October 2, 2017 Monday Night Class: Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be liberated?

NicholasRoerich

This week’s verse from the Tao Te Ching offers an exquisite teaching on the ripple effects of blame. If you pay attention to your own blame response, you’ll discover a many-headed demon masquerading as self-righteousness and truth. Insidious really. And hiding in the unconscious.

Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame. 

Therefore the Master
fulfills her own obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.

The blame response goes deep. And its ripple effect always ends in pain. It often starts with expectation. Which then morphs into blame. Blaming gives rise to shame, hurt, and anger. This separates the blamer and the blamed, creating a sense of isolation and alienation so that connection and the possibility of empathy are destroyed. And since underneath the dramas of daily life, a sense of connection and empathy are what we most long for, one can see how the blame project takes us nowhere we really want to go.

And then of course, there is self-blame. Which is often at the bottom of the whole mess. When we really examine our blaming response, we discover it is fueled by projection. I blame you for what I refuse to see in myself. My own laziness, indulgence, self-absorption, bad habits, arrogance, bullying, forgetfulness, etc.

79.
Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.

Therefore the Master
fulfills her own obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.

The answer of course is simple: fulfill our obligations, correct our own mistakes, do what we need to do and demand nothing of others. This doesn’t mean we roll over and play dead. This verse is telling us to wake up, to pay attention, to live in the space beyond right and wrong. Do we want to be right? Or do we want to be liberated…

Here’s my dharma talk from 10.2:

 

Here are the two poems I read.
From Mary Oliver’s, A Thousand Mornings.

POET 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.

GOOD-BYE FOX

He was lying under a tree, licking up the shade.
Hello again, Fox, I said. 

And hello to you too, said Fox, looking up and
not bounding away. 

You’re not running away? I said. 

Well, I’ve heard of your conversations about us. News
travels even among foxes, as you might know or not know.

What conversations do you mean? 

Some lady said to you, “The hunt is good for the fox.”
And you said, “Which fox?”

Yes, I remember. She was huffed.

So you’re okay in my book. 

Your book! That was in my book, that’s the difference
between us.

Yes, I agree. You fuss over life with your clever
words, mulling and chewing on its meaning while
we just live it.

Oh! 

Could anyone figure it out, to a finality. So
why spend so much time trying. You fuss, we live.

And he stood, slowly, for he was old now, and
ambled away.

We chanted the Gayatri Mantra to open this class. There’s no audio of the chanting, but here’s the short dharana I gave on the mantra.

 

Finally, class chanting of Om Namah Shivaya with closing dharana.

September 25, 2017 Monday Night Class: When we practice contentment, we experience that which we truly are…

Abstract shiva

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.

II, 42.

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

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. 

VARANASI

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...

September 18, 2017 Monday Night Class: Welcome to the New Fall Season of Monday Night Class

Laksmi abstract

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…..

Sunday, November 29, 2015

    Had someone had told me in early June, that by September I’d have sold my house and moved to an in-town apartment, I would have said, “No way.” Yet here I sit, marveling at the change that brought me here and reveling in the perfection of the timing and lightening of my load.
     One of the many wonders of this stunningly unanticipated shift has been watching my cat Lily adjust to her new home. Lily is ten years old and a creature of profound and sedentary habit. In the language of Yoga we would say she is kapha on steroids, tamasic to the nth degree.  I knew the change would be traumatic for her, but was unprepared for the extent. She spent her first three weeks here hiding under my bed. By the end of the first month, she was slowly emerging. By week six, she’d finally found her groove.
     That’s when I noticed the transformation. And transformation is not a word I associate with cats. Nevertheless, as Lily embraced her new surroundings, she regained that marvelous feline curiosity and a new bounce in her gait. Her eyes looked brighter. Her coat had more shine. Her sedentary habits had slipped away.
     Watching Lily’s transformation was such a confirmation of the yogic impulse to push through limitation. All those narratives, conscious and hidden, that diminish our sense of Self. Physical pain, fears, belief systems, psycho/emotional wounding, habitual patterns, the list of stifling possibilities goes on and on. And as we’ve all experienced so many times, every time we push through these holding patterns, we get bigger. We taste our infinite possibility. We become more of who we actually are. I’ve always known this is true of humans. I had no idea it is also true of cats…
   IMG_2437
    While these individual acts of reclamation may not be enough to transform the toxic narratives that threaten our 21st century world, I think each one adds a drop to the ocean of wisdom, the ocean of light. And one of these days or years or eons from now, that ocean will devour the terrible darkness that knows only how to cause harm.
     For now, we can only do what we can do. Some are called to the front lines. Others work in the unseen corners. But wherever we may be, we can always shift out of stuck patterns. Any small act will do. It can be as simple as saying “yes” if our default is “no,” or “no,” if our default is “yes.” The key is in pushing through our comfort zones. Be they physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. We’ve all had the experience ten thousand times. Every time we move past those self-imposed fences, something wonderful opens up inside.
     I recently fell in love with a new poem from Mary Oliver. She sings this truth so beautifully. If you receive my eNewsletters, you have it in the Thanksgiving blast. If you do not, enjoy…..

Storage
Mary Oliver

When I moved from one house to another
there were many things I had no room 
for. What does one do? I rented a storage 
space. And filled it. Years passed.
Occasionally I went there and looked in,
but nothing happened, not a single 
twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared 
about grew fewer, but were more 
important. So one day I undid the lock 
and called the trash man. He took
everything.
I felt like the little donkey when 
his burden is finally lifted. Things!
Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful 
fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own 
nothing–the reason they can fly.

from Felicity, Penguin Books, 2015. Click here to order a copy. 

 

December 6, 2010

This week’s verse from the Tao Te Ching, #41, is at once self-explanatory and opaque, a perfect embodying perhaps, of Tao wisdom. Rather than dwelling on the verse, this week’s Dharma Talk focuses on working with chanting as a mindfulness practice. While listening to the the talk, if you interchange the Yogic term “Self” with the Taoist term, “Tao,” you’ll connect the dots between these two traditions.  Here’s the verse, followed by the talk which runs about 23 minutes.

41.

When a superior mam hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs our loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
it would be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.


November 29, 2010

Here’s this week’s Dharma Talk on Verse 40 of the Tao Te Ching. Which comes at just about the halfway point… and at 4 lines, is the shortest of 81 verses. This week’s talk is a kind of free association on the verse. Rather than inspiring parallel teachings, I found myself intrigued by the brevity of the four lines and the significance of the number 4. Of course, I couldn’t talk about “non-being” without bringing in Dhumavati, the Wisdom Goddess personifying the Void.

40.
Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.

I tend to hold being as the ground as in “ground of being.”  This verse reminded me of the deeper level, the level that is unfathomable and without bottom, which would be non-being or the so-called Void. While we really need no metaphors to wrestle with these concepts — and truly better to experience the state in chanting and meditation, still, the stories and imagery are so lovely. Here’s a bit from the mythology of Dhumavati quoted in David Frawley’s Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses:

Perceived as the Void, as the dissolved form of consciousness, when all beings are dissolved in sleep in the supreme Brahman, having swallowed the entire universe, the seer-poets call her the most glorious and the eldest, Dhumavati….among yogis she becomes the power that destroys all thoughts, indeed Samadhi itself….

Dhumavati is the void, wherein all forms have been dissolved and nothing can any longer be differentiated. Yet this void is not mere darkness. It is a self-illuminating reality free of the ordinary duality of subject and object… As such, Dhumavati is pure, perfect, and full Awareness in which there are no longer any objects. The Void is not merely emptiness but the cessation of the movements of the mind. Dhumavati is thus ultimately silence itself.

Small correction:

In my talk, I inadvertently mixed up the technical names of the Four Levels of Sound.

The Para levels is as I said, deep in the lower depths of being/non-being at around the naval chakra. This is where what we might call the “impulse  of a sound” begins. As the impulse moves towards oral expression, it enters into the Pashyanti level around the heart chakra where it is still not heard but getting closer, then into Madhyama level which is at the throat and finally Vaikari which is the actual physical sound. As the sound channels through the four levels it is influenced by the inner environment. So for instance, the impulse may be an angry response to something someone has said to us. But as it moves through the intermediary levels before Vaikari it may be toned down, refined, recalibrated, or suppressed. This is a big topic we’ll take up in subsequent weeks.

November 22, 2010

Here’s this week’s Dharma Talk, along with posts of  readings:

39.
In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
and endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.

As I said in my talk, we’ve moved into a section of the Tao Te Ching that seems very much its own. While I’m still able to find parallel teachings, they don’t flow as seamlessly from text to text as we’ve found in earlier verses. I suspect this has something to do with the construction of the Tao Te Ching. Since I’m not making a formal academic study however, I’ll  dispense with literary theory and simply post readings I found to be of a similar mind…

This first is a lovely quote from the great Sivananda, in Georg Feuerstein’s pocket anthology, Teachings of Yoga:

Smile with the flower and the green grass. Play with the butterflies, birds, and deer. Shake hands with the shrubs, ferns, and twigs of trees. Talk to the rainbow, wind, stars, and the sun. Converse with the running brooks and the waves of the sea, Speak with the walking-stick. Develop friendship with all your neighbors, dogs, cats, cows, human beings, trees, flowers, etc. Then you will have a wide, perfect, rich, full life. You will realize the oneness or unity of life. This can hardly be described in words. You will have to feel this yourself.

I was also struck by these lines from Rumi, pulled from a larger work in the Coleman Barks/Michael Green collaboration, The Illuminated Rumi:

Bend, Tend, Disappear

This is how you change
when you go to the orchard
where the heart opens….

you become
fragrance and the light
that burning oil gives off,

long strands of grieving hair, lion
and at the same time, gazelle.

You’re walking alone without feet,
as riverwater does….

Bend like the limb of a peach tree.
Tend those who need help.
Disappear three days with the moon.

Don’t pray to be healed, or look for evidence
of “some other world.”
You are the soul
and the medicine for what wounds the soul.

And in closing, as has often happened on this inter-spiritual adventure called Monday Night Class, the final word goes to Mary Oliver, whose poet-mind roams deep in the diamond essence of the Tao. Every word and every space between those words, shimmering with light and the fertile darkness…

This World

I would like to write a poem about the world that has in it
nothing fancy.
But it seems impossible.
Whatever the subject, the morning sun
glimmers it.
The tulip feels the heat and flaps its petals open
and becomes a star.
The ants bore into the peony bud and there is the dark
pinprick well of sweetness.
As for the stones on the beach, forget it.
Each one could be set in gold.
So I tried with my eyes shut, but of course the birds
were singing.
And the aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music
out of their leaves.
And that was followed by, guess what, a momentous and
beautiful silence
as comes to all of us, in little earfuls, if we’re not too
hurried to hear it.
As for spiders, how the dew hangs in their webs
even if they say nothing, or seem to say nothing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe they sing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe the stars sing
too, and the ants, and the peonies, and the warm
stones,
so happy to be where they are, on the beach, instead of
being lock up in gold.