The Age of Rage

Angry KidAnger is not just an emotion, not just a negative response to stimuli. It’s alive. It lives and moves and has its being in the mind. The mind is a jungle, populated by the nettles of regret, the stagnant pools of apathy, the elephants of good intentions. Anger is a tiger, prowling the mind jungle, always hungry, always tensed for the attack. It’s dangerous enough left in that jungle, where, over time, it may befoul even the purest of thoughts and intentions, but all too often we let it out into the world, and it is an apex predator there.
Human life is an array of paradoxes. We want happiness, yet we seek it where it can never be found: in the gratification of the senses, the fulfillment of material desires, the attainment of fame. We know that living a disciplined life is far more fulfilling than hedonism could ever be, but still we’re on the lookout for the next adventure, the next excitement, the next entertainment. Just so, we want peace of mind, but we cultivate discontent, attachment, aversion.

And anger. We have birthed the Age of Rage. Road rage abounds on our highways. Our prisons overflow with violent offenders. The nightly news splatters our television screens with blood. Our school children become gun control statistics. Anger is an ever-present companion, its consequences all too familiar. But we do not learn our lessons. Rather than mindfully analyzing our situation and making effective changes, we allow anger to take control. Too often we even encourage it, jump in the passenger seat and give anger the wheel, and he swerves into this lane and that, mowing down pedestrians, running red lights, taking out anyone in his way. Anger is not a friend you can trust, not the kind of guy whose advice you want to take. Anger will only ever lead you astray, turn a victim into a perpetrator, leave a trail of collateral damage and in time, you survey the wreckage left behind and say to yourself, “What was I thinking?”

Simply, you weren’t. You let anger do your thinking. You stepped out. You vanished. It happens to us all to some extent. Maybe you take serious offense at a rude hand gesture from an aggressive driver on the Interstate, and you beat your steering wheel and fling vulgarities and wish you could pull him out of his car and teach him a lesson. Of course, you’re a decent person, really, so you would never actually hurt someone. Maybe you get wrapped up in politics, have a special loathing reserved for the president, and say to your co-workers that nothing short of a bullet is going to fix the White House’s problems. Not that you would ever wish such a thing on anyone no matter how you felt about them. It’s just talk. Blowing off steam.

And maybe is really is just talk. For you. But that same impulse, that same rage and loathing have driven people to violence over highway frustration, and turned an ordinary person into an assassin. Anger has destroyed families, ended lives, wrecked entire nations. It is not merely an emotion, something to work out at the gym or on the heavy bag. It is a force most of us hardly understand, with the potential to destroy in a moment.

In the same vein, anger is a power that can be harnessed, transmuted, transformed into spiritual growth. Sri Ramakrishna encouraged his disciples to give any impulse a Godward turn.

“Direct the six passions to God. The impulse of lust should be turned into the desire to have intercourse with Atman. Feel angry at those who stand in your way to God. Feel greedy for Him. If you must have the feeling of I and mine, then associate it with God. Say, for instance, ‘My Rama, my Krishna.’ If you must have pride, then feel like Bibhishana, who said, ‘I have touched the feet of Rama with my head; I will not bow this head before anyone else.’”

Then the question is how to put anger to work for us. In my limited experience, the answer is to pour out the emotions at the feet of the Lord in intense prayer. God is not some distant entity, some unknowable thing. He is our very own, dearer to us, so say the Sufi mystics, than our own jugular vein. There is no reason to restrict prayer to certain forms, to think of anything as taboo. Rage at God for not granting the boon of pure love for his lotus feet. Yell about your problems, your frustrations, and all of your grief, and lay it all upon the Lord’s altar. His purifying grace is the Philosopher’s Stone, transmuting even the basest of emotions into spiritual gold.

No Home in the World

Advaita brooks no sentimentality. Once you accept that the phenomenal world is illusory,

then there is, figuratively speaking, no going home again.

There is one true light: the light of the Atman. All other lights are but pale reflections of it. When you accept this, there is no settling for less. The mind will never rest unless it rests in the Atman.

You need not attain that perfect Knowledge of the Atman to understand that suffering will never end without that Knowledge. Once you have faith in the truth of the Atman, you can never again accept suffering. Though you may cling to many of those things that cause suffering, may clutch them like an addict, you will know that they cannot fulfill you, and you will want nothing more than to be rid of the desire for them.

Your home in the world is not real, and all the time it is collapsing upon you. When you know this, renunciation must begin to

Image credit: “love Don’t live here anymore…” – © 2009 Robb North – made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic

Pen Pals

Swami_Vivekananda_letter_2nd_Nov_1893Dear Friends,

Did you have pen pals when you were young? Do you remember the first time you opened the mailbox and found a slightly battered envelope with your name on it? Perhaps it traveled halfway around the world to get to you, and you read it in a state of wonder because you knew that, weeks before, it had been in the hands of a person you would likely never meet, but who, because of this letter, felt like a dear friend.

That was my pen pal experience when I was a teenager. In fact, I’m still in touch with my first pen pal, whose first letter I received twenty-two years ago. Of course, we’re both adults with busy lives, hers much more so than mine, and we usually settle for Facebook rather than letters these past several years. But I miss letters. There’s something personal and intimate about a letter, something significant about holding it in your hands.

Well, I’m a sentimental fool. Be that as it may, I’m also practical, and I realize that, as a Vedantin in the Bible Belt, a five hour drive from any Vedanta Society, my best bet at meeting like-minded individuals is over long distances. So I’m looking for pen pals.

Would any of you, dear readers, care to correspond with me? I don’t care if you’re in India, Australia, or New York City, I would like to hear from you. Oh, I don’t mind email correspondence if you haven’t the time for letters, but I will admit to being partial to the handwritten word.

If you’re interested, please use the contact form below to get in touch with me.

Sincerely yours,

Art

Heart of a Lion: Strength, Courage, Punk Rock, and Vedanta

KesariEveryday, the world challenges the Vedantin’s values. Materialist mantras decorate the billboards. The media shout their empty promises of fame and pleasure. Lust poses on the magazine covers and every television commercial proclaims the gospel of more, more. Even one’s dearest, even friends and family, may scoff at renunciation and spiritual practice. The world is on fire with the thirst for fulfillment, and we try to quench it with the oil of indulgence.

Some days, it takes a heroic effort just to crawl out of bed.

I watch my mind and don’t like what I see. Clinging and restlessness, and the constant temptations of the senses. And sometimes they sneak in, like a viper in the night, and I don’t even know they’ve bitten me before the venom has done its work. I tell myself every weekend that this one will be different, this time I’ll stand upon my dedication and do what needs doing, but I rarely do. Most days, by mid-morning, I have it all worked out, and my life is going to change. I’ll take charge, take the bull by the horns. And by the evening, I’m tired just from living through the day.

Swami Vivekananda was a relentless sannyasin. Calling for fearlessness and nerves of steel in his followers, he himself had both in full measure. Perfect in renunciation, unmoved by any of the things of the world, no one has ever been more certain. In the face of disbelief even from his fellow disciples, Swamiji was strong and courageous. He would have moved the world had no one supported him. By the sheer strength of his will, the world have known the name “Vivekananda.”

“This is a great fact,” Swamiji said. “Strength is life; weakness is death. Strength is felicity, life eternal, immortal; weakness is constant strain and misery: weakness is death.”

“If there is one word that you find coming out like a bomb from the Upanishads, bursting like a bombshell upon masses of ignorance, it is the word ‘fearlessness.’”

“You may meditate on whatever you wish, but I shall meditate on the heart of a lion. That gives strength.”

Swamiji grew to such proportions, that he burst through the net of Maya. Taking the world in his hand, he could have shaken it to its foundations; he left us a legacy of bravery in the war against mankind’s greatest enemy: ignorance. He died young because the world simply could not endure his majesty for long.

When I think about the example set for us by Swami Vivekananda, I also remember that he gave the best years of his life and the greatest part of his phenomenal energy to the people of America. When my great-grandparents were breaking their backs picking cotton, a hurricane of spiritual power swept across their country. Generations later, I still feel its wind. And what religious heritage did Swamiji plant in the States? Freedom. No sentimental devotionalism, no dogmatic creeds, no pointless rituals. Only the highest ideal of the brightest illumination.

“Each soul is potentially divine.The goal is to manifest this divinity by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy – by one, or more, or all of these – and be free. This is the whole of religion.”

Swamiji made tremendous efforts for me. He planted the tree of perfection that I could rest in its shade. Through his work, I too may glimpse the glory of my own divinity, and that in all Creation. Through the years, he beckoned to me, challenging me to Arise, and to Awake.

But Swamiji did not charge me with an easy task, for as I said, some days arising from bed itself requires enormous effort. Some days, I am afraid to even turn on my bedroom light. It isn’t depression, it isn’t anxiety, it isn’t lethargy. I think anyone who thinks deeply will admit this: the world scares the hell out of me. So how do we make this effort? How do we even hope to reach the goal?

Some of us thrive in silence and solitude, cherishing the warmth of the winter sun through a window and the inspiration of a good book. Hours pass in meditation and prayer. There is inner struggle, no doubt, but the face carries a radiant smile and the voice a ready laugh.

Others live to sing the Lord’s praises and worship Him in elaborate rituals. Lamps and flowers, sweet incense and music. Holy company, lively spiritual discussion, chanting God’s sacred names, and pilgrimages to sacred places. It is a life of abundant love.

But some take a martial view of the spiritual struggle. The ego is the Great Enemy, to be slain by the sword of Viveka and burned upon the pyre of Vairagya. The world is Kurukshetra. The sadhaka is Arjuna, the conqueror of enemies. The taunts and jeers of lust and greed inspire the devotee to battle, wielding the Mantra like Hanuman’s mace.

I grew up on punk rock and hardcore. I may have been a rebel without a cause, but I still admire the non-conformists, screaming out of frustration at the ignorance and corruption surrounding them. Swimming upstream, going against the grain, and an uncompromising certitude that things are not meant to be this way. This is the idiom I understand, the language that I speak. Born a Gen-Xer, the paradigms of my predecessors failing my generation, I grew up surrounded by kids who grew angrier and more dissatisfied every year. Our music was a sonic sledgehammer because we felt we needed to bludgeon the world into understanding. We wanted a weapon to defeat the apathy we saw in every school and on every news channel. We took our fight to the streets, never realising that we were waging the war in the wrong direction.

When I feel weighed down by doubt, and want nothing more than to pull the dark around me and hide, what good will it do me to burn some incense? But if I am a freedom fighter of Vivekananda…

Sometimes when I sit for meditation, I feel surrounded by hordes of desires. How can I fend them off by sitting? Am I a Buddha that I can defeat Mara’s army with the sheer force of my purity? But if Swamiji’s call to Arise and Awake is my battle cry…

Thakur’s Flowers

Gallery

This gallery contains 12 photos.

Namaskar! Long time no post, my friends. And I don’t really have a lot to say at the moment, but I think these photos speak for themselves. Thakur has been growing some gorgeous marigolds and zinnias in my garden this … Continue reading