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….

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

election-day-2016A beautiful day in Princeton. Walking over to vote this morning, I felt such a sense of the importance of this small act of civic responsibility. Which, politically cynical as I’ve grown over the years, surprised me. And then, even more surprising, the thrill I felt as I cast my vote. But what surprised me most of all were the tears that welled up as I walked out of my polling place.

So much divides us. The country seems as polarized as it was during the Civil War. One wonders where we go from here. How does Hillary (and I trust she will win this election) begin to heal the gulf. How do any of us reach out to the other side. These are the big questions. And if neuropolitical research is correct, our political stance is predetermined in our hard wiring.

Listening helps. Standing less on the side of being right, more on the side of being open helps. These are skills we can develop as long as we’re willing to step outside our own definitions of what is right, and feel the fear or pain or hatred of another. Is my fear of Donald Trump any different than a Trump supporter’s fear of Hillary Clinton. Same fear. Just pointed in a different direction.

At class last night I read from Baba Muktananda’s 1981 book, Where Are You Going? As relevant today as it was 35 years ago.

Today the world is said to be making more and progress, but in what way has it become greater… All over the world there is hatred among nations, hostility among political parties, animosity among societies, and enmity among races and classes. People talk about innovation and reform, but in the name of these things they have succeeded only in destroying the environment, in wrecking family life, and increasing selfishness and hostility.

In such a world there is only one thing we need, and that is the true understanding of humanity. Yet that is exactly what we lack. Why does a human being behave as he does? Why does he create barriers between himself and others? He does these things because he lacks true understanding about himself. He does not know the greatness that lies within the human heart. Yet if he were to look within himself, he would realize that he contains the divinity of the entire world.

Perhaps, in the end, it all comes down to Love. The kind of love that stretches across the boundaries and holds us strong in its embrace. The love that’s called agape or maitri. It’s what I touched this morning when those tears welled up. Last thing I ever expected to happen. Yet there it was, shimmering inside of me, waiting for me to open up and feel its grace.

I read this beautiful poem by Marie Howe at class last night. It’s deep. if you don’t already know it, read it out loud several times at least and it will come alive for you…


Even if I don’t see it again — nor ever feel it
I know it is — and that if once it hailed me
it ever does–

and so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as toward a place, but it was a tilting
within myself,

as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn’t — I was blinded like that — and swam
in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I’d die
from being loved like that.

-Marie Howe