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.”

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

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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.

 

 

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

Monday, October 6, 2014: “Beauty is Truth, Truth beauty…that is all ye need to know.”

Class has resumed after a long summer break and we’re moving into a cycle of wisdom teachings on and of the Goddess.

I’ve talked about the Goddess for so many years, images of, mythology of, paths of, mantras of, wisdom of, on and on it goes. And nothing against any of this. But at the end of the day, it is so not about personified forms. Lovely as the images can be, lovely as the stories, that is all dust. The only thing that matters is our inner experience, that inner flash of light we experience as insight, inspiration, clarity, truth — and perhaps, most of all, love…

If the goddess is anything, it is this, the inner pulsation that not only gives life, but charges that life with wisdom, meaning, purpose, possibility, and once again, love. We need to find this inside ourselves as ourselves. Only then can we really know it, nourish it, reflect it, recognize it, and once again, love it…

I don’t know if Keats was thinking of the Goddess when he wrote Ode on a Grecian Urn.  Nevertheless, his ending couplet, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” could be a bumper sticker for goddess wisdom. More on this over the coming weeks.

For now, audio clips from 9.29 Monday Night Class.

Here’s the opening chant (and words to), Durga, Durga, Durga, Jai Jai Ma:

Durga Durga Durga, Jai Jai Ma
Karuna Sagari Ma
Kali Kapalini Ma Jagododharini Ma
Jai Jagadambe Jai Jai Ma

Glory to the Ocean of Knowledge, Compassion, and Truth that carries me across the ocean of the world.

Here’s my dharma talk which runs around twelve minutes:

Finally, we chanted the Hymn to Devi from Chapter 5 of Devi Mahatmyam as a prelude to chanting Om Namah Shivaya before moving into silent meditation. This audio clip contains these two chanting segments plus a dharana on ONS in the context of goddess practice:

Part II: Naked & Bowed Low

2.9.2013

For reasons  beyond my comprehension, the WordPress program is not allowing me to include my brief commentary and clip of Om Namah Shivaya with the previous post. This should come at the end of the section on Navarna mantra:

So we don’t want to contemplate Descent without paying homage to this radiant force… A force that finds grounding, stillness, and completion in the subtle vibratory universe of the mantra Om Namah Shivaya. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

We’re continuing our focus on Patanjali Book III, but adding Laksmi Work to the mix. Something about summer, the abundance of greenery, produce, heat and humidity has me contemplating the force of Laksmi in all its complexity, wonder, and power… Here are the sutras we read this evening:
III,6. Perfect discipline is mastered in stages.
III, 7. These three components – concentration, absorption, and integration – are more interiorized than the preceding five.
III, 8. Even these three are external to integration that bears no seeds.
III, 9. The transformation towards total stillness occurs as new latent impressions fostering cessation arise to prevent
the activation of distractive stored one, and moments of stillness begin to permeate consciousness.
III, 10. These latent impressions help consciousness flow from one tranquil moment to the next.
III, 11. Consciousness is transformed toward integration as distractions dwindle and focus arises.
III, 12. In other words, consciousness is transformed toward focus as continuity develops between arising and
subsiding perceptions.
Readers of this blog who attend class with some regularity, or are conversant with these teachings, will find the above sutras fairly straightforward. If, on the other hand, this language is less than familiar, it may seem undecipherable. So let me say that Patanjali is breaking the movement of mind and breath into carefully delineated categories. And in these sutras, he’s giving us a clue about how to live with an internal sense of freedom and ease. Otherwise known as mastery…
Which is how the Laksmi Work comes into my mind…

I’ll be weaving these two, Patanjali Book III and the Laksmi Work together over the next few weeks. For now I want to get this week’s dharma talk, readings, and chanting clips posted, so will keep this brief.

Here’s a clip of this week’s chanting the yoga sutras:

This is a clip of my dharma talk. It runs long, around 27 minutes.  No big surprise as we read so many sutras this evening. I was particularly focused on III, 8, where Patanjali brings in the notion of seeds of karma. But along with that, this talk, while free-wheeling as my talks often are, begins to tie together threads of Patanjali Book III and the Laksmi Work:
Here are the poems, from Rumi and Mary Oliver, that I read at the close of my talk:
Two from Rumi:

There’s a hidden sweetness
in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song comes
out of the fire. The fog clears, and a new energy
makes you run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you’re full of food and drink, Satan sits
where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue
in place of the Kaaba. When you fast,
good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring. Don’t give it
to some illusion and lose your power.
But even if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing
out of the ground, pennants flying above them.

*********

Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
is a ring on the door.
 
Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there.

This is a clip of chanting the mantra Om Namah Shivaya:
This is a clip of the closing meditation: