Lovely to launch the Fall season of Monday Night Class. Welcome to newcomers. Welcome back old-timers, regulars, and every now and then-ers! I look forward to seeing you all again and again. Here’s this week’s portion from the Tao Te Ching:
Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.
The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.
There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.
The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.
When we let things “go their own way, residing at the center of the circle,” we’re practicing what yogis call “non-doership.” This is Karma Yoga, the path of action without attachment to the fruits of our action. When we act from this place, we’re not caught in improving, tampering with, or objectifying the world (along with ourselves and others). And that’s the way to “repair the world” without doing any harm.
This verse got me thinking about the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu text that unfolds as a dialogue between the Supreme Lord Krishna and young hero Arjuna. This version is from the contemporary teacher Eknath Easwaran. Although his translation has a modern sensibility very different from the original text, it delivers the teaching quite succinctly.
How to Work
Sri Krishna: You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.
Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause for worry, whether things go well or ill. Therefore, devote yourself to the disciplines of yoga, for yoga is skill in action.
Finally, in honor of the Jewish New Year, also called the Days of Awe, a kernel of wisdom from Hayyim of Zans. This translation by Martin Buber is in Teachings of the Jewish Mystics, edited by Perle Besserman. In the spirit of interfaith contemplation we’ve been enjoying in class, I might add that Perle used to live in Princeton where she and her husband co-led the Princeton Zen Group.
In my youth when I was fired with the love of God, I thought I would convert the whole world to God. But soon I discovered that it would be quite enough to convert the people who lived in my town, and I tried for a long time, but did not succeed. Then I realized that my program was still much too ambitious, and I concentrated on the persons in my own household. But I could not convert them either. Finally it dawned on me: I must work upon myself, so that I may give true service to God. But I did not accomplish even this.
Today was Yom Kippur, the final day of the Days of Awe. The traditional greeting is, L’shanah tovah, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.” It’s a beautiful sentiment and to everyone I say, yes, L’shanah tovah.