June 23, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

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JUNE 12, 2017: BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #15

CHAPTER SIX: THE YOGA OF MEDITATION

“WHEN WE LIVE IN THE QUESTION EVERYTHING WE SAY IS MUSIC.”

Attaining this state, he knows
that there is no higher attainment,
he is rooted there unshaken
even by the deepest sorrow.

This is the true yoga; the unbinding
of the bonds of sorrow. Practice
this yoga with determination
and with a courageous heart. [6.22-23]

This is the week of the Summer Solstice. For those who don’t pay attention to these cosmic moments, it occurred in our Northern Hemisphere at 12:24 AM EDT on Wednesday, June 21. And even the next day’s Senate healthcare debacle could not undermine the wonder of sunlight stretching into the evening. The Summer Solstice is a day I’ve always loved, revered even. But this year, I was strangely out of sorts, a mental state that knocked me from the ground I tend to move from, and, as bad luck would have it, sent me tumbling down a flight of stairs. Well, it wasn’t really bad luck. It was me not paying attention. I tripped on my cat Lily who was sleeping on the top step. I’d seen her there on the way up, but forgot she was there on the way down. And down I went. All the way down. 10 steps down to be exact. It’s a miracle I didn’t sprain, break, or concuss myself. Which is not to say I’m not feeling sore, bruised, and tender. I am. Quite.

Paying attention. One cannot take the practice deep enough. Had you seen me on Wednesday as I headed towards those stairs, you’d have seen a woman who appeared totally focused on what she was doing, who appeared to be paying attention. The problem was, what looked like focus was actually compulsion. Compulsion to complete a task. Compulsion that flung my awareness into a future event that never even happened.

What did happen is I got all banged up and will need at least a week to fully recuperate. But who cares about me. The poor cat was so freaked out, she hid under my bed for hours. My daughter had to sacrifice an evening to take care of me. And I had to cancel a long-planned visit with my niece. That’s a lot of inconvenience to others for my momentary lapse of attention.

Or as our charlatan in the White House would say, “not good.”

We spend so much time in our limited and limiting head space—and I’m not even talking about on our devices—that we miss what’s actually happening. We’re often not really here. Which is such a shame. Because here is so very precious.

Walking seems to help my bruised and battered body so I ambled over to the Farmer’s Market yesterday. Early summer abundance. Heads of lettuce, bags of spinach, boxes of sweet peas, bunches of arugula, turnips, beets, green onions, garlic scapes, herbs, buckets of blueberries, fresh eggs, local cheese. And the flowers. OMG. The flowers were amazing. Walking home I felt so simply happy. It didn’t matter that everything hurt, that I was tired, thirsty, hungry, and needing to lie down. None of that mattered. My joy in the preciousness of life was so much bigger than that temporary discomfort. So much bigger.

Which is what the Bhagavad Gita is all about.  Which is why we’ve been reading the Gita as we live through this Trumpian age. Because the awareness and call to right action articulated in this elegant text is the most potent medicine we have to counter the rampant destruction that will characterize this dark and chilling moment in our history.

Here’s the opening dharana and dharma talk from June 12. I usually edit out class banter but thought I’d leave it in for a change…

 

Here are the Mary Oliver poems we read:

THE MAN WHO HAS MANY ANSWERS 

The man who has many answers
is often found
in the theaters of information
where he offers, graciously,
his deep findings.

While the man who has only questions,
to comfort himself, makes music.

POEM 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.

 

Here are the Gita verses, [18-23]:

With a mind grown clear and peaceful,
freed from selfish desires,
absorbed in the Self alone
he is called a true man of yoga.

“A lamp sheltered from the wind
which does not flicker’ — to this
is compared the true man of yoga
whose mind has vanished in the Self.

When his mind has become serene
by the practice of meditation,
he sees the Self through the self
and rests in the Self, rejoicing.

He knows the infinite joy
that is reached by the understanding
beyond the senses; steadfast,
he does not fall back from the truth.

Attaining this state, he knows
that there is no higher attainment,
he is rooted there unshaken
even by the deepest sorrow.

This is the true yoga; the unbinding
of the bonds of sorrow. Practice
this yoga with determination
and with a courageous heart.

 

Here’s Om Namah Shivaya and closing words…

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

MAY 15, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #12

CHAPTER FIVE: THE YOGA OF RENUNCIATION
IT’S NOT REALLY ABOUT THE RESULTS, WE JUST THINK IT IS….

The resolute in yoga surrender
results, and gain perfect peace;
the irresolute, attached to results,
are bound by everything they do.  [5.12]

The practice of renunciation comes up in every religion and sacred tradition. It’s also an important element in recovery and self-improvement programs. In all these systems, renunciation is a penance, a giving up of something that gives us pleasure, a choosing, in other words, to suffer. And this renouncing is done in order to achieve a certain goal.

The Yoga of Renunciation flips this notion on its head. In Yoga, we renounce not only that which causes suffering, (i.e. attachment and identification with our psycho/emotional narratives.) We also renounce the fruit of our actions, letting go of goal-oriented focus and motivation.

There’s a great deal of paradox here. When I talked about how this work of yogic renunciation may be the hardest thing we ever do, one of my long-time Monday Nighters made a great point. She said from her perspective, not doing it is even harder. Yes and yes. The final irony being that what we’re renouncing doesn’t actually exist. But that’s a topic for another time…

Another bizarre week on the political scene where the Yoga of Not-Renunciation abounds. Here we see everything the Gita warns against. It’s been fascinating to watch this karma playing out. Too soon to know how this scandalous scandal-ridden chapter in American history will end. And they will do a lot of damage before that happens. Still, nonstop leaks, gaffes, and investigations are outing the craven corruption and naked lies that drive Trump and the Republican agenda. And the truth begins to roar.

Here’s May 15’s dharma talk. If you don’t have time to listen, a few short quotes:

“The ego thinks it’s all coming from it. That small sense of “I.” It thinks it’s the doer. It’s not. And that sense of “I’m the doer” creates the sense of isolation and alienation that creates so many of the maladies that plague our culture. We’re not isolated. We’re not alienated. We’re very much part of this ginormous matrix of Creation and that’s what’s carrying us.”

“Who cares about reincarnation. It’s irrelevant. It’s enough that we keep the spaces we move through clear. So we don’t leave a mess we then need to clean up.”

Here are the Gita verses we read:

ARJUNA SAID:

You have praised both renunciation
and the yoga of action, Krishna.
Tell me now: of these two,
which is the better path?

THE BLESSED LORD SAID: 

Renunciation and yoga
both lead to the ultimate good;
but of the two paths, Arjuna,
yoga is the more direct. 

The true renunciate neither
desires things nor avoids them;
indifferent to pleasure and pain
he is easily freed from all bondage. 

Fools say that knowledge and yoga
are separate, but the wise do not.
When you practice one of them deeply,
you gain the rewards of both. 

The state reached by true knowledge
is reached by yoga as well.
Both paths lead to the Self;
both lead to selfless action. 

It is hard to renounce all action
without engaging in action;
the sage, wholehearted in the yoga
of action, soon attains freedom.

Wholehearted, purified, mastering
body and mind, his self
becomes the self all beings;
he is unstained by anything he does.

The man who has seen the truth
thinks, “I am not the doer”
at all times—when he sees, hears, touches,
when he smells, eats, walks, sleeps, breathes, 

when he defecates, talks, or takes hold,
when he opens his eyes or shuts them;
at all times he thinks, “This is merely
sense-objects acting on the senses.” 

Offering his actions to God,
he is free of all action; sin
rolls off him as drops of water
roll off a lotus leaf. 

Surrendering attachment, the sage
performs all actions—with his body,
his mind, and his understanding—
only to make himself pure. 

The resolute in yoga surrender
results, and gain perfect peace;
the irresolute, attached to results,
are bound by everything they do. 

Calmly renouncing all actions,
the embodied Self dwells at ease
as lord of the nine-gated city,
not acting, not causing action.

It does not create the means
of action, or the action itself,
or the union of result and action;
all these arise from Nature.

Nor does it partake of anyone’s
virtuous or evil actions.
When knowledge of the Self is obscured
by ignorance, men act badly.

Here are the poems from Rabi’a, the beloved 8th century Sufi mystic, followed by two more from Hadwijch II, the lesser known but quite extraordinary 13th century Christian beguine. Note how both give the same teaching as the Gita with just a few strokes of the pen. Fyi, the images at the top of this post are Hadwijch facing Rabi’a.

1.
I am fully qualified to work as a doorkeeper, and for this reason:
What is inside me, I don’t let out;
What is outside me, I don’t let in.
If someone comes in, he goes right out again—
He has nothing to do with me at all.
I am a Doorkeeper of the Heart, not a lump of wet clay.
-Rabi’a  (tr. by Charles Upton)

2.
O my Lord,
if I worship you
from fear of hell, burn me in hell.

If I worship you
from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.

But if I worship you
for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.
-Rabi’a  (tr. by Jane Hirshfield)

1.
Tighten
to nothing
the circle
that is
the world’s things

Then the Naked
circle
can grow wide,
enlarging,
embracing all
-Hadewijch II  (tr. by Jane Hirshfield)

2.
You who want
knowledge,
seek the Oneness
within

There you
will find
the clear mirror
already waiting
-Hadewijch II   (tr. by Jane Hirshfield)

Finally, here’s audio of opening chanting that includes om tara tuttare ture swaha and om namah shivaya with a short dharana at the end weaving these two beautiful mantras together…

Here’s a short dharana leading into the classic version of om namah shivaya with a short dharana at the end leading into silent meditation:

May 20, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

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MAY 8, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK # 11: STILLNESS, THE MIRACLE CURE

“He who finds peace and joy
and radiance within himself—
that man becomes one with God
and vanishes into God’s bliss.”  [5.24]

We’re now about four months into the Trump presidency which is unfolding pretty much exactly as everyone familiar with the ways of Trump predicted. Well maybe not exactly. I mean who could have envisioned the bizarre drama of just these last ten days. I knew chaos, bigotry, nepotism, and greed would reign. But the naked compulsion is dizzying. I keep going back to two lines from this week’s Gita verses: “When knowledge of the Self is obscured by ignorance, men act badly.” Yes and yes.

There’s in interesting piece about Evan Williams, a founder of Twitter, in today’s NY Times. Here’s someone who tragically believed that creating an online platform where people could speak freely and exchange ideas would make the world a better place. But Williams, like so many other utopian entrepreneurs did not understand that until we address much deeper issues of human consciousness, “progress” and power, any good idea, democracy, socialism, capitalism, the internet… will ultimately be co-opted by the patriarchal mindset otherwise known as tyranny….

A few years ago, Twitter was viewed as a tool of liberation. It enabled, some believed, the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East. Twitter, like the internet itself, was putting tyranny on a short leash.

Then the narrative turned darker, with the rise of trolling on the platform.

President Trump has said he believes Twitter put him in the White House. Recently, Mr. Williams heard the claim for the first time….

“It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that,” he said finally. “If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”

I’m still behind in my posting here so what follows is audio from May 8th. That class constellated around Chapter Five of the Gita, The Yoga of Renunciation. I think the word “renunciation” has been tainted in patriarchal traditions that equate self-punishing penance with spiritual growth. In my observation, that form of renunciation breeds repression way more than enlightenment.

I am however, a great believer in renouncing the narratives of self that rule our lives. Dropping the story, as we say; getting out from under the pathology of attachment and what we call in Yoga, “wrong identification.” That’s a form of renunciation I fully support. That’s a form of renunciation that if applied worldwide would be the miracle that truly did make the world a better place. A much better place. I know, I know, dream on…

Here’s this week’s talk which I’ve divided into two parts. The first is a rather freewheeling contemplation on Chapter 5 of the Gita as it relates to identity, the finite, the infinite, compassion, and my new green chair. The second is the last five minutes of the talk and focuses exclusively on Kuan Yin and Steady Wisdom.

 

Here are the verses we read from Chapter Five.

The resolute in yoga surrender
results, and gain perfect peace;
the irresolute, attached to results,
are bound by everything they do.

Calmly renouncing all action,
the embodied Self dwells at east
as lord of the nine-gated city,
not acting, not causing action.

Nor does it partake of anyone’s
virtuous or evil actions.
When knowledge of the Self is obscured
by ignorance, man act badly. 

But when ignorance is completely
destroyed, then the light of wisdom
shines like the midday sun
and illumines what is supreme. 

Contemplating That, inspired
and rooted and absorbed in That,
men reach the state of true freedom
from which there is no rebirth.

Freed from the endless cycle
of birth and death, they can act
impartially toward all beings,
since to them all beings are the same. 

They do not rejoice in good fortune;
they do not lament at bad fortune;
lucid, with minds and unshaken,
they remain within what is real. 

A man unattached to sensations,
who finds fulfillment in the Self,
whose mind has become pure freedom,
attains an imperishable joy.

Pleasures from eternal objects
are wombs of suffering Arjuna.
They have their beginnings and their ends;
no wise man seeks joy among them.

He who finds peace and joy
and radiance within himself—
that man becomes one with God
and vanishes into God’s bliss.

The wise man cleansed of his sins,
who has cut off all separation,
who delights in the welfare of all beings,
vanishes into God’s bliss. 

Knowing me as the enjoyer
of all worship, the Lord of all worlds,
the dearest friend of all beings,
that man gains perfect peace.

Here are clips of chanting from May 8th. I just got a new microphone which will hopefully make a difference in the sound quality of class recordings from May 22 on. Please bear with the way-too-loud harmonium drone until then.

Here’s the Opening Tara chanting:

 

Here’s Kuan Yin:

 

And here’s another clip of my solo chanting before class begins….

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.

 

March 20, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

FEBRUARY 6, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #2: NONBEING CAN NEVER BE; BEING CAN NEVER NOT BE. BOTH THESE STATEMENTS ARE OBVIOUS TO THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN THE TRUTH.

Soon after we began reading the Bhagavad Gita, I was listening to a radio news show, I think it was NPR’s All Things Considered, and learned that Steve Bannon is a big fan of the Gita. Checking this out online, I discovered that Heinrich Himmler was also an admirer. He evidently kept a leather bound copy with him at all times. So we have Bannon, the architect of Trump’s policy agenda, and Himmler, the architect of the Nazi “Final Solution,” twisting the ideal of dharma to serve their twisted worldview. Two sociopaths fixated on the Gita’s notion of righteous war to justify their own pathologies. If you want an example of the dangers of belief, I give you this: Himmler believed Hitler was an incarnation of Krishna. One can only hope Bannon is not similarly deluded about the monster he serves.

It does give one pause.
And begs the question: How do we discern truth from belief?

The Bhagavad Gita may use the notion of “righteous war” to start a conversation. But the conversation is not about war. It’s about consciousness. The conversation between Arjuna and Krishna is a mirror of the conversation that goes on inside of us all the time. The conversation between the small self or ego (what we refer to in Yoga as the “I-maker”) and the Great Self of the Heart. And by “Heart,” I mean the ineffable hugeness that doesn’t speak in words. It’s more like a quivering or shimmering from deep within us. In those miraculous moments when we ground there, we embody everything the Gita teaches. In fact, in those miraculous moments, we are the Gita.

What Bannon doesn’t understand now and what Himmler didn’t understand then, is that we don’t go to war against the “other,” we go to war against that inside of us which creates the idea of “other.” We go to war inside of ourselves against the notion that we are somehow separate from and entitled to destroy that “other.” We go to war against this outmoded paradigm that has always been questionable and has demonstrated over a few thousand years that the only thing it excels at is making a tremendous mess of everything it touches.

We have to read the Gita the same way we should live our lives. We have to slip beneath the surface, read between the lines. We have to probe deeper and deeper, within a text, within ourselves, until the mind becomes so spacious, so still, that the “I”’ that drives the historical, cultural, psycho-emotional, and spiritual narratives that rule us ceases to be. Only in that stillness is the possibility of insight, and only in that insight, the possibility of truth. Anything that comes before that must be questioned.

I was talking with someone recently who was feeling very uncertain about her own gifts, and along with that, judging herself for not being more certain. This is the trap of dualistic thinking. It’s not about hard-edged certainty or soft edgeless uncertainty. Certainty and uncertainty are opposite poles of a stuckness that is quite destructive either way. What we want to develop is clarity. Which is neither certainty nor uncertainty. It’s just clarity. In that koan-like way Verse 2.16 so eloquently sings: “Nonbeing can never be; being can never not be. Both these statements are obvious to those who have seen the truth.’

Here’s my dharma talk from February 6. Which was Bhagavad Gita Talk #2, a rather freewheeling contemplation on the first forty or so verses from Chapter Two, The Practice of Yoga.

Here are the verses from this talk.  (If you’re visiting this blog for the first time, please note we’re working with Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita. See my last post for more on that.)

Although you mean well, Arjuna
your sorrow is sheer delusion.
Wise men do not grieve
for the dead or the living.

Never was there a time
when I did not exist, or you,
or these kings; nor will there come
a time when we cease to be.

Just as, in this body, the Self
passes through childhood, youth,
and old age, so after death
it passes to another body.

Physical sensations—cold
and heat, pleasure and pain —
are transient: they come and go:
so bear them patiently, Arjuna.

Only the man who is unmoved
by any sensations, the wise man
indifferent to pleasure, to pain,
is fit for becoming deathless.

Nonbeing can never be;
being can never not be.
Both these statements are obvious
to those who have seen the truth.

The presence that pervades the universe
is imperishable, unchanging,
beyond both is and is not:
how could it ever vanish?

These bodies come to an end;
but the vast embodied Self
is ageless, fathomless, eternal.
Therefore you must fight, Arjuna.

If you think the Self can kill
or think that it can be killed,
you do not well understand
reality’s subtle ways.

It never was born; coming
to be, it will never not be.
Birthless, primordial, it does not
die when the body dies.

Knowing that it is eternal,
unborn, beyond destruction,
how could you ever kill?
And whom could you kill, Arjuna?

Just as you throw out used clothes
and put on other clothes, new ones,
the Self discards its used bodies
and puts on others that are new.

The sharpest sword will not pierce it;
the hottest flame will not singe it;
water will not make it moist;
wind will not cause it to wither.

It cannot be pierced or singed,
moistened or withered; it is vast,
perfect and all-pervading,
calm, immovable, timeless.

It is called the Inconceivable,
the Unmanifest, the unchanging.
If you understand it in this way,
you have no reason for sorrow.

Even if you think that the Self
is perpetually born and perpetually
dies—even then, Arjuna,
you have no reason for your sorrow.<

Before birth, beings are unmanifest;
between birth and death, manifest;
at death, unmanifest again.
What cause for grief in all this?

Some perceive it directly
in all its awesomeness; others
hear of it and never know it.

This Self who dwells in the body
is inviolable, forever;
therefore you have no cause to grieve
for any being Arjuna.

Know what your duty is
and do it without hesitation/
For a warrior, there is nothing better
than a battle that duty enjoins.

Blessed are the warriors who are given
the chance of a battle like this,
which calls them to do what is right
and opens the gates of heaven.

But if you refuse the call
to a righteous war, and shrink from
what duty and honor dictate,
you will bring down ruin on your head.

Decent men, for all time,
will talk about your disgrace;
and disgrace, for a man of honor,
is a fate far worse than death.

These great heroes will think
that fear has driven you from battle;
all those who once esteemed you
will think of you with contempt.

And your enemies will sneer and mock you:
“The mighty Arjuna, that brave man—
he slunk from the field like a dog.”
What deeper shame could there be?

If you are killed, you gain heaven;
triumph and you gain the earth.
Therefore stand up, Arjuna;
steady your mind to fight.

Indifferent to gain or loss,
to victory or defeat,
prepare yourself for the battle
and do not succumb to sin.

This is philosophy’s wisdom:
now hear the wisdom of yoga.
Armed with this understanding,
you will shatter your karmic bonds.

On this path no effort is wasted,
no gain is ever reversed;
even a little of this practice
will shelter you from great sorrow.

And as often is the case, the final word goes to Mary Oliver:

HOW TURTLES COME TO SPEND THE WINTER IN THE
AQUARIUM, THEN ARE FLOWN SOUTH AND
RELEASED BACK INTO THE SEA

Somewhere down beach, in the morning, at water’s edge, I found
   a sea turtle,
its huge head a smoldering apricot, its shell streaming with
   seaweed,
its eyes closed, its flippers motionless.
When I bent down, it moved a little.
When I picked it up, it sighed.
Was it forty pounds, or fifty pounds, or a hundred?
Was it two miles back to the car?
We walked a little while, and then we rested, and then we
   walked on
I walked with my mouth open, my heart roared.
The eyes opened, I don’t know what they thought.
Sometimes the flippers swam at the air.
Sometimes the eyes closed.
I couldn’t walk anymore, and then I walked some more
while it turned into granite, or cement, but with that
   apricot-colored head,
that stillness, that Buddha-like patience, that cold-shocked
   but slowly beating heart.
Finally, we reached the car.

                                                       ***

The afternoon is the other part of this story.
Have you ever found something beautiful, and maybe just in time?
How such a challenge can fill you!
Jesus could walk over the water.
I had to walk ankle-deep in the sand, and I did it.
My bones didn’t quite snap.

 Come on in, and see me smile.
I probably won’t stop for hours.
Already, in the warmth, the turtle has raised its head, is
   looking around.
Today, who could deny it, I am an important person.

–Mary Oliver, House of Light