Monthly Archives: January 2017

One American White Chick’s Struggles With Her Vasanas: Part Three

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Part 3: Beware Of Darkness (To read parts 1 and 2, scroll down)

(Before proceeding, please note, this is all written from the point of view of a student of Sanatana Dharma who is still struggling to understand the specifics of these concepts. Errors and misunderstandings on my end are to be expected, and with time I will learn to correct my thinking.)

“She’s fragile, she has depression and anxiety, she can’t help it.”

We are taught in the West by well-intentioned professionals and other experts, that our darkest corners, our illnesses, own us, that we are victims. We are taught to forgive ourselves our helplessness because we are victims of our biology, of our chemistry, and that we have to accept lives of inevitable sickness because the illnesses are bigger than we are. Well, folks, they’re not. Believing we are that small, and living in a culture of enablers, keeps us bound in helpless suffering. We have far more power over our depressive and anxious tendencies than we might believe, and we have far more power over them than BIG PHARMA or politicall correctness would ever want us to realize. Yes, the struggles are real, the problems are real, but surrendering to them, or resigning ourselves to lifetimes of medicated numbness, or worse, defining ourselves as anxious people, are not the answers, even if from time to time we need the medical numbness to get it together. I am not denying that mental illnesses are real, I am merely stating that many of us have simply lost control of our minds, and all the feel-goodie politically correct crap in the world cannot cover the stink of bondage this way of thinking has reduced us to. And what have we been reduced to? Slaves to our own self-perpetuating suffering, slaves to illnesses as part of our identity, resigned to living as “victims.” If we are victims, it is not of incurable diseases, it is of brainwashing by well-meaning boobs. As serious as a problem may be to contend with, resigning to victimhood takes away whatever power you may have. Serious as these illnesses are, do not resign yourself to helplessness or despair.

I had been fighting my mental and emotional-health wolf-demons head-on and with courage for a long time, and was making headway, too, but I was still feeding those wolves, was still stubbornly attached to the vasanas that fed, caused or were them. I had made a lot of headway on my own, and more headway after the DMT experience (which ONLY offers medicinal healing if you integrate the experiences diligently), so I was not depending on any miracles, but, and I went into this in depth when I talked about my trip to the Temple in Atlanta, I did experience a miraculous healing. This is extremely surprising in that, though I was seeking temporary relief, I was not asking for healing as I didn’t even think such a thing was possible. Regardless, there I was in the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, and within a period of about 30 seconds, completely out of the blue, all of my anxiety and depression evaporated. Every bit of stale depression, fear and anxiety that I had been carrying around since I was 3 flushed out of my system in a miraculous moment. Depressive and anxious thoughts and states of being had become like the drone string of my life. No matter how much fun I was having, those feelings were always there underneath it all, and now they were gone.

Simply gone! I was free, and I was clean and clear. It was as stark a contrast as having been blind since birth and suddenly seeing… I had NO IDEA what life felt like without anxiety or depression until after that moment.

A few weeks passed, me very suspicious of the healing event. I kept thinking I was delusional, that such a healing was impossible, that I was a sick person and I had to accept my illness as a fact of life with the resolution of absolute certitude, then the truth rang in me with all the clarity of a bell… the words of Shiva came to me in my own voice…

It was up to me. It was entirely up to me if those feelings came back and settled in as the drone string to every moment of my life. I had been given an opportunity by Brahman, Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesh, to shed the vasanas that kept me a prisoner of my own suffering, and it was up to me if I sunk back into the wallow of them. It was up to me if the event was delusional or not. But, that’s just it… it is ALWAYS up to me, and up to you. It is up to you if you want to master drawing, it is up to you if you want to beat, or at least diminish, depression and anxiety, it is up to you if you want to climb Everest, and it’s up to you if you want to master your mind! Having said that, yes, I most definitely believe in the reality of mental health problems, but I also believe in the reality of hard focused work and years of patient effort. And now, I believe in miracles. Whether you want to master drawing, your mind, or Everest, the amount of work it takes is intimidating, and most people simply dismiss it as impossible for them… and so for them, it is.

I chose to make the healing event real. From that time, and it has been months, I have had isolated episodes of anxiety and depression, perhaps I always will, perhaps I won’t, but I can root out short-term episodes of depression or anxiety much more easily when I am not carrying around depression and anxiety that I have nursed to my breast like a serpent since I was three years-old. These mental health vasanas (inherent tendencies) had been with me since birth, perhaps longer, so I am not saying I will never have another episode, I said that I already have, but what I am saying is that I am winning this battle (eliminating these vasanas) by significant degrees, and for the most part, not only are these problems no longer a part of my day to day life day in and day out, I no longer view them as inevitable or incurable. Perhaps for some they are, but deep down I honestly believe that most of us can do better and be healthier and happier, if not entirely well.

I had allowed numerous other problems to take me down, whether or not they are “vasanas” I am not certain, but some were simple, like going to bed late and sleeping in too late, which I have since conquered. It’s amazing how much daylight helps disarm depression. I had the problem of having too tight an attachment to my former best friend, but in losing him I have since realized that if I could let go of that consuming attachment to him, I can let go of any attachment. It seems that in the wake of working out our vasanas and karma, other aspects of our spiritual life and growth begin to purify and work themselves out with greater ease. I had the vasana of being a hopeless misfit and cultural outsider since childhood, and grew into seeing my current solitude as a tragic loneliness, as sorrow and suffering. For years now I have bemoaned my solitude as an agony, I longed for a lover, for a best friend to spend time with, but even that I have changed. Now my solitude is holy. I wake up, meditate, take a long walk in the beautiful forest around my home, then I go to lunch and see my friends. After that I come home, read Puranas, read Vedic scriptures, and often walk and meditate more. My solitude is now something I cherish, and I am feeling less like a malcontented misfit and more like a Sadhu, more like the Adiyogi, Shiva. Slowly, vasana after vasana, big and small have revealed themselves, a few have dropped away. But there seem to be so many yet to go, for all my successes I am still deep in this battle with my vasanas, and I’m not certain I will have let them all go before I die, but I will have laid a good number of them to rest.

Yes, there are many vasanas I still struggle with, among them, a difficulty accepting the nature of maya. It is natural to inherently view “reality” the same way everyone else seems to. Like most of us, I had an habitual way of viewing reality in a rather democratic way. While I now live in awareness of a larger reality, I tend to cling to my old smaller “reality.” To be honest, at times I have become terrified as I have watched my former notions of reality, and of who I am, being destroyed. If our notions of reality and self are destroyed… what then? Who are we? Where are we? What are we?

What then? indeed… BLISS! At times I respond to the upset of my reality as bliss, at others with fear. This vasana, this struggle between my true self and my mighty and tyrranical ego is still a battle I fight. I am too attached to maya, to this illusory and limited version of reality, even though I have time and again seen and experienced far larger realities.

But, perhaps the vasana I have struggled with most recently is one more stale leftover from Christianity. I tend to return too often to fundamentalism and literalism when I read the sacred texts, Puranas, Vedas, whatever. This leads only to fear, never to release, never to peace. The only way to live at peace with fundamentalism and literalism is to walk headlong into that bondage and to keep your eyes closed and your ears full of wax. And even then, I promise you, something will have to give. Fundamentalism of any stripe is limited and is bondage, and God is limitless and infinite freedom, therefore, God never resides in fundamentalism, only limited and bound people reside there. Folks, you will not find God in fundamentalism anymore than I will find my panties in the silverware drawer.

Time and again I find myself reading the sacred texts, particularly the Puranas, and getting hung up on my dogmatic fundamentalist literal interpretations of the texts… and these are always MY vasanas at work. This leads to all manner of confusion. I am still not entirely certain how I am to view Shiva. I mean, as an existential entity with 4 arms and a blue neck? As a metaphor manifested to pass along wisdom? As a form revealed to the sages so that we could better relate to the teachings? As formless? As myself? To be honest, this confusion only sets in when I think about it. It seems this vasana is eliminated by not thinking about it. Shiva IS, and Shiva is D) all the above… none of the above, “That Which Is Not,” and more.

In the wake of all these fundamentalist freak outs along came my concerns about whether or not I should install a stone Shiva lingam, and if whether or not my Shiva murti is in the right place in my home, and whether or not I am making enough offerings or offering enough bhakti. Not only all that, but as I was not born and raised in a Hindu family, I have no idea at all how to perform a simple proper pujah, nor what to offer Lord Shiva. I have taken the advice of my teacher Manhar-Ji to resolve this. Firstly, he told me a story from the Shiva Purana that I did not know. It was about a Shiva devotee who had nothing to offer Shiva but meat. There is a lot to the story, but essentially meat is considered a filthy offering, and to many it would be considered blasphemous and sinful to offer Shiva meat, but in the end, Shiva accepted the meat because he understood that this was all the man had to offer, and that he was offering it in all devotion. In other words, perfection of the specifics do not matter. What matters is the intention and practice of holy acts to the best of our abilities, and this comes right down to realizing that neither Shiva nor any of the other Gods actually demand perfection no matter how unforgiving other passages in Puranas may be. In fact, this issue of perfection was one of the topics I had to discuss with my guru (simply translated as “teacher” in this context) Manhar-Ji. When reading the Puranas, it seemed they demanded perfection, and as a person who has the vasana of perfectionism, this was causing me nothing but suffering. Fortunately I have the right teacher, and he clarified that the process is not about being perfect, it is about accepting our imperfections as we strive towards a spiritual perfection, a perfection that may not realize itself for lifetimes.

With great eagerness I had finally begun reading the sacred Shiva Puranas, and by page 24 I had been condemned to hell four to six times! Now, I’m not so sure I believe in “Hell,” as anything more than a metaphor (I’m also not willing to say outright that I do not believe in Hell… how could I know?), but this struck a red-hot rod of misery straight down my throat. Here I was battling the same miseries I had battled as a Christian. I do not respond well to threats of eternal damnation, I will not be manipulated by fear, so I set the Puranas aside and sought counsel. I contacted Manhar-Ji, and he set my mind at ease, dismissing the passages as both secondary and metaphorical. Here, again, my old vasanas, those of reading scriptures too literally, too much like a fundamentalist were manifesting in different forms. As I had said, I thought I had outgrown concepts of Hell, but being confronted with it again had upset me deeply. One of the things that had drawn me into Sanatana Dharma was that it was not dogmatic, literal or fundamentalist, that it was full of metaphor and full of choices, but there I was, time and again, trying to drag Sanatana Dharma into the little room, locking them in there with my vasanas. Manhar-Ji sent me a passage that I will return to time and again. I don’t know where it came from or who wrote it, but he paraphrased it in his email like this:

“Do not accept anything because it was laid down by sages and saints! Always question humbly? Why? If you adopt their declarations mechanically, you flout the fundamental principles of religion. Religion today is far from reaching that objective. The Self is made the slave of the ghosts of old books. Torturing old books to squeeze out the truth! Force meaning out of personal experience or want interpretation of lifeless words. Be free to think. Use reason to arrive at your conclusion. If not then this is spiritual suicide. The enlightened souls, compassionate ones, masters who give guidance and solace are not here to enslave you. They free you from bondage – this suffering. Do not let yourself be influenced by any obsolete codes of conduct that influence you by their imperative commandments. Gain the sane knowledge of the living present – NOW – rather than burying yourself in the past. Learn from past. But Live in now.”

BINGO! I was home again, free from dogma! Free to breathe and trust my inner experiences, free to interpret the truths as I read them and need them. Free to accept “I don’t know” as its own truth and wisdom. Free to once again know with all my heart that Sanatana Dharma is a LIVING system, and not merely a slavish regurgitation of the words of long gone sages. This vasana of literalism, dogma and fundamentalism I have finally laid to rest! And I will stomp upon the dirt under which it is buried every time I need to remind myself of the danger of what lies buried there… vasanas.

Har Har Mahadev!

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One American White Chick’s Struggles With Her Vasanas: Part Two

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Part 2: It’s All Too Much

(Before proceeding, please note, this is all written from the point of view of a student of Sanatana Dharma who is still struggling to understand the specifics of these concepts. Errors and misunderstandings on my end are to be expected, and with time I will learn to correct my thinking.)

I had not been living my life joyfully. In fact, for a very long time, decades and decades, I never knew a moment of pure joy. I had fleeting moments of joy, but always underneath it somewhere lurked a shadowy depression, or a sour twist of anxiety. Now, I know joy, not only joy, but pure joy, and at times ecstasy and bliss. But how did I learn joy? I learned it by realizing where the roots of my suffering lie, and by tearing up those roots, essentially by allowing Lord Shiva to dance me to destruction!

When I left Christianity, clueless, directionless, a lifetime ago, it left a huge charred hell in my psyche. I became morbidly terrified of death. I struggled to find myself through Taosim, then Zen, Celtic Paganism, and even mythology in general, but none of that fit and I knew it. Finally I became resigned to a decade or more of agonizing agnosticism. And through it all I remained terrified of the dark dank rotting reality of ultimate death. The story of how I felt drawn to Hindusim is long, and not one I can tell here, let’s just say that when Shiva came to me I was not looking for answers anymore. The answers came to me because Shiva knew I was ready. The problem was, Shiva may have known I was ready, but I did not feel ready. Funny that, because THAT is the very crux of what I am trying to get through to my students… YOU ARE READY!

Years ago, when I first began answering the call to Hinduism, I had sincerely installed a Ganesh in my home, and I adored Lord Ganesh, but that was only a first step. At least then I had a Hindu Temple less than an hour away, but once I moved to Florida, that was when my spiritual growth went dark. I was now clueless and all alone in my spirituality. I had no support, no Temple, no Priest, no fellow devotees, just a lot of questions, and nowhere to turn for answers. Naturally, my spiritual development not only stagnated, it regressed.

Yet I installed a Durga and Shiva, along with the Ganesh, in my new home in Florida. But, I was still clueless. I had no idea where any of this was leading or what it was I was supposed to be doing, so I continued to flounder, alone. At times it felt like I had made Hinduism up in some fit of desperate madness, so lonely I was in it, so hopelessly lost and without support. And it wasn’t just the lack of Hindu community and a Temple or teacher, all that was further confounded by the limitless options and possibilities within the framework of what we call “Hinduism.” I was like a child raised in a locked room (that room having been fundamentalist evangelical Christianity), and released into the Wide World in a moment, with no guide, no teachers, and no traveling companion! Unknown to me, this circumstance of birth had loaded me full of vasanas. I had been born into the wrong religion, a religion that may have been right for many, but not for me. How long had I suffered that? Were the vasanas that had become hard-wired in me born in this lifetime, or had I travelled through many before finally realizing from where God was calling? Frightened “child” that I was, I could not help but want to run back into my little locked room, so I all but neglected my spirituality, and worse, as I began to learn more about the Vedas and Puranas, I kept trying to drag them back into the little room I had been locked in.

It is hard to figure out what to become when you are a “Hindu,” especially when you have no Temple, no teacher, no guidance whatsoever, and when you have not been born into a culture of people that understand the many arms of Hinduism. I was overwhelmed. Do you become a follower of Vedic teaching? Do you join in with the Krishnas? Do you walk away from it all and join an ashram (and if so… which one under which guru)? Do you become an ascetic? Do you just meditate and be mindful to be calmer? Do you follow one as saintly as the beatific Anandi Ma, or do you wallow in the dirt of cremation grounds with flesh-eating Aghori? To have come from such a narrow path into a world of infinite possibilites without any help or guidance had paralyzed me. It was all too much, and there was so little for me to grab onto.

But then, and I have never revealed this on my blog, over a year ago a friend of mine showed up with a dose… and I took a hit of DMT, “the spirit molecule.”

WHOAH!

The point of no return. My entire concept of reality had been upended. From that point it was impossible to ever return to the limited notions of “reality” I’d had before. With my understanding of reality utterly destroyed, I had no choice but to earnestly engage in seeking Godhead. What was more instantaneous than that and quite miraculous, after my fist dose of DMT, is that I was suddenly able to do the impossible… meditate! No, really! I had struggled to meditate for years, both before I became a sysha in Sanatana Dharma (a “student” or “seeker” in “Hinduism”) and after. The ability to meditate had simply been beyond the power my vasanas had over me. Though I had considered myself a “Hindu” prior to DMT, it was DMT that, in one 15 minute trip. knocked down every obstacle between me and meditation, between me and Shiva. DMT became the eye of Shiva in that it utterly destroyed me and all I knew. Ganesh followed in the wake of that destruction and demolished every obstacle in my path. That first morning after the DMT trip when I woke up to meditate, it just so happened that my housemate and a friend were out my window in the yard running a chainsaw! Ordinarily I would have said “screw it,” and gone on with something else, but to me this seemed like a perfect opportunity. If I can initiate morning meditations by doing my very first morning meditation with a chainsaw going on outside my window… well… then, it seemed to me that I was “in.” Yes, that chainsaw was a test and a gift from Shiva… it was now or never.

I meditated.

So, you ask me:

Q: Are psychedelics a valid tool for genuine spiritual enlightenment?
A) Absolutely not
B) Yes, of course, take DMT now
C) Yes, but only with a qualified “professional” in some unlikely circumstance or obscure locale
D) All of the above

D) All of the above. No, I can’t reccomend that everyone go out and try psychedelics, but I couldn’t, in good conscience, tell anyone not to either. Let me say this, for certain people heading towards certain paths within the framework of Sanatana Dharma, I would say, no, psychedelics are not going to do anything but make things worse, but for others heading down other paths, then, yes, psychedelics can be as valid a tool as any. As a person who has leaned towards Lord Shiva, the transgressive Yogi, “That Which Is Not,” for someone in whom Shiva is at work, medicinal and respectful spiritual work with psychedelics may well be just the thing. People debate this, but Shiva partook of Ganja, and partook of Soma. Soma, some claim, was a poetic reference to spiritual inebriation, but I and others tend to believe soma was an entheogenic visionary drink. Regardless of the validity or lack of validity of psychedelics as a tool, this is important, psychedelics are NEVER to become a crutch. Ultimately, psychedelics open doors for people who cannot otherwise open them, they can break us free from our vasanas by essentially rerouting our mental pathways, but to keep taking them and relying on them… well, doors begin to open right into brick walls. But if psychedelics open the doors of perception, as Alan Watts said of LSD, when you get the message, hang up the phone.

Yes, I do believe some people need psychedelics to open those doors, and there is sound scientific thought behind it, in that psychedelics, as I had eluded to a moment ago, reroute our mental pathways, get us out of our ruts. Many of us get rutted into unhealthy pathways… and those pathways are, or become, vasanas. So, yes, if you ask me, psychedelics may be a critical guilt-free part of the journey for some, but if they are the destination, then I personally think that reveals a lack of vision if not a weakness of character, after all, once the doors have been opened, with a little discipline we can learn to find and travel through those doors without the aid of psychedelics. Psychedelics are tools, they are not God-realization, and they will not “open your third eye,” no matter what some white guy with dreads broadcasting from Burning Man may tell you on his Youtube channel. For me, DMT was nothing more than one essential step up a very high mountain, and the rest of the way I will now have to climb under my own power, though knowing that all of my power comes from Shiva, from Brahman, from Sanatana Dharma… and all that power can be accessed from within. My interest in psychedelics and DMT has diminished as I have learned what I needed to learn from them, which is good as it’s damn-near impossible to find DMT… I haven’t had the energy or desire to find it again. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and that’s probably for the best. A very little goes a long way.

So, there, one vasana finally eliminated, at long last, I now could meditate and I was now on the path of no return. But what the hell path was I on? I’m back on the limitless highway of Hindu possibilities. I love Sadhguru, but he probably will not turn out to be my guru. I am devoted to Lord Shiva, but the path of Devotion (bhakti) may not be the path for me, though I practice bhakti still. Should I travel to India and be in the company of Anandi Ma? Again… do I join the Krishnas? To be honest, as much as this may freak people out, a lot of what the Aghori say, do and believe, makes a lot of internal sense to me… but I am definitely not an Aghori either. But that part of me that is fascinated by and appreciative of what the Aghori represent has, perhaps, made me unfit for more mainstream options within “Hinduism.” In a sense, a new vasana had been revealed to me, the same vasana one might say Hamlet suffered from.

I have long suffered from neurotic confusion (neurotic confusion having been an habitual state for me, one from which I frequently reacted) that manifests as over-concern for the destination when I should have been enjoying the journey. This had manifested itself for years in my artwork, in which I have rarely enjoyed the process as I always had an eye on the results. Now this was revealed to me as a vasana, but in this particular case, I was worried about where I was supposed to end up in my spiritual life rather than recognizing or enjoying the process of seeking. The removal of this “To be or not to be” existential struggle, this confusion and state of ignorance particular to my spiritual journey, came to me from the humblest and most unexpected of sources, a waiter at an Indian restaurant.

I had become friends with many employees of the local Indian restaurant, so I sometimes bring them out to where I live for a day of relaxation. I was standing on the lakeshore with him, and while he was staring out in wonder at the beautiful landscape of floating islands, exotic birds, lakeshore, lake and light, I was churning up concerns for the future, distressing over my destination. I said, “Vikram, I don’t know where this is going. I mean, am I going to end up in an ashram somewhere or what?”

He held his hand out over the lake and said, “Don’t think of the fruit.” He then told me how beautiful the lake was.

All in the teachings I know, but I had never heard Krishna’s teaching about how we are entitled to our actions, but not to the fruit of our actions applied in this way. To me this teaching meant that however hard I worked to learn how to draw, I had no right to expect being rewarded for it, but now, with Vikram, this teaching took on all new depth. From that point on I have stopped thinking about where I am going… and instead I am simply going, am simply seeking! It seems I have defeated one aspect of this monstrous vasana, I have stopped worrying about what path I will resolve and resign to traveling spiritually. I am traveling, and that is enough. The specific path and destination will reveal itself, as has everything else. This vasana of having too much an eye on the results and not enough focus on the process has many forms, but having defeated one manifestation, one avatar, if you will, of this vasana, it will be easier now to begin defeating it when it manifests in my art, or in other areas of my life. In other words, I had won one battle in my war with this one single vasana, but from this point, it should be easier to win the other battles.

The real vasanas I had been battling inwardly were my inherent tendency towards depressions, anxieties, obsessions and fears that had become part of the marrow of my being, and had been so since I was 3 years old, but probably since birth and long before. I had the habit of feeding those wolves as if they simply had to be accepted as part of who I am, as a permanent part of my life. Like many people with anxiety and depression, anxiety and depression had become an important and accepted part of my identity. These were diseases I wrongly understood to be ME.

For a start, it was Sadhguru who got me to realize that this way of thinking is backwards. In one of his teachings he asked, what if your hand was flopping around hitting you all the time when you weren’t using it… would you consider this a sickness? Well, he went on to explain, this is exactly what your brain is doing when it tortures you with undue suffering. Your mind, like your hand, should sit still and calm when not in use. He then explained that we have simply lost control of our minds, and that as common a condition as it is, it should not be viewed as normal, nor should it be resigned to.

Thus I became aware of one major vasana, I had lost control of my mind!

NEXT, Part 3: Beware Of Darkness

One American White Chick’s Struggles With Her Vasanas: Part One

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Shiva Speaking To Justine...

Shiva Speaking To Justine…

Part 1: Living In The Material World

(Before proceeding, please note, this is all written from the point of view of a student of Sanatana Dharma who is still struggling to understand the specifics of these concepts. Errors and misunderstandings on my end are to be expected, and with time I will learn to correct my thinking.)

As I go deeper into my studies of Sanatana Dharma (or “Hinduism” as it is more commonly called), what is it am I learning? Well, lots of stuff, and a lot of it difficult to explain, probably in part because I do not yet understand it all well enough to explain it fluidly. As you may well imagine, at the moment I am as busy unlearning as learning, and this is where the trouble starts. Learning is always a challenging process, even though having to unlearn is not an uncommon part of the learning process. When becoming a serious student of Sanatana Dharma, unlearning seems to be far more important, and from an esoteric perspective, being a student of Sanatana Dharma is almost entirely about unlearning, untangling, detaching and letting go. Now, multiply the struggles of unlearning times a thousand when transitioning from a Western religious and social structure to Hindu spirituality. At the core of this unlearning process are the vasanas, as those are what we must unlearn, let go of, and detach ourself from.

Let’s begin with what I’m learning that is easiest to explain, and that is not only how to be a teacher, but more importantly, how to be a good student. I teach at SAW (Sequential Artists Workshop), and I know who the ideal student is in my mind, and knowing this, I have to humble myself to that place now that the tables have been turned and I am the sysha (student). After all, how can I ask of my students something I am unwilling to give of myself? Ultimately what this comes down to is being willing to not only listen, but to empty my cup. I don’t mean “empty my cup” in a general zen-cliche way, I mean specifically to empty my cup every single time I have a question; to empty it of the answers I want to hear, expectations, and of old answers. By this, I mean to ask questions from a standpoint of wanting to know rather than from the standpoint of defending some preconceived idea I might be attached to.

It is insanely frustrating to teach someone who is less questioning me to understand than to defend themselves for coming to me with a full cup overflowing with ideas and ideologies they are not even willing to consider letting go of. America has become a country of monolithic ideologies of all sorts, not the least of which manifest as insanely rigid political constructs through which far too many people view every aspect of life, especially in this age of deeply unhealthy political obsession… and people are doing this without even realizing they have wandered so deep into such a dark cave. Some students just won’t empty their cups, with those students it’s best to let go, teach them the particulars of whatever technique they are worried about, and let them go about struggling to keep their overfull cups from spilling over, which is a sad place from which to teach, because the best teachers do not teach technique only, they teach life as they understand it. A student who is not willing to learn about life, but only wants to learn what they choose to learn is a very frustrating student indeed. Most teachers don’t merely know more about inking or watercolor, they know more about living, as is inevitable with the aging process, light begins to fall into the shadowy corners of our delusions. Just as the sun travels over a landscape, illuminating at first the East-facing side of things, one who has only lived to early afternoon has not been able to see into the shadowy sides to the West what one who has survived until evening has seen.

“Siva, the merciful, removes ignorance even as the sun removes impurities and darkness by means of its rays. When ignorance is dispelled, the knowledge of Siva begins to function.”

Siva Purana

I have learned that being a good student means knowing when the right student, the right wisdom and the right teacher have come together at the right time. It’s about being conscious enough to recognize that when it happens, and being wise enough to humble yourself before it, as well as being humble enough to empty your cup and surrender to the wisdom and the teacher.

I have been studying Sanatana Dharma for some time now, and though I resist buying too deeply into this idea, it is said by some in India that one cannot be converted to Hinduism, one must be born into it. While this is wholly wrong… I have had to recognize that there is more than a little truth in it… however much that realization hurts. Hindus and India are not like America and The Republians (I mean “Christians,” sorry, I get those two mixed up sometimes… but so do they), in that the fundamental role of Christianity in American culture is not the same role Hinduism plays in Indian culture. The fundamental concepts and commonly taught lessons of mainstream American Christianity are not entirely the same concepts and lessons taught in Hinduism, or at the very least, there are not as many options or possibilities within the confines of mainstream Christianity. In mainstream (not all, but in “mainstream” middle-American) Christianity, the road is obscenely narrow and omnidirectional. I grew up bound to the hellish confines of that narrow one-way road, and have emerged into the highway of Indian spirituality where there are numerous lanes coming from multiple directions and splitting off into millions of exits. Without a GPS (Guru Positioning System), it’s easy to get lost. Simply put, by reading the Bible in a simplistic way, and by going to the average church, one can more or less understand what most Americans consider “Christianity” fairly easily, even if they did not grow up Christian. The same is not true of Hinduism where options, possibilities and complexities can be overwhelming to one who has not grown up immersed in the culture that has immersed itself in it, and I mean wholly overwhelming. In that way, yes, it is difficult to make a transition to Hindu spirituality from outside India, but Sanatana Dharma is, in the end, a spiritual system that has no boundaries, no race, no gender, and no one right path. Ultimately, this is where the issue of vasanas reveal themselves as being particularly confounding to a Western seeker, especially to one without a guru. We all, as we embrace Sanatana Dharma, be we American or Indian, have to struggle with our vasanas, but a good student from the West… well, their struggles against their vasanas are far messier.

So how does this all begin to tie together? Let’s start by saying that I welcome as many Indian people into my life as cross my path, and when around them, I immediately become a humble student with absolutely no desire to bicker or debate modern American relativistic nonsense with them. A people who grew up in an environment immersed in Santana Dharma simply think differently than those who grew up in our American environment, and thank God for that. Often my vasanas become revealed and begin to loosen simply by being humble around the Indians in my life. Only recently I learned a very important lesson about being a good student. For a long time I have struggled with what to call myself, a “convert to Hinduism,” and while talking this over with an Indian friend, he suggested that for starters, I would have a much easier time of it if I consider myself a “sysha (a student) of Sanatana Dharma” rather than as one who has “converted to Hinduism.” PING! Wow, the light went on, instant liberation! Now, like all syshas, like all on this path, American or Indian, I am a seeker, the playing field has been leveled. Additionally, as a “sysha” rather than a “convert,” I have eliminated the need to “know;” no pressure to be perfect, no need to apologize for being an American white girl using the label “Hindu.” By being around people who have been immersed in the culture of Sanatana Dharma, we can approach our vasanas more consciously through listening to their wisdom.

Yeah… so what are “vasanas?” Let’s start with a couple of other concepts, concepts such as karma, maya, avidya, and then vasanas. And let’s start by saying that this is how I understand these concepts at the moment, and I welcome any input as to where I have misunderstood any of these concepts. As it is essentially the cornerstone on which our illusions are built, let’s start with maya, meaning, “not this.” Maya is essentially the concept that the material world is an illusion, or at least that our attachment to it, as who and what we are, is the illusion. There are tons of subtleties to the way maya manifests, and like all things in Hinduism, were we given a multiple choice test and asked to choose between 3 definitions of maya and a fourth option, “D) All of the above,” the answer in Hinduism is virtually always D. But maya is where the trouble starts, it’s where we all get lost, it is the the rope that binds us all. Maya leads to avidya, avidya creates vasanas, and vasanas are the tendencies from which we act, thereby creating karma both good and bad.

Avidya essentially means our personal ignorances, ignorances which have been born of our immersion in maya. These avidya (ignorances) manifest in us as our immersion in maya convinces us we are the ego, and this makes us blind to our true nature… which is not our identification with the body and the mind, but with our Atman (the particle of God in us that we are meant to realize).

Lastly, due to the world of maya and our ensuing avidya, thus our vasanas are created. The Vasanas as I understand the concept now, are our inherent tendencies, the habits, thoughts and compulsions that we engage in primarily as our reactions to avidya, which stemmed from maya. These vasanas may be positive, they may be negative; they may have been created in this life, or we may have come into this life with them. The vasanas seem to be our highly personal cosmic illusory inner thumbprint. These thoughts, habits and compulsions are what drive us, and they manifest as actions, or at least as the motivations behind actions, and the actions create karma. These vasanas keep us in a state of avidya, slaves to maya, and generate endless karma. Vasanas are what drive us to maintain our belief that we are the ego. When Westerners talk about karma, they often seem to think that is the BIG idea in Hinduism, but the truth is, in becoming realized, karma is a secondary issue to removal of the vasanas. By working on my vasanas dilligently, I am finding that my karma is straightening itself out. In other words, in my experience, we need to worry less about karma than our vasanas, for if we eliminate or exhaust our vasanas, our karma is cleansed in the wake of that elimination as we will have automatically begun living, thinking, behaving and acting in ways that correct and create better karma. By rooting out our vasanas, we naturally drift towards more conscious actions and more positive karma. In life, once we become conscious, we can begin to exhaust, fulfill, let go of, or eliminate our vasanas.

At least, that’s how I understand it all at this moment. I am certain with time I will have to relearn some of this.

The importance of rooting out the vasanas being more important than worrying about my karma has been a huge discovery for me. I mean, let’s just say that in the complicated world of Hinduism, having one thing that will work itself out in the wake of our other efforts is a huge relief. Some of the major vasanas I carried into my studies and thinking, be they good or bad, be they from previous lives or vasanas that have developed throughout the course of this lifetime, have influenced my journey as a student. As I untangle myself from Western ideas and Christianity, these vasanas have become so unconscious and instinctive that I often walk around with my cup full to overflowing while thinking I had emptied it. And that’s just it, perhaps I had emptied it, and emptied it time and again, but until I consciously recognize and work through my vasanas, my cup will not remain empty, it will refill itself time and again. I repeat, the realization I have come to is that one must continuously empty the cup, and in a sense, in emptying the cup we are pouring out our vasanas and our avidya, and we are being good syshas, the sort of students I want in my classes.

I have a number of vasanas, not just ones born of my Christian upbringing. I had the seemingly positive vasana, since childhood, of being creative and desiring wealth and recognition for my creative work. Now, that sounds good, but what happened when the work has been done and the rewards do not come? What happened to me was misery and a drunken bitterness. It seems to me that vasanas, good or bad, create karmic traps and unconscious actions. On the darker side, I have vasanas that have been forged in me like iron, vasanas made of the iron mined from the deepest of holes, holes I dug lifetimes ago and holes I have dug with great intention in this very lifetime. These are the holes I return to, be they good or bad. Great mines, and the dark ones are great holes of depression, desire, anxiety, fear, literalism, attachment, pride. Holes I myself dug to such great depths. That’s what vasanas are, the compulsion to dig holes for ourselves. Before we can even stop digging we have to ask, why are we digging these holes? What will it mean if I stop digging them? When all your life all you have done is dig those holes, the thought of stopping can be terrifying. Those holes are our realities. The thought of stopping can be so terrifying for so many that they are unwilling to even consider it, and sadly for others, the thought of stopping is unthinkable, for they are either too caught up in maya, too limited, or perhaps they are simply afraid of what might happen were they to stop digging. We are in bondage, limited, in our own holes. Our lives can become so entangled in maya that even thinking about getting out can be far too devastating to consider.

Devastating, destructive, Shivanic! But, some of us, we ache for such devastation, such destruction, and though we might resist at first, eventually we have to learn to be grateful for the destruction, and we have to learn to trust Shiva, and to beg him to dance his dance of destruction all through our illusions, all through our lives, so we may finally begin to live our lives in conscious joyful awareness of the illusion.

NEXT, Part 2: It’s All Too Much