Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Ten Commandments from a Non-Dualist Perspective, #7 (Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery)

Yama and I sat on a park bench overlooking the bay of Monterey, right next to the bike path where scantily clad women ran under a sun long hidden. Often my eyes would stray down the path instead of watching the otters or the seals down below.

DISCIPLE: Yama, I am a married man, and very happily so; yet my eyes wander over the beauty of the female form, and if I am not vigilant my mind will conjure up some wanton fantasy in the blink of an eye. The Seventh Commandment is: Thou shall not commit adultery. Am I committing adultery with my thoughts? And what is the highest teaching of this commandment?

Under the Bodhi Tree, Janaka Stagnaro
YAMA: Adultery by definition is the sexual union of a married man or woman with another person outside of marriage. While God does not care one whit what you do in time, as God sees only the Eternal and sees no other; however, as a discipline for one who seeks to know God or one’s own true nature, then one needs to cull the panting after forms—however beautiful they may seem to be. After all, what are these forms anyway but decaying flesh, one moment youthful and beautiful, the next withering and decrepit. Or if one explores these bodies further by looking at them at the minutest level they are nothing but particles of energy with no solidity at all.

Running after a body for a moment of pleasure is like jumping into the desert sand after believing you saw water. Bodies can no more give you happiness than mirages can quench your thirst.

DISCIPLE: But what about thinking about it? It’s not quite as bad, is it?

YAMA: Finding yourself in bed with some woman other than your wife would have been perpetuated by your thinking; it is not the body that wants to be with another body. When your consciousness leaves your body the body becomes inert, such as in deep sleep. The body is neutral, but it is filled with mental tendencies. If you have a habit of wanting to enjoy every pretty body, then a subconscious tendency will be created by the belief that such actions will bring fulfillment. And each time that tendency is acted upon it reinforces that notion. Therefore, the mind is the one that needs to be controlled by not letting it wander after the temporal. This is where discrimination is so important.
DISCIPLE: Please elaborate about discrimination.

YAMA: Does a wise man choose to pursue something that holds it value throughout time or something that has a value that will last only a day?

DISCIPLE: Obviously only the former. Only a fool would spend time and resources chasing something that is only valuable for a day.

YAMA: So discrimination is choosing between what is truly valuable and what is not. That which is Eternal has everlasting value. Anything temporal is really valueless. And the mind only focuses on what one believes is valuable. A business man will focus on profit, a drunk on his booze, a doctor on her patients, a holy man on God.

DISCIPLE: Is therefore my marriage valueless? And if it is, why not go after any women I wanted?

YAMA: It is valueless if you think your wife will complete your life for you and if you see her as a body. A marriage is only valuable in the true sense that it offers an opportunity of expressing unconditional love towards someone you see on a daily basis—someone whom you can see every shortcoming and then look beyond to her radiant perfect Self. Marriage is a powerful tool to discover unlimited joy in a limiting framework; which is no different than anything else on this planet.

And like everything else on this planet marriage is simply a mirror. If you see your wife as a body floundering in time and space then that is what you will see yourself as. If you behold her as the Christ, so shall you see yourself.

In other words, the only worthy undertaking is to find the Eternal in the finite.

DISCIPLE: In truth then, adultery does not just entail not lusting after someone else for sexual pleasures, but may encompass other areas as well.

YAMA: Certainly. There are many ways for one to want to escape the lessons of marriage, whether it is through one’s work, socializing, watching television, reading, etc.

DISCIPLE: Well, I do all those things from time to time. So am I escaping my marriage through them?

YAMA: You can tell if you are having an affair with anything if your mind fixates on having them when you are in another activity. If you are walking with your wife and your mind dwells on the book you are reading, or if your are doing the dishes and you want to be out with your buddies, then you are not present.

Remember this teaching: that one is to be married, not to a human being, but to the Eternal Now, to God, and when one’s mind is focused on anywhere else other than where one is at the time, this is adultery.

DISCIPLE: Thank you for giving me your commentary on adultery. I realize now that one does not have to be married to commit adultery. And my wandering eye is simply the mind wanting me to not be content with where I am and with whom I live.

         --  excerpt from The Teachings of Yama: A Conversation with DeathAddendum I

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Ten Commandments from a Non-Dualist Perspective, #6 (Thou Shall Not Kill)

Yama and I sat in the cemetery overlooking the ocean, a golf course on three sides. On this sunny, cool day the links were filled with people hitting little balls into holes, no doubt ignoring the mortality reminders a chip away, while the murder of crows in the cypress trees that provided shade for the graves, cawed for the golfers’ attention.

DISCIPLE: It has been a long time since our last discussion about the more non-dualistic interpretation of the Ten Commandments.

YAMA: Has it? Do not your dreams jump from scene to scene, with what seems like much time between them, all of which happens within a few breaths of “real” time?

DISCIPLE: Yes, that’s true.

YAMA: So it is with me. Our last conversation was just a moment ago, since I am not bound by time, and thus do not use it as a reference of who I am. My reference point is with the Eternal so I am not defined by what I do, even though my role is death.

DISCIPLE: Well that brings us to the Sixth Commandment: Thou shall not kill. As death, are you not the greatest offender of this rule?

YAMA: I guess I am; but then so must God be, for my power comes from Her. However, can God kill anything since all things abide in God and God in all things? Right here is the whole rub because when we get to the Essential, which is God, that there is only One. Yet it takes two to have the play of killer and slain.

This is what Krishna said to the warrior Arjuna who didn’t want to fight his kinsmen. Krishna reminded him that the Eternal Self cannot kill or be slain, and that everybody is just passing phenomena being consumed by time under the control of God.

Really the commandment should say: Thou cannot kill.

DISCIPLE: Ok, what you say I understand to mean that finite occurrences do not affect the Infinite Source, no more than my throwing a pebble in the ocean can disturb the depths.

YAMA: Well put.

DISCIPLE: Yet it does say, ‘shall not kill,’ as an injunction for right living in accord with God’s will. What does it mean? Surely it doesn’t mean that humans should not kill one another because immediately after giving the commandments to Moses, Jehovah has Moses put to death thousands of idol worshipers.

I am confused.

YAMA: Such is the problem when one lives according to the words of another, because everyone comes to words with subjective interpretations. All teachings will appear to have contradictions because no matter how holy they are they basically are nothing more than ripples on the ocean. Words are expressed in time and Truth is Eternal and the two can never meet.

Some will say it means to kill no human being, that one should prefer to die than to kill. Others might say it means to kill nothing at all, if at all possible—which I assure you it is not. Others talk about just wars, and say it is legitimate to kill when defending one’s home or country. And then there is the eye for an eye permission.

Which interpretation is right? Which one wrong? When one realizes that there is no other, no thing or person out there to be feared, that the Self is only One, one will act in harmony with the Whole. In such a case, then one may be the instrument of helping a finite form change as it inevitably will, just as the surgeon removes a tumor or the general defeats the invaders, the butcher prepares the cow for a feast. Some may even feel that by self immolation they can kill the flames of war.

DISCIPLE: So you are saying that there really is no absolute to this rule?

YAMA: Yes, except only that you can’t kill. Jesus knew this very well when he asked God’s forgiveness for those who knew not what they were doing, because their ignorance saw them killing Jesus. But how can the Eternal Son of God be killed? Of course God forgave them because His Son never died.

DISCIPLE: Here we sit in a graveyard. Is there any point to such a place if nobody dies?

Graveyard in Scotland, Janaka Stagnaro
YAMA: Such memorials are at best good reminders that bodies eventually drop away, to help people wake up to their nature and to remind them not to become attached to anything or anyone, for all things pass away. Cemeteries can indeed be a good place to meditate for those reasons. However, as a place to dwell on the memories of those who passed, it can keep people’s minds stuck in time. Really, people should have memorials for clothes they can no longer fit into, it makes about as much sense, for the body is but a garment. Besides, people put too much emphasis on memories, thinking that they are what makes them who they are. Memories are simply thoughts, and one’s Self rests quietly beyond them.

With that last thought in mind we watched the crows silently before closing my eyes, eliminating everything that I call mine from me: my family, my things, my work, my body, my personality, my feelings, my thoughts…until no thing was left. And only Silence remained.

                       -- The Teachings of Yama: A Conversation with DeathAddendum I

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Ten Commandments from a Non-Dualist Perspective, #5 (Honor Thy Father and Mother)

YAMA: The Fifth Commandment?

DISCIPLE: Honor thy father and thy mother so that one’s days are long upon the earth.

YAMA: There are two levels I will speak upon. The first is the material level that is a reminder that without your mother and father you would not be here; at least in the form that you find yourself in. Your parents have not only given you a portal in which to come into this world, both of them have colored you by each of their hereditary lines or the spirits of their ancestors.

DISCIPLE: I am not sure if that is a good thing when you look at some of my ancestors.

YAMA: It is neither good nor bad. It simply is. Whether you like it or not the actions of your ancestors have had an influence on you.


YAMA: Your great grandfather, for example, had a very cold, removed personality who gave corporeal punishment as a way to mold the behavior of his son, your grandfather. This manner of expression your great grandfather passed on to his son and he passed it on to his—your father. You grew up in such conditions.

DISCIPLE: Yeah, but I do not have to pass it on.

YAMA: Only if you honor your father.

DISCIPLE: Why should I honor him? He doesn’t even speak to me.

YAMA: Honoring does not mean to like what the person does, but to see them in high regard.

DISCIPLE: How can I see him or anyone in high regard if their actions do not warrant it? That’s ridiculous.

Yama smiled and pointed to the crucifix on the wall, where Jesus has hung in agony for hundreds of years.

YAMA: Do you think Jesus liked what his people did?


YAMA: Do you doubt that he not only honored the people who put him upon the cross, but his Father as well, by whose Will caused the crucifixion to occur as well?


YAMA: So it is with your earthly father. Without him you would not have learned many of the lessons you have learned nor be the person you are today. To honor thy father and mother it is to look beyond their actions to the Eternal Father/Mother where we all arise and reside within. Can you find any positive traits that your father has manifested?

I nodded my head.


Man in Orange (Portrait of my Father), Janaka Stagnaro
YAMA: If you can focus on those traits you will honor your father and those positive traits, which are seeds, will continue to grow and manifest in you. And those traits that have been as a poison to you, thank him for showing you what not to do and to give you a challenge to overcome. For without a challenge one’s soul does not grow. Believe me, if you had found yourself in the household that you think you should have been brought up in you would have grown weak in many ways.

This holds true with your mother as well. One cannot honor one parent and dishonor the other if one wants to live fully on this earth. Both the masculine and the feminine must be equally embraced or one will not go forward, but will go in a circle, like a cart with one wheel not working. Everyone has their parents living in them.

DISCIPLE: I hear you Yama about honoring the gifts of my parents, both the pleasant and the bitter ones. However, what about when one begins to be an adult and your parents tell you to do one thing but your heart tells you to do what they are forbidding you to do. To whom does one listen?

YAMA: To listen to your heart, is to listen to me as Dharma, reminding you that your time on earth is coming to a close and thus you must act accordingly. Will you have regrets for what you did not do when I come as death? And for that matter, for what you did do? With that in mind, who holds more weight in the scheme of things: your parents or Dharma?

DISCIPLE: Dharma, of course. For Dharma is Eternal. Even the gods must follow Dharma.

YAMA: Then that is your answer. In truth, by following your Dharma you honor your parents, although they most likely will not tell you so. Yet there comes a time when a parent’s role is that of the guardian of the threshold. They are a test, telling you that you must go the other way while their soul wants you to pass through them.

DISCIPLE: Is that why Jesus said that we must say goodbye to our families if we were to follow him?

YAMA: Yes, for he was speaking as the Living Truth, and not as a personality. With each moment one must think of following Truth and not the dictates of the material needs of survival. If one lives by survival needs then one believes he is a body and surely death will come soon enough. But if one follows the quest for Truth in each moment there exists only the Eternal.

DISCIPLE: Well I have a family to feed. By going to work and providing for my family, am I then not following Dharma?

YAMA: As long as the work is such that when you die and you watch the movie of your experiences on earth you are not going to wince and cover your eyes. In other words you will have no regrets about your actions.

I was about ready to raise another question when Yama motioned me to silence. He reached over and tapped my chest.

YAMA: Here is the place, beyond all the ranting of thoughts, that calls for your mind to come and rest within.

A vibration filled my being. I felt like my body was a buzz of atoms spinning around and keeping a tentative form, like an oscillating cloud of gnats. My eyes fell shut. My thoughts disappeared. Even the thought of searching for thoughts I could not create. I looked for the source of me but I could not find any specific place. Only an Awareness existed and I was That….

                             --The Teachings of Yama: A Conversation with DeathAddendum I

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Ten Commandments from a Non-Dualist Perspective, #4 (Keeping the Sabbath)

Yama and I left the crashing of the waves of the coastal sanctuary and made our way to the nearby mission. No one else sat amongst the pews of the chapel on this week day; thus were we safe from the tourists who buzzed about in groups listening to the one-sided historical views of tour guides and how the Native peoples were given a better life by the coming of the Spaniards. In contrast to the heat outside, the air in the chapel felt cool to my body and soul.

DISCIPLE: Yama, you have elaborated on three of the Ten Commandments. You have said that there exists different levels of understanding to all teachings and that these commandments are no different. As I said before when I take the Commandments literally I find them restrictive to the expansiveness of my soul; yet hearing your words I am beginning to find in them much wisdom. Please continue with my lesson.

YAMA: Remember that every moment and every place has lessons with many levels. Behold this place where both the blood of those enslaved by fellow human beings was spilt and the blood of the Great Master was taken that gave many a peace beyond the physical conditions. No matter what the historical views one might have they are only selective by what is deemed believable, that is why historical debates will always be pointless in the end. However, if one just sits with a still mind, existing between breaths, one will come to the Truth behind all actions.

With that said, tell me of the Fourth Commandment.

DISCIPLE: To remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. God took a day off after creating for six days so we should as well, including our servants and animals which toil for us. Now I know there are many interpretations of what resting means and what day of the week is the Sabbath. So what is the truth?

On the Banks of the Nile, Janaka Stagnaro
YAMA: Just as holidays, or Holy Days, are created to remind people that there is more to life than just going about and doing things, or providing for one’s family and increasing one’s profit, so too must time be set aside for quiet reflection. Take for example those passing through these grounds today. They are busy listening to someone telling them their interpretation about the truth of this place, hearing a bunch of facts, and seeing objects wrapped in stories. It does not matter that they may be on vacation from their daily work; their minds are still working, weaving together a limited picture of their experience here. Their minds goad them on to find out more, to become educated about the history of this mission, driving them onward and keeping them from discovering this inner chapel. For here the mind is threatened. For here the mind confronts the Silence that it cannot understand.

If one is doing work that keeps the mind active and does not engage the heart then time is needed to be set aside to go to the Silence beyond the mind, where the Holiest of Holies resides, the I AM THAT I AM. This is the condition of most humans who work to survive or to better the condition of themselves and their families. And each day their Awareness of their infinite nature becomes more veiled.
However, for those who keep their mind trained to reside in the Silence, to keep it focused on God, who do work that allows for the expression of the heart and helps to uplift their fellow human beings and to make this world a better place without the concept of “I am doing this or that,” then every day and every moment is holy and thus the Sabbath is kept continually.

DISCIPLE: So setting time aside each day you would consider as keeping with this injunction, yes?

YAMA: Absolutely, the society in which you live in needs much help in setting quiet time aside from all the business. And this quiet time does not include entertainment. While entertainment is a rest of sorts and has its place for relaxation, it can still be a distraction for the mind to further engage in. It is to reside in the Silence that makes any moment holy.

DISCIPLE: What about engaging in the arts, whether listening to music or going to a museum, or doing artistic activities, as well as reading sacred works, would these constitute rest?

YAMA: On one level all said activities can lift one out of the daily toil of doing, or they may not. If the mind is spinning on any of these activities, thinking about this or that one instant and thinking about something else the next, not being focused on what is at hand, then it is more toiling. And if there is a sense of I am doing this or reading that, which maintains the ego’s view that the Self is the body and not the timeless Self that we really are, which includes but is untouched by the actions of the body, then it is nothing but more ignorance. And being of ignorance then where is Truth? And if Truth is missing then so is God.

DISCIPLE: How can one tell if one is acting without thinking?

YAMA: If you are at rest. The body at the end of the day or week may be exhausted if there has been physical labor, or the mind may be tired if mental activities have been prevalent, but none of that fatigue touches the sense of I. In a person who remembers one’s Self stress will not be present. For the Self is the power behind the activities of the mind and the body, just as the sun is untouched by all actions on the earth, although without it, life could not exist.

                       --The Teachings of Yama: A Conversation with DeathAddendum I

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Ten Commandments from a Non-Dualist Perspective, #3 (Not Saying the Lord's Name in Vain)

DISCIPLE: Thank you. The third I recall is about not saying God’s name in vain. Please elaborate.

YAMA: Your scientists are slowly discovering that everything vibrates. Sounds create forms. In the Bible Joshua destroyed the walls of Jericho through the power of sound. The walls of ignorance can equally be knocked down by the Name of God.

DISCIPLE: Well what is the true Name of God?

Michael Versus Ahriman, Janaka Stagnaro
YAMA: Just as you are called by many names so too is God. Now your wife can call you one thing and your son another. You will answer to both. The problem comes when others might hear one of them calling you and see you answer. Then they run off to their people and say that your name is Honey Dear. But others who had heard your son address you will go to their camp and say you are called Pops. Debates ensue. Passions get heated. Wars begin. Saying a Name of God as the one Name is vanity and will not bring the desired effects of knocking down the walls of the ego because it is the ego which is now manipulating the use to create confusion and division. You can rest assured that when the mind shouts: I know the Answer. I know the Truth. It is nothing but ego. Truth is very humble.
DISCIPLE: Then how should one speak a holy Name?

YAMA: With reverence, because not only are you reminding yourself that there exists a Power way beyond the little thing you believe you are, but one is actually affecting both subtle and physical matter. Today scientists can show actual forms created by various sounds. Or even by thought, which is a more subtle form of sound. Quantum physics shows that the viewer affects the subjects viewed through preconceived ideas. Sound and thought are condensed ideas. Chanting Holy Names and mantras vibrate one’s self and the world (which is only natural if you know that there is only the One). This is why one’s speech and thoughts are so important and one must be vigilant of every word and thought, since these are what are vibrating one’s world.

We returned to the silence as I wanted to take in what my guide had said before continuing. The waves crashed amongst the cliffs below in thunderous claps. It seemed the whole earth rattled with each wave, just as a lover shivers with the touch of his beloved. The silence and the waves, the bench and my body—the boundaries disappeared.

                             The Teachings of Yama: A Conversation with DeathAddendum I

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Ten Commandments from a Non-Dualist Perspective, #2 (Worship No Idols)

DISCIPLE: Well the next one states that we should not make any images of anything created, whether in heaven or on earth. And if there are any images created then there shall be no worshipping of these images because God is a jealous god. Well, I am guilty of this in a big way, as are most artists, not to mention a whole host of religions. From what you said about not seeing God as outside my Self, then I can understand that I should not worship any image outside of me. Yet, what of the first part of the rule?

"... worship the Infinte the finite is ...included."
St. Francis Veil Painting, Janaka Stagnaro
YAMA: This was an edict specific for the followers of Moses to counter the traditions of the other religions in the region who worshiped images of gods, and who even sacrificed to them. These idol worshipers actually believed that these gods were separate from themselves and not an aspect of the one Mind of Consciousness. Buddhists, for instance, use statues of the Buddha, or of various deities, not to propitiate but to meditate upon to bring such qualities through them. They are viewed as qualities of Mind. To see the stillness of the statue of a Buddha reminds one to find the calmness within. Another point is that no matter how one paints the world one can never show the truth of what anything is. To place an image of a man on the cross can only convey a small fraction of who Jesus is or what he did. But if someone says that one must worship that image to worship Jesus, than that is just ignorance. The Navaho and Tibetan Buddhists will create sand paintings, spending a long time with each piece. And when it is done either they wipe it away with a stroke of the hand as with the latter, or let the wind blow it away. In this way there is no grasping of the image as real, but only as a means of focus. Nothing more than a beautiful thought.

The Truth is jealous. You can only worship the Infinite or the finite. If you focus on one the other goes to the background. If you worship the Infinite than all the finite is naturally included. God or mammon.

                 --excerpt from The Teachings of Yama: A Conversation with Death, Addendum I

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Ten Commandments from a Non-Dualist Perspective, #1 (No Other Gods Before Me)

The sound of waves crashing became louder as we walked through the sparse coastal woods. Then we broke free of the trees and found ourselves walking by the steep cliffs. Thousands of sea birds jostled and squawked on the nearby rocky islands. Yama and I sat down on a bench and watched in silence awhile.


YAMA: Yes?

DISCIPLE: Why do you walk with me?

YAMA: I walk with everyone; it’s just that most people don’t want to remember that. They are hoping I am far away. Because of your meditation practice of cutting away all that is transitory you have found the wisdom to face the fact of your body’s mortality.

I kept silent and watched an otter smash an urchin with a stone and gobble up the meat inside.

DISCIPLE: You have talked about the need for us to become human, that just because we have a human body there is still a lot of work to do. For most of us we struggle between following our instincts, which consists of basic survival needs or chasing after the pleasing and running from the painful, and this inner urge to find ultimate freedom where we are not caged by time and space, or more importantly, caught in the snares of identifying one’s Self with the body or mind.

YAMA: Yes?

Moses, Janaka Stagnaro
DISCIPLE: Well, I was just reading the Bible and came across the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses, as well as the manifold rules the Israelites were commanded to observe. I see nothing freeing in such edicts; in fact, I find them suffocating. I would rather die than live under such restrictions. Jails, for goodness sake, offer more freedom!

Yama laughed.

YAMA: Talking like that in times past would have given you a great collection of stones!

General rules can be very tricky, for everybody has their own path in the end. However, in the beginning, just as in school, groups of souls will have general lessons to learn and master before moving to the next grade. Then there is graduation and all the members of the group go their separate ways, with Life giving each an abundance of lessons unique to their own learning needs.

The Ten Commandments were such a group lesson plan, helping to mold a race of people for specific reasons for the body of humanity. However, there exist different levels of understanding as well, from gross to subtle. Just as the poet may sing about becoming drunk with the wine of love, some will take that as the partaking in the sensual pleasures of the body, while another will see it as a call for drinking in the sweetness of devotion for God.

DISCIPLE: Please elaborate. I seek to understand the subtlest form of truth.

YAMA: Then listen with your heart, and feel it as a breeze of knowing.

What is the First Commandment?

DISCIPLE: You shall have no God other than me. Now, I have statues of Shiva and Ganesh and chant names of gods of many traditions. Would this be considered a sin?

YAMA: If you see God as a force outside of you then there will be conflict. But if you see God, the I AM THAT I AM, which is the Holy Name of Jehovah, as both within and without, that everything is included in God, and that God moves through all things, whether the gross things of the world or through the subtle worlds and their denizens, including the gods, then everything becomes an expression of God, with none able to represent the ineffable quality of God. For instance, Shiva is an expression of God to remind us to not be attached to any form, to go deep into the Infinite Self, or the I AM THAT I AM; Vishnu is that form of expression to uphold the good and the beautiful, and to inspire devotion; and Brahma is that aspect that shows the creative dynamic quality of the Divine. Yet all of them are simply one of the million faces of Brahman, the formless, the changeless.

In other words, if you think that any form of God is the true form than that is ignorance. There is no separation between you and God since God is everywhere, including yourself. Even though sometimes even I have a hard time believing my last statement is true.

He smiled.

YAMA: Next.

             excerpt from The Teachings of Yama: A Conversation with Death, Addendum I

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Introduction of Yama

In the spring of 2000 I had a dream. I have many dreams that I recall, and many of them I find insightful, inspiring and sometimes life-changing. This dream arose most vividly, a dream of death in the shape of a woman holding the rotting head of a child—her child—demanding attention. I awoke, not disturbed, but profoundly moved. Maintaining the Silence of my Being I immediately wrote a poem about it, which subsequently inspired the beginning of this book.

As with many poems I write, new insights arise as they take me to that Secret Place beyond the linear reasoning of the day-conscious mind. After writing the poem new images arose in my imagination. I took them into my meditation, and after abiding in the Silence of Being, the idea emerged that a book was to be born from the dream. It was to be titled, The Teachings of Yama: A Conversation with Death.

I felt thrilled at the idea. Yet no clear image about the book’s content came forth. It was just a notion, similar to looking at a faint star. If I gazed at it directly, the book disappeared; yet if I sensed it out of the corner of my eye, with peripheral vision, the sense of the book would shyly reveal itself.
It revealed that I was just to write about what I love to talk about, what is only worth talking about: the Quest for Truth and how to go beyond the reach of Death; to bring forth the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, A Course in Miracles, and other non-dualistic teachings in a fun story form, that was clear and poetic; to write for myself, to have fun, and not to worry about what others may think. And to give up any concern about whether the ideas in the book were valid or not for those who might read it.
It has been the easiest writing I have ever done. Whenever time permitted, or when I made time, the words simply flowed. What I wrote would often parallel what was happening in my waking life, giving me guidance and insights, encouraging me along the way.

Like a dream this book is a collection of actual personal experiences (whether in waking or dreaming consciousness), imagination, and stories and teachings of others that have become a part of how I express myself in the world. Many of the stories readers will recognize, despite my elaborations, with various ones coming from Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The teachings and teachers who have influenced me and thus this book have been, beyond the aforementioned Ramana and A Course in Miracles, to mention a few, are Joytish Harish and his teachings on the Leela game, The Impersonal Life, Karunamayi, Nisargadata, Rumi, The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita, Rudolf Steiner and his Waldorf education, the Buddha, and Life itself. As I have been synthesizing Eastern and Western teachings with my own experiences and realizations, along with this particular time and space I was born into as an American in the 21st century, so do the teachings of Yama reflect this.
This is not a channeled book by some entity named Yama. I was fully conscious through all of the writing. Yama is simply an Inspiration. A Focus. A Reminder. I cannot say that the Yama of this book is real or unreal, any more than I can say that this Janaka of this life is real or unreal. Does it matter anyhow?

Now some might question how death can be an inspiration, for Yama is the name of the Hindu god of death. Since childhood I have been fascinated with death. For a long while that fascination included all the usual metaphysical questions: Did life exist on the other side? Is there a heaven and a hell? How to contact the dead? Is there reincarnation? And on and on the questions came. Perhaps the first question concerning death happened when I was in kindergarten. My neighbor, Elizabeth, born on the same day and in the same hospital, died of leukemia. Why her and not me was a question I carried with me, and that question continued as I watched people die and others live. Why some died in an accident and not others?

It was not until I found myself in a near-drowning incident while canoeing down the Russian River with some college friends that death became a friend. My canoe capsized and in a panic, and not knowing how to swim at that point in my life, I attempted to swim upstream. Soon I was going down into the depths for the third and last time, my cries for help I believed unheard. I did not descend into the darkness of the river but into a quiet light. Then from above the scene my Awareness, like the Witness of a dream, watched my rescuer jump up from his spot on the shore and wade (afterwards I discovered that I was drowning in perhaps three feet of water!) into the river and grab my outstretched hand. Suddenly my Awareness was back in a coughing body that grudgingly thanked the man. I thanked him more out of politeness because I was not too pleased to be back encased in this heavy body.

Perhaps it was from this time on that I have lived with the 
notion that life is an adventure, and that when I die and review this life, I want it to be a good story. Who wants to watch a boring rerun full of grimaces and if-only’s? With such a notion death is not something to meet at the end of one’s life, but, instead, is a companion whispering, “Not much time left.” Hence the two-fold nature of Yama: the Lord of Death and the Lord of Dharma, of doing one’s duty or what Baggar Vance, the golf guru in the movie of the same name, spoke about of finding one’s Authentic Swing.  

 When I did bodywork on men fading away with AIDS, many inspired me because they knew they were dying. Knowing they were dying they enjoyed everything to the fullest, that caress, that song, that morsel of pasta. We are all dying. We are terminally ill with the disease of living. Yet we pretend that we will live forever with these bodies, hiding away from the truth with our distractions and entertainments, looking away from the pile of bodies that are tucked neatly away in wooden boxes or quickly buried. Believing that life is actually being a body, instead of seeing the body as a vehicle of expression, we squeeze out every second with the use of medicines and machines.

Yama in his various guises.
Artwork by Janaka Stagnaro
Life has nothing to do with quantity of years, but with quality, of what you make of the time while having a body on this planet. As the Buddha said, one’s life is wasted if one knows not who he is.
Yama reminded us all on September 11 that we need to wake up and live, to find the Essential. As the dust of the Twin Towers settled, people started looking around at the world and those in their lives with more appreciation, because tomorrow may not come, and the American dream of acquiring began to wobble and fade. But the powers of illusion are hard to dispel and soon those in high positions shouted that we must get back to normal. Act like a good American and get out there and consume. No one will make us change!

And as Yama points out, when distractions become so strong, his reminders as death are not always gentle.

This book is not for those who want to find out about what happens after one dies or drops the body. This book is for those who want to come to the Place where death never existed at all, who want to know the true Self, changeless and all encompassing. This book is simply a reminder that death and change are but friends when seen from the I of All That Is. Yama says in the book: “Your book will be a book of moments, of questions and answers. Many will find contradiction in my teachings. But contradictions are found in sequences, where the logic of the intellect reigns.

“To go beyond the place of death, of time, to the Truth, answers are for only the Moment.”

                       --excerpt from The Teachings of Yama; Introduction