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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Trying to explain `a brush with the divine' (From LA TIMES)

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Trying to explain `a brush with the divine'


By Louis Sahagun
Los Angeles Times

If there was ever someone in need of good vibrations, it was Paul Ekman.

The psychology professor at the University of California-San Francisco was as gnarly as an old oak, hardened by a lifelong struggle with impulsive anger.

All that changed one spring day in 2000 after a brief exchange with the Dalai Lama.

``He held my hands while we talked,'' Ekman recalled, ``and I was filled with a sense of goodness and a unique total body sensation that I have no words to describe.''

The Dalai Lama prefers not to talk of such things. ``I have no extraordinary energy,'' he says with a dismissive wave his hand. ``I'm just a Buddhist monk.''

But some familiar with the Dalai Lama, and those who study religious figures, agree that every so often, people emerge who are perceived to offer proof of a higher authority, understanding or wisdom.

``It -- whatever it is -- can't be defined and is not to be confused with stardom or fame,'' suggested someone who knows a lot about both, Maria Shriver. ``I think the Dalai Lama would say look within because it's in you, not someone else. It all comes down to whether you're open to being touched in your heart.''

Shriver, a member of the Kennedy clan and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife, appeared onstage with the Dalai Lama in September at a conference in Long Beach on women's issues. She also knew Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II and said they too projected a sense of spiritual authority.

In India, one of the most popular spiritual leaders is Mata Amritanandamayi, a Hindu woman who is said to impart divine energy with a hug. Over the years, according to her followers, the ``Mother of Divine Bliss'' has hugged more than 20 million people.

``Personally, I don't know what it is she has, but I don't think it's a scam,'' said Dara Mayers, who has written about her travels with the guru. ``It reminded me a little of a quality I've seen in some performers and politicians like Bill Clinton, who is famous for making the focus of his attention feel like the only other person in the room.''

What these special figures have in common is their effect on others. They are perceived as being able to bring people to a higher state of being through their example, teachings, sufferings or touch.

``These people are operating at a level most of us are not, and they're not limited by denominations. The spirit blows where it will,'' said Thomas Craughwell, a devoted Catholic and author of several books on saints. ``We don't run into them very often but when we do, we're rattled because it's like a brush with the divine and because we want a piece of what they have.''

Anne Harrington, a professor of the history of science at Harvard, still marvels at how her colleagues responded to the Dalai Lama during a meeting with him in India a few years ago.

``There was one physicist who, after a few days with the Dalai Lama, tearfully confessed that his wife had cancer,'' she recalled. ``He wanted a blessing. Specifically, he wanted a red blessing string for his wife.''

Years ago, stories about the Dalai Lama's healing presence would have placed him squarely in Ekman's ``Oh, give me a break'' camp.

Now, Ekman desperately wants to know how the Dalai Lama relieved him literally overnight of the temper that had him in psychoanalysis for years.

Ekman recently interviewed eight people who say they experienced similar transformations after meeting the Dalai Lama. All had telling things in common, including emotionally traumatic childhoods, Ekman said. In addition, each individual was facing a major turning point around the time of the meeting.

``In my case, my mother took her own life when I was 14,'' Ekman said, ``and I was considering retirement after monomaniacally pursuing a career in the psychology of emotion.''

In May, Ekman crossed paths again with the Dalai Lama at a conference in Illinois and popped the question: What is it?

Without accepting credit for Ekman's case, ``The Dalai Lama smiled and said there are things science can't explain, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't try to,'' he said. ``The Dalai Lama also said, `Maybe science will figure these things out, which would be very nice. Maybe it won't.' ''

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Welcome to the spirituality blog

This blog is an offshoot of a website that I had conceived as a result of the spiritual grace and resultant inspiration during Shivaratri Y2K (http://www.jyotirlinga.com) on the joy of Shiva Bhakti and my quest for spiritual progress. Not finding the time (yep, bad excuse!), this blog suits me fine in quickly adding content... my spiritual forays and thoughts - helps log them too. My spiritual journey started with Hinduism and it's simple stories/ teachings as far back as when I was a 2nd grader, with Lord Shiva and has now found convergence with Advaitism / Duality. The Advaitism gurus like Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi, Nisargadatta Maharaj; they have provided that spiritual boost of energy in many lagging moments and have tremendously influenced me ... little baby steps at a time... that will hopefully all lead upto a final crescendo. The merits of satsangh are many!

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