Realizations The Autobiography
of Julian Lee / COPYRIGHT
2009 JULIAN LEE
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During my ten years in Ojai, California I had three main preoccupations: Meditating, trying to father my children as best I could, and doing my readings. The meditation was an ingrained thing and a lot of yoga-magic had gathered around me there on my beautiful refuge on the hill up Foothill Road.
During that time I went to meet a guru from India, Karunamayi. In California everybody who ever visited India came back as an incipient guru and started going on tour. Many of these uncooked quasi-pundits cycled through my town of Ojai on a regular basis, or nearby Santa Barbara. The American gurus were the most specious, the furthest cry. They consider the real Indian knowledge; the genuine yogic attainments, to be optional. 'After all, we're Americans, we are more advanced!' seems to be the attitude. There is, indeed, a certain hypocrisy in western culture mavens who love to dabble in the religious cultures of other people: They carry an assumption that western ways are superior, and that old ideas such as the distinction between men and women, or even morality as appearing in these religions, are errant throwbacks where the locals have not "progressed" yet. Samadhi? Probably some other primitive misunderstanding. They seem to most value India for new philosophical perspectives, not realizing that, as Swami Vivekananda said, "Religion is not beliefs. Religion is realization." But for a westerner just returned from India, any interesting new philosophical view or patter is sufficient to put them into a big white chair, perhaps beside a vase of flowers, speaking nothings --- with pauses for profound effect --- to religiously-destitute Californians. (The western so-called Advaita teachers who streamed through were particularly absurd.) It's also a neat trick if you can disavow guruhood, and its obligations, while receiving the guru-adulation of guru-hungry westerners. Even the big chair and the rose. America's tacit gurus are, by-and-large, mere interlopers and pilferers of the dharma, not having even attempted to penetrate basics. They are, for the most part, practitioners of religious chicanery. They generally do not pay obeisances to the Lord, making their teachings sterile at best and sidetracking their followers at worst.
I was a devotee of Yogananda, contented, and happily using his techniques. But now and then I'd see some flier. My guru always visited yogis and sages. The Yoga-Vasistha advocated it. And I had a bit of free time. Yet in my 15 years of living in California, I only went to see two. I didn't waste my time. They were both Indians.
The first was Paramahansa Prajnananda. He was a disciple of Hariharanda who was a direct disciple of Sri Yukteswar, so he was of my same lineage. I was astounded at the boon of his coming to Ojai. I was pleased to bring flowers, chocolates, and a fine cut crystal bowl for his crew which they set decorously beside the yogi and his German monastic sidekick. It was evident to my eyes that Prajnananda was steeped in bliss, a genuine yogi. After his talk I stalked him like a cat. He was sitting alone at a table. The thing was held at the Ojai Women's Center, so nobody seemed much interested in this ascetic, celibate, and mind-sacrificer. It was my luck! I wanted to ask a particular question that had long been bothering me about the meditation technique we probably shared: "What should one do with the mantra when the need to breathe goes away?"
He seemed bemused and delighted. "Who initiated you?" he asked. I told him Yogananda, in a dream. He gave a great laugh. As he did he swung his arm, smacking me hard on the back with the palm of his hand. That was his only answer. The one westerner I attended in those years was Krishna Das, who does not style himself a teacher but who as a genuine bhakta, is, and who leads devotional religious Indian singing. It was a wonderful gathering. The religiously hungry White people of Santa Barbara threw themselves into the singing just as if they'd become their European ancestors in church. No doubt it was sad that they now sang religious lyrics in a foreign language, but it was beautiful just the same to see the unkillable religious impulse of the White Europeans still popping up through their own concrete. I approached Krishna Das when it was over and he smiled at me as I did. I quick touched his feet, saying "I touch Neem Karoli Baba through his devotee." He beamed, showing how the bliss of bhakti enlarges one beyond narrow identifications. Just as I honored India's Godmen through that proxy and symbol, and honored the Christian God by kneeling before statues of saints in quiet childhood churches, I felt that when Hariharanda slapped my back I was slapped by Sri Yukteswar himself, and all of India.
The second guru I visited was the siddha Karunamayi. This was in the Unitarian Church across the street from Alameda Park in beautiful Santa Barbara. Upon a mere sight of her face and eyes on a poster I had known what she was. I had no doubt. In the church I was full of bhakti for her. I pondered the gracious Hindu conceptualization of God as Divine Mother. Indeed, since God created both fathers and mothers, He must contain the attributes of both. I pondered her identity, in reputation, with the mind-construction known as "Lakshmi." (Everything out there is a mind-construction and conditioning. But some mind constructions, such as the goddess of arts and music, are pleasanter than others.) While I sat there waiting for her to arrive I mentally tried to connect with her, only meditating, and trying to stay in kumbhaka to make myself worthy to meet her. A 30-something woman was next to me in the pew, an acquaintance, dressed fashionably in all the proper flouncy white Indian robish thingies that California women love to wear at guru-events. She was trying to chat me up. Seeing me communing with Karunamayi's photo she said: "You won't talk? That's just a photograph of a woman. I'm a real woman right beside you." She was pretty. Had long brown hair. Had been to visit me. Even had a southern accent. But I considered her behavior embarrassing. Besides, this was a church! You don't chit-chat in a church! You think about God! So I continued to think of the guru, and thankfully she was soon hitting on somebody else.
In my life I had become a "defender." I came to always be defending something I considered indispensable to the people's well-being. When in the 6th grade I defended the smallest boy against continual harassment by a red-headed bully who was the pre-eminent school "jock" and basketball star. I had said I'd beat him up if he did it one more time, and I followed through. After I had him bloodied beneath me on the ground, he never harassed the boy again. Now in adulthood I had also changed my astrological natal chart such that my house of life-role (the 10th) was ruled from the 8th. This is the Scorpio house of shared things, shared bodies, shared wealth, and shared values. Thus I found I was always defending the moral tradition of the White Europeans. I was always defending the good of Christianity. I found myself defending the critical elements of the Yoga of India, such as renunciation and Brahmacharya. And I found myself defending the very bodies and minds of my own European people -- their genotype, reputation, and genetic memory. The thing I've always wished to defend the most was the religious path that leads to God-knowledge and prosperity for all who endeavor. In the Hindu lexicon I came to relate strongly to the "Kyastriya" or "warrior" class and stage of life. The Kyastriya, in the Hindu tradition, is the defender of the people and he does this most centrally by defending the moral order that protects and gives prosperity to his people. I was all about defending. And an interesting point is that just moments before meeting this siddha from India, this samadhi saint Karunamayi who I didn't know but already believed in -- I defended her and her work.
For as I sat in the church there was a loud voice out in the lobby disturbing the sacred atmosphere. Some man was carrying on a long conversation with somebody about self-help, psychology, and all the various counselors and programs he had been through, dispensing his wisdom and opinions on these California/Esalen subjects. I wondered why he had no respect for this event or the people entering a sacred space for a sacred experience. I immediately went out to the lobby and found him standing in the middle of the lobby as people streamed in. He was dressed all in white like Karunamayi's staff, and I assumed he was indeed staff and had authority. He was a very large man, about 250 pounds, with long white hair and a beard. Later on I ended up at private retreats with Karunamayi where a no-talk rule was to be observed. This large man would always be there, dressed in white like staff, and singularly breaking the no-talk rule, talking quite out loud and encouraging all others to break the silent discipline. I didn't know this about him at the time, I just knew that he was being rude and disrespecting the atmosphere. So I went out and said to him -- in a clear voice intending that all others would hear me confront him -- "Is this a church or a bar?" And I walked away. He was then shamed into relative silence and the group enjoyed some moments of quiet before Karunamayi arrived. This was to be one of several confrontations eventually had with this fool.
I was satisfied and now back in my pew. Soon the siddha came in. Her path had been strewn with flowers by a red-headed woman devotee in White. She gave a talk. I don't remember any of it. I just tried to stay in bhakti throughout. At a certain point a religious person realizes that meditation itself is more nourishing than words. After her talk there was the possibility to go up to her and have an audience. A line formed. I had been invited to hand the guru a card, if I liked, on which I could write a wish.
I had long sought samadhi to end my suffering. I had heard so many stories of great gurus in India able to grant the experience of samadhi to aspirants. I knew by instinct that she was one of those. That's what I wrote, in my most careful print lettering. Naively but completely sincere, my card requested that she allow me to have the highest samadhi, nirvikalpa. A greedy child full of faith, I even included a 2nd major request. I centered a greeting line at the top in the prettiest and clearest lettering I could manage that conveyed my confidence in her: "Thou Art Shiva!" I really meant it.. I knew that she was Shiva. Likely, nobody else did.
I sat down beside and she remained standing. Oh, what a luminous moment in my memory! The pews were filled with Santa Barbarans looking on. It felt like she received me well and I was at ease. As she read my card she had a radiant expression. While reading, she gently touched the top of my head in an exquisitely mother-like way. I looked into her mellow smiling face as she started to address me. Her voice came to me musical, tremulous, and hushed as if telling me a secret. And she seemed joyful as she said: "My son, all these things will come true for you, and very soon."
Childlike faith gets a man the farthest in religious life. We were never in better condition than when we had childlike faith. And yet how many the fools and pigs who want to damage the faith capacity of children! Faith is instinctive knowledge. Normally Karunamayi would hand the devotee's wish-card back to them. But mine she kept. (She kept my card to herself every time I ever handed her one, save once when she was displeased with me.)
It came to me 21 days later. It was like a beast that took me in its jaws. I had been reading about the natural and instinctive nobility of the male; how he sacrifices himself to serve and protect his women and children. As I followed the story, a madman was stomping through an office building in San Diego executing people with a shotgun that could blast through locks. Two newlyweds worked in the same building. Knowing the killer was executing people, and that he was coming down his wife's hallway, he ran there. He reached her in time to cover her body with his and take the shot.
Suddenly full spontaneous yogic pratyahara. All the air in my lungs somehow vanished. Immediately my chest felt strangely cold, immense, and empty like a great, silent and empty warehouse. At the very same moment a great wave of bliss touched my back. It was like the great Blue Whale of bliss brushing the back of a tiny bliss-minnow who thought he was the biggest bliss fish. I thought I knew bliss, but this was something of another order, a swirling ocean of joy, and immediately I was losing consciousness, sinking. I had the immediate desire to fight for normal consciousness. First, I felt threatened by it. I had not experienced such bliss. I reacted to it as a threat to my very identity. Second, I had been leaning back in my rickety wooden chair like a teenager. As it came on I started to fall back. I instinctively pulled away from the luminous rush, shaking it off in a way that amounted to sheer refusal, simply to prevent the calamity of falling backwards smack on my head. All these perceptions and reactions happened in a second of time. It may have been intended thus.
Still in my chair and steady, the subsuming bliss cloud seemed gone. But something had a grip on my mind and wanted to turn it away from the world in some physical, decided way. My consciousness kept receding. Then commenced a game of tug-of-war with God. It tried to turn my mind away from the world again with force: I pulled it back staring intensively at things in my room. Each time it tried to drag my mind and perceptions away from the world my lungs also went dark. I feared it as death; I responded to it exactly as if it was death. So I only fought it. I fought wildly like a man who feared water when his instructor tried to push him in. Everything about this place it wanted to take me was unknown, and by some deep instinct I knew that I would emerge from it profoundly altered; that I could not emerge from it the same person, or even a functional person in the way to which I was accustomed. Still it wouldn't let go.
I got up to walk around. I looked around at things trying to keep keep "a world" in view. But it wouldn't let go. My mind kept turning away from the world. I went downstairs and ate food. Then I went to sleep to make it stop. As I went to sleep it continued to pull me into a thought-free state, and the only thought I could think was a vague "I exist."
The next day I had to cancel all my astrological readings as I fought. I could not put my mind on charts or even keep the world in view and the repeated stoppage of my heart was frightening me. I wonder how I was able to walk around my house. The push-pull went on through the next day with me fighting. Sometimes though walking and functioning my mind could only manage a vague sense of "I exist." I remember walking around and being aware "I'm in my room, in that world" but it was barely seen, and I was aware that I had no heartbeat. The lack of heartbeat, and the feeling of a great cold cavern where my chest was. There was a bliss, but it was very highly pitched, not the rich and opulent bliss of the first. It was like a bliss that I wasn't really experiencing. It was like deep, dreamless sleep while awake but I was not experiencing any Brahman who was "a mass of consciousness," because I struggled like a frightened cat to hold onto the perception of my room and the world. The "me" part didn't even particularly enjoy it. Yet my consciousness kept pulling away from here, from my room, from the mountains. It wanted to make the world to disappear. It wanted to plunge me in that Ocean. All I did was fight back.
I never let it take me wherever it was trying to take me. I fought it like a wild cat. I didn't want the world to disappear. Because of the first savikalpa bliss I knew by some sure instinct exactly where it meant to take me, and by just as sure an instinct that I would never be the same. I already loved meditation too much. I already was getting drunk with Aum, sometimes gasping for air, and barely functional. I already had a hard time paying bills, making money, meeting deadlines, or even answering the phone. And I had four youthful children who still needed my attention and care. A bone slips out of a joint once and it keeps slipping. A record skips once and it keeps skipping there. A drink is taken once and you take another one. And once plunged into genuine samadhi, a dam has been broken. As it returned for me the next evening-fall, and the world began to recede, I began to beg God to stop. I knew that I was rejecting it. As I now spoke to God out-loud, I felt ashamed and abashed but certain in my plea:
"I am used to this. I am used to being able to look at other thing as separate. I still like the prospect of setting a grandchild on my lap, pointing at a distant star, and telling her about it as if it is something separate."
I don't know why I thought these things, but this was my excuse and plea to the Lord. There was an instinct that if I gave in to this power I would be, in the metaphor of Ramakrishna, "out of the game." That I would no longer be living a human life. There was a solid instinct that if I allowed this thing to take me, I would never again be able to view any thing as separate.
Immediately after my plea out loud, it released me. The battle was over.
"Who, save myself, is fit to know that god
who rejoices and rejoices not?"
First Katha Upanishad, Verse 2:21
Who will want nirvikalpa samadhi? With no "other" to see. A bliss so highly pitched it's beyond human registration, and nothing sensed but a void and a nascent "I." Who desires turiya? We all get it each night in deep, dreamless sleep. All is withdrawn into the spider. And the spider sits alone. It is likely the place of all power. But what everybody in this world seeks is the bliss of the savikalpa state, the bliss of dreams, of riotous cosmoses, the bliss of Saguna Brahman, the Lord. The bliss that roils and churns, full of light, boons, laughter, and joyous corrections. That is the drunken state in between this and that highest nirvikalpa. Everything anybody pursues in this world is pursued for getting one more little taste of that dualistic bliss of ananda, from which we come. It is the space in-between, the stage on the way up, and down between waking consciousness and turiya that makes the saints cry. This is the bliss of God, Saguna Brahman, The Lord. Does God even want us to have nirvikalpa? What human beings crave is the dualistic bliss of Saguna Brahman, of the created world. I find I choose "Isvara and I."
I remembered Karunamayi's words.I saw what nirvikalpa was. I also saw what savikalpa was. Then I was ambivalent and regretful. I knew I was a fool to have fought it and sent it away. Yet I was relieved. So all this is real! I had arrived up at the crest of a long-sought ridge, looking down upon the Promised Land.
Immediately I saw in my mind a traveling family, like gypsies. They had spent their whole lives traveling, on their way to some Holy City.Not only had they always traveled, but their parents before them too, and their grandparents. Traveling towards the Holy City was all they'd known.
They were part of a long line that knew nothing but travel, seeking, hoping to find a Holy City. Seeking was all they knew.
That was me, and that was all of us. Then one day they come over a ridge and Lo! they see that magnificent city. Its beauty is unearthly beyond description. They can see it contains amazing denizens they've never known, contains potencies, powers. They look at each other. Each other and their well-known life is all they've ever known. Everything will change once they enter it. No more life of the Searching Road. Everything about life will completely change once they plunge into it, everything -- family relationships, habits, duties, limits, rules, routine.
There is a moment of decision then. To rush headlong into that Great Unknown? Or, wait... perhaps to set up a camp there by the edge of the city, and make small sorties into its outlying edges, getting to know the occupants and rules more slowly. The city's not going anywhere.
That was the decision I made, to live on the borderland. It's where I live now as I write this autobiography, and it's a delightful place to be.