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

O'keefe rose for blog

JUNE 5, 2017: BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #14

CHAPTER SIX: THE YOGA OF MEDITATION

ANXIETY IS SUCH A WASTE OF VITAL ENERGY. 
WE NEED THE SELF. WE DON’T NEED ANXIETY. 

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.]

THE POET VISITS THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS

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,
rising

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.

WHEN THE ROSES SPEAK, I PAY ATTENTION

“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
joyfully.”

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,
selfishness.”

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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….