Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Parvartimalai, Impossible Places

Parvartimalai
On top of a very steep and unusual chunk of rock sits an ancient temple. Parvartimalai is about 20 kilometres away from the small town of Pollur in the South of India.

A 3500-foot climb brings one to the entrance of a Siva temple which is said to be at least 2000 years old. This temple is perched on the very tippy top of the rock summit. It is a hard and dangerous climb to reach that place and most certainly not for the faint of heart.

Since my earliest memories, i was always drawn to inaccessible structures in impossible places. Since hearing about Parvartimalai, a mere 25 kilometres north of Tiruvannamalai, my curiosity had been peaked. I soon harboured a secret ambition to climb up there,  see the temple and enjoy the surrounding stunning views with my very own eyeballs, despite the fact that i was no longer in optimum condition for such adventures.

Therefore very early one morning, I stowed a few snacks and some bottles of water into a daypack, jumped onto my 50cc TVS moped and headed off into the fading night to pick up my Telugu friend RC.

I suppose it would have been around six o'clock. It was a cool January morning, the very heart of a tropical winter in the South of India. I found my friend waiting in our pre-arranged meeting spot and very soon we were making our way along the still sleeping streets. We headed west from the town of Tiruvannamalai towards our intended destination.

TVS mopeds are not noted for their great suspension or speed, and we endured a cool and bumpy ride down country roads dotted with holes and various other unexpected obstacles.

As we approached our goal we could make out only the base of the mountain beneath a mass of swirling grey mist. Later i realised that it had been a good thing that we could not see the entire mountain before we climbed it because it is very likely i may have baulked at the possibility of ever being able to climb it.

We had very little information as to where we should head in order to begin our climb but followed our noses and one small windy road which eventually brought us to a dead end, a small temple and what looked like a well-worn pathway.


I parked the bike and locked it all up near the temple and we headed towards the mist. There was a lot of huffing and puffing for the first thirty minutes into our climb and then the body adjusted itself into a rhythm and it became somewhat easier.

Onwards and upwards we climbed, stopping only for short breaks to drink a little water and catch our breath.

We had heard that in this place, dogs are known to approach pilgrims and if they are smiled upon favourably by the local 'gods' these dogs might accompany one on the upward journey.

Very soon our first canine friend joined us with a very wide grin and amiable air and our group grew to three.



We took this as a good omen and continued on our way.
The higher we climbed the warmer it became and very soon the cloud cover which had been hanging over the mountain began to thin and then lift revealing the summit very far above.

During the first part of our journey what lay above us was mostly obscured by trees, shrubs, ridges and the folds of the hills which surround Parvartimalai. It took us several hours of steady climbing to scale this section and finally emerge on the lower limbs of the mountain directly below the pinnacle of rock on which the temple and some new buildings are precariously perched. 


Neither of us knew much about what we should expect to find on the way so every view opened up a new sense of wonder and surprise.

We soon realized that we had not brought enough water with us. A mere 3 litres, even on a winters day, in the South of India could barely assuage our increasing thirst.

The higher we climbed the warmer it became and very soon all traces of the early morning mists had disappeared.

Until that point, our only encounter had been with the dog which was guiding us onwards and upwards, not a single human being had crossed our paths. However, once we reached the stairway below the cliff which rose directly above, a few other pilgrims, all of them climbing from a different path which merged with our own, suddenly came into view.



At the base of the cliff, we removed our sandals and gazed up at the series of steep steps and ladders. In previous times, these luxuries had not existed and one would have been confronted with chains by which to pull oneself from one platform to the next. It all looked rather doubtful to me.

However, i was in no mood to even consider not continuing on with the ascent.




This was where we parted company with our canine friend and began the even more arduous part of our journey.
I decided not to think about what lay ahead, just to deal with one step and then another and see where that might eventually take me.

RC, being a good deal younger and more spritely, managed each stage without too much effort. At that time i had a torn ligament in my leg which made all kinds of movement painful and i had no idea how far i would be able to go, quite aside from the mental challenge of dealing with ladders and increasing heights and gaping chasms. But, sticking to my resolve, i simply moved onwards and upwards and decided to just focus on each step of the way.

It was not long before we had scaled all of the lower ladders and emerged onto a platform of rock which gave us a stunning view.


Our sense of increasing thirst began to play a little on our minds. We knew that it was very likely that some industrious shopkeeper would have carried a few bottles of water to the summit but we were also very sure that these bottles would be like liquid gold up there in the waterless realm in the upper precincts of the temple.

In this area, the enterprising priest had created a well. It was a very foreboding looking place that caught the rainwater in a crevice of the mountain. It was a black hole marked by ancient stonework which one hesitated to approach. Thoughts of tumbling into that well were ever present as we skirted it gingerly on our way by. We tossed a stone over the side but failed to hear it land. This was not reassuring.

It would be doubtful that anyone unfortunate enough to fall into the well could ever hope to get out again. For all we knew, it may have been hundreds of meters deep. It was certainly wiser, at this juncture not to contemplate this matter too deeply so we continued on our way.



More ladders. I hung on grimly, trying not to look down or notice the wobbling and the rattling of the metal. A few other hardy souls passed us on their way down. They had to wait on platforms to let us pass. I was very relieved that i had worn trousers for this adventure and had nothing but admiration for the Indian woman who somehow managed to climb these ladders in their long and draping saris. 

On the final part of our ascent steps had been hewn out of the rock face itself. They were incredibly steep and narrow. I was grateful to have left my shoes at the base of the ladder as it greatly helped with our balance and movement not to be hindered by having anything between us and the bare rock surface.

At this point, i noticed that high cloud was forming around the sun. This was a very welcome development. It was inconceivable to me how one could climb in the full blaze of a tropical sun on that bare rock with unshod feet!

We passed a small hut which professed to house a tea stall but there was no sign of the owner that morning. On and on and up and up we climbed.



There were numerous shrines and curiosities along the way. However, without a guide, we would never know to whom or why these carvings and shrines had been built, or how old they might be.



The temple atop Parvartivmalai is said to have been built by Siddhas who stayed there to meditate. It is utterly miraculous in its location and would have been an ideal place for those seeking solitude. If this was, in fact, the motivation of those who built it, it certainly would seem like an extreme act and one that would have cost unimaginable suffering and toil in the construction of it. To all appearances, an edifice atop this sheer pinnacle of rock seemed quite impossible. However, this temple is not one of a kind, many such temples dot the landscape throughout Tamil Nadu and to this day no one can be sure as to exactly how they were made. There are numerous speculations, however.


Through a gateway and up one more flight of stairs and we were there peering up at the final lofty staircase. The temple had not really been visible to us throughout our climb. It was always hidden by the surrounding and rising cliffs.

But once we were able to skirt these it suddenly appeared in all of its South Indian magnificence, a monument to the skill and craftsmanship of artisans of yore.

One narrow summit of rock was the only platform upon which the temple was built.



To our surprise and delight, we discovered that the day we had chosen to visit this place coincided with a very auspicious twelve-year ceremony in which the temple was cleansed and re-energized. Special bamboo scaffoldings had been built around each of the temples three Goporums and the presiding priest had climbed these in order to pour a consecrated water over the cupola at the very top of each spire.

It was extremely gratifying to think that we had somehow, even though unwittingly, stumbled in on such an auspicious day.



The sun made its own proclamation with a bright rainbow circle appearing in the heat of the noon. After visiting the inner and outer precincts of the temple, making our offerings and partaking of the substances and blessings which were being distributed by a handful of priests and pilgrims we found a spot in a shady corner and gazed out over the surrounding landscape. It was a breathtaking sight. One that deserved time to savour.

I silently and inwardly rejoiced at having pushed myself to face my long-standing fear of heights notwithstanding my dicky kneecaps and somehow make it up to this extraordinary place. This achievement was rather unexpected and very satisfying.



One, unclad sadhu was sleeping calmly near the edge of a rock that hung out over a mighty chasm. He seemed oblivious to both the heat of the sun and the incredible drop that fell away beneath him.

In this timeless land, one encounters so many wonders which quite simply defy understanding...


Monday, 1 October 2018

The Simple Truth


Photo Credit. Man in the Universe

*****
"I warn you, whoever you are.
Oh, you who wish to probe the arcana of nature,
if you do not find within yourself that which you seek,
neither shall you be able to find it outside.
If you ignore the excellences of your own house,
how do you intend to find other excellences?
In you is hidden the treasure of treasures.
Oh, man,
 know thyself 
and thou shall know the Universe and the Gods!”

Inscription at the Temple of Delphi.

Do we give our permission to be born into this life? More to the point, ‘who’ is there to give that permission in the first place? Who is this ‘I’ that is born, lives for a while and then dies? From whence came this ‘I’ that we journey through life with so intimately and yet barely ever notice, let alone truly know?

Isn’t it remarkable that the very essence of what and who we are, should be something that most of us are quite ignorant of? Yet even that simple question almost never arises in our minds!

It would seem that we are thrust out into this world without choice and most of the 'happenings’ of life that follow appear to be choice-less as well. The Tibetan wheel of life depicts this cycle of existence in a very graphic, unemotional way, showing the beginnings of human life, from helpless infancy, through to adulthood and all the stages leading on from there to old age and finally death. Unless we are to meet with an untimely end, we all must pass through these various unavoidable stages.

Yet it is our ‘arrival’ at the time of birth and our ‘departure’ at the time of death that are the most mysterious aspects of our existence, giving rise to the eternal question, from where did I come, to where will I go? Everything in between seems geared to pull us away from investigating the origins of our ‘Self’. Are we not almost continuously consumed with the drama of ‘life’and what appears to be happening to us? The only respite we have from the round of endless distractions comes during our sleep, at which time we reconnect so naturally and effortlessly with our true nature that here again, we barely even notice it. We know that we must sleep and yet we take the ‘blessedness’ of that condition almost completely for granted.

Although it is true that we all are born and must die, how we live out our lives in between those two crucial events is not in the least bit certain. Do we allow ourselves to be tossed into the cauldron of life, believing it to be real and true, or, do we take what is our inherent birthright, as conscious, sentient beings and go deeper, to discover the truth of who and what we REALLY are. All of us have the freedom to glimpse beyond the veil of day to day circumstances, we have the freedom to discover our true origin and yet few of us seem compelled to do so.

If we are conscious and aware, then, no matter what our outer life circumstances may be, we have the potential to see beyond them to what really is and if the intention of self-discovery is strong, then rather than being distracting, life itself can provide the very tools with which to make this most important discovery.

*****

Excerpt from the book; Awareness Comes Knocking

Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Silent Power of a Mountain


Mount Kangchendzonga
One day, while sitting in the loft of my 'tin palace,' a small retreat hut which I built at the end of a ridge not far from Darjeeling, a town in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, I was overcome, as happened on many occasions, by the majestic vista that spread out before me.

 From my perch, I could gaze out the window past the cupola of a small Chorten which rose up right in front of my house. It had been there a lot longer than my little house. These structures are a Buddhist symbol of the stages of enlightenment and often contain the relics of holy beings. Beyond the chorten, a line of bamboo poles had been raised, each containing large colourful prayer flags which fluttered in the wind. Each flag was covered in ornate Tibetan script bearing mantras and prayers. 

Beyond this, a few sturdy trees clung to the edge of the cliff face hiding somewhat the vast chasm which opened up right below. From that point, space ruled and swirling mists rose up from the distant valleys far below. 

The huge peaks of the Himalayas rose up just a few miles to the north, and on a clear day, one could see from Mount Everest in the west, right across a huge swathe of towering peaks to the tiny kingdom of Bhutan in the east. 

But there were no clear mountain views that particular day. Instead, monsoon mists billowed around the steamy valleys in an endlessly shifting dance.

And yet, there were moments when the clouds parted during the rainy months and then one could catch a fleeting but unforgettable glimpse of the huge massif of Kanchendzonga, freshly dusted and clothed in a thick and brilliantly white mantel.

Kanchendzonga is the world’s third highest mountain. It is an enormous eruption of black and grey granite that rises up 8586 meters in the far eastern portion of the Himalayan mountain chain.
In size it is just a few meters short of Mount Everest.

Recognized as a sacred mountain by the natives of the fiefdom of Sikkim, it holds a certain mystic and is revered by the locals who remain committed to protecting it from the footprints of irreligious mountaineers. 

However, the mountain itself is a treacherous domain for mortals and many have lost their lives trying to scale its flanks.

But from a respectful distance, the monsoon vistas are very special. There is no other time during the year when the play of light is quite so luminous and pure. What can emerge between the billowing clouds for fleeting moments are evanescent explosions of brilliant color and light. They appear as almost not of this earth.


These glorious visions of the mountain had inspired and sustained me for the many years while I lived on that ridge. The mountains were a ceaseless ocean of shifting color and light. They never looked the same. The play of light, the subtle shades of color, the shifting clouds and moods which it drew forth at different times of the day and night; all were a constant reminder, for me, of the dance of life which is forever changing. One could never lift ones gaze and not find there a new world of wonder.

During those years this majestic view of clouds, light, and mountains was nature's teaching for me. To look out of my windows and see how everything interacts in the natural world was a constant and vital lesson in impermanence and change.

Nature reflects the basic truths of life ceaselessly and with unmatched simplicity and beauty.
Even so, we often fail to notice them. We are constantly reminded of life's impermanence and yet we are swallowed up by our thoughts and by the ceaseless stream of distractions which claim almost all of our attention from the very moment we wake in the morning until we close our eyes at night.

Caught by the movement of the forms upon the screen, our eyes fail to see the screen upon which their movement depends. We gaze right past what is always present, unmovable, unshakable and null, grasping instead at the dancing forms and the shifting play of colours, light and dark.

In times cluttered with ceaseless distractions it is in the simplicity of nature that we can find, quite effortlessly, little windows of opportunity; windows that allow our spirit to soar free from the worldly display for a moment or more.

In the freedom of just such a moment, we can begin to discern what is constantly shifting and changing and what is consistently present and stable and begin to know the difference. In our eternal search for happiness, this is a very essential milestone on our journey back to the source of all being.

The silent power of a mountain can help us to recognize the unshakable power within.

*****

Read more in Masters, Mice, and Men
Volume Three in the series; Shades of Awareness


Friday, 31 August 2018

The Alchemy of Generosity

I would like to share with you a true story that was told to me by someone directly involved in this incident.

Yogi Ram Surat Kumar

It is interesting to note that the Ashram of Yogi Ram Surat Kumar, (an Indian saint and mystic)  is one of the largest of its kind in the small city of Tiruvannamalai, which is situated in the state of Tamil Nadu in the South of India.

Yet he lived as a supremely humble being, appearing as little more than a simple beggar for the greater part of his life (1918 - 2001).

Yogi Ram roamed around India for many years aimlessly as a wandering sadhu. During these years he had the great good fortune to visit Tiruvannamalai while Sri Ramana Maharshi was still alive. On his very first visit, he had the definitive experience of recognizing his true nature in the presence of the great Sage.

Thinking that he had achieved his goal, he left the Maharshi to resume his wanderings.
Many years of hardship followed until one day he realized that he
needed to return to the Maharshi's blessed presence in order to
achieve complete stability in his realization.

He made the long and arduous journey back to Arunachala. But sadly, it was too late. It was a horrible shock for him to discover that the Maharshi had already left his body. However, he stayed on in Tiruvannamalai, living mainly at the big temple of Arunachala in the town and often visiting the Maharshi's samadhi at Ramana Ashram.

During the nineteen sixties Sri Ganesan, one of the great grand nephews of Ramana Maharshi was overseeing the running of the Ashram. At that time he was a bright, young sprig who had just completed his studies at one of India's top schools. After some subsequent travels, he had come to Tiruvannamalai where he was requested to preside over the ashram and administer to the needs of a few of the older devotees who had remained after the Maharshi passed away.

In those days, Ramana Ashram was extremely poor. Often there was barely enough food to feed the inmates, let alone anyone dropping by for a meal.

Although Ganesan had grown up bathed in the brilliant light of the Maharshi's compassion and wisdom, as a young boy he could not appreciate just how extraordinary the Maharshi really was. Despite his childhood years being blessed to be in the Maharshi's near presence, to him at that time, he was just a sweet old man, his tata, (grandfather).

Many years later and after the Maharshi had passed away, Ganesan had returned to Tiruvannamalai in a very different state of mind.
He was now all grown up. Lifes 'slings and arrows of misfortune' had given him to contemplate his existence and place in the world and he was ready to hear the precious teachings of the Maharshi. He was also keenly aware of how important were those who were still living and who had enjoyed a close association with the great Sage.

During this time, therefore, Sri Ganesan was developing a great affection and respect for Bhagawan's old devotees, and they, in turn, took him under their wing, uncovering for him, in the most skillful ways, the simple and yet profound truths that they had themselves imbibed at the feet of the Master. Deeply moved by their tenderness towards him, and the wisdom that they revealed, he vowed to always try to do whatever they advised him, at least to the best of his ability.

One day as Ganesan was going about the business of the ashram and passing from the Samadhi Hall to the office, he was called aside by one of these old devotees. To his surprise and then dismay, the man gave him a most peculiar and uncomfortable command. After pointing out a scruffy sadhu who was leaning untidily against a wall nearby, he told him to go over and make a prostration to him. Not stopping there, however, he also added that Ganesan should then go to the dining hall and try to find something for him to eat.

Being president of Ramana Ashram at that time, Sri Ganesan was not given to prostrating himself to anyone, let alone some beggar who had wandered in off the street, very likely, he thought, to try to bum a free meal. Not only was he the president, but also a proud Brahmin, well educated and very much alive to all the etiquette, that one in his elevated station, would expect to receive from others. That aside, lunch was well and truly over, and it had been a meager meal. That he should have to scrounge a few morsels of whatever little was left behind did not give him cause to hope for a positive outcome.

However, such was his determination to stick by his former lofty
resolve, that he swallowed his initial feelings and went and
prostrated himself before the lounging form of the unkempt sadhu. The person in question drew noisily from a half-smoked bidi but showed no other sign of recognition, or response.

Somewhat embarrassed and put out, Ganesan dusted himself off and went to the kitchen to see if he could scrape together something in the way of a meal to offer to the sadhu. He
managed to produce a humble serving of rice and sambar with a dab of mango pickle. During the years that followed and on three separate occasions, this same beggar came to Ramana Ashram and Sri Ganesan was requested to do the same each time.

Many years later, when Yogi Ram was at the center of a large and
thriving ashram of his own, Ganesan became an avid devotee. One day quite out of the blue the Yogi beckoned to him to come near. As Ganesan was often in the Yogis company he thought nothing of it and crept in close expecting to hear some request or remark. Instead, he was to hear the words; 'on three occasions Ganesha, you fed this beggar!'

It should be mentioned, that until that moment Ganesan never
realized their previous connection. Never, for a moment, had he
linked the beggarly sadhu to the gracious Yogi whom he now venerated. Many years had passed since the previous incidents and they were forgotten, well and truly.

Yogi Ram was, for two-thirds of his life ignored, mistreated and
turned away by many, many people, because he looked like an ordinary ragged beggar. He had spent many days without food, and he had suffered untold hardships, and yet he was later to become a benevolent 'Father' to many.

Yogi Ram made it his business, when circumstances permitted, to feed hundreds of sadhus, and ordinary lay people every day.  In
fact anyone who happened to walk through the gates of his ashram was welcomed in, treated kindly and fed with great affection and respect.

Such is the magical alchemy of generosity. As a humble outpouring of the heart, selfless generosity transcends all boundaries and can manifest itself with the most remarkable and unexpected outcomes...

Thursday, 23 August 2018

When Mountains Move


I spent many months on end in the mountains just south of Mount Everest in the late 1980s and remember well, that there were several earthquakes during the time when i stayed just below the towering summit of Kumbila, the peak which is revered as the 'protector' of the region by the local Buddhist folk who reside there. Each quake was accompanied by landslides on the neighboring mountain slopes. Each quake was a sobering reminder of just how fragile life is.

At that time, i stayed in a tiny wooden hut that clung to the side of the mountain. From this perch, at 12,000 feet, whenever i looked out of my window, i felt as though i were looking out the window of an airplane.

In the 1990s under the guidance of the Tibetan Dzogchen Master, Chadral Rinpoche, i spent numerous summers camped out in a tent in the mountainous regions north of Kathmandu in an area now completely decimated by the impact a series of devastating earthquakes which hit Nepal in 2015. This area is known as Sindupalchowk. Rinpoche had several retreat centers dotted around the precipitous slopes of this mountainous region.

By the time i started to make the pilgrimage up there each year, he was already well into his eighties and no longer able to make the long and arduous climb up into the mountains by foot. However, he would come via helicopter, stay a few days or weeks, instruct those undergoing their long retreats and the few of us stragglers who had come to spend the summer months in the high alpine pastures far from the crowded, noisy and polluted marketplaces and valleys of Kathmandu.

It has been a dramatic and unnerving time watching the effects of the recent massive quakes, in two areas that i had come to know and love well.

Through the ages, since time immemorial, massive cataclysmic events have taken place on our planet yet when measured next to the span of our human lives, they seem far and widely spread apart. We measure our lives by the days, weeks, months and years that we witness passing by. Our tunnel vision gives us a feeling of continuity and safety even as we live and move within the tremendous and ever-shifting forces of the natural world which surrounds us.

The concept of the Earth as our 'Mother' is not by any means a new one. Since time immemorial people have felt that this earth upon which we 'live, move and have our being,' is in some profound and absolutely fundamental way connected to, not only our physical existence but also our emotional and mental well being.

Yet despite this ancient and known interconnection, we are now, perhaps more than ever, sadly disconnected from our 'Mother' Bhumi, routinely treating her with disregard and disrespect.

When the earth wakes up, stretches. When the earth sighs and heaves; all life upon it must take heed.

When mountains move, the very foundation and stability of all that we may have associated with steadiness and continuity comes into question. We are thrown back into ourselves, to find there, the truth of Who and What we REALLY are...

Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Tigers in our Mind


Tigers in the Forest
Tigers in a Tropical Storm
Henri Rousseau

I spent a few months one summer in the 1980s at the Monastery of Tai Situ Rinpoche in Sherab Ling. This monastery is nestled between the folds of some foothills in Himachal Pradesh in the eastern Himalayas of Northern India. 


At that time it was not very developed and there were a number of retreat houses scattered throughout the forest below the main monastery compound. These small houses had been built by western students so that they could live near Tai Situ Rinpoche; a high Tibetan Buddhist master from the Karma Kargyu tradition. 

Their intention had been to spend their time near their teacher in order to receive his blessing and instructions and to practice as much as possible in retreats. In those days there were no fences marking where the boundaries of the monastery ended and the forest began.

When i was there, all of the huts, dotted throughout the forest were empty. Their owners had moved on and were either, back in their own countries working or living in other parts of the Himalayas. Most of the dwellings no longer contained any of the belongings of their previous tenants. Therefore, i had a choice of where i could stay. I decided upon a small wooden hut comprising of an upstairs loft where i could practice and sleep and a kitchen area below on the ground floor.

There were many non-human residents around when i moved in as it had been a long while since anyone had actually lived there. A large family of mice had made a home for themselves in the kitchen. There were several birds nests in the ceiling and many, large, hairy spiders all over the place. 


It was obvious that no one had been around for quite a while, as these residents had pretty much taken over. I had quite a time of it, cleaning, sweeping and airing the place out. Fortunately, i had a mosquito net with me so i could tuck it in all around my bed. I had discovered the virtues of mosquito nets in northern Queensland in my teen years when i stayed some months in a tropical forest. Not only did they keep out the mosquitoes, but also spiders, snakes, mice and so on...

During my first night in the hut at Sherab Ling, all the spiders came out from their places, and i will never forget it! I was sitting on my bed, fortunately with the net securely tucked in around me. I had extinguished my kerosene lamp and was sitting there in the dark, beginning to settle into a meditation session. I began to notice a peculiar sound, something like the tuk tuk tuk of numerous, tiny feet. I turned on my torch and flashed it around the room. Oh wow! Many long-legged spidery forms darted around among the shadows here and there. That night the spiders were, quite literally, dancing! They were coming out from every nook and cranny to check out the 'intruder'. Surely, i have never seen so many spiders before or since!

I was totally unnerved by this vision. Almost overwhelmed by the creepy sound of countless tiny claws scuttling around in the dark. I almost gave way to my fears and if it had not been for the flimsy mosquito net, which gave me a false sense of 'protection' i would have rushed out of that place and never gone back. Needless to say, i passed a very restless night.

Interestingly, they all disappeared during the following day and the second night they kept a respectful distance and adjusted themselves to my presence. For the remainder of my stay, i kept out of their way and they kept out of mine.

However, the stage had been set. My mind began to create all sorts of real and imagined stories with regards to the spiders and their whereabouts, especially at night!

In Himachal Pradesh, it is not tigers that roam the forests, but leopards. These beautiful animals occasionally came down from the hills to prey on the livestock kept by local villagers and in the monasteries, and while i was staying at Sherab Ling, down in the forest, at least one such animal was reported to be on the prowl.


 There were numerous pug marks to be seen here and there on the trails and so i had to be on my guard, especially in the evenings, when they were most likely to appear. This was potentially something a good deal more bothersome than the spiders. So I was forced to take note.

During that time I was taking lunch and evening meals up at the monastery, so i got into the habit of eating the last meal long before dark, and then trekking down to the hut before the sunset, as it was a good ten minutes walk along a dirt trail through the forest.

One night i was woken by, not one, but three leopards prowling around my hut. From what i could make out, there was a mother with two cubs, already halfway to adulthood.

They stayed for quite a while, sniffing around. One even jumped onto the straw awning that jutted out from my upstairs windows. I sat on my bed all through their visit, trembling. My windows were open, and if they had decided to come on in, i would have needed a lot more than a mosquito net for protection!

However, that did not happen. Instead, they went up the hill and killed the monastery's pet Ram, a grumpy, charismatic fellow who had been butting and playing with the children there for many years. I decided it might be a good idea to stay up in the monastery after that incident and moved up to the guestrooms the very next day.

Over the years, in the earlier part of my training, the presence of creatures, heard, but not seen, gave rise to many occasions in which my mind became completely preoccupied with all manner of distracting and fearful thoughts. They provided a fertile and challenging ground in which i could begin to unravel the 'workings of my mind.'



During the years that followed this incident i stayed in other forests and encountered other types of 'visitors', but none were ever more prevalent than the visitors in my own mind.

Perhaps the greatest value of staying in all those retreats was the fact that they gave me the time and opportunity to notice how 'mind' functions. When we are alone with your own 'mind' a lot, and begin to spend time noticing its movements, we start to see what a sneaky fellow it is! 


Becoming acquainted with the way 'mind' works, is essential if we want to begin to live in peace without ourselves and others in this world. It is the little 'golden key' with which we can unlock the door into 'self-awareness.'


Kyabje Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche

Some years after my visit to Sherab Ling, i met the great Dzogchen Master, Chatral Rinpoche. He began to send me off to my retreat hut with challenges like, 'go and see if you can find your mind, and come back and tell me about it.' With this bait thrown at me the whole tone and focus of my time in the mountains began to shift and change.

The great saint of South India, Sri Ramana Maharshi said;

'The attempt to destroy the ego or the mind through vehicles other than atma-vichara, (self-inquiry) is just like the thief pretending to be a policeman, in order to catch the thief, who is himself.'

The paths of Dzogchen and Atma-Vichara, (Self-Inquiry) have a lot in common.

Finding the mind, finding one's self'? 

Impossible; because they do not exist! 
The one cancels out the other!

And this is the whole point and beauty of these practices. However, until one takes up the challenge and seriously embarks upon the path of investigation, this cannot be truly understood or known.

It is a ludicrous exercise, but a very necessary one, and in the beginning one has little choice but to innocently go off and try. This 'inquiry' is absolutely crucial because it turns the mind 'inwards' towards its source. Unless and until we turn our gaze away from the distractions of worldly outer life, focussing all of that energy onto the nature of 'who and what we REALLY are,' we remain caught up like flies in a vast spiders web of thoughts and their endless spin-offs.

In order to assist his students to begin to turn their 'minds' inwardly, Chatral Rinpoche used, on occasion, to throw out zen-like 'koans.' When he was training a particular disciple, he would watch, wait and see how they would react to the 'bait' that was being dangled before them.

One of these koans consisted of the phrase; 'there are tigers in the forest'.

Every time he would meet one particular student, at some point in their conversation he would always throw in these words; 'there are tigers in the forest'! And then go on to some other topic, leaving the phrase just hanging there in the air, quite unconnected to anything else being spoken of, and apparently, quite nonsensical.


It became something of a standing joke between Rinpoche and one particular student, who later recounted this tale to me.  The student in question understood that Rinpoche had something very specific in mind, and was directly pointing it out, and this friend drove himself half nuts trying to figure out what it could be, but he just could never quite get it.

Then one day, the two of them were sitting in Rinpoche's room and while a conversation was going on between them, Rinpoche threw in the usual 'mind spanner'.

'There are tigers in the forest'. Student and teacher sat there looking directly at one another.

The conversation had suddenly come to a complete halt with these words. The young fellow sitting opposite him, in total exasperation, all wide-eyed, and open-mouthed, blurted out, 'are you sure?'

Upon hearing these words, Rinpoche collapsed into a fit of unconstrained, uncontrollable laughter. He was so unspeakably amused that five minutes later,  visitors and Lamas who had been milling around in the anterooms, began to appear in the doorway to see what was going on. They found the pair, rolling around on the floor, with tears flowing down their cheeks, clutching their bellies. 


When Chatral Rinpoche found something funny, he gave himself over to the humor of the moment with the gay abandon of a child. It was unspeakably infectious and utterly delightful to behold.

This was to be the culmination of months of baiting and challenging. It was such a pity that this valuable 'koan' was not really understood by the student in question. You can rest assured that he was laughing because Rinpoche was laughing. At that time he didn't actually 'get the joke', let alone it's deep and underlying meaning. The moment had not yet come for the 'penny to drop.' At least, not then. Only years and years later did he begin to 'understand'.

But in such matters 'time' is of the least concern. The seed had been planted, in due course, it would ripen and bear fruit. Each must proceed in his/her own time. Each in his/her own way.

This 'koan' was particularly relevant to the student in question. His solving of it contained therein an opportunity for him to address a deep and underlying 'habitual tendency' that consistently kept him from realizing the deeper truths which could have freed his mind from his habitual tendencies thereby helping him to break ground in his meditation practice. This is the value of a 'koan'. It is targeted and requires the active participation of the disciple, giving him/her a chance to resolutely dive more deeply into their own inner experience.

If ordinary mind is like a forest, then the tigers that roam there can be equated with certain types of thoughts, the type of thoughts that sneak up on us unawares and steal all of our attention. Tigers move about with the utmost stealth and considering their markings, they really have to in order to catch their prey unawares.

Of course the 'tiger' example is rather rustic and out of date but nevertheless, it points to a profound truth. For that particular student, it was well aimed and, like an arrow, it hit its mark, even if it was not recognized at the time. This 'bait', gave the mind something to grasp onto, thereby focusing, rather than scattering it. When the mind is focussed it becomes a powerful tool.

Where ever we are, whatever we do, our mind goes with us. Whether we like it or not, it is our constant companion, the shadow that accompanies us on every journey. We know it is there, but until we shine the flashlight of our attention upon it, it behaves like a shadow. Always present, but just out of the line of vision.

Finding the source of our mind, the source of our thoughts is the key to solving all of our problems.


Until we do this we are at the mercy of the 'tigers in the forest,'
the tigers within our mind.

This excerpt was taken from Tibetan Masters and Other True
Tibetan Masters and Other True Stories. The second book in the series, Shades of Awareness.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Letting Go of Our Addiction to Hope and Fear


Ever notice that we spend most of our time in a distracted state somewhere between an ever-swinging pendulum of hope and fear?

If we really give it some consideration it does not take much to realise that we keep ourselves away from the happiness which is always available to us in the present moment, by being constantly distracted by the hope of 'getting something' or the fear of losing it.

If we boil it all down, this is how things are for us.

So, while we are all seeking our happiness every moment of every day we are constantly sabotaging our own best efforts. We are our own worst enemy, barking up the wrong tree and generally way off the scent to use a few well-worn cliches.

A mere shift of focus and we could transform our world simply by staying with the dynamic and ever living present moment which is completely free, ever available and the only thing which we really can ever have. Instead, we are like mice on a treadmill, running and running after something that we can never quite catch and no matter how far we run or for how long we just can't get anywhere or achieve the happiness we so desperately long for.

Why do we do this to ourselves? In the first place, we don't actually need to go anywhere and in the second, there is nowhere to go!

 A friend recently told me something which i found very interesting. 

In certain places in India, it is not uncommon to see fortune tellers parked out on the pavements with a pack of cards and one or two green parrots locked up in a tiny cage. Many people believe that these green parrots have clairvoyant powers and can predict a person's future or a future outcome.





In the South of India, where this belief originated, one can find the green parrot honoured among the religious pantheon as a messenger, a harbinger of news and tidings. If we scrape the surface of deeper meanings here we can uncover a very profound truth indeed and one which has nothing to do with clairvoyance.

When a 'parrot astrologer' is approached for a 'reading' the questioner will usually want answers to some issue or problem which is plaguing him/her. With great solemnity, the 'teller' opens a small sliding door in the tiny cage, in which the parrot or parrots are housed.  This gives the bird its queue and he waddles out and picks out a card from a pile which is stacked up in front of him. He may remove many cards before choosing just one that he then grasps in his beak and places in front of the astrologer.


It is believed that the card which the bird has chosen, holds the key to predicting the person's future and the outcome of this or that matter for which he is seeking guidance.

It is one of many peculiar things that one can see in the great land of India. I have spotted many such people over the years and always wondered how on earth they caught the parrots!

Yes, i know, most people would be puzzled by other more pressing issues such as whether these birds really have psychic powers or not. They certainly have a very odd 'career. 



However, for me, it was not so much the possibility of their psychic capacity, as i believe all sentient life has an instinctive psychic awareness. My curiosity was more to do with the logistics of the parrots confined situation. How did it get caught in the first place and then cope with the very miserable life it had to endure thereafter? One could see, by the bird's condition, that this life as a confined prisoner was unenviable.

According to my friend the method used to capture the parrots is rather ingenious. In fact, it raises more questions than it answers. I had to marvel at the insight and inventiveness of its creator.

The trapper places a thin piece of wire between some branches in a tree or trees where he knows that the parrots like to roost. He then goes away to mind his own business and only returns whenever he is free to take hold of his loot.

You might think that the poor birds get caught up somehow in the wire and become entangled and yet what actually happens is something very different indeed. Unsuspectingly they sit on the wire and then finding it too thin and slippery to clutch hold of they flip over so that they are suddenly clinging to the wire upside down.

What is intriguing here is that they could, at any time, simply loosen their grip and fly away and yet they do not. They hang there
pathetically hour after hour until the trapper returns and pulls them off one by one putting them into a cage.

And that's it!
Isn't that rather tragic?

They could have flown away at any time if they would simply let go of the wire. Nothing at all is preventing it accept their belief that they can not let go...

And, ladies and gentleman, are we too, not rather like this? We believe in our future as vehemently as we cling to our past and yet neither actually exist outside the realm of our imagination!

If we were to examine the present moment we might quickly make an extraordinary discovery.

Self-secret is a Vajrayana Buddhist term that points to a truth which is completely open and obvious and yet which fails to be seen or recognised.

Our addiction to hope and fear can be likened to a 'thin wire' upon which we stake our very lives and existence and yet at any time we are completely free to let go. We are enslaved by our hope and fear, by our unquestioning belief in our past and in our future. 

We believe that we are a 'somebody' who needs 'something and yet we are in fact 'nobody' and we need nothing. Everything that we require is already ours and can never be taken away.

Recognising our true nature means witnessing the truth which exists as the present moment and clinging to that alone.

Happiness is indeed in the very palm of our hands
The present moment is ours.
We have only to believe in it, pay homage to it, and own it. 
It is the only moment we can ever know. 
The rest is a dream...






Sunday, 29 April 2018

The Face in the Mirror



Whose is the face in the mirror?
Yours..?

Behind that face there is only 'now'
And 'now' is the faceless face of a million eons...
The timeless 'you' beyond all seasons.

Colliding with the universe
We are cast out from infinity
Mind creates a circle of illusion.

But we are Blessed.
Our Source is ever Pure and Free
Even though we are Bound by the thrill of 
Being and Becoming.

May we swiftly
Merge into the Vast Expanse
Once and for All...

Lyse Lauren

We have such a strong habit of accepting that things are as they appear to be and yet our true purpose in life is to uncover how things really are, beyond appearances. The only way to really do that is to take a long, hard look at ourselves. Not at the image, as it appears in the mirror, but at what is perceiving the image as itself.

This journey begins and ends with our recognition of awareness.
We have an innate propensity to be mesmerised by the image in the mirror. We fail to notice what it is that is doing the noticing...

It is an interesting and extremely common dilemma and yet most people do not realise that it is the very cause of their failure to embrace the natural 'happiness' to which all are entitled by virtue of just 'being.'

The mirror is a great little tool in helping us to perceive what is already present and yet beyond recognition, yet we seldom fail to use it for that purpose. We can see our 'face' in the mirror and we take it for granted that we are connected, in some mysterious way, with that 'face.' Yet, once we are no longer gazing into the glass, the 'face' disappears and we simply believe that we continue to exist in that form.

The mind and senses trick us and snatch our attention away from the present moment. They distract and bind us inside an enchanted circle. Yet we can unravel this web of delusion. It is within the power of each and everyone of us because what is true is direct and near and utterly fundamental. Perhaps it is too near, and too direct...

Our attention is almost always in a state of movement and flux and because it is so colourful and vacillating our attention gets caught up and fixated on these shifting appearances. 


Behind that face
there is only 'now'
the faceless face of a million eons.
The timeless 'you' beyond every season.

A million 'faces' have come and gone but the essential current of our existence, that which is perceiving them all, is stable and un-shifting. It has been our constant companion; un-shakable and consistent.

This is not a matter for debate because we can and should verify it for ourselves right here and right now. In fact, our happiness depends upon us doing just this. Unless we stop and take the time to investigate the mystery of our existence we remain like the two fish who swim around in the ocean debating the existence of 'water.' Or like the beggar with the golden begging bowl. We have to break this cycle of delusion.

There is a poplar story about a group of employees who worked for a large company. One morning when they reached their offices they were greeted by a small notice on the door that led into their work spaces. It read; ' Yesterday, the person who has been hindering your growth in the company, passed away.' It went on to invite all the employees to a funeral service which would be held on the premises later that day.

Naturally, this event caused much discussion between the people in the offices and the whole day there was the buzz and anticipation of the impending 'service.' There was much speculation as to the identity of this deceased person. No one seemed to know who it was and this deepened the general excitement and enhanced the sense of curiosity.

Later that evening there was a large gathering at the venue which had been designated for the 'service.' The room was humming with the mutterings of its eagerly waiting attendees.

A coffin could be seen near the farthest wall, large and beautiful bouquets of flowers had been placed near and around it, incense had been lit, there was soft and pleasant music in the background and the lights in the room had been dimmed. A single candle had been placed near the casket and cast a warm glow over the solitary coffin.

A small barrier had been erected so one ventured near.
In due course the proceedings began. There was a muted speech or two and then one by one all were invited to approach and pay there final respects.

Each person present had one thought in their minds. 'Who is this guy who has been hindering my progress?' As each one approached the coffin and looked inside they were confronted by a mirror.
Silence reigned as they moved on one by one, each had been thrown into a cavern of reflection. 

A sign had been placed inside the coffin and near the end of it were the words;  'Your life changes when YOU change, when you go beyond your limiting beliefs when you realize that you are the only one responsible for your life. “The most important relationship you can have is the one you have with yourself”.

*****

One can well imagine what kind of impact something like this could potentially have on all those present.

We might take this story even further by inviting ourselves to look beyond the image in the mirror to what it is that is perceiving that image...

Why is it that we fail to notice that..?

Lead me from darkness to light
From death to immortality
From the unreal to the real.
Gayatri