Monday, July 7, 2014

Go On Alone or "I'm with you"? Nishkam Karma!

A defining moment in my life took place on a jet airplane somewhere over Iran in June of 1976. I had travelled Europe and India for over a year by car and was returning at last to the United States. I was broke in more ways than one. Not defeated; nor sad, mind you, but perplexed over the simple fact that I did not find what I was seeking.

Oh, yes, it was an adventure, all right--driving from Germany through Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and then to the Indian subcontinent: down one side of India by car and up the other, with extended stays here and there, including Sri Lanka and Nepal, just to mention two.

But it was also a spiritual quest and in this I returned empty handed: like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and with her little dog, Toto. Not only was I not in "Kansas" anymore but I learned, as she did from the Wizard, that all I was seeking was to be found at home. "What you don't bother to seek within, you will not find without," said Swami Sri Yukteswar (in "Autobiography of a Yogi," by Paramhansa Yogananda). Or, as Mark Twain ruefully put is a fool's paradise....wherever I went that fellow Mark Twain had to come, too (I couldn't get rid of him and his foibles).

But in the middle of the night at 30,000 feet, stretched out over several seats (in the old days when that actually could happen), I realized that what I sought I had not found on my own. There came to me by way of intuition (and not so much in words), the recognition and acceptance that my spiritual search needed to be in association with others of like mind. I realized too that I had been resisting this important reality.

It was not long after returning to my childhood home in Monterey, CA that I met my future wife, Padma. She introduced me to "Autobiography of a Yogi" and then to Ananda Village (and Swami Kriyananda). We soon moved there and the rest, as they say, "is history."

I have long thought that this revelation was done with me; I had received it, acted upon it, and life went on. But recently I have had to face the reality that this "chicken" (to quote my prior blog on being over 60 years old) had returned to the roost. It came in the form of a gift: a gift from my adult children in the form of a Vedic astrology reading! In this reading (by John "Drupada" MacDonald), I was told that, unlike my western astrology chart had told me, I was influenced by the sign Scorpio and by that of Virgo.

I have no interest in explaining these astrological terms (since it would only show my profound ignorance) but I will say that my decades long assumption that I reflected more the balanced and loving and outgoing aspects of Libra (sun sign) went up in smoke.

Ironically, the first thing I said to Drupada on our video chat (where he was to reveal to me the interpretation of my Vedic chart), was that "I had come out of my cave to speak with him." I don't know why I said those words, for I had never used them before to describe the small home office space I inhabit, but I did. He laughed and used my words to reveal my "scorpio" (hiding like a scorpion under a rock before emerging to sting someone) tendencies.

Further irony is that he says my chart indicates an upcoming period of greater public visibility while personally I feel just the opposite. Whether cave or rock, that's where I feel most comfortable at this point in my life.

I recall that as a young child I played long hours on my own. I'd play out in the sand, dirt, lawn, and gravel creating a pretend world of cars and trucks. My mother said I asked all the "big" questions which she claims she was at a loss to answer.

All my adult life I have had a consistent tendency to prefer working on my own, not wanting to involve or "bother" other people. At the same time I've realized that I (like everyone else) am largely incapable of accomplishing anything other than the trivial on my own.

Moving away from the uncomfortable subject of "me," I want to say that we humans and we as souls are not only social but we are part of the fabric of a greater consciousness and can never, never function on our own except in meaningless ways. The greatest artists, scientists, humanitarians and saints all were nurtured in a milieu that supported their unique genius.

Yet, at the same time, spiritually speaking, we face our "God" alone, just we must face death alone, no matter those who may surround us. Only we, alone and facing the seeming emptiness and darkness which lies beyond the realm of the body and the outer world, can confront the void and the infinite bliss which is God and which is our soul's true nature.

What an irony! In the world of action, which includes therefore, karma and our efforts to work out our karma and fulfill our soul's dharma to achieve freedom, we must work with other souls; other realities than our own ego. As an ego we are less than insignificant. As a soul, we are God incarnate, a spark of the Infinite flame. To the degree we live and act in attunement with the greater reality of Life which could be called God, we discover meaning and achieve fulfillment.

Our oneness with life confronts our existential aloneness in seeking God. These two realities are but sides of the same coin of the one reality. The ego must die so that the soul, which is eternal, can be reborn. The bridge might be called "nishkam karma." Nishkam karma is the way of action which leads to "inaction" (meaning: loss of personal doership, loss of ego).

We are enjoined by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, and by great scriptures and saints everywhere, to "act without thought of self-interest." To fulfill our God-given duties as best we can, calmly, joyfully, with excellence and yet, without attachment to the consequences: this is nishkam karma.  In this action I act without thought of what I get in return, whether money, recognition, self-satisfaction....any thought of "what I want." Whether we withdraw or engage, either can be nishkam karma or just plain karma, it depends upon intention and consciousness.

I may feel like withdrawing from the field of battle but, like Arjuna in the beloved Gita, I must "bear arms" and continue the good fight, serving the Light, working out my karma and fulfilling my divine dharma to "know, love, and serve God" in this world (quote from the Catholic Baltimore Catechism). There is not necessarily, however, any contradiction in reconciling the dharma, if it is such, to be more public with the dharma, felt inwardly, to be more in the Self. This is, at least, as I view it. Indeed as my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, used to say, "Reality is both-and."

"When this "I" shall die, then shall "I" know "Who am I""  "Thy will, Lord, not my will."


Nayaswami Hriman