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The Endless Sorrow of Samsara
Rheinhart: Dear James, thank you for your teachings in Berlin. I am thankful to have met you: it seems like the long-missing pieces to life’s puzzle have been found.
I am seeking your advice on where or how to proceed my spiritual practice. Is there a place I can go and study the teaching full-time? Is there a teacher somewhere you can recommend? No doubt I would attend all of your classes if my life situation would allow it. As my life situation seems to have come to a dead end, and I have few worldly ambitions, I badly want to work on myself. I am aware that I have a good deal of bad habits, and I am working on it, but I think it would be a great help if I could go somewhere to a community that could support this work. I am trying to sell my shop, and if I am lucky I could take a few years. I don’t socialise much and my spiritual work has intensified. I only care about that. When I wake up, I read a spiritual book, just started yours for the second time. Trying not to let any thought go by unnoticed, looking for the intention of that thought, dismissing it. Contemplating, keeping in mind the words, going over it again and again and again for hours every day, constantly for two years. Sometimes I see it all clearly that I am that, and sometimes clouds of fear endarken me.
I hope you have forbearance as I tell you my story. I will try to make it short.
As a 15-year-old boy I dropped my promising swimming career as a super-talent, seeing the absurd in this competition. As I stopped I became extremely introverted and began questioning everything, to the worry of my parents who wanted me to see a shrink. The mantra “Who am I?” was constant. And I intended to find out. Thinking that there must be someone out there who had the answer, I took up yoga, and it was meditation that I was interested in the most. As I closed my eyes and tried to figure out “Who am I?,” it was obvious to see I am not my thoughts, because I can observe them. Seeing the importance of my discovery, I was eager to discuss this subject with anyone, but it seemed the world couldn’t care less. “There must be a common me to all the roles I play,” I told my parents. I want to go to that other side, I don’t want to be fixed here. At 16 I joined my first yoga meditation retreat sponsored by my parents. I found Rajneesh in the library and was introduced to a long range of spiritual traditions.
On the worldly level I was a disaster, with a deep feeling of alienation and not belonging, maybe because of my drug abuse. I just barely made it through high school, took up a job as caretaker of the handicapped, from which I was fired, took up another job and managed to save 3,000 dollars for a half-year in India with my girlfriend. By the way, we ended up in prison in Nepal for a visa issue. I did take the experience as a spiritual challenge, meditating and reading Osho.
For lack of ambition, lack of social skills and inability to keep up with a rajasic society, I never got educated and kept working with the handicapped, which I wasn’t really good at but just for money to go to India again. Apart from taking a lot of acid at the techno raves in Goa, I took hypnosis education in Osho Ashram. Not to my surprise, I experienced myself in a past-life session as a fit, bare-bodied, long-haired Indian, sitting on a floor bathed in warm light or walking, walking and walking. The whole experience only opened up on a great sorrow. To where was I walking? I was walking out to die alone, leaving my family behind, not finding anything.
I managed to take two years of a three-year psychotherapy education with a former Osho and NLP expert, who in the end told me I needed help. Right… that’s why I am here!
Dropping out, I decided to become as normal as possible, learned to socialise and leave behind all the spiritual crap. I drank a lot of wine to get down to earth, suppress my sensitivity and boost my rajas. I managed to get a cooking job. On a holiday in Thailand with a friend I decided to bring home a bar girl. I was convinced that with her I could at least do something good by helping her to get a better life and at the same time be “somebody” in her eyes. She turned out to be the most hard-headed woman on earth and I knew I had set myself up for a challenge. But there was a feeling that she could help me somehow by meeting her outgoing personality and being a good husband. We married because we had to for her to stay. I had a fatherly feeling of helping and protecting her. She quickly got jobs in Thai restaurants and became part of Thai social groups, which included parties and coming home late. Not a few times I remember sitting late and waiting for her to come home. Sometimes I would go with her. But I am a man who believes in freedom of the individual, so I wasn’t going to decide for her, although I would always express my feelings and opinions.
It just happened that I helped her apply for a better job in a fancy restaurant where she became a skilled chef. We both worked there. Later she became the head chef in other restaurants. And I became head chef in a big cantina, feeding 1,500 people daily. It was tremendously stressful and I managed to keep up with her level of energy, but it left me in an endless tamas/rajas cycle and increased use of alcohol. We made good money, and as my apartment suddenly grew 1,000% in value, I decided to fulfill her ambitions and borrow the money, using the equity in my apartment as collateral, to buy 70,000-dollar house for her poor parents in Thailand, which is now in her name alone. I also built her a restaurant. My idea in all this was to bring us closer.
It was just before opening our sushi shop that we took a vacation in Thailand. Our quarrels had increased to an unbearable level, but I took the opportunity to be with myself, bringing with me an Eckhart Tolle book and giving my spiritual life, which was non-existent for ten years, a second chance. After an argument one day, I felt tremendously small, lost, sorry, sad and incomplete.
I sat down and looked inside… is this really me? It could not be. I refused to let these emotions take charge. So I kept on looking, witnessing that apparent me, trying to be the witness, not letting it go for a moment. I stayed alone and after three days the apparent me began losing its power. It was as if something greater started opening. One evening I was sitting in front of the house looking at the sunset, with some music playing in the distance, and an overwhelming beauty came over me. The beauty of the palm trees, the birds singing and the distant music seemed wrapped in an unspeakable silence and happiness. The apparent me was only a tiny ripple on the ocean of bliss. It was an ocean where the whole world and “me” were rising from. I understood that this epiphany must have been catalogued and that I needed teaching to stay there. I came to think of Ramana Maharshi.
Getting the legal permission to open the restaurant had been a long, draining process, but when it opened my wife took charge and almost kicked me out of the shop, saying we couldn’t work together. I didn’t give up the hope of our family life, but as our arguments increased, I slowly lost interest in all of it. And my spiritual search began again, starting in Neo-Advaita because I was familiar with it. After eight months, leaving my wife alone for three months, I went for retreat in Tiruvannamalai with Premananda, who I soon discovered was not a good man. The feeling that something was missing in the teaching was obvious. There was no teaching. That is where I saw the poster of you in an internet shop. I felt attracted. Your home page wasn’t available then. Later I went to the study group in Berlin.
My worldly life had hit bottom. After India I couldn’t resist going to Thailand, drinking and partying with the girls on borrowed money. I was crying inside. I had decided I couldn’t stay with my wife anymore. The sorrow was great and it still is. Giving in to the ancient pattern of leaving my family, I was a failure. And I failed to be a good husband, not that she didn’t have a fair share in how it all turned out.
I work every day in the shop with my wife earning barely enough to pay the bank back the interest on our 180,000-dollar loan. As the shop doesn’t make enough money, and I don’t really care to be there, I have no choice but practice the karma yoga. I am there in the shop giving it my best, seeing more and more clearly the innocence of my wife, and that what was shattered was only my artificially inflated ego, my attempt to be “somebody.” It is the dark night of the ego, not of the soul.
I am trying to sell my apartment and shop, and have no idea where it will lead me. But I do know I need to get sane and sober and out of this endless sorrow of samsara.
The meaning of the cover photo on your book suddenly hit me quite hard: all the apparent lights are extinguished and only a single flame remains.
As the world is dependent on me, it must be there because I see it. ☺
~ Love from Rheinhart
James: Hi, Rheinhart. Very nice to hear from you. It is a rather sad story, although you tell it with great feeling and integrity. It definitely elicited my sympathy. I think you need to keep cleaning up your karma with the karma yoga attitude until you are free of the thoughts and feelings associated with your life and lifestyle. I actually think you more or less do know who you are and that everything will come together when you can resolve your karmic situation, i.e. pay your debts and resolve your feelings about your wife, which seem to be on the mend. Do you still fight with her? Why is she in charge of the business?
Basically, it seems to me that, although she is a good person, she is a samsari, interested in financial security, a typical hard-working immigrant. It seems she does not understand or appreciate your spiritual vasana. I am sure you are tempted to just walk away from the whole mess, but I don’t think this would work. It would work for me if I was in this situation because I have a different temperament, but it would not work for you. Do you have children? From your letter it seems you are a bit sentimental and dutiful. This is not a judgment or a criticism, just an observation of a tamasic mind. It just seems to be your nature, and if you do not work things out according to your nature, you will suffer more. You are right about the “spiritual crap,” at least the way you were going about it. You got off to a bad start with the Osho thing, but see how the self has led you to self-inquiry after all this suffering. And you have pretty good spiritual discrimination because you could see that Premananada is no teacher and a sleazy person. It is very good. You are on the right path.
I can understand your interest in a spiritual environment and some good teaching, but the only ashrams that I might recommend in India would not be suitable for you at this time, I think, as they require a person who is essentially sattvic in temperament and lifestyle- and karma-free. Both require a two-year commitment and the lifestyle is very spartan. I wish I could wave a magic wand and transform your karma, but things don’t work that way. You have to patiently and slowly work your way out with the karma yoga attitude. As you proceed, the fears will slowly go away and the period of clarity and happiness will increase. Sadhana is a slow, evolutionary process. You measure your progress in millimeters, not in meters.
Anyway, good luck to you. Let me know how things go. Your story touched me deeply.
~ Love, James