Monday, May 24, 2021


A group of pilgrims was wandering around the Himalayas, visiting remote shrines, when the weather suddenly shifted and it was snowing and blowing and unimaginably cold. White-out conditions. Their destination was not far, but if they tried to find it, they might fall off the mountain under those conditions. The only option was to stand in place and be frozen by the howling winds.

Suddenly, a figure appeared, and gestured for them to follow. At last they spotted the shelter and ran to the door. But the figure was gone. Where had he gone? Who was that??

A few days later, a local monk offered an explanation.

"Oh, that sounds like a deva. Yeah. Just a deva."

"What do you mean, 'just a deva'? There are people who stand around deserted mountaintops during blizzards, like, just in case? And that strikes you as normal?"

"That's his gig," replied the monk with a hapless shrug. "He's the guy who points the way."

"Where does he live? Who signs his paycheck? Does he just stand there for 30 years waiting for that one lost dude to show up?"

"No frickin' idea. Devas exist, but we don't know anything about them."

I'd read this story as a 13-year old, in the autobiography of an obscure tantric swami who interested me (his language was more formal; I've presented, above, my teenaged impression). And my own visceral response shocked me: I couldn't escape the feeling that it sounded like a great job.

Wait, what? Dude, there are no pizzerias on Himalayan mountaintops. Or anything else you like. And you are not physically hardy. Nor are you particularly charitable - at least not in any obvious way. You're not the sort of person people think of as kind or generous. You do try to help - pretty much always, come to think of it - but you don't make a display of it. In fact, you cover your tracks. You prefer it when they don't even notice.

Oh. Ok, I get it. All of that is actually what devas do. Huh. So I'm a deva already. Devas don't accept tips or pose for selfies. They don't stoke their mythologies. They help and get the hell out. They remove themselves from the equation. It's not about them. And that's why I'd like the gig. It's already my preference!

So that's how I became a deva.

No, it's not. That would be the line if this were a "tale of adventure," with momentous decisions drawing me to extraordinary experiences. What I am describing is the opposite of that. I'm talking about making it not about me. To an extreme. The furthest distance from "about me" that human existence can be pushed. And you can't remove yourself from an equation while feeling momentous or extraordinary. There's no "journey" without a shiny protagonist. All that's left is Need being served. Pfft.

A deva is pure helpfulness with no bullshit or self-mythology. You can't "become a deva" because that would require an overarching dramatic narrative, and narratives require a protagonist. Rather, this is "Thy will be done." "Let go, let god." I know I sound like a ham-faced TV preacher, but the source material actually has value, go figure.

So if I didn't become a deva, how did I become a deva? Well, first, I already was one, but hadn't realized it (it was a song I habitually picked out of the piano smash). I'd always tried - sloppily/stupidly/erratically/comically....but, most of all, unnoticeably - to help make situations better and to be supportive, in my way, to those in genuine duress. At least when I acted from my deeper self. When I acted in conformity with those around me, or out of fraught neediness or fear, I was an obnoxious prick. At age 13 I was, shall we say, a work in progress.

I was (mostly) selfless, and also empathic - if you stubbed your toe around me, I'd howl in pain. So I was already kind of doing it, the deva gig. But, as I've noted several times in this Slog, I have a disability: I'm intelligent. Unless my brain understands, my confusion can grow unmanageably thick, leaving me weak and shaky. My brain sputters and grasps, making its unease known until it's absorbed all my attention, forcing me to stop and explain things to it.
"It's better to see God in everything than to try to figure it out."
      - Neem Karoli Baba
My gut might offer wonderful guidance (the deva's deva!), but my stupid smart brain requires explanation, so there's always a lengthy (sometimes years/decades) delay as I patiently try to explain my gut to my brain - essentially explaining myself to myself; accounting for why I do what I do and feel as I feel (and there was plenty of 'splaining to do; in contemporary America, self-diminishment is an alarming dysfunction).

In fact, that's what this Slog is. I'm explaining myself to myself while you eavesdrop. If you ever had the eerie sensation here of watching someone who already knows stuff struggling to uselessly codify that Knowing, yup, that's right. The brain must be fed. It needs to know. If not, it will endlessly question until all momentum is lost in the mounting confusion and paralysis.

Think of my brain as a camel with a particularly large hump. Large water capacity! What a blessing! But you must constantly refill the fucking hump, and it takes fucking forever. That's my life: dutifully refilling the fucking hump. Can't just wander around and enjoy, like other dromedaries. There's an awfully fine line between "gift" and "special need."

So I already was a deva, but, having read the story, I gained perspective on who I already was, and what I'd been doing, and, sort of, why. I didn't need to know any of those things; I could have simply let it happen; but smart brains are cumbersome and needy. A great disability.

Thus clarified, I relaxed into the momentum - the flow - that had already been carrying me all along, without the distraction of a zillion nagging questions (e.g. where I'd keep my treasured baseball card collection if I lived in the Himalayas).

None of it made a lick of sense from an outside view. I was a suburban teenager obsessed with Space Invaders, Frank Zappa, foosball, NY Mets, sci-fi novels, and a certain strata of cheerleaders who wouldn't dream of ever speaking to me. I was hardly deva material.

But on the other hand, I was also spending hours per day in lotus position, wailing in Sanskrit (my parents completely tuned it out) and having high-level spiritual experiences (not realizing their level until decades later). So maybe I was deva material, after all.

The ambivalence, which has only worsened with age, was, itself, puzzling. My deva inclination was a pull, not a push. I wasn't aiming to act this way; I was fully content to remain the same suburban yahoo....who happened to do certain stuff that wasn't at all the sort of thing such a person would normally do. I couldn't imagine creating some new facade to signal my new proclivities. I'm not corny enough to don a purple robe, grow out my beard, change my name to Swami Lasagnanda and make a display of smiling benevolently. I'm out of the "seeming" business.

Facades (aka personalities aka identities) are light things; mere veneers. There's something deeper and truer, and, if you stay connected to that level, and don't let yourself be too distracted by the drama and the cheap temptation of the myriad Skinner Boxes, you will eventually flip perspective. You'll find, to your surprise, that you're a deva lightly pretending to be a person rather than a person inexplicably acting like a deva.

I didn’t become a deva; the deva that I always actually was became me. Perspective shifts to the flip side.
Chowhound was a deva effort (having started as "Jim Leff, The Chowhound", it deliberately became less about me as time passed, even when I ran it). This Slog is a deva effort (which, I'm starting to understand, is why no one ever shares or links to it). And, in daily life, if I see a chance to add a missing chunk, I quietly offer that chunk.

Looking ahead, it's been dawning on me that every talent I have stems from an unusually lithe ability to shift perspective; to reframe. Sometimes I can induce such a shift in others (though I often fail miserably). Oddly, when it works, I'm never recognized as having had anything to do with it. That's how devas roll. When it's clean like that, you're doing it right (the deva in the story was a bit of a newbie, I think).
It's a tough job. For starters, it's not easy to grasp, much less embody, a role that's "not about you". Plus, you need deep certainty about where, exactly, you point. That's a hard call for sincere people who are painfully aware of their biases, fallacies, and general shmuckery. We live in a world full of self-certain dipshits and nincompoops trying to shove us hither or yon while they, themselves, remain supremely lost. So vast effort must be spent objectively gauging (and endlessly re-verifying) your own level of oblivious dipshittery. You must be bulletproof in your blithe equanimity to know you're standing upon solid ground. A helluva prerequisite! But those struggles aren't even the hard part. The real problem with the deva thing is the response. It's not at all what you'd imagine.

A certain number of people you try to help after spotting them lost in a blizzard, freezing to death (speaking metaphorically) will punch you in the face. Any lifeguard will affirm that some people resist rescue with violent belligerence. Truth-tellers and helpers have a notorious tendency to get crucified, especially when they're right, and I understand why.

Many more people will simply ignore you, or seek a second opinion from someone more credible-seeming. Having declined to make a big shiny show of yourself, you hardly inspire respect or confidence. People are impressed by huge egos, which seem to augur bona fide wisdom. As I wrote here,
If you don't project superiority - if you're not a pompous, boastful, stuck-up "Do You Know Who I Am?!?" prick, leading with your accomplishments, playing the part, and prepared to pee at least as hard and as far as any alphas in your midst, it's surprisingly tough to be taken the least bit seriously by anyone.
A significant number will thank you vehemently, vow to follow your directions to the letter, walk in the opposite direction of your pointing finger, and promptly fall off a cliff. And curse you wildly during their lengthy drop.

In the end, people don't want devas. They have willfully positioned themselves in stress and trauma because they like it that way. To offer guidance out of that predicament - toward safety, peace and liberation - is like dashing around a theater during a horror film, tapping anguished moviegoers' shoulders and reminding them "it's only a movie!" Not a useful enterprise. Not likely appreciated.

Everything you need to know about the predicament of devas in 21st century America is contained in the popular catch-phrase "Don't try to fix me!" Coddled, bored, jaded aristocrats froth up Rich People Problems for themselves, eagerly contriving drama and angst (suddenly we're all goths and drama queens) while others are expected to play along, supplying the scripted responses and honoring each other's aggrieved victimhood. Relief or liberation would deflate the fake suffering with which they so tenaciously identify.

And to think we actually have the gall to demand a messiah.

Further Reading
Angels From Both Perspectives
Jnani Train

Also: here's a follow-up to this post, clarifying an important point.

I’m leaving this for future arrivals: All jnanis are devas, but not all devas are jnanis. Jnanis are the ones who've explained it all to the satisfaction of their cumbersome brains. Per the Neem Karoli Baba quote, above, the brain doesn't need to be explained to. Its satisfaction is completely beside the point; a needless detour. But, per above, poor slobs like me are unable to flow on gut assurance without the pre-approval of brain-satisfaction.

Most devas, I'd imagine, haven't the slightest clue what's going on, but are perfectly ok floating peacefully in the incomprehension. To a jnani, that's an unimaginable superpower. I'm so envious that I can barely stand it. OTOH, jnanis can explain themselves to others (albeit via maddening paradoxes and slippery metaphors), so that's gotta be worth something I guess.

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