Happiness is the Art of Subtraction

"I have decided to be happy because it's good for my health." ~ Voltaire

Sounds so easy, doesn't it? Is happiness hard? Our culture of consumption makes happiness difficult because we assume that happiness is something we must acquire, something we must accumulate like a bank account. But perhaps the art of happiness is subtraction, not addition. Perhaps it is a single decisive act of dropping what we are not, so that we can breathe the light and lightness of what we are.

One time my teacher, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, told a group of us to stop treating him like someone special, because he was no different than the rest of us. So I opened my big mouth and said, "Yea, Guruji, but you've got something we haven't got and we want it!"

Amidst the laughter, he looked at me with great compassion and said, "No. You have something I haven't got. I've dropped it: you're still carrying it."

The Bud

The bud looked at the flower and said, 'What a miracle!'
The flower replied, 'You are everything I am,
'but you are closed and I am full of space.'
'What then?' asked the bud.
The flower replied, 'Truly breathe.'


 To feel fierce and allow that fierceness completely, is to be gentle with yourself. To feel sad and allow that sadness completely, is joy. To feel angry and embrace your anger 100%, is vitality. To yearn so totally that you become your yearning, is fulfillment. The wave is made of the sea. What longing for God is made of, is God. Your ferocity, sorrow and anger are as full of divine fire as the softest flower. You are electricity: everything in the world is your wire.

The Self Is Inimitable

That which can be imitated is not the Self.

More often than not, "spiritual practice" is an attempt to borrow the life-style and energy of our favorite prophet or guru. This we call devotion. Imitating the path of another may comfort us awhile, but if we continue this religious borrowing, we end with a second-hand soul.

Bees do not renounce flowers. Their honey incorporates the taste of every flower they have visited. But the honey has its own bouquet. To become an original soul, I need not renounce the fragrance of my religious tradition, or the flower of my guru's practice. But now, the nectar is within.

I can integrate sacred traditions into my own original life-style, without being bound by them. When I have a first-hand soul that is not the imitation of a holy Other, I no longer feel compelled to buzz around the guru's ashram, the religious community. My ashram is the world. My church is humanity.

In the morning, bees drink lavender, lobelia, honey-suckle, goldenrod. But in the quiet of the afternoon, bees return to the hive and make their own honey.

Painting by Melissa Fischer


I'm watching 'Jersey Shore' in Florence, trying to comprehend American sexuality. It's very sad. We expose our bodies not passionately but desperately, indiscriminately. There is no spiritual mystery beneath the physical phenomenon, nothing left to anticipate, no space for imagination to play its life-giving role as half the world we see and touch.

But a transformation is coming. The headscarf will become fashionable in America. We'll cover the flesh in flowing fabric, instead of wasting it in public spectacle. Modesty will become cool.

But modesty is only cool when it is a choice. For this, I thank the brave self-liberating women of the Arab Spring.

Para Sam Gateh

Gently observing, go beyond whatever can be observed.
Observing the body's pain and pleasure,
go beyond pain and pleasure.
Observing anxiety, go beyond anxiety.
Observing sadness, go beyond sadness.
Observing thoughts, go beyond thoughts.
Observing this breath, go beyond breathing.
Observing the "I" who is observing, go beyond "I."
Observing the entire cosmos in the form of a golden egg
encompassing the eternal past and the eternal future,
go beyond the universe.
Observing empty space, go beyond emptiness.
Gently observing the beyond, go beyond the beyond,
beyond the distinction of being and not being.
Dissolve into silence and bubble up
with incomprehensible joy.

Religion or Divine Intimacy?

Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is within you." Is this religion or spirituality?

Perhaps the distinction is quite simple. Religion insists that Source is above me. Spirituality discovers Source within me.

In the core-silence of my heart, I find the Beloved. Yet precisely in this discovery, the non-dualist may insist on a spirituality without God. One who transcends "religion" may assume that he must transcend divine relationship and merge into impersonal unity.

Spirituality is intimacy. The transcendental lover is free to fall more deeply in love with Krishna, with Christ, with Mother Divine, with whoever one chooses as ishta-devata, the chosen aspect of God-Consciousness. Of course, the ishta-devata is none other than the deepest radiance of one's Self. But realizing the Self is a dance, a courtship, a play of two-in-one and one-in-two. Without relationship, where is the delight?

St. Augustine wrote that God is intimeor intimo meo, "more inward to me than I am to myself." Source delights in intimacy with its manifestation as individual mind. God delights in playful friendship with the soul.

My Beloved does not descend from above. My Beloved wells up from the depths of my heart, like a tear. And will ever pray, "O Lord, you taught the wave to become the sea. Now teach the sea to dance in the wave."


Why seek the blessing of saints and gurus? The moment of birth was your initiation into the supreme path. As soon as your umbilical cord was severed, you received three sacred jewels, talismans to guide you home. Your breath for a prayer, your body for a sacrament, the present moment for a teacher. Angels and gods wait countless ages to receive what you have been given. Don't waste the privilege of a human birth!

Plant Lavender

Freedom is not about politics. Freedom is the ability to shift attention from the mind to the heart, from the dark second-hand imagery of suffering fed to us by the world and its media, to the first-hand radiance of our inner Source. You can feast on conflict, or you can feast on joy. Which feast will nourish you? Which will make you a lover? 

Turn off the teeth-gnashing chatter of news, turn off the axe-grinding political talk. Go outside, dip your fingers in the earth, pick blackberries, plant lavender. 
Yes, in our compassion, we constantly remind ourselves of all who suffer. But for our sanity, we might also remind ourselves of the millions upon millions of people who, in this very moment, do not suffer, but heroically perform the anonymous human sacraments of the commonplace, each illuminated by the quiet miracle of their own smile.  


Love anyway. Serve anyway. Hope anyway. There are countless reasons to be unhappy. Smile anyway. The source of divine grace, the source of abundance, lies in this "anyway."


Action that arises from "should" is like a paper flower; it looks nice but contains no life. Love's doing is filled with sap; it is rooted in the silence of the heart, where there is no thought of "should" or "shouldn't." Our best work is not a "good deed." Our best work is our love.

"When you give, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." ~Jesus

"When a bodhisattva performs acts of charity, he has no concept of 'acts of charity.' " ~Buddha

Eat From Your Own Bowl

My pets always want each others food. The long-haired piggy princess wants the bowl of the golden poodle. The ragamuffin sweetheart steals from the piggy princess. The golden poodle wants everybody's food but his own. Why don't we just eat from our own bowl?

"Better to perform your own work, though inferior in 'merit,' than to attempt the work of another, however superior. " (Bhagavad Gita, chapter 3)

Space Between

Overdoing is easy. Undoing takes some discipline.

Americans work harder and harder, but America doesn't seem to work. Even the unemployed are over-stressed. We do more, but accomplish less. How's that?

Americans know how to make war but not how to be at peace. We know how to run marathons but not how to take a walk. We know how to lift weights but not how to lay our burdens down. We know how to go but not how to stay, how to work but not how to play, how to fill ourselves but not how to be empty. We pray and ask for things, but we don't meditate and receive the gifts of silence. In our ceaseless doing, we've even forgotten how to breathe.

Our drug of choice is worry. But the medicine we need to take is a little space between thoughts.

Conspiracy Theory

At some point, we are invited to stop looking for conspiracies, to confess that no one is in control, to have faith in the unknown, and embrace chaos as infinite possibility, where all that appears random is serendipitous, and each stumble, by a perfect coincidence, becomes a step in the dance. We lean on each other: that too is ballet.

Wealth is a Flowing Circle

We don't have a debt crisis, we have a wealth crisis. And the problem with our wealth is not that it lacks, but that it doesn't flow.

Motherly abundance flows in a circle to nourish the earth, like fresh water. Wealth is the very embodiment of Mother Divine: Goddess Annapurna the fullness of food, Goddess Lakshmi the fullness of beauty, Goddess Shakti the fullness of health.  But what flows up must flow down.

When wealth accumulates at the top of a pyramid, it stagnates. When wealth flows in a circle, it stimulates. There is plenty to go around: but it must go round.

True revolution turns pyramids into circles. Turning the pyramid into a circle is the economy of Mother Divine. The very word economy comes from the Greek nomos, law, and ecos, home. Economy means the law of the home, the law of the household.

A family is a circle, not a pyramid. And we are one human family in our round home, the earth. Let abundance flow.

These are not my words. These are the radical economic teachings of the Mother:
God has overturned the thrones of the mighty
and lifted up the lowly and the meek.
God has filled the hungry with good things
and emptied the coffers of the rich.
(Song of Mary, Luke 1)

Icon: the spiritual art of Paul Heussenstamm

Are You the Projector or the Film?

Are You the Projector or the Film? We can't brighten up this shadowy cartoon by changing the plot or the roles of the cartoon characters. We have to shine more light onto the screen, from a Source that is completely outside the cartoon and not part of the film at all. With this higher illumination,  we might even discover that the story isn't really so dark, the characters aren't so scary. Begin simply by asking, "Am I really one of these cartoon characters, or am I the light of the Projector?"
"Our true home is with that divine radiance, with that self-effulgence..." ~ Amma Sri Karunamai