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

Eagle in mountains

APRIL 24, 2017, BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #9. WHEN A MAN HAS LET GO OF 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.  [4.23-24]

I grew up without religious training or tradition. In our house, God was a strange word, rarely spoken, mostly disdained. So when I stumbled onto the yogic path and met Baba Muktananda, his core teaching, God dwells within you as you, struck me as the most radical thing I’d ever heard. It also struck me as absolutely true. So while the word itself is loaded and after all these many years still gives me a jolt, I do love the Gita verse I’ve quoted above: God is the offering, God is the offered, poured out by God; God is attained by all those who see God in every action. Yes!

Today we’re 99 days into the age of Trump. I keep thinking of the Upanishadic concept, neti neti, “not this, not this.” Anyone needing an example of everything that is not-God, need look no further than the Trump White House and Republican agenda, where neti neti, not-God, not-God, is on display day in day out…

Tomorrow is the People’s Climate March, happening on Trump’s hundredth day in office. If you’re on the fence about being part of this massive action, here’s a link to help you find a sister march.

I’ve lately been re-reading William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. On the profoundly connected subjects of the climate march and God, I’ll leave you with two of my favorite quotes:

When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!

For every thing that lives is Holy.

We’re back to Monday Night Class after a two-week break, digging into the Bhagavad Gita: Chapter Four, The Yoga of Wisdom.  This is a very rich topic that lends itself to parallel readings. Here’s audio of my rather free-wheeling dharma talk. It begins with a lovely commentary connecting the Tara mantra to our readings of the Gita. I also brought in a lovely hasidic story and beautiful passage from a Mary Oliver essay on Walt Whitman. Enjoy.

Here are this week’s verses from the Gita:

Actions cannot defile me,
since I am indifferent to results;
all those who understand this
will not be bound by their actions.

This is how actions were done
by the ancient seekers of freedom;
follow their example: act,
surrendering the fruits of action.

What are action and inaction?
This matter confuses even
wise men; so I will teach you
and free you from any harm. 

You must realize what action is,
what wrong action and inaction are
as well. The true nature of action
is profound, and difficult to fathom. 

He who can see inaction
in the midst of action, and action
in the midst of inaction, is wise
and can act in the spirit of yoga. 

With no desire for success,
no anxiety about failure,
indifferent to results, he burns up
his actions in the fire of wisdom. 

Surrendering all thoughts of outcome,
unperturbed, self-reliant,
he does nothing at all, even
when fully engaged in actions. 

There is nothing that he expects,
nothing that he fears. Serene,
free from possessions, untainted,
acting with the body alone, 

content with whatever happens,
unattached to pleasure or pain,
success or failure, he acts
and is never bound by his action. 

When a man has let go of 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.  [4.14-24]    

Here are the parallel readings:

 I  

As the power of deliverance Tara is related to the goddess Durga, who similarly takes us across all difficulties. Hence she is also called Durga-Tara. Whereas Durga represents the power that overcomes or destroys obstacles and difficulties, Tara is the power which takes us beyond them. While Durga is more appropriate to call on in extreme danger wherein we need help against negative forces assailing us, Tara has the additional power to lift us up in life generally. Tara is the power to transcend all things. She not only lifts us beyond dangers but allows us to rise beyond our achievements and accomplishments to higher levels of realization. As the ultimate obstacle we have to cross over is our own mind, Tara provides the power to take us beyond the turbulent waves of our thought currents….

 [David Frawley, Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses]

II

I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs
                  to you.
 
I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease…observing a spear
                  of summer grass.

             In these lines the great work has begun, and the secret of success has been given. And what is that great labor? Out-circling interest, sympathy, empathy, transference of focus from the self to all else; the merging of the lonely single self with the wondrous, never-lonely entirety. This is all.

[Mary Oliver, Upstream]

 III

A man who lived in the same town as Rabbi Zusya saw that he was very poor. So each day he went to the house of prayer and left twenty pennies so that Zusya and his family might eat. From that time on, the man grew richer and richer. The more he had, the more he gave Zusya, and the more he gave Zusya, the more he had.

One day he recalled that Zusya was the disciple of the great master, Rabbi Baer of Mezritch—and it occurred to him that if what he gave the disciple was so lavishly rewarded, he might become even more prosperous if he made presents to the master himself. So he travelled to Mezritch and made a substantial gift to Baer. From this time on, his means shrank until he lost all the profits he had made during the more fortunate period.

Taking his troubles to Rabbi Zusya, he told him the whole story and asked what his present predicament was due to. For had not the rabbi himself told him that his master was immeasurably greater than he?

Zusya replied: “Look! As long as you gave and did not bother to whom, whether to Zusya or another, God gave to you and did not bother to whom. But when you began to seek out especially noble and distinguished recipients, God did exactly the same.”

[Jack Kornfield, Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart]

Finally, here’s audio of class chanting. This is the Tara mantra resolving into Om Namah Shivaya. This clip has a long slow fade-in so you may hear silence for the first 20 seconds. At around 3.40 minutes, I add a dharana on how these two mantras so beautifully complement and hold one another…

June 8, 2014, Vijnana Bhairava I

Although my blogging has come to a standstill over the last six months, Monday Night Class continues in its brick and mortar form. This Spring we began working through the Shaivite text Vijnana Bhairava (Divine Consciousness.) I first encountered this text during my years in Siddha Yoga. In those days the only available English translations were Paul Reps’ minimalist add-on at the end of  Zen Flesh, Zen Bones and Jaideva Singh’s scholarly version, Divine Consciousness, reissued by SUNY Press as The Yoga of Delight, Wonder, and Astonishment. A perfect title for this amazing work now available in a new translation, The Radiance Sutras, by Lorin Roche.

Where Singh explores the philosophical labyrinth of the text, Roche is steeped in the experiential. While  hard core scholars may be less than enthusiastic about his approach, I have to say that overall I find it inspired, respectful, and pulsating with luminosity.

Roche’s version has therefore become our main reference, fleshed out with commentary from Singh and whatever parallel readings come my way…

A few points about Vijnana Bhairava:

This is a work of Tantric Shaivism.
In this system, Bhairava is the metaphor for Divine or Supreme or Ultimate Consciousness. The text unfolds as a dialogue between Bhairava and “his” beloved, Paradevi or Bhairavi. This is a literary device. The commentaries make it clear that Bhairava and Bhairavi are one unified field.

Bhairavi is the shakti of Bhairava. Just as there is no difference between fire and its power of burning, even so there is no difference between Bhairava and Paradevi. [Singh, introduction, p. xxviii]

The entire text spans only 163 verses or sutras. Verses 1-23 prepare the ground for the experiential teachings that begin with sutra 24. These are exquisite practices [aka dharanas] designed to break the mind wide open so it rests in its true nature which is Bhairava/Bhairavi, aka the Great Heart, aka Supreme Consciousness, aka the inner Self, aka wonder, astonishment, and delight…

Around the time I decided to bring Vijnana Bhairava to class, I came across this poem. It struck me as a perfect blessing for embarking on a journey through this (or any) sacred text…

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind
and rain, the snow and moon.

-Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun), English version by Sonya Arutze

In the circular spirit that pervades Monday Night Class, i.e. no clear beginning, middle or end, I will end this post with the 24th verse in Roche’s translation. Fyi, this is actually the 47th sutra; Roche’s numbering begins with the actual dharanas.

 

This body is made of earth and gold,
Sky and stars, river and oceans,
Masquerading as muscle and bone,
Every substance is here:
Diamonds and silver, magical elixirs,
Ambrosia that gives visions.
Herbs that nourish and heal.
The foundation of the planet,
Immortal magnetic iron,
Circulating in the blood.
Every element in you loves the others:
Earth loves rain, sky loves sun,
Sun loves the space it shines through.
Space loves everyone equally.
In meditation, be drenched in knowing
This deep and simple truth.
Every cell is an organ of sense
Saturated with freedom.

 

* Regular visitors to this site may wonder why my blogging seemed to stop. This was mostly due to the all-consuming demands of my new music release, Daughter of the Mountain. Along with that however, editing class audio is extremely time-consuming. So, in order to get back to regular blogging, I’ll no longer include audio clips with each post.