Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, which Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and I wrote in 2016 has been translated into Vietnamese – Bánh Xe Y Học: Hành Trình. This is important for healing the wounds of war and helping former enemies become brothers & sisters.
The Masters of Percussion 2019 – The Ustad Allarakha Centenary Tour came through Seattle this past week. The tour celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ustad Allarakha, Zakir Hussain’s father and internationally-renowned tabla player in his own right. Ustad Allarakha influenced Mickey Hart of The Grateful Dead and had collaborated with Ravi Shankar and made an album in 1968 with jazz drummer Buddy Rich, Rich à la Rakha. Zakir Hussain, played with Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum, as well as with Bill Laswell’s Tabla Beat Science. (Which was, incidentally, the first Bill Laswell album I ever heard, sitting in a cafe in Minneapolis).
The show started with Niladri Kumar on sitar, joined by Zakir Hussain, then added Eric Harland on a full drum kit, and the four piece Drummers of Kerala. It was a great show, filled with lots of beats. The musicians all were smiling and having fun and challenging and riffing off each other.
Zakir Hussain ended the show saying, “Rhythm is a unified concept, it is one language.”
“Words Create Worlds,” my new piece in The Badger, Year 5, Volume 1, is available now through the link, page 47. The title is taken from a quote by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:
“Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness — or evil — into the world. He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda. Words create worlds he used to tell me when I was a child. They must be used very carefully. Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn. The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
Heschel points to the power of words to create good or evil in the world. My article is a meditation following the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand and the increasingly disturbing words of separation and “othering.” I have a special connection with Christchurch, having lived in New Zealand for 3.5 years and having visited Christchurch a few days prior to the second devastating earthquake in 2011. These words that separate us from each other are earthquakes and weapons, in and of themselves, and these words pave the way for future violent actions. You can read the full article in The Badger through this link (scroll to page 47)
In writing Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), I have felt obligated to write about “spiritual democracy” and the responsibility to act in ways that increase, rather than decrease, our inter-relatedness and oneness. A living spirituality is a call to action. Joseph Rael has been working for world peace for decades now, and working with him, I have taken on this responsibility as well. I plan to write more on the power of words, the ways that they can divide or unite us, and the disturbing trends towards fundamentalism and fascism in our world today. Here is the last paragraph from my essay in The Badger:
Over the next year, I would like to write about some of these topics of how our “words create worlds.” In working with Joseph Rael, writing our next book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”
 Life Between the Trees blog, https://lifebetweenthetrees.com/2012/08/06/words-create-worlds-monday-morning-parable/.
 Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.
On this first day of the New Year, January 1st, 2019, I thought I would take a look back at this past year. 2018 was filled with a lot of travel. We took a trip to England, Wales, and Iceland in May that I have blogged about. I have continued my work as a Whole Health Education Champion with the national VA Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation and teaching programs took me to Madison, WI; Portland, OR; Nashville, TN; St. Cloud, MN; and three times to the Boston area (including an evening visit to Walden Pond). My mother had a couple of surgeries, which went well, but took me back to Illinois three times during the year.
As far as writing goes, I continued to work on the next book with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). My sister and I took a trip to visit him in October.
We finished the book on the Winter Solstice and I am now gathering a few endorsements for the book and we will be starting the publication process now. The new book is called Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into A Living Spirituality. Here is a copy of the table of contents, and the cover we are working with.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Foreword by Lewis Mehl-Madrona
Introduction: The Secret Journey
Part I: Separation (Seeking)
Chapter 1. Becoming Medicine
Chapter 2 Circle Medicine
Chapter 3 Separation
Chapter 4 Becoming a Visionary
Chapter 5 Becoming a Shaman
Chapter 6 Becoming a Mystic
Part II: Initiation (Finding/Receiving)
Chapter 7 Story Medicine
Chapter 8 Entering the Doorway
Chapter 9 Guhā: Cave of the Heart
Chapter 10 Enlightenment & Endarkenment
Chapter 11 Initiation
Chapter 0 Na-yo ti-ay we-ah (We Do Not Exist)
Part III: Return (Giving)
Chapter 12 Returning to the Land
Chapter 13 We Are All Pangeans; We Are All Related
Chapter 14 Spiritual Democracy
Chapter 15 Refounding
Chapter 16 A Living Spirituality
Chapter 17 Returning to the Garden of Paradise
Chapter 18 Secret Journey to the Secret Garden
List of Sound Chambers
We had an excerpt from Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD published in Parabola magazine, which was very exciting. We’ve also given permission for the book cover to appear in a movie about someone healing from PTSD and we’ll give more information about that as it becomes available. We had an article called “Sage—the Wise One,” published in the International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapy. I gave a workshop for Muckleshoot Indian Tribe Behavioral Health on “Circle Medicine for Healing Trauma.”
Mary Pat and I took a very restful trip to the Pacific coast near Copalis Beach just last week and I’ll post a few of those photos.
Corbin and I took a hike up Fletcher Canyon near Quinault. We couldn’t go far because there were a lot of trees down. We scrambled over a few before turning back after about an hour of walking up hill.
We stopped on the way back to take in the world’s largest Sitka Spruce tree, estimated to be 1000 years old.
One morning, I heard a raucous cacophony of crows cawing. I quickly ran out to see what was happening. I saw a flutter of movement on the ground and an eagle flew off, leaving a stunned crow. I watched over the crow for a few minutes, eventually he flew off, a bit unsteadily, and then the eagle gave up and flew off in the other direction. These aren’t shots of that seen, but other photos of an eagle and some crows.
Who knows what 2019 will bring, likely lots of changes, as well as the publication of Becoming Medicine!
I took a trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico last month, to do some work with my co-author, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). My sister met us there and we did some photos and video in preparation for our upcoming book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into A Living Spirituality. I should be getting the final edit back any day now and will be taking one more review of it and then it will start getting formatted – it should be out in the first half of 2019. It is always a lot of fun working with Joseph and I am always learning new things and ancient things.
The area is very beautiful and my sister, Karen, and I took a couple trips, driving up the back side of Sandia Mountain and to Petroglyph National Monument.
We got up to the top of Sandia with about an hour or so left of daylight and we saw an amazing sunset and beautiful views.
The next night we went to Petroglyph National Monument, again near sunset.
Sandia means “watermelon” in Spanish and you can see how this mountain got its name when you see it at sunset.
Having visited Sandia and Petroglyph several times, I always feel as if there is some kind of connection of communication between all the petroglyphs facing Sandia. This night there were light streamers visible above the mountain as the sunset behind us.
We went to visit our friends, Mike & Marie Pedroncelli and spent some time in their Sound Peace Chamber, built with consultation from Joseph Rael and based on his visions he had in the 1980s of building circular structures, half above ground and half underground where men and women come together to chant for world peace. There are over 50 chambers on four continents that have been built.
This is a book of short prayers and aphorisms. Ruzbeh Bharucha states in the foreword of the book that 2018 is the 100th year anniversary of Baba Sai of Shirdi’s Maha Samadhi – his enlightened departure from the Earthly realm. Bharucha dedicates the book to “my dear Master, the Fakir of Shirdi; You, The One in whom reside The Goddess and The Lord and the Oneness Family,” (v). Further, Bharucha writes that it is nonsense that Shirdi Sai Baba is gone, “You live in the hearts, minds, breaths and sighs of countless of Your followers and lovers. So how could You ever leave Your body as everything of ours is Yours and if all of ours is Yours, then You reside in millions of us,” (v). The book is thus dedicated to Shirdi Sai Baba as Guru and non-dual Oneness.
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha is the author of many books in which the protagonist walks and talks and jokes (often irreverently) with God in the form of the Guru, Shirdi Sai Baba: The Fakir series, Rabda, and Ice With Very Unusual Spirits. These books remind me of an Indian Richard Bach, filled with humour and love as they explore the relationship between the wayward devotee and the spiritual teacher. The books are earthy and teach that one does not have to be boring to be spiritual. In fact, it is often the outsider aspect of the protagonist that leads to the spiritual relationship.
Bharucha has also been writing works that are not spiritual fiction, but more of an autobiographical and non-fiction approach, for instance The Aum of All Things, The Perfect Ones, and The Musk Syndrome. The current book, Dancing with Swans: A Book of Quotes, is in this vein, a book of quotes that came to the author whilst he was in meditation/communion with Shirdi Sai Baba. Bharucha was guided to meditate “after sunset for a certain number of weeks,” (ix). He portrays himself as a slacker, falling asleep, and meditating only a few minutes, but then he would write down the inspired wisdom he received. Bharucha summarizes the book in the following way:
“The theme of this book, in reality, is very simple. Give your best to each moment and leave the rest to The One and after that accept your lot with joyous acceptance. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be a bit crazy. Try not to be an adult. Be childlike but not childish. Be mature, not cynical. Don’t judge. Live and let live. Spend time in work, prayer and play. We are the makers of our own destiny through the use of fee will in our past lives, this one and the future…When life is rubbing our noses in the ground, inhale the fragrance of Mother Earth. When life is tossing us in the air, try and gaze into the sky. All is as well as we want it to be,” (x).
What follows is some 280+ pages of inspired quotes, roughly divided into different topical sections. To me this is solidly a good book, but not great in the way of The Fakir series is. Nevertheless, there are some gems in the book, such as in pointing toward non-duality, “You are the one praying to The One within you. So you are chanting and being prayed to. You are the one chanting and being chanted to. You are The One,” (14). Or, the following:
“Often sadness or emptiness within is a reflection of the yearning of the soul to move towards The One. Those who understand this, move into silence and prayer, or spread joy and compassion. That’s the only antidote to fill the void within,” (16).
Bharucha teaches a path of living spirituality. “Not the path of religion,” he tells us, “but that of spirituality comes from loving God,” (38). Further distinguishing religion and spirituality, he states that, “All that is spiritual leads us to Oneness. Earlier, being religious and spiritual meant the same. Now nothing divides one brother from another as surely as the false interpretation of religion,” (88). Bharucha often illuminates the hypocrisy of religion, ritual, and conservatism, showing that it is those who step outside societal norms and expectations who are the true lovers of God.
“Till one does not make God, Goddess, Guru—the three Gs—as the sole and soul priority, there are innumerable distractions, obstacles, temptations, confusions, to make life a living hell, this and in future lives,” (39).
There are sources of consolation within the book. Particularly in reminding the reader that emptiness and loneliness are steps on the spiritual path.
“The emptiness the seeker feels on The Path is a must. One needs to be empty for the Divine Energy to fill us up. The page has to be blank for the Divine Words to be written on,” (23).
In times of darkness, such as our own, Bharucha advises us that the way forward is through, through embracing our fears, just as in the hero’s journey the darkness of the abyss contains the boon that can transform self and world. “The hour before dawn is the darkest but also the most spiritual—the true meditative Kali; you either fear the darkness or go within and become one with Her radiance,” (131). Rather than denying pain or seeking to avoid it, Bharucha writes that the pain is a way to open us up and make us more compassionate and that our choice of how to react to inevitable pain and suffering is what determines our experience.
“I feel sometimes the cosmos has no other way to make us more compassionate than by making us experience hunger, pain, sorrow, loss and anguish. The wise learn from these experiences and become more understanding. Others waste the opportunity and become negative. Karma means going through an experience, while free will decides heaven, hell or in-between,” (195).
Getting back to his main theme of the book, Bharucha reminds us, “The true role of any individual is to allow the unhindered and uncorrupted Divine Energy to flow through him or her. That, in reality, is our only purpose of existence,” (203). Allowing this “unhindered and uncorrupted” flow does not turn us into pious and staid religious people who stand back and above the fray, rather this Divine Energy makes us all individuals, sometimes somewhat quirky and irreverent, engaged in the world, offering compassion and doing good regardless of whether it is an official holy day or not. And yet as the Divine Energy flowing through us makes us into individuals, we are simultaneously in touch with and at one with Oneness, what Bharucha calls the 3 Gs—God, Goddess, and Guru. The Oneness is the energy that flows through the individual, animating diversity, allowing the many in One.
“Don’t waste time on negative stuff. Don’t. In a blink of a moment, we shall be either old, alone or dead, and then realize what we have let slip away from our grasp. All this shit isn’t worth it. Let it go,” (91).
Today is the International Day of Peace and I would like to speak about the peace work I have been doing with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow).
Joseph had a vision in the 1980s of a circular structure, half in the ground, half out of the ground, with men and women chanting for world peace. He brought this vision into reality and over 50 sound peace chambers have been built on four continents: North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. Joseph has been received a letter of recognition from the United Nations for his work promoting world peace.
Peace work can take many forms. In my first book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine (2014), I sought to help doctors and clinicians find a way back from dehumanization and burnout to feel more fully human and to create a health care system that addresses the whole person. I spoke of a compassion revolution that was occurring—many people in health care are working to bring the heart back into medicine.
In our first book together, Joseph and I worked to help create a pathway from war to peace for returning veterans by walking the medicine wheel. This book is called Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD (2016). One of the things that Joseph talks about with veterans is that they should get their DNA tested so that they can remember that we are all brothers and sisters—because genetic and archaeological science tells us we all came from Africa originally. Scientists even tell us that we all have a common mother, Mitochondrial Eve, some 150,000 – 200,000 years ago. Many Native Americans and other indigenous people talk about Mother Earth. Mother Earth’s initials are ME—the same as Mitochondrial Eve—“ME” is the same thing that each of us call ourselves. Joseph says this just shows that everyone really is related.
In working with veterans, we wanted to help them in their walking around the medicine wheel, making the journey from being trained to protect us from the “other” to where we can all see each other as brother and sister.
Here is a link to a video of the two of us talking about peace, filmed by my sister, Karen Kopacz, from the website for the book.
I talked with Joseph this last week and he told me some things about peace. He said, “What we need to teach people about peace is open-mindedness. People are held back by their self-imposed limitations. The very thing that people are afraid of is what they should by trying to moving toward so that they can have an expanded awareness.”
I asked Joseph if he could say a few things about the dove as a symbol of peace.
“The dove is a waterbird and it is bird that flies in the air because that is what birds do. The dove of peace. It drinks water and when we drink water we are doing what birds do. When we drink water it makes the sound with every swallow “Soul. Soul. Soul.” You can listen as you swallow and you will hear it. We, ourselves, are 70% water, our blood is water that circulates through our bodies, so the dove is reminding us that we are soul and reminding us to connect to our hearts which pump the blood and water throughout our bodies. The work of the dove of peace is to bring us peace and harmony.
When someone dies at Picuris, we wash the body in the river and the soul goes out of the body and down the river. The soul goes down the river to the ocean. It goes out into the ocean, it goes out to Baja. Then from the ocean, the soul, with water goes up into the sky and then it becomes clouds, big white fluffy clouds. The dove of peace is white, just like the clouds that bring the rain. The clouds rain and the rain falls back to the earth and we say that the rain is the ancestors coming back to us because they are our caretakers.
At the beginning of many of my visions I see the white dove of peace which opens a circle of light. The circle of light gets bigger and then I am going through it and I am somewhere I have never been before and I am experiencing something other than what I can experience here. And then I am back to where I started and the circle closes but I have gone somewhere new and experienced something new.”
Joseph reminds us that peace is always right here in our hearts. Whether we are veterans or just a human being who has lost our way, we can reconnect back to what he calls a “held-back place of goodness” that we all have in our hearts. The dove of peace comes from above, falling like the rain that is our ancestors, returning to be our caretakers, reminding us that we are made of water, reminding us that we can bring peace and harmony to our souls. With every swallow of a glass of water, we make the sound “soul, soul, soul.” On this International Day of Peace, we should all remember that we are here to do the work of peace. Joseph says that his grandfather would always tell him, “work is worship,” so this work of peace is a kind of worship, in which we are trying to remind ourselves that we are all brothers and sisters of Mother Earth/Mitochondrial Eve and that we all have a “held-back place of goodness” within our hearts. The work of peace is seeking to find this reservoir of peace within our hearts and to release this into the world, like releasing a white dove from the cage of our hearts.
Joseph and I continue our work of peace in our forthcoming book, Becoming Medicine (due out early 2019) which plunges deep into the center of the medicine wheel, where not only are we all related, but ultimately we are all one.
Following up on my review of Where I Live (2009) by Arundhathi Subramaniam, we will next look at her 2014 When God Is A Traveller (HarperCollins India). This book actually contains 22 poems from the “Deeper in Transit” section of Where I Live, thus there is substantial overlap in poems between books. Still, there are 29 new poems in this book, and it is a beautiful hardcover with very attractive cover art, making it a nice little book of poetry to carry around. The 22 duplicate poems are worth reading again, anyway. “Leapfrog” and “Catnap” were quoted in my review of Where I Live. Writing about gods, goddesses, and heroines as well as daily life, and a favourite topic of writing on writing, this little book is well worth reading and travelling along the various textual references which lead to empty space, which is the terrain of gods, goddesses, and heroines.
In “How Some Hindus Find Their Personal Gods,” Subramaniam answers AS’s question about ishta devas. With so many gods and goddesses to choose from, how does one find one to have a personal relationship with? She advises:
“It’s about learning to trust
that draws you to a shadowed alcove
undisturbed by footfall
and butter lamps
A god who looks
like he could understand errors in translation,
blizzards on the screen,
gaps in memory,
lapses in attention,
who might even learn by rote
the awkward Remington stutter
of your heart,
who could make them his own.
After that you can settle for none other.” (43-44)
The book cover features a rich, blue, green, and gold peacock, feathers spread across about one-third of the cover, flowers blooming on a shrub in another corner, above darkness with the silhouette of a hunter shooting an arrow into a stag leaping in death throes. In “Eight Poems for Shakuntala,” Arundhathi Subramaniam pens some modern lines on Shakuntala whose story is told in the Mahabharata. One day King Dushyanta shot a stag with an arrow and pursued the wounded animal through the forest, when instead of his prey, he stumbled across Shakuntala and fell in love with her and married. Dushyanta gave her a ring, but left back to the palace, saying he would return later to fetch her. In the meantime, Shakuntala, pining for her absent love, accidently insulted a holy man who cursed her, that the man who gave her the ring would not remember her, unless she were to show him the ring he gave her. Time passed and Shakuntala lost the ring while crossing a river and when she arrived to court, Dushyanta did not recognize her. Heart-broken, she returned to the forest and gave birth the child she had conceived on Dushyanta’s first visit. A fisherman found the ring in the belly of a fish, presented it to the king, who then remembered his lost bride and searched for her, finding her again and meeting his son, and thus the family was reunited. Poems 3 and 5 in the series capture the longing of Shakuntala whilst waiting in the forest for Dushyanta’s return.
“But all those nights
when all you want
is a lover’s breath,
starlight through a diaphanous curtain,
and a respite
from too much wisdom?” (III, 50)
but the hope
of something new
between parted lips.
jasmine lapis moonshock.
And around the corner
with the old refrain,
(Sanskrit, Greek, whatever):
It’s never close enough
It’s never long enough
It’s never enough
It’s never” (V, 52).Subramaniam often writes about the mundane as well as the sublime in her poems, and often there ends up being a poem or two about a cat. In “I Knew a Cat” she writes of the pain of losing a beloved furry friend:
“I knew a cat
with a face like a star.
I waited for her to die
so my heart would hurt
a little less.
Now the nights are darker,
my life a little easier.” (71)
In the poem which gives the book its title, “When God is a Traveller,” Subramaniam muses about “Kartikeya/Murga/Subramania, my namesake.” Kartikeya/Murga/Subramania is known by all those names, as well as Skanda, and is the son of Śiva, in some legends of him alone, as Gaṇeśa is born of Pārvatī alone, but also often considered the son of both Śiva and Pārvatī. Subramania is the god of war who is also known as Guhā (cave, secret) or Guruguhā (cave-teacher) as he renounces war in some legends and retreats to the mountains. (For stories of Subramania, see Kartikeya as well as the Skanda Purāṇa and for comparison of various legends, Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty’s Śiva: The Erotic Ascetic). Arundhathi Subramaniam writes in this poem:
“Trust the god
back from his travels
who has seen enough—
who recognizes you—
auspicious, abundant, battle-scarred,
and knows from where you come.
Trust the god
ready to circle the world all over again
this time for no reason at all
other than to see it
through your eyes.” (100-101)In addition to writing about gods, goddesses, and heroines, in addition to writing about love, Arundhathi Subramaniam loves to write about writing. In “Six About Love Stories,” she writes:
“Some stories have holes.
Some don’t join the dots.
Sometimes the only way from middle to end
Is the leap.
Some stories devour other stories.
I recognize you.” (96)
And in the closing poem, “Poems Matter,” she again writes about writing and about what it is that gives poems their meaning – not so much because of their substance, but because of the space within them that allows for something more than what we can say:
“It’s taken a long time
because they have holes.” (103).
I first heard of Arundhathi Subramaniam in her role as the editor of Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry (2014). I started reading Sadhguru’s Adiyogi: The Source of Yoga, and to my surprise it is co-written by Arundhathi Subramaniam! I was interested in her journey with this spiritual teacher and her blending of rational skepticism with thirst for spiritual knowledge, and it reminded me a bit of my own work with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). This led me to look to see what else she has written, as I like to read all of a writer’s work once I become interested in one aspect of the work. This led me to the collection of poems, Where I Live (2009) published by Bloodaxe Books, in Northumberland, UK. (Please note that 22 poems from Deeper in Transit also appear in her 2014 book, When God is a Traveler).
Where I Live contains selections from Subramaniam’s earlier works: On Cleaning Bookshelves (2001) and Where I Live (2005). The back cover describes her poems as exploring “various ambivalences – around human intimacy…myth the politics of culture and gender, and the…existential journey…the desire for adventure and anchorage; expansion and containment; vulnerability and strength; freedom and belonging.” This is an apt description of poems that often have a tension within them, exploring the places between contradictions and ambivalences.
The collection opens with “Blank Page” which sets up the Indian writer as a “conquistador of the blank page,” with its “white autocracy of silence,” juxtaposing creativity with conquest. The poem raises the power and omnipotency of the writer over the blank paper, and perhaps the reader as well, who possibly fears that she will “surge/into your frontiers/and claim for my own/the sleeping mohenjodaros of your mind,” (11). Mohenjodaro (c. 2500 BCE) is an ancient city, now an archaeological site, perhaps the home to the ancestors of Dravidian peoples living in the Indus Valley prior to the arrival of the Aryan migration into India. The poem immediately raises issues of race, culture, history, power, subjugation, and creativity in a few short lines, without any sense of resolution.
I love the poem title, “On Cleaning Bookshelves” which brings up the practical issue of the bother of what to do with piles of books, yet also speaks to the organization and categorization of knowledge. I particularly relate to this poem as I recently had the brilliant idea of turning all my books on their side so as to pack more of them on to the shelves, which is very efficient, but not very practical, as they are now very difficult to extract. The poem starts with the advice: “Begin by respecting the logic/that governed earlier conjunctions,” (30). As the narrator of the poem arranges her books, we get an idea of the breadth and scope of her reading, which spans the globe. She describes rearranging books as a chance to “match-make” which allows
to nudge familiarly
Mira at Shankara,
watch Nietzsche sniff suspiciously
And listen close,
as Ghalib in the back row
There seems to be a conference of books happening, everything is coming together and jumbling up East and West. New possibilities seem to arise from these conjunctions. Goethe’s Faust came to my mind, “Formation, Transformation, Eternal Mind’s eternal recreation,” (cited in Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 196).Yet the poem ends by throwing this off-balance and raising the possibility that the gaps cannot be bridged:
“And amid the whispers
of reunion and discovery,
the hum of interrupted conversations
resumed after centuries
know that it is time
to turn away.
And accept finiteness.
I read “On Cleaning Bookshelves” a few times, both excited and disappointed by it. Eventually I had to move on and read about the inevitability of inner and outer changes with ageing in “By Thirty.”
you know you want to walk
away from ruined empires of fermented dream
towards lands vast and unchoreographed,
where every step ahead is adventure,
and every step ahead, anchorage, (42).
And then on further to “Arunachala (at the ashram of Ramana Maharshi, Triuvannamalai)” which has, perhaps some hope: “It feels like given time/I could understand something here,” but instead, it is time to move on, “But for now this enough,” (43), ending with:
“For somewhere here, I know,
is something black,
something like home.”
We then move on to Arundhathi Subramaniam’s newer poems. “Where I Live” begins with, “I live on a wedge of land/reclaimed from a tired ocean/somewhere at the edge of the universe” and ends with “where it is perfectly historical/to be looking out /on a sooty handkerchief of ocean,/searching for God,” (49-50).
Subramaniam writes about writing in the collection, from the first poem and throughout. “First Draft” writes about the “old fashioned” way of using pen and paper for writing before putting the words of a poem through a word processor. The handwritten words on paper are compared to spaces in the world: a stream, an alley, a glacier, a chasm. But, eventually, the words must go from individual to mass-produced:
“when a page I dreamt piecemeal
in some many-voiced moon-shadowed thicket
flickers back at me
in Everyman’s handwriting
filaments of smell and sight
cleanly amputated –
Times New Roman, font size fourteen,” (73)
In the beautiful poem, “Leapfrog,” she states that she does not want to write “scripture,” but rather would capture with words the movements of life, invoking frogs, birds, and childhood memories:
“that allows words
from the cusp of breathsong,
from a place radiant
with birdflight and rivergreen.
Grant me the fierce tenderness
word slither into word
into the miraculous algae
untamed by doubt
than snowstorms in Antarctica, wetter
than days in Cherrapunjee
alighting on paper, only
for a moment…
for some place the voice
is still learning
but a tadpole among the stars,” (104-105)
Arundhathi Subramaniam’s collection of poems, spanning 9 years of work at the start of the millennium, captures the moods and understandings of a traveler in the world and brings together, like a jumbled collection of books on a shelf, different, shifting conjunctions and disjunctions of the profound and the mundane. In “Catnap” she quotes the Heart Sutra, “Form is emptiness/Emptiness is form,” and of how her cat, “Pukka sahib/learns/to purr,” in a shoebox (117). In the final poem, “Swimming,” Subramaniam compares the thrill of carnival rides with a sense of identification with Lord Śiva’s dance of creation and destruction of the cosmos:
“Because for a moment
you could even be Him
the Lord of Tillai,
in an inspired mayhem
of limb and lust.
Because deep within your seashell heart
you hear it again,
the oceanic roar
that reminds you
that it’s happening
Life is here,” (126).
This short book follows the course of the Taittirīya Upaniṣad with commentaries by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad. The reading requires a moderate degree of concentration and has technical Sanskrit terms that are well-defined (and includes a 12-page glossary). A major theme in this, as in many Upaniṣads, is that the seat of the Divine is within the heart of the human being. The concept and experience of human-Divine Oneness leads to a very practical and much-needed change in our current world culture in which separateness and division lead to war, suffering, and discrimination.
The book is part of the Rediscovering Indian Literary Classics series published by D.K. Printworld out of New Delhi, India. This series is reasonably priced and attractive, with some of the larger editions in hardcover (as is this one, at 200+ pages). They include the original Sanskrit text, the Romanized transliteration, and the English translation. The Taittirīya Upaniṣad is the 16th in the series. The translator of this ancient text is Swami Muni Narayana Prasad, who is of the lineage of Nataraja Guru and Narayana Guru.
The Upaniṣads (which Swami defines as “secret wisdom,” 25) consistence of 108 texts. Ten are considered “major” or “principle” (Mukhya) Upaniṣads, which includes the Taittirīya. There is a Wikipedia page (“Muktikā” meaning “deliverance”) that lists all 108 texts. They were written across the centuries, dating back as far as 6th century BCE, and as recent as 15th century CE.
In his preface, Swami Muni Narayana Prasad writes,
“Indian spiritual tradition is a great banyan tree…the Upaniṣads are the flowers having the fragrance and beauty of the philosophy of non-dualism, blossomed on the vast banyan tree of the Vedas which in turn are enlaced by the complexities of rituals. The Taittirīya Upaniṣad is one of the best among such flowers.”
Swami describes the text of the Taittirīya Upaniṣad which is in three chapters. The first chapter has two parts: the first part focuses on śikṣā (“the art of correct chanting of Vedic hymns with proper intonation”) and the second part includes instruction for a disciple leaving gurukula education (a period of time living with the guru). These instructions are “meant for leading an ideal worldly life, show clearly that Brahmavidyā or Vedānta is not merely escapism. Rather it insists on making the life in this world perfect with the guidance of the wisdom of Vedānta,” (7-8). The second chapter focuses on Brahman “directly perceived by one in his own being, as the Self,” (8). This chapter follows a “gradual interiorization” which “begins from food and ends with ānanda (Bliss or Value),” (8). From a non-dual perspective, all nourishment is spiritual nourishment. The last chapter follows the seeker’s journey toward Brahman.
I will give a few highlights of the text from here on.
“One who knows Reality…sees himself or herself in everything and hence loves everything as one loves oneself,” (18).
In discussing the “science of pronunciation,” Swami describes the non-dual relationship between sound, meaning, and spirit:
“Knowledge, when expressed through language, has three basic elements: the uttered sound (śabda), its meaning (artha), and the mysterious power of a sound to contain a meaning as its own (śakti),” (21).
Rather than approaching material reality the way that Western science does – by a process of objectification and separation – this Upaniṣad teaches that all that manifests as diversity is, in reality, part of One non-dual Reality, which is a complementary and opposite approach to Western science taking everything apart into pieces. Swami reminds us of his guru’s guru, Nārāyana Guru’s prayers to Subraḥmanya [one of the names of Kartikeya, son of Śiva], “Please grant me the favour of the intimate merging of you and me,” (37).
One of my favourite parts of the Taittirīya Upaniṣad is the discussion of God being in the heart. This brings together the microcosm and the macrocosm in non-duality. The journey to the Ultimate is through the centre of one’s own heart. I am reminded of Abhishiktananda’s discussions of the guhā, the cave of the heart (Joseph Rael and I write on this topic in our forthcoming book, Becoming Medicine). The word “guhāyām” does appear in the text of the Taittirīya, translated as “secret cavern” in the phrase “the transcendental space within the secret cavern,” (84). Here is Swami’s description of finding the Truth (“AUM, mahaḥ, Brahman, ātman”) in the space within the heart:
“To make the placement easier to conceive, the Truth is called puruṣa (Person) in this section. The seat of that Person is within the heart. The heart here is not to be understood as the organ which pumps blood to all parts of the body. It is rather an imaginary locus of the psycho-physical entity of the individual. While the heart is the locus of the individual, space (ākāśa) is that which gives room for the universe to exist. Here the Person is described as seated in the universal space within the heart,” (49-50).
Swami unpacks nihitam guhāyām in a section entitled “Placed Within the Cavern,” which examines the non-duality of the individual and the Self that is found within the unitary centre of the heart.
“We could conveniently say that the Self is hidden in us. This hideout could be poetically imagined to be the darkness of a cave. Hence the Upaniṣadic ṛṣis, at the beginning of their inward search for the Self, imagine it as seated in the darkness of the cavern of every being. We can see the same imagery in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad (II-20) as well. Nārāyana Guru also, when he defines the Self, refers to its being in darkness. He says, ‘the Self is that which knows while sitting in darkness’.
It might sound strange that the consciousness that hides in darkness is bright. Moreover, what was thought to be inside turns out not to be inside. Really, it is neither inside nor outside. Truth subsists equally in what we call interior and exterior,” (93).
Swami tells us that education and experience in the ordinary view of the world lead us away from this place of the heart which contains the seat of the Divine, we thus “forget our real nature,” (68). Similar to my writings on re-humanisation in medicine, Swami tells us we must reconnect with our hearts in order to understand our real humanity.
“Thus we become alienated from ourselves through our educational process. The only remedy for this is to remoralize our education so as to make all the knowledge we accumulate an outgrowth of the main trunk of our real humanity. Knowing our real humanity means knowing the oneness of all humans, and seeing those we call ‘others’ as not different than ourselves. Living with a full awareness of this oneness makes us really human, and our life becomes peaceful,” (68).
The way to peace is through realizing that we are not only all interconnected, but we are all actually One. This oneness leads to compassion and peace. Thus, this esoteric, mystical doctrine of non-duality leads us back to our responsibility for each other, for humanity, and for the planet.