Then it hit me that I went to visit my mother's grave last September, for the first time since the funeral in 2008. People talk about rituals that involve letting go and moving on with their lives, but they don't always take ordinary things like visiting relatives' graves into account.
I know that I felt that going to satsang felt like it was interfering with other aspects of my life, and that it felt as if it wasn't helping me deal with grief beyond a certain point.
There's also the issue of getting stuck in one's individual spiritual practices. I know I've mentioned that I didn't think there was enough Kali in the practices that are considered normative within the Amma organization, and even though I was trying to extract as much as I could, I couldn't really find the focus I was looking for. This is actually a big topic, but I'll try to be concise here. I know that one is not supposed to reveal the mantra that guru gives one to other people. I'm not quite sure what the rationale is: maybe it's something about diffusing the power of the mantra, or perhaps giving the impression that one is trying to adopt the role of the guru in initiating others with a mantra. I really don't know. But I don't remember anything being said about a need to keep one's chosen deity (Ishta Devata) secret. Maybe that's not always an issue, but while there are some Westerners who proudly announce their devotion to Kali, there are others--Westerners and Indians both--who are clearly uncomfortable when Kali is mentioned. I suppose, as far as some people are concerned, that it's like saying in the West, "Hey, I'm a black witch and I do animal sacrifice, take drugs, and have ritual sex!" Since Ramakrishna (19th century), that's probably not the case for most Kali devotees, but it still may be true in some outlying areas, or perhaps in secretive urban sects. From the Indian standpoint, there are probably also subtle connections between caste and particular Ishta Devatas.
In any event, there continues to be some controversy around Kali, and I was a little naive to that within the Amma organization, even though Amma is supposed to be an incarnation of Kali (and a reincarnation of Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi--his virgin consort), plus there is a murti (statue) of Kali in the temple at Amma's ahsram in Kerala (India) that was made by the same family that made the one at Dakshineswar Temple in Kolkata (Calcutta), where Ramakrishna was temple priest. So, if Kali is good enough for Ramakrishna and good enough for Amma, one would think.... (but maybe that's the problem: people don't think.)
It seems that there is a perception that Kali represents occult power, that can be used constructively or destructively, and this seems to put some people off. There is a post I've been considering writing, but maybe it won't be necessary now. The point of that post was to consider the idea that my former devotee friends--the two that I was pretty close friends with--are both psychic vampires. By focusing my devotion on Kali, that might signal to such people that they were being put on notice. There's probably some truth to that, but I was so intent on trying to "act nice" in the interests of keeping things as harmonious as possible between us, that I ended up getting hurt over and over again instead of stepping back and letting these two get what was coming to them. Shortly after I received my mantra from Amma, I mentioned to the first "friend" what my Ishta Devata was and he said two things. The first was: "I didn't think Mother was giving out Kali mantras anymore" As if to say: "I know everything that goes on around here." Which, of course, was bullshit. Second, he said: "People have been known to go mad chanting that mantra." Given the vulnerable state I was in at that time, and the effort I was making to try to hold our fragile friendship together--a friendship to which he had been doing considerable violence in the month leading up to the Amma retreat where we were having that conversation--his mis-statements had a powerful effect on me. From that point forward, I really didn't feel comfortable with my mantra, and I think that was his aim: he must have been jealous that I was establishing a spiritual relationship to Amma and was trying to find ways to compete and interfere and destroy that relationship, because that's all he's ever been able to do--destroy other people's relationships rather than form his own. And the other one, he always used to criticize me for having "dark energy" and for being a downer. Well, you know, it's not always fun being grounded and responsible. Yes, it's possible to float over problems by being irresponsible and by sponging off of other people's resources to get by, until that starts feeling like a drag, so you just move on and burn some other people. So much for being in the Light of Krishna, or whatever-the-fuck.
OK, so that's rambling, but to come back to the present time a little bit more, I decided yesterday that I wanted to support White Lies legitimately, and I wanted to see if there was a noticeable difference in quality between CD-quality recordings and the mp3 downloads I had of their two albums, so I went to Amazon and ordered their CDs. At the bottom of the page there were some recommendations (as there always are at Amazon), and one of them was David Frawley's most recent book (2008) on the inner Tantric path. I ordered a Kindle version of it (which it is not possible to read on PC with a free reader), and in the forewords I found some information that was helpful to me. Linda Johnsen, who is a Vedic astrologer, gave an overview of Western contact with Indian spirituality, from Vivekananda in the 1890s to the "yoginis" who came West in the 1980s, emphasizing charitable service as a path (presumably Amma as well as some others). She talked about people dutifully doing their mantras and then getting stuck and not knowing how to get back on track. One of the things that is making more sense to me, as I have been reading Frawley so far, is that Hindu devotion involves a living relationship to Devatas (somewhat like the Daemons in Western Classical religions and esotericism). When it's "on" it's great, and it adds an indescribable quality to one's life (like being in love). But, as a living relationship, it can be vulnerable to changes--more vulnerable, perhaps, than typical Western monotheistic practices such as salat or going to Mass. Frawley also mentioned the desirability of incorporating some Vedic elements into one's practice, even if it is primarily Tantric; of including some devotion to Shiva, even if one's practice is Shakti-oriented; and of focusing some devotion on gentler, more soothing manifestations of Deity, along with the challenging, powerful ones. I've been led intuitively in each of these directions, but haven't found others who could reflect back to me the appropriateness of making these adjustments, so it's nice to have access to some practical coaching along these lines. It's also nice to have some encouragement to go forward and to stay in touch with one's actual experience, rather than to allow duty and habit to take over completely, and rather than wait around indefinitely for a pure and fully realized teacher who also happens to be available to give pertinent practical advice whenever it is needed.
From my personal experience over the last several months, I can see the value of having returned to salat and zikr as my primary (and eventually, sole) spiritual practices when my relationship to the Amma organization and to its standard practices were faltering. As I got into those former practices, there was some healing that occurred, but after I had the dream that got heart-energy moving, I was able to lay those practices aside as I began to rebuild my relationship to Hinduism. It does feel better to let that energy back in, and I'm also finding inspiration in my professional work that has been lacking for a while. So, it seems as if I've got some good leads, and it has also been good to return to Swami Satyananda Saraswati's edition of the Chandi Path, along with the audio online at the Devi Mandir site. I don't care for Swami's Sanskrit, but Shree Maa's chanting has an eerie beauty to it that is gentler than most of the other recordings I've found, and less rough and forceful than Amma's bhajans.
I also found some interesting perspectives on service in a book I'm reading by Dane Rudhyar, Modern Man's Conflicts (1948). It is very difficult to affirm the kind of service that is based on one's actual, cultivated abilities within the realm of academia, with the idea of service as it tends to be defined rather narrowly in a spiritual organization, i.e. whatever the most pressing needs are for donated labor and funds in order to keep the organization afloat. As Rudhyar wrote: "But the service given by mature and inherently free individual persons to a community in which they consciously and creatively participate in terms of the gradual evolutionary fulfillment of an all-human purpose--such a service is entirely different from the actual servitude imposed by a privileged few upon undeveloped social personalities, either of the servant-class, or of the proletariat, or of the religious devotee type (psychic servitude)." (p. 148)
Finally, when I was meditating yesterday I had some spontaneous visions of scenes from the Amma retreat in 2004, which was the one in which my first "friend" was so rejecting. I hadn't felt that rejected and despondent since I was in my early teens: I felt more like 14 than 41! Somehow I was able to witness scenes from that retreat without feeling sucked into the pain, and without needing to stand outside of them and criticize or rage. Maybe this is an indication that some fairly deep wounds are starting to heal. It also occurred to me that the next round of wounding in connection with the Amma retreats occurred in 2006, when my second "friend" was getting ready to travel to India, and again in 2007, after he returned and when my mother was about to enter into the final stages of her illness. If, indeed, these "friends" were psychic vampires, it would make sense that separation and disappointment were so difficult because, as real needs emerge in response to real life situations (illness, death, grief), the psychic depletion that has occurred in the "friendship" up to that point becomes all the more evident as inner resources upon which one would otherwise have been able to draw are no longer as available as they otherwise might have been, plus there are the experiences of loss with respect to outer circumstances to deal with. Simultaneously, one has to grieve what one has given away of oneself--either unawares or as an attempt to try to keep others close by--and one has to deal with disappointment and loss in "friendship" on top of losing family members, and one has to deal with a sense of rejection at no longer being as attractive a prospect for psychic exploitation as one once was.
At some point last week, it occurred to me that access to a heart-centered connection with Kali may demand a good deal of solitude. Let's face it, the mystics that we read about didn't spend all of their time (or money) going on pilgrimages and group retreats. Sometimes you just have to withdraw and stay with stuck feelings until they're ready to move, even if that takes months or even years.
Om Krim Mahakalyai Namaha,