May 14, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

MAY 1, 2017: BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #10: BETTER THAN ANY RITUAL IS THE WORSHIP ACHIEVED THROUGH WISDOM; WISDOM IS THE FINAL GOAL OF EVERY ACTION, ARJUNA. [IV, 33] WHEN YOU REALIZE IT, YOU WILL NEVER FALL BACK INTO DELUSION; KNOWING IT, YOU SEE ALL BEINGS IN YOURSELF, AND YOURSELF IN ME. [IV, 35]

Rose_Green

Today is Mother’s Day, a day my communist-leaning mother decried as a phony holiday created by merchants to get people shopping. We were not allowed to spend a cent for Mother’s Day. Our gifts and cards had to be made by hand.

My mom was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1916, the first-born child of my Eastern European immigrant grandparents. Then came a brother, later a sister, and then, after a decade or so of prosperity, the Great Depression wiped out everything they had. My grandfather lost his job. My grandmother had to find work as a seamstress. And my mother had to leave school to help support the family. 25 years later, she and my dad owned a successful business and had everything money could buy. She never again wanted for anything and lived deep into her 90’s. But those depression scars never left her. They formed the backdrop of how she moved through life.

She always worked hard and lived a life of the mind. She questioned everything, read voraciously, and never stopped learning. In these things she inspired me to do the same. Although she would not have understood the Bhagavad Gita, were I to explain the underlying meaning, leaving out all the God-talk she so despised, she would have wholeheartedly approved. In her own way she was a woman of wisdom. I think of her today with great love and fondness.

Here’s to you Mom.
Thank you.

I’ve been slammed the last couple of weeks and am running two weeks behind on the blog. I’m posting May 1 here tonight. Will hopefully get May 8 and May 15 up by the end this week.

Here’s the opening dharana:

 

Here’s my interesting and in some places hilarious talk covering everything from Facebook to White Supremacists and redemption..

 

 

Here are the verses we read from the Gita. These are from Chapter IV:

When a man has let go 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. 

Some men of yoga pray
to the gods, and make this their worship;
some offer worship by worship
itself, in the fire of God;  [23-25] 

….All these understand worship;
by worship they are cleansed of sin.

Partaking of the essence of worship,
forever they are freed of themselves;
but non-worshippers cannot be happy
in this world or any other. 

Thus, many forms of worship
may lead to freedom Arjuna.
All these are born of action.
When you know this, you will be free. 

Better than any ritual
is the worship achieved through wisdom;
wisdom is the final goal
of every action, Arjuna. 

Find a wise teacher, honor him,
ask him your questions, serve him;
someone who has seen the truth
will guide you on the path to wisdom.

When you realize it, you will never
fall back into delusion;
knowing it, you see all beings
in yourself, and yourself in me.  

Even if you were the most evil
of evildoers, Arjuna,
wisdom is the boat that would carry you
across the sea of all sin. 

Just as firewood is turned
to ashes in the flames of a fire,
all actions are turned to ashes
in wisdom’s refining flames. 

Nothing in the world can purify
as powerfully as wisdom;
practiced in yoga, you will find
this wisdom within yourself. 

Resolute, restraining his senses,
the man of faith becomes wise;
once he attains true wisdom,
he soon attains perfect peace. 

Ignorant men without faith
are easily mired in doubt;
they can never be truly happy
in this world or the world beyond. 

A man is not bound by action
who renounces action through yoga,
who concentrates on the Self,
and whose doubt is cut off by wisdom. 

Therefore, with the sword of wisdom
cut off this doubt in your heart;
follow the path of selfless
action; stand up, Arjuna!    [30-42]

Here’s the poem I read from Hakim Sanai, whose full name is Hakim Abul-Majd Majdūd ibn Ādam Sanā’ī Ghaznavi. Sanai was a Persian poet who lived in Ghazni between the 11th and 12th century in what is now Afghanistan.

There is no place for place!
How can a place
house the maker of all space,
or the vast sky enclose
the maker of heaven? 

He told me:
“I am a homeless treasure.
The world was made
to give you a place to stand
and see me.” 

Tell me, if the one you seek
is placeless,
why put your shoes on?
The real road
is found by polishing, polishing
the mirror of your heart. 

Here’s audio of class chanting. As usual, apologies for the sound quality. New microphone coming soon…

 

And here’s a short clip I recorded before class. I always arrive early to chant alone in the room, but never bother recording myself. Thought I’d try that so here you go:

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

Eagle in mountains

APRIL 24, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #9. 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.  [4.23-24]

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:

 I  

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]

II

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]

 III

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…

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]

APRIL 4, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #8: “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.”

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]

ARJUNA SAID:

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

THE BLESSED LORD SAID:

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.

 

HAPPY EARTH DAY WEEKEND TO YOU ALL

Peaceable Kingdom

April 16, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

He Qi, Easter Morning, painting

MARCH 27, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #7: TRAVELING FROM THE OUTER LIMITS OF THE THINKING MIND INTO THE DEPTH OF INNER STILLNESS.  “PERFORMING ALL ACTIONS FOR MY SAKE, DESIRELESS, ABSORBED IN THE SELF, INDIFFERENT TO “I” AND “MINE,” LET GO OF YOUR GRIEF, AND FIGHT!

Easter Sunday. Ironic that this day of rebirth and resurrection ends another bizarre week in the Age of Trump. Bombs, bombs, and more bombs. I did wonder if the bombing spree was an attempt to distract us from the Russia-connection arrests rumored to be coming this week. Probably so. This is from the 4/13 Palmer Report...

Donald Trump dropped the “Mother of all Bombs” today in Afghanistan, but it appears to have been a mere attempt at distracting from the mother of all bombshells. Reliable sources, who have proven themselves correct in the past, are now pointing to U.S. intel agencies working with the Attorney General of New York to begin imminently dismantling Trump’s inner circle. In fact the big major arrests may come as soon as next week.

(Click here for the entire article.)

Let us hope the dismantling has begun. And that the Democratic Party can actually get its act together, win the next round of elections, and bring some semblance of sanity and humanity back to governing. In the meantime, can I just say that nicknaming a bomb “mother” is really sick. Especially one that resembles a ginormous phallus. And the acronym MOAB. Seriously? It makes this hideously destructive bomb sound like a pet guppy.

The Bhagavad Gita maintains that desire drives the psycho-pathology of men and women like Donald Trump. In the more integrative perspective of Tantra, we would say that it’s actually attachment to and/or identification with desire. But we need not bog down in philosophical hair-splitting. The bottom line is, desire, its near relative greed, and their offspringsdisplaced anger, cruelty, and the need to dominate and controlhave wreaked havoc on this planet for thousands of years…

Although we didn’t read these verses at the March 27 class, they’re so relevant to this moment, I thought I’d include them.

ARJUNA SAID:
 
What it is that drives a man to evil action, Krishna,
even against his will,
as if some force made him do it.
 
THE BLESSED LORD SAID:

That force is desire, it is anger,
arising from the guna called rajas;
deadly and all-devouring,
that is the enemy here.
 
As a fire is obscured by smoke,
as a mirror is covered by 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]

 

Here’s my dharma talk from March 27th.

 

I read only two verses from the Gita during this talk. We’ve read these before but they’re well worth repeating…

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. [3.26]

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. [3.35]

Here are the Mary Oliver poems that, as always, beautifully and ecstatically mirror what the Gita is teaching. The first we also read last week. Like the Gita verses above, it too bears repeating…

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.

GREEN, GREEN IS MY SISTER’S HOUSE

Don’t you dare climb that tree
or even try, they said, or you will be
sent away to the hospital of the
very foolish, if not the other one.
And I suppose, considering my age,
it was fair advice.

But the tree is a sister to me, she
lives alone in a green cottage
high in the air and I know what
would happen, she’d clap her green hands,
she’d shake her green hair, she’d
welcome me. Truly 

I try to be good but sometimes
a person just has to break out and
act like the wild and springy thing
one used to be. It’s impossible not
to remember wild and want it back. So

if someday you can’t find me, you might
look into that tree—of course
it’s possible—or under it.

 

I’m including two audio clips of class chanting, with apologies for less than stellar sound quality. During this Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump cycle of class, we’ve been chanting Tara and Kuan Yin mantras. I’ll write more about why I chose these mantras (or more accurately, why these mantras chose me) within the next few weeks. For now, suffice to say they are excellent medicine for moving through these times. They foster the ability to  hold the nightmare of the Trump regime without getting lost in our outrage, disgust, revulsion, fear, even hatred. And in that holding, we can channel these powerful energies into the fierce determination and wisdom necessary to keep fighting for truth and loving kindness to the world.

Here is the Tara mantra we chant at the opening of class.
OM TARA TUTTARE TURE SWAHA

Here is the Kuan Yin mantra which resolves into Om Namah Shivaya
NAMO KUAN SHIH YIN PU’SA 

April 12, 2017, Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

Equinox w.o axis

MARCH 20, 2017: BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #6: THE YOGA OF PAYING ATTENTION “IN THIS WORLD THERE ARE TWO MAIN PATHS: THE YOGA OF UNDERSTANDING FOR CONTEMPLATIVE MEN; AND FOR MEN WHO ARE ACTIVE, THE YOGA OF ACTION.”

As I sit here writing, we are 84 days into the Age of Trump. If there was not so much at stake, we could chalk the madness up to dark comedy. Alas, it is actually happening. And the dizzying, psychotic mess that is the Trump regime is overwhelming at best, terrifying at worst, and just plain crazy-making in between. If you’ve spent time in the company of people at this end of the psychological spectrum, you know how easy it is to lose yourself in a twisted dance of wrong is right, down is up, and 2+2=5. While it’s good to see things from all sides, when one of those sides is bat-crap crazy, the balance is seriously disturbed.

It’s been extremely gratifying to see the pushback and results coming from the Resistance Movement. And we cannot let up for a moment. What we need to guard against however, is being pulled into the vortex of reactivity. We have to get really real inside of ourselves, pushing hard against unconscious motivation and drives. We need to act from truth, clarity, and a huge depth of wisdom. And thoughtful reading of the Bhagavad Gita is very helpful in this regard. At its core, this text reminds us to wake up, pay attention, and act for the benefit of all. It’s a powerful message that is, I know, much easier said than done. Nevertheless, if we are to right the nightmare of the Age of Trump, and I include in that nightmare all the wrongheaded agendas that brought us here, it is essential.

Here’s my dharma talk from March 20th. It was the Vernal Equinox so this talk opens with a short dharana welcoming Spring and constellates around Chapter 3 of the Gita.

 

Here are some verses from the chapter:

The superior man is he
whose mind can control his senses;
with no attachment to results,
he engages in the yoga of action. 3.7

The whole world becomes a slave
to its own activity, Arjuna;
if you want to be truly free,
perform all actions as worship. 3.

Without concern for results,
perform the necessary action;
surrendering all attachments,
accomplish life’s highest good. 3.19

Only by selfless action
did Janaka and other wise kings
govern, and thus assure
the well-being of the whole world. 3.20

Whatever a great man does
ordinary people will do;
whatever standard he sets
everyone else will follow. 3.21

Here are the Mary Oliver Poems I read:

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.

THE MOTH, THE MOUNTAINS, THE RIVERS

Who can guess the Luna’s sadness who lives so
briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone
longing to be ground down, to be part again of
something livelier? Who can imagine in what
heaviness the rivers remember their original
clarity?

Strange questions yet I have spent worthwhile
time with them. And I suggest them to you also,
that your spirit grow in curiosity, that your life
be richer than it is, that you bow to the earth as
you feel how it actually is that we—so clever, and
ambitious, and selfish, and unrestrained—are only
one design of the moving, the vivacious many.

If you’d like to read the NY Times article by Joel Whitebook I referenced in my talk, click here.

And a PS to my previous post. Here are some beautiful verses from the Jnaneshwari commenting on the Gita’s teaching on stitha prajna, steady wisdom.

O Arjuna, if you want to have the vision of wisdom, pay attention to Me.  I will explain to you how to recognize wisdom.

You may recognize wisdom in a person who has patience without intolerance.

He patiently bears all things, just as a person wears his favorite ornaments.  Even if calamity should come to him, he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by it.

His attitude is one of glad acceptance, whether he obtains what he wants or what he doesn’t want.

Be bears with equanimity both honor and shame, he is the same in happiness and sorrow, and he isn’t affected differently by praise or blame.

He isn’t scorched by heat, nor does he shiver with cold.  He isn’t intimidated by anything.

Just as Mount Meru doesn’t feel the weight of its own peaks, nor does the boar feel the burden of the earth, and just as the entire creation doesn’t weigh down the earth, in the same way, he doesn’t sweat under the pressure of the pairs of opposites.

Just as the ocean swells to receive the water of all the rivers flowing into it, similarly, there is nothing that such a person cannot bear with equanimity, and he has no memory even of what he has suffered.

Whatever happens to his body he accepts as his own, and he takes no credit for what he suffers. 

O Arjuna, he who practices such quiet endurance adds greatness to wisdom.

 

April 7, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

MARCH 6, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #5: WHEN A MAN GIVES UP ALL DESIRES THAT EMERGE FROM THE MIND, AND RESTS CONTENTED IN THE SELF, BY THE SELF, HE IS CALLED A MAN OF FIRM WISDOM. [2.55]

Steady Wisdom3

It’s been a dizzying week in the Age of Trump. Kushner up, Bannon down. Gorsuch in, filibuster out. Nunes falls, Conaway rises. Not to mention North Korea, China,  Syria, and Russia. I started writing this post last night, concerned that with Trump’s approval numbers plummeting, he’d be looking for a war. But I never thought he’d move so quickly. I tend to keep a pretty cool head, but honestly, when I saw the news last night my heart stood still. I have not agreed with American policy regarding the nightmare in Syria, but starting World War III is not the solution…

Which brings me back to the Bhagavad Gita’s teachings around stitha prajna, what I’ve always referred to as “steady wisdom.” Mitchell translates stitha prajna as “firm wisdom” and since we’re using his translation, I’ll defer to that language. First though, let’s have a look at the Gita’s succinct definition of what firm wisdom is not:

If a man keeps dwelling on sense-objects, attachment to them arises; from attachment, desire flares up; from desire, anger is born; from anger, confusion follows; from confusion, weakness of memory; weak memory—weak understanding; weak understanding—ruin. [2.62-63]

Needless to say, this pathology is perfectly embodied in Trump and his administration. And what can we do in the presence of rampant delusion and cruelty but keep pushing back. Arm ourselves with stitha prajna and as Krishna instructs Arjuna at the beginning of the Gita, stand up and fight…

When a man gives up all desires
that emerge from the mind, and rests
contented in the Self by the Self,
he is called a man of firm wisdom. [2.55]

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]

Cultivating stitha prajna is the work of a lifetime. And it certainly requires focused committed inner work alongside focused committed outer work. But every time we push deeper inside ourselves, unravelling the knots of psycho/emotional wounding and clearing the debris of the past, we create more space for our innate stitha prajna, our steady wisdom, to breathe. And that is a great and noble weapon. Every exhalation sends a flare of sanity into the world.

Here’s my dharma talk from March 6.

April 3, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

Setting sun on the daffodils.francoise_gilot

As I marvel at the scandals, ethics violations, incompetence and subterfuge dominating the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, I keep thinking of the stories of the Mahabharata that form the backdrop of the Bhagavad Gita. There we have a horrendous war between two dynasties with a tangled web of betrayals. Betrayals that include really bad treatment of women, cheating, jealousy, revenge, and backroom deals. By the end of the war, both sides have been decimated. Sound familiar. I could be writing about our current political landscape.

And in the midst of the Mahabharata, right there on the battlefield of a war to end all wars, comes the Bhagavad Gita. It’s  astonishing really when you think about it. Before the first arrow has been loosed, we’re given a complete exposition of the yogic path, shown step by step how we become truly human.

Coming as it does at this moment in the epic gives even more potency to the possibility inherent in the teaching. That even in the midst of greed-driven madness, we can hold onto ourselves, retain our equanimity, and stand up for dharma. In fact, we must. And to those who distort the meaning of the Gita, seeing it as a handbook for domination and war, I think this single verse sets that record straight:

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]

If you ever need a standard for right action, there it is. “The wise are free of attachments and act for the well-being of the whole world.”

Since I’ve been unable to keep this blog current, I’m doubling up audio and poems from the last two February classes. I’ll try to get all of March up in the next week…

FEBRUARY 13, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK#3: “THE WISE MAN WHOSE INSIGHT IS FIRM, RELINQUISHING THE FRUITS OF ACTION, IS FREED FROM THE BONDAGE OF REBIRTH AND ATTAINS THE PLACE BEYOND SORROW.”

All the verses from the Gita are from Stephen Mitchell’s translation. Here are the Kabir poems I read in this talk:

1.
I don’t know what sort of God we have been
talking about.

The caller calls in a loud voice to the Holy One at
dusk.

Why? Surely the Holy One is not deaf.
He hears the delicate anklets that ring on the feet of an insect as it walks.

Go over and over your beads, paint weird designs on
your forehead,
wear your hair matted, long, and ostentatious,
but when deep inside you there is a loaded gun, how
can you have God.

2.
Friend, please tell me what I can do about this world
I hold to, and keep spinning out!
I gave up sewn clothes, and wore a robe,
but I noticed one day the cloth was well woven.

So I bought some burlap, but I still
throw it elegantly over my left shoulder.

I pulled back my sexual longings,
and now I discover that I’m angry a lot.

I gave up rage, and now I notice
that I am greedy all day.

I worked hard at dissolving the greed,
and now I am proud of myself.

When the mind wants to break its link with the world
it still holds on to one thing.

Kabir says: Listen my friend,
there are very few that find the path!

3.
The spiritual athlete often changes the color of his
clothes,
and his mind remains gray and loveless.

He sits inside a shrine room all day,
so that the Guest has to go outdoors and praise the
rocks.

Or he drills holes in his ears, his hair grows
enormous and matted,
people mistake him for a goat…
He goes out into wilderness areas, strangles his
impulses,
and makes himself neither male nor female…

He shaves his skull, puts his robe in an orange vat,
reads the Bhagavad-Gita, and becomes a terrific
talker.

Kabir says: Actually you are going in a hearse to the
country of death,
bound hand and foot!

 

FEBRUARY 27, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #4: THE MIND IS A MASTER AT BURNING US OUT… “WHEN A MAN GIVES UP ALL DESIRES THAT EMERGE FROM THE MIND, AND RESTS CONTENTED IN THE SELF BY THE SELF, HE IS CALLED A MAN OF FIRM WISDOM.”

Alongside the Gita verses, I re-read one of last week’s Kabir poems and one other from his canon and one from Mary Oliver’s House of Light. 

Here’s the Kabir:

I said to the wanting-creature inside me:
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or
resting?
There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no towrope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no
ford!

And there is no body, and no mind!
Do you believe there is some place that will make the
soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don’t go off somewhere else!
Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of
imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are.

And here’s the Mary Oliver:

Five A.M. in the Pinewoods

I’d seen
their hoof prints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night

under the pines, walking
like two mute
and beautiful women toward
the deeper woods, so I

got up in the dark and
went there. They came
slowly down the hill
and looked at me sitting under

the blue trees, shyly
they stepped
closer and stared
from under their thick lashes and even

nibbled some damp
tassels of weeds. This
is not a poem about a dream,
though it could be.

This is a poem about the world
that is ours, or could be.
Finally
one of them — I swear it! —

would have come to my arms.
But the other
stamped sharp hoof in the
pine needles like

the tap of sanity,
and they went off together through
the trees. When I woke
I was alone,

I was thinking:
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.