“ADMIRING IS EASY, BUT AFFINITY, THAT DOES TAKE SOME TIME.”
When he sees all beings are equal
in suffering or in joy
because they are like himself,
that man has grown perfect in yoga. [6.32]
I was out walking the other day when I encountered a snake and a stick. Lying just so on the ground. They reminded me of the old Vedanta teaching story about the snake and the rope. This was a snake and a stick but you get the point. A snake is a snake. A rope is a rope. A stick is a stick. We need to see life as it is.
Monday Night Class broke for the summer at the end of June. I’ll post June 19 here. June 26 will follow. And with these two posts, we close out this blog season I’ve titled, “Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump…”
Ironically, today is the six-month mark of the Trump presidency. Where ropes are snakes and snakes are sticks. Dizzying, devastating, dangerous, and exhausting. And what can we do but keep standing up for the truth.
If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, I’m sure you exulted in Sunday night’s new season premiere when Arya Stark turned to the young woman whose life she spared and said, “When people ask you what happened here, tell them the North remembers.” Yes. The North remembers. It’s a fitting metaphor for our time.
Here’s my dharma talk from June 19:
Here are the readings:
From the Gita:
Sitting down, having chosen a spot that is neither too high nor too low, that is clean and covered with a grass mat, a deerskin, and a cloth,
he should concentrate, with his whole mind, on a single object: if he practices in this way, his mind will soon become pure.
With torso and head held straight, with posture steady and unmoving, gazing at the tip of his nose, not letting his eyes look elsewhere,
he should sit there calm, fearless, firm in his vow to be chaste, his whole mind controlled, directed, focused, absorbed in me. [6. 11-14]
Mature in yoga, impartial everywhere that he looks, he sees himself in all beings and all beings in himself.
The man who sees me in everything and everything within me will not be lost to me, nor will I ever be lost to him.
He who is rooted in oneness realizes that I am in every being: wherever he goes, he remains in me.
When he sees all beings are equal in suffering or in joy because they are like himself, that man has grown perfect in yoga. [6.29-32]
From Mary Oliver’s Blue Horses:
ON MEDITATION, SORT OF
Meditation, so I’ve heard, is best accomplished if you entertain a certain strict posture. Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree. So why should I think I could ever be successful?
Some days I fall asleep, or land in that even better place—half asleep—where the world, spring, summer, autumn, winter— flies through my mind in its hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.
So I just lie like that, while distance and time reveal their true attitudes: they never heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.
Of course I wake up finally thinking, how wonderful to be who I am, made out of earth and water, my own thoughts, my own fingerprints— all that glorious, temporary stuff.
As I said before, I am living now in a warm place, surrounded by mangroves. Mostly I walk beside them, they discourage entrance. The black oaks and the pines of my northern home are in my heart, even as I hear them whisper, “Listen, we are trees too.” Okay, I’m trying. They certainly put on an endless performance of leaves. Admiring is easy, but affinity, that does take some time. So many and so leggy and all of them rising as if attempting to escape this world which, don’t they know it, can’t be done. “Are you trying to fly or what?” I ask, and they answer back, “We are what we are, you are what you are, love us if you can.”
Here’s audio of class chanting. Daniel Johnson joined us for these last two classes so you will hear his tabla in the music.
“WHEN WE LIVE IN THE QUESTION EVERYTHING WE SAY IS MUSIC.”
Attaining this state, he knows
that there is no higher attainment,
he is rooted there unshaken
even by the deepest sorrow.
This is the true yoga; the unbinding
of the bonds of sorrow. Practice
this yoga with determination
and with a courageous heart. [6.22-23]
This is the week of the Summer Solstice. For those who don’t pay attention to these cosmic moments, it occurred in our Northern Hemisphere at 12:24 AM EDT on Wednesday, June 21. And even the next day’s Senate healthcare debacle could not undermine the wonder of sunlight stretching into the evening. The Summer Solstice is a day I’ve always loved, revered even. But this year, I was strangely out of sorts, a mental state that knocked me from the ground I tend to move from, and, as bad luck would have it, sent me tumbling down a flight of stairs. Well, it wasn’t really bad luck. It was me not paying attention. I tripped on my cat Lily who was sleeping on the top step. I’d seen her there on the way up, but forgot she was there on the way down. And down I went. All the way down. 10 steps down to be exact. It’s a miracle I didn’t sprain, break, or concuss myself. Which is not to say I’m not feeling sore, bruised, and tender. I am. Quite.
Paying attention. One cannot take the practice deep enough. Had you seen me on Wednesday as I headed towards those stairs, you’d have seen a woman who appeared totally focused on what she was doing, who appeared to be paying attention. The problem was, what looked like focus was actually compulsion. Compulsion to complete a task. Compulsion that flung my awareness into a future event that never even happened.
What did happen is I got all banged up and will need at least a week to fully recuperate. But who cares about me. The poor cat was so freaked out, she hid under my bed for hours. My daughter had to sacrifice an evening to take care of me. And I had to cancel a long-planned visit with my niece. That’s a lot of inconvenience to others for my momentary lapse of attention.
Or as our charlatan in the White House would say, “not good.”
We spend so much time in our limited and limiting head space—and I’m not even talking about on our devices—that we miss what’s actually happening. We’re often not really here. Which is such a shame. Because here is so very precious.
Walking seems to help my bruised and battered body so I ambled over to the Farmer’s Market yesterday. Early summer abundance. Heads of lettuce, bags of spinach, boxes of sweet peas, bunches of arugula, turnips, beets, green onions, garlic scapes, herbs, buckets of blueberries, fresh eggs, local cheese. And the flowers. OMG. The flowers were amazing. Walking home I felt so simply happy. It didn’t matter that everything hurt, that I was tired, thirsty, hungry, and needing to lie down. None of that mattered. My joy in the preciousness of life was so much bigger than that temporary discomfort. So much bigger.
Which is what the Bhagavad Gita is all about. Which is why we’ve been reading the Gita as we live through this Trumpian age. Because the awareness and call to right action articulated in this elegant text is the most potent medicine we have to counter the rampant destruction that will characterize this dark and chilling moment in our history.
Here’s the opening dharana and dharma talk from June 12. I usually edit out class banter but thought I’d leave it in for a change…
Here are the Mary Oliver poems we read:
THE MAN WHO HAS MANY ANSWERS
The man who has many answers is often found in the theaters of information where he offers, graciously, his deep findings.
While the man who has only questions, to comfort himself, makes music.
POEM OF THE ONE WORLD
This morning the beautiful white heron was floating along above the water
and then into the sky of this the one world we all belong to
where everything sooner or later is a part of everything else
which thought made me feel for a little while quite beautiful myself.
Here are the Gita verses, [18-23]:
With a mind grown clear and peaceful, freed from selfish desires, absorbed in the Self alone he is called a true man of yoga.
“A lamp sheltered from the wind which does not flicker’ — to this is compared the true man of yoga whose mind has vanished in the Self.
When his mind has become serene by the practice of meditation, he sees the Self through the self and rests in the Self, rejoicing.
He knows the infinite joy that is reached by the understanding beyond the senses; steadfast, he does not fall back from the truth.
Attaining this state, he knows that there is no higher attainment, he is rooted there unshaken even by the deepest sorrow.
This is the true yoga; the unbinding of the bonds of sorrow. Practice this yoga with determination and with a courageous heart.
CHAPTER SIX: THE YOGA OF MEDITATION ATTACHMENT TO GOALS NEVER WORKS BECAUSE LIFE IS A MESS
AND WE JUST NEVER KNOW HOW THINGS WILL TURN OUT
The self is a friend for him
who masters himself by the Self;
but for him who is not self-mastered,
the self is the cruelest foe. [6.6]
Last week’s stunner was Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement. He truly embodies the above quote from the Gita: “but for him who is not self-mastered, the self is the cruelest foe.” Unfortunately in this case, Trump is “the cruelest foe,” not just of himself, but of the entire planet. And then last night, more terrorist madness in London.
Cruelty. There really are no words…
This post contains content from the May 22 Monday Night Class. I’m keeping my written commentary short tonight. Along with Chapter Six Gita verses, I read a short section on the Self from Swami Muktananda’s book, Where Are You Going. Audio clips follow. Text below that. I’m not including chanting audio. I did get a new microphone. Alas, every solution creates a new problem. The new mike is so sensitive, the harmonium drone drowns out the vocals. So still in process re tech issues…
Opening Dharana: The Beautiful Broken Heart and Dharma Talk on the first eight verses of Chapter Six:
We had a guest at this class unfamiliar with the text so I gave him a bit of an intro. If you’re new to this blog and the Gita, you might enjoy listening to this audio clip:
Here are the verses we read:
THE BLESSED LORD SAID:
He who performs his duty with no concern for results is the true man of yoga—not he who refrains from action.
Know that right action itself is renunciation, Arjuna; in the yoga of action, you first renounce your own selfish will.
For the man who wishes to mature, the yoga of action is the path; for the man already mature, serenity is the path.
When a man has become unattached to sense-objects or to actions, renouncing his selfish will, then he is mature in yoga.
He should lift up the self by the Self and not sink into the selfish; for the self is the only friend of the Self, and its only foe.
The self is a friend for him who masters himself by the Self; but for him who is not self-mastered, the self is the cruelest foe.
When a man has mastered himself, he is perfectly at ease in cold, in heat, in pleasure or pain, in honor or in disgrace.
The mature man, fulfilled in wisdom, resolute, looks with equal detachment at a lump of dirt, a rock, or a piece of pure gold. [6. 1-8]
Baba Muktananda’s book Where Are You Going has always been one of my favorites. Very precise and accessible. Here’s the quote I read at class:
The Pure “I”
What is the Self? It is the pure awareness of “I am,” the original “I”-consciousness which has been within us ever since we came into this world. Even though that “I” exists in a woman, it is not a woman. Even though it exists in a man, it is not a man. That “I” is without form, color, or any other attribute. We have superimposed different notions onto it—notions like “I am a man,” “I am a woman,” I am an American.” But when we wipe them all away, that “I” is nothing but pure Consciousness and it is the supreme Truth. Perceiving that “I,” the great Shankaracharya proclaimed, Aham brahmasmi—“I am the Absolute.” Perceiving that “I,” the great Sufi saint Mansur Mastana said, Anal-haq—“I am God.”
That “I” is the source of this world. A banyan seed is tiny, and if you crack it open you will find nothing inside. Yet that seed contains an entire tree with its roots, branches, and leaves. In the same way, the Self is the seed which contains the whole universe. Everything is within the Self, and therefore, when we know the Self, we know everything that can be known. That is why the sages continually contemplate the Self, meditate on the Self, and lose themselves in the Self.
I rarely include the written text of my talks here, but it seems appropriate to end with the closing dharana from this class:
Let all these teachings from the Gita keep entering into you and awaken what you already know. That’s all the Gita is doing. It’s telling us what we already know when we really stop to listen. Rest in your own experience. Rest in the experience of the Self, of your own presence, of that in you which sees, of that in you which knows, of that in you which has always been looking out through your eyes, listening through your ears. If the mind wanders, remind it to rest in the Self, which is the source of the mind. Allow your mind to dissolve into this infinite presence so very alive within us. This is all we need to do.
To all who have suffered from the cruelty of others, I have no words.
I can only offer my love.
CHAPTER FIVE: THE YOGA OF RENUNCIATION IT’S NOT REALLY ABOUT THE RESULTS, WE JUST THINK IT IS….
The resolute in yoga surrender
results, and gain perfect peace;
the irresolute, attached to results,
are bound by everything they do. [5.12]
The practice of renunciation comes up in every religion and sacred tradition. It’s also an important element in recovery and self-improvement programs. In all these systems, renunciation is a penance, a giving up of something that gives us pleasure, a choosing, in other words, to suffer. And this renouncing is done in order to achieve a certain goal.
The Yoga of Renunciation flips this notion on its head. In Yoga, we renounce not only that which causes suffering, (i.e. attachment and identification with our psycho/emotional narratives.) We also renounce the fruit of our actions, letting go of goal-oriented focus and motivation.
There’s a great deal of paradox here. When I talked about how this work of yogic renunciation may be the hardest thing we ever do, one of my long-time Monday Nighters made a great point. She said from her perspective, not doing it is even harder. Yes and yes. The final irony being that what we’re renouncing doesn’t actually exist. But that’s a topic for another time…
Another bizarre week on the political scene where the Yoga of Not-Renunciation abounds. Here we see everything the Gita warns against. It’s been fascinating to watch this karma playing out. Too soon to know how this scandalous scandal-ridden chapter in American history will end. And they will do a lot of damage before that happens. Still, nonstop leaks, gaffes, and investigations are outing the craven corruption and naked lies that drive Trump and the Republican agenda. And the truth begins to roar.
Here’s May 15’s dharma talk. If you don’t have time to listen, a few short quotes:
“The ego thinks it’s all coming from it. That small sense of “I.” It thinks it’s the doer. It’s not. And that sense of “I’m the doer” creates the sense of isolation and alienation that creates so many of the maladies that plague our culture. We’re not isolated. We’re not alienated. We’re very much part of this ginormous matrix of Creation and that’s what’s carrying us.”
“Who cares about reincarnation. It’s irrelevant. It’s enough that we keep the spaces we move through clear. So we don’t leave a mess we then need to clean up.”
Here are the Gita verses we read:
You have praised both renunciation and the yoga of action, Krishna. Tell me now: of these two, which is the better path?
THE BLESSED LORD SAID:
Renunciation and yoga both lead to the ultimate good; but of the two paths, Arjuna, yoga is the more direct.
The true renunciate neither desires things nor avoids them; indifferent to pleasure and pain he is easily freed from all bondage.
Fools say that knowledge and yoga are separate, but the wise do not. When you practice one of them deeply, you gain the rewards of both.
The state reached by true knowledge is reached by yoga as well. Both paths lead to the Self; both lead to selfless action.
It is hard to renounce all action without engaging in action; the sage, wholehearted in the yoga of action, soon attains freedom.
Wholehearted, purified, mastering body and mind, his self becomes the self all beings; he is unstained by anything he does.
The man who has seen the truth thinks, “I am not the doer” at all times—when he sees, hears, touches, when he smells, eats, walks, sleeps, breathes,
when he defecates, talks, or takes hold, when he opens his eyes or shuts them; at all times he thinks, “This is merely sense-objects acting on the senses.”
Offering his actions to God, he is free of all action; sin rolls off him as drops of water roll off a lotus leaf.
Surrendering attachment, the sage performs all actions—with his body, his mind, and his understanding— only to make himself pure.
The resolute in yoga surrender results, and gain perfect peace; the irresolute, attached to results, are bound by everything they do.
Calmly renouncing all actions, the embodied Self dwells at ease as lord of the nine-gated city, not acting, not causing action.
It does not create the means of action, or the action itself, or the union of result and action; all these arise from Nature.
Nor does it partake of anyone’s virtuous or evil actions. When knowledge of the Self is obscured by ignorance, men act badly.
Here are the poems from Rabi’a, the beloved 8th century Sufi mystic, followed by two more from Hadwijch II, the lesser known but quite extraordinary 13th century Christian beguine. Note how both give the same teaching as the Gita with just a few strokes of the pen. Fyi, the images at the top of this post are Hadwijch facing Rabi’a.
I am fully qualified to work as a doorkeeper, and for this reason:
What is inside me, I don’t let out;
What is outside me, I don’t let in.
If someone comes in, he goes right out again—
He has nothing to do with me at all.
I am a Doorkeeper of the Heart, not a lump of wet clay. -Rabi’a (tr. by Charles Upton)
O my Lord,
if I worship you
from fear of hell, burn me in hell.
If I worship you
from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.
But if I worship you
for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face. -Rabi’a (tr. by Jane Hirshfield)
the world’s things
Then the Naked
can grow wide,
embracing all -Hadewijch II (tr. by Jane Hirshfield)
You who want
seek the Oneness
the clear mirror
already waiting -Hadewijch II (tr. by Jane Hirshfield)
Finally, here’s audio of opening chanting that includes om tara tuttare ture swaha and om namah shivaya with a short dharana at the end weaving these two beautiful mantras together…
Here’s a short dharana leading into the classic version of om namah shivaya with a short dharana at the endleading into silent meditation:
MAY 8, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK # 11: STILLNESS, THE MIRACLE CURE
“He who finds peace and joy
and radiance within himself—
that man becomes one with God
and vanishes into God’s bliss.” [5.24]
We’re now about four months into the Trump presidency which is unfolding pretty much exactly as everyone familiar with the ways of Trump predicted. Well maybe not exactly. I mean who could have envisioned the bizarre drama of just these last ten days. I knew chaos, bigotry, nepotism, and greed would reign. But the naked compulsion is dizzying. I keep going back to two lines from this week’s Gita verses: “When knowledge of the Self is obscured by ignorance, men act badly.” Yes and yes.
There’s in interesting piece about Evan Williams, a founder of Twitter, in today’s NY Times. Here’s someone who tragically believed that creating an online platform where people could speak freely and exchange ideas would make the world a better place. But Williams, like so many other utopian entrepreneurs did not understand that until we address much deeper issues of human consciousness, “progress” and power, any good idea, democracy, socialism, capitalism, the internet… will ultimately be co-opted by the patriarchal mindset otherwise known as tyranny….
A few years ago, Twitter was viewed as a tool of liberation. It enabled, some believed, the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East. Twitter, like the internet itself, was putting tyranny on a short leash.
Then the narrative turned darker, with the rise of trolling on the platform.
President Trump has said he believes Twitter put him in the White House. Recently, Mr. Williams heard the claim for the first time….
“It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that,” he said finally. “If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”
I’m still behind in my posting here so what follows is audio from May 8th. That class constellated around Chapter Five of the Gita, The Yoga of Renunciation. I think the word “renunciation” has been tainted in patriarchal traditions that equate self-punishing penance with spiritual growth. In my observation, that form of renunciation breeds repression way more than enlightenment.
I am however, a great believer in renouncing the narratives of self that rule our lives. Dropping the story, as we say; getting out from under the pathology of attachment and what we call in Yoga, “wrong identification.” That’s a form of renunciation I fully support. That’s a form of renunciation that if applied worldwide would be the miracle that truly did make the world a better place. A much better place. I know, I know, dream on…
Here’s this week’s talk which I’ve divided into two parts. The first is a rather freewheeling contemplation on Chapter 5 of the Gita as it relates to identity, the finite, the infinite, compassion, and my new green chair. The second is the last five minutes of the talk and focuses exclusively on Kuan Yin and Steady Wisdom.
Here are the verses we read from Chapter Five.
The resolute in yoga surrender results, and gain perfect peace; the irresolute, attached to results, are bound by everything they do.
Calmly renouncing all action, the embodied Self dwells at east as lord of the nine-gated city, not acting, not causing action.
Nor does it partake of anyone’s virtuous or evil actions. When knowledge of the Self is obscured by ignorance, man act badly.
But when ignorance is completely destroyed, then the light of wisdom shines like the midday sun and illumines what is supreme.
Contemplating That, inspired and rooted and absorbed in That, men reach the state of true freedom from which there is no rebirth.
Freed from the endless cycle of birth and death, they can act impartially toward all beings, since to them all beings are the same.
They do not rejoice in good fortune; they do not lament at bad fortune; lucid, with minds and unshaken, they remain within what is real.
A man unattached to sensations, who finds fulfillment in the Self, whose mind has become pure freedom, attains an imperishable joy.
Pleasures from eternal objects are wombs of suffering Arjuna. They have their beginnings and their ends; no wise man seeks joy among them.
He who finds peace and joy and radiance within himself— that man becomes one with God and vanishes into God’s bliss.
The wise man cleansed of his sins, who has cut off all separation, who delights in the welfare of all beings, vanishes into God’s bliss.
Knowing me as the enjoyer of all worship, the Lord of all worlds, the dearest friend of all beings, that man gains perfect peace.
Here are clips of chanting from May 8th. I just got a new microphone which will hopefully make a difference in the sound quality of class recordings from May 22 on. Please bear with the way-too-loud harmonium drone until then.
Here’s the Opening Tara chanting:
Here’s Kuan Yin:
And here’s another clip of my solo chanting before class begins….
MAY 1, 2017: BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #10: BETTER THAN ANY RITUAL IS THE WORSHIP ACHIEVED THROUGH WISDOM; WISDOM IS THE FINAL GOAL OF EVERY ACTION, ARJUNA. [IV, 33] WHEN YOU REALIZE IT, YOU WILL NEVER FALL BACK INTO DELUSION; KNOWING IT, YOU SEE ALL BEINGS IN YOURSELF, AND YOURSELF IN ME. [IV, 35]
Today is Mother’s Day, a day my communist-leaning mother decried as a phony holiday created by merchants to get people shopping. We were not allowed to spend a cent for Mother’s Day. Our gifts and cards had to be made by hand.
My mom was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1916, the first-born child of my Eastern European immigrant grandparents. Then came a brother, later a sister, and then, after a decade or so of prosperity, the Great Depression wiped out everything they had. My grandfather lost his job. My grandmother had to find work as a seamstress. And my mother had to leave school to help support the family. 25 years later, she and my dad owned a successful business and had everything money could buy. She never again wanted for anything and lived deep into her 90’s. But those depression scars never left her. They formed the backdrop of how she moved through life.
She always worked hard and lived a life of the mind. She questioned everything, read voraciously, and never stopped learning. In these things she inspired me to do the same. Although she would not have understood the Bhagavad Gita, were I to explain the underlying meaning, leaving out all the God-talk she so despised, she would have wholeheartedly approved. In her own way she was a woman of wisdom. I think of her today with great love and fondness.
Here’s to you Mom.
I’ve been slammed the last couple of weeks and am running two weeks behind on the blog. I’m posting May 1 here tonight. Will hopefully get May 8 and May 15 up by the end this week.
Here’s the opening dharana:
Here’s my interesting and in some places hilarious talk covering everything from Facebook to White Supremacists and redemption..
Here are the verses we read from the Gita. These are from Chapter IV:
When a man has let go attachments, when his mind is rooted in wisdom, everything he does is worship and his actions all melt away.
God is the offering, God is the offered, poured out by God; God is attained by all those who see God in every action.
Some men of yoga pray to the gods, and make this their worship; some offer worship by worship itself, in the fire of God; [23-25]
….All these understand worship; by worship they are cleansed of sin.
Partaking of the essence of worship, forever they are freed of themselves; but non-worshippers cannot be happy in this world or any other.
Thus, many forms of worship may lead to freedom Arjuna. All these are born of action. When you know this, you will be free.
Better than any ritual is the worship achieved through wisdom; wisdom is the final goal of every action, Arjuna.
Find a wise teacher, honor him, ask him your questions, serve him; someone who has seen the truth will guide you on the path to wisdom.
When you realize it, you will never fall back into delusion; knowing it, you see all beings in yourself, and yourself in me.
Even if you were the most evil of evildoers, Arjuna, wisdom is the boat that would carry you across the sea of all sin.
Just as firewood is turned to ashes in the flames of a fire, all actions are turned to ashes in wisdom’s refining flames.
Nothing in the world can purify as powerfully as wisdom; practiced in yoga, you will find this wisdom within yourself.
Resolute, restraining his senses, the man of faith becomes wise; once he attains true wisdom, he soon attains perfect peace.
Ignorant men without faith are easily mired in doubt; they can never be truly happy in this world or the world beyond.
A man is not bound by action who renounces action through yoga, who concentrates on the Self, and whose doubt is cut off by wisdom.
Therefore, with the sword of wisdom cut off this doubt in your heart; follow the path of selfless action; stand up, Arjuna! [30-42]
Here’s the poem I read from Hakim Sanai, whose full name is Hakim Abul-Majd Majdūd ibn Ādam Sanā’ī Ghaznavi. Sanai was a Persian poet who lived in Ghazni between the 11th and 12th century in what is now Afghanistan.
There is no place for place! How can a place house the maker of all space, or the vast sky enclose the maker of heaven?
He told me: “I am a homeless treasure. The world was made to give you a place to stand and see me.”
Tell me, if the one you seek is placeless, why put your shoes on? The real road is found by polishing, polishing the mirror of your heart.
Here’s audio of class chanting. As usual, apologies for the sound quality. New microphone coming soon…
And here’s a short clip I recorded before class. I always arrive early to chant alone in the room, but never bother recording myself. Thought I’d try that so here you go:
APRIL 24, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #9. WHEN A MAN HAS LET GO OF ATTACHMENTS, WHEN HIS MIND IS ROOTED IN WISDOM, EVERYTHING HE DOES IS WORSHIP AND HIS ACTIONS ALL MELT AWAY. GOD IS THE OFFERING, GOD IS THE OFFERED, POURED OUT BY GOD; GOD IS ATTAINED BY ALL THOSE WHO SEE GOD IN EVERY ACTION. [4.23-24]
I grew up without religious training or tradition. In our house, God was a strange word, rarely spoken, mostly disdained. So when I stumbled onto the yogic path and met Baba Muktananda, his core teaching, God dwells within you as you, struck me as the most radical thing I’d ever heard. It also struck me as absolutely true. So while the word itself is loaded and after all these many years still gives me a jolt, I do love the Gita verse I’ve quoted above: God is the offering, God is the offered, poured out by God; God is attained by all those who see God in every action. Yes!
Today we’re 99 days into the age of Trump. I keep thinking of the Upanishadic concept, neti neti, “not this, not this.” Anyone needing an example of everything that is not-God, need look no further than the Trump White House and Republican agenda, where neti neti, not-God, not-God, is on display day in day out…
Tomorrow is the People’s Climate March, happening on Trump’s hundredth day in office. If you’re on the fence about being part of this massive action, here’s a link to help you find a sister march.
I’ve lately been re-reading William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. On the profoundly connected subjects of the climate march and God,I’ll leave you with two of my favorite quotes:
When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!
For every thing that lives is Holy.
We’re back to Monday Night Class after a two-week break, digging into the Bhagavad Gita: Chapter Four, The Yoga of Wisdom. This is a very rich topic that lends itself to parallel readings. Here’s audio of my rather free-wheeling dharma talk. It begins with a lovely commentary connecting the Tara mantra to our readings of the Gita. I also brought in a lovely hasidic story and beautiful passage from a Mary Oliver essay on Walt Whitman. Enjoy.
Here are this week’s verses from the Gita:
Actions cannot defile me, since I am indifferent to results; all those who understand this will not be bound by their actions.
This is how actions were done by the ancient seekers of freedom; follow their example: act, surrendering the fruits of action.
What are action and inaction? This matter confuses even wise men; so I will teach you and free you from any harm.
You must realize what action is, what wrong action and inaction are as well. The true nature of action is profound, and difficult to fathom.
He who can see inaction in the midst of action, and action in the midst of inaction, is wise and can act in the spirit of yoga.
With no desire for success, no anxiety about failure, indifferent to results, he burns up his actions in the fire of wisdom.
Surrendering all thoughts of outcome, unperturbed, self-reliant, he does nothing at all, even when fully engaged in actions.
There is nothing that he expects, nothing that he fears. Serene, free from possessions, untainted, acting with the body alone,
content with whatever happens, unattached to pleasure or pain, success or failure, he acts and is never bound by his action.
When a man has let go of attachments, when his mind is rooted in wisdom, everything he does is worship and his actions all melt away.
God is the offering, God is the offered, poured out by God; God is attained by all those who see God in every action. [4.14-24]
Here are the parallel readings:
As the power of deliverance Tara is related to the goddess Durga, who similarly takes us across all difficulties. Hence she is also called Durga-Tara. Whereas Durga represents the power that overcomes or destroys obstacles and difficulties, Tara is the power which takes us beyond them. While Durga is more appropriate to call on in extreme danger wherein we need help against negative forces assailing us, Tara has the additional power to lift us up in life generally. Tara is the power to transcend all things. She not only lifts us beyond dangers but allows us to rise beyond our achievements and accomplishments to higher levels of realization. As the ultimate obstacle we have to cross over is our own mind, Tara provides the power to take us beyond the turbulent waves of our thought currents….
[David Frawley, Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses]
I celebrate myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I loaf and invite my soul, I lean and loaf at my ease…observing a spear of summer grass.
In these lines the great work has begun, and the secret of success has been given. And what is that great labor? Out-circling interest, sympathy, empathy, transference of focus from the self to all else; the merging of the lonely single self with the wondrous, never-lonely entirety. This is all.
[Mary Oliver, Upstream]
A man who lived in the same town as Rabbi Zusya saw that he was very poor. So each day he went to the house of prayer and left twenty pennies so that Zusya and his family might eat. From that time on, the man grew richer and richer. The more he had, the more he gave Zusya, and the more he gave Zusya, the more he had.
One day he recalled that Zusya was the disciple of the great master, Rabbi Baer of Mezritch—and it occurred to him that if what he gave the disciple was so lavishly rewarded, he might become even more prosperous if he made presents to the master himself. So he travelled to Mezritch and made a substantial gift to Baer. From this time on, his means shrank until he lost all the profits he had made during the more fortunate period.
Taking his troubles to Rabbi Zusya, he told him the whole story and asked what his present predicament was due to. For had not the rabbi himself told him that his master was immeasurably greater than he?
Zusya replied: “Look! As long as you gave and did not bother to whom, whether to Zusya or another, God gave to you and did not bother to whom. But when you began to seek out especially noble and distinguished recipients, God did exactly the same.”
[Jack Kornfield, Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart]
Finally, here’s audio of class chanting. This is the Tara mantra resolving into Om Namah Shivaya. This clip has a long slow fade-in so you may hear silence for the first 20 seconds.At around 3.40 minutes, I add a dharana on how these two mantras so beautifully complement and hold one another…
As I marvel at the scandals, ethics violations, incompetence and subterfuge dominating the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, I keep thinking of the stories of the Mahabharata that form the backdrop of the Bhagavad Gita. There we have a horrendous war between two dynasties with a tangled web of betrayals. Betrayals that include really bad treatment of women, cheating, jealousy, revenge, and backroom deals. By the end of the war, both sides have been decimated. Sound familiar. I could be writing about our current political landscape.
And in the midst of the Mahabharata, right there on the battlefield of a war to end all wars, comes the Bhagavad Gita. It’s astonishing really when you think about it. Before the first arrow has been loosed, we’re given a complete exposition of the yogic path, shown step by step how we become truly human.
Coming as it does at this moment in the epic gives even more potency to the possibility inherent in the teaching. That even in the midst of greed-driven madness, we can hold onto ourselves, retain our equanimity, and stand up for dharma. In fact, we must. And to those who distort the meaning of the Gita, seeing it as a handbook for domination and war, I think this single verse sets that record straight:
Though the unwise cling to their actions, watching for results, the wise are free of attachments, and act for the well-being of the whole world. [3.25]
If you ever need a standard for right action, there it is. “The wise are free of attachments and act for the well-being of the whole world.”
Since I’ve been unable to keep this blog current, I’m doubling up audio and poems from the last two February classes. I’ll try to get all of March up in the next week…
FEBRUARY 13, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK#3: “THE WISE MAN WHOSE INSIGHT IS FIRM, RELINQUISHING THE FRUITS OF ACTION, IS FREED FROM THE BONDAGE OF REBIRTH AND ATTAINS THE PLACE BEYOND SORROW.”
1. I don’t know what sort of God we have been talking about.
The caller calls in a loud voice to the Holy One at dusk.
Why? Surely the Holy One is not deaf. He hears the delicate anklets that ring on the feet of an insect as it walks.
Go over and over your beads, paint weird designs on your forehead, wear your hair matted, long, and ostentatious, but when deep inside you there is a loaded gun, how can you have God.
2. Friend, please tell me what I can do about this world I hold to, and keep spinning out! I gave up sewn clothes, and wore a robe, but I noticed one day the cloth was well woven.
So I bought some burlap, but I still throw it elegantly over my left shoulder.
I pulled back my sexual longings, and now I discover that I’m angry a lot.
I gave up rage, and now I notice that I am greedy all day.
I worked hard at dissolving the greed, and now I am proud of myself.
When the mind wants to break its link with the world it still holds on to one thing.
Kabir says: Listen my friend, there are very few that find the path!
3. The spiritual athlete often changes the color of his clothes, and his mind remains gray and loveless.
He sits inside a shrine room all day, so that the Guest has to go outdoors and praise the rocks.
Or he drills holes in his ears, his hair grows enormous and matted, people mistake him for a goat… He goes out into wilderness areas, strangles his impulses, and makes himself neither male nor female…
He shaves his skull, puts his robe in an orange vat, reads the Bhagavad-Gita, and becomes a terrific talker.
Kabir says: Actually you are going in a hearse to the country of death, bound hand and foot!
FEBRUARY 27, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #4: THE MIND IS A MASTER AT BURNING US OUT… “WHEN A MAN GIVES UP ALL DESIRES THAT EMERGE FROM THE MIND, AND RESTS CONTENTED IN THE SELF BY THE SELF, HE IS CALLED A MAN OF FIRM WISDOM.”
Alongside the Gita verses, I re-read one of last week’s Kabir poems and one other from his canon and one from Mary Oliver’s House of Light.
Here’s the Kabir:
I said to the wanting-creature inside me: What is this river you want to cross? There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road. Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or resting? There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman. There is no towrope either, and no one to pull it. There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!
And there is no body, and no mind! Do you believe there is some place that will make the soul less thirsty? In that great absence you will find nothing.
Be strong then, and enter into your own body; there you have a solid place for your feet. Think about it carefully! Don’t go off somewhere else! Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things, and stand firm in that which you are.
And here’s the Mary Oliver:
Five A.M. in the Pinewoods
I’d seen their hoof prints in the deep needles and knew they ended the long night
under the pines, walking like two mute and beautiful women toward the deeper woods, so I
got up in the dark and went there. They came slowly down the hill and looked at me sitting under
the blue trees, shyly they stepped closer and stared from under their thick lashes and even
nibbled some damp tassels of weeds. This is not a poem about a dream, though it could be.
This is a poem about the world that is ours, or could be. Finally one of them — I swear it! —
would have come to my arms. But the other stamped sharp hoof in the pine needles like
the tap of sanity, and they went off together through the trees. When I woke I was alone,
I was thinking: so this is how you swim inward, so this is how you flow outward, so this is how you pray.
FEBRUARY 6, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #2: NONBEING CAN NEVER BE; BEING CAN NEVER NOT BE. BOTH THESE STATEMENTS ARE OBVIOUS TO THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN THE TRUTH.
Soon after we began reading the Bhagavad Gita, I was listening to a radio news show, I think it was NPR’s All Things Considered, and learned that Steve Bannon is a big fan of the Gita. Checking this out online, I discovered that Heinrich Himmler was also an admirer. He evidently kept a leather bound copy with him at all times. So we have Bannon, the architect of Trump’s policy agenda, and Himmler, the architect of the Nazi “Final Solution,” twisting the ideal of dharma to serve their twisted worldview. Two sociopaths fixated on the Gita’s notion of righteous war to justify their own pathologies. If you want an example of the dangers of belief, I give you this: Himmler believed Hitler was an incarnation of Krishna. One can only hope Bannon is not similarly deluded about the monster he serves.
It does give one pause.
And begs the question: How do we discern truth from belief?
The Bhagavad Gita may use the notion of “righteous war” to start a conversation. But the conversation is not about war. It’s about consciousness. The conversation between Arjuna and Krishna is a mirror of the conversation that goes on inside of us all the time. The conversation between the small self or ego (what we refer to in Yoga as the “I-maker”) and the Great Self of the Heart. And by “Heart,” I mean the ineffable hugeness that doesn’t speak in words. It’s more like a quivering or shimmering from deep within us. In those miraculous moments when we ground there, we embody everything the Gita teaches. In fact, in those miraculous moments, we are the Gita.
What Bannon doesn’t understand now and what Himmler didn’t understand then, is that we don’t go to war against the “other,” we go to war against that inside of us which creates the idea of “other.” We go to war inside of ourselves against the notion that we are somehow separate from and entitled to destroy that “other.” We go to war against this outmoded paradigm that has always been questionable and has demonstrated over a few thousand years that the only thing it excels at is making a tremendous mess of everything it touches.
We have to read the Gita the same way we should live our lives. We have to slip beneath the surface, read between the lines. We have to probe deeper and deeper, within a text, within ourselves, until the mind becomes so spacious, so still, that the “I”’ that drives the historical, cultural, psycho-emotional, and spiritual narratives that rule us ceases to be. Only in that stillness is the possibility of insight, and only in that insight, the possibility of truth. Anything that comes before that must be questioned.
I was talking with someone recently who was feeling very uncertain about her own gifts, and along with that, judging herself for not being more certain. This is the trap of dualistic thinking. It’s not about hard-edged certainty or soft edgeless uncertainty. Certainty and uncertainty are opposite poles of a stuckness that is quite destructive either way. What we want to develop is clarity. Which is neither certainty nor uncertainty. It’s just clarity. In that koan-like way Verse 2.16 so eloquently sings: “Nonbeing can never be; being can never not be. Both these statements are obvious to those who have seen the truth.’
Here’s my dharma talk from February 6. Which was Bhagavad Gita Talk #2, a rather freewheeling contemplation on the first forty or so verses from Chapter Two, The Practice of Yoga.
Here are the verses from this talk. (If you’re visiting this blog for the first time, please note we’re working with Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita. See my last post for more on that.)
Although you mean well, Arjuna your sorrow is sheer delusion. Wise men do not grieve for the dead or the living.
Never was there a time when I did not exist, or you, or these kings; nor will there come a time when we cease to be.
Just as, in this body, the Self passes through childhood, youth, and old age, so after death it passes to another body.
Physical sensations—cold and heat, pleasure and pain — are transient: they come and go: so bear them patiently, Arjuna.
Only the man who is unmoved by any sensations, the wise man indifferent to pleasure, to pain, is fit for becoming deathless.
Nonbeing can never be; being can never not be. Both these statements are obvious to those who have seen the truth.
The presence that pervades the universe is imperishable, unchanging, beyond both is and is not: how could it ever vanish?
These bodies come to an end; but the vast embodied Self is ageless, fathomless, eternal. Therefore you must fight, Arjuna.
If you think the Self can kill or think that it can be killed, you do not well understand reality’s subtle ways.
It never was born; coming to be, it will never not be. Birthless, primordial, it does not die when the body dies.
Knowing that it is eternal, unborn, beyond destruction, how could you ever kill? And whom could you kill, Arjuna?
Just as you throw out used clothes and put on other clothes, new ones, the Self discards its used bodies and puts on others that are new.
The sharpest sword will not pierce it; the hottest flame will not singe it; water will not make it moist; wind will not cause it to wither.
It cannot be pierced or singed, moistened or withered; it is vast, perfect and all-pervading, calm, immovable, timeless.
It is called the Inconceivable, the Unmanifest, the unchanging. If you understand it in this way, you have no reason for sorrow.
Even if you think that the Self is perpetually born and perpetually dies—even then, Arjuna, you have no reason for your sorrow.<
Before birth, beings are unmanifest; between birth and death, manifest; at death, unmanifest again. What cause for grief in all this?
Some perceive it directly in all its awesomeness; others hear of it and never know it.
This Self who dwells in the body is inviolable, forever; therefore you have no cause to grieve for any being Arjuna.
Know what your duty is and do it without hesitation/ For a warrior, there is nothing better than a battle that duty enjoins.
Blessed are the warriors who are given the chance of a battle like this, which calls them to do what is right and opens the gates of heaven.
But if you refuse the call to a righteous war, and shrink from what duty and honor dictate, you will bring down ruin on your head.
Decent men, for all time, will talk about your disgrace; and disgrace, for a man of honor, is a fate far worse than death.
These great heroes will think that fear has driven you from battle; all those who once esteemed you will think of you with contempt.
And your enemies will sneer and mock you: “The mighty Arjuna, that brave man— he slunk from the field like a dog.” What deeper shame could there be?
If you are killed, you gain heaven; triumph and you gain the earth. Therefore stand up, Arjuna; steady your mind to fight.
Indifferent to gain or loss, to victory or defeat, prepare yourself for the battle and do not succumb to sin.
This is philosophy’s wisdom: now hear the wisdom of yoga. Armed with this understanding, you will shatter your karmic bonds.
On this path no effort is wasted, no gain is ever reversed; even a little of this practice will shelter you from great sorrow.
And as often is the case, the final word goes to Mary Oliver:
HOW TURTLES COME TO SPEND THE WINTER IN THE AQUARIUM, THEN ARE FLOWN SOUTH AND RELEASED BACK INTO THE SEA
Somewhere down beach, in the morning, at water’s edge, I found a sea turtle, its huge head a smoldering apricot, its shell streaming with seaweed, its eyes closed, its flippers motionless. When I bent down, it moved a little. When I picked it up, it sighed. Was it forty pounds, or fifty pounds, or a hundred? Was it two miles back to the car? We walked a little while, and then we rested, and then we walked on I walked with my mouth open, my heart roared. The eyes opened, I don’t know what they thought. Sometimes the flippers swam at the air. Sometimes the eyes closed. I couldn’t walk anymore, and then I walked some more while it turned into granite, or cement, but with that apricot-colored head, that stillness, that Buddha-like patience, that cold-shocked but slowly beating heart. Finally, we reached the car.
The afternoon is the other part of this story. Have you ever found something beautiful, and maybe just in time? How such a challenge can fill you! Jesus could walk over the water. I had to walk ankle-deep in the sand, and I did it. My bones didn’t quite snap.
Come on in, and see me smile. I probably won’t stop for hours. Already, in the warmth, the turtle has raised its head, is looking around. Today, who could deny it, I am an important person.
I was ill for much of January, brought to my knees by the flu. Confined to bed and couch, the key word was surrender. Each time I tried to go vertical before horizontal was done with me, I found myself crashing back down. Which had me thinking a lot about the Sumerian myth of Inanna’s Descent. In this story, Inanna, Queen of Heaven & Earth must descend to the Underworld realm of her sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Dark Below. If you know the story, you’ll remember Inanna must pass through seven gates, surrendering an article of clothing at each one. So she arrives in the Underworld, “naked and bowed low.” Inanna’s chief hindrance is pride. Within moments of coming into Ereshkigal’s presence, she insults her, and ends up hanging on a meat hook for three days. A rather drastic purification, but this is the Dark Below. No sugarcoating of Reality down here…
Which is pretty much how I felt during the worst days of the flu. Illness does this, stripping us down to bare essence.
Descents can be physically devastating and emotionally brutal. So we need to learn to honor our descent time, holding onto awareness as we make the journey down. Counter-intuitive though it sounds, the more we embrace descent, surrendering to the fertile darkness, the more we return from the journey, renewed, refreshed, and inspired. In Devi Yoga, we call this process The Kali Work.
Here’s a dharma talk, inspired by the notion of descent, from January 1.28.13. I was somewhere between the under and above worlds when I gave this talk. Feeling well enough to teach class, I was far from recovered. This is therefore not the most coherent talk I’ve ever given, but the points are worth making. I’ll also include chanting clips and text from the excerpt I read from Stephen Mitchell’s excellent translation of Bhagavad Gita.
Here’s an audio clip of my dharma talk:
This class opened with chanting of the Navarna mantra. Regular visitors to this Blog will by now have discerned that this mantra is a regular part of our practice. Although the seed syllables are associated with other deity fields, the heart of the mantra, Chamunda, is an extremely potent aspect — perhaps the most potent aspect — of the deity field personified in the Indian tradition as Kali Ma. The Sumerians drew her as Ereshkigal. It really doesn’t matter how we name or image the archetype. And much as I love goddess theology, to reduce it to goddess form is like playing with dolls. This is the primal power of Truth, the internal force that pulsates around and through our authenticity. This is the power of consciousness that destroys the ties that bind us, demolishing thieves of the heart, and drawing us down, into the luminous vortex of Self. So we don’t want to contemplate Descent without paying homage to this radiant force…
Here’s text from Stephen Mitchell’s beautiful translation and commentary on Bhagavad Gita: