July 20, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump, Part I

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JUNE 19, 2017: BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #16
CHAPTER SIX: THE YOGA OF MEDITATION
“ADMIRING IS EASY, BUT AFFINITY, THAT DOES TAKE SOME TIME.”

When he sees all beings are equal
in suffering or in joy
because they are like himself,
that man has grown perfect in yoga. [6.32]

I was out walking the other day when I encountered a snake and a stick. Lying just so on the ground. They reminded me of the old Vedanta teaching story about the snake and the rope. This was a snake and a stick but you get the point.  A snake is a snake. A rope is a rope. A stick is a stick. We need to see life as it is.

Monday Night Class broke for the summer at the end of June. I’ll post June 19 here. June 26 will follow. And with these two posts, we close out this blog season I’ve titled, “Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump…”

Ironically, today is the six-month mark of the Trump presidency. Where ropes are snakes and snakes are sticks. Dizzying, devastating, dangerous, and exhausting. And what can we do but keep standing up for the truth.

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, I’m sure you exulted in Sunday night’s new season premiere when Arya Stark turned to the young woman whose life she spared and said, “When people ask you what happened here, tell them the North remembers.” Yes. The North remembers. It’s a fitting metaphor for our time.

Here’s my dharma talk from June 19:

Here are the readings:

From the Gita:

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.   [6. 11-14]

Mature in yoga, impartial
everywhere that he looks,
he sees himself in all beings
and all beings in himself. 

The man who sees me in everything
and everything within me
will not be lost to me, nor
will I ever be lost to him.

He who is rooted in oneness
realizes that I am
in every being: wherever
he goes, he remains in me.

When he sees all beings are equal
in suffering or in joy
because they are like himself,
that man has grown perfect in yoga.  [6.29-32]

From Mary Oliver’s Blue Horses:

ON MEDITATION, SORT OF

Meditation, so I’ve heard, is best accomplished
if you entertain a certain strict posture.
Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?

Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place—half asleep—where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter—
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.

So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.

Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints—
all that glorious, temporary stuff.

THE MANGROVES

As I said before, I am living now
in a warm place, surrounded by
mangroves. Mostly I walk beside
them, they discourage entrance.
The black oaks and the pines
of my northern home are in my heart,
even as I hear them whisper, “Listen,
we are trees too.” Okay, I’m trying. They
certainly put on an endless performance
of leaves. Admiring is easy, but affinity,
that does take some time. So many
and so leggy and all of them rising as if
attempting to escape this world which, don’t
they know it, can’t be done. “Are you
trying to fly or what?” I ask, and they
answer back, “We are what we are, you
are what you are, love us if you can.”

Here’s audio of class chanting. Daniel Johnson joined us for these last two classes so you will hear his tabla in the music.

Om Tara Tuttare Ture Swaha

 

Om Namah Shivaya

 

Shivaya Namah Om Fast Chant

 

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….

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]

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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 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…

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