A Bow – With Gratitude


For Guru Purnima

Asatoma sad gamaya
Tamasoma jyotir gamaya
Mrityorma amritam gamaya

Lead us from untruth to Truth; From darkness to Light; From death to Immortality.

(Ancient prayer to the Guru in Sanskrit Brhadaranyaka Upanishad — I.iii.28)

Buddham saranam gacchami
I go to the Buddha for refuge.
Dhammam saranam gacchami
I go to the Dhamma for refuge.
Sangham saranam gacchami
I go to the Sangha for refuge.

סטיבן פולדרShaila Catherine



Ramana MaharshiGurudev Yogi Amrit Desai


I want to express my deep and eternal gratitude for all my spiritual teachers, who throughout my life serve as the feet at which I continue to take refuge. Those who continuously open my eyes, showing me the way, sharing with me their wisdom and experience, pointing to the moon and say: It is possible.

*  *  *

My first teacher was my father. When I was 20, he died of cancer, and the ground literally dropped beneath me. Life as I knew it until then ended. It was the end of my personal age of innocence. With his death I experienced in the most tangible way the impermanence, transience, and ever-changing nature of things, even the most eternal and secure things as my father was to me.20140531

Months and even years after his death, I would still wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of crying, only to discover they were my own tears, and that once again I had dreamt of my father. The longing for him was mixed with a deep wish to understand, to know the meaning of things, to comprehend the meaning of life and death.

My father taught me to question everything. To doubt. To inquire and not take anything for granted. Not to do anything because “that’s what you should do” or because “everyone does it,” or "that's the way it's done", not because it’s written in the books or because someone smart said so or wrote it in a book.

Unknowingly, my father was actually repeating the words of the Buddha, the great teacher who claimed to be the ultimate teacher. In the famous Kalama sutta the Buddha said, "Find out for yourselves through your personal experience: are these ideas good and useful, worthy of praise? Will abiding by them lead to satisfaction and joy?"

My childhood hero Atticus (To Kill a Mockingbird), who, with infinite patience and kindness, tried to instill values in his children – has always reminded me of my father. Both argued that: "You will never understand a person until you see things from their pointof view … until you wear their skin and walk in it." Inadvertently, I was influenced in my childhood days by the same thing that later I would consider as the heart of the Dharma, and to this day I consider as the main essence of an awake person: the ability to put herself or himself in the other's shoes.

My father was for me a great teacher while alive, and a profound teacher with his death. An appropriate paraphrase would be that that his death gave me my spiritual life. Although I did not find answers, I slowly made peace with not-knowing, with the great mystery of life and death.

I met my second teacher by chance, when spending time on the beach of a small island in Ecuador. I was travelling in South America for several months as part of my spiritual quest, where, among other things, I attempted to communicate with aliens and to have out of body experiences. I don’t remember how it came into my hands, but there it was – Seth Speaks.

Despite my difficulty in reading English, every word resonated deeply within me.

So there I was, on that far away beach, marking with a yellow highlighter the sentences that touched me most – whole pages in fact. Every once in a while I would stop reading to lift my head, look around and sense that I am directly experiencing the words I had just read. I felt I was reading not only with my eyes and intellect but as if every single cell in my body was receiving the messages, and they were pervading each and every plane of my being. The still objects around me – the sand, the water, the rock I was leaning upon, the book and the words themselves – pulsed with very tangible life, and my own skin or the coconut I drank from each morning were no more barriers than rice paper.

במויזנה, אקוודור

Reading Seth in Ecuador

Seth was an entity channeled by Jane Roberts during the 1960s in the US. Until then I was unaware of the phenomenon of channeling or of the possibility of carrying on a conversation with a body-less entity. This wasn’t part of my kibbutz curriculum, to say the least, and my father, the sworn rationalist, did not teach me to believe in such things.

Today, the ideas presented by Seth seem quite obvious and acceptable, but at the time they were quite a revelation for me. This was 1986, the New Age movement had hardly begun. In the East Village, where I was living at the time, the first crystal shop just opened on East 4th Street. New York had not yet been invaded by Louise Hay and Deepak Chopra, vegetarianism was ample reason to be sent for observation, and alternative medicine was about as acceptable as Voodoo. I remember being shocked when my friend Mindy Cohen told me she believed in reincarnation. I thought: how can a bright NYU film student be so flaky. During my twenties, life beyond life and especially anything beyond romance, drugs and rock ‘n roll, seemed to me like total trash bordering on the insane, and I related to it and to anyone who believed in it with the arrogance they rightly deserved.

Therefore, my encounter with the Seth materials and their influence on me was, to say the least, world shaking.

Seth’s words opened for me a very tangible window into another level of awareness, another reality. I was familiar with such things from my experiences with psychedelic drugs, but they now received an almost scientific validation. I intuitively connected to these ideas, that what we take to be our reality is not all there is, that what we observe and receive through our senses is only a limited version of reality, and “our” atoms and molecules have an awareness of their own, one that is permeated with joy and aliveness.

I remember lifting my head from the pages of the book on that beach in Ecuador, and immediately experiencing everything around me as particles in constant movement, not separate from me, but rather differing only in their energetic density, and everything was vibrating on the frequency of joy and delight. I experienced the entire universe as vibrating on the frequency of joy and delight.

When I returned to New York City from South America, I felt the city could not contain the new spiritual interest growing within me. Incidentally I came across a pertinent sentence written by the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Something in me rebelled and I felt that I did not want to accept a life of quiet desperation. He also said: “I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” I decided right then and there that that was how I also wanted to live, even though I had no idea what that meant. A huge longing within me was stirred up by these mysterious words.

I moved to an ashram in Massachusetts, to live amongst a spiritual community of followers and disciples of the Guru Yogi Amrit Desai (fondly called Gurudev – beloved Guru), who practiced yoga and meditation, celibacy, bhakti (devotion) and service.

Kneeling with my brother

Not immediately did I surrender to my guru. An entire year passed before I was willing to “bow down,” both literally and metaphorically. True to my father’s doctrine (well, only partially – any involvement in “the beyond” already qualified as semi-treason), I checked and inquired, I doubted, disagreed, assessed with suspicion, and made sure I wasn’t being overpowered or blindly following some mass movement of "the herd". But when I eventually did decide to surrender – I did so wholeheartedly. After checking the “merchandise” and finding it worthy – all of the psychological/emotional barriers were released. For those who never experienced how it feels to spiritually fall in love, they will find it hard to comprehend how such an immense experience of non-sexual non-erotic love can be stronger than any other experience of love I had had. The heavens opened, the world and life itself became meaningful, and I experienced bliss and joy that nothing earthly nor material would ever equal.

The transition from my urban life in New York City to the monastic life was quite drastic: I intended to “put everything behind me", don robes and live a pure life of celibacy and spiritual practice for the rest of my life. The guru’s spirit permeated everything in the ashram and I developed a strong (albeit false) connection between my deep emotional bond with him and being on a spiritual path. His wisdom and his love pervaded every cell in my body and soul; his wise words guide me to this day. Despite his position as a guru, he first and foremost saw himself as a disciple of his own guru. His most famous line was: “I have not come to teach you but to love you; Love itself will teach you.”

The shaman Don Juan, another important teacher for me, explains the teacher’s role thus: “The teacher’s first step is to present the idea that the world we think we are seeing is no more than an illusion, or a description of the real world.”  Whereas Nisagardatta Maharaj emphasizes that one of the ways in which the teacher does so is through giving the student a sense of security and faith. Something to lean on. “Trust me and live in the light of that trust in me” he says.

I met the Dharma and Buddhism almost as a cosmic coincidence, but I immediately felt at home. I felt that I found myself, my way and my heart. Life has been generose and I was lucky and privileged to meet the teachers Christopher TitmussShaila Catherine, and Jaya Ashomore, that their deep commitment to awakening and their tirelessly pointing to the possibility of living an awakened and liberated life – echoed inside me the deepest and most significant longings of my life.

In Buddhism, practitioners are encouraged to take refuge, to set the heavy weight of their personal worries and issues, their limited existence as a separate and disconnected self – at the feet of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The Buddha – meaning the principle of awakening that resides within each of us; the Dharma – the teachings and practices, the wisdom and compassion that is our nature; and the Sangha – the community of practitioners, our partners on the path. We are invited to chant:

Buddham saranam gacchami
I go to the Buddha for refuge.
Dhammam saranam gacchami
I go to the Dhamma for refuge.
Sangham saranam gacchami
I go to the Sangha for refuge.

On the full moon of the month of July, one billion Indians celebrate the festival of Guru Purnima – the holiday of gratitude and appreciation for the teachers, gurus and masters, the charters of the spiritual path, the Lighthouses, the Holders of the Torch.

So in celebration of the Guru Purnima, I want to express my deep and eternal gratitude for all my spiritual teachers, men and women, those I met and those I was unable to meet, who throughout my life serve as the feet at which I continue to take refuge. Those who continuously open my eyes, showing me the way, sharing with me their wisdom and experience, pointing to the moon and say: It is possible.

To all those mentioned in this article, and to many others: Daniel Quinn, whose books Ishmael and The Story of B have impacted and shaped my world view, Stephen Fulder, my teacher and friend, Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan teacher of crazy wisdom, and Ramana Maharshi who is an inspiration from the Beyond and who says, "God, Grace and Guru are all synonymous and also eternal and immanent".

For this holiday, I want to express my gratitude for the fact that we do not tread this path alone. Thank God (and I say this as an atheist) and the Goddess (and I say this as a non-pagan) and the Dharma (as a non-Buddhist), and all the guides and guardian angels and fairies (and as a non-New-Ager) – who protect us, inspire and encourage us and enable us to take spiritual refuge in them and rest in the knowledge there is something greater than us, mysterious as life and death, even if it is the path itself, which is wiser than those who tread upon it.


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