Applied Theological Studies
At Kali Mandir
Jai Ma! Great article by Kamalakantaji! We live in a time and place with much sand. I appreciate the sentiment of non-judgment when it comes to observing the many flavors of the human landscape in relation to spiritual knowledge, experience, and lack there-of. I know, for me, it can be frustrating to see the sacred tradition, religion, and holy way that I am a part of, be often misrepresented, watered down, or misunderstood in the West; so aiming for non-judgment is always a good reminder for me.
A resonant teaching that I recently heard from a Zen Buddhist monk that I like says, "Rather than fight the darkness, seek the light with absolute determination" He tells an old story of a fox who has been getting into the farmer's chicken coop and killing the chickens. In response, the farmer molds a "guard" out of tar and places it at the entry of the coop. The fox approaches the tar figure and says, "Hey! What are you looking at? You'd better stop looking at me or I'll punch you!" And of course, the tar figure doesn't move. The fox swung at it and got his paw stuck in the tar. The fox says, "Hey! You'd better let go of my leg or I'll kick you!" The tar figure remains motionless, and the fox kicks with all his might, getting his foot also stuck in the tar. And on and on it goes, until the fox is completely entangled in the sticky tar. Meanwhile, had the fox sought his goal with absolute determination, and walked right around the sticky "guard", he would have achieved what he set out to do.
While this story isn't a perfect example, as I don't mean to equate "the light", or "sugar" with killing a chicken, the teaching applies, and takes the metaphor of the rishi in the story a step further I feel, like this... Like the wise ant, seek the sugar with unwavering determination, and do not get caught up in tasting, or wrestling with the sand on your way. I think if we follow our instinct to our goal with absolute focus, the sand falls away, and the sugar reveals itself, with unquestionable clarity.
This is my personal interpretation, relevant to my own experience, and I think perhaps it applies to the modern context that we find ourselves collectively in.
Thank you for the food for thought, and the support that the Wise Ant teaching is for all seekers!
love your emoji 😀
Yes! A great blog post from Kamalakantaji!
I have been seeking “sugar” most of my life, it seems. Had my fair share of sand, sugar-coated sand, and, by Ma’s Grace, some authentic, organic sugar, as well.
I can appreciate that I’ve been using my own, very similar checklist of sorts, as I’ve been on this spiritual journey; and as cultivating a direct relationship with God has been the focus throughout, I’ve tuned my ear to Her voice “in my gut”, as it were. Having elders on the path has been paramount, of course, to be a grounding voice of experience when the waters of emotionalism begin to rise. The scriptures, accountability of lineage, and now, the voice of my own Guruji, are crucial instruments as I attempt to sail this ship in the right direction. The pole stars of the saints are important guiding lights, especially when things get dark. But, all things considered, its in the opening of the sails of my heart, through authentic prayer and relationship, that the wind of God’s Grace can blow me where I need to be. And I've learned to trust is in Her winds.
A final contemplation:
It’s also in trying to “be sugar” myself, as in, to be an authentic sadhak, rooted in lineage, true to the scriptures, and corrected by a community of sadhus, that I learn what “real sugar” tastes like. And how sweet the real deal is! Beyond words, actually. :)
Your authenticity and the sincerity of your search is very inspiring.
Jai Mā! I'm struck by the timelines of reading this article. I was recently engaged in some rather fierce discussion regarding cultural appropriation and the commercialism of yoga and kirtan. In my experience, it has, at times, seemed as though the sand were swallowing all the sugar... and me right along with it! Appropriation, colonization, and racism are three stripes on the same flag. While I appreciate the notion to let the sand be sand; sometimes, we have to take a stand also. These seeming "micro-aggressions" become quite macro when viewed through the lens of the historical domination of India... and Her many riches, which most certainly include the wisdom and practices of Yoga. That same system of suppression and theft is at play today in what is currently called yoga in the West... it just seems more benign.
I've personally fallen prey to the mass initiation of a "guru" at a time in my life when I wasn't fully aware of what I was committing to, leaving the residual felt sense of anger and betrayal. I feel cheated to have something so precious (the experience of diksha) taken from me. This was a person with whom I'd had a "direct experience" of intuitive warning that went unheeded because I was fearful that, without a guru, I couldn't have a real relationship with Mā. I had yoga teachers telling me half truths about what all of this "stuff" meant... and therein lies some of the dangers of the sand. Fortunately, Mā always has a plan... and is patient with our folly.
The experiences with this particular "guru" that followed nearly caused me to walk away from the path of dharma altogether. I'm grateful that Mā allowed me to hear Her call above the chaos of the confusion... and She lead me here, to Kali Mandir... and to GuruJi and a community of accountability, wisdom, and tradition. It is all Her grace.
Dear Durga Dasi,
Admiring the whole of your share!
“In my experience, it has, at times, seemed as though the sand were swallowing all the sugar... and me right along with it! Appropriation, colonization, and racism are three stripes on the same flag.“
“While I appreciate the notion to let the sand be sand; sometimes, we have to take a stand also. These seeming "micro-aggressions" become quite macro when viewed through the lens of the historical domination of India... and Her many riches, which most certainly include the wisdom and practices of Yoga. That same system of suppression and theft is at play today in what is currently called yoga in the West... it just seems more benign.”
”Fortunately, Mā always has a plan... and is patient with our folly.”
Jai Jai Ma! 🌺
Thank you for sharing, Durga Dasi. You're so on target about all the Western sand :) ... and yes, Maa always has a plan! It strengthens us all to see you living Her plan for you 🌺🔻🕉️
Excellent article and sound advice. Once you receive Guru's grace and step into the flow of grace you are like a magnet which, by the laws of attraction, draws iron to itself. You will naturally and automatically draw the sugar to your lips.
I enjoyed the article and everyone's response to it. Lots of good insights. The four criteria to use as a reality check of spiritual groups and teachers are very helpful. They provide a solid base for evaluation.
In my experience they are not fool-proof (and I don't think Kamalakanta was implying that they were) and one can spend lots of time chewing on sand and really believing it is sugar. The one thing these criteria don't take into account is one's subconscious motives. I thought all I wanted was enlightenment. What I wasn't aware of was that I also desperately wanted assurance, approval, belonging, love, community, and safety. None of these things are bad in and of themselves, but they can certainly be used against one if they are unconscious needs screaming for attention. I have come to realize that more than God realization, I wanted love, approval and appreciation and if I could get that from a supposed godman that was all the better. I also noticed that I was willing to compromise with my ideals a lot in order to get those unconscious needs met. Who needed God-realization when you were getting you ego stroked by God's personal representative on earth.
I have to admit though, that chewing on sand isn't all bad nor is it a waste of time. How else are the demands of the ego going to get worn down? It sounds like many of us experienced what may be called detours on our spiritual journey. These "detours" really teach us where not to go and that is useful on one's journey. They also help us wake up to what is really important to us. There is a popular Christian say (or at least I think it is Christian) that says, "God draws straight with crooked lines." I believe after everything is said and done that I am going to look back and see how every detour, every setback, and every disillusionment is the very thing that I needed to spur me ever quicker on my way to Ma.
Thank you, Swamiji, for leading us to think about this important article more. And I apologize for not being brief! :)
I agree with Rev. Kamalakanta that more than one method is needed, and that our emotions and subjective reactions are “most often manipulated by imagination, desires and the will of others.” If we learn nothing else from the Vedas and the teachings of great souls like Sri Ramakrishna, we should learn that feelings aren't facts.
At the same time—and very rightly—Kamalakantaji tells us to pay attention to our gut. Is this a contradiction? No—because he guides us to find at least one more confirmation, whether it be from scripture, lineage, or the teaching of a guru.
I would say, go even farther. Triangulate—get three forms of confirmation, and understand that even those depend on what new information you find out, or on what happens next.
So I would add to the methods mentioned by Sri Kamalakanta:
· What is the focus? is it moksha, dharma, the lotus feet of God, or is it self- or guru-aggrandizement, doing what you’re told, riches, success, great sex? Are you being encouraged to live here, in this moment, in the lap of God, or to engage in spiritual bypassing via attractive stories of transcendence?
· Is this independently verifiable? (not with scripture, which is a separate and very important category, but with, say, science or history)?
By “science” I don’t mean new-agey quantum woo, but an accumulation of peer-reviewed research (when appropriate; not every question has a scientific answer). By “history,” I mean something similar: a consensus among experts with real credentials, not feel-good fables about a fairy-tale past.
Anyone promising to share hidden truths “They” don’t want you to know is likely a charlatan or worse.
On a related note:
· Miracles? Not so much. I’m going to be honest with you because you’re my sangha and we’re all Kali’s kids: I have seen a real guru perform actions that can’t be explained by the laws of physics. (There may well be a physical explanation I’m too ignorant to know about.)
But—when adoring devotees tried to make a big deal out of it, you know what the response was? To downplay the event. To gently but firmly tell everybody: focus on God. Guruji can’t help it sometimes, but this is maya, too. Don’t get caught up in this, but instead, get caught up in chanting the name of God and giving Her more of your life and heart.
When someone promotes alleged miracles as an end in themselves or as some kind of “proof” of a teacher’s legitimacy, ask: if I subtract these miracles, what is left in this teaching that I can’t get from a re-reading of the Gita or the Upanishads? Or from spending more time in sadhana? And—why the focus on the material world?
· What does the teacher want from you? Kali Maa wants everything. That’s why She’s got all those heads around Her neck. But She doesn’t necessarily need everything from you in this lifetime, if that’s not your dharma. “Gurus” who claim to be renunciates or above material things, but who constantly ask for money or endless hours of seva… be very careful.
There are tough teachers and tough paths. We’ve all heard about “crazy wisdom” gurus (who nine times out of ten are serial abusers or psychopaths). Some are legit, though. So—go back to what Rev. Kamalakanta said: “Look for an experience or … impression that is constant over a period of time, rather than just one passing experience,” and look at the lineage.
And consider: is this what I need right now or is this teaching or teacher just driving me to accumulate more karma? You might need some time away from the guru or the sangha to sort that out. If they’re not willing to let you have that time—run.
My reflection on "The Wise Ant"...I have definitely questioned many teachers along this path. I have had a hard time on the consumer aspect of yoga in the western world. These questions and experiences have led me to want to learn more and find an authentic voice to connect with. I have no doubt that the more I open my heart toward Mata that she led me to this group with her grace. I am grateful to learn this lineage and the journey she is guiding me on. With all that said, I feel that all these moments in the past were necessary to question so that I can find the path that resonates with me. I appreciate the article and the insight very much. Jai Guru Dev!
Seems like Yogananda expected everyone at the Kumbha Mela to be holy…lol. How disappointing it must have been. It wasn’t all sugar…surprise, surprise…he had sand in his mouth. “Hipocrites!” he called them! What shallow devotion! And he spit the sand out!
Rishi: “Yeah, there’s sand out there, you gotta separate the sand from the sugar, bro!” “Thanks Rishi, you are so smart, I’m gonna do that from now on!” Rishi: “No problem…maybe you can make a donation or buy my book, it has a lot of other cool sayings in it.”
So through life the separating of sand from sugar goes on. This is the work of the wise, they say. Be smart, separate! Read this book. Trust your gut, if it feels like sand in there, it’s sand! But, it’s better to ask your guru…if you have one…if you don’t, go find one. Oh, be careful, not just any guru, it has to be a good guru. (At this point, it is easier to just swallow the sand with the sugar.)
Strange is this business of spirituality. Separate sand from sugar? No. Dive into the sweet waters? Yes.
This is the first time I hear about the ant sugar and sand metaphor and I appreciate Rev. Kamalakanta’s own explanation. Most notably for me was the clarity about the sand being “a reality [that] poses no threat”. It helps me see how much further I have to grow in accepting the reality that is all the sand I feel surrounded by as I’m stepping in and looking for people, communities, and guidance on my own spiritual journey. I also appreciate their section on the scripture and the encouragement to find the valid translations. My own ignorance and fear of learning in improper ways has held me back from doing what I love most, which is reading in comprehensive ways, to start my own inner discussions. I appreciate learning the foundations in this class, knowing that the sources shared are helping me see more of the greater picture that I want to hold as I find my ways of learning and studying scripture.
Apologies for my very late response to this question! (I get notifications for the other group, but not this one for some reason -- I will remember to check here more often).
I really appreciated this article when I read it and I am glad to come back to it. The part that most struck me was "the sand is a reality and poses no threat. It’s there, in abundance, but the ant isn’t fighting it. It focuses on the sugar." I have definitely struggled with the "sand," and felt frustrated in my search for sugar and judgmental about "all these people kicking sand around everywhere." This gave me an image of the ant just diligently going about it's business, focused on what it is seeking, then just as diligently bringing back the granule of sugar to the ant colony to nourish itself and others. Would the ant even be able to find the sugar if it didn't have the sand to travel on?
I also found "look for an experience or its impression that is constant over a period of time, rather than just one passing experience" to be helpful in contextualizing my own experiences.
Thank you for sharing this wisdom!
(Likewise regarding notifications. After revisiting all notification settings I learned that the website unsubscribed me and unfollowed formerly requested follows, for whatever reason, so I suggest you revisit your settings for each group, even if you already have establisjed them, and update them as you wish. This has helped me within the past three days and I now feel less in the dark regarding the functionality of the website. I hope this is helpful!)
Thank you also for your thoughtful share! 🌺☺️
Jai Jai Ma!
Yes - the repeated experience. That's an important key point that I missed. This repetition even when one is in different states of mind, different stages of practice, different points of life, these are things that can perhaps be most reliably um relied upon. :)
Very enlightening article - from this article our wisdom is within the simplicity of observation and discernment - often there is a consensual thought with western culture and the true forms of yoga, meditation etc....from the India subcontinent have become mixed, trivialized and made into a mainstream money making mechanism. This is far removed from the simple beauty and symmetry which is the benchmark of the true religious culture within India and is the highlight of everyday life, not just an hour or so for a yoga or Tantra class with no lasting results, as our western culture has concocted.
The ‘sugar’ are the gems found within the many yogic systems which have landed on our shoreline - but, this ‘sugar’ is mixed in with the thousand grains of sand - as with the wise ant we must utilize discrimination and keen observation to see the ‘little nuggets of sugar’ hidden in the vast westernized yogic systems that have punctuated our country. When discrimination is used we find the authentic gurus, the real yogic system which produces lasting and often life changing results without all of the ‘sand of westernized ideas, concepts and mainstream sensationalism‘ beautiful article.
In many ways this is a lesson about discernment - about being able to distinguish what is nourishing for one's spiritual aspirations from what is not nourishing. This kind of discernment is an essential skill to develop in spiritual life, and it's a skill that is never finished being honed. There is probably always a chance of seeking after sand, or seeking after sugar mixed with a greater or lesser amount of sand in hopes of finding pure sugar. How we choose to think about, react to, learn from, and recover from these mistakes are also important developmental stepping stones, and this story helpfully illustrates how a teacher can help guide a seeker through a reassessment of this process.
I also see a lesson in this about carefully watching our internal reactions to how perceptions and thoughts about others' search for sugar. The teacher pointed out that among the people critiqued by the student were people who had genuine spiritual insight. Furthermore, no one is free from making mistakes or unhelpful detours in the course of spiritual seeking, so mentally criticizing or disparaging their efforts may not have been a very fruitful endeavor, especially if the end goal was the highlight the student's own access to sugar.
I think a lot about the ways in which different traditions talk about absolute and certain truth, especially if they make a point of saying that that they have particular and unique access to it. I think about how all the claims sound exactly the same even if the words used are very different, and how the critique of other paths to truth sound very much like the student's words in this story. On days when I feel more positive, I might be inclined to say that sugar is ever-flowing and ultimately accessible to anyone who wants to go find some, and who wants to put in the effort of sorting out the sand bit by bit. On days (like today) when I'm more tired and a little more dispirited by everything, it's a struggle to remember this view and to believe myself when I say that the search is worth continuing.
Jai Ma, It's been so wonderful getting to know and reading everyone's posts here. As I am new to spiritual life and it has been a reluctant one I've come to find I don't trust most large traditional organizations in the quest for sugar. It may be why for a long time I felt there was no sugar and all sand so why look? I've never really used a checklist and honesty was not searching until very recently. As I grow a little bit and have been burned by too much sand with maybe a topping of sugar I understand why this checklist is useful. However, sand can also lead us to sugar. It almost seems as we grow in our devotion the sugar is to be found, but all the sand makes it so much sweeter. As I reflect on those times I knew inside something wasn't right. emotions, body sensations, and internal dialogue are strong internal indicators of what is true in spiritual life. An emotional checklist as Rev. Kamalakanta speaks about in Direct Experience is very much the first step, I also feel our hearts will tell us where the sugar is if we truly listen. Then our head can go over the checklist to balance the heart. I am so grateful for this article as a way to continue to contribute to my discernment and quest into spiritual life.
The language is careful. Sorting is useful but separating may itself not be entirely possible. Sorting allows one to organize, imbue meaning, make sense, maintain distinct purity of substances, receive nourishment, have clarity, devote focus, experience realization, and attain liberation. True or actual separation, however, seems an illusion. So how does one sort mercury, organize ether, or rearrange the ocean? Containers? Labels? Words? A mind?
We enjoy and appreciate the four discernment criteria brilliantly outlined by Schreiner (2015): Direct Experience, Linage, Scripture, and Guru. The reading teaches us much. Some questions. When is the Gut itself and not the psychosocially influenced mind or the will of the ego in disguise? If the Gut and Guru are incongruent, what is honored? If a Scripture doesn’t resonate with the Gut or a translation feels inadequate, how does one within Linage properly and respectfully seek understanding? Does the West's culture of individualism influence its frequent disregard of Linage?
Schreiner (2015) resonantly offers, "over a hundred years later, we in America are living in a time when spirituality has an unprecedented corporate and fashion based influence. The many truth seekers I’ve met have told me that nowadays the “sand” is easier to identify, but the “sugar” seems harder to find." Without the ego threat of striving to be sugar, how can one serve sugar such that it becomes 'easier to find'? How can one embody Source’s sweetness reverently? Since the journey of struggle, to a certain degree, can be so transcendental, should sugar be easier to find? Does Ma secretly long to cut free all of Her kites? Is this all not Her Lila?
Significantly, within the language we find a call for discernment. Knowing 'this' from 'that' seems just as important as knowing 'this' is one with 'that'. For many, without knowing 'that' is that one cannot know this is 'this'. Without knowing this is 'this' one cannot offer one-pointed, wholly zoned, undivided devotion. Such seems the vehicular value of contrast and paradox. When we think about how we know what we know, rather than what we think we know or what we believe, we seem to arrive at an awareness rooted in experience. As Schreiner (2015) shares, this experience should prove itself consistently. Since consistency implies a need for time and with time comes a capacity for awareness-enabling reflection, this makes sense.
Direct experience fascinates us. We reflect on a story a friend shared yesterday about a play wherein a character tells a story about a boy who chooses to live with his right arm raised above his head. In this play the character only speaks of the boy's story, yet when people who have indeed seen the play meet the actor they remark how impressively he kept his arm raised for the show's entirety. The mind's pre-dispositioned impulse to project its internal visualizations as inseparable from reality fascinates me deeply. Within dream studies, I measure and organize how one who journals of a dream post waking later shares of this dream as waking experience, forgetting they received the information in a dream. This is not the individual attempting to be dishonest, but simply them being unaware that their memory and dreams occur within the same mind space and therefore are often prone to weaving. This mixing, or tapestry of being rather, inspires many questions for us. Relative to this topic, one equates the mind to the sugar flecked shore. How does one find reality within a dreaming world?
As addressed by Sri Ramakrishna, one, even a more knowledgeable other (of whom there sure are many), can tell me 'this is sugar', but until I taste it for myself, I will not know it to be sugar, or sand. To one, even a more knowledgeable other, given various contexts, sand can be sugar and sugar, sand. While this can often prove confusing, it further validates Schreiner's (2015) suggested approach. As Kumar Gandharva so beautifully sings in Ud Jaega Hans Akela, as shared by dear Swami Ambikanandaji, "Kabir sings the qualities of God whose boundaries cannot be found…It will fly away alone, the swan. What a site: the carnival of this world!"
Discerning the real from the dream may be especially difficult for one who tastes many things at once. This one struggles to taste anything at all. Ask them to place a flavor and that particular experience is lost to them. Such seems the effect of surplus or the bombardment of competing sensory stimuli, consequence of great distraction, and cause of eventual desensitization. We now think on the seemingly symbiotic relationship between sensitivity and selectivity. Perhaps selectivity here should not be confused with matters of exclusion or inclusion, but beyond their affairs wherein renunciation is less about "not this" and more about "only this".
For personal experiment in response to the world too often seeming with a full and muddied mouth, firstly many years ago then occasionally as seems fitting, I isolate the contents and variables of my actions and food. With regard to food, I cook only one kind of vegetable or grain at a time and season only with sea salt. When eating, I focus on the nature of the specific food. Each time it seems as if I am tasting it for the first time.
Now, we speak of nourishment. There seems a difference between separation and distance. Today, most seem comfortable within their physical and psycho-spiritual distance from the source(s) of their nourishment. This, of course, seems to lead to not only to their malnourishment, but to a collective malnourishment. For example, one will merely enjoy a bottled water or one will go to a market, purchase a slaughtered animal to consume, and throughout this process, even while draining the package of its blood in preparation, they are glad not to think of this process in reverse. This distancing applies not only to livestock, agriculture, deforestation, our global climate crisis, right-exploiting markets, a third world village being denied resources, or a lower socio-economic community being polluted, and with it, the health of our home, but also to the immediate state of our being. When said mode of thinking or not thinking pervades and people seem comforted by their discomfort, no one is left satisfied; no one feels full; no one is truly nourished. So how does one get closer to the source of their nutrition? When they get close enough does the shore overflow with sugar?
When one travels this world in search of sugar, be it a shore or a desert, one may mistake all sands for that which is not sugar, but without some sand what would the sugar of this world point to in referential lesson? And what about salt--that which at first seems to be sand but becomes like sugar. Salt may not taste as pleasing as sugar, but it seems to hold immeasurable value as lesson and purifies the palate. If the shore was sugar alone would it not dissolve away? Would the ant drown? Also, is the sugar all the sweeter for its rarity? I reflect on how sugar tastes more intensely sweet after not having tasted it for many, many days. Is the desire to find sugar increased result of the sugar's rarity? If one knew sugar to be everywhere at all times would this one lose longing and abandon search? Would this one simply be among sugar? Does the nature of the world at this time influence the perception of prevalent sands? Is the sugar harder to find because one still searches for it in its crystalized form (such is perhaps the learned drive when one's reality is increasingly objectified)? Post-absorption, has the sugar fused into the ant's blood or into the devotees' heart? Could the sugar sometimes be raw energy? Is it not still sugar? In what ways does one taste it now? When the sugar takes form it seems to have many faces, but when it returns to the source of its form, it seems to have only one. This cycle of transformation never seems to disrupt the nature of sugar; it remains sweet.
"The sand is a reality and poses no threat. It’s there, in abundance, but the ant isn’t fighting it. It focuses on the sugar" (Schreiner, 2015). These words are powerfully active in their seeming passivity. In time, result of this focus, perhaps even more sugar will reveal itself. Like the ant's ommatidium which fragments all things into single points in space so that the whole eye can see a single image, we search.
<3 this reflection Ashlee thank you
Thank you so very much, Jessica! It brings to mind the way a swan dives into the waters of this world without ever getting wet. Wishing your heart the pure discernment of Ma’s grace, always.
Jai Jai Ma! 🌺