Luna and Guha at the Ansonia in NYC

6.20.15

New Jersey

Dearest Guha: …Your presence creates an atmosphere of transparency and freedom and unexpectedly—fun! What could be better? Hard to believe it’s all real because the society that made me, taught me, “loved” me, etc., made it its business to blind me to reality. Still am blind. Will probably die blind. But a little snake of something or other is always sneaking around inside my body, a subversive untamed something that knows it’s all shit. I thank you for encouraging my little snake. I’m lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. First I met U.G. Then I met you. Lucky Luna!

– Luna Tarlo in Introduction to Guha Talks to the Mother of God

This is a bombshell declaration from Luna Tarlo! If one carefully analyzes what Luna is proclaiming in the excerpt above, they will be astonished to find an uncanny resemblance between her modern-day pronouncements and that of an age-old Vedic prayer. In the ancient invocation the seeker is pleading for help in wanting to be free from misunderstandings regarding oneself, the universe and god, all the while yearning for true knowledge. Similarly, Luna laments that she has been deceived and blinded to reality (asat) by the society but feels grateful to U.G. and Guha for leading her to truth (sat) by opening her eyes to all the “shit”. She also thanks her beloved Guha for encouraging that little snake in her to dance to the rhythm of freedom. This hankering after truth seems to be inbuilt in the human species and is expressed beautifully in a sloka (verse) from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: Lead me from falsehood (ignorance) to truth, Lead me from darkness to light, Lead me from death to the immortality, Om peace, peace, peace. In Sanskrit it reads:

asato mā sad gamaya,

tamaso mā jyotir gamaya,

mṛtyor mā amṛtaṃ gamaya,

Om shanti~ shanti~ shanti hi~~

The passage above started a chain of thoughts about this remarkable woman’s extraordinary life story. Luna is an old friend of Guha whom she first met in 1995. Soon, she realized that “he was the best thing that ever happened to me”. Over time, as her love and friendship with Guha intensified, she “realized that the years of conversations with Guha had, almost without my conscious knowledge, changed me. It was as though I had been invaded, slowly, very slowly by some kind of grand common sense without understanding most of what he’d said…. Every time I talked with him, I had the same feeling, something was making deeper sense, my view of things was changing. I told him he was affecting me…”*  Listen to what she says:

 

More than two decades later, her love for Guha has not diminished one bit and she still comes to meet him regularly despite her advanced age. “If you really find a friend like Guha, your life is made,” she tells friends. When I mentioned this to Guha, his rejoinder was, “Why does one crave to be with someone? It is because they discovered that they are resonating (with that person).”

Luna is now over 90 years old and although still very active, has not been keeping well lately. A few days ago I had accompanied Guha and Julie to New York City to meet Luna because she had a bad night and they wanted to check on their dear friend. Luna looked shaken when she opened the door but her face lit up when her eyes fell on Guha. We all sat around her in the living room waiting to hear what had caused her so much distress. She said she had a terrible nightmare where she saw that she was kind of melting or fading away and had no control over it and woke up shivering. Guha listened to her intently, joking and laughing with her trying to lighten her mood. He consoled her saying she had lived 94 years in perfect health and now she must accept that the body was slowing down. It sent chills down my spine to hear the anguish in Luna’s voice. The scripture says birth, growth, disease, decay and death form the circle of life and each stage is inevitable but to watch a dear one desperately struggling to make sense of what’s going on can be terrifying.

Luna lives alone but is fortunate to have her elder son Josh and his wife Pat just a stone’s throw away. They are totally devoted to making her life as easy and comfortable as possible. Pat has even arranged for a caregiver to come in for a few hours every day to help Luna with her chores despite her aversion to being dependent on anyone. Till recently Luna used to take the subway to meet her friends, do her own groceries and work out at the gym thrice a week! She goes to the salon regularly and always looks well-groomed with beautifully manicured hands, colorful toenails and immaculate hair-do. However, in the last few months there has been a sharp decline in her health and early dementia is feared; she has become increasingly forgetful and fuzzy about things. In fact, ever since I was introduced to her, she can never remember my name although she does remember that I don’t have a job. Guha and Julie conjure up funny names like kandini, bandini, fandini, etc. that rhyme with Nandini in a bid to make her retain my name in her memory. Every time I and Luna were together, Guha would ask her, “Do you remember her name?” And invariably she would shake her head. Sometimes after a long car ride with Luna, Guha would laughingly tell me, “Your name was like a mantra, we were repeating it to Luna all the way from Manhattan to New Jersey!”

Julie, Luna, Guha and Lakshmi in Princeton, New Jersey

Luna and Julie go back a long way too; they have been close friends for over 25 years. They met at one of Andrew Cohen’s satsangs and have stuck together since. Luna was introduced to Guha in 1995 on the same day Guha met U.G. for the first time in Manhattan in Julie’s apartment overlooking Central Park. Subsequently, once when Guha and Luna were walking to her home she began asking him a lot of questions of esoteric nature and somehow Guha’s answers struck a chord and she was hooked! Over the years, her sharp intellect and inexhaustible curiosity led her to engage Guha in innumerable stimulating, thought-provoking discussions. Their talks covered the whole gamut of human experience, from the invention of “god”, the nature of conflict and sorrow, the role of religion and religious institutions in society, to what Guha had come into.  Listening to their fascinating talks, Julie decided to start recording them; later these were compiled into a book titled Guha Talks with the Mother of God. “Luna is the first person to tell me that she felt something different talking to me back in 2002-2003,” says Guha.

I am keen to know more about how Luna’s relationship to Guha so I seek out Golda, another close confidant of hers. Golda reminisces, “Luna has the deepest love and respect for Guha and would never tire of telling me that he had something important to say. She felt he had it, had got it through U.G. and she wanted what he had. ‘I want what you have, that’s why I hang around you,’ she would tell Guha. She said, ‘When I sit next to him I feel like I’m drugged; I feel this heat coming in my body.’ She loved his confidence, his conviction and the way he received things. He definitely shaped her life in many ways.

“Luna was instrumental in connecting me to Guha. I met Guha and Luna for the first time in Switzerland in 2003. After we left there, Luna and I would call each other frequently and she would always talk about Guha. She gave me all his contact information – his work number, home number and email because she wanted me to connect with him. She believed in him so much, that he really had something to offer and she was very persistent. The first thing she did was make me write down a quote Guha had sent to her because it impacted her greatly. Don’t look to the future because you never know what it may bring. All you can deal with is what is in front of you.

N: Is it true that Luna had fallout with Guha for a brief time?

Golda: “Yes, Luna did have her moments. There’s a little story behind it. Once Guha was passionately discussing something with Luna and her friend Oskar and in the heat of the moment raised his voice at her. This she found insulting, especially in the presence of a friend whom she really liked. I was also present at the time and personally didn’t find anything insulting in what Guha was saying or think much of it. He was just very animated and loud. Perhaps Luna hadn’t seen that side of him before so maybe she took offense at what she believed made her look bad in front of Oskar. Months later she told me, “Look, Golda, it had nothing to do with me, he was yelling at you (laughs) because I had done nothing wrong.” It is interesting and funny how she tried to deal with it and justify it. Ironically, she fell out with Oskar and went back to Guha.”

The “mother of god” was born in Montreal, Canada and graduated from University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature before the onset of World War II. An independent thinker and a feminist – a very early feminist if you are a nonagenarian – Luna wrote several novels and plays while rearing her two sons, Josh and Andrew, in New York City. Josh became a successful businessman while her younger son Andrew Cohen found fame as a neo-Advaita guru. Andrew started a cult after his guru Papaji aka H D W Poonja gave a mandate that he was self-realized and should start teaching in the US. At this juncture, the tale takes an interesting turn as Luna, the doting mother willingly becomes Andrew’s disciple and attends his retreats as a faithful follower. Time goes by and Luna is dismayed to see her beloved son evolving into a power-hungry, manipulative and tyrannical godman. She becomes totally disillusioned and sparks of rebellion begin to ignite at his despotic behavior. Her ultimate resolve to leave him comes after being subjected to repeated humiliation by Andrew in front of his disciples; her indomitable spirit would not allow her to remain servile, even at the terrifying prospect of losing her son.

The final break came in 1989 when both Luna and Julie were attending one of Andrew’s retreats in California. They had read about U.G. Krishnamurti and finding that he was staying not too far away in Mill Valley, they arrived at his doorstep without losing any time. U.G. was a game changer for them, to say the least. He confirmed their worst fears about being a “spiritual slave” and gave them the push they needed to take the next step. For Julie, it was love at first sight and that love, mighty love, has sustained her till today. And for Luna, U.G. was a catalyst in her “awakening”. They both walked out on Andrew and his sangha two days later. The subsequent estrangement was truly heartbreaking for her but mother and son reconciled recently after almost a quarter century. Luna has recounted her ordeal with open candor and courage in her critically-acclaimed and widely read book Mother of God (1997). It is a must read for all “seekers of truth”.

Turtle Encounters

6.22.15  

It is afternoon and I am driving Guha to his home when we have cutesy encounters with critters. On a small winding road surrounded by fields, marshes and farmland owned by Rutgers University, I first spot a little turtle covered with a thick brown shell. He is standing on the edge of the road, as if waiting to cross to the other side. I excitedly point it out to Guha who is sitting beside me. He says, “Stop! This little fellow will be killed!” As I come to a screeching halt in the middle of the road, he jumps out of the car, picks up the turtle and deposits him into the marsh in one smooth movement. Next, I see Mother Goose (Canada goose) running in the field and her three little ones running behind her as if their life depended on it. I was thrilled looking at this charming scene. Guha says, “The mother is training the little ones how to survive in this world.” Oh, sweet love! On we go. Now I see a teeny, weenie baby squirrel with stripes scurrying across the road. One of these days I may inadvertently crush one of these wily creatures; they have a knack of darting right in front of your speeding car when you are least expecting. I must have slammed the brakes a million times to save their kin. We continue and just as I was about to make a turn, I hear Guha shout, “Watch out!” “What did I do,” I ask him in a panic? “Oh, its okay, you nearly ran over a chipmunk. But don’t worry, I didn’t hear any crunching sound so I think he was saved,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes. What in the world is going on!

The turtle brings back memories for me, bad and good. A few months ago while I was driving to the supermarket near my home, I saw an orange colored baby turtle in the middle of the road trying to get to the other side. This stretch of the road is surrounded by woods with a water basin on one side. I slowed down and veered to the left to avoid trampling the little one. I had a good look at this lovely creature admiring its attractively patterned orange-colored shell. I procrastinated whether to stop and move it to safety or be on my way. I chose the latter thinking others would see it, like I did, and would avoid hitting it. Alas, on my way back, I saw it crushed, in a pool of blood! I was horrified and almost felt sick looking at the dead reptile. Till today I feel guilty about “killing” Mother Nature’s baby. Lesson learned: Never procrastinate over a matter of life and death.

It was turtles, turtles everywhere when I was taking a walk in the park near my office some time ago. While working at a digital marketing agency in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, I made it a point to go for a stroll during lunch time every day. It was a hot summer day and the entire animal kingdom was making merry – the birds and the bees, the squirrels and the butterflies, the ducks and the swans and the toads and the turtles. As I glanced at the cove to my right, I saw a line of turtles perched on a branch of a tree which was jutting very low over the still waters – not one, not two, not three but thirteen of them in a row taking a siesta! It was heartwarming to see such happy, loving, peaceful co-existence. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from them. Suddenly, my foot hit something hard and when I looked down I saw a big brown tortoise staring straight at me. Thank goodness I didn’t stomp him to death. I gave him a quizzical look and did a double take when he winked at me (or was that my imagination) as if trying to tell me you’d better get back to work, missy or they’ll fire you. Which they did, a few days later.

6.23.15

Manhattan

It is 8 am on a glorious, sunny morning in New York City. Kamal is here and we are lounging in his classy hotel room in downtown Manhattan – Kamal, Julie, Guha, Manoj and I. Huge floor-to-ceiling glass windows take up half the room and from our vantage point on 52nd floor we are admiring spectacular, panoramic views of this amazing city. We are surrounded by glassy skyscrapers, but beyond, like miniature models I can see the three bridges that span the East River connecting Manhattan to different parts of Brooklyn – the closest and the oldest from where we are is the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, lying next to it is the Manhattan Bridge and furthest away is the Williamsburg Bridge. On my extreme right is Lady Liberty on the Hudson with her torch held high promising freedom and liberty to all. Incidentally, the newly-built 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center (the exact location where the original 6 WTC once stood) are just a hop, skip and jump from this hotel. Standing proud with its spire reaching the skies, One WTC, colloquially known as the Freedom Tower, at 104 floors is now the tallest edifice in the Western Hemisphere.

Guha: My chemistry teacher would always tell us little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And to prove his point he would narrate this story to us: Once a boy learnt in school that nitric acid dissolves copper. That day when he returned home he found his little brother had swallowed a copper coin which was stuck in his throat. He immediately procured some nitric acid and poured it down his brother’s throat! Jiddu Krishnamurti used to affirm there is no totality of knowledge; it is always fragmented.

6.25.15

At 42

Guha is reciting to me the first Sanskrit verse he learnt when he was in sixth grade:

मन्त्रे तीर्थे द्विजे दैवे दैवज्ञे भेषजे गुरौ

यादृशी भावना यत्र सिद्दिर्भवति तादृशी

– समयोचितपद्यमालिका

Transliteration:

Mantre tIrthe dvije daive daivajne bheshaje gurou

Yaadrushee bhaavanaa yatra siddirbhavati taadrushee

– Samayochitapadyamaalikaa

English Translation:

Mantras, pilgrimages, the twice born (brahmanas), deities, seekers/knowers of God, doctors, teachers – their usefulness (to us) will be proportional to the faith we put in them.

Guha: Now I think these kinds of slokas have placebo value.  I often used to experiment about the efficacy of these slokas and would invariably fail.

4.52 pm

Take 10 from Guha:

  • Buddha understood that the problem of mankind had nothing to do with finding god but the problem was of suffering. That’s why he went to the root of suffering – desires. He realized that every drive to get pleasure creates that which is going to give you sorrow.
  • Want is infinite, need is limited. We have created a social structure where your need is not innate but created by the society which is governing your needs.
  • Even if you are sitting in a cave and meditating, that what you are thinking (or experiencing) is handed down to you from society.
  • Everybody wants to be the best. Every Tom, Dick or Harry wants to be the best in class. How is it possible? You have to understand the reality of your existence. Accordingly, you must curb your imagination. If you do, you begin to find a new harmony.
  • You as you know yourself are not in touch with the life that is unfolding inside you. And you want to control outside, you think you have the power to do that! The one who is unable to control what is going on inside is pretending to control what is outside. Can you imagine how contradictory it is?
  • If somebody is honestly trying to understand and cannot, accept that they don’t need to understand.
  • Beliefs are social conditioning.
  • Life has tremendous power. If someone has a very fast response mechanism you say he has magical power.
  • The power of negation is very important in breaking habitual things.
  • Accepting a goal of life as reality is going to fail and make you miserable.

7.2.15

At Julie’s

It is 6 pm and Guha is talking to an old U.G. friend who is visiting from Washington DC. In the early seventies as a teenager he used to attend J. Krishnamurti’s talks in Switzerland and that’s where he heard about the other Krishnamurti. Soon he became a regular at the U.G. camp too and his love for U.G. kept him at the latter’s side till U.G.’s death in 20017. U.G. used to humorously call him the “double agent” as he originally came to the US from Russia and no one could figure out what exactly he did for a living. I find him quite interesting, easy-going and immensely curious about philosophical and spiritual topics. He and Guha are having an animated discussion while Radhika, Manoj and I are listening closely. Guha:

If things begin to operate the way they are supposed to, then there’s nothing to do.

The game of life is enacting.

There is no such thing as average person.

The process of life is vast; I pick up two, three experiences and give it causality. Our ideas capture a very fragmented view of life. Our brain is so limited it cannot even capture a moment.

He (U.G.) really, really showed me that I’m very lucky that I came to him. All such thoughts are detrimental. There is no appreciation -do you appreciate that the heart is beating?

7.7.15

I have not been able to write for a few days now. I have no plausible explanation but always end up feeling guilty about it. Anyway, Manoj left for India three days ago, which was my birthday. Guha said that was my birthday gift. Last few days before his departure I had completely stopped talking to him. It was after that massive fight we had at Julie’s. It started with something inconsequential but rapidly degenerated into a slanging match with numerous exchanges of “shut up, no, you shut up!” Finally, he yelled, “I can walk out of here at this very moment and never come back!” Not wasting a moment I replied, “Go ahead, be my guest, what are you waiting for?” After that, tense silence. He remained where he was and Guha and Julie kept out of it.

A couple of days ago Manoj was reading aloud U.G.’s 108 Money Maxims. These adages may sound perverse if you have a stereotypical mindset conditioned by social norms. Ludicrous or not, when Make others sweat. Enjoy the fruits thereof was being read out, Guha looked at me and I believe “blessed” me with “tathaastu” (so be it).

K and I were engaged in a combative texting duel last evening. It started when I sent across a sticker wishing him good night.

K: These bloody stickers have become utterly boring!

I: Everything’s in life is like that. You’ll find me boring very soon.

K: (A volley of messages expressing outrage at such a thought) No! No! Omg!
The sticker ping pong continued till I again reiterated:

I: That’s how it is, mind gets bored. Always seeks excitement.

K: (cleverly changing track) But the body doesn’t. It knows no boredom. In fact, it has a memory and wants to relive that without excess confusion due to multiplicity.

I: But that is just a concept for us, right? It’s not operating that way.

K: They say mind over matter; U.G. said the reverse. Now you decide whether you want to listen to them or U.G./Guhaji. Have you seen people with multiple affairs… They are scatterbrained… Observe next time.

Talking about the mind and it’s wont to seek excitement reminds me what Guha once said to me, “In the absence of pleasure the brain feels pain; that’s how our brain interprets absence of pleasure.”

The Ansonia ‘Office’

7.23.15

New York City

I am with Guha at the ‘office’ in Ansonia. Among other things we try to work out a timeline for getting 14 Days published in the coming months. Julie just left to meet her son and Nish, Shujaat and Matthew will join us later. A tete a tete with Guha is becoming a rarity.

N: How many people do you think are genuinely interested in what you’re saying?

G: There are a lot of people who think they are genuinely interested but their interest is kind of a secondary effect. It is something they like or think of it as an alternative which can give them happiness, peace or solve the problems of life and things like that. I have found very few people who are genuinely expressing some demand, which is a very core demand of their personality. I have met very few people like that.

N: Which is a core demand with them?

G: Yeah, like genuine hunger.

N: For most of us that hunger is covered up by other…

G: The hunger was originally always there. It’s a competition between your sense of expression as the life that is unfolding inside and the way you have been conditioned by the social system. So it is always a competition, a battle. Your system wants very, very, very genuine core freedom like it just doesn’t want to be bothered. It’s very physical; the system doesn’t like anything that disturbs its rhythm, its balance, its functioning. Hot, cold, pressure, disease, falling particle, it has its own perfect proprioception of the material existence – what is inside, what is outside, how far it should be, etc. It wants to be free from everything that breaks down its order and poise and makes it unhealthy, uneasy or stressed. Similarly, the mental world – the world of information that uses the body – also wants to be in harmony in such a way that it optimizes the energy drain from the body. But the constant demand for continuity…the movement in the mental world is not a very acceptable thing for the system so organizationally it wants to free itself from this kind of stress, strain and wastage of energy.

The ‘office’ is a lovely, light-filled studio on 16th floor of The Ansonia building. (I always liked the name Ansonia; it has a nice ring to it.) Guha climbs all the way up whenever the opportunity arises which is a testimony to his robust health. Julie’s apartment, sitting pretty on one of the four round corner turrets, has elegant moldings, a high ceiling and huge bay windows. If you step out on the balcony you will get sweeping views of the busy Broadway (I was told by my friend Louis never to call it Broadway Avenue although it is an avenue), see the historic Beacon Theater lights glittering opposite, feel as if the 73rd subway station was almost under your feet, and be amazed by the majestic clusters of skyscrapers framing the skyline. If you are lucky, you may even spot a falcon resting on the balcony railing although you have to be inside and be quiet as a mouse. Julie once took an awesome video of our handsome winged friend.

The solid yellow stone building with its fabulous detailing and intricate carvings has been featured in films and TV shows. Originally, the Ansonia housed a farm on the rooftop with chickens, ducks, goats and even a bear included! Unfortunately, the farm was shut down by the authorities a few years later citing health concerns. If it was still running, it would probably be the first urban, rooftop farm in Manhattan today. Legendary baseball player Babe Ruth, Nobel Prize winner in Literature Isaac Bashevitz Singer, and acclaimed Conductor Arturo Toscanini once lived in this august dwelling. And now we have our very own Julie Clark Thayer as one of its most illustrious tenants.

*Quote from Luna Tarlo’s Introduction in Guha Talks to the Mother of God

 

Preface

Part I: A Big Zero

Part II: You Say Just the Way You See

Part III: A Pilot’s Tale

Part IV: A Collection of Nuclei

Part V: There Is No You

Part VI: The Tiger Is Out

Part VII: Thoughts Drain Life’s Energy

Part VIII: Caught In A Web of Love

Part IX: Never In Past And Never In Future

Part X: Butterflies Are Free

Part XI: Sun Breaks Through Nimbus Clouds