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….

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 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