April 28, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

Eagle in mountains


I grew up without religious training or tradition. In our house, God was a strange word, rarely spoken, mostly disdained. So when I stumbled onto the yogic path and met Baba Muktananda, his core teaching, God dwells within you as you, struck me as the most radical thing I’d ever heard. It also struck me as absolutely true. So while the word itself is loaded and after all these many years still gives me a jolt, I do love the Gita verse I’ve quoted above: God is the offering, God is the offered, poured out by God; God is attained by all those who see God in every action. Yes!

Today we’re 99 days into the age of Trump. I keep thinking of the Upanishadic concept, neti neti, “not this, not this.” Anyone needing an example of everything that is not-God, need look no further than the Trump White House and Republican agenda, where neti neti, not-God, not-God, is on display day in day out…

Tomorrow is the People’s Climate March, happening on Trump’s hundredth day in office. If you’re on the fence about being part of this massive action, here’s a link to help you find a sister march.

I’ve lately been re-reading William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. On the profoundly connected subjects of the climate march and God, I’ll leave you with two of my favorite quotes:

When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!

For every thing that lives is Holy.

We’re back to Monday Night Class after a two-week break, digging into the Bhagavad Gita: Chapter Four, The Yoga of Wisdom.  This is a very rich topic that lends itself to parallel readings. Here’s audio of my rather free-wheeling dharma talk. It begins with a lovely commentary connecting the Tara mantra to our readings of the Gita. I also brought in a lovely hasidic story and beautiful passage from a Mary Oliver essay on Walt Whitman. Enjoy.

Here are this week’s verses from the Gita:

Actions cannot defile me,
since I am indifferent to results;
all those who understand this
will not be bound by their actions.

This is how actions were done
by the ancient seekers of freedom;
follow their example: act,
surrendering the fruits of action.

What are action and inaction?
This matter confuses even
wise men; so I will teach you
and free you from any harm. 

You must realize what action is,
what wrong action and inaction are
as well. The true nature of action
is profound, and difficult to fathom. 

He who can see inaction
in the midst of action, and action
in the midst of inaction, is wise
and can act in the spirit of yoga. 

With no desire for success,
no anxiety about failure,
indifferent to results, he burns up
his actions in the fire of wisdom. 

Surrendering all thoughts of outcome,
unperturbed, self-reliant,
he does nothing at all, even
when fully engaged in actions. 

There is nothing that he expects,
nothing that he fears. Serene,
free from possessions, untainted,
acting with the body alone, 

content with whatever happens,
unattached to pleasure or pain,
success or failure, he acts
and is never bound by his action. 

When a man has let go of attachments,
when his mind is rooted in wisdom,
everything he does is worship
and his actions all melt away. 

God is the offering, God
is the offered, poured out by God;
God is attained by all those
who see God in every action.  [4.14-24]    

Here are the parallel readings:


As the power of deliverance Tara is related to the goddess Durga, who similarly takes us across all difficulties. Hence she is also called Durga-Tara. Whereas Durga represents the power that overcomes or destroys obstacles and difficulties, Tara is the power which takes us beyond them. While Durga is more appropriate to call on in extreme danger wherein we need help against negative forces assailing us, Tara has the additional power to lift us up in life generally. Tara is the power to transcend all things. She not only lifts us beyond dangers but allows us to rise beyond our achievements and accomplishments to higher levels of realization. As the ultimate obstacle we have to cross over is our own mind, Tara provides the power to take us beyond the turbulent waves of our thought currents….

 [David Frawley, Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses]


I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs
                  to you.
I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease…observing a spear
                  of summer grass.

             In these lines the great work has begun, and the secret of success has been given. And what is that great labor? Out-circling interest, sympathy, empathy, transference of focus from the self to all else; the merging of the lonely single self with the wondrous, never-lonely entirety. This is all.

[Mary Oliver, Upstream]


A man who lived in the same town as Rabbi Zusya saw that he was very poor. So each day he went to the house of prayer and left twenty pennies so that Zusya and his family might eat. From that time on, the man grew richer and richer. The more he had, the more he gave Zusya, and the more he gave Zusya, the more he had.

One day he recalled that Zusya was the disciple of the great master, Rabbi Baer of Mezritch—and it occurred to him that if what he gave the disciple was so lavishly rewarded, he might become even more prosperous if he made presents to the master himself. So he travelled to Mezritch and made a substantial gift to Baer. From this time on, his means shrank until he lost all the profits he had made during the more fortunate period.

Taking his troubles to Rabbi Zusya, he told him the whole story and asked what his present predicament was due to. For had not the rabbi himself told him that his master was immeasurably greater than he?

Zusya replied: “Look! As long as you gave and did not bother to whom, whether to Zusya or another, God gave to you and did not bother to whom. But when you began to seek out especially noble and distinguished recipients, God did exactly the same.”

[Jack Kornfield, Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart]

Finally, here’s audio of class chanting. This is the Tara mantra resolving into Om Namah Shivaya. This clip has a long slow fade-in so you may hear silence for the first 20 seconds. At around 3.40 minutes, I add a dharana on how these two mantras so beautifully complement and hold one another…

October 16, 2012

The impulse to chant the Gayatri mantra 2 weeks ago was just that — a strong sense that this was the correct practice for that evening. It was all about infusing ourselves with light as we move into the new fall season. As Gayatri is to Light, Navarna is to Truth. So it seemed only right to add Navarna to the mix. And now, as Navarna is to Truth, Laksmi/Dhumavati-Bija is to infinite possibility. So layering these three mantras over these three weeks strikes me as a triadic blessing invoked during this sacred (which really means powerful) time of year.

This week’s Chant: The Sublime Laksmi Murti & Dhumavati Bija mantras.

Here’s this week’s dharma talk, inspired by the Tarika-Dhumavati bija mantras. It also touches on the Mangalam and quotes these lines from the Katha Upanishad…

Beyond the senses are the objects,
Beyond the objects is the mind,
Beyond the mind, the intellect,
Beyond the intellect, the ātman,
Beyond the ātman, the non-manifest,
Beyond the non-manifest, the spirit,
Beyond the spirit, there is nothing.
This is the end, pure awareness.

August 2, 2010

I’m still running  behind so will keep commentary to a minimum. Suffice to say that from my perspective, these readings fit beautifully together.


The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus the master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

This verse reminded me of  the story of  Satyakama and Gautama told in the Upanishads.  The version I read at class comes from the Vedanta Press edition by Sw. Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester.  I think Satyakama perfectly embodies the understanding contained in the above verse. See what you think:

One day the boy Satyakama came to his mother and said: “Mother, I want to be a religious student. What is my family name?”

“My son,” replied his mother, “I do not know. In my youth I was a servant and worked in many places. I do not know who was your father. I am Jabala, and you are Satyakama. Call yourself Satyakama Jabala.”

Thereupon the boy went to Gautama and asked to be accepted as a student. “Of what family are you, my lad?” inquired the sage.

Satyakama relied: “I asked my mother what my family name was and she answered: ‘I do not know. In my youth I was a servant and worked in many places. I do not know who was your father. I am Jabala, and you are Satyakama. Call yourself Satyakama Jabala!’ I am therefore Satyakama Jabala, sir.”

Then said the sage: “None but a true Brahmin would have spoken thus. Go and fetch fuel, for I will teach you. You have not swerved from the truth.”

After initiating Satkakama, the sage gave him four hundred lean and sickly cattle, saying, “Take good care of these my lad.” The boy promptly drove them toward the forest, vowing to himself that he would not return until they numbered a thousand. He dwelt in the forest for many years, and when the cattle had increased to a thousand, the bull of the herd approached him and said, “Satyakama, we have become a herd of one thousand. Do you now lead us to the house of your master, and I will teach you one foot of Brahman.”

“Speak out, please,” said Satyakama.

Then said the bull: “The east is a part of the Lord and so is the west; the south is a part of the Lord and so is the north. The four cardinal points form a foot of Brahman. Fire will teach you another.”

On the following day, Satyakama began his journey. Toward evening he lit a fire and heard a voice saying, “Satyakama, I will teach you one foot of Brahman. This earth is a portion of Brahman. The sky and the heavens are portions of him. The ocean is a portion of him. All these form a foot of Brahman. A swan will teach you another.”

Satyakama continued his journey. One the following evening a swan came to him and said: “I have come to teach you one foot of Brahman. This lighted fire before you is part of Brahman, and likewise the moon; the lightning too is a part. All these form a foot of Brahman. A loon will teach you another.”

The next evening a loon came and said: “I will teach you one foot of Brahman. Breath is a part of Brahman, sight is a part, hearing is a part, mind is a part. All these form a foot of Brahman.”

At last the youth arrived at the home of his master and reverently presented himself before him. As soon as Gautama saw him, he exclaimed: “My son, your face shines like a knower of Brahman. By whom were you taught?”

“By beings other than men,” replied Satyakama, “but I desire that you too should teach me. For I have heard from the wise that the knowledge that the Guru imparts will alone lead to the supreme good.”

Then the sage taught him that knowledge and left nothing out.”

And we leave the final word to Sheik Nasrudin, as told by Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield in Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart.

Mulla Nasrudin used to stand in the street on market-days, to be pointed out as an idiot.

No matter how often people offered him a large and a small coin, he always chose the smaller piece.

One day a kindly man said to him: “Mulla, you should take the bigger coin. Then you will have more money and people will no longer be able to make a laughing-stock of you.”

“That might be true,” said Nasrudin, “but if I always take the larger, people will stop offering me money to prove that I am more idiotic than they are. Then I would have no money at all.”