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Issue #1304 - Monday, December 30, 2002 - Editor: Jerry

what makes up all forms
what includes man's can of worms
called "reality"?
in a timeless trip engaged
confined to its home made cage
thoughts fill up the mind
roaring dodos racing there
no one wins the motorcross


--Jan Barendrecht NDS  

from the I AM list

Today is the 123rd Birthday of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi according
to the English Calendar. Let us celebrate this event by reading a little on him.


In the ancient township of Tiruchulli in a dry, dusty corner of South
India, legend speaks of Lord Shiva saving the land from a deluge on
three separate occasions. By planting his trident into the earth,
Shiva created a hole for the water to flow into. At the place where
he planted his trident stands the large temple of Bhuminatheswara
(Lord of the Earth). Just across the street from this old temple is
the house where young Venkataraman was born in December 1879. Though
destined to become one of the great sages of modern times, there were
no outward signs that would reveal his forthcoming Realization. After
the death of his father, Venkataraman's family moved to the famous
temple town of Madurai so that they could be under the watchful eye
of a paternal uncle. It was here that the "Awakening" would take
place, that waves of spiritual fervor would overtake him while
reading the Periapuranam, the lives of the sixty-three Tamil saints.
From his childhood, there was a continual inner throbbing
of "Arunachala, Arunachala," as if the Self - his real Being - was
reminding him of his forgotten nature. Once, when a visiting relative
recounted his recent pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai (a temple town
where the solitary, sacred hill Arunachala rises above the South
Indian plains), young Venkataraman became astonished and overwhelmed
that Arunachala was in fact a place on earth - a place one could
actually go to.

Shortly after this time, during a hot July day when Venkataraman was
just sixteen, he faced his own mortality One day, when everyone else
wasI away from home, the young boy became completely overcome with
the fear of death. Rather than panic or retreat into fear,
Venkataraman had the remarkable presence of mind to face the
situation, then and there. He dramatized the death occurrence to be
able to help bring the experience to its ultimate conclusion, by
holding his breath, stiffening his body, and allowing no sound to
escape his lips.

To die before death is to face the void; the emptiness in which the
content of the mind has no ground on which to endure. It is rare for
one to face the void without recoiling back into form. Venkataraman,
like the Buddha, was determined to stay the course. Upon firm
investigation into the nature of his "I-sense," his former self died,
and the infinite Self, the Eternal "I," rose to take its place - the
true resurrection.

After this experience, Venkataraman stopped going out to play with
friends and preferred solitude. He says of this period:

"I would often sit alone and become absorbed in the Self, the Spirit,
the force or current which constituted me. I would continue in this
despite the jeers of my elder brother who would sarcastically call
me 'Sage' or 'Yogi' and advise me to retire into the jungle like the
ancient Rishis."

When his brother reprimanded him in August of that year for behaving
like a sadhu, while enjoying the amenities of home life, Venkataraman
recognized the truth of his brother's words. He rose to his feet,
claiming that he had to return to school and left for Arunachala. He
said of his state at that time:

"When I left home, I was like a speck swept on by a tremendous flood;
I knew not my body or the world, whether it was day or night."

Providence guided the young sage on his journey home. The vibration
in his heart, of "Arunachala, Arunachala," acted as a guiding light.

Absorbed in the bliss of Being, he sat and slept in various places
around the Hill and in the temple - sometimes moving when groups of
young rascals would pelt him with stones. Just as a light cannot be
hidden under a bushel, the light of Venkataraman's realization became
evident, attracting a few earnest seekers. Those were people who
wanted to bathe in the peace of his presence - a peace that gently
settled upon one, lifting one from the persistent cycle of thought.

Ganapathi Muni, a great Sanskrit scholar and yogi, had his doubts
cleared by the young sage who was then living on the slopes of the
Arunachala Hill. Deeply impressed and touched by his great wisdom,
the Muni proclaimed that Venkataraman should subsequently be known as
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. 

Sri Ramana Maharshi

Just as Ramana realized the Self without prior spiritual or
philosophical instruction, he attached little importance to
theoretical study. His teachings are uniquely suited to modern life
and provide for a balanced synthesis of head and heart. Maharshi
consistently guided the seeker back to the source of abiding
happiness - one's own Self.

The teachings of Ramana Maharshi are among the clearest and most
direct of the advaitic (nondualistic) teachings originating from
India. Advaita simply means "not two." Ramana taught that we exist as
the Supreme Self at all times. We need only awaken to this reality by
seeking the source of the ego, or "I-thought," and abide in the Self
that we always are. He referred to this method as Self-Inquiry.

Ramana always encouraged people to lead life in the most natural
manner. There was no question of engaging or disengaging in activity -
 all happens according to destiny. The primary consideration is to be
free from the "I-am-the-doer" illusion.

The path of Self-Inquiry liberates one from the never-ending fear and
disorder resulting from taking the ego to be real. By becoming free
of the ego-illusion, one experiences true freedom and supreme peace. It is a
path that takes one from the apparent duality of the individual and the
world to the bliss of one's real nature.

Through this awakening to Self-awareness, even by imperfect glimpses,
one begins to sense a Reality not limited to the ego's world. And,
this current of Awareness, is ultimately revealed as the Self - Pure
Consciousness. Though we often refer to the teaching of Ramana
Maharshi as a "path," it is truly pathless. When we abide in our true
Being, we turn our back on time - on becoming; and consequently on
spending time purifying the very mind and ego structures that only
need to be discarded. Maharshi observes:

"You impose limitations on your true nature of Infinite Being, and
then weep that you are but a finite creature. Then you take up this
or that sadhana (spiritual practice) to transcend the nonexistent
limitations. But if your sadhana itself assumes the existence of the
limitations, how can it help you to transcend them?"

Those who surrounded Ramana during his lifetime came from very
diverse cultural and social backgrounds. What they had in common was
a sincere aspiration to experience true inner peace and freedom.
Maharshi .never saw anyone as separate from himself and had no
disciples in the I traditional sense. He regularly said that the Guru
was not the physical form, and that guidance would continue after the
demise of the Guru's body. Therefore, there was no need to create a
lineage, or provide for transmission to carry on successorship.

His Hermitage

After years of living in caves upon the Arunachala hill, the Maharshi
moved down to its base, near the burial place of his mother. After a
short time, a small ashram began to take shape around him, and what
is now the current Sri Ramanasramam had its modest beginning. Seekers
from all backgrounds and religions came to bask in his presence.

Ramana sat in a modest hall, available day and night to answer
questions from sincere seekers. His only possessions were a loincloth
and a towel. Maharshi never asked anything of anyone. He never
traveled, gave formal talks, or wrote books. He spontaneously
answered questions asked of him and was unconcerned regarding the
comings and goings of visitors. Yet, he meticulously attended to
detail when engaged in the work that he did each day. Whether it was
preparing food in the kitchen, stitching a notebook out of leftover
paper, or going through ashram proofs, Maharshi always taught
mindfulness by example. What's more remarkable is that throughout all
the years he lived at the Ashram, he never had a private room or
separate accommodation. He slept and lived in the Hall - the same
location that visitors occupied days and evenings with him. Only much
later toward the last year of his life, when his health was frail,
was a small room constructed for his use.

Whoever came to the hermitage to sit in Ramana's presence - whatever
their religious or cultural background - all felt he belonged to
them. And indeed he did, for "I" is common to all people, and the
investigation into its true nature reveals a Unity that is universal -
 beyond mind-made differences.

Throughout the more than fifty-four years that Maharshi guided
seekers from various parts of the world, he never swerved from the
essential task of bringing the questioner back to the truth of his or
her own Existence. Whatever form the question would take, Ramana
would patiently and gently lead the questioner back to the "one who

The legacy of Ramana Maharshi lives in his teachings. The directness
and simplicity of the approach appeal to many people, especially in
our time. Since wherever we may be our own Self is always available,
there are no special requirements for investigating who we truly are.

In 1949, it was detected that Maharshi had malignant sarcoma in his
left arm. In spite of intense medical care, on April 14,1950, his
physical end was evident. In the evening, as devotees sat outside the
room built specially for his convenience during this final illness,
they spontaneously began to sing the refrain to one of his stirring
hymns to Arunachala. ArthurOsborne (biographer of Ramana and editor
of his written works) writes - about that evening:
"On hearing it, Ramana's eyes open and shone, he gave a brief smile
of indescribable tenderness. From the outer corner of his eyes, tears
of bliss rolled down. One more deep breath, and no more.
At that very moment - 8:47 p.m. - an enormous star trailed slowly
across the sky passing to the northeast peak of Arunachala. The
meteor was noted as far away as Bombay."

Many of those who had the good fortune to benefit from his physical
presence begged him not to leave; Ramana made it very clear that he
was not the body, so there was no concern for his leaving. He told
those around him:

"They say that I am dying, but I am not going away. Where could I go?
I am here."

One of the great collections of dialogues between the Sage and his
inquirers is contained in the book you now hold in your hands.
Carefully recorded in English, by Munagala S. Venkataramiah, the
wisdom in these "talks" will certainly guide us to that profound
clarity if we open ourselves completely to it. Only the thirst for
true freedom is required. The words of Ramana Maharshi are the mirror
of wisdom; whenever we turn to them we see the reflection of our true

"There is no greater mystery than the following: Ourselves beingthe
Reality, we seek to gain reality. We think there is something hiding
our Reality, and that it must be destroyed before the Reality is
gained. That is ridiculous. A day will dawn when you will yourself
laugh at your past efforts. That which will be on the day you laugh
is also here and now."

Excerpt from the book "Talks with Ramana Maharshi" the Introduction
by Matthew Greenblatt.

- From

Hari Aum !!!

from Allspirit  

From: 'Grist for the Mill' by Ram Dass  

You must come to see every human being including yourself as an
incarnation in a body or a personality, going through a certain
life experience which is functional. You allow it to be just the way
it is at the moment, seeing even your own confusion and conflict and
suffering as functional rather than as dysfunctional.

The greatest thing you can do for any other being is to provide the
unconditional love which comes from making contact with that place
in them which is beyond conditions, which is just pure consciousness,
pure essence. That is, once we acknowledge each other as existing, just
being here, just being, then each of us is free to change optimally. If I can
just love you because here we are, then you are free to grow as you need
to grow, because none of it's going to change my feeling of love.

We're used to having these special role relationships, thinking certain roles
apply to one, yet not to another, because we're very attached to externals-
do you touch somebody, do you sleep with them, do you beat them, do
you control them, do you collaborate with them, do you support them, do
you pay them, do they pay you? That's all stuff of the vehicle of the
interaction between two beings; it  isn't the essence of the matter. As you
work on yourself  through your daily life, more and more you see your
own reactions to things around you as sort of mechanical rip-offs. You get
much calmer in the space behind it all, and you're able to hear more how it
all is, including your own personality as a part of nature. The deeper you are
in that space, the more there is available for everybody you meet who is
capable of coming into that space. You are the environment that allows them
to do that. And from within this space all change is possible. The minute you
identify yourself or anyone else with models, roles, or any characteristic,
any individual difference, change is really fierce. When you live in a universe
where you experience even your living and dying as relative rather than in
absolute terms, it's all free to change. There's nowhere you have to go to
work on yourself other than where you are at this moment, and everything
that's happening to you is part of your work on yourself.

Different ones of us are different parts of the corpus of civilization, and no
one act is any better than any other. If you didn't have the shoemaker, we
would go unshod; you need the shoemaker. Is the shoemaker better than
the psychiatrist, or worse? And what about the garbage collector? Without
garbage collection, you know where New York would be? Or Boston?
So, is the garbage man more important than the psychiatrist, or less
important? The whole thing becomes absurd. You begin to see that
everybody, even the president, is just another instrument in the dance,
another part of the total body, and each of us must hear what his or her
particular route through is, and not try to define, "That's a good one and
the others are bad," or "That's the best one," or "I'm doing the most
important work!' The most important work you can do is the perfect job
for you to do. Discover how to serve people not out of the fact that
you're supposed to or ought to, just do psychotherapy because that's
where you're at. Do therapy as long as you realize that here we are behind
doctorness and patientness; here we are behind neurosis and relative

from Talking Stick Wisdom  

Project Hope
Cutting Our Losses

    Any of you who have ever raised a garden will know that a garden needs watering and weeding and feeding if it is to flourish.  "Weeds will blow in and sprout, and the next thing they are growing and using up precious space, plant food and water.  They will grow and flourish while our crop does not fare very well unless we cultivate our crop and eliminate the weeds.

    The same is true with our lives.  Sometimes we just keep going on and encountering loss after loss. We are in a downward spiral.  We practice controlling our anger, our negative emotions, and other effects.  But the games just go on.  Here is where we need to examine our lives, our goals and our plans.  We need to learn to limit ourselves to the primary essentials.  We make a decision to be happy, and to never harm another person.  If we harm another person, it will eventually fall back on us.

    If we keep having a problem that we cannot get resolved, and cannot get to the bottom of, we need to consider that someone we least suspect may be stirring it up and coaxing it along for some kind of personal reason.

    I will be alerted to inconsistencies in the behavior and communication of others.  I will be careful about getting caught up in the false promises of others, or manipulations of any other sort.  I will also be wary of those who manipulate others, using negative emotions or dishonest intensions, or who rage with condemnation irrevelant to the facts.   

    I will never knowingly use false or misleading information to motivate or manipulate another person in any way.  Such tactics are a serious violation to human ethics and have unfortunate consequences.   

    We have certain obligations that must be kept.  This includes taking care of our family, providing for our children, obeying the law, and paying our debts.  We must take care of our property, our employment, and earn a livelihood. 

    There may be a lot of things to come up that would occupy a good part of our time and energy.  We must learn to question our thinking when it comes to getting involved with a lot of these extra and miscellaneous things.  We need to assign priorities and choose them well.  We learn to question ourself.

                              QUICK CHECK
    1.  Is this my business and obligation, or am I allowing
         myself to get hooked with a false sense of duty?
    2.  Am I trying to be responsible for something I have
         absolutely no power over?
    3.  Is this going to be good for me, or is this about false
         hopes and false promises?
    4.  Is the information I have really true, or just part of
         the picture?
    5.  Is this what I want, or is someone manipulating me
         to go on some wild goose chase?          
    6.  Am I being intimidated in some way?
    7.  Am I going out on a limb to gain approval
         from some reason?
    8.  Will I be obligated in some way that conflicts
         with my desires, beliefs, finances, relationships
         or peace of mind?
    9.  Are the benefits hoped for, likely to come true?
   10.  Am I allowing some untrustworthy person to be
          responsible for my business or personal affairs?

    We journal about these issues.  We may well need to discuss these matters with another person whom we trust.  We do not want to harm someone, and we do not want to betray commitments or break our trust.  We have the Twelve Steps, Traditions, and Concepts to guide us, as well as the law, and other moral ethics and values.

    If another person is interfering with our life in negative ways, we may have to separate ourselves from that harmful influence.  Especially we may have to separate ourselves from those with whom we have used alcohol and drugs, or engaged in some other type of addictive behavior, such as illicit sex or indiscriminate gambling. 

    We have the right to self preservation.  And we must not allow ourselves in the position to intervene the pricks and goads which are most justly earned and deserved by another person.  That would diminish us, while at the same time, it would prevent the other person from learning the lesson they desperately need to learn. 

    We must all take risks in our day to day life experiences.  But we can make calculated risks.  We can have some idea of the outcome of what we do.  We should not take blind risks and bring those losses on ourselves and others. 

    My step-mother used to say to us, "Always count the cost of anything before you do it.  It can save you your life."  A precious gem of advice.  "What will be the cost?"  And "What will be the likely outcome?"  "What is the benefit?  What is the liability?"  Learn to simplify, simplify, simplify.  Get rid of the clutter!    Don't take on a lot of unnecessary and unprofitable activities and pursuits, just to fill your day.  Save a little time and rest for love and pleasure, and "Don't keep jumping off track!"

Mary F.

Thomas Murphy
from See What Is

obsession with results

Even cursory reflection reveals that evaluating experience solely on the
basis of results is disastrously deficient. For example, at one moment
the all-consuming goal may be to perform a seemingly impossible athletic
feat. Shortly thereafter it may be simply to move a finger or a toe, or
to take a few steps-feats that may pose near-impossible challenges to an
injured world-class athlete, but that are taken quite for granted by

There is nothing wrong with having goals. Indeed, worthwhile goals are
essential to good health and wellbeing. The problem arises when
conclusions about oneself are based upon the success or failure of one's

And this, of course, resurrects the confusion that perennially surrounds
the notion of the self. Where do goals come from? Who is it that has a
goal? Who seeks to achieve goals? And who takes credit or blame for
whatever success or failure is experienced in the achievement of goals?

On the face of it, the answer to all these questions is obvious: me! I
do it all. And I must rightfully claim whatever credit or blame may come
from what I do. After all, isn't that the essence of personal
responsibility-the crowning jewel of human development?

This view stems from a fundamental error in perception that is so widely
accepted that in an entire lifetime it may never be questioned even

True responsibility derives from clear appreciation of the situation at
hand. Legitimate responsibility has nothing whatsoever to do with
resting on laurels or wallowing in shame. Clear perception of what-is
depends upon not seeing through the lens of the puny little self that
forever seeks stardom in the show of one's life. This self is a
component of one's model of the world. It is a surrogate of the true
self-all-that-is-transcending all constraints of individuality. By
definition, so to speak, all-that-is includes the self as well as
whatever else may be perceived, felt or thought.

~ tomas ~

from Daily Dharma  

"A deed is not well done if one suffers after doing it, if one bears the
consequences sobbing and with tears streaming down one's face. 

But a deed is well done if one does not suffer after doing it, if one
experiences the consequences smiling and contented."
~The Buddha

Verses 67, 68, from The Dhammapada,  on the web site:      

Still Live with A Buddha's Figurine

by Alexander Maslak

This delicate rendition of an arrangement of inanimate objects is dominated by the central figure of Buddha’s figure. This oil on canvas is 12" X 16" and was painted by Alexander Mazlak. The selling price for this fine painting is only $1,700. It is interesting to note that almost of the items depicted in the painting can still be found in most Russian flats today.


from NDS News Service

LATE ONE NIGHT, while walking back to my bed-and-breakfast after dinner, I was struck by the sight of books stacked neatly on shelves outside a used-book store on Main Street. It must have been after 10 o'clock, and I wondered why the owners hadn't brought in their inventory before closing for the day. Someone could have stolen the books, or worse, vandalized them.

What seemed even more peculiar was that there were a couple of folding chairs next to the books, and the display window lights had been left on -- an invitation, it seemed to me, to take whatever you wanted. But I was wrong.

It was an invitation to read.

"People sit there at night, have a cigarette and browse," said Marilyn Benemann, who owns Ferndale Books on Main Street with her husband, Carlos. "If they like a book, they leave a dollar in the mail slot."'

Full story:  

from NDS News Service  


Bhutan is an idealistic, spiritual nation, located between China and India. Tonight's 60 Minutes has a story on the country. The following is from the 'About Bhutan' section at  


Hidden deep in the folds of the great Himalaya mountains for years, Bhutan developed its own civilisation. The population of about 700,000 people, living in close harmony with nature, evolved a unique identity, derived largely from a rich religious and cultural heritage. Today, the world is seeing many exotic aspects of this kingdom.

Bhutan is becoming increasingly known for its pure practice of Mahayana Buddhism in the Tantric form, its untouched culture, its pristine ecology and wildlife, and the unparalleled scenic beauty of its majestic peaks and lush valleys. It is still, in many ways, a magical kingdom of the past.   ...   It is a matter of great pride to the Bhutanese that their small kingdom was never colonised. Its ancient history, which is a mixture of the oral tradition and classical literature, tells of a largely self-sufficient population which had limited contact with the outside world until the turn of the century.

Just as the kingdom's history is characterised by religious landmarks, the influence of religion is highly visible in every day life of the lay population. Bhutan is a spiritual nation. Hundreds of sacred monasteries, stupas, religious institution, prayer flags and prayer wheels which dot the countryside provide a strong infrastructure and atmosphere for the teachings of their living faith.


Bhutanese language and literature, the areas and crafts, ceremonies and events, and basic social and cultural values draw their essence from religious teachings. The tradition of fine art is alive today, manifested, for example, in products like the legendary thangkas. The exquisite traditional painting is also visible on monasteries and houses, skilfully enhancing the architecture.   ...   Bhutan has been described as a natural paradise. Even as the world mourns the loss of its ecology, this small Himalayan Kingdom is emerging as an example to the international community, with more than 72 percent of its land still under forest and a great variety of rare plant and wildlife species.


Development and progress have also brought their less desirable side effects. Crime, environmental pressures, juvenile delinquency, traffic and pollution, the video culture, housing and urban problems, rural-urban migration, illegal immigration, and numerous other problems are becoming more visible today.

But, just as the Bhutanese people chose to guard their magical kingdom in its pristine form through the centuries, they are determined to balance development and change. The essence of modernisation in Bhutan has been a blend of tradition and progress. The protective Bhutanese psyche, which kept the kingdom in a jealously guarded isolation, is visible in the controlled tourism policy, strong sense of environmental protection, and the careful pace of all-round development.

Joseph Riley

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
          far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
          -i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
          i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

          my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
          my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
          (finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
          whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

          around me surges a miracle of unceasing
          birth and glory and death and resurrection:
          over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
          of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

          i am a little church(far from the frantic
          world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
          -i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
          i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

          winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
          merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
          standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
          (welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)


from The Other Syntax    

"Empty is the world of indulging, because indulging cuts off
everything else except indulging.  So it's a lopsided world.  Boring,
repetitious.  For sorcerers, the antidote of indulging is dying.  And
they don't just think about it, they do it."

Zuleica to Florinda Donner
Chapter 19
Florinda Donner

Book Review
from NDS News Service

by Yann Martel
Harcourt, Inc.
June 2002, 318 pages, $25.00 (U.S.) by Phoebe Kate Foster
PopMatters Books Associate Editor

Everything Is Best

"One day a disciple was walking through the marketplace. He overheard a customer say to the butcher, 'Give me the best piece of meat you have.' The butcher replied, 'Everything in my shop is the best. You cannot find any piece of meat that is not the best.' At these words, the disciple received enlightenment."
— Zen koan

Reviewing Yann Martel's astounding Life of Pi is a great deal like trying to solve Zen koans, the ancient conundrums used by Buddhist teachers to facilitate their disciples in reaching a state of enlightenment. The trick of the koan is that there really isn't one correct solution. There may be many -- as many different ones as there are students seeking enlightenment -- or there may be none. Who knows. The koans are simply tools to promote non-linear, out-of-the-box type thinking which will, according to the Eastern mystics, lead a seeker to a sense of oneness and harmony with the universe.

Likewise, there is no one answer to the question, "What is Life of Pi about?" There will be probably be as many answers to that question as there are people who read the book. A perusal of online booksellers reveals that this book can be categorized as a survival story, a tall tale, an action piece, a work about human/animal relationships, and a fiction about (1) India, (2) adolescence, (3) zoos and zoology, and (4) the Pacific Ocean, which indicates to this reviewer that book dealers are grasping at anything they can find to define what essentially defies definition. The book is about all of these things -- and about none of these things, really.

In Life of Pi, the theories of Darwin and the psychology of Jung happily go hand-in-hand, with Kierkegaard tagging along, too. The unlikely bedfellows of existentialism and faith find common ground here. This is "Survivor" scripted by a philosopher. This is a map of the spiritual realm methodically charted by a scientist. This is Kon Tiki written by a mystic. It's a devotional book devised by a humanist, a philosophical treatise penned by a pragmatist. An adventure yarn, an allegory and a series of essays on animal behavior, rolled into one -- and much more beyond that.

This book goes where few books have gone before, bravely embarking on a metaphysical trek that explores the deepest of life's mysteries while remaining an exciting Ripley's-Believe-It-Or-Not style saga of a shipwreck victim's bizarre exigencies.

Life of Pi is Zen to the nth degree.

"The decisive question for man is: Is he related to the Infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life."
— Carl Jung

The "story" of Pi Patel, teenaged son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, India, is a simple one. Pi is a person dedicated to finding his connection to the Eternal. To everyone's horror, he systematically samples religions like canapés on a cosmic platter. In addition to his own native Hindu beliefs, Pi adds Christianity and Islam, and happily integrates them into his daily life. He prays to Jesus and Mary, Allah, Krishna and Vishnu. He studies with a priest and a Sufi mystic. He scandalously sets up a conspicuous prayer rug in his parents' garden so he can face Mecca and conduct his morning Muslim devotions, thereby offending both his family's nominal Hinduism and hidebound secular humanism.

He does all this without a trace of rebellious spirit, though: he is a bona fide seeker. He acquires layer after layer of diverse spirituality and brilliantly synthesizes it into a personal belief system and devotional life that is breathtaking in its depth and scope. His youthful exploration into comparative religion culminates in a magnificent epiphany of sorts, described in the first part of the book:

I left town and on my way back, at a point where the land was high and I could see the sea to my left and down the road a long ways, I suddenly felt I was in heaven. The spot was no different from when I had passed it not long before, but my way of seeing it had changed. The feeling, a paradoxical mix of pulsing energy and profound peace, was intense and blissful. Whereas before the road, the sea, the trees, the air, the sun all spoke differently to me, now they spoke one language of unity. Tree took account of road, which was aware of air, which was mindful of sea, which shared things with sun. Every element lived in harmonious relation with its neighbour, and all was kith and kin. I knelt a mortal; I rose an immortal. I felt like the center of a small circle coinciding with the center of a much larger one. Atman had met Allah.

Interspersed with his philosophical and spiritual discourses are Pi's discussions on zoology, a subject with which he has practical experience, being the offspring of a zookeeper. The reader is treated to casual but astute observations about the habits and psychology of animals in the wild and in captivity. The remarks flow quite charmingly and casually, the sort of informative but easygoing conversation that would be expected from a young man who assists his father with the collection of disparate creatures at the Pondicherry Zoo. The comments seem almost random.

But are they?

Among the many things it is, Life of Pi is a powerful argument for the absolute non-randomness of universe. Every experience has its purpose. Every event has significance. Every scrap of knowledge we've acquired is specific for us. As Buddha said, "All that we are is a result of what we have thought." Everything we need to survive -- and not just survive, but thrive and prosper and grow -- has already been given to us, if we will but realize it. In the words of a Chinese poem, "Lightning flashes, sparks shower, in one blink of your eyes, you have missed seeing."

"Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced."
— Soren Kierkegaard

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ promised that all seekers shall, indeed, find. That is a frightening assurance, if one gives it a few moments of consideration. The loftier one's aspirations, the more perilous the search becomes. The answers to ultimate questions come at a very high -- and unforeseen -- price for the seeker. For Pi, his quest for truth is realized in a harrowing life-or-death experience that comprises the bulk of this novel.

Pi's family decides to relocate to Canada. His father sells many of the animals from the zoo, but selects some to move with them to Winnipeg by freighter. The ship capsizes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, leaving Pi an orphan, alone on a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, and an enormous Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. In short order, the hyena dispatches the zebra, the tiger dispatches the hyena, and for all intents and purposes, Pi appears to be the next item on Richard Parker's menu.

What happens for the next 227 days at sea is nothing short of amazing. Rejecting the idea of killing the only companion (albeit a dangerous one) he has in the middle of shark-infested waters with waning prospects for rescue, Pi devises ways to care for both his own needs and the tiger's in an ongoing survival situation of the most dire proportions. In the process, he calls upon everything he has learned, both in a practical sense and a spiritual one, to keep himself and Richard Parker alive against overwhelming odds.

As an adventure story, this is definitely edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting material (in spite of the assurance at the beginning of the novel, "This story has a happy ending"), told so convincingly that disbelief is easily suspended and the reader quickly becomes a boat mate and fellow-sufferer with Pi and the tiger. It brings to mind classic childhood tales such as Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Shipwrecked, and Treasure Island -- but with a big difference.

"The barriers between quantum realities are breaking down. Other realities are emerging into our own."
— Mr. Spock, Star Trek

Pi becomes increasingly convinced that his fate and the tiger's are inextricably linked, and over the months they are together, he develops an ever-deepening relationship with the animal. What begins as regret at permitting a predator share his lifeboat progresses to an uneasy truce between adversaries, then evolves into a facsimile of a normal zookeeper/zoo specimen interaction. Ultimately, however, in an astounding turnabout, Pi's mortal enemy literally turns into his salvation, as caring for the tiger becomes for Pi in his darkest moments his very raison d'etre when he can no longer think of a reason to go on. As the Inuit mystic, Igjugarjuk, wrote, "Privation and suffering are the only things that can open the mind of man to those things which are hidden from others."

In what is probably the most powerful part of the book, Pi experiences a dialogue with Richard Parker, in which reality and fantasy blur, and both terrible truths and frightening questions emerge. Having successfully accomplished a remarkable synthesis in his religious beliefs and practices, Pi now finds himself compelled by circumstances to achieve a spiritual unity with the thing that threatens to kill him as he tends his enemy with the same care he does himself.

This magnificent climax of enlightenment incorporates the core truths of the major religions and modern psychology. Jung's "Shadow" theme, Christ's redemptive identification with sinners, Zen's teaching on the oneness of all living things, and Islam's practical applications of faith all combine with a stunning ease to offer a truth that is paradoxical and compelling. Pi has overcome external and internal obstacles, and become, in the words of the Bhagadvadgita, a "true devotee": "He who is beyond excitement and repulsion, who complains not and lusts not for things, who remains unmoved by good and evil fortune, and who has love . . ."

As Pi says in the diary of his long months at sea:

It is pointless to say that this night or that night was the worst in my life. I've had so many bad nights to choose from that I've made none the champion.

Like the Zen disciple in the opening quote of this review, Pi has transcended the duality of the universal concepts of "good" and "bad," and learned the amazing lesson that, if nothing is "the worst," then everything has to be -- somehow, mysteriously, cosmically -- "the best."

"The most beautiful thing that we can experience is the mysterious."
— Albert Einstein

Pi's spiritual journey as he searches for meaning in life comprises the real "story" of Pi. Martel weaves the numinous so effortlessly throughout the story that its presence is completely natural and even taken for granted, like the air we breathe. The Divine, with all its many names and many manifestations, in all its many guises and faces, is a major character in the novel, unseen but not unfelt, the invisible Hand, the immovable Force, the First Cause from which all else proceeds. Martel's facility at handling the spiritual, as if it is the most normal thing in the world, puts the reader, however secular in his or her orientation, totally at ease in a world of mystery and cosmic quests.

The blurb on the dust jacket, quoting a character in the novel, says that this book will make you believe in God. It may. It may not. It may do a whole lot more -- make you think, make you question, make you wonder, make you aware. Hopefully, it will rattle the bars of your cage, whatever that "cage" may be.

Life of Pi is full of mystery -- so much so, as aforementioned, that both booksellers and book reviewers are somewhat confounded as how to best describe it. It offers no answers, only questions and suggestions, free for the taking but not compulsory by any means. In the best tradition of Zen, the book isn't trying to be anything, it simply is. And also in the best tradition of Zen, you will get out of it exactly what you need to have right now.

In the best tradition of all good literature, it "shows," but never "tells." It joins a small, but significant, body of work that this reviewer would characterize as "mystic fiction" -- that is, works that attempt to grapple with the great mysteries and riddles of life in creative and original ways. Some of the books on that shelf might include George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind (incorrectly categorized for many years as a children's fable, which it certainly is not), C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy (which has much less to do with outer space as it does with inner space), All Hallow's Eve and the many other works of the enigmatic English writer Charles Williams who devoted his entire literary career to exploring the relationship between the infinite and finite, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe.

Pi is a timeless book, not falling into the easy categories of allegory or parable, but paradoxical and gently challenging, ambitious in its scope and utterly unique in the current literary scene. It is destined to be become a cult classic, with appeal to Generation X and Y audiences as well as anyone with a philosophical bent, in much the same way as Herman Hesse's Siddhartha and Robert Pirsag's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance spoke to seekers of a slightly earlier era.

Its style is elegant but reader-friendly and highly informative on such a vast number of topics that it rather boggles the mind. It offers so many levels of understanding that one can easily pick and choose which floor to get off on. All of them are equally satisfactory -- as the Zen sage said, "Everything is best."

And it is.

— 4 September 2002

Read book excerpts at: <>

Mary Bianco

"Adaptation" is a brilliant, insightful and beautiful movie from the creators of "Being John Malkovich". Among the layered themes, the movie plays with how we write our own reality and fiction.  

from Daily Dharma  

”Peace and happiness are not our birthright. Those who have gained them have done so through constant effort. This effort is directed towards setting one’s views right so that the intention becomes right. Right view and Right intention constitute the wisdom aspect of the path. “

~~Ayya Khema

From the book, “Being Nobody Going Nowhere”, published by Wisdom Publications - Boston

Gloria Lee

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
- Philip K. Dick

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