Friday, November 13, 2009


Great things are subtle. Not obvious. Multi-layered. Capable of being savored. Think about good food, fine wine, great music, poetry, or a beautiful painting. Consider the beauty of the world we live in. The great scientific insights in every field.

Intellectual people (like me) sometimes think that the apparent simplicity of Maharaji’s message makes it unsubtle and therefore unworthy of their attention. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Maharaji’s message points to something that is extremely subtle, and even the way he presents his message is, well, not obvious, multi-layered, capable of being savored. Let me give you just one, tiny, current example of multi-layered subtlety in Maharaji’s talks.

One of his current themes is the distinction between believing and knowing. Yesterday I watched a near-live video presentation of a recent talk he gave in India centered around this theme. While listening, I recognized a rich subtlety in one of his metaphors that I had almost completely missed in previous hearings of very similar content.

This was during his famous “imaginary cow” example. In many of his recent addresses, Maharaji has invited his listeners to believe that there is a cow on stage with him. As he describes the imaginary cow, one can indeed almost see it, and almost taste the sweetness of its milk. His point, of course, is that you can’t actually drink the milk of an imaginary cow. Believing vs. knowing.

In making this point, he uses analogies within the cow analogy. For example, he says that if you are drinking a real cup of tea, and you want to add some cream to remove the bitterness of the tea, you can’t use the cream from the imaginary cow. The tea will still be bitter.

I’ve heard this whole story a dozen times or so, both on video and in person, but this time I heard something in a new and delightfully subtle way. I realized that the tea analogy does much more than drive home the basic point. It is beautifully chosen to convey in itself the depth and subtlety of the message.

At one level, he evokes the sense of taste to convey the immediate reality of his subject, implying that the Knowing he refers to is something you can actually "taste," and not just in your imagination. At an even deeper level, the “bitter tea” can remind us of the bitter taste of life without love. The cream, of course, represents the love we all seek. When love is mixed into the tea of life, it permeates it, removing the bitterness and giving us something much more pleasant to experience. And that, to me, is a wonderful analogy for the experience of Knowing that Maharaji offers.

I’m talking here about one little phrase, one little moment, in one hour-long talk. What I’m trying to suggest is that his expressions are permeated with such multi-layered subtle points, waiting for us to discover them, to our delight and our edification.

I can only hope that Maharaji would not be annoyed by what I have expressed here. He doesn’t like to be interpreted, and indeed I am not trying to interpret him, but to appreciate him, and to share that appreciation. For he’s the cream in my, uh, tea.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Learning from a Challenge

The America's Giving Challenge ended yesterday, with the cause TPRF: Food for People coming in second place out of almost 8,000 Causes entered, and raising about $250,000 from thousands of small contributions in less than 15 days. I had the opportunity to be a part of organizing this remarkable effort. After this experience, I have never appreciated Maharaji more. On its own small scale, the process helped me to recognize another of his qualities worthy of passionate admiration.

The Challenge did not follow the usual fundraising campaign template. It was about the number of donations, not the amount, and the rules allowed one daily donation from each contributor. Most of us, including TPRF supporters, have received many fundraising requests. The familiar pattern is an appeal for one contribution that should be as large as possible, or perhaps a commitment to regular monthly support. This Challenge presented something completely different and very unfamiliar.

People tend to see what they expect to see. Breaking through a familiar pattern to convey a new idea takes time, patience, and persistence, even with one person. We wanted to reach thousands. At first, there were moments when I wanted to shout at people, to shake them and say, "Don't you get it?!" But shouting and shaking is not effective. It's about that patient, persistent effort, and about hundreds and thousands of individual realizations, each happening in its own time, in its own way.

Through every channel we had, we kept up a continuous stream of messages that conveyed the same information in different ways, always trying to be positive and encouraging, and often with a light touch. As the campaign went on, the lights went on, one by one, for more and more people, and the daily support built steadily, to the point where we had well over 2,000 individual contributions on the last day, and a remarkable overall achievement of second place.

When I thought about this, I remembered that Maharaji has said something very similar about efforts to convey his message -- that he tells us the same thing, again and again, but keeps finding different ways to say it, so that we can, individually and in our own time, begin to really get the message.

I know how difficult it was for me to overcome my own impatience, and to keep channeling the passion I felt about the potential of this Challenge into patient, positive effort. How challenging must it be for Maharaji, who must also want to shake us sometimes, to channel his passion for the human potential that he sees into the patient, persistent effort he has been making for so many years? Somehow he does it, never losing the passion, the kindness, and the hope that people will understand more and more of what he has to say.

No one sees more clearly than he does, that the only thing that really matters is the understanding of individual human beings, which comes about one by one. No one understands better than he does how one drop after another can become a mighty river. I got a glimpse of this in the achievement of the Challenge that has helped me see just a little more of the vision behind what he is doing. That little bit I've seen makes me proud to count myself as one of his passionate admirers. We had so much fun, we did so much good, with the united effort of a few thousand people over a few days to make one little contribution every day. How much fun, and how much good, does he envision for our human potential? It's something I can learn more about every day, and I hope I live long enough to learn a lot more.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Breakthrough in Ethical Philosophy

What we sometimes call The Golden Rule is a great ethical principle, common to every religion of the world. In the Jewish tradition, we tell the story of a non-Jewish man who came scornfully to the revered Rabbi Hillel and challenged him, “Can you teach me your Torah while I stand on one foot?” Hillel replied without hesitation, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, the rest is the explanation. Now go and learn.”

The positive form of this principle is, strictly speaking, the actual Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Until recently, I’d have said that these words, so time-honored, so universal, so self-evident, were unsurpassed as a basic ethical principle. But in Gainesville, on September 21, Maharaji surpassed them. I was there. I heard it with passionate admiration, I've been wanting to quote it since then, and now I have the recording. Here is the amazing thing he said, with the context that leads up to it:

Where is the humanity in the humans?

There needs to be a clearer understanding that we are the people of this earth. Of this earth. And we all need elbow space. That’s all. Whatever religion we want, we should be able to practice. Nobody to come and boink it on our heads, “You must be this.” No, whatever it is. If somebody wants to be a Muslim, if somebody wants to be a Hindu, it’s OK, It doesn’t change us fundamentally as people. It doesn’t. We’re still human beings. We’re still human beings.

And we as human beings need to have the biggest faith in our selves. If human beings lose faith in human beings, what species will you turn to? We need to keep our faith intact in ourselves. And it behooves everyone to become worthy of that faith of the person next to them. And that is being a good neighbor.
To me, this is a step beyond the Golden Rule. It’s more than refraining from hateful actions. It’s more than doing good deeds. To try to be worthy of the faith of others. Wow. That's saying a lot! What would that take? Have I ever even thought about it that way? As much as I have longed to find others to trust in my life, as many disappointments as I have had, have I ever really considered how I could become a trustworthy one for others?

And why? That's important, too. Not from fear of punishment. But because you consciously recognize what Maharaji is pointing out, that the ability to have faith in each other is the categorical imperative of our well being as human beings together on this earth.

I can complain endlessly about what everyone else is doing, but am I making the effort I need to make to be worthy of the faith of others? I know that I can do more. And if everyone was looking at life that way, what kind of world would this be? In my opinion, nothing simpler and nothing higher has ever been formulated in words.

Without further comment, I urge you to read these words again and again, especially that last paragraph, think about them, and let their wisdom and power touch your being.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Magnetic North Pole of Goodness

Philosophers have discussed and debated the subject of goodness for as long as philosophers have existed. I’m not an expert on Plato and Socrates, but I do know that one of their main subjects was “What is good?”

Why do human beings ask this question? What makes us think there is such a thing as “good” to wonder about?

There seems to be a built-in compass of some kind. Few would disagree that love is good. Well, not the jealous, possessive, controlling kind, but certainly the caring, protecting, compassionate kind. Few would disagree that peace is good. Contentment. Kindness. Generosity. Most of us agree that they are all good. But what IS good?

In keeping with my overall subject of passionate admiration, I’m going to suggest there is a thing that automatically evokes the feelings of admiration and gratitude within a human being. It does not matter what we call this thing. The sun provides light and warmth, whatever its name. It isn’t the word “sun” that does it. It’s the thing itself. Similarly, something evokes admiration and gratitude. It doesn’t matter what we call it. What matters is the feeling. But that something does have a name, and that name, in English, is “goodness.”

When I spend a little time with Maharaji, I am often overwhelmed with admiration and gratitude. There might be logical reasons to admire him. But logic is a very small part of this. Mostly, it simply happens. There is a certain reality, and my nature is to respond to that reality in a certain way. It doesn’t much matter what I think about it. The reality exists, and my response happens.

The word that comes to mind to talk about this reality is “goodness.” Maharaji is so deeply imbued with goodness that he radiates it. The familiar phrase “moral compass” takes on a new level of meaning in this light. A compass works because there is a magnetic north pole that attracts the needle in its direction. Similarly, there is a magnetic north pole of goodness that attracts the internal needle of my heart, and gives me a sense of direction in life, an ability to know what is good, and to move in a good direction.

To carry the analogy one step further, even if you have a compass in your pocket, it only helps you when you take it out of your pocket and look at it. Practicing the Knowledge that Maharaji gives is like taking the compass out of your pocket. Knowledge bestows many gifts, but arguably its greatest gift is the ability to focus on that compass.

Happy Birthday, Maharaji!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


It’s hard to think of a word or an idea more intuitively appealing than freshness. Perhaps that’s because the concept of freshness is rooted in the primal and sensual world of food and nourishment. And in something even more primal, the air we breathe. Fresh air. Who doesn’t love it?

Words and ideas can be as fresh or as stale as air and food. And when you get to be my age, and you’ve heard it all many times, everything begins to sound like a cliché. Like that phrase, “When you get to be my age....” What’s the problem with clichés? The problem is that they are so familiar that we don’t pay attention to them any more, and because we don’t pay attention, they don’t have meaning.

The same thing can happen to the experience of life itself. Hamlet said it best: “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world.” Ever feel that way? Who hasn’t?

The quality of Maharaji I’m writing about is that he is always fresh. There is nothing old, stale, or tired about him. You’ll never catch him at it. Believe me. I’ve tried. He doesn’t do tired. Even when he’s tired, he isn’t tired.

What makes this quality passionately admirable is that it’s contagious. He is not only fresh. He is refreshing. That is, he makes everything around him fresh again. Most of all, the people themselves. Freshness is a feeling. There is nothing like it. A place where boredom is unimaginable. Freshness is one of the great gifts of his company.

But it’s not only the people. It’s everything, even words and ideas. Pick a cliché. Any cliché. Look at it in isolation. Tired, right? Now take the same cliché and hold it up next to Maharaji. Like magic, it’s not a cliché any more. It’s full of meaning. It’s fresh. It’s a whole new idea.

Let’s take a random example, the hackneyed phrase “never ceases to amaze.” Definitely tired. But think about it for a minute. What a powerful statement! Amazement without end. Constant amazement. Where can you really find that in life? Doesn’t “wow” always turn into “ho hum” eventually? What is always amazing?

The answer, in a word, is life. But to refresh that cliché, you need a master refresher. Passionate admiration and its close companion, gratitude, naturally well up in response to the first-hand experience of that kind of mastery.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Ninja in Love

Let’s take these two unlikely bedfellows one at a time, and then see if we can find the fit.

What makes Ninjas different from all the other martial artists? We have karate masters, kung fu masters, jiu jitsu masters, aikido masters, and so. What is the romance of the ninja? I think the essence of the ninja idea is that you don’t see them coming. They get past your bodyguards. They get through your electronic security system. They walk through your walls. Silently. By the time you are aware of them, if you are aware of them at all, it’s too late. Far too late. You don’t have a chance. You never had a chance. It is a very dark thought when the intention is lethal. But it has a fascination all its own.

Now to love. As much as we all say we want love, and we do want love, we also don’t want love, because we are afraid of it. There are many reasons to be afraid of love. I won’t list them here. If you have experienced love, I am sure that you know what I mean. If you haven’t experienced love, you probably know that at least one reason is that you are afraid of it.

Perhaps now it's clear where I'm headed, but I will state it plainly. From my very first encounter with Maharaji, consistently through 35 years, and right up to and including my most recent encounters with him, albeit indirect ones, and I’m talking about yesterday and this morning, I NEVER SEE HIM COMING. He is just suddenly there. Fortunately for me, very fortunately, he isn’t there to kill me, but to love me.

The fact is, as much as I do want love, I have so many and such richly complex defenses against love that the Ninja art of getting through them at all, never mind silently, has to be more difficult than any other. It's not my business, of course, but I suspect that it's probably the same for you. But Maharaji does get through them. Time and time again. And it wouldn't really make that much difference if I was the only person in the world experiencing that, because love is very individual. But as it happens, I know for sure it is not just me. Honk if you can relate to this. Do I hear a deafening roar?

Consider for a moment. What is marriage except a commitment of two people to dedicate their whole lives to loving each other. And how successful are most of us at that with one person?

And yet, here is a person who can accomplish that with thousands, tens of thousands of people, I don't really think there is a limit, not only in person, but also across the apparent barriers of time and space. Never mind the sense of amazement and wonder. The fact of the love experienced is the undeniable and glorious reality. And perhaps when the person who can do that says, “I have a gift,” we can stop for just one second the noise of envy, jealousy, indignation, and hate that answers “Who does he think he is?” and allow the passionate admiration that is and could only be the natural human response to come to our attention, and recognize the simple truth of it. He does have a gift, in both senses of the word. He has received a gift, and he comes bringing a gift. A true gift, by the way, given without strings. If that isn’t passionately admirable, I don’t know what is.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Yay Life!

I was planning an entry called "Reverence for Life." Thanks to Erika Andersen for using this phrase in an email message yesterday. It's the best two-word summary of Maharaji's message I have seen. More to come on this topic, but I wanted to get this up.