I’ve been watching the news about the spread of Coronavirus with great interest since it began to ripple across the globe. I didn’t panic, and I’m still not panicking. I’m not insensitive or being smug about it as it’s a very serious crisis. The reason is that in 2003, I had written about a prediction of it in the 2nd edition of my book, Masters Among Us, which was published in 2004.
My reaction to news of the virus was “Oh, so here it is.” In 2003, I had interviewed several enlightened Indian monks then living in the Golden Age Foundation Ashram overseen by the yoga master Sri Bhagavan. In the aftermath of 9-11, that master had then been voicing the urgency of humanity’s need to become enlightened to gain control of a world that was raveling out of control. I had also written about messages issuing from appearances of The Blessed Mother in Medjugorje with a similarly voiced tone of urgency. In the revised edition of the book, just released in February, I added new chapters containing an update to both of those messages.
With these teachings in mind, I have had to wonder if there is not some greater message now being imparted to humanity from the type of unseen, benevolent overseers referenced in my book. Here in one excerpt, found on page 277 in Chapter 11, are the words of that enlightened monk, preceded by my introductory paragraph:
‘While the ambition of Sri Mukteshwar [the name by which Sri Bhagavan was then known, in 2004] seems like a lofty ideal that would certainly provide a nice alternative to the routine we know as modern living, his monks and he relay a more urgent message. Like the Madonna’s pleas at Fatima in 1917, a similar, ominous message of warning is issued now. One monk explained:
“If mankind does not make it, it’s going to be terrible. We are not here prophesying the doomsday but what is in store for man is evident. The way man’s thoughts & emotions are structured today; we must know man and nature are one organism and not two separate entities. The ruthlessness, selfishness & brutality we have within us, the amount of violence that is there in our everyday life, all this is affected in the nature around us and very soon if man would go the way he is going, the tension he is building up because of the speed, competition and the struggle for survival, we seem to be moving towards inner death if we are not yet already. And if this is what is going to happen then we are going to have severe natural calamities.
‘Mankind is going to have lot of diseases…because if the disease is inside, that is going to manifest outside. Each one of us should only think, pause and look: “How am I living?” and we will know how we are going to be a few years from now, a few months from now. The speed at which the world is moving – what is going to happen to man? And lots of people are going to go insane. We can already see it happening. Many are struggling to keep up their sanity. The world is moving towards disaster. If the pollution is going to increase because the kind of civilization we are in is the product of our mind and greed, then thousands are going to die out of lung diseases.
A large section of human population is going to be wiped out. That is what is in store for man. It is not that the earth is going to become a dead planet and the human race is going to be wiped out. No, but then lots and lots of people are going to die and those who are going to be left behind are going to be living in a huge graveyard and it is not a pleasant experience.
It’s time that one becomes serious about life, serious about ourselves, serious about our fellow human beings, serious about suffering around us. We got the gift of thinking, feeling. We can’t be dreaming and selfish any more. We have to buckle up.
…If this is not going to happen… then we are in for a crisis. Mother earth is going to revolt. She is not going to take it on any more. The house is burning already. We can’t wait any more…Earth is aching and seeking for enlightened people. That’s what has to happen now.”
So, in 2020, Governments local and national across the globe are quarantining and isolating entire populations. Humanity is being forced to stay home, retail venues have been told to shut their doors, while conventions and public events are being cancelled. On top of things, the stock market has been plummeting, another predicted event I had also written about in that book. News programs are relaying information and advice in response to worldwide fear and panic.
I’m writing this because I’m compelled to share the advice I had given my daughter just last week. My daughter is currently living in Vietnam, a bit closer to the Coronavirus epicenter in China than our home in suburban Philadelphia. She teaches English there. The school where she works has been closed since Chinese New Year, and was told just the other day that it will remain closed indefinitely. As of last week, the first case of the virus hit the small village where she lives, and public venues like popular restaurants and bars have closed. She and her fellow teachers are now staying sequestered in their homes. My daughter shared her concern and restlessness. She has no television, with her only lifelines to the outside world being her laptop and iphone. And now she has no income.
I told her that her predicament is similar to the time I lived in a yoga ashram when I was her age (not the same ashram referenced above, but similar). The ashram was a retreat site where one could voluntarily stay for extended periods of time to retreat, refresh, and take a break from the hustle bustle of the world for pause in a reflective lifestyle. The objective of such a stay is take that reflective ability back into one’s everyday life. In the ashram, we had no television, and in those days, there was no internet, no cell phones. We were in a rural location in the Catskill Mountains. My lifeline was a bank of pay phone booths when I periodically called to check in with my parents. I didn’t drive or own a car then, either.
After a while, an opportunity for an extended stay was offered in exchange for free room and board and a monthly stipend of $50.00. All I had were the clothes I owned, a few books, a blank journal, and a Sony Walkman with a few cassettes of U2 music among others. Each day I participated in yoga and meditation programs, and enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow yoga students when dining or taking a break in an on-site cafe. It was, essentially, an elective monastic lifestyle. I learned that I didn’t need much. And it was great, as I’ve learned to not need much in the years since. It remains one of the most fulfilling and influential times of my life. To this day, 40 years later, I still practice much of what I learned there, like meditation, contemplation, sharing, and working with an attitude of service.
This is what I wrote to my daughter:
“Your present predicament is not unlike the time I lived in ashrams. The ashram was situated in a remote village, with the only general store a mile down the road closed by 7:00 pm. At first, it got boring and I and we got restless. But we soon saw this offered one of the most valuable lessons of an ashram, or any monastery. It provides the opportunity to witness how the mind creates stories and distracts. It’s the first lesson of yoga. So, my suggestion is to use this time and opportunity of limited travel for internal, spiritual growth. Before, between, and after your required duties, actively practice meditation. Recharge your inner batteries. Refresh your being and reinvigorate a sound foundation within yourself to strengthen and prepare you for whatever lies around the next corner. Use the time for growth of spirit. View your quarantine as a great gift in this way. It is providing an opportunity for you to give yourself the best thing. As you get older and busier with responsibilities, such opportunities become rare, and this why people need to “retreat” to recharge. So, imagine you are living in a ashram or monastery now, and discover new insights. The lesson of living in an ashram is to take the dharma of daily living back into your everyday life when you leave. So, borrow from my ashram tenure account, and make your present living situation into an ashram. Love you!”
And this is the best advice I can offer to all of you at this time: use the time for internal, spiritual growth. Turn off your TV for a short while. Put away your phone. Give yourself a break. Write a book, paint a painting, cook something you’ve never cooked before. Send a card to someone you love. Do that home improvement project you’ve put off. Humanity is being given a rare opportunity to pause, reflect, recharge and begin anew, potentially with a perspective of service and sharing. We are all in this together. Let’s seize the moment and make the world a better place for all of us. And love to you too!
For your amusement, here is a book review I wrote in March of 2005 while studying pre-Christian Gnosticism under the tutelage of the great Dr. Robert A. Kraft, Berg Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
The book was and remains one of my favorites in the field of Gnostic studies. I hope you enjoy the review and pick up a copy of Dr. Smith’s exemplary book.
Religious Studies 535 (University of Pennsylvania) 15 March 2005
Review by Thomas Curley
NO LONGER JEWS:The Search for Gnostic OriginsBy Carl B. Smith II
Released September, 2004 by Hendrickson Publishing, Peabody, MA, 336 Pages
About the author:
Carl B. Smith II, PhD, is currently, since 1998, the Associate Professor of History and Religion at Palm Beach Atlantic University, where he has also served as Dean of Campus Ministries and Associate Dean of the School of Ministry. Between 1989 and 98 he served as pastor for Fairhaven Community Church in Fairhaven, OH, and between 1985 and 89 he was the Associate Professor of Biblical Studies for Baptist Bible College East in Boston, MA.
He received his PhD in 2001 from Miami University in Ohio. This book is based on his doctoral dissertation, which was originally entitled: “‘No Longer Jews:’ Gnostic Origins and the Jewish Revolt Under Trajan (115-17 CE)” His advisor was Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, Senior Professor of History. He received his Master’s Degree in 1991 from the same University under the same advisor, with his thesis addressing “Mark the Evangelist and His Relationship to Alexandrian Christianity in Biblical, Historical, and Traditional Literature”. Dr. Smith also holds a Masters of Divinity degree from Temple Baptist Theological Seminary, Chattanooga, TN (1983), and a BA in Biblical Studies from Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga (1979). He is an active member of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute of Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature.
His other publications of note include: Review of Joseph Fitzmyer, “Responses to 101 Questions on the Dead Sea Scrolls” (New York: Paulist Press, 1992), in Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin 39-40 (1995): 123-24; and Review of Michael A. Williams “Rethinking “Gnosticism”: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category”(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), in Journal of Early Christian Studies 6.4 (1998), 684-85.
Hendrickson Publishers describes itself as a service that “seeks to meet the publication needs of the people of God and the religious studies academic community worldwide by publishing outstanding reference, academic, and pastoral books at a reasonable price. Our academic books include works on the Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language, ancient Near Eastern studies and archaeology, New Testament and Greek language, biblical theology, Judaism, patristics, church history, historical theology, practical theology, and religion and culture.”
The introduction is an imperative segment to review. Here the author outlines the intention of the work marked by delineation of presentation format. As a background;
He begins by citing the importance of the Nag Hammadi codices versus prior dependency on the virtual exclusivity maintained in the polemic writings of early church fathers
He summarizes a “narrower and more useful” understanding of the most definitive elements of Gnostic faith as a systematic philosophy of anti-cosmic dualism (material as evil versus spiritual as good)
He points out the presence of a basic belief of ethical dualism (light vs. darkness generally accepted in its broadest context) was common in the ancient world religions of Iran and Palestine, and notes that Gnosticism departs from Platonic systems due to its extreme adherence to dualistic understanding.
As a beginning platform, the author outlines three issues he defines as being critical in the search for Gnostic origins:
1) The religious and intellectual context out of which Gnosticism emerged
2) Its primary geographical setting; and
3) The chronology of its development
He cites that despite varied arguments for the intellectual and religious roots of Gnosticism, “The number of historians who identify the Judaism of late antiquity as the primary soil out of which Gnosticism grew is increasing.”
Following this statement, he cites some of the stronger opposing viewpoints to this theory, such as those arguing for Egypt as a possible point of origin (page 3), which are complemented by his simple assessments of the weaknesses of those specific arguments.
On page three he then cites Robert Grant’s “bold” 1959 hypothesis that Gnosticism arose as an intellectual and religious crisis within Judaism, specifically in conjunction with the first Jewish revolt in Judea between 66-74 C.E., a view which Grant would later abandon. A revisit to Grant’s hypothesis in 1983 by Edwin Yamauchi in his work Pre-Christian Gnosticism offered a modification of Grant’s theory by asserting that the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132-135 C.E. marked “the end of Jewish messianic speculations and the context out of which Gnosticism grew.”
It should here be noted that, when reviewing the author’s curriculum vitae, I learned that Yamauchi was Carl Smith’s academic advisor for both his Masters Thesis and Doctoral dissertation on this material.
The author, then, is offering in this work a challenge to his own advisor’s work by suggesting that, based on evidence of the rise of Gnosticism in the Jewish intellectual centers of North Africa – which he describes as “one of the largest and most intellectually active and religiously diverse of the Diaspora” – that Gnosticism originated out of a lesser known revolt originating in Cyrenaica and Egypt in 115-117 C.E. during the reign of Trajan.
The author admits that such an assertion is no “smoking gun”, and that a specific conclusion is difficult to determine, but, adds: “the clear historical chronology of teachers, writers, and conceptions certainly supports this thesis.” This latter evidence is specifically what the author delivers.
The introduction also features the author’s own summary assessment of each chapter. In the section below, I will quote the author’s summary and follow by offering my assessment as to whether or not his stated goal is successfully achieved.
Chapter 1: Definitions of Gnosticism and Theories of Gnostic Origins
Dr. Smith: “The first chapter of this book presents a definition of the Gnostic religion and an overview of the various theories of Gnostic origins, outlining the major proponents, merits and weaknesses of each.”
I found this chapter to be extraordinarily informative in its “no frills” directness and overall objectivity to presenting every possible known perspective (to me) on Gnosticism, which he explains through strategic use of scholarly sources. He offers concise, conclusive descriptions, hallmarks, and the specific philosophical schools of Gnosticism that I would find useful as a quick summary reference point on, for example, Iraneus’ delineation of heretics from Simon Magus to Saturninus (pg.20), which is only further accented by the views of various scholars on such a topic. The footnotes also offer more information.
As an example of inclusion of brief critiques of the work of other scholars, on page 26 he points out weaknesses in the work of Kurt Rudolph, such as Rudolph’s insistence on Eastern origins of Gnostic dualistic philosophy while evidence reveals an ethical dualism in 1st Century Judaism, and particularly in Qumran.
Chapter 2: Gnostic Origins: Jewish Social and Political Crisis
Dr. Smith: “The second chapter presents in fuller detail the theories that define Gnosticism as rising out of the diverse crises experienced by the Jewish people during this time period, including socioeconomic, political, and religious factors.”
This chapter takes an in depth look at some of the contextual arguments referenced in both the Introduction and Chapter One, and is broken into specific, encapsulated summaries of the work and hypothesis of acknowledged scholars in Gnostic studies which are specifically relative to the dissertation presented. The author brilliantly defines the strengths and weaknesses in each case. Featured is the work of numerous scholars addressed in our own seminar, including: Douglas Parrott, Kurt Rudolph, Robert Grant, Edwin Yamauchi, Stephen Wilson, Alan Segal, Birger Pearson and Henry Green.
Again, an excellent reference source for a summarization of the work of each. I particularly enjoyed this chapter for this reason.
Chapter 3: The Jewish Revolt under Trajan: A Historical Reconstruction and its Implications
Dr. Smith: “A historical reconstruction of the Jewish revolt under Trajan is the focus of the third chapter. Particular emphasis is given to the forces that caused the revolt, with special attention granted to the socioeconomic and political situation of the Jews of North Africa, especially in relation to the native, Greek, and Roman populations. The chapter concludes with a summary of the devastating consequences of the revolt for the various parties involved.”
Relying on the work of historians from antiquity as well as that of modern scholars, the author moves through a timeline accented by brief details of the regional socioeconomic and political climate. Not a word is wasted nor a footnote or reference unused to drive the reader through a brilliant summarization of what otherwise would likely require volumes of material to find even the shortest passages and references. Such an example is his citation of Corpus papyrorum judaicarum as source of the earliest datable reference to the revolt between Romans and Jews in Egypt in 115 C.E. CPJ contains the papyrus of an edict written by the Roman prefect in Egypt at the time, in which a small segment makes reference to a skirmish. The author deduces this as the advent of what evolved into full-fledged revolt. Other papyri and historical sources are cited throughout.
The chapter paints a vivid picture of the situation and climate with information I personally found illuminating and successfully offers a compelling argument for the author’s primary thesis.
Chapter 4: Chronological and Geographical Considerations for Gnostic Origins
Dr. Smith: “The fourth chapter sets forth the essential thesis and primary evidences of the book. The chapter closely examines the theological systems of the first individuals identified by the early church fathers as Gnostics, evaluating especially their dualistic tendencies and attitudes toward Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and, to a lesser extent, Middle Platonism were seeking self-understanding in this period of religious ferment. Individuals within each of these movements were defining themselves in opposition to others. Determining precisely when a polemic against Gnostic conceptions of dualism appears is significant in determining its point of origin. What is discovered is that anti-Judaism was becoming progressively more pronounced, but a rejection of the Jewish God or his creative work was not a point of discussion prior to the 120s C.E.”
Thus is an extremely important segment of the book, and needs to be discussed in context with the next chapter. See notes on this under next heading.
Chapter 5: Sethian Gnosticism, the Geography of Heresy, and a Proposal for Gnostic Origins
Dr. Smith: “The fifth chapter continues with further evidences, particularly examining what is often posited as the earliest Gnostic system: Sethian Gnosticism. What is found is that Sethianism itself is at the earliest a second-century development, and one that has close connections to Egypt. This section is followed by a survey of the geography of the Gnostic heresy, ending with an examination of the religious context of Egypt, particularly Judaism and Christianity, just prior to the Jewish revolt of that region. The chapter ends with several scenarios regarding “how it might have happened,” suggesting that Gnosticism was birthed in the aftermath of the revolt.”
Chapters four and five serve a sumptuous and detailed listing of chronological, geographical, historical and religious contexts offered as hard evidence for the overall argument. Like the preceding chapters, these two segments are so densely packed with details and source references that it required numerous rereads by myself. The scenarios offered are thought provoking, and the author openly acknowledges the flaws in his assorted assertions. To challenge this information would require extensive research by a novice, or a general survey by an established scholar. This was made evident in the concluding remarks of the book’ s introduction (review ‘Introduction’ notes on Page 3 of this report).
Bibliography; End notes
The work is followed by an extensive Bibliography of papers and books that is 34 pages long! This is followed by a detailed Index of Modern Authors, within which our illustrious Dr. Robert Kraft is referenced four times.
A generous and thorough Subject Index follows, with a concluding segment – Index of Ancient Sources, which is a wonderful addition for research purposes, citing only references to subject matter pertinent to Gnostic studies and history, and specifically in the context of the author’s stated goal in the book. I want to highlight this particular feature of the book for its uniqueness. Included here are Indexes of correlating passages from the Old and New Testaments, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old and New Testaments, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi Codices, Ancient Greek and Latin Works as well as Apostolic and Church Fathers, Hermetic Literature, a section called “Papyrus Collections” and “Various Papyri” which includes the Berlin Coptic Codex, and finally “Other Sources”.
One of my concerns with the work of any author whose work in which I elect to engage is to determine if a biased agenda is present. By acquainting myself with the author’s curriculum vitae I especially noted his impressive academic credentials and his background as Pastor of a Baptist Christian congregation. What impressed me most of all was an evident lack of bias of any kind. I found the work to offer a comprehensive summary of almost all aspects pertinent to an in-depth study of Gnosticism, highlighted by painstakingly thorough use of bibliographic references. It is clearly demonstrative of an exemplary scholarly grasp gained only through years of research.
At numerous points throughout the book I noted the author approaching topics much in the same manner as has Dr. Kraft has led us in our own seminar, such as illustrated in the following, as extracted from the text:
“The term “Jew” is found twice in The Gospel of Philip [with one ‘L’!], [while the plural] appears three times in three codices [which are designated in footnotes], “Hebrew” is found five times in three tractates [also designated in footnotes], and “Hebrews” is found four times in three texts [designated in footnotes].”
This specific approach is repeated throughout the book, further evidencing the author’s detail oriented presentation. Such detail easily distinguishes the work from one that might appeal to the casual reader. From a scholarly perspective the book may be appreciated as a true service to Gnostic studies as well as religious and biblical studies in that any potential area of negligence simply doesn’t exist in this volume. The author has created an admirable text worthy of inclusion in the syllabus of any University survey course on the historical background of Gnosticism. Indeed the work struck me as the embodiment of a course in itself, and a most informative and excellent course at that. A worthy addition to any personal library, and certainly for a University.
While I continue to retain some hesitance to wholeheartedly embracing the author’s explication, I have no ground to presently stand on to argue otherwise. Personally I don’t agree with the author’s core summary that Gnosticism grew out of a political skirmish in the early 2nd century as too many allusions to other sources and influences from regional religious traditions continue to “pop-up” with ongoing research. Such instances arose in this week’s (03/15/05) reading assignment ie: in The Apocryphon of John, in sections 15 through 20, the author of AoJ details anthropomorphized angelic creative powers that correspond strikingly to Vedic and later Tantric cosmology, and in section 16, verse 10, a specific reference to ‘the book of Zoroaster” as an authoritative source for deepened understanding is made, thus asserting an earlier influence.
But these are my personal considerations. While I find it impossible to overlook such correlations, the question about an accurate definition for Gnosticism is raised, which has been an ongoing discussion since the Messina Colloquium of 1966. To the author’s credit, he cites this on the very first page of this work by saying: “Much of the difficulty with determining the origins of Gnosticism centers on the problem of definition.” By isolating the context of this dissertation within Jewish history, entertaining possible connections outside of geographic areas relative to the Jewish Diaspora are rendered extraneous.
To conclude, as someone new to the specific nuances relative to Gnostic studies and with regard to the historical data offered as foundation for the author’s argument, I found myself presently unqualified to take any opposing or critical stance. Any contention to this work would clearly be best served by contemporary scholars in the field of Gnostic studies.
Well blog friends, it’s been quite some time since I’ve added an entry here. Since April of 2019, I believe. 2019 was an immensely busy year for me, packed with work work, more work around my home, personal projects, and a fair amount of travel for work. The stories to tell are great, from vacationing for 10 days in Cape May in August, working for three weeks selling the art of drummer Rick Allen in a venue at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas during Def Leppard’s residency there, to a week working on the KISS Kruise with Paul Stanley and his art work. And in between and after that was overseeing numerous art shows in suburban Philly, Florida, and more.
In my downtime, when I managed to find some, I spent considerable time proofing and editing my forthcoming book, a memoir inspired by the life of Mark Twain. But on top of all that, I went into the final stretch of a two year revision project of my first book, Masters Among Us . If you decide to check it out, make sure you pick the one with this cover.
Masters Among Us was the authorial horse I rode in on, saddling me into the world of writing and self publishing 20 years ago. Back then, self publishing was still a risky venture and equated with vanity publishing. After then sending out numerous query letters and receiving countless rejection letters, I took it on to launch the book independently through the Canadian based publisher Trafford in 2000. The experience opened the door to learning a bit about book publishing, and my acquired savvy guided me through the process again with a 2004 revision through 1stBooks.
For the past several years I endeavored to pursue the traditional publishing route again by sending out countless queries for my new Twain manuscript. After a thrilling moment when I received an email from one publisher who had fully read and agreed to produce my manuscript, in a matter of weeks I was informed in a follow-up email that the publisher had changed their mind. They explained that it wasn’t because they didn’t enjoy the book’s content they had so enthusiastically embraced the first time, but instead it was because I didn’t have an established, expansive enough social media following.
Imagine my disappointment. After wallowing in self pity for a day, I refused to be deterred and began to investigate alternative avenues. This time around, I learned a great deal about how the publishing industry had changed in 20 years. The stigma associated with self-publishing had long withered, and most of the articles I took the time to read revealed that now it was essentially the only way to go. That was an eye opener. I concluded that the only way to defeat the publishing industry Goliath at its own game was to create my own publishing company and jockey into position Trojan Horse style. This notion came somewhat easy for me from having researched the entire life of Mark Twain, through which I had already learned of his own self-created publishing firm. I opened that door inspired, filed my LLC docs with the state, designed my own logo (since I’ve also been the creative director of my free lance design studio for 40 years), and launched my own press.
Egged on with Mark Twain as my muse, the experience was quite empowering and liberating. It fueled my determination to complete the projects while experimenting with an endless catalog of software, templates, tutorials, etc. Yet, this came naturally for me. I had been trained in desktop publishing in 1989-91 at what is now Berkeley College. Graphic Interface was in its infancy then as I cut my teeth on the now prehistoric Macintosh II and LC platforms.
Though I’ve since used numerous platforms and programs for catalog and pre-print design for employers through the years, I found myself in comfortable territory, but, admittedly, the advances in graphic technology proved to be daunting. So, again I mounted my horse sporting Quixotic armor and lance of determination, and galloped head on into uncharted publishing territory.
Each morning for months in 20 minute to 2 hour sessions of editing, composing, trialing software and honing each letter, conjunction and jpeg with focused precision, the result is that Masters Among Us is once again available in print worldwide, and, for the first time ever, as an ebook.
I have to give kudos to two people for this endeavor. It was my friend Jen, director of the wonderful Project Resiliency, who first enthusiastically suggested resurrecting ‘Masters’ as an ebook during a dinner conversation in March of 2018. I was open to the notion since pulling it off the market in 2006, when one of the individuals and key subjects I had previously researched for the 2004 revision, the spiritual teacher Sri Bhagavan, had then relayed through one of my interview contacts that the published revision wasn’t finished. I couldn’t figure it out for years. So, because of Jen’s prompting, after 14 years I again reached out to Sri Bhagavan through his network of affiliates in the US. What occurred afterward is a long story, but my interaction with this saintly man led me to an aha moment, and frankly, THAT became the missing story. And so, I’m happy to say that the new, 2020 revised edition includes that missing material in two new added chapters.
Were it not for Jen and Sri Bhagavan, I’m not sure the book would be available at this time. To the both of them, I extend my thanks and gratitude.
So now, with a gentle tug on my horse’s reigns, I turn my attention again to the Twain-themed manuscript on which I’ve worked since 2017. I hope to have it published and available later this year. In the meantime, I’ll mosey along with more blog entries. Until we meet again, Happy Trails to you!
A lot of cool and curious things have been happening in my daily sadhana practice. I’ve wanted to sit and write them down, but the other requirements of my daily existence have taken precedence.
Today’s meditation happened somewhat spontaneously and unplanned. I went to bed late last night after spending a considerable amount of time doing some final reediting to my manuscript about Mark Twain, et al. I’ve decided to Self-publish the work after almost a year of knocking on the doors of agents and publishers, and having read a very good article on Scribe yesterday about the current state of the book publishing industry which weighed the pros and cons of traditional versus self publishing. The author, a publishing industry veteran with an inside perspective, had explained how much the publishing industry had changed and how challenging it is for authors in my stage of the game to get their foot in the door. He went on to say how the current climate, with so many options, is practically a plug in to go with self publishing as the best option. There are some associated caveats, but I have a few tricks up my sleeves with regard to those areas. I hope to have the book release in short duration.
So, this morning, I got up at 5:00 am, as has become the routine lately (more on that below), but instead decided to go back to bed. I planned on staying in my warm, comfortable bed a little later than usual when my wife summoned me at 7:00 am to move my car out of the driveway so she could get to work. No problem. I dressed, did my deed, and instead of returning to horizontal dreamland I made a cup of Chai, wrapped a blanket across me from neck to ankle, and settled into our living room rocker where I often practice my shorter meditations.
Within a short time, the cozy warmth my body enjoyed was replicated on the interior of my being. I became mildly enraptured by the soothing waves of shakti coursing casually through my brain and nervous system. Sensations in my brain have been like this since beginning a new sadhana technique I learned less than a week ago. Today it felt like I was getting a nice, gentle massage in a bath of warm water on the interior of my cranium and around the surface of my brain. Accompanying this was a rapturous state of inner satisfaction. Since yesterday, the thought arose “So, this is what the experience of oneness with Shiva is like.”
I say that because I have been reading texts associated with the Kashmir Shaivism tradition. One book, mentioned before, is Secret of the Siddhas by Swami Muktananda, which is largely Baba’s (Muktananda’s) commentaries on the Shiva Sutras, the ancient root of that philosophical school. The other is Jaideva Singh’s translation and new commentary on 10thcentury commentaries about the Shiva Sutras encapsulated in the work known as Spanda Karikas. So, in this context, Shiva means the experience of conscious consciousness – the awareness of being aware that you are aware and that you are one with that experience of awareness. You are that awareness, ergo, you are Shiva.
For some time now, well over a month, I have found my body waking consistently at 5:00 am or so. Almost every time this has happened, it was always 5:10 on my alarm clock. Now, I could easily lie in bed as I have for the past 30-40 years and meditate later, but these days, each morning at promptly 5:00 am-ish, I also experience an urgent need to urinate. After so complying with my body’s wish, I typically have returned to my room to sit upright and meditate for about an hour before proceeding with the needs of the day.
Each meditation in the last week, since learning this new, advanced technique on Sunday, has been similar as my description above. The process seems to massage the lobes of the brain and stimulate neural pathways. On the first day I practiced the technique, during meditation afterward my brain felt like it was on fire, as if it were gently being simmered in the crockpot of my cranium. I could feel the interior lining of my skull, while each cell and fiber of my brain pulsated. It felt almost crystalline, as if my brain were made of glass, but composed of molecules that were simultaneously independent in their group cohesiveness. It felt like my brain was a shimmering, endlessly faceted jewel, and was alive with shimmering Chitshakti.[i]It was as if my consciousness had discovered the secret access to an ancient cave, its walls lined with the purest gold and diamonds.
On the second day, during meditation, this continued but to a lesser degree, and instead shifted to awareness of a deepened experience of being. That Shivaness thing again. I also got the impression that something in the interior of my brain was being purified, and subsequently my body developed mild cold or flu like symptoms. My mind, in the meantime, naturally tried to do its thing to create fear or concern. My mind started throwing thoughts about having encephaliitis or some other disease. But intuitively, I knew this thought to be a falsehood and just let it wither.
On the third day, yesterday, I got a bit busy in the morning, so I wasn’t able to make time to meditate until an hour before I had to be in work. So, I decided to squeeze in 20 or so minutes to do the 7 minute technique and meditate for the rest. I’m glad I did. As I sat in the rocker in my living room, during the 7 minute practice I again felt the stimulation in the lobes of my brain. Again I felt the sensation of shimmering, like sunlight reflected on a calmly rippling lake. As I went deeper into meditation, a soft sense of bliss enveloped me, and within short duration, I experienced my body dissolve into consciousness and vanish. Now, I didn’t actually physically disappear, but internally, my experience was that the external shell of my body just merged into the entirety of the physical universe. I experienced myself as pure consciousness. I was the universe.
As I observed myself experiencing this, I saw that I was observing myself observing. The observer and observed were one. This, I recognized, was akin to the description of the state of Shiva defined in the Shiva Sutras and what I had just been reading in Muktananda’s commentaries. My whole being smiled with gratitude. A thought arose, inquiring from where or why this was arising, and I saw a very subtle image of the contour of the transparent head and shoulders of the Siddha master Bhagavan Nityananda composed of shimmering sparkles of pure gold. I saw that this was the gift of that great being, who is sort of the grandfather – the Bade Baba – of the Siddha lineage I had enjoined through my study with, and receipt of Shaktpat Diksha from, Swami Muktananda. I inwardly pranamed softly, with recognition and gratitude.
This observer then opened its eyes to observe the time on my cell phone. 14 minutes had passed since I completed the 7-minute sadhana. This was perfect timing as now I had to end the session and get ready for work, with ample time to drive and arrive at my scheduled time. After Shiva brushed his teeth, groomed and dressed, I got in my car and noticed myself navigating the highways with complete serenity and stillness, witnessing everything with an evenness and choreographed perfection.
The cranium massage experience, I had noticed through the week, was also occurring from almost the minute I switched off my mind’s focus on work details as I closed my shop and proceeded to my car in the parking lot, as well as throughout my commute, and after settling in at home. Most of these nights, I would fill a glass with purified water, then retire and sit in my bed to read a few passages from Secret of the Siddhas or Spanda Karikas. I randomly opened this latter book, to find the English translation of this passage:
“When the yogi realizes the spanda* principle, then he knows that this is his essential Self, and not the empirical, psychosomatic creature whom he had so long considered to be his Self. He has now broken his shackles and is truly free.”[ii]
Pretty cool, huh? I love when that happens. Moreover, though I had randomly opened to that page, I noticed that I had circled that particular verse, accented with arrows for emphasis, at some point when I first read the book around 1986. Here’s a photo.
Though the book was published in 1980, I gathered that I must have last read this during my 1986 stay in the ashram, then with Baba’s successor, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. My clue: I had used a small photo of her as a bookmark I found elsewhere in the book.
After this, I then meditated some more before lying down to contemplate myself to sleep.
The adventure continues. Stay tuned…
*The above referenced Spanda principle is described in Spanda Karikas as follows:
“A Yogi who closely observes his own (inmost) nature which is the Spanda principle recognized by means of the reasoning (already) mentioned, apprehends knowledge and activity as the presiding principle (meaning the principle that is the permanent Experient of all experiences [aka Shiva consciousness]) of life as the “I” pervading the normal consciousness even after meditation has ceased.”[iii]
[i]Chitshakti: Roughly translates as ‘conscious, self-aware pulsating energy’.
It amazes me, sometimes, the way childhood memories long forgotten suddenly come to the fore of the mind after decades have passed. In this case, 56 or 57 years have passed, and out of the blue this morning, while enjoying a chilly Spring morning on my back porch, I remembered the tricycle I once rode. In that moment, I relived riding it on my childhood street of row homes, restricted to the sidewalk of the half on which we lived, and never permitted to cross the curb onto the asphalt. We lived on the side that was perennially in the shade, so I seldom experienced a day in the sun unless I was given permission to cross the street by my mom or an adult neighbor.
I distinctly remember the air, sky and atmosphere in those days seeming very clean and sparkling despite living in a section of South Philly that was surrounded by factories that belched out toxic fumes day and night to the extent that our neighborhood became one of the top cancer prone sections of the city. I was also too young to know that elsewhere in the world the detonation of nuclear test bombs was poisoning the air with radiactive refuse. Maybe that’s why it seemed so clean: the air was electrified.
I could still picture the trike. It looked like the ones in the photos here, and it must have been a Radio Flyer or Murray brand – I don’t recall which. It was gleaming, metallic red with white accents; a wide saddle seat of white vinyl with red striping; a wide platform step in the rear that straddled the two smaller back wheels, and a particularly large front wheel. It had one of those annoying, thumb operated bike bells that I used liberally, the sound of which was reminiscent of the one used by an ice cream vendor who drove his truck through the neighborhood streets on the warm days of Spring through early Fall.
I remembered a game that I had created. I don’t know if I learned to do this from someone older, or if it was an imaginative idea I conjured at that young age. Whenever I was riding and encountered someone along the sidewalk, I would stop pedaling, dismount, grab the handlebars and then pull my tricycle backwards and upright, and rest the front handlbars with rubber grips on the ground. I recall it making the bike almost as tall as I stood, and somehow this gave me a feeling of power, of command over the elements. I’d then stand behind it while turning the pedals with one hand, ringing my thumb-bell with the other and yelling “Ice cream! Ice cream!” I pretended to be an ice cream hawker, imagining that I could make ice cream by turning the pedals.
My friends didn’t judge or question this activity, but, without hesitation, would instead just join into the game as it was manifesting and promptly come over, put out their hands, and pretend to buy a cone of the good stuff from me. I would ask what flavor they wanted – a choice of only 3 flavors – Vanilla, Chocolate, or Strawberry. When they decided, I would crank the big front wheel with the pedals a few times, and then pretend to fill a cone and hand it to them in exchange for their imaginary money. I made a fortune in imaginary money that way by the time I was 5 years old!
I saw a squirrel meandering through my neighbor’s garden on the other side of the cyclone fence dividing our property. Then I saw Tux, the feral cat our neighbor feeds, charging across her driveway after the squirrel. The squirrel becomes alert and darts through the garden, Tux in pursuit. Tux gets within inches of scoring the squirrel, so close that I thought for sure I was about to witness her enjoy a fine breakfast.
But the squirrel leaps through an opening in the fence into our yard. At the same time, our dog Queenie saw Tux running and ran toward the fence after him. Then she sees the squirrel and pursues it. The squirrel leaps and rummages quickly through the back portion of our garden to escape. Our other dog Conan sees the desperate squirrel and bolts after it from the other direction. The squirrel sees Conan and runs back in the direction of Queenie with Conan now on its tail. Queenie sees it too, and both dogs run toward each other, inching closer to the squirrel between them.
I thought for certain the squirrel had met its fate, when just as Queenie and Conan were in front of each other, the squirrel leaps on the stone wall and claws its way quickly into the refuge of Ivy that cascades down our wall. Conan and Queenie continue to alertly sniff and poke about, befuddled over the abrupt disappearance of the clever squirrel, their bodies and manner a complete expression of “Where did it go? Did you see it? I saw it. It was right here.” They sniffed about a little longer before getting distracted by something else.
Tux lay forlornly in the neighbor’s garden, irritated by his own unsuccessful campaign. The squirrel held tightly onto the Ivy, remaining perfectly still and breathing heavily, pondering its options.
I saw a cardinal just now. They say when you see a cardinal in an odd place that it’s an omen from heaven that an ancestor or someone from heaven is paying you a visit, an acknowledgement of their love for you. Every time I see a cardinal I think of dad. That’s because once, when we lived on Mifflin Street, when dad was sick, he saw a cardinal sitting atop the street light pole in front of our house. He was amazed with it, looking on like a child filled with wonder.
I don’t see cardinals around my home too often. But, here’s the odd thing. I was in my living room when I heard a loud, repeated singular chirp. It sounded like I had a cricket in our house, so I went in the direction of an air conditioner we have in a window at the foot of the stairs. As I drew closer, it sounded like it was in the little nook outside were the accordion flap fills the gap between the sides of the air conditioner and the window. I peered through our blinds but couldn’t see anything so I just let it go, comfortable that it was not in the house.
10 minutes or so later I was out in my yard with our dogs and wasn’t paying too much attention to the noises around me. But then I heard the same chirp and realized it had been happening in the background for a short while. I looked up in the direction of the chirp and saw a cardinal sitting atop the cyclone fence high above the stone wall that lines the back of my property. Just as I noticed the cardinal it stopped chirping and took off in flight. It was so quick. But that’s what’s odd. The chirping has ceased altogether now. The cardinal is gone. It’s as if the bird had been calling me for over a half hour on our property until I finally saw it. Once I saw it, it’s task was done and flew away.
It immediately made me think of dad. I am in the middle of writing my current book “Mark Twain, my father and me” right now, a narrative memoir focused on my relationship with Dad. A few times when I thought about throwing in the towel on this project, some little sign has cajoled me to persist and keep working. I wasn’t having doubts exactly, today, but I had been comparing my work with that of another author, and questioning how I was writing. If the cardinal was a visit or a sign from dad, I’d say it was just a simple announcement of “Don’t worry. Just keep at it.” A small chirp of encouragement.