Monday, July 6, 2015: What We Say is Way Less Important Than What We Are…

We’re currently in a cycle of teachings that constellate around a very important piece of inner work: the balancing act of creativity – how we express ourselves to ourselves and in the world — and compassion – how we interact within ourselves and in the larger world. When these two aspects are out of balance, we open ourselves to all kinds of not so great mental/emotional states. Creativity not held in compassion can be crippling while compassion not held in creativity can be devouring. When they work together however, we can truly live in Beauty…

Along with the exploration/contemplation of Creativity and Compassion, I’ve been adding a parallel immersion of mantras of the sun ….This has been a very rich and profoundly integrative cycle of teachings and practice. I will most likely gather these talks into a small book to be offered as a companion piece to our new album, Volume II of The Mantra Project. This album was initially inspired by the surya namaskar mantras and has now expanded to include all mantras of the sun. We’re looking at a late fall release.

In the meantime, I want to begin posting dharma talks from this time.

Here’s my dharma talk from June 8, which this blog post is titled after:

Here is my talk from June 1:

And here is the introductory talk I gave back in April that introduced this cycle of teachings to Monday Night Class.

There are many poems and other readings from this time that I will post here over the coming weeks. Slowly making progress in that endeavor. For now, please enjoy these talks.

March 10, 2015: Poems for the Inner Journey

Spring arrives Friday, March 20th at 6:45 PM EDT. And while the light has been returning since the solstice turn, there is something about the equinox, not to mention daylight savings time, that makes it all seem more, how can I say, official. Not that the cosmic movements need any official validation from us mere mortals….

Nevertheless, to honor the light and it’s lengthening return, we’ve been chanting myriad rounds of gayatri-mantra each week. For those visitors to this blog who do not actually attend class — and also for those who do not own the version of gayatri we recorded on our 2014 music release, Daughter of the Mountain, I’m including that as a small gift…

I’m posting poems I read at the last two classes.  These carry the essence of my talks. Sit with them and let them take you where they do. Audio clips of my dharma talks and class chanting will follow soon. For now, please enjoy what’s here.

Here’s the version of gayatri-mantra we created for Daughter of the Mountain. If you’re looking for a more traditional vedic style, scroll around this blog where you’ll find any number of clips from class chanting.

 

Here are poems from March 3 Monday Night Class. The theme for the evening was patience. This first poem is from Mary Oliver’s new collection, Blue Horses.

 

Such Silence
Mary Oliver
 
As deep as I ever went into the forest
I came upon an old stone bench, very, very old,
And around it a clearing, and beyond that
Trees taller and older than I had ever seen.
 
Such silence!
It really wasn’t so far from a town, but it seemed
all the clocks in the world had stopped counting.
So it was hard to suppose the usual rules applied.
 
Sometimes there’s only a hint, a possibility.
What’s magical, sometimes, has deeper roots
Than reason.
I hope everyone knows that.
 
I saw on the bench, waiting for something.
An angel, perhaps.
Or dancers with the legs of goats.
 
No, I didn’t see either. But only, I think, because
I didn’t stay long enough.

 

The second poem is from Mother of the Universe, Lex Hixon’s ecstatic versions of Ramprasad.

 

Beat the Great Drum of Fearlessness
Ramprasad/Lex Hixon
 
O longing mind,
focus all your longing on Mother Kali.
You will receive pure love and liberating knowledge
tangibly as fruits placed on the palm of the hand.
Release any lingering pride of personal power
and merge your entire being with her.
This is the worship that disappoints Death.
 
Please heed the call of Mother Reality!
Inwardly repeat Kali’s transforming name
and discover the fountain of illumination
where the thirst of her lovers is quenched,
their very being immersed in her being.
 
Infused by Goddess Wisdom,
this poet proclaims with adamantine conviction:
“Sisters and brothers, release your root obsession,
your greed, anger, pride, jealousy.
There are only forms of fear.
beat the great drum of fearlessness
and reach the final goal,
awakening as pure consciousness.”

 

The theme of March 9 Monday Night Class was something like: “get over yourself, drop the stories, drop the ego’s identification, and simply embrace what is…” And who better to express that then the great Hafiz. These three poems are from Daniel Landinsky’s The Gift.

 

Stop Being So Religious
Hafiz
 
What
Do sad people have in
Common?
 
It seems
They have all built a shrine
To the past
 
And often go there
And do a strange wail and
Worship.
 
What is the beginning of
Happiness?
 
It is to stop being
So religious
 
Like
 
That.

 

Crooked Deals
Hafiz
 
There is
A madman inside of you
Who is always running for office—
Why vote him in,
For he never keeps the accounts straight.
He gets all kinds of crooked deals
Happening all over town
That will just give you a big headache
And glue to your kisser
A gigantic
Confused
Frown.

 

The Idiot’s Warehouse
Hafiz
 
 
I know the idiot’s warehouse
Is always full.
 
I know each of us
Could run back and forth from there
All day long
 
And show everyone our vast collection.
 
Though tonight, Hafiz,
Retire from the madness for an hour,
 
Gather with some loyal friends
Or sit alone
 
And
Sing beautiful songs
 
To God.

February 16, 2015. The Lakshmi Work: Rest in Your Own Splendour

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Class resumes tonight after a long break. Back in December however, we were working with the deity field personified so beautifully in the Indian tradition as the goddess Laksmi.

One of the most beloved faces of the Sacred Feminine, it is said that when we remember Laksmi, great sins are overcome, good fortune ensues, and the great enemy ego is destroyed. On the inner plane, we experience Laksmi as a radiance that sweetens every aspect of life. This is an inner power that draws us into our full potential, enhances our innate beauty and gifts, and nurtures the possibility of our own magnificence. On the outer plane, we experience Laksmi as good fortune and grace.

What I find most interesting however, in the myths and teachings surrounding Laksmi, is often left out or glossed over. She is born from an alliance between the gods (think of the gods as your noble and/or divine possibility) and demons (the inner obstacles that cloud your way.) And it is through this alliance of opposing tendencies, and the great churning that ensues, that Laksmi comes into being. So for me, the creation myth of Laksmi has a lot to say about the process of inner transformation. It is not about discarding that which does not please us, or for that matter, that which seems to get in our way. It is about making an alliance with all the myriad aspects of ourselves and churning together, until something new and fine is created. Churning is an essential action of this mystery. If we want to realize the expansive possibility of Lasksmi within ourselves, we have to be willing to churn…

Here are audio clips from the Dec. 1 Class on Laksmi.

This is the opening dharana:

This is my dharma talk:

This is chanting of the laksmi-bija-mantra (om srim mahalaksmiyei namaha):

And the final dharana:

*****

In closing, a beautiful poem from Gabriel Rosenstock’s Year of the Goddess:

From each and every pore look how the sun beams
On your eternal dance
The dark side of the moon is bright
If you open Your mouth
Stars will escape and chant their hymns for You
You are they
Swiftly swans fly backwards
How can I imagine Your embrace
Without exploding in Your galaxy?

And note from the poet on a literary device he uses which strikes me as extraordinarily mantric in the way sound and meaning are embedded deeper and deeper within the words… So that each word becomes like those Russian dolls, within and within and within…

Some words in this poem sequence are ‘shaded’ to allow for another reading of a line, or a faint echo, a game much cherished by Celtic poets of yore. Thus the reader sees the word as the world when written as world and encounters bhakti invocations such as ma (mother) hidden in the word mad!

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 13, 2014: Unveil the Self-Radiant Diamond of Your Essence

We’re moving into a cycle of wisdom teachings of the Devi tradition, expressed so beautifully in Lex Hixon’s version of this poem from Ramprasad:

 

Unveil the self-radiant diamond of your essence
Ramprasad/Hixon
 

O distracted mind,

why are you indulging in anxiety?
Be still for just the space of Kali, Kali, Kali
and concentrate your gaze on her reality.
Those who worship the Goddess with splendid ceremony
become imbued with pride.
Much better is the inward path of secret devotion,
invisible to the curious state of the world.

Why construct static images of Mother Reality
from metal, stone, straw, clay?
Allow pure mind to compose her form
from consciousness alone.
Place this living image on the heart lotys
and wait for her to come.

Why bother to gather ripe plantains
to present with ritual gestures at her feet?
She delights only in the nectar of selfless love,
offered directly and abundantly,
breath by breath.

Why worship with such profusion of jewels and lamps?
Unveil the self-radiant diamond of your essence,
O mind, and allow it alone to illuminate
the heart’s secret shrine day and night.

What sense is there to sacrifice animals
as worship of Goddess Kali,
when she desires only the death of egocentricity?
Cut through these childish dreams of separation
with her sword of nondual wisdom,
crying: “Victory to Kali! Jai Ma Kali!
May your truth of oneness triumph endlessly!”

The singer of this hymn has no need for flute or drum
but calls ecstatically to everyone:
“Clap your hands and proclaim melodiously
Ma Kali’s universal victory,
until the mind dissolves completely
into her inconceivable reality.”

The poem says it so exquisitely:

“Until the mind dissolves completely into her inconceivable reality” — i.e., the self-radiant diamond of our essential nature…

And that my friends is the path and the goal. Experiencing that, knowing that, moving into that…. That’s the practice. That’s why we practice. That, quite simply, is it.  Or as Keats put it, “that is all we need to know…”

 

* * * * * * *

Here’s the opening chant from last week’s class. I’ve been personally obsessing with this version of Durga, Durga, Durga. I posted words and free translation on last week’s post. Here they are again:

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.

Think of the ocean of the world as the sense of limitation and separateness that wreaks havoc in the ways we conduct ourselves in our inner and outer lives…  (aka “O distracted mind, why are you indulging in anxiety…’)

 

Here’s my 10.6 Dharma Talk. This clip also contains class chanting of Hymn to Devi and my reading of  the Ramprasad poem:

 

Finally, here’s class chanting of Navarna mantra and closing dharana:

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:

July 14, 2014, Vijnana Bhairava III, Part 1: A Crash Course in Couples’ Communication

My last post focused on the way the introductory verses of this text celebrate the dialogue between that within us that asks the question and that within us that knows the answer. Another teaching we can glean from this text comes when we pay attention to the way Devi speaks to Bhairava. I spoke about this at length in my dharma talk on June 9. And while I titled this post “A Crash Course in Couple’s Communication,” the lessons apply across the board.

So much of our interaction with other people happens in a way I will call out of time. Out of the present moment. Out of the possibility of speaking and listening with Heart. It’s understandable. We’re a wounded culture, very much under the influence of an external value system that has little to do with our humanity and gifts. Many of us have never truly been seen or valued. So no big surprise much of our communication tends to be fear-based, shame-based, advice-based, distracted, etc.  How many times have you caught yourself thinking about what you’re going to say next, rather than actually listening to what the other person is saying. How many times have you found yourself self-referencing when talking with others, rather than just listening and giving them the space for their own experience?

Here’s my June 9 Dharma Talk on this topic. We had a new person at class so there’s also introductory material here, woven into a free-wheeling talk. Enjoy.

Here’s the text I quote in my talk. Regular visitors to this blog will note this text posted a few weeks ago. I’m including it again for those who like to read along while listening to the talk:

This is from Lorin Roche, The Radiance Sutras: A New Version of the Vijnana Bhaira Tantra:

One day the Goddess sang to her lover, Bhairava:

Beloved and radiant Lord of the space before birth,
Revealer of essence,
Slayer of the ignorance that binds us,

You who in play have created this universe
And permeated all forms in it with never-ending truth –
I have been wondering. . .

I have been listening to the hymns of creation,
Enchanted by the verses,
Yet still I am curious.

What is this delight-filled universe
Into which we find ourselves born?
What is this mysterious awareness
Shimmering everywhere within it?

I have been listening to the love songs of
Form longing for formless.

What are these energies
Undulating through our bodies,
Pulsing us into action?

And this “matter” out of which our forms are made –
What are these dancing particles of condensed radiance?
The Goddess then asks,

What is this power we call Life,
Appearing as the play of flesh and breath?
How may I know this mystery and enter it more deeply?

Beloved, my attention is ensnared by a myriad of forms,
Innumerable individual entities everywhere.
Lead me into the wholeness beyond all these parts.

You who hold the mysteries in your hand –
Of will, knowledge, and action,
Reveal to me the path of illumined knowing.

Lead me into joyous union
With the life of the universe.
Teach me that I may know it fully,
Realize it deeply,
And breathe in luminous truth.

 

And here’s the wonderful parallel text from William Blake’s, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

The Voice of the Devil

 All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors:

    1. That Man has two real existing principles: Viz: a Body & a Soul.

    2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body; & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.

    3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his energies.

 But the following Contraries to these are True:

   1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five    Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.

   2. Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.

   3. Energy is Eternal Delight.

  Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling.

 And being restrain’d, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of desire.

  ********

This post is too long for the template so I’ve broken it into two parts. Scroll down for Part 2.

June 13, 2014, Vijnana Bhairava II: That Who Seeks; That Who Knows

I was a premature baby, born six weeks before term. My lifelong pattern of bypassing the beginning was probably set that day. Here’s how I learned to ski:

My father took me to Davos Mountain in upstate New York, rented me boots and skis and out we went. By the end of the day I was making my way down the mountain without too many falls and quite enjoying myself. Walking back to the lodge we passed the beginner’s slope. I still remember my shock. “Dad,” I said, “Why didn’t you start me here?” “Try it now,” he said. And after a day on the intermediate slopes, the beginner’s run was easy…

And so too with our immersion in Vijnana Bhairava. I initially skipped us over the introductory verses, moving right into the dharanas. While the decision made sense at the time, I began to suspect the impulse was driven by this deep unconscious leapfrog pattern.  While I’m not suggesting leapfrogging is always the wrong choice, I would rather not subject Monday Night Class to my unconscious motivation.

We’ve therefore circled back to the beginning of this text. Full disclosure: I’ve always discounted these first verses as a literary device to get the text moving. Devi asks Bhairava to explain the meaning of life and after some and back and forth, the discourse begins.

What I now come to see is that these introductory verses are much more than a literary device. They are setting up the text as a dialogue between that within us that asks the question and that within us that knows the answer.

Our culture places great value on knowing. We’re conditioned to give the “right” answer and many of us feel shame when we get it “wrong.” The answer is somehow more important than the question. I will say that this comes from our fear of the unknown, from our need to “look good,” from a deep and terrifying sense that we are not okay.

The notion that knowing will protect us is a dangerous one. We all see how on its own, knowing is a static state of being. At the individual level, it keeps us stuck in tired old narratives and belief systems. At the collective level, it hardens into oppressive political, religious, cultural, etc. institutions. And what is all of that but a thrust away from what actually is… from the unpredictable, unknowable Mystery in which we are born and live our lives and die back into again and again and again…

It’s quite possible that my father who was an expert skier thought we were on the beginner’s slope. However, I doubt that very much. I think he understood the power of not knowing. I think he took a risk that day, moved by a sense that taking me out on the intermediate slope would push me through any fear-based notion I had of what it is to be a beginning skier. Ironically, by bypassing the beginner’s slope, he broke me into “beginner’s mind.”  He allowed me the experience of moving in the wide-open space that the yoga of Vijnana Bhairava is all about.

Here’s an audio clip of the June 2 class:

 

Here are the introductory verses. These are from The Radiance Sutras: A New Version of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, by Lorin Roche. 

 

1.

One day the Goddess sang to her lover, Bhairava:

Beloved and radiant Lord of the space before birth,
Revealer of essence
Slayer of the ignorance that binds us,

You who in play have created this universe
And permeated all forms in it with never-ending truth —
I have been wondering…

I have been listening to hymns of creation,
Enchanted by the verses,
Yet still I am curious.

What is this delight-filled universe
Into which we find ourselves born?
What is this mysterious awareness
Shimmering everywhere within it?

2.
I have been listening to the love songs of
Form longing for formless.
 
What are these energies
Undulating through our bodies,
Pulsing us into action?
And this “matter” out of which our forms are made –
What are these dancing particles of condensed radiance?

3.
The Goddess then asks,
 
What is this power we call Life,
Appearing as the play of flesh and breath?
How may I know this mystery and enter it more deeply?
 
Beloved, my attention is ensnared by a myriad of forms,
Innumerable individual entities everywhere.
Lead me into the wholeness beyond all these parts.
 
You who hold the mysteries in your hand –
Of will, knowledge, and action,
Reveal to me the path of illumined knowing.
 
Lead me into joyous union
                With the life of the universe.
Teach me that I may know it fully,
Realize it deeply,
And breathe in luminous truth.

 

Regular visitors to this blog know I like to bring in parallel readings to whatever text we’re wandering through. This is an excerpt from, Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic, by Adyashanti, reprinted in the Summer 2014 issue of Parabola Magazine. The article is titled, The Mystery of The Resurrection. Adyashanti is writing about the version of the story as told in the Gospel of Mark.

 

Of course, Mark always goes for the surprise; he turns corners in his storytelling you don’t expect, and that is the beauty of  Mark. Mark doesn’t always read eloquently; he’s not a poet like the writer of John’s gospel. He’s more interested in exploring the unexpected shifts and turns of the story, and I think he does this because it opens the mind and heart to the mysteriousness of life. When we keep reading things that are unexpected, and encountering scenes that sometimes end almost before they’ve begun, it leaves us in a mysterious state of being. And I think this state of openness is where the writer of the  Gospel of Mark wanted to leave us. This is the state in which we can recognize the radiance and, when we’re open and caught off guard by the winds of spirit, we can be transformed into its shining. 

 

When SUNY Press reissued Jaideva Singh’s English translation of Vijnana Bhairava, they gave it the title, The Yoga of Delight, Wonder, and Astonishment. And that’s it right there. Wonder, astonishment, and delight. It’s enough to begin with contemplating the possibility of living in this space, of living in this spaciousness.

We tend to ascribe the so-called positive emotions — feelings of love, joy, contentment — to words like “delight” and “wonder.” Alas, this leaves out the other half of the experience of being human. I think it’s crucial to understand that as we practice living, breathing, perceiving, from the mysterious space between, what we might call the Heart Space, whatever is arising from our feeling-body, so-called positive or negative emotion, is held.  That’s the paradox. We are so huge we can hold it all and in that holding, as Adyashanti writes, we are transformed.

I had a glimpse of this at my very first yogic meditation retreat. In those days my musical life was focused on improvisational piano.  Much of the music that came through me was melodic and lyrical, beautiful, pleasing, acceptable. There was this whole other music that was wild and dissonant, dark, loud, crashing. There was nothing beautiful or acceptable about it. Yet when I was in this music, I felt a deep sense of power and aliveness. These were the early years of my journey. I had no way of holding what was happening to me. Mostly I kept it secret, shrouded in confusion and shame.

So here I am. It’s the third day of a euphoric experience. I’ve found my path, my practice, my guru. All is right with the world until the afternoon meditation session when I find myself lost in a maelstrom of doubt and self-loathing. Then comes the question, “What is wrong with me? I just want to make beautiful music. What is this terrible music I can’t stop playing?” And then I hear the voice.  “Your music is my music. It is the music of the Earth. It is the music of crashing waves and thunderstorms, of sun and moon, of dark and light. Let it all sing through you. Let it all be one.”