June 11, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

O'keefe rose for blog




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.]


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,

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.


“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

And they went on. “Listen,
the heart-shackles are not, as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but

lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,

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. 






Tuesday, November 8, 2016

election-day-2016A beautiful day in Princeton. Walking over to vote this morning, I felt such a sense of the importance of this small act of civic responsibility. Which, politically cynical as I’ve grown over the years, surprised me. And then, even more surprising, the thrill I felt as I cast my vote. But what surprised me most of all were the tears that welled up as I walked out of my polling place.

So much divides us. The country seems as polarized as it was during the Civil War. One wonders where we go from here. How does Hillary (and I trust she will win this election) begin to heal the gulf. How do any of us reach out to the other side. These are the big questions. And if neuropolitical research is correct, our political stance is predetermined in our hard wiring.

Listening helps. Standing less on the side of being right, more on the side of being open helps. These are skills we can develop as long as we’re willing to step outside our own definitions of what is right, and feel the fear or pain or hatred of another. Is my fear of Donald Trump any different than a Trump supporter’s fear of Hillary Clinton. Same fear. Just pointed in a different direction.

At class last night I read from Baba Muktananda’s 1981 book, Where Are You Going? As relevant today as it was 35 years ago.

Today the world is said to be making more and progress, but in what way has it become greater… All over the world there is hatred among nations, hostility among political parties, animosity among societies, and enmity among races and classes. People talk about innovation and reform, but in the name of these things they have succeeded only in destroying the environment, in wrecking family life, and increasing selfishness and hostility.

In such a world there is only one thing we need, and that is the true understanding of humanity. Yet that is exactly what we lack. Why does a human being behave as he does? Why does he create barriers between himself and others? He does these things because he lacks true understanding about himself. He does not know the greatness that lies within the human heart. Yet if he were to look within himself, he would realize that he contains the divinity of the entire world.

Perhaps, in the end, it all comes down to Love. The kind of love that stretches across the boundaries and holds us strong in its embrace. The love that’s called agape or maitri. It’s what I touched this morning when those tears welled up. Last thing I ever expected to happen. Yet there it was, shimmering inside of me, waiting for me to open up and feel its grace.

I read this beautiful poem by Marie Howe at class last night. It’s deep. if you don’t already know it, read it out loud several times at least and it will come alive for you…


Even if I don’t see it again — nor ever feel it
I know it is — and that if once it hailed me
it ever does–

and so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as toward a place, but it was a tilting
within myself,

as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn’t — I was blinded like that — and swam
in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I’d die
from being loved like that.

-Marie Howe

Monday, November 4, 2013: We can change the world by changing our mind…

Sacred September Scene

Monday Night Class took an unexpected break the last few weeks of October. And now, while my studio is undergoing renovation, we’re been rendered homeless. Fortunately, we have Claude and her pristine yoga studio. So we do have a temporary resting place. Needless to say, I’m most grateful for this sanctuary…

As a Taurean being, I’ve never much liked change. Ironically, my life as a yogini has forced me to uproot over and over again. I’ve often suspected this outer movement was required to change my sedentary nature. Left to my own devices I’d probably have never left home…

And now, with my home in the chaos of renovation, I’m thinking a lot about perception, about how we change the world by changing our mind. Baba Muktananda often spoke of this telling us, “the world is as you see it.” People would complain to him about this or that and he’d sit back laughing and say, “change the prescription of your glasses…” I understood what he was saying, but understanding was just the first step. Living this awareness is the ongoing work…

I was out in my yard on Saturday raking leaves. This is a task I’ve never much enjoyed. I tire easily. My lower back aches. The minutes seem like hours. So I began asking myself why and remembered how as a child, I loved playing in the leaves. Same person. Same autumn season. Same leaves. The only difference really is perception. So I thought okay, let this raking be play. And I found myself — or perhaps I should say — lost myself in the leaves. And everything shifted. Fatigue vanished. No back pain. And dare I say it, bliss bubbling up from within…

There’s an interesting piece in this weeks’ NY Times about this phenomenon. Researchers at the University of Kent in England are documenting what yogis have practiced for centuries… we can change the world by changing our mind…

Here’s the lead with a link to the article:

Tell yourself during exercise that you’re not as tired as you think you are and you could make that statement true, a new study shows, reminding us that the body intertwines with the mind in ways that we are only starting to understand.


This week’s dharma talk uses the portal of Ganesha as a jumping off point to contemplate this notion:

Here’s a clip of class chanting Ganesha Sharanam:

Here’s the final dharana between chanting and silent meditation: