Wednesday, 20 February 2013


The way I see it, and it's only my view, the grace of the Guru is like a golden thread that weaves through our life, that we follow when we can see it - even if its presence is not immediately obvious. To add to the metaphor, our life's progress is not a linear line from incident A to incident B, but a spiral path, leading steadily upwards. So we go through familiar territory, time and time again, but from a slightly different perspective every time: family issues, work issues, personal challenges; bad habits; ambitions; desires - the same cast of inner characters and obstacles as we progress through life.

All this is a way of saying that following that golden thread is rarely easy, for most of us. To  find the thread is one thing: sometimes our path seems inescapably obvious. But sometimes, too, it takes a bit of hindsight to see the unfolding of destiny in our lives, when the noise and tumult of existence gets a little too much.

Sri Sri Sri Shivabalayogi was an extraordinary being, not that well known in the west compared with some of the Indian Gurus who built up large followings in the 60s and 70s, especially in America. He only visited the west towards the end of his life (he attained Mahasamadhi in 1994, dropping a body worn out by the demands of so many devotees), and otherwise lived in India with a fiercely loyal inner core of followers and a string of relatively modest ashrams. 

The central tenet of his message was based on experience, gained through following his own method of meditation, which essentially is skilful concentration on the spot between the eyebrows as a way to quieten the mind. It seems a simple technique, but it is profoundly effective. The Master recommended meditation of an hour at a time, and guaranteed his presence and support. But he also cautioned that the Guru was like having a valuable diamond in the pocket: be careful or the diamond can slip away.

I never met him while he was alive, but by strange destiny, he burst into my meditation and in my life years after he dropped his body, and overwhelmed my existence. For long weeks I was immersed in his living presence - unlooked for, but ecstatic. Then this connection seemed to fade from view. The Ego began to reassert itself, and tried to ritualise the whole experience, to assimilate this energy to its advantage... the diamond, suddenly, was hard to find.

Meanwhile, my other professional life began to get extraordinarily, even strangely, busy. From a life of retirement I was flung into prolonged bouts of business travel, work crises, and on top of that the drama of having to place my senile mother into a care home - a sad and exhausting process. 

But now that this surge of worldly activity has once again subsided a little, I can see with hindsight where the golden thread was in all the dramas. I see that all unfolded with the protective grace of the Guru, that my life has been filled out in a way it perhaps needed to be, and that the world's illusions hold no real power, compared with the shakti of spiritual practice.It took time, then, to re-assess exactly where I'd been travelling.

If you seem to have lost that golden thread, then don't despair. The Guru is the personification of God's grace, and this grace moves in its own time, not according to our timetable. It can take years for events to make sense, years to shape and craft sadhana, spiritual practice. But it all comes good in the end. So, remember to be patient, above all: to trust that the scriptures are not mistaken; the lives of great saints are never extinguished; that no effort to the transcendent is ever wasted; and that god hears your prayers, even when you have forgotten how to pray. We are all truly blessed!


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Spiritual practice and business (2)

The business of  business... The question of occupation in this 21st century world. Not for most of us is the opportunity to live in a simple hut on the side of a beautiful mountain while grateful villagers from far below send us regular meals... No, those times are not currently available and instead the only world for most of us is trying to earn a living, maybe with the vague inner sense that we are not exactly where we should be. Or is that simply escapism?

The traditions of yoga and the Veda are my home ground and yet  they dont often seem to cover the plight of ordinary men and women, householders, because so few of Indias saints actually were householders... Most were monks. The view that actual renunciation is the only way to liberation is a dangerous one which can lead to a skewed society dominated by a priesthood. The way of the householder is an honourable estate and in so many ways far more engaging with life than a monk

I remember working in an ashram in India cleaning rooms and being shocked at the comfortable quarters of the western swamis there. "Nice life if you can get it",  I thought.  They lived far more comfortably than me, and furthermore did not have to deal with the onerous chores of paying utility bills, taxes, childrens education. Instead they lived in a little world guaranteed respect and dignity, with plenty of friends and resources. No wonder in that organisation and in many other westernised yoga schools everyone wants to be a sannyasin!

But, karma is karma.

Back to the topic of business, as mentioned in part 1 of this post,  one vital point about business is the importance of learning and apprencticeship. To break it simply down, you need to master a skill to
be skillful, and at some point in your life this will involve a period of apprenticeship. Theres a fantastic book on the topic i picked up recently called Mastery by an energetic writer called Robert Green, and he creatively uses the examples of many famous historical figures (such as Mozart, Einstein, Faraday etc ) to point out that each and every one may have had great gifts, but they invariably served a period of learning. Simple technique for the rest of us: model our behaviour closely on those we emulate, as long as these traits are dharmic and not harmful.

Chinese Taoist and Confucian traditions have plenty to teach us on the importance of continued and continual learning and modelling. We constantly trim our sails as it were, we adapt our behaviour in response to feedback, and always, always we cultivate virtue.

This is one good quote from Confucius:

Six good words and six things that obscure them

Love of kindness without a love to learn finds itself obscured by foolishness.
Love of knowledge without a love to learn finds itself obscured by loose speculation.
Love of honesty without a love to learn finds itself obscured by harmful cadour.
Love of straightforwardness without a love to learn finds itself obscured by misdirected judgement.
Love of daring without a love to learn finds itself obscured by insubordination.
Love for strength of character without a love to learn finds itself obscured by intractibility.

His advice?

With courtesy you will avoid insult
With magnaminity you will win all
With sincerity men will trust you
With earnestness you will have success
With kindness you will be well fitted to command others.

If you are in the world, in business, dont be discouraged. All may be Maya, the illusive power of Divine Mother, but all is also envelloped on every level by the golden presence of your beloved. Joy is so prevalent! In my life i have known every extreme, wealth, penury, marriage, celibacy, the death of loved ones, disasters, petty triumphs, tiring thankless labour, the public spotlight, courts, tax horrors, you name it... But in all of the follies of my youth I still learned. Many lessons appear again and again in life, the same patterns, the same problems... And the simple solutions. In the worldly life, time is so fleeting, everything rushes b at an incredible speed, like those quickened films of clouds passing across a sky. What is left of our endeavours? Why in 100 yrars we will be forgotten about as life dances on. So, stay ethical, stay true, stay full of wonder where and how you are placed. Dont make an iron cage for yourself in terms of religious observance. Dont be cruel, dont be hasty, and for me, it ultimately boils down to... Well, i guess, a smile.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Spiritual practice and Business (1)

We are all in the hands of the Lord, however we picture that benevolent, overwhelming, mysterious force that determines every movement of every atom in the manifested universe... and sometimes those hands gently push in in a direction we least expect.

The story of my life these past three months has been one of unrelenting travel across Europe, to Hong Kong and shortly to Miami, all because of a promotion and extra responsibilities in my day job, in a world as different as it possibly could be from the world of serious spiritual practice. All this came out of the blue, and has an element of crisis about it, as we stand to lose a part of our business without urgent attention. But what can you do?

When I knew some difficult times were ahead, the first person I ran to was the mental image of the great Yogi Shivabalayogi. I cannot say a vision materialised and spoke glowing words, but in my imagination I did seem to hear his voice at every stage, saying "Don't worry. The way is cleared"... and so it proved. The way was clear, often it seemed magically so, as I went from meeting to meeting to discuss the ways and means of profit and loss.

And on countless plane journeys, stops at airports and rail stations, I've had a chance to pause and reconnect with the deeper strands of life.

The world of business swallowed me up in the 1980s, when I became an oil broker and experienced at first hand the extremes of wealth (other peoples), greed, aggression, and... in a very few cases... nobility. At the time I was a young man, easily swayed by the glitter of this Maya, this Divine illusion, and for a few years I lost my spiritual bearings. 

But this time round, late on in life, I'm a little less blinded by glitz. And I've also found that all those who so aggressively pursued greed and self-aggrandisement never ultimately prospered. Those who do survive and flourish in business over a long period of time are the prudent, the wise, the shrewd. And somewhere in the mix is loving-kindness.

How we treat others in life is the clue to our own peace of mind, and this applies just as much in business as in spirituality. The same rules, the same simple principles: Do unto others as you would like them to do; treat everyone with respect, no matter how young, or seemingly unimportant. Never forget a face. Never forget you sense of humour, and there you go.

My own guiding principles in business lean a lot on some of the stories from the Imperial history of China. Its a history replete with the strong, the wise, the cunning, the cruel, the beautiful, much as is modern life. One particular hero stands out, a man who rose to become chief war strategist for, if I remember rightly, one of the emperors of the Tang dynasty. 

His early life  was poor and humble. He was overlooked from an early age, bullied a lot, and only one old woman in the village showed him any kindness. He decided to become a soldier - and faced many years of obscurity as a simple soldier without rank.

His fortunes changed because just one man, a general, recognised his quality. And it happened at an odd moment. He was about to be executed for imagined treason, along with others. But our hero stood calmly, said something along the lines of "If our Emperor was really serious about winning victories he would not kill men who wanted to fight." His calmness under extreme pressure was what attracted the attention of the general. He rose through the ranks.

Then there came a time when the hero, along with others, left the army in frustration. The general ran to the Emperor and said that he had to persuade the man to come back. The Emperor was astonished, as he had never heard of the hero. "Why do you want me to bring this man back?" he asked the general. "Because he is indispensable. He is a master strategist," said the general. "And, in fact, you should not just bring him back but make him head of the army."

Unbelievably, this is what the Emperor did. And sure enough, victory followed victory. 

After the hero became famous, he returned to the village and showered the old woman who had treated him kindly with gifts. But he remained til the end of his life modest, full of integrity, and blessed with an ability to see far ahead, to judge the characters of others, and to keep calm in a crisis.

If you are in business, do not fall into the trap of trying to make as much money as quickly as possible. I've seen people come and go, having built their lives on this shaky premise, completely desensitised to the harm they might cause others in the process. The pursuit of wealth is a contradiction. You cannot pursue Lakshmi. She comes and goes at Her own will and can never be commanded. Perhaps your destiny is not to become the riches man alive. But noone is prevented ever from getting wisdom, from accumulating spiritual riches, from acting with integrity, honesty, serenity. Joy comes from a dharmic life and you may not have the destiny to be able to abandon the world. Don't worry! You dont need to abandon anything, just loosen your attachment to your own agenda, to plans that aim to make you the centre of the universe. Above all, in business, don't be cruel or vindictive.

Spirituality finds a particular beauty when wedded to the intricacies of the world, and this is the joy of living in the world, maybe as a parent, or a husband, or a wife, or with relatives... this is your environment with which to pursue your own miraculous task: bring God into your life, bit by bit, step by step. He is never very far away at all.