I so love the above quote from David Whyte. I think he says it so beautifully. There is simply no good reason for us to keep company with anything or anyone that does not bring us alive, with anything or anyone that tries to keep us small.
Choose your greatness…
Here are audio clips and readings from the first class of this new year.
Here’s opening chanting of Om Tara Tuttare Ture Swaha.
Here’s the opening dharana and my dharma talk.
Here’s chanting of Vakratunda II and the Surya Bija Mantra. These are fine for people who want to chant along, but the album tracks are way better for listening. You can find VakII on Sound Cloud and the Surya Bija mantra track is on our Sun Mantras album.
Here are this week’s readings.
TAO TE CHING
32. The Tao can’t be perceived. Smaller than an electron, it contains uncountable galaxies.
If powerful men and women could remain centered in the Tao, all things would be in harmony. The world would become a paradise. All people would be at peace, and the law would be written in their hearts.
When you have names and forms, know they are provisional. When you have institutions, know where their functions should end. Knowing when to stop, you can avoid any danger.
All things end in the Tao as rivers flow into the sea.
1.1 Atha yoganushasanan (Now, the study of Yoga.) 1.2 Yogah chitta vritti nirodhaha (Yoga is the stilling of the thought waves in the mind.) 1.3 Tada drashtu svarupe avasthanam (Then we rest in our essential nature.)
Here are the words to Vakratunda II.
vakratunda mahakāya suryakoti samaprabha nirvighnam kuru me deva sarva kāryeśu sarvada
om gang ganapataye namaha
As always, the final word goes to Mary Oliver. Particularly poignant this week…
SUNRISE Mary Oliver You can die for it — and idea, or the world. People
have done so, brilliantly, letting their small bodies be bound
to the stake, creating an unforgettable fury of light. But
this morning, climbing the familiar hills in the familiar fabric of dawn, I thought
of China, and India and Europe, and I thought how the sun
blazes for everyone just so joyfully as it rises under the lashes of my own eyes, and I thought I am so many! What is my name?
What is the name of the deep breath I would take over and over for all of us? Call it
whatever you want, it is happiness, it is another one of the ways to enter fire.
While a literal reading of this week’s verse from the Tao Te Ching offers a potent packet of wisdom, I find it more interesting to read with the awareness that the “country” is our own individual self and “wise governance” comes when we live from and of the Self…
Tao Te Ching Verse 80
If a country is governed wisely, its inhabitants will be content. They enjoy the labor of their hands and don’t waste time inventing labor-saving machines. Since they dearly love their homes, they aren’t interested in travel. There may be a few wagons and boats, but these don’t go anywhere. There may be an arsenal of weapons, but nobody ever uses them. People enjoy their food, take pleasure in being with their families, spend weekends working in their gardens, delight in the doings of the neighborhood. And even though the next country is so close that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking, they are content to die of old age without ever having gone to see it.
I found this verse such a beautiful evocation of the yogic practice of contentment, aka santosha, I also brought in Edwin Bryant, Chip Hartranft and Mukunda Stiles’ versions of Patanjali-Yoga-Sutra, II:42. I didn’t have time to read EB in class but will include that here.
Contentment brings unsurpassed joy. (CH)
From contentment one gains supreme happiness. (MS)
From contentment, the highest happiness is attained. (EB)
[santoshad anuttamaha sukha-laabhaha]
Here’s this week’s dharma talk which unpacks all of the above. Ordinarily I would write more but am feeling under the weather so will let my dharma talk do the talking for this post…
I’ll leave the final word to Mary Oliver…
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.
Early in the morning we crossed the ghat, where fires were still smoldering, and gazed with our Western minds, into the Ganges. A woman was standing in the river up to her waist; she was lifting handfuls of water and spilling it over her body, slowly and many times, as if until there came some moment of inner satisfaction between her own life and the river’s. Then she dipped a vessel she had brought with her and carried it filled with water back across the ghat, no doubt to refresh some shrine near where she lives, for this is the holy city of Shiva, maker of the world, and this is his river. I can’t say much more, except that it all happened in silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt like the bliss of a certainty and a life lived in accordance with that certainty. I must remember this, I thought, as we fly back to America. Pray God I remember this.
Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings
And close with class chanting of Om Namah Shivaya and final dharana...
The literal translation of the fourth Sun mantra, ॐ भानवे नमः om bhānave namaḥ is “Salutations to Bhānu, the bright splendor of light.” I’ve also seen it translated as “the diffuser of light.” Thinking about this week’s class, I was intrigued by the notion of diffusing, less as an aspect of the Sun — more in the way the mind diffuses light. Specifically that innate light otherwise knows as the inner Self. Which is the light that actually illuminates the mind so we’re even aware we’re thinking, let alone having peak experience enlightening flashes of insight.
When the mind is crystal clear, this inner light diffuses in its bright splendor aspect. When it’s not, the light diffusing through the mind’s lens (or lenses), will be distorted. Sometimes just a bit. Sometimes so much that it’s obliterated in the opacity.
Which brings me to the kleshas, those lovely lenses so brilliantly articulated in the great text of yogic psychology, Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra. If you’re new to this blog and/or unfamiliar with this text, do visit May 15, 2011 in the Archive. For a quick reference, here you go:
Avidya is the lens that clouds our ability to know our true nature, which according to Yoga is light.
Asmita is the lens that tricks us into buying into that small sense of self that is prone to suffering.
Raga is pleasure, which, when tangled up with avidya and asmita, gets us all caught up in clinging to what makes us feel good.
Dvesha is aversion, which when tangled up with avidya and asmita, creates a profound separation from everything and anything we label as “bad.”
Abinivesha is clinging to life (or any situation) because we fear death (or change).
Needless to say, the mind is a complex instrument, managing any number of receiving, perceiving, discerning, projecting, remembering, associating, etc. functions at the same time. And the kleshas are right in there, wreaking havoc in the process. So this week’s talk explores the relationship between the kleshas and this fourth Sun mantra.
Here’s the opening dharana:
Here’s my dharma talk:
There were new people in the room this week so I spoke a bit about mantra. Here is that clip:
Finally, here are this week’s readings. First two poem from Coleman Bark’s translation of the poetry of Lalleshwari, Naked Song. Although Lalla would not have known the Yoga-Sutra, you can see how in both these poems, she is teaching about the kleshas.
Two From Lalleshwari
1. Wear just enough clothes to keep warm. Eat only enough to stop the hunger-pang.
And as for your mind, let it work to recognize who you are, and the Absolute, and that this body will become food for the forest crows.
2. Enlighten your desires. Meditate on who you are. Quit imagining.
What you want is profoundly expensive, and difficult to find, yet closeby.
Don’t search for it. It is nothing, and a nothing within nothing.
And a Sheikh Nasrudin story and commentary from Swami Muktananda’s, Where Are You Going? A Guide to the Spiritual Journey:
Once Sheikh Nasrudin woke up early in the morning, before it was light. He called his disciplele, Mahmud, and said, “Go outside and see if the sun has risen.” Mahmud went out and came back inside.
“It’s pitch black,” he said. “I cannot see the sun at all.”
At this, Nasrudin became very angry. “You fool,” he shouted. “Haven’t you got the sense to use a flashlight?”
That is exactly what we do. To expect a spiritual technique to reveal the indwelling God is like expecting a flashlight to illumine the Sun. A flashlight cannot shine beside the Sun. Like the Sun, the Self is always shining with its own effulgence. What sadhana can illumine the Self. Only through a subtle and sublime intellect can we know it. We meditate and perform spiritual practices only in order to make the intellect pure enough to reflect the effulgence of the Self.
Baba did teach a great deal from Patanjali and in this quote, although he’s not using technical language, he is very much speaking about spiritual practice as a way to clean and polish the mind (here referred to as intellect) so that nothing hinders, obstructs, distorts, or extinguishes the shining bright splendor of the Self.
I woke up Monday morning hearing the words “warming the stone child…” I remembered this is a title from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ canon although did not recall the story. The image however is so evocative, I sat with it awhile, reflecting on winter and the stone cold darkness, on the longing for warmth and nurture, on how nothing warms the stone child like the blazing fire of the heart…
The other phrase I kept hearing was “sonic hydration.” Which struck me as the other medicine the stone child sorely needs. Heart fire and heart hydration. And we all know the quickest route to these is chanting the Name…
I found a transcription of CPE’s telling of Warming the Stone Child online so was able to read it at class and will also post it here. It’s a beautiful version of this Inuit tale and as I said at class, who knows better how to thrive in the long dark cold of winter but people of the Artic.
Like all great wisdom tales, it transcends time and place and can be felt through myriad lenses of perception. For people on a yogic path, it has a lot to say about clinging to form, about surrender, about the awesome power of tears shed from the depths of suffering—about how everything we search for is within….
It reminds me of the Mirabai poem, The Heat of Midnight Tears which I also read at class. All this in the dharma talk audio clip below.
Here’s the story and the poem:
The Stone Child: An Inuit Story told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
There was an orphan that was so lonely and so hungry that no one wanted to be near him. His mouth was open all the time and his teeth were always showing and tears were always running down from his eyes, and he was so wild with hunger that they had to tie him in the entrance to one of the skin houses so he’d not try to eat the hunters on their way to the seal hunt; that’s how hungry he was.
They would, on occasion, leave him some rancid reindeer meat or maybe some spoiled intestines to eat, but, as we know, it was more than hunger that was gnawing at him. Those deep needs that not even the person themselves understands. So everyday he stretched his chain a little bit and a little bit more, until he could get near a stone that was more or less the same size as himself. You see, his mother and father had died one night, and their bodies had been dragged off by bears, and all that had been left behind by them was this one particular stone. So he wrapped both his arms and his legs around that rock and he wouldn’t let go of it. And, of course, his people thought he was crazier than ever, and on their way home from the hunt, with animal carcasses slung over their shoulders, they would jeer at him, and they would say, “Analuk has taken a stone for a wife, ha ha. It’s good for you to have a wife who is a stone, for then you cannot use your hunger and eat her.” And they went on their way.
But the boy was so lonely and so hungry that he really had reached the end of his feeling for life. And even though he had that terrible loneliness and that gnawing hunger, he kept his body wrapped around that stone, and because the stone began to take the heat from his flesh, the boy began to die. The stone took the heat from his hands, and then it took the heat from his thighs, and it even took the heat from his chin where he rested it on top of the stone.
And just as the boy was living his last breath, the hunters of his village came by again on their way home from the hunt, and again they called him down, and they said, “You crazy boy! You are nesting with that stone like it is an egg. We should call you Bird Boy, you good-for-nothing creature.” And because the boy was near death, his feelings were hurt more than he could ever say, and great icy tears began to roll down his face and across his parka, and his cold, cold tears hit the hot, hot stone with a sizzle and a hiss and a crack, and it broke the stone right in two.
And inside was the most perfect little female the boy could ever want. “Come,” she said, “I am here now, and you are an orphan no more.” And she gave him a bow and arrows and a harpoon she had brought with her, and the boy and the girl made their house and had babies. And, if they are not yet dead, they are in that land where the snow is violet and the night sky is black. They are there, living still.
The Heat of Midnight Tears Mirabai, English version by Robert Bly
Listen, my friend, this road is the heart opening, Kissing his feet, resistance broken, tears all night.
If we could reach the Lord through immersion in water, I would have asked to be born a fish in this life. If we could reach Him through nothing but berries and wild nuts, Then surely the saints would have been monkeys when they came from the womb! If we could reach him by munching lettuce and dry leaves, Then the goats would surely go to the Holy One before us!
If the worship of stone statues could bring us all the way, I would have adored a granite mountain years ago.
Mirabai says: The heat of midnight tears will bring you to God.
One point I did not get to in this week’s dharma talk is the perfect ending of the Stone Child story: ” They are there, living still…” Living still. Such a beautiful evocation of the eternal stillness of the present moment. Reminds me of the opening sutras of Patanjali:
1.1 Atha yogānushāsanam
1.2 Yogah chitta vritti nirodhaha
1.3 Tadā drashtu svarupe avasthānam
Now, in this moment, the study of Yoga, which is the stilling of the thought waves of the mind; and in that stillness we rest in our essential nature.
I’ve walked this path now for nearly forty years and for me, chanting Om Namah Shivaya feels as fresh and alive as that very first time…Every repetition bathing me in sonic hydration, warming me from the inside, breaking open the stone child barriers in heart and mind so I merge, over and over, with the tender magnificence of the Self.
I’m still reflecting on sweetness and light, and the longing to merge into this luminous honey of the heart. As yogis we want to swim, dare I say, drown there. So I thought we’d open class with the Krsna Govinda kirtan. Here’s a clip of that. The sound quality is not great. I’m including it here because everyone loves this chant. [I’m happy to report I’m getting closer to returning to the studio. I need a few more months for the non-stop drama of my last two years to resolve. Once that happens, I’m looking forward to drowning in this music of my heart.]
And here’s this week’s dharma talk, which runs around 17 minutes. I read from Kabir & Rumi, two drenched souls who knew a thing or two about drowning. All text is posted after the sound clip:
Here’s the Kabir:
The darkness of night is coming along fast, and the shadows of love close in the body and the mind. Open the window to the west, and disappear into the air inside you. Near your breastbone three is an open flower. Drink the honey that is all around that flower. Waves are coming in: there is so much magnificence near the ocean! Listen: Sound of bells! Sound of immense seashells! Kabir says, Friend, listen, this is what I have to say: the One I love is inside of me!
Yes, at the end of the day, it’s all about Love, and our longing, which is actually the connecting thread. Kabir says it far better than I:
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.
Here are the Rumi poems:
1. This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and attend them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meetr them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Welcome difficulty. Learn the alchemy True Human Beings know: the moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door opens.
Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade. Joke with torment brought by the Friend. Sorrows are the rags of old clothes and jackets that serve to cover, and then are taken off.
That undressing, and the beautiful naked body underneath is the sweetness that comes after grief.
2. One night a man was crying, “Allah! Allah! His lips grew sweet with the praising, until a cynic said, “So I have heard you calling out, but have you ever gotten any response?” The man had no answer to that. He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep. He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls, in a thick green foliage. “Why did you stop praising?” “Because I’ve never heard anything back.” “This longing you express is the return message.” The grief you cry out from draws you toward union. Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup. Listen to the moan of a dog for its master. The whining is the connection. There are love-dogs no one knows the names of.
Give your life to be one of them.
And here’s the quote from Lawrence Kushner’s, The River of Light:
There is a realm of being that comes before us and follows after us. Streaming through and uniting all creation. Knowing who we have been and will be. It contaminates our sleep with visions of higher reality and exalts our waking with stories. It is a river of light. “She is a tree of Life to those who hold onto her.” [Prov. 3:18]. Her branches and shoots are the nerves and vessels of this world coursing beneath our surfaces, pulsing through our veins. A blueprint underlying the cosmos. The primary process of being. The inner structure of consciousness. The way of the Tao. “And all her paths are peace.” [Prov. 3:17]. Just behind and beneath everything. If we could but stand it, everything would have meaning. Everything connected to everything else even as they all share a common Root.
This week’s recording of slow mantra had some technical glitches so I won’t post sound clips. Instead, I dug into my archive of not-yet-posted recordings and chose the first one that jumped out at me. Which was July 25, 2011. This was back in the days when Sri Dan was with us each week so we were singing much more kirtan. This class opened with Jaya Shiva Shankara. There were a lot of new people in the room that night so the recording begins with an introduction to this chant. You’ll hear Sri Dan on tabla. Sweet light. Enjoy.
I’m also including the dharma talk from that week. We were deep into Patanjali, swimming around in Book II. I was so struck by the threads between what we were talking about then and what we’re talking about now, I thought I’d leave the entire talk. Think of it as a bonus feature;) I don’t have time for a careful edit so this is one long 50 minute sound clip. Here’s a rough breakdown: Jaya Shiva Shankara, 0-26; dharma talk, 26-43; and there’s an interesting dharana on Om Namah Shivaya, 43-50. Once you click on the sound file, you’ll see the time and you can click around within the file:
We’re continuing our focus on Patanjali Book III, but adding Laksmi Work to the mix. Something about summer, the abundance of greenery, produce, heat and humidity has me contemplating the force of Laksmi in all its complexity, wonder, and power… Here are the sutras we read this evening:
III,6. Perfect discipline is mastered in stages.
III, 7. These three components – concentration, absorption, and integration – are more interiorized than the preceding five.
III, 8. Even these three are external to integration that bears no seeds.
III, 9. The transformation towards total stillness occurs as new latent impressions fostering cessation arise to prevent
the activation of distractive stored one, and moments of stillness begin to permeate consciousness.
III, 10. These latent impressions help consciousness flow from one tranquil moment to the next.
III, 11. Consciousness is transformed toward integration as distractions dwindle and focus arises.
III, 12. In other words, consciousness is transformed toward focus as continuity develops between arising and
Readers of this blog who attend class with some regularity, or are conversant with these teachings, will find the above sutras fairly straightforward. If, on the other hand, this language is less than familiar, it may seem undecipherable. So let me say that Patanjali is breaking the movement of mind and breath into carefully delineated categories. And in these sutras, he’s giving us a clue about how to live with an internal sense of freedom and ease. Otherwise known as mastery…
Which is how the Laksmi Work comes into my mind…
I’ll be weaving these two, Patanjali Book III and the Laksmi Work together over the next few weeks. For now I want to get this week’s dharma talk, readings, and chanting clips posted, so will keep this brief.
Here’s a clip of this week’s chanting the yoga sutras:
This is a clip of my dharma talk. It runs long, around 27 minutes. No big surprise as we read so many sutras this evening. I was particularly focused on III, 8, where Patanjali brings in the notion of seeds of karma. But along with that, this talk, while free-wheeling as my talks often are, begins to tie together threads of Patanjali Book III and the Laksmi Work:
Here are the poems, from Rumi and Mary Oliver, that I read at the close of my talk:
Two from Rumi:
There’s a hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness. We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox is stuffed full of anything, no music. If the brain and belly are burning clean with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire. The fog clears, and a new energy makes you run up the steps in front of you. Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry. Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen. When you’re full of food and drink, Satan sits where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue in place of the Kaaba. When you fast, good habits gather like friends who want to help. Fasting is Solomon’s ring. Don’t give it to some illusion and lose your power. But even if you’ve lost all will and control, they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing out of the ground, pennants flying above them.
Submit to a daily practice. Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door. Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there.
This is a clip of chanting the mantra Om Namah Shivaya:
This week’s class focused on one sutra. I thought the dawning of wisdom deserved an evening unto itself.
Once the perfect discipline of consciousness is mastered,
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…]