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The Conflict of I and the Spiritual Path

I’ve been going through some of my older writings of late and I found another article that you may find interesting. This one is unique in that I feel this article illustrates the point when I moved away from solely research-based writings onto blog-style compositions; circa 2006.

I remember the first time that I sought out the Integral Yoga Institute. This was the center for the teaching of Sri Swami Satchidananda. I was very young, and I showed up at their door in the early afternoon. A very nice female Swami greeted me. She invited me in.
She returned to her position of sitting on the floor, folding, and stapling flyers to be sent out regarding an upcoming Yoga retreat. I asked, “Do you need some help?” She said, “Sure.” So, we sat there talking, folding, and stapling.
It wasn’t long before another female Swami entered the room. The two soon left the room, as I continued folding and stapling the flyers. From the other room I could hear their conversation going from discussion to yelling. They begin to scream at each other. I sat there, continuing to fold the flyers.
Now this verbal confrontation went on for quite a while. As a young adolescent, walking the spiritual path, I could not help but question the relationship between these two Swamis and to ponder the question, “Was their behavior spiritual?” And, “Was this a place of spirituality?”
Eventually, I finished all the flyers. I sat there contemplating leaving as the argument continued. But, soon the first Swami reemerged, all smiles.
As the years went on, and my relationship with the Integral Yoga Institute grew, I became very close to this Swami. She was a truly nice and very spiritual person. Occasionally, we would joke about that early event and how she and the other Swami just could not get along.
We Are Who We Are
I began to realize early on my spiritual path that there is conflict. We are who we are. We like what we like, dislike what we dislike. This is not to say that what we like and what we dislike is not based in desire. Because it is. These two female Swamis could have been ‘Big Enough’ to leave their difference behind. But, at that point in their evolution, they were not. This does not make them bad or unholy—simply controlled by what they like and what they don’t like.
“Likes and “Don’t Likes” are the human condition. This is why the Buddha said, “The cause of suffering is desire.” Because we are all based in desire. And, desire is a subtle and virtually invincible enemy to spirituality—especially when we walked down the roads of the world.
The ironic fact that I realized through my years of close involvement with the Integral Yoga Institute and the Martial Arts is that, with rank comes power. With power comes ego. And, ego leads one away from the spiritual path. The ego of others is what eventually caused me to leave the Integral Yoga Institute.
Now, hand-in-hand with the Westerners who became Swamis in the Saraswati Order of Sri Swami Satchidananda, was an ongoing debate of power and control. The term, “Swami Power Trip,” was often unleashed.
This was due to the fact that for the most part, most of those who entered the order came from an emotional position of, “Lacking.” Once at the IYI they were immediately handed purpose and position. With this, not only was the roots of spirituality given birth to, but so was spiritual ego—which is perhaps the worst kind of ego, because it is so cleverly hiding under the guise of, “But, I’m Spiritual!”
Advancement is part of this human condition we call life. At every level, accomplished is dangled in front of our noses. “If you are not this, you are unworthy.” “If you have not accomplished that, and been given a title, then you are just not up there with the big-boys.” Or, “I am this, I hold this title, this means you are lower than me.”
This is one of the primary problems I have with monkhood and the various levels of definition associated with the spiritual path. I mean, people aspire to be Gurus, Priests, Swamis, and Nuns. They do this so that they will be “Something.” Something other than Nothing.
I remember how later in our friendship, the female Swami detailed that before she found Swami Satchidananda and become one of his monks, she used to be a “Complete liar.” She joking stated, “I used to lie about everything.”
Now, I think we all have known people like this—people who simply lie to lie. To each person they tell a different story.
What is this psychological condition based upon? It is based in the desire to be something, to be more. So, when this lady became a Swami, she “Became.” Thus, she was “Something” and no longer had the need to lie.
The problem with this whole mindset is that it sets a world of competition in motion and continues the process of conflict. Which is why great souls like J. Krishnamurti left behind many of the trappings of spirituality. Yes, he was a spiritual teacher. That was his job. But, he did not define himself with robes and titles.
The Downside of Achievement
One of the big problems with this world of achievement is that the moment a person achieves something, there will be others who try to tear them down.
Modern society, particularly those who inhabit the non-spiritual world, love to witness the demise of people of stature. So, here is perhaps one of the most important points of the spiritual path, “If you do not desire position, if you do not claim position, if you are not teaching a doctrine, then who can come at you and attack you for doing anything?”
Ultimately, why can a person be brought down or criticized? Because they claim titles, position, or knowledge. If they did not, then what could be taken away?
Now, this is one of the subtle elements of life. Life is about doing. You cannot—NOT DO. Energy permeates this universe and our bodies. It is the energy of constant movement. So, NOT DOING, is not an option. But, how you DO is the essence to spiritual LIFE.
In my world of DOING, I have commonly followed a path of artistic creativity. This has taken many forms, but perhaps most notably is that of writing and filmmaking. Now, writing is pretty much a solitary craft but though my filmmaking, I have met many people—some nice, most not. Though filmmaking I have also come to have many revelatory experiences—particularly those that involve the individual and the concept of “I.” In fact, in many of my films, I either have the character I am playing or another character make the statement, “So, what’s in it for me?”
This statement is a joking reference to the world of acting and filmmaking in general. That world is so ego based and most of the people involved in it are so self-absorbed, that all they can do is think about it themselves.
Now, in Hindu Yoga ideology there is the philosophic concept that YOU are the center of the universe. In fact, it is believed that there is no external people, places, or universe at all. It is simply a project of your Thinking Mind. The Thinking Mind, is, of course, the root of “I.”
Whether or not you accept this concept is not really important. But, what it does demonstrate is how people, even those who walk the spiritual path, are so “I” based that they cannot get out of their own way long enough to witness the true perfection of this place we call LIFE.
Most people are so “I” orientated that they believe that everything that is going on in the world has something to do with them. I mean, I get e-mails and letters all the time from people who have read something I have written and believe that it was directed, directly at them. When I read what they have to say all I can do is smile, because not only do I not know who they are, but what I wrote had nothing to do with them.
Now, this is a LIFE PROBLEM in general in that most people are so lost in their own “I” consciousness, that they project all kinds of thoughts and opinions onto other people. They start THINKING and then draw conclusions about what another person must be thinking and feeling about them and their specific actions. The reality is, what a person thinks or does not think is simply a MIND THING. It is not a defining factor for life. In fact, the only reason anyone cares at all about what another person is thinking is because they want to be perceived in a specific fashion by the individual they are projecting these thoughts upon. This is the ultimate reflection of “I” consciousness. But, “I” consciousness is not Self-Awareness or Self-Realization.
This “I” ideology also goes to the source point of giving. People continually turn to other people for gifts, guidance, and help. It is so common that a person goes to someone they think is better, richer, or more holy and asks them for THINGS—be they material or ethereal. Even in my life, people are continually coming into it and asking me for something: to put them in movies, to add them to the crew of one of my films, to put them in photos in books or magazines, to write a blurb for the back cover of their book, or to just help them out and give them LIFE PURPOSE. But, the reality is, no one ever comes and offers me a helping hand or asks me what I want or need.
Here, again, this fact gives reference to the root problem with the outside perception of accomplishment. The way people perceive my life is through their own eyes. Whether or not their perception is accurate goes to individual circumstances. But, the reality is, I have not accomplished anything that others have not done better or that anyone else cannot do if they try. Yet, by having accomplished what I have accomplished no one ever offers me anything, but they ask me for a lot.
This is the problem with the “I” mentality. People see externals. They witness the OUTSIDE. But, they do not seek the INSIDE. And, this is the problem with those driven by the “I” consciousness.
“I” consciousness is a curse and leads to all kinds of problems and conflicts. This is because of the fact that what people’s “I” believes and causes them to do has a direct effect on the lives of others.
The Bird & The Dog
Maybe six months I was about to enter a shop on Pacific Coast Highway and I looked to the intersection and there was a small bird which had apparently broken its wing and was fluttering around in the street. Though I didn’t know if I could save it or not, I impatiently waited for the light to change so I could run in the street and at least get the bird out of the street. But, the moment the light changed, this aging Latin man in his beat up pickup truck intentionally ran over the bird. I stood there holding back the tears over the needless loss of life, as he drove off laughing to his friend. I mean, how much life has been killed in this world based in this same needless Power Mentality?
Yesterday, I was driving South on the 101 between Hollywood and Downtown when this little brown dog darted out of nowhere and began running next to my car down the freeway. He ran out onto the freeway. I stopped. I jumped out of my car attempting to save him. My actions luckily caused him to run back onto the shoulder of the freeway. This while other drivers were honking and yelling, “Fuck you,” at me.
I mean where does someone have to be that is more important that the saving of a life?
In reality, there was a part of me, the inner-city street kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, who was very willing to stare down these people and tell them, “Fuck you,” right back. But, this is where spiritual discretion comes into play. And, this is the most necessary element to understanding the spiritual life, while stepping away from the control hands of “I.”
Just as the great East Indian Sage, Sri Shankaracharya detailed in his work, Vivekachudamani, “The Crest Jewel of Discrimination,” refined spiritual discretion is one of the most key elements to elevating one away from the “I” consciousness. Thus, guiding them towards enlightenment.
Criticism & Compliments
Those people who were honking and yelling, “Fuck you” at me is the same point of manipulation where people try to control others through criticism. They hold the belief that if they speak negatively about a person, discredit their thoughts or their ideas, then maybe they will come around to their way of thinking. But, who are they to extend judgment over anybody else’s life? And, just as occurred with my two Swami friends, commonly all criticism equals is conflict.
In essence, criticism and compliments are the same tool of manipulation. The reason people pay compliments to another person is also to gain a source point of control over them in order to manipulate their actions. But, it is only a person who is so locked into the deceptive elements of the “I” ego that they let themselves fall prey to these levels of emotional deception.
People Don’t Care
Now, this is one of the primary problems with life—PEOPLE DON’T CARE. That is to say, they don’t care about anything but themselves. All they care about is their own momentary reality and how they feel or how cool and in control they look in that particular moment.
And, the sad reality is, you cannot make people CARE. You cannot make people THINK. You cannot make people accept a spiritual sense of reality. Because, PEOPLE DON’T CARE about anything but themselves, their things, and what they want.
Bishop, California
As I seem to be telling some stories about my life here, I guess I can tell one more...
Maybe fifteen or twenty years ago, the person I considered my closest friend in the world invited me to watch the bicycle race of his stepson in Mammoth, California. The first leg of the race began in Bishop, California. Now, I didn’t really want to go, but he and his wife insisted. So, I gave in. I packed up my girlfriend. We jumped into her car. And, away we went. But, by the time we were outside of Bishop, which is a small town in shadows of the Eastern Sierras, something was very wrong with her transmission. The car died on highway 395. We had it towed into town. But, as we soon found out, Bishop was a small town, there was no one who could work on her transmission.
I told my friend of the condition. Now, here is the funny point about “I” consciousness. Instead of saying, “Well, I have to go to this race but let’s leave your car here, get a tow bar, and pick it up on the way back to L.A.,” or anything like that, his response was, “Sorry man, this is my only vacation of the year. There’s nothing I can do.” This, after twenty years of friendship. He left me stranded.
So, there we were, my girlfriend and I, stuck in Bishop, California. We had to stay in a small roadside motel for a few days, waiting for a tow truck driver willing to take us back to L.A. And, I had to pay the tow truck driver the last six hundred dollars I had to my name to get the car back to where it could be repaired.
Though I was in disbelief about my long-time friend’s actions and choices, it was not that I did not understand. He had a new wife and a new family, and his priorities had changed. But, his choice of noninvolvement was not the “I” choice that I would have made.
But, that is the story of life and “I” consciousness. Unless a person is willing to put aside their own opinions and desires, “I” consciousness becomes the control hands of everything. With “I” as the defining element, then power and control become the delineating factor of life. At this level the world is set into a pattern of unresolved conflict and everybody’s life that it touches becomes worse not better.
This is why the individual who walks the spiritual path embraces Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga witnesses you doing all that you can do for the betterment of life, society, and the world. And, making the world a better place never involves control, death, or destruction—that’s politics and power, not conscious action.
Karma Yoga is also never based in a personal concept of giving a person or persons what you think they want or need in a specific moment in time. Because that type of thought process is only based upon the controlling hands of personal opinion. And, personal opinion is never formed from an enlightenment mind.
Instead, Karma Yoga is based in the understanding of ‘Surrender to Betterment.’ Karma Yoga involves stepping beyond “I” consciousness. This means that you may have to give up what you personally think or want in any specific moment of time—because ultimately you come to understand that what you think or want in this moment will not be what you think or want in the next.
By surrendering what you want, and by giving, instead of taking, you donate to the overall ‘Betterment’ of LIFE.
Where do you live?
Where do you live your life? Are you giving or are you taking? Are you arguing or are you accepting? Are you destroying or are you creating? Are you helping or are you hurting? Are you daydreaming about what things and accomplishments you want to make in your life or are you surrendering your desires and giving back to the world? Are you making your space better or are you making the world better?
Who are you?