April 12, 2017, Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

Equinox w.o axis

MARCH 20, 2017: BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #6: THE YOGA OF PAYING ATTENTION “IN THIS WORLD THERE ARE TWO MAIN PATHS: THE YOGA OF UNDERSTANDING FOR CONTEMPLATIVE MEN; AND FOR MEN WHO ARE ACTIVE, THE YOGA OF ACTION.”

As I sit here writing, we are 84 days into the Age of Trump. If there was not so much at stake, we could chalk the madness up to dark comedy. Alas, it is actually happening. And the dizzying, psychotic mess that is the Trump regime is overwhelming at best, terrifying at worst, and just plain crazy-making in between. If you’ve spent time in the company of people at this end of the psychological spectrum, you know how easy it is to lose yourself in a twisted dance of wrong is right, down is up, and 2+2=5. While it’s good to see things from all sides, when one of those sides is bat-crap crazy, the balance is seriously disturbed.

It’s been extremely gratifying to see the pushback and results coming from the Resistance Movement. And we cannot let up for a moment. What we need to guard against however, is being pulled into the vortex of reactivity. We have to get really real inside of ourselves, pushing hard against unconscious motivation and drives. We need to act from truth, clarity, and a huge depth of wisdom. And thoughtful reading of the Bhagavad Gita is very helpful in this regard. At its core, this text reminds us to wake up, pay attention, and act for the benefit of all. It’s a powerful message that is, I know, much easier said than done. Nevertheless, if we are to right the nightmare of the Age of Trump, and I include in that nightmare all the wrongheaded agendas that brought us here, it is essential.

Here’s my dharma talk from March 20th. It was the Vernal Equinox so this talk opens with a short dharana welcoming Spring and constellates around Chapter 3 of the Gita.

 

Here are some verses from the chapter:

The superior man is he
whose mind can control his senses;
with no attachment to results,
he engages in the yoga of action. 3.7

The whole world becomes a slave
to its own activity, Arjuna;
if you want to be truly free,
perform all actions as worship. 3.

Without concern for results,
perform the necessary action;
surrendering all attachments,
accomplish life’s highest good. 3.19

Only by selfless action
did Janaka and other wise kings
govern, and thus assure
the well-being of the whole world. 3.20

Whatever a great man does
ordinary people will do;
whatever standard he sets
everyone else will follow. 3.21

Here are the Mary Oliver Poems I read:

TODAY

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really, I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

THE MOTH, THE MOUNTAINS, THE RIVERS

Who can guess the Luna’s sadness who lives so
briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone
longing to be ground down, to be part again of
something livelier? Who can imagine in what
heaviness the rivers remember their original
clarity?

Strange questions yet I have spent worthwhile
time with them. And I suggest them to you also,
that your spirit grow in curiosity, that your life
be richer than it is, that you bow to the earth as
you feel how it actually is that we—so clever, and
ambitious, and selfish, and unrestrained—are only
one design of the moving, the vivacious many.

If you’d like to read the NY Times article by Joel Whitebook I referenced in my talk, click here.

And a PS to my previous post. Here are some beautiful verses from the Jnaneshwari commenting on the Gita’s teaching on stitha prajna, steady wisdom.

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.

 

Monday, July 9, 2012

This week’s class focused on one sutra. I thought the dawning of wisdom deserved an evening unto itself.

III, 5
Once the perfect discipline of consciousness is mastered,
wisdom dawns.
Just to reiterate, Patanjali’s Book III concerns itself with the final three limbs of classical yoga:  concentration (dharana), meditation/absorption (dhyana) and integration (samadhi). These three limbs form the perfect discipline of consciousness, aka samyama, referred to in the above sutra.
If you imagine the mind/body system as myriad layers of consciousness, some clear, some dense, some hard, some soft, some open, some closed, some sticky, some slippery — you get where I’m going with this — you can see why it’s so hard to get the whole mess integrated. All this to say the practice of samyama  does not come easily. We have to work at it. The mind is a slippery instrument, more often attuned to the kleshas, than its innate wisdom. [Should you want to review the kleshas, go to the May 2011 archive]. Yet wisdom, like the sun, is always blazing. We may be oblivious to its light. That doesn’t mean it’s not here. Which is why taking a moment to turn within can evoke a profound sense of clarity, calm, insight, or wisdom. Of course, Patanjali’s technology for yoking the mind/body system is designed so those moments of clarity, calm, insight, and wisdom stretch into the norm.
This week’s dharma talk attempts to unpack some of the above:
For reasons that will become clear over the next few weeks, I’m feeling a connection between the teachings and practices I’ve come to call the Laksmi Work and our current immersion in Patanjali Book III. More on that as it unfolds. For now, suffice to say we opened class chanting the Laksmi-Murti-Mantra combined with the Dhumavati Bija. I’ll write these mantras out for those unfamiliar with them and also include a clip of the actual chanting:
Here are the mantras:
Here’s an audio clip of the chanting:
Contemplating wisdom inspired me to go down the rabbit hole of parallel teachings:
From the Laksmi Tantra:
I am recognized by the wise as the bliss and tranquility inherent in each state of being. Though that is my true nature, [the individual] does not experience me spontaneously. However, after receiving a mere particle of my anugrahashakti [grace], she discovers me instantaneously…Then after propitiating me by various means [i.e. samyama], the jiva [individual soul] washes away all the kleshas and blows away the dust of impressions; whereby the jiva that has already severed its fetters through meditation, fuses with true knowledge [aka wisdom] and attains me, who am Laksmi and whose nature is supreme bliss.
From the Jneshwari:

 What is action? What is inaction? Thus, even the wise are confused in this matter. This action, I shall explain to you, having known which, you shall be released from evil [i.e. the lack of wisdom].

 One must know the nature of action, the nature of wrong action, and also the nature of inaction. The way of action is profound.

 He who perceives inaction in action, and action is inaction is wise among men; he is is a yogi and performs all actions.

 Such a person seems like other people, but he is not affected by human nature like the sun which cannot be drowned in water.

 He sees the world without seeing it, does everything without doing it, and enjoys all pleasures without being involved in them.

 Though he is seated in one place, he travels everywhere, for even while in the body he has become the universe.

From the Ashtavakra Gita:

1.
The wise man knows the Self,
And he plays the game of life.
 
But the fool lives in the world
Like a beast of burden.
 

2.
The true seeker feels no elation,
Even in that exalted state
Which Indra and all the gods
Unhappily long for.
 

3.
He understands the nature of things.
 
His heart is not smudged
By right or wrong,
As the sky is not smudged by smoke.
 

4.
He is pure of heart,
He knows the whole world is only the Self…
 

5.
Of the four kinds of being…
Only the wise man is strong enough
To give up desire and aversion.

From Lalleshwari , tr. by Coleman Barks

The soul, like the moon,
is new, and always new again.

And I have seen the ocean
continuously creating.

Since I scoured my mind
and my body, I too, Lalla,
am new, each moment, new.

My teacher told me one thing,
Live in the soul.

When that was so,
I began to go naked,
and dance.

Trying to be Thoughtful in the First Brights of Dawn
-Mary Oliver

I am thinking, or trying to think, about all the
imponderables for which we have
no answers, yet endless interest all the
range of our lives, and it’s

 
good for the head no doubt to undertake such
meditation; Mystery, after all,
is God’s other name, and deserves our

 
considerations surely. But, but —
excuse me now, please; it’s morning, heavenly bright,
and my irrepressible heart begs me to hurry on
into the next exquisite moment.

[w/ humble apologies to MO for this blog template’s refusal to format her poem as written…]