Feminine Challenges in Spirituality

Thank you, Michael, for re-posting some illumining articles, spotlighting Sri Chinmoy's Path from a female perspective. They have inspired me to reflect on my own experiences, naturally from a female perspective.

Joining this Centre at the age of 26, I had already been blessed with many life experiences. Looking back they feel like many miniature lifetimes within a lifetime. I suppose I was trying on a few to see which one fitted best before I decided which one to keep. I often found myself either the only female in a situation, or as part of a minority. I usually had to fight to be heard and respected, and often lost the battle.

I have never considered myself a feminist, far from it actually. I value both male strengths and female strengths; I do not see why one should either compete with the other or try to be like the other. If God had wanted us to be the same in that sense he would have made us all androgynous. The more I follow the spiritual life, the more I want to discover and celebrate what it means to be female, aside from all the roles I have not chosen for myself like being a wife or mother. Not to say that there is anything wrong with choosing either of those roles of course - either instead of, or in conjunction with a spiritual life - only that I do not feel those roles fit me comfortably.

As a female in the Sri Chinmoy Centre, I am not in a minority, nor do I have to fight to be heard. Females do all the same things that males do here, but just in a female way. A male singing group can sing a song powerfully, and a female group can sing the same song sweetly; they are both equally valid and enjoyable.

One of many things I love about Sri Chinmoy's teachings is that he acknowledges exactly that: females and males are different, as God intended, and that is part of the beauty and diversity of the world. I have always felt the Sri Chinmoy Centre is a safe place for someone who has chosen to lead a single life, and to give spirituality top priority. It is really like being in a huge family with lots of elder brothers; I feel protected and respected, I am allowed to be myself, and do not have to think about defending myself against any unwelcome advances. I have never come across an environment anything like that, anywhere else in the world.

As well as discovering and celebrating the good things about being female, I want to observe and transcend particularly female weaknesses. One of the most helpful things I find about Sri Chinmoy's teachings is that he admits there are particular weaknesses which females tend to suffer from more than males, and vice versa. Of course we are all susceptible to any weakness until we reach God-realisation, but certain things need a little more work than others. For females the biggest challenges are often insecurity and jealousy. So, not that Sri Chinmoy is just writing for females on these topics, but he has given a lot of helpful instruction on both of them in his stories, poems and plays.

One example was performed as a play in New York recently by Immortality's Flame-Waves (an all-female theatre troupe). I tend to find things go in better if I have some visual reference, so that story stayed with me. In the story one disciple is far more advanced than the others. The others have somehow got it into their heads that the advanced disciple hates them, but the Master explains that jealousy and inferiority play such tricks on the mind. The jealousy has to be acknowledged and transcended before they can give and receive love (which is basically something that everyone wants at the end of the day):

"There are two things that usually go together. One thing is jealousy and the other thing is hatred. Just because you people are jealous of Khaga, you think that he hates you. He knows all about your jealousy, but I wish to tell you that he does not hate you at all. On the contrary, he suffers. Because you are jealous of him his loving heart has not been able to establish oneness with you. You people ought to feel sorry that you do not love him the way he loves you."
http://www.srichinmoylibrary.com/books/0145/1/9/

Sumangali

Thank you, Sumangali, for posting about feminism and Sri Chinmoy's path. It's not for me to define feminism or to suggest that someone may have accidentally stumbled into it! But here in the U.S., the 40th anniversary of Woodstock has prompted some collective looking back, to see where the world has come in the past four decades.

The 1960's sparked many movements of liberation, including women's liberation and spiritual liberation. Since women make up over half the world's population, it stands to reason that one big umbrella movement would not be enough to liberate them all. Liberation might mean quite different things to different people.

Browsing some of the women's comments in this forum, I seem to be reading about "spiritual feminism." It's not so strange that such a thing would exist. Consider this passage from a Times of India article on "lipstick feminism":

"Media professional Isha Manchanda says Indian lipstick feminists eventually betray the greater cause of gender justice by betraying themselves. 'There are young women who are blatantly self-indulgent and feel liberated by going to parties, but at some point in their lives they end up conforming to the social and cultural norms of society. So, that will be temporary liberation. At the end of the day, it's what in the head that counts.'"

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/view-from-venus/Is-li...

Maybe in honour of Purnakama, Vasudha, and Sushmitam - who all talked about how much they love wearing saris - we should call spiritual feminism "sari feminism." This seems like a term the media could relate to, and also sets up a nice contrast between "lipstick feminism" and "sari feminism."

As far as I can tell, sari feminism is all about being outwardly modest, yet inwardly strong, joyful, and self-giving. Sumangali mentioned that:

"I have always felt the Sri Chinmoy Centre is a safe place for someone who has chosen to lead a single life, and to give spirituality top priority. It is really like being in a huge family with lots of elder brothers; I feel protected and respected, I am allowed to be myself, and do not have to think about defending myself against any unwelcome advances. I have never come across an environment anything like that, anywhere else in the world."

If the elder brothers in the family feel protective toward their sisters, maybe it's because they know so many jewels of sisters who beautifully embody the qualities of sari feminism.

Recently, woman filmmaker Jessie Beers-Altman has been getting rave reviews for her film Suprabha: The Spirit of a Runner. Sharani (one of the great sari feminists) has blogged about it here, and embedded the YouTube video:

http://www.sharani.org/category/the-spirit-of-a-runner-by-jessie-beers-a...

Discussing feminism, Sushmitam says of Suprabha:

"Guru encourages us all, whether male or female, to expand our capacities and become much more than we ever thought we could be, whilst at the same feeling at home with whatever gender we happen to be. In this way, gender stereotypes are smashed to pieces! Who ever would imagine that an angelic, sari wearing, sweetness-flooded woman like Suprabha would run 3100 mile races year after year?"

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Sri_Chinmoy_Inspiration/message/3087

Viewing The Spirit of a Runner, I am struck both by Suprabha's humility, and her incredible inner strength. Her running - if I may be so bold - quietly emits its own Helen Reddy roar!

>From Suprabha and so many other inspiring women I have met along the path, I sense that to be a sari feminist is to be a special kind of heroine - the kind who often goes unsung because she follows the road less traveled by. This brings to mind the W.H Auden poem with which the film begins:

"The camera's eye,
does not lie,
But it cannot show
the life within,
the life of a runner."

It can take tremendous inner strength and heroism for any seeker to resist the temptation to conform to the dismally familiar, leading to a life which is drab and ordinary. Receiving spiritual awakening from Sri Chinmoy seems to have spawned a whole new army of sari feminists, whose anthem (based on the traditional "Bread and Roses") might be:

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
Our multi-coloured saris are proudly on display.
We need not all be mothers, as the common man supposes;
Our hearts cry for the highest; give us incense, not just roses!

We know what we are doing - we've known it all along;
Our cry for liberation is an ancient Vedic song.
We need not pose for Playboy, nor paddle through the nursery;
We celebrate our Soul's Day and our Esraj Anniversary!
Our lives shall not be worldly from birth until life closes;
Our hearts cry for the highest; give us incense, not just roses!

I'm tempted to pen a few more verses, but in a forum with so many creative souls, I think the fun will be to see what others can come up with. (I've obviously set the bar quite low with my initial offering.)

Describing the lot of women in a prior era, the original lyric says: "Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew." It also laments that "Hearts starve as well as bodies." This brings me back to the theme of movements of liberation.

Contrary to what some uber-conformists would have us believe, social and spiritual experimentation is very much a part of the American experience and American tradition. Consider the Berkeley free speech movement: If some crotchety author wrote a book claiming that young people in Berkeley were "abused" by being forced to listen to hours of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez music, and forced to wear blue jeans instead of proper suits and ties or cocktail dresses, we would laugh at such an absurd deconstruction. But because many readers know so little about alternative spirituality, they are not well-situated to detect similar nonsense when it is fed them by anti-cult authors.

Like the Berkeley free speech movement, most movements of spiritual liberation are based on a genuine need for alternatives. The people involved spend their time with the art, music, philosophy, and spiritual practices of such movements because this fills a vacuum.

We currently live in a period where the mainstream seems obsessed with the material, the superficial, and the selfish. This has naturally led many people of sensitivity to form small intentional communities where they can live life according to principles which, they feel, have an ennobling effect upon the soul. This includes artists' colonies, ashrams, monasteries, and spiritual centers.

Many seekers are old souls who have some recollection of coming from a place where there was abundant peace and beauty. They seek out an environment where there are flowers, candles, incense, spiritual singing, and subtle, ethereal art because they find there a reflection of their own souls. They feel at home, and at ease.

In a free society, such seeking should be an eminently reasonable and perfectly acceptable thing to do. However, it is sometimes viewed as threatening to the established order; hence the need for "literature" which portrays spiritual communities as "abusive," and the people who join them as suffering from some form of "cult illness."

The "cure" often recommended by anti-cultists is conformity. I am surprised at how often motherhood is dangled before spiritual women in a crude attempt to trigger some instinctual response. Some anti-cult literature tries to appeal to women's "biological time bomb" - as it is humorously described by folk artist Christine Lavin:

http://www.christinelavin.com/index.php?page=songs&category=Beau_Woes_an...

One must seriously question conformity as a "cure" for spiritual seeking (which is not an illness), since over time, conformity is likely to reintroduce strong feelings of alienation - at least in the sort of people who become spiritual seekers in the first place.

It seems that any advances from the sixties not firmly nailed down may be subject to reversal or revisionist retelling by reactionaries. One anti-cult author who speaks at conferences (and who, ironically, was not even born until after the sixties) has tried to redefine that period as a time of "spiritual slavery." She gives as evidence the rise of new religions (described, of course, as "cults"). This brings to mind Mr. Orwell's world of perverse slogans. Yes Virginia, freedom = slavery, and the International Cultic Studies Association has a wonderful plan for your life!

I can't help picturing a bunch of cynical, cigar-smoking old guys in a back room somewhere, saying: "Don't worry about all this spiritual nonsense. Get these girls pregnant and they'll soon give up on any airy-fairy notions of enlightenment! If that's not enough, throw them a professorship in comparative folk-dancing or whatnot. The stipend will help keep the little tyke in rattles and knickers." And while the image is offensive, sadly, there is some truth in it.

There are women who claim that motherhood is their new form of enlightenment. However, motherhood is actually a very old institution which is not a replacement for spiritual practice. While I don't doubt the beauty of childbirth, I can't help thinking that some women over-romanticize it, perhaps because they gave up a great deal that is rare and precious in order to achieve it.

Sri Chinmoy used to say that the newborn infant is like the "downstairs God." But when the downstairs God arrives, the mother forgets all about the upstairs God. (unofficial)

The spiritual quest is so challenging in itself! It seems many female seekers are wise to focus on the spiritual, leaving others to increase the world's population.

The sixties brought many advances for women, including the idea that while some women may define themselves through motherhood, others can make different choices and still have meaningful lives. They may choose to tackle bigger cosmic issues like enlightenment.

When I see anti-cult authors playing the "motherhood card," I can't help feeling like they're betraying the sisterhood. (Perhaps not my business as a man, but I'm just saying...)

If there is such a thing as sari feminism, then who might its earliest icons be? The three who first spring to mind are:

Sister Nivedita (Margaret Elizabeth Noble)
Nistha (Margaret Woodrow Wilson)
Emily Dickinson

Readers sympathetic to my presentation would probably agree on the first two. But what about Emily Dickinson? Need one actually don a sari in order to be a sari feminist?

Perhaps the qualifying characteristic of Miss Dickinson is that she chose to ignore popular fashion and live the spiritual life on her own terms. Emily bore no children; but generations of women have found in her the feminine ideal of creativity, sensitivity to beauty, and compassion for all life.

Reading articles by women of Sri Chinmoy Centre, one would find that they have not renounced femininity nor the nurturing instincts of motherhood, but have rediscovered these qualities on a new spiritual plane, and are busy applying them in their daily lives. On any given day, they may encounter a fainting robin - that is to say, a heart that is faltering - and through love and compassion, restore it to its spiritual nest. They are mothers to not one infant, but to an entire community - and ultimately, the world. In a 2004 article, Bhuvah Thurston of the Christchurch Sri Chinmoy Centre wrote:

"In this era, women are in the vanguard of many activities that were not available to them in former times, and the progress they have made in most arenas is remarkable. It seems that men are releasing their hierarchies of power and dominance, and making room for feminine softness, love, wisdom and oneness, allowing women's natural abilities of communication, listening, sharing and compassion to come to the fore. The time has come when women are being asked to step into the light of a new consciousness, and to realise their most significant role. We are ready and Sri Chinmoy will encourage us every step of the way.

"Within the Centre many women are married, while others are single. There is no stigma attached to either approach. With married women, the attitude is taken that they will make progress through their soul's connection with another person, and that they can run together in the spiritual life with four arms and four legs. For single women, such as myself, my personal feeling is one of liberation. Liberation from dependence on a partner. Liberation from society's dictates that one is incomplete without a partner and the basic idea that the meaning of life is simply to find the perfect relationship. Freedom. Freedom to express my inner qualities without absorbing or being weighed down and shackled by the problems of another human being in a close relationship. Freedom to expand the love in my heart to all forms of creation rather than focusing too much energy on a single person in a one-to-one relationship. Freedom to experience the purity of divine love, to strive to be united with the Supreme. The fact that in the Centre it is fine - even positive - to be single, if that is your choice and your preference, is in itself refreshing."

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Sri_Chinmoy_Inspiration/message/3084

Looking back on the sixties, it seems like they really were a time when seeds of spiritual liberation were sown. The freedoms which many women now enjoy were won by an early vanguard. Sri Chinmoy was a pivotal figure in that vanguard. And so I offer you a final verse:

As we go marching, marching, and day turns into night,
We still recall the day when all our saris turned to white;
A million meditations, and a million Soul-Birds nesting;
A million tears for Guru, in the place that he is resting.
Our lives shall not be worldly from birth until life closes;
Our Guru gave us incense, but he also gave us roses.

Those who have sanctified their lives with tears for their Guru - in life and in death - know who he was and who he is.

Michael

It has been interesting to see the topic about women growing spiritually on Sri Chinmoy's path being revisited recently. May I propose widening the discussion a little as well, since in various ways discipleship and spirituality for men present obstacles of a different kind, but certainly no less challenging. In reading the comments of the women disciples, the relevance of these to the men is also quite striking and reminds us of a common and transcending humanity that overreaches the issues of gender. We're all in this together!

In Auckland I am involved in meditation classes for the public – 80% of all those attending these free workshops are invariably women. Men are perhaps culturally disadvantaged here – meditation is not perceived as a very masculine pursuit, and our professed commitment to a path will cause a long silence at any dinner party. There is also the virtually inescapable expectation of careers and families as well – and dropping out of college or university to wander the globe in the absence of any other sense of purpose, or to seek a teacher, will always doom you to a gauntlet of family, peer and social disapproval. I remember fronting up to an interview with the Foreign Affairs department in Wellington half a lifetime ago – God help me, a junior diplomat – wearing a borrowed suit and shoes so large I slithered across the carpet, knowing when the usual questions came and inducements offered that I was never, ever going to walk that barren road to riches. At 60'ish I'm still deciding on what I'd like to be, but with the calm of one who knows with deep certainty that all those other things have been left far behind – now it is not a choice of career or country but a choice of self.

Of course having a teacher like my own wonderful guru has been the one immeasurable blessing of my life – here was and is someone who saw to my very heart in a flash, and it only required that I ready myself to accept this knowledge and his guidance, believe in his belief in me, gather courage to take the road less traveled. But we all have to prove ourselves – indeed every day – and this is what makes the cosmic game so much fun. It would be interesting to hear of some of the stories and trials of the men disciples too.

Jogyata

Most, most precious, Michael!

I am sure I have your permission to translate your's and others' posts on feminine and other challenges in spirituality and add them to our German website content.

With deepest gratitude

Doris

Dear Michael,
Thank you so much for continuing this "thread" of conversation on the topic of women and spirituality. I am now trying on for size the term "sari feminism" and I find it fits nicely just like a sari does. :-)

I am glad I had a chance to read Sumangali, you and Jogyata on the subject before heading out of town over the Thanksgiving holiday. I only regret I am short on time to add much in reply.

Suffice it to say that I am deeply moved by the last stanza in the Bread and Roses lyric transformation. You wrote:

> As we go marching, marching, and day turns into night,
> We still recall the day when all our saris turned to white;
> A million meditations, and a million Soul-Birds nesting;
> A million tears for Guru, in the place that he is resting.
> Our lives shall not be worldly from birth until life closes;
> Our Guru gave us incense, but he also gave us roses.

The second line alone in this stanza requires the phrase "a million tears" to add at least a few more than a million because of those shed by me in the reading of it...

Happy Thanksgiving!
Sharani

>>>>In Auckland I am involved in meditation classes for the public 80% of all those attending these free workshops are invariably women. Men are perhaps culturally disadvantaged here – meditation is not perceived as a very masculine pursuit, and our professed commitment to a path will cause a long silence at any dinner party.

>Jogyata,

Thanks for your interesting question. I was brought up in Yorkshire on a diet, of meat, two veg, football and real ale. The idea of a spiritual life seemed more remote than Accrington Stanley making the European Championship. It wasn't that I thought dimly of the spiritual life, it was just that I never imaged it was something anybody actually did - apart from monks and nuns who were somehow different from us and born with some kind of in built saintliness.

I even remember as a teenager, gently teasing my sister (as only irritating younger brothers can) after she decided to become vegetarian. So imagine my surprise when five years later I am drawn to not just vegetarianism, but a life of inner contemplation, simplicity and self-discipline. It surprised my friends, it surprised my family, but, most of all it surprised myself.

The transformation was stark. The odes of the football terraces were replaced with the divine music of Sri Chinmoy.(http://www.srichinmoyinspiration.com/forums/24108) The peer pressure to drink as many pints as the poor liver would tolerate became replaced with an indefinable and pressing urge to discover the divinity within. This was no longer the unreal life of trying to impress others - it was the inner search - a personal self-transcendence, with only the inner pilot as witness.

To take up a life of meditation in the middle of an undergraduate degree is no joke. It seems everything is pulling you in a different direction. You are seeking the peace that passeth understanding, but, the prevailing hedonistic culture offers an unremitting stream of enticing, and noisy pulls to keep us in the social milieu.

But, when you have imbibed the inspiration of the great masters and tasted a glimpse of meditation. The ways of the world somewhat loses its appeal.

I learnt many things in those early days, not least the idea that the spiritual life is not just for pre-made saints. But, is a life meant for those aspiring to lead a better life, even if they still have innumerable weaknesses and frailties.

To go back to Jogyata's post, I can't say I get invited to many dinner parties these days. Maybe I move in the wrong social circles but, anyway, I would really struggle to generate any enthusiasm for gossiping about the housing market and the rigged voting system of Strictly Coming X Factor, or whatever it is.

Anyway, much to my surprise, the reaction of fellow hard nosed, hard drinking Yorkshiremen, was not at all what I expected. After overcoming the incredulity that I had become a mineral water drinking, tofu eating, meditator, there was almost a hidden admiration (or at least I think that's what it was....).

In the beginning, my parents were perplexed at some of the changes I was making 'Are you sure your all right?" was an oft repeated question. But, you can't lie to your mother. She saw the change and realised I was genuinely happy. What more would a mother want?

Outside of the Sri Chinmoy Centre, I often compete in bike races. People struggle to pronounce my name (Tejvan) and they struggle to pronounce Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team. But, there is often a sincere interest in meditation and the benefits it can bring. (one young competitor even told me he had been learning about Sri Chinmoy at school. He was definitely intrigued a poet and humanitarian would have his own cycling team)

Athletes can have a natural sympathy with a spiritual life. They may not believe in God, but, they can appreciate the idea of self-discipline and self-transcendence. And I think this is why the running community have always been very appreciative of Sri Chinmoy and his marathon team.

Well, that's just a few of my random thoughts anyway!

~

Tejvan

in

Re:Tejvan's Yorkshire Childhood

Thanks for those tales from your Yorkshire childhood, Tejvan. These remind us to feel gratitude, as Guru so often reminded us, for the enduring grace that enabled us to find our path and enables us now to still hold fast and be true to it. Not easy when from cradle rock to last breath we are immersed ( "marinated" to use Prachar's expression) in all the phantasmagoria of the world. In the years of my own upbringing my father also watched me inch past the accepted milestones of success - moderately decent school grades despite worryingly high absenteeism; not stunted or dyslexic; school cross-country team, though lacks enthusiasm; accepted into university; now a nail-biting swing from the preferred and pragmatic sciences to the vagueness of the 'arts'. Finally a Masters in Chaucerian literature, a qualification hugely relevant in our modern world and one which would surely prove most useful in grappling with the complexities of later life. Indeed yes. Oh frabjuous day, callooh, callay! My father really did chortle in his joy.

Then a spell writing speeches for the Government, mostly hours drawing unflattering horned portraits of office superiors and caricatures of corpulent ministers - very popular with giggling office peers but not really cut out for this kind of work.

Having loving parents made it infinitely harder to disappoint them. Later in life, bedridden and watery eyed and at the beginnings of a long dying, my father would ask his 48 year old offspring, 'you will use your university degree and get a good job soon, won't you son?' Watery eyed too at the pathos of life I would hold his hand and reassure him of great things to come. Oh the white lies of love. No need to tell this lonely and proud old man who had watched over me for so long that his son had veered off course, was stumbling now to the uncertain beat of a very different drum. As for mentioning spirituality, no chance, even though this father was rather saintly himself with his honesty and God pleasing goodness.

" We live lives based upon selected fictions" wrote the author Lawrence Durrell, and indeed who has not felt the tug of other unlived lives clamouring for attention and birth. All the more reason to feel gratitude for this enduring if sometimes fragile gift of loyalty to God. As for those whose choice of self has made them hostile to our path and to Guru, they also have their part to play, and 'thicken the plot' as Guru once so simply and yet profoundly explained. Where would be the fun if everything was so easy? In one of Guru's songs the lyrics remind us: "Darkness there is, light there is, you can choose whichever pleases you.."

There are other forces at work in the lives we live as well. I remember the line attributed to Judas in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar - "Why was I cast as the villain?" - acknowledging the nudgings of fate and destiny in the roles we play. Vishnu Paran (the incarnations of Vishnu) and the Mahabharata are filled with the stories of great souls destined to oppose righteousness and the incarnations of God. Our own other possible lives and selves also lurk in the shadows behind our public stage and but for a twist of chance might 'strut and fret their hour upon the stage' to a very different tune as well.

In regard to those who have chosen to criticize and defame Guru and our path, I do believe our greatest strength lies not in being drawn into response and combat - even where that is sometimes necessary and unavoidable - but primarily through our own deepening and blossoming spirituality. When the storm blows through the forest, only the sickly trees will fall. And from our love of God and God-reliance will come the knowing of how,what, when to do. Our guardianship of Guru's legacy will be most effective through our own self-perfecting, through building an individually perfect world. Such is the power of each human soul, that the force of consciousness itself is the greatest way to honor our teacher and offer light to the world.

Personally I always pray to be true to my teacher and my path to the end. And the inner challenges such as doubt, fear, anxiety and flagging aspiration - these are really our greatest threat rather than the enemy at the gates - plus the innumerable outer challenges of the world will finally strengthen us, for we cannot make progress in a vacuum, nor ever realize God unless through the trials of life we develop strength and faith and fortitude.
Our prayer life and meditations also keep us on track, even if the way forward seems sometimes a little murky - for the deeper into meditation's silence we can go, the more we can feel our inner promises and purpose, the light of our soul, the living omnipresence of our guru. Here is one source of our strength at least.

Guru's own words are always encouraging: "A seeker must feel that he is all duty. The more you take your life as a life of divine, supreme duty to the Supreme, the more your body, vital, mind, heart and soul will spread beauty ... Spiritual history will bear witness to what we are doing. Each of you is of paramount importance. In spiritual history our love of light, truth and oneness will be inscribed in golden letters. If we dedicate ourselves consciously to the supreme cause with our aspiration, prayer, meditation and service, then in and through us will grow a better, more illumining and fulfilling world." - Sri Chinmoy

Jogyata

in

I like Jogyata's request to the men in the centre to come forward and share their story of living a life of spirituality in today's world.

For me, as the years advance sailing on life's river seems to have become ever more smooth. I don't think it has anything to do with me really. I just can't escape the notion that we've passed through some dark times in recent years and that an inevitable new dawn is seeping through the veneer of everyday life. That's just my take on it.

Starting out as a spiritual seeker was quite a trying time. The changes I went through in that initial stage were often sudden and rapid. The people around me hardly had time to adjust, but I had become a different person practically overnight. Or had I?
There is a famous Zen saying that says that before you study Zen mountains are mountains and oceans are oceans, while studying Zen you realize that mountains are not mountains and oceans are not oceans, but when you complete the study (attaining enlightenment) mountains are mountains again and oceans are oceans.

I find that very beautiful. We change, but at the same time we remain the same. My values, my view of the world and my role in it, that all changed when I accepted the spiritual life. But I've never felt that the real me, that core truth in me which I carry with me since my birth, has ever changed. Like Nayak writes in his post, I also still feel the same twenty year old boy when I look in the mirror. (Although for me the memory perhaps is fresher.)

Studying acting didn't really make things much easier. The theatre is a world that also plays with consciousness, but it's not necessarily the same game I was learning at the time. In a miniature version of that Zen koan I also had to realize that the world I lived in, in the end, was still my world. But there was definitely a period when my inner and outer lives clashed and I was caught in the midst of the collision. That lasted perhaps a few months. Then the two pictures overlapped again as I finally got things sorted out within.

Social acceptance has never really been a problem. Like Tejvan I have mainly experienced sincere interest and respect. I did go through the short, frantic phase where you wonder why everyone else cannot see that beautiful light even when you're repeatedly telling them about it, but fortunately I quickly mended my ways and learned to be quiet when I had to.

Still people came with questions, but by then I had learned to differentiate between mere curiosity or politeness and sincere interest. When the latter was in play, speaking about my inner life became a revelation, a blessing and a joy. In the acting school some of my classmates were quite interested and we had a few spiritual conversations that I still remember with fondness. To the others I was perhaps a bit different, and there were times when the opposites were sharply emphasized, but underneath I always felt loved for who I was. Mountains became mountains again.

It's fun being a little different sometimes. Not in a vainglorious way, but because it can create valuable moments. This past weekend I went on a training weekend with people from my running club and we spent two days together in a hotel. In between training, eating and sleeping (and for me, meditating) there was ample time to talk and play games. Although I still go by my old name there, they also know that I have a spiritual name. While playing a board game in the evening some athletes asked me about the name, what it meant and why I have it. I said the name represents my soul's quality. As soon as I mentioned the word 'soul' a person sitting across the table from me grew wide-eyed and said 'Oh, I feel a lot of questions coming. Can I ask you some other time?' And I felt that little ant Nayak spoke about in his post, the stirrings of the soul. The moment passed again and although it was short it was somehow very precious. A little awakening occurred. I love these little miracles. They make all the temporary challenges worth facing.

Abhinabha

Dear Sharani,

I'm glad you have taken up the "thread," since I find myself rapidly running out of "material"! Knowing how rare it is for you to show any kind of emotion, I'm especially moved that my new lyrics to "Bread and Roses" managed to elicit a tear from you. I do have two more verses - one serious and one funny:

We need no gold or diamonds, no jade or amethyst;
For bathed in natural radiance is a sari feminist.
We dress in our devotion, and the morning sun discloses
That the joy of our desiring is in incense more than roses.

How anti-cultists taunt us, from Christmastime through Lent;
We tell them not to bother, we tell them to get bent!
The world sends all its problems - a great God-awful muckload;
But we just renew our cry for jasmine incense by the truckload!

Viva Zapata!

Doris, thank you as always for your kindness. I hope things are good for you where you are living at the moment. I wonder if my ideas about "sari feminism" really merit translation into German.

I suppose in the original posting I neglected to give more info of benefit to non-U.S. readers. In the early 1900's in America, the song "Bread and Roses" became associated with efforts by women laborers to win better wages and working conditions. It was later linked with the cause of women's suffrage (voting rights). The song was rediscovered by the women's movement in the 1960's.

The best-known recording is probably by Judy Collins. One can listen online here:

http://music.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=music.artistalbums&artisti...

or download the mp3 here:

http://www.iessanjose.org/women/music/judycollins-breadandroses.mp3

Thank you, Doris, for your own heart-illumining poem, and also for Guru's poems about cynics, which I had not seen before. Most appropriate!

While men and women are given equal respect on Sri Chinmoy's path, this is not true of those who harass the Centre, who seem to target women in particular - attacking their pure lifestyle, and making many emotional appeals to get them to abandon their faith. In my opinion, this is rather cowardly.

The world, at times, can be extremely cruel. When people become worldly, it's almost as if they want to make spiritual women feel ashamed of the virtues they have cultivated. In offering the idea of "sari feminism," I hoped to lighten the burden of those who are tired of the attacks, and to raise awareness that when women have the courage to make minority spiritual choices, this is indeed a kind of feminism at work.

This suggests the perfect slogan for sari feminists: "If I can't meditate, you can keep your revolution!"

Michael

You shall henceforward be known as Tejvan 'Two Veg' Pettinger:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLjS3gzHetA

I can just picture the interview when you famously haul back your next trophy:

Interviewer: Now this cycling contest you're accused of winning, were you eating any veggies at the time?

Tejvan: No, I was just cycling.

Interviewer: Then I suppose we should really call you Tejvan 'No Veg' Pettinger!

Tejvan: Look, about this whole veg business - it's not that important. I'd really rather talk about my whole philosophy of inner peace.

Interviewer: Yes, let's! And were you frightened by an eggplant as a small child?

Tejvan: I wish you'd ask about my cycling. People are always going on about the two veg, but they've got it all out of proportion...

Michael,

Not sure what put a bigger smile on my face: Your humorous message below with the inclusion of the always good for a laugh Monty Python skit or the fact that your humor has emerged once again for everyone's enjoyment. You are funny! I have no doubt that Tejvan 'Two Veg' Pettinger was amused.

Natalia

Now I'm laughing instead of shedding tears - the question begging to be asked is:
"Was it 2 laughs or no laughs and just a smile??"

Sharani

Thank you for this bountiful message, Michael. I never realised I was any kind of feminist, but yes, I realise you're right: they come in different brands. I find the discussion itself quite liberating.

As women leading spiritual lives in the west - at least outside the Christian tradition of the convent - we are pioneers. We are therefore naturally going to be misunderstood. Pioneers are nothing new. In the 4th Century BC the ancient Greeks believed the world was spherical instead of flat. I'm sure there were sticklers and hecklers and fishwives even then.

"Don't go too far, Konstantinos," the fisherman's wife would say, as he went to catch dinner for the family "you might fall off the edge!"

"I've told you dear, the world is round, one can't simply fall off."

"No, no, you've been brainwashed! It's all a trick! THEY want you to fall off, and you will! Poor me, I'll be left alone to raise the young'ns! You're so selfish!"

"What's that dear? Shellfish. Yes I'll see what I can do. See you at teatime."

My own mother was a pioneer - not spiritually as such, but in other ways - so I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment where healthy questioning of norms and self-imposed limits was encouraged. Even in my mother's time anyone unmarried after about the age of 21 apparently had something wrong with them. That's only forty years ago; is it any wonder we are sometimes misunderstood for choosing a single life? People have been routinely pairing off and procreating since before the time of Konstantinos.

There is a marked increase in the number of single people, according to statistics in the UK and other countries. Presumably most of those are single because they want to be single, not because they are insane or otherwise unmarriable.

"About 48 per cent of the adult population is now single, and by 2010 more than 40 per cent of households are expected to be occupied by single people." wrote Thair Shaikh in the Times 5 years ago. "…single people no longer feel socially odd and use their status to travel and try 'new life experiences'."
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article550955.ece

Even accounting for the likelihood that many of these people will not stay single forever, it does imply that things have changed radically from even the previous generation. I tend to think of British and American culture as a greenhouse for choice and expression, but is it really so free? Social norms are very powerful influencers, probably just as powerful as any overbearing government.

Some norms are in place to help us live harmoniously together - I am not questioning the ones that affect other people, like a polite abstinence from armed robbery. If one is not harming or taking from another person, or even trying to influence others, but is instead making choices while minding his or her own business, where is the problem? Is that naive? If so then yes I am naive, and long may I continue to be.

Is Konstantinos really brainwashed, or is his wife? I feel lucky to have been brought up to question whether I want to live 'like everyone else'; whether that would really make me happy. If the rest of society was 100% happy 100% of the time, I would probably think it was a good idea to follow it, but what does marriage have to do with it, really? 41% of first marriages in the US end in divorce, 60% of second marriages, and 73% of third marriages. There's something fishy about those odds; it doesn't take a shrewd gambler to figure that out.

Basically what everyone wants is happiness. I'm just trying a different way to find it, and for me so far it's gong pretty well. If at any point I find it's not, I would consider that my own failing, but I wouldn't even have to go to the trouble of getting a lawyer; I can just walk back through that door at any time and try something else. I have been on this path for 13 years now, which is a record for me in anything, so the odds are looking quite peachy.

As for having children, I know I can't change my mind on that at any point, but I feel I'm lucky not to have been brainwashed by my own "clock" as Michael put it. I'm not saying that everyone who has kids is just mechanically reverting to animal instincts, but let's not pretend that all children who have come into the world were planned in the first place, nor are offered a safe and happy environment for the first 18 years of their lives. There are of course many reasons why people would consciously start a family, but the way I see it: if I want to make my mark on the world, if I want to love and be loved, if I want someone to play with, if I want to give back what I have received, (did I miss anything?), then there are ways I can do all of those things without having to be at someone else's beck and call 24/7 for 18 years. Am I selfish? Maybe in terms of preferring quietude and a clean house, yes, but overall I don't think so. I feel I am in a better position to give to the world at large.

The instinct to procreate is a powerful force, it needs to be in order for the human race to continue, but I'm not prepared to just go along with all the powerful forces in the world. Spirituality is my top priority. That's just how I'm made. I build my life around the things that are important to me. For other people that might be a family, or a career, or a charity or a sport. More power to them if so! I'm not going to interfere or even argue with their choice if that's how God made them, but I'd be glad if they could extend me the same courtesy.

I would like to draw in Nayak's insightful and generous thread on "Souls and Souls' Names" (#24165). The main meaning of my own name is "She who brings, from the Supreme, auspicious good-fortune to all who are around her." As Nayak said, I also "am quoting this here without bragging or promoting myself, but just to show what lofty things my soul came to do." I'm far from a perfect instrument, but I can at least feel this is true - perhaps only in bud form - by gauging what brings me happiness. I am happiest when I can give to lots of people, not just one or two. I spend most of my life writing and making websites that can potentially give moments of joy to an infinite number of people. Every creation is like a miniature birth, but it's clean and painless. There is no limit to the size of my family in that sense, and thus no end to my satisfaction.

Sumangali

Thank you for asking, Michael. If so is God's will conditions will be changing soon. I very much hope so!

There is a German site "Sri Chinmoy Experiences" where students of Sri Chinmoy write about their positive experiences with their Master. I thought that contributions by so talented writers would effectively add to the content.

"Amateur" reader that I am I intended to translate 'only' excerpts from your reply to "Feminine Challenges in Spirituality."

Thank you Sumangali (I especially liked the phrase "recognition flooded with sanctuary"), Sharani, Prachar, Tejvan, Jogyata, Kamalakanta, Abhinabha and Nayak (what a wonderful topic!) for writing about your experiences as well.

There is also a link on the German website to the Inspiration Group about "Question for the Women". I hope you will never run short of material, with regards to protecting Sri Chinmoy Center in your unique way, in the future.

Thank you for another stanza of your version of "Bread and Roses".

I knew the original poem and like Judy Collins interpretations in general. Who can resist your playfulness? I made another attempt at expressing myself in a poem:

"Shiva and Parvati played the dice,
And they played it very wise.

Dhuryodhana this unspeakable robber
He didn't play it really proper.

Draupadi spent her time in prayer, spend-
Therefore her sari knew no end.

We listen to Krishna's sweetness-flute
For he is the Player in him we are mute."

Doris

Blokes In The Boat
(How a red-blooded male came to drown his sorrows in meditation's cup).

While it could be called the softer, cuddlier cousin of Australia, fifty million or so sheep aside New Zealand is not renowned for its sensitive, new age male culture, and in fact bears many similarities to the bleak, football chasing, ale drinking northern English realms of Tejvan's childhood. Which perhaps is more than a coincidence, for the land of the long white rain cloud was to a large degree settled by crusty, weather-beaten Yorkshire farmers in search of the perfect pasture on the other side of the world.

When I was growing up, it was considered slightly "edgy" — like eating pasta and attending the theatre — to profess an interest in football. Rugby at the time was the game of choice — national religion even — and not only were you teased if you played anything other, it was actually compulsory in some schools to "put the boot in", put your body on the line every Saturday morning. Often little more than legalised weekend violence, this rough and tumble from an early age was seen, in the same English public school tradition as blazers, ties, and punishment by strap or cane, as "character building," and is also the reason why even to this day, many New Zealand males have deformed, misshapen faces — years of literal on-field beatings, with broken noses, swollen lips, ruptured ears and heavy bruising, actually do leave a permanent, cosmetic toll.

Clearly now deficient in character, I never did play rugby. My mother, sickened by numerous bloody sports field incidences — including a spate of broken necks — flat out refused to let me play the game that her father and all seven brothers had played. Instead, and very much against my own wishes, I was sent to the only high school in the city that did not have a rugby team. She probably indirectly led to me becoming a seeker by doing so.

By the time I reached university, my masculinity — as such is traditionally framed between a pair of rugby posts — had been corrupted — or kicked for touch to continue the rugby parlance — by five years of liberal education and artistic pursuits. With male friends who wore blouses, had names like "Chauncey", listened to bands like "The Smiths" and painted or wrote poetry, it is perhaps not surprising that I was receptive to something as traditionally unmasculine as meditation. But that is not to say that sitting cross-legged and no longer getting cross was an easy road to follow.

I remember a radio interview when I was a new disciple. A fellow student of Sri Chinmoy was organising a concert of meditative music, a concert in which I was also going to perform, and while driving to the venue, a pre-recorded interview came across the air.

"So what's all this about?" began the interviewer, a raised inflection in his thick, provincial New Zealand accent. Audibly wrinkling his nose, he continued the line of questioning, doubt thick as mud on a rugby field in his voice.

"Meditation? Isn't that all mung beans and brown rice?"

As the disciple being interviewed side-stepped the inference that he was some kind of long-haired, sandal wearing hippie, and even more subtly, less than masculine, I was reminded of the same cultural attitudes which I had had to dodge, weave between like rugby tacklers when I became a disciple, and still encounter today.

Walking to a meditation through the inner city dressed in white, at an hour when others are heading to bars and clubs, it is not uncommon for a carload of youths drive past and scream abuse out the window, youths incidentally that will as often be female as they are male. With the pressure today upon women to be beautiful and attractive, one might assume that it is much easier to be a young male, but consciously turning your back on the commonly accepted, even expected standards of masculinity can be just as difficult, and with the typically male disinclination to talk about feelings, or anything that might remotely pass as "weak", possibly less articulated and understood.

When I was a university student and first learning to meditate, in the year or two before I joined the Centre, I travelled to a small New Zealand city neighbouring my own, to spend the weekend with several friends. Within minutes of arriving, my friend — of Cambodian origin — was called a "gook" to his face, and I, with my appearance modelled upon the shoe-gazing bands I was a fan of at the at the time — so called because their long, eye-covering fringes made them look like they were staring only at their shoes as they performed—was told to "get a haircut", and called a "hippy." These three arrows of abuse were hurled by three separate people, and all within half an hour.

It is one thing to go counter to the prevailing norms of culture, to follow a fashion, style of music or style of hair different to the majority, but in doing so you still are part of a crowd, only a smaller one — a culture of like-minded, like-listening others — and therefore, whatever insults or blows are thrown your way, you are in the strictest sense still gaining your strength — and ultimately your self-identity — from sources outside yourself. In my particular case this source of identity carried no small portion of ego and separativity — I took pride in being different from others, and considered myself superior because I was, in my own opinion, more aware and discerning than the herd following norm.

In basing your identity upon garments and accoutrements outside the self — even if they are beautiful, inspiring things — you are still ultimately following the path of desire and attachment by another, more refined name. Saying that you will not be like everybody else is not at all the same thing as saying that you will no longer subscribe to any identity based upon outer things — that you will seek only an identity which shuns and seeks to ultimately transcend the passions and pleasures at the root of all others.

Explaining to colleagues over and over that you do not drink, do not wish to attend their party, where simple drunkenness would be the most pleasant of expected outcomes; explaining to friends and relatives why you are turning your back on financial success — on being a breadwinner and a father, a husband or a boyfriend; having no material possessions of note — no flash car, no house, no money in the bank; these are all the things that men are expected to have or be, and by choosing to be a disciple, I have in one way or other willingly not chosen them.

In doing so however I have gained other possessions, and a true, lasting wealth. I have gained happiness — a happiness that is not limited or fleeting — and that most masculine of qualities — strength — but a strength that is true, based within.

Recently I was cornered by a woman in a café who, after openly staring at me and my fellow disciples for a full minute, came over and asked why we were wearing white?

"Why are you wearing black?" I replied.

As a student of Sri Chinmoy, and a male practitioner of meditation and the spiritual life, I am inwardly strong and successful enough to feel no need to offer excuses for my choices, no need to feel embarrassed by being different, or as some might imply — who may only measure masculinity by heroic feats on a rugby field or in a boardroom — doing something that makes me less than a man.

Conquering ignorance within and without, standing up for my beliefs and refusing to bow to doubt, not taking a backwards step to weaknesses inner or outer, these are all true male values, and strengths greater and harder to learn than any weight lifted or blow struck.

God save the Village Green!

Thank you, Sumangali. You made some excellent points, even if your tone was a bit "crabby." (It wasn't really crabby, but I would be thrown out of the Satirists' Union if I didn't insert at least one shellfish joke by force. Of course, Adesh is a member of the Sitarists' Union, but that's another story. I would read you their latest contract, but though I am sympathetic, it has too many strings attached.)

You wrote:

"Is Konstantinos really brainwashed, or is his wife? I feel lucky to have been brought up to question whether I want to live 'like everyone else'; whether that would really make me happy."

In dealing with the whole "brainwashing" stereotype as it relates to religious tolerance, this passage from Dr. J. Gordon Melton may be helpful:

"During the last generation, the Western world has made a quantum leap beyond Christendom and the secular society that has replaced it toward the development of a new religious order that includes significant Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu communities joining the older Jewish and Western Esoteric groupings. The future task for cultural leaders is the creation of structures in which these very different religious communities, some large, some small, can live and work with the older Christian Churches and mutually contribute to the welfare of the nations in which they find themselves. In such a context, freeing ourselves from labels such as 'brainwashing' and the suspicions it arouses seems a necessary component of arriving at a harmonious future."

http://www.cesnur.org/testi/melton.htm

I would like to play devil's advocate regarding two of your points - not because I genuinely disagree, but because it may prove interesting. You wrote:

"Some norms are in place to help us live harmoniously together - I am not questioning the ones that affect other people, like a polite abstinence from armed robbery. If one is not harming or taking from another person, or even trying to influence others, but is instead making choices while minding his or her own business, where is the problem? Is that naive? If so then yes I am naive, and long may I continue to be."

I don't think that's naive. But in making minority choices, and going on the spiritual quest, you may upset some conservatives. In fact, Sri Chinmoy was a successful agent for change. His very success in influencing the West may invite attacks by revisionists. Look at it this way: He wouldn't be a target for the pigeons' morning constitutional if there weren't beautiful sculptures of him on display in Mazatlan, Oslo, and Bali:

http://gallery.srichinmoycentre.org/members/sharani/statues/
http://gallery.srichinmoycentre.org/members/karpani/oslo/
http://gallery.srichinmoycentre.org/members/karpani/Ubudh/

(Thank you Sharani and Karpani for the super photos.)

Anyway, those who oppose any kind of change might claim that you're not simply minding your own business. Through your writings and other activities, you're "recruiting" for the "cult," or "proselytizing." I would disagree, of course.

I would say that Sri Chinmoy Centre tries to gently offer something back to the mainstream. Compared to the noise of the media blaring advertisements for a secular and materialist view, Sri Chinmoy Centre is barely audible. It does put on a few events for the public, but these are very low key and non-intrusive - well below the threshold of "proselytizing."

Still, conservatives can be so sensitive to anything resembling change, even change for the better. This was satirized in a song by the Kinks called "The Village Green Preservation Society." Folk artist Kate Rusbie - no stranger to York - does a charming cover version which someone made into a music video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdPAVTxlv2c

It is artfully presented so that one might interpret it as showing fondness for all the old ways - or perhaps poking a bit of fun at their stodginess. The lyrics are these:

We are the Village Green Preservation Society.
God save Donald Duck, Vaudeville and Variety.
We are the Desperate Dan Appreciation Society.
God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties.
Preserving the old ways from being abused,
Protecting the new ways for me and for you.
What more can we do?

We are the Draught Beer Preservation Society.
God save Mrs. Mopp and good Old Mother Riley.
We are the Custard Pie Appreciation Consortium.
God save the George Cross and all those who were awarded them.

We are the Sherlock Holmes English Speaking Vernacular.
Help save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula.
We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity.
God save little shops, china cups and virginity.

We are the Skyscraper Condemnation Affiliate.
God save Tudor houses, antique shops and billiards.
Preserving the old ways from being abused,
Protecting the new ways for me and for you.
What more can we do?
God save the Village Green!

* * *

With lines like "God save Donald Duck" and organizations like the "Custard Pie Appreciation Consortium," the song is clearly satirical, yet manages to please nostalgia buffs.

The farther out I go in my spiritual travels, the more I appreciate the quaint "Village Green values" satirized in the song. I can even name the "effervescent" old lady in the video: It's the late Joan Hickson in a clip from Miss Marple, Series 1. (She was replaced by the genuinely effervescent Geraldine McEwan in Series 2.)

I like the people who want to save Donald Duck and Tudor houses - in spite of knowing that they might turn out to be members of the dreaded "Sri Chinmoy Condemnation Society." As the song says, "What more can they do?"

They are stuck in their particular corner of reality; but they like it and don't want it to change. They want to preserve "the old ways from being abused." I love that line because it confirms something my reading and investigations had led me to suspect: To some people,

change = abuse

Anything that takes them away from a statistically average life is "abuse." That is the view taken by some very stodgy thinkers in the anti-cult movement. Their refrain is:

We are the Sri Chinmoy Condemnation Society.
God bless average life in all its lack of variety.

I would counter with this lament from Sri Chinmoy:

Swalpe Tushta Brihate Shanka

Satisfied with a little, afraid of the vast,
Narrow are the confines of man's boasting
and vainglory.
Always preaching, always boasting and bragging,
turning the ear deaf.
Seven inner seas are now wild and churning,
each life is tired and sad.
Satisfaction and fulfilment only a dream.
The entire world is filled with suffering and conflict.
The silent, the liberated and the realised are rich
in their heavenly treasure.
Let man's inner moon of infinite Light get
total satisfaction
In the sacrifice divine.

http://www.srichinmoysongs.com/song/view/swalpe-tushta-brihate-shanka-kh...

Spiritual values often differ from secular values; but difference does not equal abuse. This point cannot be overemphasized when writing about religious tolerance. It is a view supported by scholars like Shupe, Bromley and Oliver:

"We conclude ... that the vast bulk of scientific findings - whatever clinical, field observation or survey methodologies used - never supported the anti-cult movement's perspective that most 'cult' members were duped or psychologically shanghaied into membership, coercively maintained in subservience as slaves or impaired in any meaningful way through their membership." [Shupe, Bromley and Oliver, The Anti-Cult Movement, p. 82.]

Growing up in a Hindu community, one will undoubtedly have different experiences than growing up in a Protestant or Jewish community. Just nations do not persecute their citizens for such differences; nor do compassionate authors.

Anyway, when you embark on the spiritual quest and people discover you're doing something a little bit different, you may get a knock on your door from the Village Green Preservation Society, and someone may ask: "Is it true you're against strawberry jam? Have you been abusing Donald Duck in there?"

I suppose you could offer them a slice of tea; but there comes a time when you must go on your journey, regardless of what they think about it.

Or, taking a page from W. H. Auden's "The Unknown Citizen," perhaps they might say: "We'd like to let you go, old chap. But the thing is, Social Psychology says you haven't bought the requisite number of Custard Pies for a man of your generation; and Fudge Motors Inc. is desperately in need of your continued services."

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15549

Such people may be well-meaning; but given the chance, they will bury you in custard pies and old automobile tires. And you have your journey to go on...

The other point from Sumangali's posting where I thought to play devil's advocate is this one:

"Basically what everyone wants is happiness. I'm just trying a different way to find it, and for me so far it's going pretty well. If at any point I find it's not, I would consider that my own failing, but I wouldn't even have to go to the trouble of getting a [divorce] lawyer; I can just walk back through that door at any time and try something else. I have been on this path for 13 years now, which is a record for me in anything, so the odds are looking quite peachy."

Things are, indeed, looking quite peachy! (You are, at any rate, no cobbler...)

Probably many people are familiar with the Monty Python skit about a lifelong chartered accountant who wants to become a lion-tamer. It turns out that his lifetime of chartered accountancy hasn't really prepared him for lion-taming.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMOmB1q8W4Y

In the secular world, people often believe in totally random explanations for things. There is no such thing as the soul's will, (they feel). Why is someone born into a spiritual family, or why do they become disciples of a great Master? Why do they fill up decades of their life with prayer, meditation, and spiritual singing?

It does not happen by accident. Their soul feels an affinity for a certain Master, and the soul helps the entire being to feel the necessity of accepting the spiritual life. After many years, they certainly have developed some aptitude.

If the same person leaves the spiritual life, it may not be as simple as just walking out the door and trying something else. After so many years of spiritual living, they might (understandably) have trouble re-adjusting to the secular world.

This is not true of everyone, of course. Some people have rich biographies of all the different things they've tried with apparent relish (including Coney Island hot dogs), and never felt any the worse for it.

Most people have heard the parable of the "Pearl of Great Price." Accepting the spiritual life is like buying a pearl of great price. We sell everything else in order to buy this pearl. If we later decide we don't want it, it's not so easy to get back our old things - nor should it be. Those who buy the pearl of great price are spiritual seekers in their souls. It may not go well for them if they try to re-assimilate secular values, because that is usually not what their soul wants. They mistake their vital ambitions for the soul's will.

One way I tried to approach these issues was via an imaginary dialogue between a somewhat impish prospective nun and a tough Mother Superior. I haven't worked out all the "kinks," but it goes something like this:

The Maryknoll Nun / Playboy Centerfold Paradox

The anti-cult movement often claims that spiritual practice makes people unfit for worldly life. This claim is substantially false, but is based upon a meager half-truth. Spiritual practice does change people. (If it didn't, it wouldn't be much good, would it?) In receiving more inner light, a person may come to feel that he or she wants to practice higher ethics and a purer lifestyle. These inner changes may result in career changes as well. Julie Pedley tells this story:

"I had been working in the field of engineering for about 10 years,
which is very hard for a woman. This past year, with a new company,
I was mocked for being vegetarian, for not wanting to hurt animals
and for drinking herbal tea! From being a student of Sri Chinmoy
over this time, I came to realise that I no longer need to fight the
hostilities within the industry and environment. I recently left my
engineering job which had a very promising future for me outwardly,
to follow my heart. I am now studying full-time at craft art,
something I am very passionate about and good at. It is harder work
on many levels, but I am supremely happy as I am following my heart
and listening to my true self."

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Sri_Chinmoy_Inspiration/message/3201

Suppose a young woman is being interviewed as a candidate to become a Maryknoll nun. (For those with a taste for classic American comedy, you can, if you like, picture this as a Stiller and Meara routine.)

The young woman says, "Well, I'm very interested in becoming a nun; but you know, in the future I was thinking I might like to pose as a Playboy centerfold... Would I be able to do both? Would my duties as a nun interfere with that? Would being a Maryknoll nun somehow make me unfit to pose for Playboy?"

Now, if the interviewer is honest, she would have to say: "To be quite frank, if your goal is to become a Playboy centerfold, I cannot really recommend that you join our convent. As a Maryknoll nun, you would learn modesty and humility, and these things would interfere with your ability to participate in the pornography industry. We also place a high value on truthfulness and ethics. Therefore, after receiving training as a Maryknoll nun, you would probably be unfit to sell no-money-down real estate or quack weight loss remedies, or to run for political office - since politicians often have to tell millions of lies to get elected."

After reflecting for a moment, the young woman might say: "Well, I guess I can give up modeling for Playboy... But after being a Maryknoll nun for awhile, I was thinking I might like to get heavily into dating and partying. Would I have any problem doing that?"

Again, if the interviewer is honest, she would have to say, "In the secular world, there are many stereotypes about nuns. If you wear your habit in public, you may find that people point and stare. Also, if you were to return to secular life and attend parties, you might be offered drugs and alcohol, and asked to engage in casual sex. Your training as a Maryknoll nun might make you feel uncomfortable doing these things. You might not be socially popular."

The young woman might continue: "One of the reasons I'm attracted to the life of a Maryknoll nun is that it's a very self-giving occupation. You guys are always doing stuff for the poor. I was thinking that if I became a Maryknoll nun, my parents would really be proud of me and would love me much more than they do now. Right now, they want me to become an advertising executive so I can make a lot of money and buy them a big house. But I'm thinking that if I became a Maryknoll nun, they would like that even better."

The interviewer might reply: "Unless your parents are themselves very spiritual, they might not understand your wish to become a Maryknoll nun. They might feel that you're abandoning them. They might even withhold their love from you to punish you for making a decision they don't approve of. It might take them years to accept your choice. They might even tell their friends that their daughter had been 'brainwashed' by the Catholic Church."

I could probably expand this dialogue to illustrate other points; but the main point has been made: There is a limited argument that by joining a spiritual community and undergoing spiritual training, a person may become unsuited to certain worldly occupations, may be less popular at parties, and may court disapproval from parents.

Does that make it a bad choice for someone who is a spiritual seeker in her soul? Does that make the spiritual community in question "abusive"? Of course not! In the secular world, people make millions of choices every day which overrule other choices, limit other options, or court disfavour from one camp or another. (I had a cousin who married out of his faith and was disowned by my aunt and uncle.)

One cannot be all things to all people. You pays you money and you takes you pick!

I should add that there are plenty of people who were raised by priests or nuns, but later got into politics or porn, or even (God forbid!) the publishing industry.

As a postscript, perhaps I should add this question and answer:

"Let's say I became a Maryknoll nun. But at some point in the future, I wasn't anymore. Could I still study to be a doctor, teacher, musician, artist, poet, or chef? Might I meet people who would value the journey I've been on, even if it wasn't the most conventional?"

Interviewer: "Yes!"

Michael

[Posted on behalf of t_mcguire27. Please see posting instructions at
http://www.srichinmoyinspiration.com/content/joining-sri-chinmoy-inspiration-group]

I wonder why meditation is perceived as non-masculine when so many saints, sages and yogis are male?

There seem to be two rival forms of masculinity. One emphasises expansion of the ego - the posturing parade of self-assertion. The other masculinity upholds the strength of inner conquest, the thrust of ego transcendence and the adventurous pursuit of soul-victories.

>From one perspective the peaceful, kind nature of a Jesus Christ, Buddha or Chaitanya may be seen as weakness. When the Buddha was born, it was foretold that he would either be a world-conqueror or a world-saviour. He was born into a powerful royal family and could have easily ruled a vast empire, but instead he became the Enlightened One. To those who measure strength and boldness in the size of an army or the flags to ones name, it is weak to refuse the mantle of unbridled power. To the seeker of ultimate truth, there is no victory without surrender to the infinite power of God.

It makes a crucial difference whether you apply your strength and vigour towards expansion of the lower self or expansion of the higher self. It is these two extremes separate the Napoleons of the world from the Krishnas and Buddhas.

For me, masculinity is about pushing limits, smashing boundaries, and never giving up. These are essential qualities for success in the spiritual life.

"Who says that gentleness
Is not real strength?
Who says that strength
Is not oneness-satisfaction?"

Excerpt from Ten Thousand Flower-Flames, Part 40 by Sri Chinmoy.

t_mcguire27

Much gratitude to the faithful writers on this site. Sharing the miraculously transforming spiritual writings of our Guru is a life-saver for many. Joy and thanks to all.

Choices, Values and Roses

It would take a very long reply to spin off musings on all the points you raise here, yet they are myriad and well-worth the yarn. Your very first link off your post shows how the scholarly and legal world has debunked the tiny minority who tried to equate brainwashing with belonging to a nontraditional religious or spiritual group...

Your quote from and link to this article details the mentality and failings of the anti-cult movement. I recommend people taking the time to read it and find out the "literal" and figurative bankruptcy rife in their actions.
http://www.cesnur.org/testi/melton.htm

However, with this noteworthy historical overview alone you are just getting started in your post. I humbly admit to never having read a poem by W. H. Auden (that I recall at least) even though he is considered one of the greatest English poets of the 20th century, to never having watched the lion tamer skit or to even precisely knowing what chartered accountancy as a profession involves!

These admissions (and I am sure there are more but I will save myself the second helping of humble pie) aside, I especially resonated with the whole issue of choices, values and traditions that you explore from the village green right down to hellion escapades.

I especially like your position that just because entering the spiritual life means one might not be as disposed to certain future or concurrent choices in life hardly equals abuse. Or just because certain choices in the spiritual life might not mirror convention and tradition, change and difference from conventional dictates of society hardly equate abuse.

You wrote,
"Does that make it a bad choice for someone who is a spiritual seeker in her soul? Does that make the spiritual community in question "abusive"? Of course not! In the secular world, people make millions of choices every day which overrule other choices, limit other options, or court disfavour from one camp or another. (I had a cousin who married out of his faith and was disowned by my aunt and uncle.)"

Apparently to some, the socialization of mainstream society and time-honored traditions are some kind of a priori truth with a capital T instead of situational, ethnic and culture specific norms that vary from country to country and generation to generation.

I guess they cannot help proclaiming "God Save the Village Green" but instead of criticizing anything that deviates from their definition of normal why not look inward and ask - using the U.S. where I reside as an example - if ten percent of all Americans are taking prescription antidepressants as of 2005 (27 million people) and half of all marriages end in divorce and we are the most medicated nation in the world using prescription drugs and an estimated 438,000 people a year die of smoking related illnesses, can they really uphold these traditions as the right and proper recipe for happiness and healthy living? If mainstream society all around me was the very portrait of satisfaction and wholesome living, they might have more than a wooden leg to stand on. But this is hardly the case. These statistics have real faces and names on them too. In my workplace of about 20 people alone, nearly all of them are on anti-depressants, even ones in their early twenties. If conventional society was something to emulate and follow, why do so many people require drugs just to tolerate living?

Conversely, my lifestyle of prayer and meditation inspires me to try to see that spark of the divine in the world and people around me. It inspires me to try to feel it is entirely possible to live harmoniously with respect and kindness towards others. It inspires me to try a little harder to become less selfish and self-serving. Refraining from drugs, alcohol, smoking and meat-eating surely improves my health. I don't feel I need anti-depressants in order to be happy.

I can only feel that proponents who wish us to return to a more conventional lifestyle are playing the game of smoke and mirrors because if they really stopped and looked at the life of striving for material possessions, people possessing, constant mood altering with drugs, etc., they would have to ask and answer to themselves some hard questions about why if the preservation of the village green, custard and strawberry jam are so fulfilling then why aren't the statistics a little different than what I touch on here.

Hearkening back to Bread & Roses, I quote from the lyrics,
"Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!"

For me, the spiritual life as a student of Sri Chinmoy makes true in my life on a figurative level the actual Guinness World Record set by Ashrita of the world's largest rose bouquet, offered in honor of his teacher Sri Chinmoy.

The fragrance of the roses outweighs any and all stigma as a result of straying from the straight and narrow. Meditation and the cultivation of the inner life bring a satisfaction that can never be trumped. If some insist on finding fault in it to deflect attention away from the failings of tradition, the rose smells just as sweet and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sharani

Supremely well said Sharani!

As I'm packing to leave this afternoon for a special trip, I am anxiously awaiting being with our spiritual family again; to share divine light and love once more.

As someone who works in the outer world, you know the joys and the difficulties of that duty. Attempts at oneness and mutual support are often seen as weakness.
I too see people in the outer world who are struggling with their lives, but yet don't understand the way I live, and want to drag me into their world to "help" me. It's comical, and rather sad really. I think it's somehow an attempt to validate their own life and choices rather than face whatever might be their own difficulties.

I am so grateful to know that no matter how difficult the outer life gets sometimes, I can come home to my shrine, and leave everything in God's hands, and let him take care of the details.
It sounds simple, but in reality, it truly is.

Take care Sharani, and you can send me those "divine road" songs anytime. I'm planning to do some recording in January.

Purnakama

Interesting comments, Michael. I think they serve to illustrate how certain people are always likely to misunderstand spirituality. If you don't believe in the inner life, then of course those who follow a Guru must be seen as wasting their time.

However, we can be comforted by the belief that all souls will eventually find the spiritual path! The search for God-realisation is not an exclusive club. We have many lifetimes to reach the goal and no one will be left behind forever.

"God wants everyone to study
And win
The God-realisation-title."

Excerpt from Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 15 by Sri Chinmoy.