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 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]

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: