Monday Night Class, March 18, 2019: Burn Down the Forest of Ignorance…

marseus-thistle-snake-detail

Otto Marseus van SchrieckForest Floor with Thistle and Snake (detail), circa 1665

We’re continuing our deep dive into the Ashtavakra Gita. It really is a lovely text, reminding us over and over again that what we are is so much more interesting than what we are not. This despite cultural conditioning that tricks us into thinking we are what we think, believe, remember, etc…

I’m currently down with a bad cold and feel kind of awful. Just a few days ago I was not down with a bad cold and felt kind of great. Is one more real than the other? They sure feel different. But the me who’s feeling, the me sitting inside my awareness, this “me” feels exactly the same.

This me is so much deeper than transitory states of sickness and health, loss and gain, happy and sad, up and down. It just sits here, resting in its own light. Steady, vibrant, and crystal clear…

We all know this. But the way the mind works, we need to be reminded over and over again. And the Ashtavakra Gita is a great medicine for remembering…

Along with this text, I also referenced everybody’s favorite, the five primal causes of suffering known as the kleshas. These are spelled out in the yoga-sutra. If you need a refresher on these lovelies, here you go:

Avidya is the lens that clouds our ability to know what we truly are, keeping us caught in the forest of ignorance…

Asmita is the lens that tricks us into small self identification, i.e. the ego or “I-maker.”

Raga is pleasure, which, when tangled up with avidya and asmita, gets us all caught up in clinging to what makes us feel good.

Dvesha is aversion, which when tangled up with avidya and asmita, creates a profound separation from everything and anything we label as “bad.”

Abinivesha is clinging to life (or any situation) because we fear death (or change).

Because the Ashtavakra Gita is such a love song to the Self, we’ve been mostly chanting om namah shivaya. Which is such a sonic embodiment of the Self…

 

Here’s opening chanting. This is very slow ONS.

 

Here is this week’s dharma talk.

 

Here’s the text we read from Ashtavakra Gita.

8.

“I do this. I do that.”
The big black snake of selfishness
Has bitten you!
“I do nothing.”
This is the nectar of faith,
So drink and be happy!
9.
Know you are one,
Pure awareness.
With the fire of this conviction,
Burn down the forest of ignorance.
Free yourself from sorrow,
And be happy!
10.
Be happy!
For you are joy, unbounded joy.
You are awareness itself.
Just as a coil of rope
Is mistaken for a snake,
So you are mistaken for the world.
11.
If you think you are free,
You are free.
If you think you are bound,
You are bound.
For the saying is true:
You are what you think.
12.
The Self looks like the world.
But this is just an illusion.
The Self is everywhere.
One.
Still.
Free.
Perfect.
The witness of all things,
Awareness
Without action, clinging or desire.

 

Here’s the Mary Oliver poem that sums it up way more eloquently
than I am able…

 

 

OUT OF THE STUMP ROT, SOMETHING
Mary Oliver

Out of the stump rot
something
glides forward
that is not a rope,

unless a rope has eyes,
lips,
tongue like a smack of smoke,
body without shoulders.

Thus: the black snake
floating
over the leaves
of the old year

and down to the pond,
to the green just beginning
to fuzzle out of the earth,
also, like smoke.

If you like a prettiness,
don’t come here.
Look at pictures instead,
or wait for the daffodils.

This is spring,
by the rattled pond, in the shambled woods,
as spring has always been
and always will be

no matter what we do
in the suburbs.
The matted fur,
the red blood,

the bats unshuttering
their terrible faces,
and black snake
gliding across the field

you think you own.
Long neck, long tail.
Tongue on fire.
Heart of stone.

[from A Thousand Mornings]

 

March 11, 2019 Monday Night Class: Disappearing into the Everything-ness That is You

 

Winter_Light_Burst_by_AngelzTears

I’m writing at 7:24 pm on Thursday, March 14. We are at this moment five days, 35minutes, and ten seconds from the Vernal Equinox. Cosmic rhythms not withstanding,  today sure feels like Spring. I opened all the windows in my house. Which felt amazing. And reminded me of those sublime lines from the Kabir/Bly poem:

Open the window to the west and disappear into the air inside you….

Which is really what Monday Night Class is about. Disappearing into the air inside us where we find the everything-ness that is us…

This week’s class begins a new cycle of disappearing into that everything-ness, articulated so beautifully in Thomas Byrom’s gorgeous translation of the Ashtavakra Gita. 

This text comes down through the tradition of Advaita Vedanta, a beautiful philosophical system that has a non-dual view of Reality. Advaita means one, not two, and in this paradigm, there is no mind/body, spirit/matter split. There is only Brahman, pure consciousness, i.e. the everything-ness…

This is a very different view from the Sankhya tradition, which, fyi, contains the philosophy of Yoga, where spirit and matter are considered separate. Dualistic though it is, there’s great beauty in Sankhya. One just has to read between the lines. And while I’m adding caveats, let me also say, full disclosure, that while there’s a lot I like in the Advaita Vedanta paradigm, my preference is still Shaktism/Shaivism.

This however, is a conversation for another time…

This week’s dharma talk gathers much of the above, soaring around in the sublimity of it all, while, I hope, grounding it in something relevant and helpful to living our lives. One can endlessly philosophize, but really, if we’re not embodying, it’s just a lot of blather…

Here are audio clips from this week’s class:

OPENING MANTRA (OM NAMAH SHIVAYA) AND DHARANA

DHARMA TALK

CLASS CHANTING OM NAMAH SHIVAYA 

CLOSE OF CLASS

Here’s the text we read this week:

[from Thomas Byrom’s translation of the Ashtavakra Gita]
1. The Self
1.
O Master,
Tell me how to find
Detachment, wisdom, and freedom!
2.
Child,
If you wish to be free,
Shun the poison of the senses.
Seek the nectar of truth,
Of love and forgiveness,
Simplicity and happiness.
3.
Earth, fire and water,
The wind and the sky —
You are none of these.
If you wish to be free,
Know you are the Self,
The witness of all these,
The heart of awareness.
4.
Set your body aside,
Sit in your own awareness.
You will at once be happy,
Forever still,
Forever free.
5.
You have no caste.
No duties bind you.
Formless and free,
Beyond the reach of the senses,
The witness of all things.
So be happy.
6.
Right or wrong,
Joy or sorrow,
These are of the mind only.
They are not yours.
It is not really you
Who acts or enjoys.
You are everywhere,
Forever free.
7.
Forever and truly free,
The single witness of all things.
But if you see yourself as separate,
Then you are bound.

 

This final poem never made it into the recording, but here’s the Mary Oliver I read at the end of class. This is from her collection, Blue Horses.

I’M NOT THE RIVER 

I’m not the river
that powerful presence.
And I’m not the black oak tree
which is patience personified.
And I’m not redbird
who is a brief life heartily enjoyed.
Nor am I mud nor rock nor sand
which is holding everything together.
No, I am none of these meaningful things, not yet.

 

This poem is glorious on its own. In the context of this week’s class, it takes on even more meaning. One of the key inquires of Vedanta is to discover what one is by naming what one is not, i.e. I am not this body, I am not this mind, etc. etc.

They call it neti neti, not this, not this…

I’ve no idea if Oliver is purposely riffing on this, or simply airing her wide spacious mind. Either way, the poem is a gorgeous flip of the whole notion of neti neti…

And she manages to do this with two simply words, “not yet.”

March 4, 2019: Mahashivaratri, the Great Night of Shiva, aka the Night of Supreme Stillness….

Abstract shiva

I’ve been thinking a lot about inner stillness, and about inner silence. How these two are so connected, perhaps even one and the same. What are they really? Inner Stillness. Inner Silence. Can they be described at all? Or are they so beyond beneath all encompassing that words can only hint at them? And is the hinting more than enough?

I don’t have answers to these questions.

But I do like sitting with them…

Last night was Mahashivatatri, the Great Night of Shiva, the Great Stillness. So at class, we mostly chanted om namah shivaya. It’s such a beloved practice. Even for people who don’t like it 😉  Such a practice of the Heart. My teacher Muktananda called it “the great redeeming mantra.” It is that and more. It’s both a portal into, a vehicle of, and a sonic embodiment of the great stillness, the great silence.

Here’s audio from this week’s class:

This is the opening dharana, first round of chanting ONS, my dharma talk which includes a poem from Mary Oliver, and more chanting ONS. 

This is a reading from the Asthavakra Gita, a bit more mantra, and the close of class

For those who can’t get enough, this is me singing solo before class. 

Finally, here’s text of this week’s readings.

Varanasi
from A Thousand Mornings, by Mary Oliver

Early in the morning we crossed the ghat,
where fires were still smoldering,
and gazed, with our Western minds, into the Ganges.
A woman was standing in the river up to her waist;
she was lifting handfuls of water and spilling it
over her body, slowly and many times,
as if until there came some moment
of inner satisfaction between her own life and the river’s.
Then she dipped a vessel she had brought with her
and carried it filled with water back across the ghat,
no doubt to refresh some shrine near where she lives,
for this is the holy city of Shiva, maker
of the world, and this is his river.
I can’t say much more, except that it all happened
in silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt
like the bliss of a certainty and a life lived
in accordance with that certainty.
I must remember this, I thought, as we fly back
to America.
Pray God I remember this.

 

19. 
My Own Splendor
 
1.
 With the pincers of truth I have plucked
From the dark corners of my heart
The thorn of many judgments.
 
2.
I sit in my own splendor.
 
Wealth of pleasure,
Duty or discrimination,
Duality or nonduality,
What are they to me?
 
3.
What is yesterday,
Tomorrow,
or today?
 
What is space,
Or eternity?
 
I sit in my own radiance.
 
4.
What is the Self,
Or the not-Self?
What is thinking,
Or not thinking?
 
What is good or evil?
 
I sit in my own splendor.
 
5.
I sit in my own radiance,
And I have no fear.
 
Waking,
Dreaming,
Sleeping,
What are they to me?
 
Or even ecstasy?
 
6.
What is far or near,
Outside or inside,
Gross or subtle?
 
I sit in my own splendor.
 
7.
Dissolving the mind,
Or the highest meditation,
The world and all its works,
Life or death,
What are they to me?
 
8.
Why talk of wisdom,
The three ends of life,
Or onesness?
 
Why talk of these!
Now I live in my heart.

January 20, 2019: Welcome to a New Year and New Season of Monday Night Class…

img_4022

JANUARY 14. 2019 MONDAY NIGHT CLASS

I so love the above quote from David Whyte. I think he says it so beautifully. There is simply no good reason for us to keep company with anything or anyone that does not bring us alive, with anything or anyone that tries to keep us small.

Choose your greatness…

Here are audio clips and readings from the first class of this new year.

Here’s opening chanting of Om Tara Tuttare Ture Swaha.

Here’s the opening dharana and my dharma talk.

Here’s chanting of Vakratunda II and the Surya Bija Mantra. These are fine for people who want to chant along, but the album tracks are way better for listening. You can find VakII on Sound Cloud and the Surya Bija mantra track is on our Sun Mantras album.

Here are this week’s readings.

TAO TE CHING

32.
The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.

If powerful men and women
could remain centered in the Tao,
all things would be in harmony.
The world would become a paradise.
All people would be at peace,
and the law would be written in their hearts.

When you have names and forms,
know they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their functions should end.
Knowing when to stop,
you can avoid any danger.

All things end in the Tao
as rivers flow into the sea.

YOGA-SUTRA

1.1 Atha yoganushasanan  (Now, the study of Yoga.)
1.2 Yogah chitta vritti nirodhaha  (Yoga is the stilling of the thought waves in the mind.)
1.3 Tada drashtu svarupe avasthanam  (Then we rest in our essential nature.)

 

Here are the words to Vakratunda II.

vakratunda mahakāya
suryakoti samaprabha
nirvighnam kuru me deva
sarva kāryeśu sarvada

om gang ganapataye namaha

 

As always, the final word goes to Mary Oliver. Particularly poignant this week…

SUNRISE
Mary Oliver
 
You can
die for it —
and idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
brilliantly,
letting
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
creating
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises
under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
fire.

 

 

In Loving Memory of Mary Oliver

mary oliver

 

As I’m sure most everyone reading this knows, Mary Oliver left this world two days ago. And the world feels somehow different without her. Lonely.

I keep thinking about the way she looked and in her looking, saw so deeply.

She looked. She saw. She took in. She made communion, over and over again.

Who will look the way she did? Who will see the way she saw. We have lost a beloved poet-seer of our time. We have lost one of the great ones.

I never got to meet Mary Oliver. I did buy her books. Lots of them. And am thinking I must now buy the ones I don’t already own. I don’t have shelf space for them. But it seems the best tribute I can make.

She leaves the finest footprint on this earth, zillions of fans who love her and a trail of words, 37 books if I count correctly, imbued with such truth and beauty. Keats would approve. If there’s a poet’s heaven, they are no doubt sitting together, laughing…

Especially at her nose-in-the-air critics who call her poems too simple. Oh please. I read her poetry over and over and every time, discover something new. If her poems are too simple, let us have more and more of that simplicity.

She was a master.

I celebrate her life and grieve her death. She is gone just a couple of days and already so missed. The trees and the swans and the toads and the frogs. The songbirds and the fish and the deer. The dogs and the roses. The blueberries. The goldenrod. The light. Of everything and everyone she sang, to everything and everyone she sang.

I keep thinking of her final breath. I imagine her lying there, gazing at this world she loved so much, breathing it in one last time and smiling, as she slipped from the form of her body and merged into that ineffable spaciousness, that vibrant luminosity she somehow managed to gather and hold in her poems…

 

Messenger
-Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird – 
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

10.8.18 Monday Night Class: “Speak only that which is kind, true, necessary, and at the appropriate time…”

Blue Waves

10.8.18. THE DHARMA OF SPEECH. SPEAK ONLY THAT WHICH IS KIND, TRUE, NECESSARY, AND AT THE APPROPRIATE TIME.

I’m still getting over a very bad cold so will keep this post brief. This week’s class centered around one of my favorite teachings, The Dharma of Speech. And went on from there to encompass the beautiful Tara mantra, om tara tuttare ture swaha; a verse from Mary Oliver’s astonishing riff on the 145th Psalm; a particularly luminous verse from the Tao Te Ching; and a story from Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. While at its root this story is the antithesis of the dharma of speech, still, it makes a fun complement to our contemplation…

Here’s the opening dharana on Tara:

 

Here’s my dharma talk:

 

 

And here are the readings:

Tao Te Ching, Verse 21

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao;
that is what gives her radiance. 

The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were,
the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.

*  *  *

On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate(Psalm 145)
Mary Oliver

7.
I know a man of such
mildness and kindness it is trying to
change my life. He does not
preach, teach, but simply is. It is
astonishing, for he is Christ’s ambassador
truly, by rule and act. But, more,

he is kind with the sort of kindness that shines
out, but is resolute, not fooled. He has
eaten the dark hours and could also, I think,
soldier for God, riding out
under the storm clouds, against the world’s pride and unkindness,
with both unassailable sweetness, and consoling word.

published in Devotions, p. 137.

 *  *  *

from The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene

Down on his luck, the screenwriter Michael Arlen went to New York in 1944. To drown his sorrows he paid a visit to the famous restaurant “21.” In the lobby, he ran into Sam Goldwyn, who offered the somewhat impractical advice that he should buy racehorses. At the bar, Arlen met Louis B. Mayer, an old acquaintance, who asked him what were his plans for the future. “I was just talking to Sam Goldwyn…” began Arlen. “How much did he offer you?” interrupted Mayer. “Not enough,” he replied evasively. “Would you take fifteen thousand for thirty weeks?” asked Mayer. No hesitation this time, “Yes,” said Arlen.   [p. 32]

September 17, Monday Night Class: It’s Never Too Late to Become What You Might Have Been

After weeks of brutal heat and humidity, the rains and cool weather have come. Reminding me that nothing, NOTHING, is forever. And while everyone tells me I don’t look or seem my 70 years, the reality is, I’m standing on seven decades. I now know in my bones what I only knew in my mind even just a few years ago. Every moment is a blessing and a gift. Cherish it…

Class has resumed after a long summer break. And what a joy to be back in the Monday Night groove. Driving to class I was listening to an All Things Considered interview with Sally Fields who cites the quote (attributed to George Eliot) with which I’ve titled this post.  It’s never too late to become what you might have been…

Yes.
This is the truth.

Here’s this week’s dharma talk and reading from David Whyte’s book of essays, Consolations.

This passage from David Whyte perfectly articulates my feelings about the essence of what class, in fact, what all of my work is about…

…the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

Here’s audio of class chanting. With apologies for recording quality. Daniel was at class so listen for his amazing tabla…

The Mangalam 

Gayatri and Om Namah Shivaya Mantras