Friday, November 14, 2008

Pure and Holy

When the Beatles flew off to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a lot of dope-smokin' acid-droppin' hippies went with them -- in spirit at least. George Harrison was the driving force who led the Fab Four onto the Hindu path because he believed that while psychedelic drugs would open a door into a spiritual realm, they wouldn't let you stay there, and he was looking for a way to do that. That sounded pretty good to a lot of us hippies.

If you weren't part of that generation and movement, it is hard to understand how much influence the Beatles had. Lennon's comment that they were bigger than Jesus wasn't true, but they did have quite the following.

At the time, we were living in a big ole clunky house on Geranium Street, on the edge of the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. My wife, two small children, our half-Shepherd, half-Great Dane, Cookie, and, from time to time, Uncle Jay and whichever of our hippie friends who needed a place to crash, and me.

The house was large, the rent cheap, because the place was soon to be torn down to widen the road. It was next door to Genesis House, a local hippie-run drug and suicide hotline, which is another story.

So, the Beatles were learning to meditate, and a goodly portion of young folks around the world wanted to do so, too.

Not coincidentally, TM teachers began quickly to appear throughout the land. An introductory TM lecture was scheduled for the student union, and my wife and I got a sitter for the kids and went to hear it. If John, Paul, George, and Ringo were into it, we were there.

It sounded wonderful. A path to bliss, harmony, a way to touch the cosmic all. We were ready to sign up, only, it cost a hundred and twenty-five dollars per person. This was in the day when that was more than a month's rent, and we didn't have it.

Why, we asked the lecturer, did it cost so much?

Well, he said, Americans don't value anything that is free, so we charge enough to make them want to get their money's worth.

Okay, that made a kind of sense, but still, it was beyond our reach.

We fretted about it. Maybe we could scrape up enough for my wife and then she could teach me. I could sell my motorscooter ...

While pondering the problem, we heard about another lecture. The Ananda Marga Yoga Society would be on campus, they were teaching mantra meditation -- which was the same as TM -- and guess what? It was free. If you had an extra five or ten bucks, you could put it in the jar, but if you didn't, no problem.

So we went.

The teacher, who was a hippie-chick in a white robe, frizzy hair, big smile, named Trigunavati, was out of New Orleans. We started the session with a Sanskrit chant, she laid out some ideas, and bam! we were hooked.

Our Indian guru was Baba, (Shrii Shrii Anandamurti) who was married to Ma, and they were pure and holy and fully-realized human beings. They had written a library of material, and it would be made available to us.

In the classes we learned yoga asanas and a generic mantra, which is a word you mentally intone while sitting quietly to meditate. Twice a day, we did asanas -- on a wool blanket, mind you -- and then sat for fifteen or twenty minutes in meditation.

Both of these activities are beneficial -- physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Because we had a big house, the weekly group meditations wound up there, and quickly, we became the headquarters in that part of the state. So there were were, members of Ananda Marga -- the path to bliss -- and just two inches shy of a cult.

One of the high teachers, Dadaji, came from India in his orange robes, to give us our personal mantras. Dadaji, to keep his karma clean, would not touch women. If one handed him a glass of water, he was careful not to make contact with her fingers.

Each of us went into the back room with him, one-on-one, and he would tune into our auras and then give each of us a new mantra, specifically chosen to match our spirits. If you had done any kind of dope for a couple weeks prior to meeting Dadaji, you were screwed, because he would see it in your aura.

He closed his eyes, swayed from side to side, and then your mantra came to him, and he told you what it was. This was a magical, holy Sanskrit word, yours alone, and it was never to be revealed to any other person, for that would render it inert.

Dadaji initiated us. Next time he came back, we'd get Indian names, if we were ready.

We were in high and holy cotton. Doing yoga, meditation, no drugs, no booze, clean living and on the path. Baba nam kevalam, om shanti!

Alas, the path to bliss is beset with obstacles.

One fine Saturday morning, as we were all sitting crosslegged for the group session and silently intoning our personal mantras, our big dog Cookie began barking outside. Part of meditatation was learning how to tune out extraneous noises, so I was trying to do that when, all of a moment, Cookie yelped and stopped barking.

Later, I found out that the reason for this was that Trigunavati, our mellow yoga and meditation teacher, had gone outside and kicked the dog. One of the students, sitting by the door, had watched as she did it.

I found this, as Darth Vader was later to say, disturbing. What kind of holy woman kicks dogs?

While we were digesting this, Trigunavati moved off to Boulder, only a couple weeks later.

Ananda Marga sent another teacher, a pimply-faced boy who wanted to put Baba's picture up for us to kowtow to as we arrived for the group meditation, and that didn't fly, either. We decided that we could manage our own sessions.

Meanwhile, back in India, Baba and Ma split up. Where I had been getting a newsletter every so often from them before, I now started getting two newsletters.

Baba's letter said, "Ma has fallen off the path. Disregard anything she has to say."

Apparently Ma had run off with one of the teachers -- I hoped it wasn't Dadaji -- and, according to the scuttlebutt, was living in unholy sin.

Ma's letter said, "Baba has lost his way. We are now the spiritual leaders of the movement."

At some point during a public gathering, followers of Baba and those of Ma came together, and began to beat the shit out of each other with their holy placards. Some of them died.

Baba was busted for murder. 

Sentenced to life, his conviction was later overturned, but still ...

This, as you might imagine, caused some consternation among those of us in far Louisiana.

The final straw came when, feeling somewhat disillusioned, some of us were having a discussion, using one of the texts we had been given. I came across my mantra in the book. I'd have to be careful, I allowed, not to read a section of the book aloud.

Me, too, one of the other students said. My mantra is in the book, as well.

Really? Which page?

No shit, so's mine!

The group gathered round.

Which paragraph?

Which line ... ?

It wasn't necessary to say the word, but we all knew.

Ole Dadaji, misogynist holy man that he was, had given us all the same personal mantra. (Which, for the record, was "Brahma," and fuck the spiritual warranty.)

That did it. The golden idol had feet of clay, and we were done. While the meditation technique was valid enough and useful, the organization had lost all credibility. Some of us continued to meditatate and do yoga, some of us blew it off. It was, as the old Trainex film strip lessons used to say, " ... a learning experience!"

Om ...

12 comments:

Michael Bourgon said...

So, I have to ask - was the name Dadaji the influence for the name Khadaji?

Steve Perry said...

Nah. Khadaji's name came from the dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, who was then known as Khadafy. I envisioned him as an Arabic version of Robert Redford -- I wanted people who weren't all lily-white in that universe, some other ethnicities, and I stared with him.

Dan Moran said...

Yep. I don't mind people who are full of shit and know it -- that's just human. And I'm deeply skeptical of people who aren't full of shit -- I want a years-long baseline of observation on those people before I'll buy it. (I do buy it occasionally. No one's perfect, but some people really are walking the walk.)

But the human potential movement is just chock full of fakers like the ones you describe.

People who really want to teach are as bad as people who really want to be psychiatrists.

Steve Perry said...

I'll stipulate that there are a lot of frauds out there. And some well-meaning folks who are paving the road to Hell. But I don't think anybody who wants to teach is automatically suspect. You teach your kid how to dribble a basketball, that doesn't make you a con man.

If I claim to be perfect and that I Know The Way? Maybe not ...

One hand up, one hand down, see one, do one, teach one, that's how knowledge gets passed along. I love teaching, when I have students who want to learn and I think I have something to offer. Can't take myself too seriously, that's true, but every now and then, you find somebody who truly appreciates your pearls.

Watching a kid's face light up the first time he learns how to tie a shoelace? Priceless.

One of the reasons I do this blog is to maybe catch somebody at the right moment with a bit that will help them get a few steps farther along the road.

Dan Moran said...

There are two questions:

Is a teacher a success on his own terms? (Is he/she leading the life they really want to live?)

Is a teacher a success on my terms? (Is he/she leading a life I'd want to live?)

The first category is fairly broad -- I won't hazard a guess at percentages, but some large number of the eachers I met qualify under those terms.

The second category is much narrower -- finding instructors whose lives map onto mine in any meaningful way isn't that easy. And that's OK, I'm a middle-aged guy and I've made my choices to get to this point in my life, and no regrets. Running out of role models is probably an occupational hazard of living long enough. :-)

I respect what you and Barnes & people like you do -- paying back or paying forward, whatever you want to call it, is all good, and I don't recall seeing a piece of advice from you on this blog I really thought was off. And teaching specific skills -- to dribble, to tie shoelaces, to ride a bike, to cook a meal or design a website or kick ass -- at the end of it a real skill has been passed on. No problems there either.

But I'm extra wary of shrinks because I've known too many who were nuts, or dishonest, or flat-out whores. I'm wary of human potential types because it's really fucking hard to measure what they do or whether they're any good at it.

I'm a happy guy. I've had a good life even with certain annoyances here and there. I've lived well and made a lot of money over the years, while keeping myself generally amused.

Most life gurus I've met are less sucessful than I am, by what are admittedly my personal standards -- and a scary large percentage of them are obvious failures even by their own standards.

Steve Perry said...

Later, the TM folks offered an expensive advanced class for practitioners -- levitation. Somebody had film of it, and somehow, I saw it.

The trick, it seemed, required a little pump-priming to get the anti-gravity flow going. You sat crosslegged on the mat, but you had to do a little hop, shoving off, arching your back. The vid, shot with a hidden camera, showed several folks doing this little hop to get airborne.

After you did this, the theory went, you could stay aloft a bit and gradually, you could increase your hang-time.

I nearly peed myself laughing.

Watching it reminded me of a mama bird faking a broken wing to draw a predator away from her nest.

Sad. Because I'd really like to be able to do that, levitate.

laughing crow said...

Nice that you offered your personal, heartfelt story about your own early experience with meditation. Thank you.

My first thought was, it's unfortunate that you didn't just scrape the money together to learn TM. It was cheaper back then. Perhaps another sad example of 'you get what you pay for.'

Ananda Marg is not —- in any way, shape, form or manner —- the same meditation practice as TM.

I scraped the money together and learned TM, and it was the best decision of my life. I've not missed a meditation in over 30 tears. What a rewarding life of immense personal growth it's been and continues to be. TM truly is a path of bliss; not a path "to bliss," but a way of growing "in" bliss, with more energy, creativity and dynamism everyday. It's been great fun being a TM meditator. And I'm no cult member.

TM is different from all other meditation practices, distinguished by it's effortlessness, naturalness, and profound effectiveness. It is also the only form of meditation that is scientifically verified —— over 350 peer-reviewed research studies validate the benefits of the practice, studies conducted by more than 250 scientists around the world and done at Harvard Medical School, Yale Medical School, UCLA, Stanford and a couple hundred other independent institutions.

The NIH (the government agency that oversees medical research in the US) has awarded over $24 million for scientists to research the health effects of TM. And the results have been groundbreaking. (See www.AsktheDoctors.com)

Why must there be a course fee? Come on, how could the teachers pay for gas to drive to the introductory lectures, pay the rent for the TM center, buy food to survive, and maintain the local and national non-profit educational organization if there were no course fee? This is not a church or religion that exists on donations and emotional persuasion, it is a comprehensive course in meditation, taught by professionally, rigorously trained instructors. Teaching TM is their profession. Of course they should be paid. But no one profits from TM, and no one ever has. All the money goes to make TM available to others, especially in developing nations where it's taught for free. I teach TM, and I can tell you, as far as salary it's akin to the Peace Corps or some public service. It's not about money.

As far as Yogic Flying and the TM-sidhi program, the practice is derived from the ancient Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Patanjali was the founder of what is called Yoga, but he was about much more than physical postures. Yoga is the experience of pure awareness, the unified state of awareness. The sidhis practice very powerfully stabilizes pure awareness so that one becomes firmly established in the full creative potential of one's Self. That's Self with a capital "S." The program maximizes mind-body coordination and creates EEG coherence throughout the brain. Dozens of replicated research studies have shown this.

This venerated tradition of Vedic knowledge, the oldest and arguably the most revered tradition of enlightenment in the world, describes three stages of Yogic Flying, and the first stage is more like hopping. The body lifts up, propelled by consciousness, but comes back down. This first stage has been publicly demonstrated many times, all around the world over the past 25 years. It's no secret.

People practice Yogic Flying, and continue to learn it in large numbers around the world (15,000 over the past year), because of the many practical benefits for mind and body. It's an ancient, respectable practice —— now scientifically verified, and validated in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

steve-vh said...

As my southern friend wisely counseled long ago "the secret to being an expert in anything is know how much the other guy knows. Anything you tell him beyond that........."

Steve Perry said...

LC --

With all due respect, bullshit.

Drs. Elmer and Alyce Green were among the first to study yoga in the U.S. using science, at the Mennigner Clinic in the early seventies. They worked with Swami Rama, who wasn't a TM guy, and he could do all kinds of amazing things.

There have been a shitload of studies on all kinds of eastern mediation practices, from yoga to zen to tummo. TM isn't the only one to get inspected.

TM is fine for what it is -- meditation-lite -- but it is in no way the best or only path up the mountain. Lot of folks have been heading that way for a long time before the Maharishi crossed the pond.

The physiological benefits of mantra meditation -- of which TM is but one version -- are well-known and measurable. Among them are lowered blood pressure, heart rate, relaxed brain wave activity. But the magic Sanskrit mantra doesn't fare any better in these tests than does intoning the term "Coca Cola" silently over and over.

Spiritual benefits are arguable, and I like OM myself, but that's harder to nail down objectively.

If yogic flying, i.e., levitation, actually worked to defy gravity in any way that science could verify, it would have blown everything else off the news when a third-stage practitioner did it. I didn't see that story. Nobody else did, either.

I'm happy for you than you enjoy your practice, more power to you, but it is in no way the be-all, end-all, one-true-path that you'd have us believe.

No point in wasting your time trying. Truly.

Steve Perry said...

P.S. I would have said there isn't a nickel's worth of difference between AM meditation and TM, but that's not so.

True, the procedure is similar. You get initiated, you get your own personal and -- ho, ho -- unique mantra, and the way to use it is pretty much exactly the same.

But the difference is considerable. As I understand it, those halcyon days when you could get your mantra for $125 are long ago and far away.

Runs about twenty times that much now, and chances are that your unique personal mantra will be somewhat, ah, used ...

Buyer beware.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately this typical story shows that you lost the opportunity to use your discrimination to dig deeper and find out the truth behind the superficial news and tendencies which have made you believe in the inaptitude of Ananda Marga as a genuine spiritual path. The same with the bad examples/behavior you have witnessed. Since you had been doing meditation already for some time, and knowing of the natural human imperfections, why instead of just helping or confronting the people you saw doing mistakes, you just left their presence and consequently lost trust on your own path? Even with the countless mistakes in the organization which propagates the path of Ananda Marga, an ideal spiritual aspirant shall instead of dismiss the path, establish an inner connection with the Goal and the Mission of Ananda Marga, which is universal and not a group`s doctrine. Through this connection one is able to represent, by one`s own example, more Ananda Marga than any perspective on the organization and people representing Ananda Marga to the world. Ananda Marga, the path of bliss, belongs to humanity and it is established from within, not through observing worldly manifestations of it.
The mantra you mentioned is not even one of the recognized mantras in Ananda Marga, so I am afraid the Dadaji you met made a mistake, or there was a miscommunication between you both, or he just cheated you, which is really bad.
Wish you progress in your spiritual path, however you take it, but please do not get astray due to such superficial obstacles. The spiritual reality is indeed much deeper and the ego refuses to accept surrendering to a greater reality than its own limits. I am sorry to hear about your bad experiences, but for every event in this universe there is a good reason, and so I hope you get over the distractions of the mind and dive into the truth beyond pain and pleasure.
Cheers!

Steve Perry said...

Anon's posting is wonderful -- as I read it, it's my fault I was cheated.

Isn't that one of the best defenses you ever heard?

I should have known that the teacher, sent by the founder of the organization, was in error -- using some kind of inner sense that, if I'd had, I'd not needed such a teacher in the first place.

You are an ignorant seeker trying to learn the truth. The people who claim to know it lie to you, and it is your fault because you should know the truth when you hear it. What a wonderful circularity!

Too rich. This is about as bald-faced a rationalization as I've ever come across.