August 16, 2010

This was our last class for the summer. And this chapter from Tao Te Ching offered a perfect closing to the season.

Know the male,
yet keep to the female:
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white,
yet keep to the black:
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.

Know the personal,
yet keep to the impersonal:
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to the block:
thus she can use all things.

“If you accept the world, the Tao will be luminous inside you and you will return to your primal self.” As I’m sitting here writing, my cat Lily is standing by the door, wanting to go outside. I get up from my desk to let her out. Typically, she stands there without moving. I watch annoyance begin to arise, catch it before it grabs hold of me, and practice opening into what is. Which in this moment is Lily on her own terms and me her devoted servant.  The shift from small self wanting the situation to be otherwise to big Self accepting the world as it is is subtle, but in that moment, time stops. I feel the Tao, luminous inside me. The edge of impatience, of “make up your mind already, I don’t have all night,” dissolves into the spaciousness of contentment. And in this mind place, it doesn’t matter if I’m focused at my desk or distracted by the cat. It is all one radiant whole with me in the stillness at the center. “If you accept the world, the Tao will be luminous inside you and you will return to your primal self.”

From this verse we moved to Baba Muktananda’s commentary on tantric philosophy, Secret of the Siddhas. These quotes are from “Chapter 9, The Origin of Kashmir Shaivism.” Please read the following with the understanding that what Shaivites call “Shiva, Daoists call “Tao.” My own preference tends towards “Devi.” But the metaphors are irrelevant. What we want to go for is that passionate embrace…

37.  Now I shall write briefly about the essence of Kashmir Shaivism… Shaivism teaches that Shiva [the sacred masculine] and Shakti [the sacred feminine] are the cause of the universe. They are not two but one. Shaivism tells us that Shiva is static, attributeless, and formless and that Shakti is His dynamic aspect….

261. The universe is a garden for us to roam in with love. It is not intended as a source of attachment, jealousy, hatred, or anxiety. These only destroy our equanimity. Give up all desires. If something comes, let it come; if something goes, let it go. It is all Shiva’s play. This is not a mere universe; it is an image of Him. Knowing it as Shiva, love it. Meditate on the awareness that all conscious beings as well as inert matter are Shiva. Having the knowledge of Shiva, understand that the world is the embodiment of Him…Shiva alone exists everywhere.

And the last word goes to Thomas Byrom’s translation of the Ashtavakra Gita, The Heart of Awareness. This text comes from Advaita Vedanta, another of the non-dual  (i.e. tantric) philosophies of India.

11. Stillness

All things arise,
Suffer change,
And pass away.

This is their nature.
When you know this,
Nothing perturbs you,

Nothing hurts you.

You become still.

It is easy.

God made all things.
There is only God.

When you know this,
Desire melts away.

Clinging to nothing,
You become still.

Sooner or later,
Fortune or misfortune
May befall you.

When you know this,
You desire nothing,
You grieve for nothing.

Subduing the senses,
You are  happy.

Whatever you do
Brings joy or sorrow,
Life or death.

When you know this,
You may act freely,
Without attachment.

For what is there to accomplish.

All sorrow comes from fear.
From nothing else.

When you know this,
You become free of it,
And desire melts away.

You become happy
And still.

“I am not the body,
Nor is the body mine.
I am awareness itself.”

When you know this,
You have no thought
For what you have done
Or left undone.

You become one,
Perfect and indivisible.

“I am in all things,
From Brahma to a blade if grass.”

When you know this,
You have no thought
For success or failure
Or the mind’s inconstancy.

You are pure.
You are still.

* * * * *

It has been a supreme joy to sit with you on Monday nights.
Enjoy the last weeks of the summer.
See you in September.

August 9, 2010

I had an extremely busy week which left me with no time to select parallel teachings to this verse.  As I was packing up to leave for class however, I started hearing a Kabir poem so decided to bring that along. And I have to say, it was that poem, more than this next verse, that brought the house down…

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
And doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
And doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad  man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
However intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think…and think…while you are alive.
What you call “salvation” belongs to the time before death.
If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive
do you think
ghosts will do it after?
The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten –
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City
of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
you will have the face of satisfied desire.
So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
Believe in the Great Sound!
Kabir says this: When the Guest is being searched for,
it is the intensity of the longing for the guest that
does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.
[Robert Bly, The Kabir Book]

August 2, 2010

I’m still running  behind so will keep commentary to a minimum. Suffice to say that from my perspective, these readings fit beautifully together.


The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus the master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

This verse reminded me of  the story of  Satyakama and Gautama told in the Upanishads.  The version I read at class comes from the Vedanta Press edition by Sw. Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester.  I think Satyakama perfectly embodies the understanding contained in the above verse. See what you think:

One day the boy Satyakama came to his mother and said: “Mother, I want to be a religious student. What is my family name?”

“My son,” replied his mother, “I do not know. In my youth I was a servant and worked in many places. I do not know who was your father. I am Jabala, and you are Satyakama. Call yourself Satyakama Jabala.”

Thereupon the boy went to Gautama and asked to be accepted as a student. “Of what family are you, my lad?” inquired the sage.

Satyakama relied: “I asked my mother what my family name was and she answered: ‘I do not know. In my youth I was a servant and worked in many places. I do not know who was your father. I am Jabala, and you are Satyakama. Call yourself Satyakama Jabala!’ I am therefore Satyakama Jabala, sir.”

Then said the sage: “None but a true Brahmin would have spoken thus. Go and fetch fuel, for I will teach you. You have not swerved from the truth.”

After initiating Satkakama, the sage gave him four hundred lean and sickly cattle, saying, “Take good care of these my lad.” The boy promptly drove them toward the forest, vowing to himself that he would not return until they numbered a thousand. He dwelt in the forest for many years, and when the cattle had increased to a thousand, the bull of the herd approached him and said, “Satyakama, we have become a herd of one thousand. Do you now lead us to the house of your master, and I will teach you one foot of Brahman.”

“Speak out, please,” said Satyakama.

Then said the bull: “The east is a part of the Lord and so is the west; the south is a part of the Lord and so is the north. The four cardinal points form a foot of Brahman. Fire will teach you another.”

On the following day, Satyakama began his journey. Toward evening he lit a fire and heard a voice saying, “Satyakama, I will teach you one foot of Brahman. This earth is a portion of Brahman. The sky and the heavens are portions of him. The ocean is a portion of him. All these form a foot of Brahman. A swan will teach you another.”

Satyakama continued his journey. One the following evening a swan came to him and said: “I have come to teach you one foot of Brahman. This lighted fire before you is part of Brahman, and likewise the moon; the lightning too is a part. All these form a foot of Brahman. A loon will teach you another.”

The next evening a loon came and said: “I will teach you one foot of Brahman. Breath is a part of Brahman, sight is a part, hearing is a part, mind is a part. All these form a foot of Brahman.”

At last the youth arrived at the home of his master and reverently presented himself before him. As soon as Gautama saw him, he exclaimed: “My son, your face shines like a knower of Brahman. By whom were you taught?”

“By beings other than men,” replied Satyakama, “but I desire that you too should teach me. For I have heard from the wise that the knowledge that the Guru imparts will alone lead to the supreme good.”

Then the sage taught him that knowledge and left nothing out.”

And we leave the final word to Sheik Nasrudin, as told by Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield in Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart.

Mulla Nasrudin used to stand in the street on market-days, to be pointed out as an idiot.

No matter how often people offered him a large and a small coin, he always chose the smaller piece.

One day a kindly man said to him: “Mulla, you should take the bigger coin. Then you will have more money and people will no longer be able to make a laughing-stock of you.”

“That might be true,” said Nasrudin, “but if I always take the larger, people will stop offering me money to prove that I am more idiotic than they are. Then I would have no money at all.”

July 26, 2010

This weeks reading from the Tao Te Ching is a beautiful evocation of the Sacred Feminine, aka mother of the universe. As I explained in last week’s post, my blogging is running behind so I’m only posting texts we read at class.  I’ll be spinning commentary again before too long. In the meantime, if you weren’t at class, you’ll have to connect the dots…


There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
Solitary. Unchanging.
Infinite Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name,
I call it Tao.

It flows through all things,
inside and outside, and returns
to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.
The universe is great.
Earth is great.
Man is great.
These are the four great powers.

Man follows the earth.
Earth follows the universe.
The universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

This reading inspired me to open the Devi Gita. I have several translations of this text. This is from Sw. Satyananda Saraswati’s version. Which is not the most sublime or scholarly. But is probably the most heartfelt. I pulled randomly, just to give another perspective on the Mother…


Why are all your thoughts so filled with anxiety, when the auspicious Goddess of the Universe…is awake….She radiated like ten million suns, and again like the coolness of ten million moons….That Light was equal to ten million bolts of lightening, reflecting the highest Love. There was nothing above it, nor nothing below it, neither was there anything other in the middle from its origin…It had no beginning, nor had it an end. It had neither hands nor other limbs attached to its body….

And the last word goes to Mary Oliver…

“Just a minute,” said a voice in the weeds.
So I stood still
in the day’s exquisite morning light
and so I didn’t crush with my great feet
any small or unusual thing just happening to pass by
where I was passing by
on my way to the blueberry fields,
and maybe it was the toad
and maybe it was the June beetle
and maybe it was the pink and tender worm
who does his work without limbs or eyes
and does it well
or maybe it was the walking stick, still frail
and walking humbly by, looking for a tree,
or maybe, like Blake’s wondrous meeting, it was
the elves, carrying one of their own
on a rose-petal coffin away, away
into the deep grasses. After awhile
the quaintest voice said, “Thank you.” And then there was silence.
For the rest, I would keep you wondering.

July 19, 2010

Here are readings from this week’s class —
You’ll notice no commentary from me on this post or on July 26th. Sorry about that. If you weren’t at class, you’ll have to fill in the blanks. I hope to get back to more in-depth posting  in August.

He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes around doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
he who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

[Tao Te Ching, version by Stephen Mitchell]

Brenda Ueland, If You Want To Write

….I am saying that all people have in them this power to write greatly and well, when they express freely and carelessly what is true to THEM. If I did not tell you that, if like most teachers and critics I just said: “Now, this is really good! Study this! and praised it to the skies, then you would try to write like it. And then it would not be any good at all. No, write from yourself…..

And perhaps I can explain here what I think is the difference between the human ego and the Divine ego. By self-confidence and boldness I do not mean conceit (the human ego). Conceit is very different. It is a static state where you rest on some past (or fancied) accomplishment. Then you rest on your oars and say to all (in so many words): “Look at me. I did that!”  But self-confidence never rests, but is always working and striving, and it is new and better. I think that is why boasting is vaguely disagreeable and one always regrets it…

But you never regret your sense of power and understanding inside, i.e. the Divine ego.  And this should always be increasing…. thousands and thousands of people, all people, have the same light in them, have their own creative power in them, if they would only come to see it, respect it and let it out.

Swami Muktananda, Where Are You Going?

There was a great seeker named Bullah Shah. For forty years he studied many religions and philosophies and took initiation from every teacher he came across. Yet he did not make any progress. The only thing he attained was a mind filled with doubts and a head burdened with the knowledge he had received from so many scriptures and teachers. Finally, his head became so heavy with knowledge that he could not hold it straight. One day a friend asked him what was wrong.

“Oh friend,” said Bullah Shah, “how can I describe my condition to you? I am carrying around so much weight and I cannot get rid of it.”

The friend said, “I know someone who can help you,” and he took Bullah Shah to the great Siddha, Inayat Shah.

“O sir,” said the friend, “here is a man who has studied all the philosophies and is carrying an enormous weight of learning in his head. If you could help him to discard some of it, he would  be very grateful to you.”

“All right,” the master said to Bullah Shah. “Leave your bundle of books somewhere else and spend some time with me.” So Bullah Shah stayed and after a few days, Inayat Shah touched him. In that instant all the weight Bullah Shah carried was lifted.

When he returned home, he threw away all his books and began to tell everyone he met that peace and bliss lie within, not in books or temples or mosques. “You cannot find God in scriptures or in holy places,” he would say. “Do not bother with those things. Just turn within and you will find God.”

When the orthodox teachers heard what Bullah Shah was saying, they all turned against him. They called a great assembly and summoned him to come before it.

“Bullah Shah,” they said, “you have been speaking against religion. You have committed a great sin.”

“If I have committed a sin, then surely I should be feeling pain,” said Bullah Shah. “But instead of pain, I am feeling joy, all my agony has left  me. If I have committed a sin, what punishment have you prescribed for me?”

“For your heresy, we are going to brand your body with a red-hot iron bar,” said the priests. “There is no worse sin than heresy.”

“I will accept this punishment, but first let me ask you something. Suppose that a religious teacher told an innocent person that if he followed a certain practice, he might attain something tomorrow, or in one year, or in ten years, and in this way, forty years went by and that poor seeker did not attain anything from the teacher. What punishment would you prescribe for such a teacher?”

“That would be a horrible sin!” they said. “If someone who has nothing to give makes others work for nothing, his body should be branded in twenty places.”

“Do you all agree with that?” asked Bullah Shah.

“Yes, we do,” said the priests.

“All of you deceived me for forty years. You made me study various scriptures and you forced me to practice techniques and rituals, yet I did not receive anything. So all of your bodies should be burned instead of mine.”