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



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:


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


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.

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)

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)

to nothing
the circle
that is
the world’s things

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

You who want
seek the Oneness

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



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

Equinox w.o axis


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 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.


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

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.


Waking Up in the Age of Donald Trump

img_3178I WANT TO START BY ASSURING YOU THAT SUKIE IS FINE. ABSOLUTELY FINE. ALTHOUGH WE MIGHT HAVE USED UP ONE OF HER NINE LIVES TODAY… I looked out the window this morning and saw three crows in a tree, cawing quite loudly. I watched fascinated until, gasp, I saw the reason why. Sukie was perched on a very high, very thin branch of another tree, intent on those crows. Precarious as it looked, and it did take my breath away, there was nothing I could do. So I watched, wonderstruck at this moment between a cat who thinks she can fly being scolded by three great crows.

And this is where the story turns dark. Had I simply stayed watching at the window, everything would have been fine. The crows would have flown off. Sukie would have found her way down. And I would have been enriched by the moment. Instead, I grabbed my phone and went out on the deck to make a video for Facebook. And now you know what’s coming. The sound of the door opening disturbed their equilibrium. The crows flew off. Sukie’s focus was shaken and the next thing I knew, she was hanging upside down, clawing to right herself on a branch too light to support her. And down she fell. A good twenty feet or more.

It was as shocking as waking up Wednesday morning to discover Donald Trump had won the election. And not so different from what’s just happened to the 59,755,284 of us who voted for Hillary Clinton. We’ve all fallen out of the tree. Lulled by our Facebook Newsfeeds, we missed the reality of the moment. Even those of us who thought we were listening. And it’s not like the crows were not trying to warn us. They were. It’s just that we, or I’ll speak for myself, I, was in denial.

The gift of it all is waking up.

Painful as the metaphorical falling out of a tree can be, coming out of denial is a powerful weapon. And those of us who care about the great issues of our time, issues like the climate crisis, income inequality, and social justice, need more than ever before, to be in reality. Empowered, joyous, and fiercely determined, yes. But most important, in reality.

I was just looking at the lists of potential picks for the Trump cabinet. It reads like a parody. If it weren’t so horrifying, it would be laughable. I think of all the people who voted  to “drain the swamp.” No doubt some are already falling out of their trees.

A lot of us here on the ground are contemplating where we go from here. I’m not yet clear exactly what forms this will take for me personally. But for starters, let me say, slow down. Do not become reactive. Do not give into fear-based ways of thinking. Do not allow a sense of overwhelm to overtake you. Feel your feelings. Feel your rage. Feel your hatred. Feel your despair. But do not allow these feelings to rule you. Channel them into awakening. That’s where it all begins. That’s what grows us strong and resilient. That’s what makes us so pure that nothing can taint us, nothing can harm us, nothing can impede our way. That’s what fosters right action.

In the short term, there is so much outer work we can do. Educate ourselves. Speak out. Write letters. Call (or better, visit) our senators and representatives. Become involved in local politics. Sign petitions. March on Washington. Support progressive media and progressive organizations. Support Planned Parenthood. Talk to people we disagree with. All the above and more.

Although I’ve done plenty of outward action in my life, the work of my lifetime has been mostly on the inner plane. That’s the terrain I know best. That’s the terrain where I’ll say I have some mastery. So that’s where I suspect I’ll feel called as we move through these hard dark times that are a coming. Is my music a part of that? Absolutely. Do I still think that chanting is a crucial 21st century medicine? Yes. But it seems my work as a writer and teacher and therapist and healer is coming to the forefront now. Perhaps because this is where I have the most to give.

Madness, blindness, cruelty, and denial may seem now triumphant. But there is so much beauty and depth and sanity and meaning and wonder and kindness and grace and bounty and hope and possibility and yes, love, alive and strong in this country and in this world. I for one am determined to do all I can to keep this alive in myself and in everyone with whom I come into contact. Whatever I can do to remain in service to that is what I pledge to do.