Thursday, July 22, 2010

Avoiding Judgment, Embracing viveka

On the spiritual path we practice in order to avoid judgment. As shrI shaMkarAcArya has stated, "A person who hears about the condemnation of another incurs sin. What need be said about the sin incurred by a man who actually engages in nit picking?"

Our practice is twofold: we don’t listen to judgments; nor do we indulge our in making them.

In addition to avoiding judgment, we also embrace viveka. This is to say, we continuously discriminate between Atma-brahman and the realm of appearances. There are three methods that can be used to bring about this discrimination. These are:


dRRigdRRishya viveka

bhAga tyAga lakShaNa

adhyAropa-apavAda involves putting an example forward and then, when the point has been made, retracting it. For example, we can say that the Atma is like space that exists around between and within a row of pots. However, after considering this example, we remind ourselves that it is only an example, since space can be objectified, whereas the Atma can not.

dRRik dRRishya viveka (sometimes referred to as neti-neti or not this, not this) is the practice of discriminating between the seer and the seen. If we can see an object, then this object is not the seer. Our practice is particularly helpful when we repeatedly consider how our individual sense of self, is but another object appearing to the ever-present, subjective seer.

bhAga tyAga lakShaNa is the practice of one way of seeing being eclipsed by another. The starting point for this practice is one of the mahAvAkya-s or great statements. For example the Sringeri mahAvAkya is "aham brahmAsmi" or "I am brahman". Usually we identify "aham" or "I" in a limited way. In this case, as SrI SankarAcArya has explained, "aham" refers to the Atma and not the jIva (the jIva being the individual, incarnate person comprised of the five kosha-s).

In short, we don't simply want to avoid judgment on our path. We also embrace the practice of viveka, which allows us to discover Truth.

Monday, July 19, 2010

skillful charmer

the heart
is filled with
many hidden maladies

everyone is searching
for the secret cure

like a fearless
skillful charmer
cobra after cobra
from some
little wicker basket

you came along
to bring an end
to the constant fatal

by casting your gaze
here and
placing your foot

this wasteland
tender life

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Sage, the adhikArin & the World

According to the late Douglas Harding, SrI ramaNa mahaRshi once explained that sometimes

the Self-awareness of the j~nAni is to the forefront like the treble melody in music. At other times it lies in the background like the bass accompaniment, which you hardly notice till perhaps it stops... The heartening fact is that true Self-consciousness, when sufficiently valued and established, can be trusted to go on at some level without any fuss or concern about keeping it up deliberately.

Probably this applies for the adhikArin as well. I have met folks who are eager to realize and when their continuous obsessing about Reality fails to get them realization, they redouble their efforts. My suggestions to relax and let things take their course, have sometimes fallen on deaf ears.

A disciple of SrI rAmakRRishNa was pursuing spiritual discipline, but he was unable to make much progress. One day he asked SrI rAmakRRishNa why he has been failing. The Master asked his disciple to follow and him to the middle of the gaNgA river. With the water up to their chests, SrI rAmakRRishNa placed both hands on the head of the disciple and pressed him underwater. He held him there for a few seconds or so and released him. As the disciple came above water, the Master asked the disciple, "What was one intense thought in your mind during the time I had you underwater?" The student replied, "I was intensely praying you would release your hand from my head, so that I could breathe." SrI rAmakRRishNa, then replied, "Your desire for mOksha should be this intense for you to make progress."

In this scenario, the disciple has been subjected to a force greater than his own will. The convergence of various circumstances afford him the opportunity to have the sudden, intense desire to be able to breath again.

Such intense desire emerges when the time is right.

Monday, July 12, 2010

the secret mystery

once it seemed
i had
a voice


a babbling ocean
its mouth

dear friends
all had to excuse
my stumbling

i was a
simple flame

when suddenly
the falconer
his command

and the hunter
took down
the deer of
my will

in the secret

of fire

The Value of Embarrassment

I recently was perusing a book titled Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. It was written by Dacher Keltner who is a professor of psychology at the University of Berkley.

As I was casually turning the pages, I stopped at a composite image of the the Buddha, Gandhi and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In the text around this image, Mr. Keltner explains that signs of embarrassment, which are generally believed to indicate confusions and lack of confidence, may also indicate "our respect for others, our appreciation of their view of things, and our commitment to the moral and social order."

According to Mr. Keltner,

Far from reflecting confusion, it turns out that embarrassment can be a peacemaking force that brings people together—both during conflict and after breeches of the social contract, when there’s otherwise great potential for violence and disorder. I've even found evidence that facial displays of embarrassment have deep evolutionary roots, and that this seemingly inconsequential emotion provides us with a window into the ethical brain.

In the book, Mr. Keltner further explains that individuals who exhibit confidence, on the other hand, have the potential to be violent and aggressive.

By Googling out of curiosity while considering this post, I found an adaptation of the passage here.

Jamie & Roller Derby

Recently, Jamie has been going with our friend Joanne to watch home bouts of the Charlotte Roller Girls. Until this past weekend, things have been innocent enough. On Saturday evening, however, Jamie came home with a button to wear on her work apron.

So what's the big deal about wearing one little button?

Well, since she is already calling Joanne "Smashin' Fashion", her own Derby name, I'm certain, is soon to be announced.

Meanwhile, here is a painting of Jamie I made last year.

The Way of Platonism

I have been studying Plato for close to a year now and find that his philosophy is much in harmony with SankarAcArya, the great sage and codifier of vedAnta.

Interestingly, although Emperor Justinian closed the Platonic Academia in 529 A.D., Platonism, as a spiritual Way, has never completely died out.

According to Raphael of the Ashram Vidya Order Platonism was,

highly regarded by the Fathers of the Church (Ambrose, Augustine, John of Damascus, Anselm from Canterbury, and so on). It continued to be the Doctrine approved by the Church until the XII century. During the Renaissance, it flourished even more thanks to the Florentine Academia (Marsilio Ficino, the two Pico della Mirandola, etc.) in Italy, and the Platonics of Cambridge in England (H. More, Th. Gale, J. Morris, at al.).

More recently has been the illustrious Thomas Taylor, who had married his childhood sweetheart Mary Morton. Mr. Taylor was so enthusiastic about the ancients, that he and Mary talked to one another only in classical Greek!

At any rate, Plato's teaching is invaluable for those wishing to "regrow wings" and soar into the eternal sky of the One-Good.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"I Heard God Talking to Me"

"I was out in my driveway with some old pieces of stone when I heard a voice telling me to pick up my tools and start to work on a tombstone. I looked up in the sky and right there in the noon daylight, He hung a tombstone out for me to make."

This is how the late William Edmondson explained his beginning to make stone carvings.

Later Mr. Edmondson got another message to begin carving figures. These are remarkably beautiful.

Here is Untitled (Three Doves). It's one of my favorites.

Friday, July 9, 2010

What is Happiness?

According to the late SrI candraSekhara bhAratI of Sringeri

Ordinarily speaking, we say that we are happy when we get the thing we are longing for. At the time when we desire something, our mind is in a state of unrest; but when we get that thing, the state of unrest is replaced by a sense of peace. Similarly, we say we are happy when we get rid of a thing which we loathed. At the time when we loathe something, our mind is restless; but when we get rid of that thing, our mind becomes calm. Therefore, happiness follows when a preceding state of unrest is ended. Happiness is identical with the feeling of rest or peace. Only he who knows mental peace experiences true happiness. And to still the mind is the aim of all spiritual practices.

To paraphrase: true happiness is peace of mind.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Our Neighbor George

Our neighbor George is a hardcore DIY guy. There's just not much he sees as trash.

Knowing I like to paint, George has provided me with a variety of frames (most I've had to sneak into the trash can - but only after looking both ways).

When he recently put up a trellis and an arbor - both made out of non-trellis and non-arbor objects - for his climbing spinach, I couldn't help wondering if George wasn't going a little overboard.

He also "borrows" Jamie's flower pots. Sometimes she'll look over at his porch and say, "There's the pot I was going to plant some rosemary in."

On the plus side, however, thanks to George, we now have an outdoor fire pit (found on the side of the road). We no longer have to dig a hole in the yard and keep an eye out for the Fire Marshal.

Also, I can ride a bike sometimes instead of walking, because someone gave George a bike, and then he gave it to me.

What's best about George is he has a heart of gold. He's the kind of neighbor anyone would want.

Need a tool? George has it.

Last year a wheel was broken off of our trash can. Before we even knew what had happened, George had rigged it so well, it still rolls like new.

Once, I was going to borrow a bike tire pump, and I found George under the tree beside his house, gathering persimmons into a small bowl. He planned to surprise another neighbor who enjoys them.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"God's Little Artist"

Gwen John was a Welsh artist who lived in France during most of her career.

Gwen was received into the Catholic Church in 1913. Her notebooks from this time are filled with meditations and prayers. She wrote of her desire to be "God's little artist" and "to become a saint".

Mrs. John mostly painted anonymous sitting females. However, we have a description from her model, Jeanne Foster, who wrote: "She takes down my hair and does it like her own...she has me sit as she does and I feel absorbed in her personality as I sit."

Here is her 1918-1919 canvas titled The Convalescent.

In 1912, Gwen wrote in a letter, "As to whether I have anything worth expressing that is apart from the question. I may never have anything to express, except this desire for a more interior life."

Adam's Questions

Adam had a few questions. So, after the morning gathering yesterday, I rode my bike to meet with him. We decided to walk while we talked.

Adam's questions came as a result of an earlier question he had posed. "What is a good spiritual book to read?" Taking his faith into consideration, I recommended several titles, and he chose Putting on the Mind of Christ by the modern-day mystic and public policy lawyer, Jim Marion.

As we walked and talked, Adam explained how, during his attendance at Liberty University, he was often viewed as an alternative outsider. Mr. Marion's writing was challenging notions of Christianity that he had learned while growing up and while at Liberty.

I listened to Adam as he described the openness of mind he had, toward ideas he was reflecting on for the first time in his life. His question was about how to share these ideas without coming off as judgmental.

Good as this question is, replying can be tricky and I said as little as possible.

Since I had to say something, however, I offered the metaphor of nurturing a plant into bloom. "It would be futile to attempt speeding things along," I ventured, "by pulling on the plant to make it grow faster."

Just like a plant, each of us grows naturally under the sunlight and rain of God's goodness. Mostly we need to relax and let the Divine Gardener do the work that belongs to Him, more so than to us.

I hope what I said will be helpful for Adam.

The advaita Manifesto

In the Introduction to his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan offers the following Eater's Manifesto. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

As simple as it may seem, the beneficial implications of this manifesto are enormous.

Recently, I've been offering classes on the bhagavad gItA and have discovered that there is a simple way to state the message of this beloved scripture. "Be good. Love God. See God everywhere."

Many on the advaita path are tempted to try and bypass goodness and devotion, in order to jump straight into seeing God everywhere. The trouble with this approach is that it is like bypassing necessary training and going straight into cliff climbing. The result will most likely be disastrous.

When one falls on the advaita path, one falls, as explained by the late Swami Adiswarananda, on the jagged rocks of egotism, loss of faith, intellectual understanding, and selfishness.

How to avoid falling in this manner is simple: Be good. Love God. See God everywhere.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lilian Staveley: a Hidden Saint

Lilian Staveley was born 1878 and died in 1928. Her body was buried in a Dorsetshire village.

Between these dates, Lilian grew up, was married to the Brigadier General William Cathcart Staveley, and came into a profound inner experience and knowledge that has since been compared with Saint Francis of Assisi and SrI rAmakRshNa.

Surprisingly, many people who knew Lilian unaware were of what was going on (including her husband). In short, Lilian was a hidden saint, and while outwardly, for example, she may have been found "shopping on London's Bond Street for a sensible pair of shoes" - inwardly she was absorbed in the deepest prayer.

Fortunately for us all, Lilian wrote three books: The Golden Fountain (1919), The Romance of the Soul (1920) and The Prodigal Returns (1921). These were published (anonymously, of course) by John M. Watkins of London.

Here is a brief excerpt on God-Consciousness, from the recent volume entitled A Christian Woman's Secret, that beautifully weaves Lilian's somewhat loosely written books into a more coherent whole:

The life of conscious connection with God is true living as far as we may know it in the flesh, an enormous increase over the petty and lacking life of the world. For in this life of God-consciousness is an immense sanity and poise, a balance between soul and body and heart and mind never achieved in the "normal" and "natural" life. Therefore the God-conscious life is not to be named an abnormal but the complete, full, and only truly normal life: a life in which both soul and creature have found their center, and the whole being in all its parts is brought to evenness, to harmony, to peace, and a greatly magnified intelligence. If all men and women attained this state, this world would automatically become Paradise. In this true life living and feeling alter their characteristics and surpass anything that can be imagined by the uninitiated mind.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

SankarAcArya & the Enlightened Boy

Once there was a a boy named hastAmalaka. He was born in a village called SrIbali, near gokarNa (Karnataka). There was something very unique about this boy, since he was born Self-realized.

Due to hastAmalaka's deep absorption in Reality, he was thought to be quite dumb - even by his loving parents.

One day hastAmalaka's father heard that the great Sage SankarAcArya was visiting SrIbali. He thought to himself, "The least I can do for my poor, dumb son is take him to see this venerable Master." So on the day of SankarAcArya's visit hastAmalaka's father pushed the boy toward the Sage, explaining the unfortunate situation.

SankarAcArya looked at the boy quizzically and asked, "My dear boy, why does everyone think you are dumb?" And in response hastAmalaka spoke the following remarkable verses.

SankarAcArya then received permission from the boy's father so that hastAmalaka could travel with him and train as a disciple.

hastAmalaka is said to have been appointed at the western advaita maTha at Dvaraka, under the guardianship of sureSvara.

More Nobody Than Thou!

Once two rabbis were at the Synagogue together and one prayed aloud, "O Lord, I am nobody." The other rabbi, not be outdone, prayed a little louder, "O Lord, I am nobody." They prayed this way for awhile, getting louder and louder, until they finally settled into silence.

During this episode, the janitor had been on his hands and knees cleaning in one corner. In the silence the rabbis heard him quietly praying, "O Lord, I am nobody and You are All."

Then one rabbi elbowed the other and said, "Well, look who thinks he's nobody!"

The "Sinner" Saint

One of the greatest saints of modern times is the late Yogi Ramsuratkumar. He lived in the guise of a beggar and often, to the chagrin of the majority of his Western devotees, referred to himself as “this dirty sinner”.

I once talked with an Indian women who had spent time with Yogi. As soon as I mentioned his name, her eyes lit up and she smiled the sweetest smile and exclaimed, "I love Yogi Ramsuratkumar!"

Everyone I've spoken with who knew Yogi has responded similarly, despite the fact that he offered no formal teachings; he also chain-smoked; and, further still, his idea of taking a bath was to go once a year, look at the bathwater and then run away.

Here is a photograph of Yogi with his close disciple Devaki Ma.

Yogi Ramsuratkumar Yogi Ramsuratkumar Yogi Ramsuratkumar Jaya Guru Raya

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Things, Ideas & Silence

Yesterday Jamie and I went to DuPont State Forest. Along the way, I read an excerpt (342c-344d) from Plato's Seventh Letter. In this excerpt the great spiritual master in the guise of philosopher describes how the four (names, descriptions, bodily forms, and concepts) are of "inaccurate character" and make nearly everyone "prey to complete perplexity and uncertainty."

Plato gives the example of a circle to illustrate how we have the name "circle", the description as "the thing which has everywhere the same distances between extremities and its center", the bodily form of a circular object, and, finally, concepts, which may be correct or incorrect.

As a result of the possible shortcomings of the four, Plato taught about the fifth entity. If I understand correctly, following the example of the circle, the fifth is the Idea of the circle. While the four belong to the sensible (or manifest) realm, the fifth belongs to the intelligible realm.

The reason we can know what a circle is, and not get it confused for a square or a triangle, is because the Idea exists within our consciousness. This Idea is not affected in the least by the sensible experience of circles. If all the circles in the world were destroyed the Idea would still exist within consciousness.

At DuPont, Jamie and I saw the spectacular Triple Falls, among others, as I was reflecting on this teaching from Plato.

However beautiful certain things are, a consideration of Ideas leads us into contemplative silence.