September 20, 2010

I found this week’s verse from the Tao Te Ching particularly relevant to these times…


Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counterforce.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon itself.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the currency of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

This is a small portion of a much larger work from the first century Chinese Zen master, Seng-Ts’an.

The Mind of Absolute Trust

The Great Way isn’t difficult for those who are unattached to their preferences.
Let go of longing and aversion, and everything will be perfectly clear,
When you cling to a hairbreadth of distinction, heaven and earth are set apart.
If you want to realize the truth, don’t be for or against.
The struggle between good and evil is the primal disease of the mind.
Not grasping the deeper meaning, you just trouble your mind’s serenity.
As vast as infinite space, it is perfect and lacks nothing.
But because you select and reject, you can’t perceive its true nature.
Don’t get entangled in the world; don’t lose yourself in emptiness.
Be at peace in the oneness of things, and all errors will disappear by themselves.

And now, for a lighter touch, two teaching stories. The first is told in  many traditions. The setting and characters may change, but the moral is eternal. This is the how Baba Muktananda liked to tell it:

Once there was a holy man who lived on the bank of a river. Nearby lived a milkmaid to whom he had given the mantra. Every day, she would bring him milk. One day the river flooded. She stood on the bank wondering how she could take him his milk. Then she remembered, “When my guru gave me the mantra he said, ‘You can go across the ocean of existence by repeating this mantra.’ And this is only a river.” So she closed her eyes, repeating the mantra with great faith, and walked across the water. The guru was in his room. She knocked on the door and called, “Babaji, open the door, I have milk for you.”

“How did you get here?” he asked.

“Don’t you know? When you gave me the mantra you said that if I repeated it, I would go across the ocean. This was just a small stream.”

When he heard this, the sadhu became swollen with pride. “What a state I must have attained if even my milkmaid can walk on water with my mantra!” A few days later, he had to go to town. Once again the river was flooded. He stood on the bank, wondering what to do. Then he remembered proudly, “Because of my mantra, the milkmaid crossed the river.” He began to repeat it, stepped into the river, and sank like a stone.

And the final word goes to Sheik Nasrudin:

A man borrowed some money from Nasrudin who assumed he would never get it back, but loaned it anyway. Much to his surprise, the loan was promptly repaid. Nasrudin was unhappy. Some time later the man asked for another loan saying, “You know my credit is good, I have repaid you in the past.” “Not this time, you scoundrel!” roared Nasrudin. “You deceived me the last time when I thought you would not return the money. You won’t get away with it a second time.”

September 13, 2010

Lovely to launch the Fall season of Monday Night Class.  Welcome to newcomers. Welcome back old-timers, regulars, and every now and then-ers!  I look forward to seeing you all again and again. Here’s this week’s portion from the Tao Te Ching:

Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.
The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.

When we let things “go their own way, residing at the center of the circle,” we’re practicing what yogis call “non-doership.”  This is Karma Yoga, the path of action without attachment to the fruits of  our action. When we act from this place, we’re not caught in improving, tampering with, or objectifying the world (along with ourselves and others).  And that’s the way to “repair the world” without doing any harm.

This verse got me thinking about the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu text that unfolds as a dialogue between the Supreme Lord Krishna and young hero Arjuna.  This version is from the contemporary teacher Eknath Easwaran. Although his translation has a modern sensibility very different from the original text, it delivers the teaching quite succinctly.

How to Work

Sri Krishna:  You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.

Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause for worry, whether things go well or ill. Therefore, devote yourself to the disciplines of yoga, for yoga is skill in action.

Finally, in honor of the Jewish New Year, also called the Days of Awe, a kernel of wisdom from Hayyim of Zans. This translation by Martin Buber is in Teachings of the Jewish Mystics, edited by Perle Besserman.  In the spirit of interfaith contemplation we’ve been enjoying in class, I might add that Perle used to live in Princeton where she and her husband co-led the Princeton Zen Group.

In my youth when I was fired with the love of God, I thought I would convert the whole world to God. But soon I discovered that it would be quite enough to convert the people who lived in my town, and I tried for a long time, but did not succeed. Then I realized that my program was still much too ambitious, and I concentrated on the persons in my own household. But I could not convert them either. Finally it dawned on me: I must work upon myself, so that I may give true service to God. But I did not accomplish even this.

Today was Yom Kippur, the final day of the Days of Awe. The traditional greeting is, L’shanah tovah, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.” It’s a beautiful sentiment and to everyone I say, yes, L’shanah tovah.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Class resumes on Monday, September 13. We’ll be meeting in the rear studio at PCYH. We hope to keep to the regular schedule with Open Chanting beginning @ 7:30 pm. However, there’s a Hot Yoga Class before us and the room may need more time to cool down. In which case class will  begin @ 7:45 pm. In either case, we look forward to the new season. Stay tuned for updates on start time and posts of the week’s teachings.