For some of us, it is harder to overcome fear of attachment than attachment itself.
We were living with our guru, Ma Jaya, in two large rental houses, but we had no money for furniture. That was okay, because who needed a bed if your house had wall-to-wall carpeting? The only thing we lacked was closet space. Unlike some traditional teachers, Ma didn’t tell us to give up our possessions. Still, we got to renounce a lot of belongings simply because there was no place to put them.
Since I owned a van, I went out and bought a used refrigerator for one of the houses. When Ma got a look at it, I discovered my mistake. “This is a new teaching, so you must have a new refrigerator! And make sure it has an ice maker in the door!” An ice maker was an expensive luxury at the time, 1976, and she was definitely raising the stakes.
Before meeting Ma, I had lived in a cabin with a wood stove in Northern California, and in a crowded rooming house in a scary neighborhood a little beyond Haight-Ashbury, and for a while under a tree near Taos.
So Ma’s insistence on bourgeois standards of furniture, dress and cleanliness was just something to put up with, I thought, some residue of her own working-class Brooklyn background. It would take a while to discover my mistake.
I had not fully renounced my woodsy-hippie persona, but still I went out and got a brand new fridge with all the latest features. Did I resent it? Probably.
Ma would dress beautifully, travel in style and make light of Ramakrishna’s warning about women and gold. “I am a woman,” she would proclaim, jangling her gold bracelets, “and I have nothing at all against gold.” There were many who judged her, because she broke the molds of what a spiritual teacher should be, but it was all intentional.
She used to explain about what she called “Page One” and “Page Two” people. Without claiming one to be higher than the other, she would say that most people are on Page One: they love form, they love the world of possessions and sensations and their most important spiritual work is to give up their attachments.
The Page Two people have to work hard to stay grounded and to enjoy ordinary life. Possessions are not a big deal to them, but they are in danger of becoming too ethereal, or too intellectual or too self-absorbed. They are the ones who are too distracted to do the dishes.
The goal? To be able to live on either Page One or Page Two, to focus attention in any chakra, to be at home whether in form (human life) or in the formless (transcendent being). And most important, to travel easily in between all states.
Ma once said, “If I have to be in form, it better be right.” That might mean something quite different in different situations; however, in the culture in which we find ourselves, that correctness of form just might include up-to-date appliances.
Ma is at home anywhere in the universe, form or formless, but we’re not, not yet. We still get stuck. Some of us get stuck when we judge others either for having or not having nice possessions. Others get stuck in habits of either obsessiveness or carelessness.
So why, if I claim to understand all that, is there a green bungee cord holding together the drawer in my own fridge, right now as I write? Ma would absolutely hate that! She’s not here with us in form, she’s not about to drop in, but I feel as if she just pointed at my bungee cord and told me in no uncertain terms to do something about it.
And so the dance goes on.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta