November 22, 2010

Here’s this week’s Dharma Talk, along with posts of  readings:

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
and endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.

As I said in my talk, we’ve moved into a section of the Tao Te Ching that seems very much its own. While I’m still able to find parallel teachings, they don’t flow as seamlessly from text to text as we’ve found in earlier verses. I suspect this has something to do with the construction of the Tao Te Ching. Since I’m not making a formal academic study however, I’ll  dispense with literary theory and simply post readings I found to be of a similar mind…

This first is a lovely quote from the great Sivananda, in Georg Feuerstein’s pocket anthology, Teachings of Yoga:

Smile with the flower and the green grass. Play with the butterflies, birds, and deer. Shake hands with the shrubs, ferns, and twigs of trees. Talk to the rainbow, wind, stars, and the sun. Converse with the running brooks and the waves of the sea, Speak with the walking-stick. Develop friendship with all your neighbors, dogs, cats, cows, human beings, trees, flowers, etc. Then you will have a wide, perfect, rich, full life. You will realize the oneness or unity of life. This can hardly be described in words. You will have to feel this yourself.

I was also struck by these lines from Rumi, pulled from a larger work in the Coleman Barks/Michael Green collaboration, The Illuminated Rumi:

Bend, Tend, Disappear

This is how you change
when you go to the orchard
where the heart opens….

you become
fragrance and the light
that burning oil gives off,

long strands of grieving hair, lion
and at the same time, gazelle.

You’re walking alone without feet,
as riverwater does….

Bend like the limb of a peach tree.
Tend those who need help.
Disappear three days with the moon.

Don’t pray to be healed, or look for evidence
of “some other world.”
You are the soul
and the medicine for what wounds the soul.

And in closing, as has often happened on this inter-spiritual adventure called Monday Night Class, the final word goes to Mary Oliver, whose poet-mind roams deep in the diamond essence of the Tao. Every word and every space between those words, shimmering with light and the fertile darkness…

This World

I would like to write a poem about the world that has in it
nothing fancy.
But it seems impossible.
Whatever the subject, the morning sun
glimmers it.
The tulip feels the heat and flaps its petals open
and becomes a star.
The ants bore into the peony bud and there is the dark
pinprick well of sweetness.
As for the stones on the beach, forget it.
Each one could be set in gold.
So I tried with my eyes shut, but of course the birds
were singing.
And the aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music
out of their leaves.
And that was followed by, guess what, a momentous and
beautiful silence
as comes to all of us, in little earfuls, if we’re not too
hurried to hear it.
As for spiders, how the dew hangs in their webs
even if they say nothing, or seem to say nothing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe they sing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe the stars sing
too, and the ants, and the peonies, and the warm
so happy to be where they are, on the beach, instead of
being lock up in gold.

November 15, 2010

Starting tonight, I’ll be recording Dharma Talks and uploading them to this blog. This week’s talk is on the long side. If you’re new to this blog and/or not familiar with yogic thinking, it may be a bit heady for you. By all means give it a listen. But if it strikes you as a whole lot of something about nothing — or a whole lot of nothing about something — I suggest you simply read the post and leave off listening for another time.

Here’s this week’s reading from Tao Te Ching.

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

This week’s reading is so dense, I thought the best pairing would be a couple of teaching stories. These two are told in Jack Kornfield’s Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart. The first, from the Christian tradition, struck me as a humorous example of the critique of fundamentalist religion (and in a broader sense, the fundamentalist mind) the Tao Te Ching is making in the fourth verse:

When the Son of God was nailed to the cross and died, he went straight down to hell and set free all the sinners who were in torment.

And the devil wept and mourned, for he thought he would get no more sinners for hell.

And God said to him, “Do not weep, for I shall send you all those who are self-righteous in their condemnation of sinners and hell shall be filled up once more…”

The second story is a lovely example of the mastery described in the first stanza of this week’s verse:

The rich industrialist from the North was horrified to find the Southern fisherman lying lazily beside his boat, smoking a pipe.
“Why aren’t you out fishing?” said the industrialist.
“Because I have caught enough fish for the day,” said the fisherman.
“Why don’t you catch some more?”
“What would I do with it?”
“You could earn more money” was the reply. “With that you could have a motor fixed to your boat to go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets. These would bring you more fish and mnore money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats…maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a rich man like me.”
“What would I do then?”
“Then you could really enjoy life.”
“What do you think I am doing right now?”

November 8, 2010

The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women
could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed
by itself, in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.

Stephen Mitchell’s commentary on this verse cites the line: If powerful men and women could center themselves in it, — and proclaims, “They can!”   Well…while I have tremendous respect for Mitchell’s insight, on this point, I beg to differ. The space between “can” and “do” can stretch towards infinity.  Which doesn’t negate the fact that when the shift happens, it happens.  But holding that shift, embodying that shift, living in that shift, that’s the dance of true mastery.

Here’s a wonderful anecdote from Vipassana Meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein writing in her book, It’s  Easier Than You Think:

One of my important gurus was a woman whose name I don’t know… She taught me…that my view of life as perilous and hazard strewn is one particular perception, not the only perception….

I met the woman on the beach in Guaymas twenty years ago. It was summer and Guaymas in the Sonora Desert of Mexico, was very hot. I was staying in a large, air-conditioned modern hotel. Nearby was a caravan park, where people, including this woman, were camping in small trailers. This woman was young and she had two young sons with her. John, the elder, was four years old, and the baby was just beginning to crawl. She explained that she didn’t like to stay where she lived in Los Angeles in the summertime, so she camped in Mexico for several months, and her husband flew down to join them each weekend in his own small plane.

Everything in her story seemed worrisome to me:
* Being a woman alone on a beach in a foreign country.
* Having to watch a small baby crawling around at the edge
of the water while minding a snorkeling 4-year old.
* The problems connected with getting clean drinking water
or refrigerating milk and other perishables in that hot
* How close the nearest doctor was — had she even thought
about that?
* The danger of her husband flyingn down to Mexico by
himself each weekend.

Indeed, every aspect of her situation provided me with material from which I could construct a catastrophe.
She seemed to having a fine, relaxed time.

One night we had a huge rainstorm with booming thunder and flashes of lightning that filled the sky… The rain was torrential,, and I worried, as I looked out of my 6th floor window, about the possibility of flash flooding and what it might do to the caravan park. By dawn the the storm had passed and I hurried to check up on my woman and her children. The caravan park was a mess! The rains had washed everything outside the trailers…and people were busy sweeping up…. My woman was also sweeping, her children playing happily nearby.

“How was the storm?” I asked.
“It was great,” she answered.
“Did you have any problems with the children?” I looked over at them gleefully splashing in the puddles.
“Oh no,” she said. “The baby slept right through it, and John would have slept through it too, except I woke him up so he wouldn’t miss it.”

I was stunned. I thought to myself, “There is another way to do life!”

This verse also points to the distinction between desire as an obstacle to peace and desire as an internal force that opens us into being peace. Here’s a story from Hindu mythology that illustrates how even the deity can be trapped in that first form of desire…

Once upon a time, two demons were terrorizing heaven. In panic, the gods fled, appealing to Lord Vishnu for relief. Vishnu discerned that the demons had been granted a boon by Lord Shiva, whereby they could only be killed by each other. Since they were brothers, this was unlikely. So Vishnu transformed himself into a beautiful woman named Mohini and appearing before the two demons, began to flirt with them.

The first demon said, “Marry me!”

The second said. “No, Marry me.”

Mohini looked at the two loathsome creatures and said, “Hey, what kind of girl do you think I am? I can’t marry both of you. I’ll  marry the one who is strongest and most powerful.”

Instantly the two demons began to fight over who would win her hand. The battle raged for days. Whenever one would begin to tire, Mohini would wink at him and the battle would resume. At last both demons exhausted themselves and collapsed dead at her feet.

Having accomplished her task, Mohini made a fatal mistake. She looked at herself in a pool of water and thought, “My, what a beautiful woman I am. No wonder those monsters wanted my hand.” And intoxicated with her own beauty, she sauntered off, admiring her reflection in every stream she passed. In fact, she soon forgot she had ever been Vishnu. She believed she was Mohini and decided that such a beautiful woman deserved a divine husband. So she approached the great Lord Shiva and offered to be his wife.

Shiva agreed and they went to Lord Brahma to perform the ceremony. But when they approached him, Brahma was aghast. He said to Mohini, “You can’t marry Shiva!”

“And why not?” asked Mohini.

“Because — you’re Vishnu!”

We also read a few lines from the Advaita Vedanta text, the Ashtavakra Gita. I think it’s fair to say this text not only descibes what it is to  be centered in the Tao, it literally embodies the experience…

11. Stillness

1. 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.

2. God made all things. There is only God. When you know this, desire melts away. Clinging to nothing, you become still.

3. 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.

4.  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?

5. 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….

8. The world with all its wonders is nothing. When you know this, desire melts away. For you are awareness itself. When you know in your heart that there is nothing, you are still.

And the final words go to Ramprasad:

The Mother of the Universe captivates every world with her beauty.
Her long hair streams as waves of cosmic energy.
This drunken poet has fallen forever in love with  her black luminosity.
Mystic union with her transcendent blackness in experienced by intense loovers.
This blackness even exhilarates Shiva, supreme Knower of Reality,
and inspires as well every heavenly being, every ardent saint, every awakened sage….

Utterly lost in delight, her poet lover sings:
“This is the dawning of enlightenment, the awakening to nonduality.
Her form and every form are now blending into one radiant blackness.
O mind, despise no being, reject no path.
See all in her and her as all.”

November 1, 2010

As usual, this week’s reading struck many as particularly relevant to their lives:

If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.

We’re all aware of things we want to change within ourselves. And there are two basic view on how to do this. One is the transcendent view, a kind of metaphysical behavior modification. This is the rising above school, the “get over yourself and let it go” approach. I’ve rarely seen this paradigm work. We may have a momentary release. But few can hold transcendent experience.  In my opinion, it tends to be dissociative rather than transformative. I prefer the approach outlined in this verse. No surprise it’s described as the “subtle perception of the way things are.”  The conventional wisdom is that if we want to get rid of something, we have to cut it away. The notion of first allowing it to flourish is counter-intuitive. However, our so-called demons feed on fight or flight responses. We starve them by sitting back, watching, witnessing, embracing, allowing that mysterious flourishing. And one day the shift happens. Its workings may remain very much a mystery, but we see the results.

I spent awhile poring over books in my library, looking for parallel texts and/or poetry to bring to class, but nothing jumped off the page. I finally settled on some humorous teaching stories from Jack Kornfield’s Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart.  The links between these readings may require that subtle perception, but I think you’ll have no trouble connecting the dots:

A big touch sumurai once went to see a little monk. “monk,” he said, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience, “teach me about heaven and hell!”
The monk looked up at this might warrior and replied with utter disdain, “Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn’t teach you about anything. You’re dirty. You smell. Your blade is rusty, You’re a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can’t stand you.”
The samurai was furious. He shook, got all red in the face, was speechless with rage. He pulled out his sword, raised it above him, preparing to slay the monk.
“That’s hell,” said the monk softly.
The samurai was overwhelmed. The compassion and surrender of this little man who had offered his life to give this teaching to show him hell! He slowly put down his sword, filled with gratitude, and suddenly peaceful.
“And that’s heaven,” said the monk softly.

Nasrudin was eating a poor man’s diet of chickpeas and bread. His neighbor, who also claimed to be a wise man was living in a grand house and dining on sumptuous meals provided by the emperor himself. His neighbor told Nasrudin, “if only you would learn to flatter the emperor and be subservient like I do, you would not have to live on chickpeas and bread.” Nasrudin replied, “and if only you would learn to live on chickpeas and bread, like I do, you would not have to flatter and live subservient to the emperor.”

A  young female disciple undertook to develop the meditation on loving-kindness. Sitting n her small room, she would fill her heart with loving-kindness for all beings yet each day as she went to the bazaar to gather her food, she would find her loving-kindness sorely tested by one shopkeeper who would daily subject her to unwelcome caresses. One day she could stand no more and began to chase the shopkeeper down the road with her upraised umbrella. To her mortification she passed her teacher standing on the side of the road observing this spectacle. Shame-faced she went to stand before him expecting to be rebuked for her anger. “What you should do,” her teacher kindly advised her, “is to fill you heart with loving-kindness, and with as much mindfulness as you can muster, hit this unruly fellow over the head with your umbrella.”