October 25, 2010

I find this week’s verse from Tao Te Ching particularly moving:

She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.

Music or the smell of good cooking
may make people stop and enjoy.
But words that point to the Tao
seem monotonous and without flavor.

When you look for it, there is nothing to see.
When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.
When you use it, it is inexhaustible.

This verse put me in mind of one of my favorite teachings from the Hindu Yogic tradition, sthitha prajna, steady wisdom. This quote comes from the medieval poet-saint Jneshwar’s commentary on Bhagavad Gita:

O Arjuna, if you want to have the vision of wisdom, pay attention to Me.  I will explain to you how to recognize wisdom.
You may recognize wisdom in a person who has patience without intolerance.

He patiently bears all things, just as a person wears his favorite ornaments.  Even if calamity should come to him, he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by it.

His attitude is one of glad acceptance, whether he obtains what he wants or what he doesn’t want.

Be bears with equanimity both honor and shame, he is the same in happiness and sorrow, and he isn’t affected differently by praise or blame.

He isn’t scorched by heat, nor does he shiver with cold.  He isn’t intimidated by anything.

Just as Mount Meru doesn’t feel the weight of its own peaks, nor does the boar feel the burden of the earth, and just as the entire creation doesn’t weigh down the earth, in the same way, he doesn’t sweat under the pressure of the pairs of opposites.

Just as the ocean swells to receive the water of all the rivers flowing into it, similarly, there is nothing that such a person cannot bear with equanimity, and he has no memory even of what he has suffered.

Whatever happens to his body he accepts as his own, and he takes no credit for what he suffers.

O Arjuna, he who practices such quiet endurance adds greatness to wisdom.

So, my dear ones, here are your readings for this week. I would love to embellish the above quotes with more commentary as I do at class, but honestly, as I copy them here, I find myself pulled into an inner place where there are no words.  Seems the best I can do is be scribe to the teachings, which I offer from my heart to yours. May we enter into that sublime stillness through the Monday Night portals of chanting, meditation and good company, again and again and again.

October 18, 2010

This week’s readings constellated around verse 34 of Tao Te Ching:


The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn’t create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t hold onto them.
Since it has merged with all things
and hidden in their  hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it
and it alone endures,
it can also be called great.
It isn’t aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.
I have to say this is one of my favorite verses. I love the image of the great Tao flowing everywhere, of all things being born from it, yet it does not create them. This reminded me of Krishna’s revelation of “his” divine manifestations to Arjuna in Chapter 10 of the Bhagavad Gita. Here are excerpts that I read in class:

Neither the myriad gods
nor any of the sages know
my origin: I am the source
from which gods and sages emerge.

Whoever knows me as the Unborn,
the Beginningless, the great Lord
of all worlds—he alone sees
truly and is freed from all harm.

Understanding and wisdom,
patience, truth, peace of mind,
pleasure and pain, being
and nonbeing, fear and courage,

nonviolence, equanimity,
control, benevolence, fame,
dishonor—all these conditions
come forth from me alone….

He who can understand
the glory of my manifestations
is forever united with me
by his unwavering love.

I am the source of all things,
and all things emerge from me;
knowing this, wise men worship
by entering my state of being….

Acting with deep compassion
from within my own being, I dispel
all ignorance-born darkness
with wisdom’s resplendent light.

This reference to wisdom’s resplendent light sent me to the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament:

From Proverbs, 3

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.

Which sent me to The Thunder, Perfect Mind from the Nag Hammadi Library. People at class seemed especially interested in this text which has been around for awhile now but is still not that widely known. You can read all about it at this site:  http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html Here are a handful of excerpts:

I was sent forth from the power,
and I have come to those who reflect upon me,
and I have been found among those who seek after me.

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,…

For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and boldness.
I am shameless; I am ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear.
I am war and peace….

Give heed to me.
I am the one who is disgraced and the great one.
I am peace,
and war has come because of me.

I am an alien and a citizen.
I am the substance and the one who has no substance.

Those who are without association with me are ignorant of me,
and those who are in my substance are the ones who know me.
Those who are close to me have been ignorant of me,
and those who are far away from me are the ones who have known me.
On the day when I am close to you,
you are far away from me
and on the day when I am far away from you
I am close to you.

I am … within.
I am … of the natures.
I am the creation of the spirits.
I am control and the uncontrollable.
I am the union and the dissolution.
I am the abiding and I am the dissolving.
I am the one below,
and they come up to me.
I am the judgment and the acquittal.
I, I am sinless,
and the root of sin derives from me.
I am the hearing which is attainable to everyone
and the speech which cannot be grasped.
I am a mute who does not speak,
and great is my multitude of words.

Hear me in gentleness, and learn of me in roughness.

For I am the one who alone exists….

This translation is by George W. MacRae is published in The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, published by Harper. The full text is available all over the internet. At class I read from the version in Jane Hirshfield’s glorious poetry anthology, Women in Praise of the Sacred.

Riveting as these above readings were, I was in a gluttonous mood at class this week, wanting more, and more, and more, so pulled out a poem from our beloved Kali-bhakta Ramprasad:

Essence of awareness! Brilliant Kali!
You are the utterly free play of divine energy.
Every event springs only
from your sweet will.
You alone act through all our actions,
although we foolishly claim responsibility.

You permit the powerful elephant to sink into quicksand,
the powerless pilgrim to climb the sacred mountain.
You confer upon exalted souls
a stature as sublime as ruler of the cosmos,
while others you maintain in the most humble station.
Your divine activity remains sheer mystery
to the singer of this hymn.

I am the instrument, you its adept wielder.
I am the mud-walled village dwelling,
you the tender Mother who abides here.
I am the chariot, you the radiant charioteer.
I move only as you move through me.

This poet calls out, lost in ecstasy:
“O mind, there is nothing more to fear,
I have sold my entire being to the Goddess

And the final word goes to the Tibetan Dakini, Yeshe Tsogyel:

O brothers and sisters,
you who have mastered the teaching —
If you recognize me,
Queen of the Lake of Awareness,
who encompasses
both emptiness and form,
know that I live in the minds
of all beings who live.
Know that I live
in the body of mind
and the field of the senses,
that the twelve kinds of matter
are only my bones and my skin.
We are not two,
yet you look for me outside;
when you find me within yourself,
your own naked mind,
that Single Awareness
will fill all worlds.
Then the joy of the One
will hold you like a lake —
its fish with gold-seeing eyes
will grow many and fat.
Hold to that knowledge and pleasure,
and the Creative will be your wings.
You will leap through green meadows of earthly appearance,
enter the sky-fields, and vanish.


October 11, 2010

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.
If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

Well, what to say, it’s been too many weeks since we had this class and I’m sorry to say I can’t remember other readings I brought in that night. I’m making every effort to stay on top of this blog!

October 4, 2010

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,
and the law would be written in their hearts.

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

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

The notion that the Tao is smaller than an electron yet contains uncountable galaxies is one that we encounter over and over again. William Blake put it this way in the opening lines from his Augeries of Innocence:

To see the World in a Grain of Sand
And heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

Here’s Baba Muktananda in his autobiography, Play of Consciousness, describing his meditation realization of the Self (i.e. Tao) as the “Blue Pearl:”

As I gazed at the tiny Blue Pearl, I saw it expand, spreading radiance in all directions so that the whole sky and earth were illuminated by it. It was now no longer a Pearl but had become a shining, blazing, infinite Light; the Light which writers of the scriptures and those who have realized the Truth have called the divine Light of Chiti. The Light pervaded everywhere in the form of the universe. I saw the earth being born and expanding from the Light of Consciousness… In this condition, the phenomenal world vanished and I saw only pure radiance. Just as one can see the infinite rays of the sun shimmering in all directions, so the Blue Light was sending out countless rays of divine radiance all about it.

And the last words go to my  beloved Mechthild of Magdeburg:

Of all that God has shown me
I can speak just the smallest word,
Not more than a honey bee
Takes on her foot
From an overspilling jar.

September 27, 2010

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

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is the highest value.
If peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but humans like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.

Although this verse seems intended for political leaders, you might apply it to yourself: what tools of violence and fear do you use against yourself and people with whom you come in contact.  This was the gist of our conversation in class. I encourage you to sit with it, applying the criteria of “decent man” to your own ways of being.  Along with this reading, I told a story I first learned from the Buddhist meditation teacher Pema Chodron, the story of Milarepa in the Cave. Since I’m a few weeks backed up on posting, I’ll post this story another time…

September 20, 2010

I found this week’s verse from the Tao Te Ching particularly relevant to these times…


Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counterforce.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon itself.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the currency of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

This is a small portion of a much larger work from the first century Chinese Zen master, Seng-Ts’an.

The Mind of Absolute Trust

The Great Way isn’t difficult for those who are unattached to their preferences.
Let go of longing and aversion, and everything will be perfectly clear,
When you cling to a hairbreadth of distinction, heaven and earth are set apart.
If you want to realize the truth, don’t be for or against.
The struggle between good and evil is the primal disease of the mind.
Not grasping the deeper meaning, you just trouble your mind’s serenity.
As vast as infinite space, it is perfect and lacks nothing.
But because you select and reject, you can’t perceive its true nature.
Don’t get entangled in the world; don’t lose yourself in emptiness.
Be at peace in the oneness of things, and all errors will disappear by themselves.

And now, for a lighter touch, two teaching stories. The first is told in  many traditions. The setting and characters may change, but the moral is eternal. This is the how Baba Muktananda liked to tell it:

Once there was a holy man who lived on the bank of a river. Nearby lived a milkmaid to whom he had given the mantra. Every day, she would bring him milk. One day the river flooded. She stood on the bank wondering how she could take him his milk. Then she remembered, “When my guru gave me the mantra he said, ‘You can go across the ocean of existence by repeating this mantra.’ And this is only a river.” So she closed her eyes, repeating the mantra with great faith, and walked across the water. The guru was in his room. She knocked on the door and called, “Babaji, open the door, I have milk for you.”

“How did you get here?” he asked.

“Don’t you know? When you gave me the mantra you said that if I repeated it, I would go across the ocean. This was just a small stream.”

When he heard this, the sadhu became swollen with pride. “What a state I must have attained if even my milkmaid can walk on water with my mantra!” A few days later, he had to go to town. Once again the river was flooded. He stood on the bank, wondering what to do. Then he remembered proudly, “Because of my mantra, the milkmaid crossed the river.” He began to repeat it, stepped into the river, and sank like a stone.

And the final word goes to Sheik Nasrudin:

A man borrowed some money from Nasrudin who assumed he would never get it back, but loaned it anyway. Much to his surprise, the loan was promptly repaid. Nasrudin was unhappy. Some time later the man asked for another loan saying, “You know my credit is good, I have repaid you in the past.” “Not this time, you scoundrel!” roared Nasrudin. “You deceived me the last time when I thought you would not return the money. You won’t get away with it a second time.”

September 13, 2010

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.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Class resumes on Monday, September 13. We’ll be meeting in the rear studio at PCYH. We hope to keep to the regular schedule with Open Chanting beginning @ 7:30 pm. However, there’s a Hot Yoga Class before us and the room may need more time to cool down. In which case class will  begin @ 7:45 pm. In either case, we look forward to the new season. Stay tuned for updates on start time and posts of the week’s teachings.

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]