realms of consciousness can be very dangerous,’ he said, ‘because it leaves the practitioner open to all kinds of influences. That’s why sadhus are always drawing boundaries around themselves. They do it with their lines drawn in the earth, by sprinkling water and by sitting before fire. This protects and grounds them. It purifies everything it touches.’

I realized that the Indians made no distinction between a foreign sadhu like Ram and any of the others.

‘Jadoo is certainly there,’ he said. ‘But you’ll never see it outright…… It’s seen as a display of ego to show off one’s powers. The only reason people do it is to nudge the common man from his dream, get him thinking that there’s something else going on in the universe. …..there have been occasions, yes, when I have felt myself subtly manipulated, moved in various directions. There’s no doubt in my mind that powerful forces are at work. We call them siddhas, actually – the power to control, through yoga, the subtle energies. …..dedicate yourself to the most rigid austerities under the tutelage of a guru. And the irony will be that when you finally gain the ability to perform these feats, you’ll realize how irrelevant they are.’
‘What is important then?’ I asked
‘Merging with the Absolute,’ said Ram. ‘Nothing else.’

For now, India remained the best place in the world to follow a mystical path……

Until now, India has yet to impose those strict barriers between the animal and human worlds that render Western cities so particularly sterile. To see a cow garlanded and sleeping between rows of traffic, a temple monkey receiving prasad or vultures descending upon the Towers of Silence, is to feel connected still to a larger web of life, the Indian gods, too, in all their animal forms, remind us that the natural world is one of the most obvious manifestations of the divine we have.

The contrast struck me as amusing, for it is all too often the case that despite our comparative wealth by Indian standards, we travelers are invariably dirtier and less well presented than even the poorest peasant….Our scruffiness and sheer disarray never fail to baffle the spotlessly clean Indians, whose very religion equates worldly cleanliness with spiritual purity….

‘It is true,’ he muttered, ‘that I find a lot to admire in the Indians. They are so kind, no – even to someone like myself. But more than that, they see God so clearly, don’t you think? More than any other country in which I’ve travelled. They see Him. One can be walking through the poorest slum and this woman will step out, so beautiful, and light incense before a statue, and then she is set, you know, knowing that all is OK.’ …. ‘They know something, I think,’ he chuckled, lapsing back into badinage. ‘But its out of reach for someone like me.’

And yet despite the ambiguity of India, or perhaps merely its complexity for someone like myself, it was by far the most absorbing place I had ever been. Religion, as I had learned it in childhood, seemed to divide the world into two halves: one sacred, one profane. In India that division was gone. Here everything was sacred, everything was set apart for the worship or service of God. People say Him everywhere – in elephants, in river stones……

The town of Dras in Kargil district has the dubious distinction of being the second coldest inhabited town in the world.

…Leh valley, Kushok Bakula Rimpoche airport, the highest commercial landing strip in the world…..

….its the Ladakhi people who enliven their surroundings. Weather-worn like almost no other people on earth, they bear the distinctive pink complexion of high altitude dwellers, as well as the most evocative smiles I’ve ever encountered.

….a young man, lean and dark from the fields, and an old woman, yellow-eyed; both projecting that interested but non-judgemental stare that I’ve found all over India.

In Hinduism, after the three main stages of life are fulfilled (student/householder/retirement) a fourth may be adopted – that of sannyasin or renunciate. While most men defer this final stage to a future life, the most ardent bid farewell to their families and possessions and set out, during their final years, to find detachment from all worldly pleasures and thus draw closer to moksha, enlightenment or liberation from the wheel of rebirth. As a cultural institution, it is perhaps the greatest signifier of just how much orthodox Hinduism venerates the spiritual quest.

While Hinduism has numerous weird and wonderful subgroups, its largely a devotional religion in which everyone finds their own form of the divine and pours all their human energies into its worship…..

At lunchtime we stopped at a dosa stall, where there were lines of makeshift tables and benches, beside which sizzling pans fried the fermented rice-batter pancakes, with their distinctive sour taste, which are such a feature of the South Indian meal. In all my worldwide travels I have never known such good value. For just five rupees (three pence) it was possible to eat as much as one wanted.

Soul drunk, body ruined, these two
sit helpless in a wrecked wagon.
Neither knows how to fix it.
And my heart, I’d say it was more
like a donkey sunk in a mudhole,
struggling and miring deeper.

But listen to me: for one moment,
quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms
around you. God.

I spent several hours at the [Hazrat Nizamuddin] dargah that morning. Certainly it was one of the most vivacious places I had been to in Delhi….

…although Turkey was the place where the great mystic [Rumi] lived and died, and his image is still used in the glossy pamphlets of the tourist board, the practice of Sufism is illegal in Turkey, punishable by imprisonment. While the rest of the world is experiencing an unparalleled mystical resurgence, Turkey, it seems, harbours old grudges still…

….Istanbul …Out of a city of fifteen million, perhaps six million live in …shanty houses built without permission, foundations or amenities. Largely populated by economic migrants from Anatolia……

….gliding into the Bosporous. At 17 miles long and just 700 yards wide at its narrowest point, this has been one of the world’s most strategic waterways for millennia.

I died a mineral, and became a plant.
I died a plant and rose an animal.
I died an animal and I was man.
Why should I fear
When was I less by dying.

….Ataturk…wanted to cut off all ties with tradition…
‘Before Ataturk?’ I asked. ‘What percentage of Turks practiced Sufism?’
He considered for a moment. ‘At that time Istanbul had a population of about 500,000 people. For that number there were some 360 dervish lodges open. Based on what we know, approximately 90 per cent of the city’s population were affiliated to a tekke!’

‘……..When they ban Sufism they are opening the gates for radicalism.’ ….Sufism, in itself, represents a notably liberal and pluralistic interpretation of Islamic doctrine…Rumi. ‘Love’s creed is separate from all religions,’ he wrote. ‘The creed and denomination of lovers is God.’ Certainly, Rumi’s own path to the divine was Islamic, and yet he excluded no one on a different route.

It was in Konya, on the central Anatolian Plateau, that Rumi had spent his life. For the pro-European, Western-facing Turks, Anatolia is often described as ‘backward’ these days….In Rumi’s time, the city was the capital of the Seljuk empire, a liberal, highly creative hub of spiritual and artistic thought. Today, it’s the most conservative town in modern Turkey: sleepy, producing cement, carpets and fertilizer, home town of Necmeddin Erbakan, the nation’s most famous hard-line Islamic politician, and indeed one of the places where he found his strongest support.

Some Islamic modernists go further still, rejecting Rumi altogether. Their principal complaint, it seems, is in Rumi’s assertion of absolute unity with God – called Wahdat-ul-wujood in Sufism. From the earliest origins of Sufi mysticism, this notion has caused problems. That anyone should claim absolute unity with god smacks of heresy, a lack of humility. In times gone by, many Sufis were put to death for such statements, such as Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, also known as al-Hallaj (the wool-carder), who was beheaded in Baghdad for having uttered ‘Ana ‘l haqq’ – I am the Truth.

One sure sign of a poor cup of Turkish coffee is to get a mouthful of grounds in the first sip…

‘……Rumi compared the Koran to a bride. “Although you pull the veil away from her face, she will not show herself to you,” he said.’
‘Then what is the trick?’
A chuckle. ‘Stop pulling!’

….Rumi lived in times similar to our own in many ways, with wars and strife… They, like the Sufis before and after them, rejected conventional beliefs. God is in our hearts, they claimed. He is not in the mosque or the madrasa or in the pages of books. He is within us……

….Idries Shah wrote:
Cross and the churches, from end to end
I surveyed: He was not on the cross.
I went to the idol temple, to the ancient pagoda.
No trace was visible there.
I bent the reins of search to the Ka’ba.
He was not in the resort of old and yound.
I gazed into my own heart.
There I saw Him, He was nowhere else.

The philosopher Colin Wilson speaks of our normal waking consciousness as a ‘robot’, a creature which goes through the motions of life with only occasional glimpses of the intelligence within. For the Sufis, that ‘intelligence’ is God, and in their rituals they find ways to reconnect precisely because of its ability to convey the essence of that experience, the sheer exuberance of connectedness.

Perhaps as many as 25,000 years ago, during Palaeolithic times, the hunting cultures of Siberia and Central Asia coined a word, saman, defined as a technique of ecstasy. From this came the word ‘shaman’, meaning religious leader, priest or healer, but more specifically describing someone with the ability to enter trance states in order to gather knowledge in the non-human realms.

Shamans spend years in the most arduous training in order to explore and penetrate layers of consciousness. They are the masters of expanded awareness, with infinitely subtler, more penetrating understanding than our own.

‘Are you a god?’ asked several men to him, shortly after his enlightenment. ‘No,’ replied the Buddha. ‘I am awake.’

From ‘Uniqueness of Sri Bhagavan’ by K Subrahmanian

The most extraordinary thing about the Maharshi was his twenty-four hour accessibility. No permission was needed to see him and there were no special darshan hours.

Duncan Greenlees who had met the Maharshi several times wrote: “I know no other man whose mere presence has thus enabled me to make the personality drop down into the abyss of nothingness where it belongs. I have found no other human being who so emanates his grace that it can plunge him deep in the ecstasy of timeless omnipresent being.”

“There are also other methods. You can do pooja or japa. But dhyana is the simplest and the best.”

In Uttararamacharita, Bhavabhuti says: “The words of ordinary people follow meaning: but meaning runs after words uttered by great sages.”

It has become fashionable to criticize religious rituals….But in secular life, we perform certain rituals and are very proud of them. We salute the national flag…..There is a purpose behind the rituals also. …..In the early stages of one’s sadhana, rituals are necessary for disciplining the mind. Rituals may not be necessary for those who have advanced considerably in the spiritual field …..When the mind of man matures considerably, rituals will drop of their own record…..

When we are in the presence of a sage or saint, it is like standing under a waterfall. The descent of grace from such people will wash away all mental dirt.

From ‘Sri Ramana Maharshi. The Advent Centenary Souveneir 1896-1996’ by Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai

“To teach without words and to be useful without action – few among men are capable of this.” Thus spoke LAOTSE

What a beautiful word the Hebrew language has for God: “Yahweh” which means “I AM”. Jehovah is the anglicized form of the word Yahweh. Sri Ramana said that the Old Testament’s “I AM that I AM” is even better than “Aham Brahmasmi” (“I AM Brahman”) as a description of the Self.

Sri Bhagavan has said, “Vichara is the process and the goal also. ‘I Am’ is the goal and final Reality. To hold to it with effort is vichara. When spontaneous and natural, it is Realization.””

I spoke to Bhagavan for some time; and then while taking leave of him said, “You have attained a great stage”. He replied ‘Distance lends enchantment to the view’. By this he meant, as I later learnt from many of his teachings directly and indirectly to me, that a householder’s life was as good as that of an ascetic, and could equally lead one to Jnana.

The Maharshi a master cook, calligraphist and caricaturist, and naturpath, raconteur, editor and engineer extraordinaire, spoke little and wrote even less. His poems in Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu and Malayalam are not only mystic and magnificent mantras, but also potent seeds sown for the integration of a people who are presently so asleep as to consider as weakness the timeless strength inherent in the bewildering bewitching diversity of their culture.

Ramana says:
“If you have surrendered, you must be able to abide by the will of God and not make a grievance out of what may not please you.”

Ramana’s solution is to let the mind subside to the point where it disappears, and what remains when the mind has subsided is the simple, pure being that was always there.

Ramana says: “Your duty is to be, and not to be this or that….The method is summed up in ‘Be Still’”

When one attempts to practice this conviction by putting attention on the feeling of being that is within us, thoughts and desires will initially continue to flow at their normal rate, but if attention is maintained over a period of time, the density of thoughts decreases, and in the space between them, there emerges the clarity, the stillness and the peace of pure being. Occasionally this stillness and this peace will expand and intensify until a point is reached where no effort is needed to sustain the awareness of being, the attention merges imperceptibly with the being itself, and the occasional stray thoughts no longer have the power to distract.

In the case of surrender, the initial effort is the shifting of one’s attention from the world of thoughts to the feeling of being. When there is no attention to it, the mind subsides revealing the being from which it came, then in some mysterious way, the Self eliminates the residual ignorance and Realisation dawns.

“The purpose of self-enquiry is to focus the entire mind at its source.”

The mind is simply fattened by new thoughts rising up. Therefore it is foolish to attempt to kill the mind by means of the mind. The only way to do it is to find its source and hold on to it.

The precise method is simple and well known. When thoughts arise, one does not allow them to develop. One asks oneself the words, “To whom do these thoughts occur?” And the answer is “To me,” and then the question occurs, “Then who am I? What is this thing in me which I keep calling’I’?” By doing this practice one is shifting attention from the world of thoughts to the being from where the thought and the thinker first emerged. The transfer of attention is simply executed, because if one holds on to the feeling “I am” the initial thought of ‘I’ will gradually give way to a feeling of ‘I’, and then sooner or later, this feeling “I am” will merge into being itself, to a state where there is no longer either a thinker of the thought ‘I’, or a feeler of the feeling ‘I am’; there will only be being itself.

…Superior to loud praise of God and to inaudible japa is the purely mental process of meditation.
…Uninterrupted meditation, resembling the flow of water or of ghee, is superior to that which is discontinuous.
…If after stilling the mind by stilling the breath, the mind be fixed on one point, then the mind would be dissolved (and the Mindless State would be reached).
…Right Awareness of the Self is just the mind becoming aware of its own true Nature as Pure Consciousness, as the result of the mind being disentangled from (attachment to) outside objects.
…If the truth of the mind be persistently investigated (Keeping it away from all outside objects) in the end there will be no mind left. This is the Direct Path which is available to one and all.
…The mind is nothing but a series of thoughts. Of all the thoughts the root is the ‘I’ thought. Hence the ‘I’ – the ego – is the mind.
…When the source, wherefrom the ego arises is sought, the ego perishes. This is the method of Inquiry (Vichara), leading to Right Awareness (of the Real Self).
…Becoming aware of one’s Self apart from the vehicle (the five sheaths making up the body) is itself rightly Knowing God, because it is He that shines (in the Heart) as the Self.

When the breath is held, it is observed that the thoughts also decrease and finally when the breath-movement is brought to a stand-still the thoughts also completely subside.

There are several methods advocated as to the manner of breath control. The method the Maharshi teaches is a rare one; if it is merely watched, and no attempt at control is made, the breath, of itself, slows down almost to a vanishing point.

Normally, in ‘Hatha Yoga’ the nostrils are closed and opened with the fingers for definite intervals…..The sadhaka practicing in this way is fighting a battle, as it were, with the force of the breath; were this battle to be conducted on wrong lines, dangers or disaster might follow, particularly were it to be lost. Forced effort may end in various kinds of diseases; it may entail madness, and in some cases, if the kundalini or life-force rises uncontrolled, the body gets almost burnt up, and death results; this practice is to be done under the personal surveillance of the Master, with great care and circumspection adopting easy techniques from time to time, and under different restrictions as to diet, time and posture. The Maharshi bids us strictly to avoid this method of Hatha Yoga.
Do not fight with the natural flow of the breath; only watch it, as if you were a witness to a process. It is called the ‘sakshi bhava’ in philosophical terminology.
……Not for him are the emotional surges and fits of despair found in the bhakti marga. Nor are the anxieties of the karma marga present. The dangers of the yoga marga will never touch him; not even the troubles of the path of raja yoga will face him…

He says in “Upadesa Saram”, “Japa of mantras is better than hymnal praise; and the mental repetition of the mantra or the name is more effective thatn the utterance of either, aloud or in whisper.” And then he explains, “If you continue sticking to the sound or the idea, there will come a stage when there will be only a sound, undifferentiated even into various letters.” As you go deeper and deeper, even the sound dissolves, and that process he calls ‘dipping in’.