MY HINDU HUSBAND, a white Midwesterner, moved in three years ago with an Eastern Philosophy library to covet, even if one is not interested in the vastness of the subject. A third of the pie, Vedanta and yoga, was introduced to the West in the late 19th century by Swami Vivekananda, who lately has been re-emerging as a fascinating figure in the cultural soup. A recent profile in the WSJ magazine highlighted Vivekananda's admirers: Leo Tolstoy, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, W. Somerset Maugham, Henry James, J.D. Salinger, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and Henry Miller. While the admirers are in my library, the Swami is not. My husband and I are now separated. But he brought Vivekananda into my life along with an endless host of lucent and otherwise infamous sadhus, yogis, avatars, gurus, or white Western teachers all under the eternal soul persuasion.
Going through stuff in the basement to throw out, there was one Vedic astrologer's self-published, clipped together booklet at the bottom of a dusty box my husband had never unpacked. It found my interest despite the assuming title, Kundalini Chakra Awakening and the Attainment of Self-realization, Mystic Powers and Transcendence. The author advises writing at the top of six pieces of papers the following titles for each: The Blamer, The Complainer, The Pleaser, The Pretender, The Defender, The Believer. You are then to list under each heading the who, what, when, where and how you blame, complain, please, pretend, defend, and believe.
The exercise is based on an understanding of the Three Gunas [goon-uh] or ropes of bondage — Tamas and Rajas, and Sattva — tying one to actions and reactions in the world of Maya, George Harrison's material world. Tamas is akin to apathy, boredom, depression; Rajas includes anger, aggression and arrogance; and Sattva is acceptance, harmony, balance. Obviously Tamas and Rajas are the main contenders for sources of struggle, while Sattva might be a goal. The simple idea that you might free yourself from the lower energy influences of Tamas and Rajas seemed to be most wise during a break-up.
In Volume One of Vivekananda's complete works, he explains the gunas of Vedantic philosophy this way:
Again, the mind is in three states, one of which is darkness, called Tamas, found in brutes and idiots; it only acts to injure. No other idea comes into that state of mind. Then there is the active state of mind, Rajas, whose chief motives are power and enjoyment. "I will be powerful and rule others." Then there is the state called Sattva, serenity, calmness, in which the waves cease, and the water of the mind-lake becomes clear. It is not inactive, but rather intensely active. It is the greatest manifestation of power to be calm.
Three months ago, once my husband and I were in calm agreement that this was not working, he moved out. He took only a bag. All of his things are still here: the wonderful library, the rare vinyl collection of psychedelia, the horror, ninja and Bollywood movie collection, a near pharmacy's worth of Chinese herbs, homeopathic tinctures and supplements, and his car, which I'm driving. The car's license plate pays homage to the Hindu goddess, Kali — the black one, divine mother, destroyer of ego. When we...read more