April 23, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

Peaceable Kingdom
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]


Yesterday being Earth Day and my birthday, I took some time off from thinking about politics and spirituality.  A lovely respite as we approach the 100-days point in the Trumpian debacle. I only wish they would take some time off. Like the rest of their lives…

If you’re a member of MoveOn, you most likely received email from Al Franken last week. For those who did not:

Dear MoveOn Member,

It’s Al Franken, and I’m writing you today because I’m worried. Not about what Donald Trump has tried (and, so far, failed) to do already, like Trumpcare and the Muslim ban. But about the storm that’s coming.

You see, we’re just 90 days into the Trump presidency. Fortunately, we’re also 90 days into a powerful resistance movement. Up until now, we’ve been doing surprisingly well stalling Trump’s agenda. But the thing is, he’s just getting started—so we can’t let up for a second.

There are so many more fights to come: Stopping Trump’s tax breaks for rich people like himself. Standing up to Jeff Sessions’ deportation force. Resisting attacks on Medicare and the environment. And we still have a year and a half before we’ve got a shot at taking back Congress.

Trump governs by chaos. He wants us to get tired and slow down, but we can’t let him win.

After Trump was elected, there was a huge spike in grassroots energy—the biggest I’ve seen in my entire political career. Record-setting numbers of people flooded the streets. It was impossible to get a call through to Congress (believe me, I know, because my office phone lines were ringing off the hook). And while my Republican colleagues are trying to put on a brave face, I can tell that they are under stress. (And that stress helped defeat their first attempt at Trumpcare!)

But here’s what has me worried: We’re fighting on so many fronts. And if energy drops off, we’ll start losing.

I share Franken’s concern. It’s what compelled me to begin this “Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump” project. It just seemed an excellent manual to read side-by-side with Democracy NowMoveOnIndivisible — whatever your preferred news and action alert portals. There is so much work to do and as Franken says, we have to fight on so many fronts. Along with Trump’s horrible appointments and policy agendas, he creates mind-blowing chaos that defies us to grab hold and make order. This is what makes him so dangerous. We have got to stay grounded in wisdom (and a sense of humor) else we risk profound overwhelm and burnout.

We also have got to hold onto our humanity. We can never allow ourselves to become like them.

Here’s my opening dharana and dharma talk from Monday, April 4th:


Here are the verses I read from the Gita:

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.

The wise man does not unsettle
the minds of the ignorant, quietly,
acting in the spirit of yoga,
he inspires them to do the same.

Actions are really performed
by the working of the three gunas;
but a man deluded by the I-sense
imagines, “I am the doer.”

The wise man knows that when objects
act on the senses, it is merely
the gunas acting on the gunas;
thus he is unattached.

Deluded by the gunas, men grow
attached to the gunas’ actions;
the insightful should not disturb
the minds of these foolish men.

Performing all actions for my sake,
desireless, absorbed in the Self
indifferent to “I” and “mine,”
let go of your grief and fight!

Men who constantly practice
this teaching of mine, Arjuna,
who trust it with all their heart,
are freed from the bondage of actions.

But those who, mistrustful, half-hearted,
fail to practice my teaching,
wander in the darkness, lost,
stupefied by delusion.

Even the wise man acts
in accordance with his inner nature.
All beings follow their nature.
What good can repression do

Craving and aversion arise
when the senses encounter sense-objects.
Do not fall prey to these two
brigands blocking your path.

It is better to do your own duty
badly, than to perfectly do
another’s; you are safe from harm
when you do what you should be doing.    [3.25-35]


What is it that drives a man
to an evil action, Krishna,
even against his will,
as if some force made him do it?


That force is desire, it is anger,
arising from the guna called rajas;
deadly and all-devouring,
that is the enemy here.

As fire is obscured by smoke,
as a mirror is covered with dust,
as a fetus is wrapped in its membrane,
so wisdom is obscured by desire.

Wisdom is destroyed, Arjuna,
by the constant enemy of the wise,
which, flaring up as desire,
blazes with insatiable flames.

Desire dwells in the senses,
the mind, and the understanding;
in all these it obscures wisdom
and perplexes the embodied Self.

Therefore you must first control
your senses, Arjuna; then
destroy this evil that prevents you
from ever knowing the truth

Men say that the senses are strong.
But the mind is stronger than the senses;
the understanding is stronger
than the mind; and the strongest is the Self.

Knowing the Self, sustaining
the self by the Self, Arjuna,
kill the difficult-to-conquer
enemy called desire..   .   [3.36-43]


And here are two audio clips of class chanting. The first is Om Tara Tuttare Ture Swaha; the second is Namo Kuan Shih Yin Pu’sa. With apologies for sound quality. We’re working on a recording upgrade.



Peaceable Kingdom