Wednesday, February 8, 2012


My teacher, a person as gentle and considerate as any human being I have ever known, also had a quite a temper. His ears would turn red when he got mad. It didn’t happen very often but I remember what he said once afterwards. It went something like this: becoming angry was no mere teaching moment, not some demonstration of an exalted guru principle that flows ineffable spiritual truth. What he experienced, he said, was an action, an awareness, a commitment to an expression of his feelings and thoughts yoked to his body; this experience was a coming together, a yoga, a looming into the whole, a tantra, and an affirmation of the radical claim that the human experience is the point of having been born human. You are the point the universe has decided to make. Own that experience, receive that as the gift, never stop wanting to become more human: that is divine.

I asked him then, where do we learn that experience of the divine? Appa never failed to surprise me even when there was a textbook or “scriptural” answer. He knew all of those so well. He was a scholar of renown in south India, an initiate in the Tantra of Shrividya, and ready to explain the views of history. But these sources never provided answers. Instead, he said, we could enter into conversation where we might burnish hard-won opinions, not to confirm a body of doctrine, where we answer to scriptures, orthodoxies, or abstractions but rather learn to think with them. We must rely on our wits and trust that in disagreement we find as much to learn as in assent. When we admit the greatest tyranny we can impose upon ourselves is certainty then the conversation stands a chance of having continued value.

We aren’t accountable to the “divine” as if some intrinsic standard or embedded principle of goodness permeates the universe inviting our alignment, urging its standard. There is too much we don’t know to presume any such reality somehow guides or implores us. Nor are we merely governed by an abstract concept of karma as if this impersonal law provides the arbiter of justice, however eventual. Karma may be another way to talk about the power of the universe to audit our accounts but its not going to solve or decide anything. Instead we must learn to yoke ourselves to each other, learn to become accountable to ourselves and to one other; we answer to our family, our community, to humanity for our actions. For we are exactly what we do whether those actions manifest inside or outside.

The things we do in this life matter, our actions need to be judged, and we must learn how to hold each other responsible for actions. No one gets a pass. No principle like “guru” or the “divine” stands beyond our evaluation of its value in our lives. The consequences obtain; ramifications, present or delayed, affect others as much as they charge us to lead evermore-authentic lives. To cultivate our self-awareness we must rely on more than our individual experience because nothing is more delusional than isolating or compartmentalizing experience. Our spiritual life is more than our life within: it must happen with nature and in society. The dignity we offer to each other in honor of our private lives does not leave us less accountable to the world. We meditate when we enter into these conversations and emerge accountable to more than our individuality.

Reaching into that greater sense of responsibility we create kula, community. Kula--- the conversation of community holding itself to standards of accountability and reckoning. This is the place to find guru: the weight that implies we are experiencing something important. Community begins with self-reckoning and we are always judging. The issue isn’t whether we will judge our selves or others: we will, we must. Rather how can we arrive at our common humanity in the conversation that avers us to account for actions.