The Song of God

‘Lord Krishna preaching Gita to Arjuna’ – Mahavir Prasad Mishra – Wikimedia

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भगवद् गीता

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अहं सर्वस्य प्रभवो 
मत्तः सर्वं प्रवर्तते ।
इति मत्वा भजन्ते मां 
बुधा भावसमन्विताः 

ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māṁ
budhā bhāva-samanvitāḥ

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I am the self, O Gudākesa! 
seated in the hearts of all beings.
I am the beginning and the middle
and the end also of all beings
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~ Lord Krishna (Bhagavad Gita)

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There is an old and long Sanskrit story that arose in India around the fourth century BC. So long that it has been described as “the longest poem ever written“. So encompassing that the poem mentions about itself: “That which occurs here occurs elsewhere. That which does not occur here occurs nowhere else.”(XVIII.5.38). A story that is as big and epic as life and which took centuries to write, up until the fourth century AD. This masterpiece of universal literature, which influenced the thought, customs, and festivals of a whole civilisation and beyond, is called the Mahābhārata. It is composed of fables, myths, and tales of every kind, that are recipients for multiple religious, philosophical and political considerations. The eminent British film and theatre director Peter Brook wrote: “I sincerely believe that, of all the subjects that exist — including the totality of Shakespeare’s work — the richest, densest and most complete myth is the Mahabharata.”

Among the infinite number of episodes in the poem is concealed a jewel. A short 700-verse scripture — out of the 100 000 contained in the Mahabharata — composed of 18 chapters, that stands as a monument of Hinduism and one of the most highly praised spiritual text in the world. Written around the second century BC by the legendary sage Vyasa — also the main author of the Mahabharata — it has been named nothing less than the ‘Song of God’. This text, called the ‘Bhagavad Gītā’, is a magistral teaching given to the Pandava prince Arjuna by Lord Krishna, who happened to be his charioteer. It is set in the middle of the worst battle between two branches of the same family, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, for the control of the kingdom — a war whose story is the subject of the Mahabharata. So here we are, at the dawn of a horrific battle: 

And then all at once, conchs,
and kettledrums, and tabors,
and trumpets were played upon; 
and there was a tumultuous din.” (I.13)

[…]

A summary of the Bhagavad Gita, a monument of spiritual literature… (READ MORE…)

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Ten Bulls

‘Ten Verses on Oxherding’, 1278 – Metropolitan Museum of ArtWikimedia

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十牛图

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Back in the 12th century, in China’s Zen tradition, appeared a series of ten drawings and their accompanying poems. They were meant to describe the ten stages on the path to enlightenment, or to the recognition of our true nature. This series is traditionally named the ‘Ten Ox Herding Pictures’ or more simply ‘Ten Bulls’, and its best known version was created by the Chinese Zen master Kuoan Shiyuan in the 12th century. The present drawings are copies of the originals by the the 15th century Japanese Zen monk and artist Tenshō Shūbun.

The bull and the herder is an old theme in the Buddhist literature of the first centuries AD, and was borrowed and developed in the tradition of Zen. Although other versions have a different number of drawings, this series with ten pictures was adopted in Japan and made famous in the West through the 1957 book ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings’, by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. The poems have been translated and commented numerous times, as is often the case with Old Chinese, a language which lends itself to many interpretations.

The main contribution of this version is that the series doesn’t end with the awakened state, shown by a mere circle representing emptiness, but with two more drawings where the realisation of truth is taken further into the realm of form, or everyday life. As the Zen master Jitoku Ki said: “Every worldly affair is a Buddhist work, And wherever he goes he finds his home air; Like a gem he stands out even in the mud, Like pure gold he shines even in the furnace.”

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Form is not different from emptiness, 
and emptiness is not different from form.
Form itself is emptiness, 
and emptiness itself is form
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~ Heart Sutra

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Taste the poetry and evocative power of these old poems and drawings… (READ MORE…)

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I have Called You by My Name

‘Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs’ in Roma

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I – luminous, open, empty Awareness – 
am the truth of your Being and am 
eternally with you, in you, as you, 
shining quietly at the heart of all experience. 
Just turn towards Me, and acknowledge Me, 
and I will take you into Myself
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~ Rupert Spira

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In some of the religious texts of the world, the subtlest expressions of truth are so deeply buried in the text that they have become unintelligible. The limitations of translation, the analogies and metaphors borrowed, the time in which these texts appeared, the audience for which they were written, the veneer of poetry or story-telling, all these concur to add multiple layers of confusing elements to the original idea. And these texts have also served such inappropriate religious purposes in the course of history that they are, for all these many reasons, rejected or misunderstood by many. The Christian Bible is one such text. 

I have here attempted to find exquisite passages from the Bible, where the veneer is cracking and the hidden meanings shine more brightly. For a clearer understanding, I have selected two excerpts by Rupert Spira that will help focusing on one possible expression of truth and how it comes to be hidden behind the most innocent line in the Old Testament. They make for a necessary and beautiful introduction. They are borrowed from a video called ‘The Memory of Eternity’ in Buckland Hall, Dec. 2018. I hope you enjoy, for when we come to these texts with the right perspective or understanding, they come shining with a new glow of truth…

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Our mind is just a temporary limitation or localisation of the only mind there is, infinite consciousness or god’s infinite being. So our mind is permeated with the memory of eternity, permeated by the memory of its origin. Why? Because it is made of it, although it is a limited version of it. So in everybody’s mind, there lies this memory of its own eternity. And that memory is felt by a person as the longing for happiness, or the longing for love. When we long for happiness, or we long for love, we are desiring to be divested of everything that limits us. We are designed to go back to our wholeness, our fullness, our sense of fulfilment, or completion. That’s why everybody longs for happiness or love. What people do to find happiness or love varies. But the actual longing itself is because there lives in everybody’s heart a memory of our eternity, the knowledge of our origin, or in religious language, a trace of God’s mind.

There is this beautiful line in the Old Testament, in the Book of Isaiah, where Isaiah says (Isaiah speaking on behalf of God): “I have called you by my name. You are mine.” I have called you by my name. I have planted my name in your mind. The name your mind gives to itself — that is the name ‘I’ — is the name of ‘me’. So the ‘me’ (God is saying) the ‘me’ in ‘you’ is in fact the ‘me’ in ‘me’. I have called you by ‘my’ name. That makes the ‘you’ of ’you’, ‘mine’ — or ‘me’. […] Everybody’s experience is permeated by what they call ‘I’. Experience is limited and individual, but the ‘I’, the self that permeates all experience doesn’t share the limits of experience. So Isaiah is saying that ‘I’ is God’s mind in our mind. It’s not even God’s mind in our mind. All there is to our mind is God’s mind, with a limit attached to it. That’s what seems to make it ‘me-the person’. But the ‘me’ of ‘me-the person’ is infinite consciousness.”
– Rupert Spira (‘The Memory of Eternity’ – Buckland Hall, Dec. 2018)

[…]

Read some beautiful expressions of truth from the Bible… (READ MORE…)

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Tao Te Ching

‘Lao-tzu Riding an Ox’ (Part) – Chen Hongshou – Wikimedia

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道德經

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The Sage attends to the inner 
and not to the outer; 
he puts away the objective 
and holds to the subjective
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~ Tao Te King (trans. Lionel Giles)

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The Tao Te Ching is an ancient treatise and one of the most widely translated work in world literature. Its philosophical influence was major in the civilisation of China, colouring other religious currents like Buddhism, and becoming a guiding light for millions of people, including countless thinkers, artists, and poets — even political movements. It was allegedly composed between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, and has been traditionally ascribed to the sage Lao Tzu, which literally means ‘Old Master’. There is doubt among scholars that Lao Tzu is a historical figure, and not a semi-legendary one, but he is nevertheless a key figure in Chinese culture and history, being both the founder of Taoism and one of its deities. 

The Tao Te Ching is a fairly short text of 5000 chinese characters, divided in 81 chapters. Written in Classical Chinese, it is linguistically complex and is a challenge for translators. Tao is a central word and concept in East Asian philosophy, which means ‘way’ or ‘path’. It is understood as being a principle that is eternally present and is described as being the natural order of the universe, empty and hidden, ‘nameless and unchanging’, yet the ‘source of all things’ and the giver of excellence and virtue.

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Tao is like an empty container:
it can never be emptied and can never be filled.
Infinitely deep, it is the source of all things.
[…]
It is hidden but always present.
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than the concept of God
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~ Tao Te Ching (trans. J. H. McDonald)

[…]

Discover more of Lao Tzu’s ancient Book on Tao and Virtue… (READ MORE…)

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The Song of Ashtavakra

Photo by Nick Kenrick.. on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

I’m sharing here the Ashtavakra Gita, in the translation of John Richards. This is a famous song and landmark of non-duality in India. It has been composed in Sanskrit as a dialogue between the eminent sage Ashtavakra and his brilliant disciple Janaka, also king of Mithila. It was allegedly written around the third Century BC although some scholars dated it in the eighth Century AD, at the period of Shankara. The author is unknown and the characters are borrowed from the ancient epics of India. ‘Ashtavakra’ means ‘eight bends’, for he has a deformed body. This is a short work of 300 verses, and was one of the favourites of Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi. In this dialogue, the process of enlightenment is easily dealt with, for Janaka is, in Ramesh Balsekar’s words, “a superbly ‘ripe’ disciple, one who is just waiting for that one quick spark of initiation into Truth that brings about sudden enlightenment.” The dialogue quickly moves to be an exposition of truth by two equally enlightened beings. Yet, a process is here at work, between the guru and his disciple, between truth and the slow movement towards full understanding, between the one reality and the many roads and aspects that lead to a total and definitive grasp of it…

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अष्टावक्रगीता

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Chapter I

Instruction on Self-Realisation

King Janaka asks the question that provoked Ashtavakra’s plain and direct exposition of truth…

Your real nature is as the one perfect, free, 
and actionless consciousness, the all-pervading witness 
– unattached to anything, desireless and at peace. 
It is from illusion that you seem to be involved in samsara
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Janaka asked:

How is knowledge to be acquired? How is liberation to be attained? And how is dispassion to be reached? Tell me this, sir.

Ashtavakra replied:

If you are seeking liberation, my son, shun the objects of the senses like poison. Practise tolerance, sincerity, compassion, contentment and truthfulness like nectar.

You are neither earth, water, fire, air or even ether. For liberation know yourself as consisting of consciousness, the witness of these.

If only you will remain resting in consciousness, seeing yourself as distinct from the body, then even now you will become happy, peaceful and free from bonds.

You do not belong to the brahmin or any other caste, you are not at any stage, nor are you anything that the eye can see. You are unattached and formless, the witness of everything – so be happy.

Righteousness and unrighteousness, pleasure and pain are purely of the mind and are no concern of yours. You are neither the doer nor the reaper of the consequences, so you are always free.

You are the one witness of everything, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this.

[…]

Continue reading the beautiful teaching of Ashtavakra… (READ MORE…)

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The Poor Man

Reading again this sermon 87 by Meister Eckhart, entitled ‘The Poor Man’, I felt that I had to give it a place in this blog. I was stunned by its qualities, the modernity, profundity, clarity, precision, subtlety that breathes in and out of this piece, and its impeccable construction. We owe this translation to the teacher of nonduality Francis Lucille and I borrow it from the website ‘Stillness Speaks’ that offers wonderful resource for self exploration.

Meister Eckhart was a Christian theologian and mystic born in 13th century Germany. He became famous as a talented preacher and his sermons, unusual and disruptive to the church dogma and ritual, caused him troubles. Largely forgotten until the 19th century, he is now appreciated as one of the foremost exponent of the spiritual endeavour. The universal qualities of his message extend far beyond the usual Christian jargon and make it accessible for all who have a deep interest in these matters.

Starting with the famous biblical expression ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’, he endeavours to describe the qualities that are to be found in a truly poor man, and that are a prerequisite to any real understanding of truth. In his own words, and in just a few passing sentences, he exposes nothing less than the nature of our true being, of free will, the pervading presence of consciousness in all beings, the blissful nature of God’s presence, the non-objective and empty substance of God, Its timeless and immortal nature, and the oneness that pervades all and everything. Be this piece a prayer illuminating these few Latin words contained in the picture above: ‘Trahe nos post te’, ‘Draw us to you’

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Whoever is to be poor in spirit 
must be poor in all his own knowing 
so that he knows nothing of God, 
nothing of any created object, 
and nothing of himself
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~ Meister Eckhart

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Beati pauperes spiritu, quia ipsorum est regnum coelorum.

Ultimate bliss speaking in its wisdom, said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mathew 5,3). All angels, all saints, and all creatures that have been born, must be silent when this eternal wisdom of the Father speaks, because all the wisdom of the angels and all creatures is as pure nothing when compared to the limitless wisdom of God. This wisdom has said that the poor are blessed.

Now, there are two kinds of poverty. The first is an external poverty and it is good and very much to be praised in one who accepts such poverty willingly, out of love for our Lord Jesus Christ, because He, likewise, was poor on earth. I will not speak of this poverty any further. Then, there is yet another poverty, an internal poverty, which underlies each word of our Lord when He says ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’.

Now I beg you to be likewise so that you can understand his words; for I tell you by the eternal truth: if you are not identical with this truth about which we will now speak you cannot possibly understand me.

Some people have asked me what poverty is in itself, and what a poor man would be. We will now answer them. […]

Continue reading this sermon by Meister Eckhart… (READ MORE…)

 

Verses on the Perfect Mind

‘Huike thinking’ – Shi Ke, 10th Century – Wikimedia Commons

信心銘
鑑智僧璨

 

It is only recently that I have heard the first two lines of this Zen poem called ‘Hsin-hsin Ming’, which can be translated as ‘Verses on the Perfect Mind’. It is an ancient poem, one of the earliest and most influential Zen writings. It was allegedly composed by Chien-chih Seng-ts’an, who is referred as the Third Zen Patriarch. Very little is known about him, except that he was initiated into the Dharma by Dazu Huike (487–593) and died in 606. It has been multi-translated, and given various names. The title literally means ‘Inscription (or record) on the Believing Heart (or the Faith Mind)’. Verses on the Perfect Mind seems to be a good translation, considering the deeper meaning of the word ‘perfect’ which is ‘completed, accomplished’. The perfect Mind here is an ‘is-ness’, the natural mind, the Buddha mind. As the Nirvana Sutra says, “Great faith is no other than Buddha nature.”

What makes the translation of the poem difficult is the tension between conveying the right meaning and rendering the brevity of the poem. There is a passage in the present translation that goes: “When things can no longer be faulty, it is as if there are no things. When the mind can no longer be disturbed, it is as if there is no mind.” This was translated by Prof. Dusan Pajin: “No blame, no things; no arising, no mind.” The poem consists of 146 unrhymed four-character verses, which is shorter than the usual lines in Chinese poetry which have five or seven characters. So the form is concise, scarce, and that is in line with the Zen meditative form. 

It should not be read as a succession of individual quatrain, but more as a vision, something whole, indivisible. I think it was written in this spirit, for the original work is really just a succession of undivided characters. Maybe it was recited fast, concentrating on the meaning behind the words, the felt-understanding. It starts with these famous lines, so often quoted: “The Great Way is not difficult, for those who have no preferences.” It develops as variations on these lines before ending and finding completion — we could say vanishing — with this strong reminder: “Words! Words! The Way is beyond language, Words never could, can not now, and never will describe the Way.” The present interpretation is by Eric Putkonen. Eric is a Modern-day house-holder yogi and lover of what-is who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida where he hosts nonduality satsangs. I hope you will enjoy…

 

至道無難 
唯嫌揀擇 
但莫憎愛 
洞然明白 

 

The Great Way is not difficult, 
for those who have no preferences. 
Let go of longing and aversion, 
and it reveals itself.

Make the smallest distinction, however, 
and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth. 
If you want to realize the truth, 
then hold no opinions for or against anything.

Like and dislike 
is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning (of the Way) is not understood, 
the intrinsic peace of mind is disturbed.

As vast as infinite space, 
it is perfect and lacks nothing.
Indeed, it is due to your grasping and repelling 
that you do not see things as they are.

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Continue reading this old poem by the Third Zen Patriarch… (READ MORE…)