Otto Marseus van Schrieck: Forest Floor with Thistle and Snake (detail), circa 1665
We’re continuing our deep dive into the Ashtavakra Gita. It really is a lovely text, reminding us over and over again that what we are is so much more interesting than what we are not. This despite cultural conditioning that tricks us into thinking we are what we think, believe, remember, etc…
I’m currently down with a bad cold and feel kind of awful. Just a few days ago I was not down with a bad cold and felt kind of great. Is one more real than the other? They sure feel different. But the me who’s feeling, the me sitting inside my awareness, this “me” feels exactly the same.
This me is so much deeper than transitory states of sickness and health, loss and gain, happy and sad, up and down. It just sits here, resting in its own light. Steady, vibrant, and crystal clear…
We all know this. But the way the mind works, we need to be reminded over and over again. And the Ashtavakra Gita is a great medicine for remembering…
Along with this text, I also referenced everybody’s favorite, the five primal causes of suffering known as the kleshas. These are spelled out in the yoga-sutra. If you need a refresher on these lovelies, here you go:
Avidya is the lens that clouds our ability to know what we truly are, keeping us caught in the forest of ignorance…
Asmita is the lens that tricks us into small self identification, i.e. the ego or “I-maker.”
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).
Because the Ashtavakra Gita is such a love song to the Self, we’ve been mostly chanting om namah shivaya. Which is such a sonic embodiment of the Self…
Here’s opening chanting. This is very slow ONS.
Here is this week’s dharma talk.
Here’s the text we read from Ashtavakra Gita.
“I do this. I do that.”
The big black snake of selfishness
Has bitten you!
“I do nothing.”
This is the nectar of faith,
So drink and be happy!
Know you are one,
With the fire of this conviction,
Burn down the forest of ignorance.
Free yourself from sorrow,
And be happy!
For you are joy, unbounded joy.
You are awareness itself.
Just as a coil of rope
Is mistaken for a snake,
So you are mistaken for the world.
If you think you are free,
You are free.
If you think you are bound,
You are bound.
For the saying is true:
You are what you think.
The Self looks like the world.
But this is just an illusion.
The Self is everywhere.
The witness of all things,
Without action, clinging or desire.
Here’s the Mary Oliver poem that sums it up way more eloquently than I am able…
OUT OF THE STUMP ROT, SOMETHING
Out of the stump rot something glides forward that is not a rope,
unless a rope has eyes, lips, tongue like a smack of smoke, body without shoulders.
Thus: the black snake floating over the leaves of the old year
and down to the pond, to the green just beginning to fuzzle out of the earth, also, like smoke.
If you like a prettiness, don’t come here. Look at pictures instead, or wait for the daffodils.
This is spring, by the rattled pond, in the shambled woods, as spring has always been and always will be
no matter what we do in the suburbs. The matted fur, the red blood,
the bats unshuttering their terrible faces, and black snake gliding across the field
you think you own. Long neck, long tail. Tongue on fire. Heart of stone.
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...
Class resumed last week after our summer break. And for this next teachings cycle, we’re going back to Stephen Mitchell’s version of the Tao Te Ching. Those of you who’ve been around for awhile will remember I started writing this blog in 2010 when we were reading this very same text. I thought, this time round, let us begin at the end and move towards the beginning. Time and duality being so illusory, why give into their status quo…
So we begin with Verse 81:
Tao Te Ching Verse 81
True words aren’t eloquent;
eloquent words aren’t true.
Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.
The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others,
the happier he is.
The more he gives to others,
the wealthier he is.
The Tao nourishes by not forcing.
By not dominating, the Master leads.
Needless to say, this verse encapsulates everything one ever needs to know. And makes therefore a perfect partner to one of the core mantras of Monday Night Class, Om Namah Shivaya…
Here’s the opening dharana and my dharma talk, which runs around 20 minutes. I usually, edit out everything extraneous from these talks. Road noise, coughing, banter, etc. But the banter on this recording so captures the joyous spirit of Monday Night Class, I’m leaving it all there.
For visitors to this blog who’ve never attended the live class, enjoy. For everyone who does, you may find yourself LOL. And fyi, this talk is unpacking more of the above re the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching and how that wisdom and the wisdom/consciousness embedded in ONS are one and the same…
DanielJ and his miraculous tabla were at this class so we mostly chanted. Which was a glorious way to begin the new fall season. For that however, you had to be there 😉 No recording…..
“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.
ANXIETY IS SUCH A WASTE OF VITAL ENERGY. WE NEED THE SELF. WE DON’T NEED ANXIETY.
He looks impartially on all:
those who love him or hate him,
his kinsmen, his enemies, his friends,
the good, and also the wicked. [6.9]
Last week’s high drama was James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. An important inquiry for sure. The danger being that in the current media environment, it becomes a smokescreen for the really damaging stuff the Trump administration and their congressional allies are putting in motion.
Sam Stein’s June 1 piece on the Huffington Post, While You Obsessed Over Trump’s Scandals, He’s Fundamentally Changed The Country, is a chilling accounting of what’s going on beneath the radar.
This is a defining feature of the Trump administration: While scandal and squabble, palace intrigue and provocative tweets suck much of the oxygen out of the room ― and leave the impression of mass government disfunction ― a wide array of fundamentally Trump-minded reform is taking place.
“All of this smoke is missing the steady progress that the modern Republican Party is achieving,” said Grover Norquist, the longtime anti-tax advocate. “The idea that Trump isn’t getting anywhere is wrong. Those free market guys are picking up maybe not all the marbles in the world, but a large quantity of them. And we haven’t thrown away any marbles.”
Click here for the entire article, which as of this writing is nearly two weeks old. In the dizzying chaos of today’s politics, that’s almost obsolete, pre-dating, to name just three, Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement, insulting London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, and undermining his own State Dept. with anti-Qatar bluster, while the Republicans in the House try to turn American into a weird hybrid of 1984, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Hunger Games.
And then we have the Bhagavad Gita, this steadying, sobering articulation of what is required to become truly human, or, in the language of the Gita, to become “a man of yoga.”
From the Gita’s perspective, it’s actually quite simple. Get real. Get focused on what matters. Which has nothing to do with self-serving action. And everything to do with waking up, paying attention, seeing things as they are, becoming an island of stillness in the world.
In the world.
We homo sapiens have been bumbling across earth’s surface for around 300,000 years. Probably making a mess of things from the very beginning. It’s just that in the early days our footprints were dwarfed by everything else. It’s astonishing really, when you think about it. How it never had to be this way. How we could have lived honorably, in sustaining partnership with the earth. But chose instead to strive blindly into the abyss of progress, belittling the cries of those who saw clearly…
June 5th’s Gita verses offer a mix of hands-on technique for the practice of meditation along with flashes of the insight for which we practice in the first place. At the end of the day it really is about opening into that.
Technique is just technique. And we want to be so very careful to never get stuck there. Lest we fall into a trap I’ve heard referred to as the “stench of enlightenment.” When I was coming up as a young artist woman, there was an astonishing pianist on the scene called Cecil Taylor. Asked about his technical abilities, he said, “technique is weapon to do what must be done.” Yes. This is why I adore Mary Oliver. Her poetry comes directly from that place. Her greatest poems (of which there are many) are portals into that luminous ineffable shimmering (what she calls in one of the following poems “the patience of patience”) that breaks the heart wide open and sets us down exactly where we are…
Here’s my June 5 Dharma Talk, Bhagavad Gita Talk #14:
Here are the Mary Oliver poems that so magnificently parallel the Gita teachings. These are from her 2006 book, Thirst. [Please note this blog template does not hold the proper formatting of the first poem which shapes the lines of each verse like petals.]
THE POET VISITS THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
For a long time I was not even in this world, yet every summer
every rose opened in perfect sweetness and lived in gracious repose,
in its own exotic fragrance, in its huge willingness to give something, from its small self, to the entirety of the world.
I think of them, thousands upon thousands, in may lands, whenever summer came to them, rising
out of the patience of patience to leaf and bud and look up into the blue sky or, with thanks,
into the rain that would feed their thirsty roots latched into the earth—
sandy or hard, Vermont or Arabia, what did it matter, the answer was simply to rise in joyfulness, all their days.
Have I found any better teaching? Not ever, not yet. Last week I saw my first Botticelli and almost fainted,
and if I could I would paint like that but am shelved somewhere below, with a few songs about roses: teachers also, of the ways towards thanks, and praise.
WHEN THE ROSES SPEAK, I PAY ATTENTION
“As long as we are able to be extravagant we will be hugely and damply extravagant. Then we will drop foil by foil to the ground. This is our unalterable task, and we do it joyfully.”
And they went on. “Listen, the heart-shackles are not, as you think, death, illness, pain, unrequited hope, not loneliness, but
Their fragrance all the while rising from their blind bodies, making me spin with joy.
I also read more of Baba Muktananda’s writings on the Self, (aka “patience of patience”) from his 1981 book, Where Are You Going?
The Self is our dearest friend. It exists inside us in its fullness, right within the heart. Though the Self is always with us, it is so subtle that most people cannot see or hear it. The Self is the formless substratum of everything, the foundation of our lives. We cannot see it through the eyes, nor can we attain it through speech. The tongue can speak about it, but the true description of its nature is silence. The Self cannot be attained through the mind or through the senses. Yet when the inner psychic instruments are purified through meditation, it reveals itself on its own. For this reason the sages of India place great emphasis on meditation; in the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord tells Arujuna, Dhyaanen aatmani pashyanti — “The Self is seen through meditation.” Just by meditating peacefully, we can make the Self manifest before us.
And here are the Gita verses, [6.9-15]…
He looks impartially on all: those who love him or hate him, his kinsmen, his enemies, his friends, the good, and also the wicked.
The man of yoga should practice concentration alone, mastering mind and body, free of possessions and desires.
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.
Constantly mastering his mind, the man of yoga grows peaceful, attains supreme liberation, and vanishes into my bliss.
For those who can’t get enough, here are two more audio clips. The first opens with me chanting Om Namah Shivaya before class begins and slowly, as people begin arriving, you can hear their voices join in. The second is the opening dharana on ONS.
We continue chanting the Tara and Kuan Yin mantras as part of this Bhagavad Gita journey. If you’re new to the blog and want to hear audio of these, please scroll down to earlier posts.
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.