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Successful Sacrifice

As Rama, the Bodhisattva taught that all people are by nature free men and women, and when permitted to enjoy this state of liberty, owning themselves, every person has the motivation and capacity to self-improve and obtain what they require - by industry or trade - Artha, in the several Ashramas of the Varnas - and thereby hold themselves and those they work and trade with accountable to their obligations. The means of Dharma has always been Artha: for if that which is bought cannot be enjoyed, the money is worthless. Because effort is expended always for Kama, for this enjoyment, for friendship and love, the end, the purpose, of sacrificing is the sacrifice of sacrificing.

When the Buddha talked about moondust, he was not delivering a lecture on astronomy, but instead was attempting to convey the realistic confidence required for practice. None of us have seen the dust on the moon, but neither that experience nor any understanding of astronomy is required to understand what is necessary to know in the Buddha's analogy: the Buddha said that if you can understand his analogy when talking about these sorts of abstract and distant things, you can easily understand why friendship is not only the means, object and motivation for, but the whole of holy life - and all the other important things he was trying to teach.

He said this is why you can understand that you only arrived in your present circumstances because of the events that preceded these, and your present situation being predicated on your current strength, experience, and opportunities, you can understand it is reasonable to hold confidence that you are suited for the challenges you face.

Constant danger

A person who lives cognizant that there is the constant danger of gradual weakening by age, sudden injury and death, who is cognizant that all they love and hate are subjeact to these same dangers, is going to make different decisions than a person who does not.  This is why the Buddha taught there is benefit to remaining cognizant that death always comes too soon and unexpectedly, that we grow weaker with every day, and that we are daily threatened by innumerable dangers - and to cultivate that satisfaction with the real fact we have survived these threats.

The Buddha said, in a housefire, a person may not be able to rescue anything except themselves - and they do no wrong by this.  The Buddha said Rama said tears do not put out a housefire, and some fires cannot be extinguished until they have consumed the entire structure.  The Buddha said it is nearly impossible to do something truly good - but even the least skilled among us may at least refrain from doing what is very wrong.

The maturity to ritual

Image result for hanamatsuriToday's the birthday/deathday/enlightenment day of the Buddha...

On the Buddha's birthday, he is often depicted in a "disco" pose, with one finger pointed up and another pointed down.  The pose symbolically represents an episode whose background is better understood in context of the Agni Purana (10.3 and 14.1): The Buddha restored the Dharma by teaching against rituals, and proving that it is not proper for a seeker to get bound by them. Ritual is only the seed of understanding.  The necessary consequence of theism is atheism, the necessary consequence of atheism is non-theism, and the necessities (duties) of the freedoms in non-theism are themselves the Dharma.  There is a maturity to ritual waiting to be realized.

Understandably, the first lesson Gotama gave to human students at the Deer Park is cherished, but the very first lesson Gotama gave upon his enlightenment was to Mucalinda, the Snake who, together with the snail martyrs (no, the Buddha didn't have curly hair - those are snails who are protecting him from the hot sun), sheltered Gotama from the elements before and after his final effort.

In the Udana (2.1), the Buddha says that when he had just realized full enlightenment at Uruvela, beside the river Neranjara, he sat for a week recovering his strength, experiencing the bliss of freedom. Now, it happened that there came a great rainstorm out of season, with cold winds, and unsettled weather. With this came mosquitoes, gadflies, and all kinds of irritations. So Mucalinda the Snake, King of the Nagas left his palace and encircled Gotama's body with his coils and covered Gotama's head with his cobra hood to keep Gotama warm, sheltered from the rain, wind, mosquitoes, gadflies, and the other unsettled weather and irritants.

When the weather cleared, King Mucalinda removed his coils from Gotama's body and stood before the Buddha, in Bhakti Yoga. Gotama said to the King, "Detachment is blissful - if you are content, have learned the Dharma and see. Such bliss is actually non-affliction; expressed by restraint toward other beings and all irritants. One who overcomes desires for pleasure and aversion to pain is blissful, this is possible by abolishing the conceit of "I am.""

Mucalinda and Gotama's friendship goes back a long ways, but that is another story.

The story of the Buddha's death has the effect of a cadence to the story of his birth. His mother shook the flowers from a tree during the violence of his birth which took her life, and at death, he shook the flowers from the same tree during his own deadly violent agony. There is poetry in the biography of the Buddha. But today is a better day to remember his eulogy, given by Ananda some time later (Theragatha 17.3). Though others had a larger role in establishing Buddhism, Ananda outlived all the other elder monks: it was in this somber moment that Ananda understood what the Buddha had taught.

Ananda, grieving for Gotama, said, “tonight, all directions are obscure, none of the teachings are clear. For one whose friend has passed away, one whose teacher is gone for good, though I am now surrounded by friends, there is no other friend that will do. I only reflect that all my old friends are dead. I do not feel I fit in with all these new and young friends. So tonight I shall remember, reflect and muse alone, like a bird who has gone to roost.”

Ananda continued his eulogy. “When he died, there was terror, and my hair stood up on end. He was a virtuous, wise man –”

And right then, suddenly, understanding his friend and teacher was just a man, and was dead, Ananda, the attendant, understood the impermanence of all things, and extinguished his self to become enlightened.

Ananda said, “I heard 82,000 teachings from the Buddha Gotama, 2,000 more from his disciples. I had memorized and learned 84,000 lessons in total. Yet for all I heard, I understood nothing until right now. I was like a blind man, holding a lamp.”

And so Ananda inwardly collected his mind, and began to teach…

The Lost Knowledge

As it is not necessary to experience things directly to learn from them, and the oblique knowledge obtained by inferential, deductive and reductive reasoning permits learning from even that which we cannot directly experience, the experiences of others in our shared reality may benefit us if we can only understand the basis of their non-objectivity and prejudice.  Thus there is benefit to not only learning our history, but experiencing personally the dozens and hundreds and thousands of lifetimes of the millions whose actions precede our own.  In undertaking to complete their sacred duty, which by the limitations of their mortality they were unable to, and ensuring that a subsequent generation may continue the work to its completion, we understand the vital importance of shraddha. 

Having understood the reason for why some knowledge is secret, why there is that which cannot be known except by prerequisite skill and wisdom, one gains the necessary skill and wisdom to rediscover all that knowledge which has been lost, and which could not be transmitted.  Indeed, it is not necessary for something to exist for it to be real: the flame, the shadow, the self - these are real enough to the eye and touch to inspire belief, but lack any substance of existence. Seeing is believing, touching is believing - but beliefs can be let go of, and attachment to them results in profound distress.

Sita's fire sacrifice

Tomorrow is Janaka Jayanti, and we should reflect that it is the insight of understanding in how we affect others, what role we have in their lives, which moves us beyond selfishness and isolation.

Most of us are familiar with the basics of the Ramayana, but still are unaware that Sita was the daughter of Ravana - the famous beloved devotee of Shiva, and founder of mysticism, who usually (despite the very best of intentions) tragically (and frequently humorously) misunderstood all the lessons Shiva tried to teach him. 

She was the daughter of Ravana's first wife Vidyadhara Maya, one of the attendants of Shiva who possessed special wisdom regarding Maya.  Sita was also the first born of Ravana, and was therefore the first in line to the throne.  But Ravana had been told that when Sita took her inheritance, it would be Ravana's ruin (in an economic sense) and the destruction (in the sacrificial sense) of his lineage.  Ravana was meant to understand that Sita would marry Rama, and Ravana would give in sacrifice all that was his to his daughter and son-in-law, and that Ravana's line would become something new with Rama's fatherhood.  But instead, Ravana acted with his usual degree of well intentioned ignorance and utilizing his arts of mysticism, especially astrology, he determined he needed to give up his first born and heir for adoption.

There was at the time a King, Janaka, who was undertaking a ritual by which he would finally give up all his attachments to possessions - the very ritual which, ironically, Ravana should have undertaken to prepare for the marriage gift required by his daughter. The ritual is not complex, nor is it the only means of detachment - but it requires understanding the illusionary nature (maya) of attachment: by this understanding, the wisdom of Vidyadhara Maya is possible, and frequently obtained. 

To complete the ritual, Janaka was symbolically plowing a fallow field: this is when and where Ravana left Sita for Janaka to find, in the freshly plowed furrow, in the arms of Agni (the furrow is like the flame in similar fire yajnas) and Bhumi (the earth itself).  And why Sita has always been associated with the benefits of established cultivation (both in the agricultural sense, and the spiritual sense) - and why Agni, her godfather, and Bhumi, her godmother, always protect her and her devotees. 

Janaka had been entrusted with the bow of Vishnu, and left it on a table.  Only Rama could lift the bow, and use it.  When Sita was young, she was playing with her adopted siblings, and lifted up the bow - and the table it was resting on.  Janaka knew then that Sita was Ramaa (the female component of Rama).

Of course, the matter of how her husband forced Ravana to give the dowry due to his first born, and the end of his lineage, is better known.  The matter of her two exiles, and her single motherhood at her Ashram, is of some interest - only because it may seem unjust, until it is understood in the context of more ancient stories incorporated by reference into the Ramayana: this is the consequence of the harm she (agricultural cultivation) caused to the wild and domestic plants and animals.  It is also because of her refusal to forgive Ravana, and assume the duties of his Kingdom - her submission to Rama, not as his equal or superior, but as a subordinate, because like her father, Ravana, she lets her lust blind her to her love, and falls victim to attachment.  The punishments she suffers echo the cycle of suffering required by both humanity's necessity to dominate each other through justice and law, as well as that necessity to dominate nature through agriculture.  And when at last she remembers her true nature, and undertakes a different sacrifice to gain that same understanding as Janaka obtained during her adoption, and discovers her true mother (Vidyadhara Maya), she perfects her skill in Karma Yoga to break free of the consequences of her wrongdoing. 

It is at this moment that it is discovered that Agni never abandoned his charge, and had protected her true self all the time: the realized (true) Sita emerges from the fire, as the illuionary Sita (the Sita formed through attachment and Maya) is burned away.  We see something similar during her second exile, when Bhumi has protected her (true) self, and Sita undertakes the agricultural process to "tame" or "civilize" that wildness in her, much as her adoptive father did. 

Of course, as long and complex as the Ramayana is, it is only one episode in a longer story of Vishnu's male and female components.  Though this is a story of unspeakable suffering, it should be said that before the end, Vishnu reunites its two halves, when it learns to love itself.  The self-conquest of Vishnu by Vishnu, involving the numerous major and minor avataras, is another longer story.  And is not resolved until the end: when we finally understand that we love ourselves, it takes another leap of understanding to understand how to love ourselves, and to actually love ourselves, and then get good at it.  When Gotama reflected upon his memories of Sita, and thought upon Yasodhara, he understood it is not enough to merely love ourselves, we must love ourselves skillfully.  We cannot be consumed by the fire, nor fail to kindle it hot enough to accept our sacrifices; we must not hesitate to break the fallow field, though it will cause harm and perpetuate a cycle of suffering, if that is our duty.  We cannot fear suffering if we are to overcome it.  Like Vishnu, we must immerse ourselves in life's joys and sorrows if we are to be strengthened by them.

Anahata - Heart Chakra, find your voice

Hata is a word that describes the result of striking - whether the sound or rhythm resulting from the striking of a drum, or the injury and death resulting from being struck.  But it is also a compound word, which intends the concept of the confrontational encounter: affliction, struggling, tormentation.  As such, it perfectly describes the violent sexual violation of a woman, and the resulting misery and devastation.  It describes the rapist cheating her lover of their potential child (by the rape impregnating the woman instead of her lover).  This theft shares the concept of "cheat" in a gambler's sense, rather than any disloyalty: unfair.  Hata is the merciless and cruel multiplication of misery causing misery, the endless cycle of distress. 

Ana- is the negation or absence of this hata, what in English would be rendered un-hata.  Anahata is not the opposite of hata - merely the absence of hata. 

This is the heart chakra.

What is the result of a drum which is un-struck?  What is the result of an absence of affliction, struggle and torment?  What is the result of a woman remaining unviolated?  What is the result of the absence of unfairness, and cruelty?  What stops misery from causing further misery?  What is the end of our distress?

Siddha-artha, skilfullness, is the end of distress: it is the means of Karma Yoga.  This skill is in friendship.  Friendship is not only the result of, but the means and purpose of the holy life.  Following our heart, acting with this love, this friendship, this compassion, is the means of becoming skillful (Siddhartha).  Skillfullness is the means by which we obtain our goals: it is the means by which we shape our habits, and master all the chakras (instincts).  Resulting in ajapa japa, japa without effort, effortless skillfulness.

When one is skillful, how can one be cheated of what is fairly theirs?  With a skillful opponent, every other player plays fairly.  When one is skillful, one will remain unviolated, untormented, unconfronted.  The drum will remain unstruck.  Skillful soldiers and dancers do not need the drum to tell them when to step, you do not require anything to tell you your duty. 

Let your heart guide your gut feeling (Manipura): you know the way without regret.  You know your Dharma.  Develop your heart and you will find your voice (Vishuddha)!


Dukkha is not a word that means "suffering."  "Suffering" in its English meaning is not a concept understood by the vocabulary of its language family, so translating "du-" as suffering might be mistaken as either an attempt to Christianize or westernize the concept (whether in the effort to appropriate or communicate), or an expression of the cultural bias of the translator. It is likely the latter of either alternative: "suffer" is indeed a word that intends a sense of tolerance - but does not comprehend the action associated in dukkha.

To begin with, it would be better to express the concept by understanding the combination of "naraka" and "vedana" - in this sense, dukkha is better expressing a type of yatra intended toward distressing (distress - in the sense of how fabric is distressed, not in an emotional sense of the word). Here, what is being distressed is the fabric of existence, and specifically through the destruction by wear of both pleasure and pain. This is the process of becoming comfortable with discomfort taught by Gotama: when both pain and pleasure lose their novelty, there is nothing particularly captivating about them.

Understanding the difference between satisfaction and satiation permits understanding of this process of wear: we may or may not be satiated (svaha) by what is sweet (sva): in this sense, pleasure (paraka - an understanding of service, or the action of servicing, tied to a concept of reward, or compensation) is not the opposite of torture (naraka). Avoiding pain is not a form of pleasure and obtaining satiation is not satisfactory.  What is satisfactory, in the understanding of Dharma, has to be understood by understanding these concepts in a wider context of jna - knowing, consciousness. The Jnana Yoga instructed by Gotama develops body, mind, consciousness and identity beyond (paragate) their compositors. With skillful accomplishment (siddhartha), it becomes apparent the reason someone confounds pain and pleasure as opposites when they are distinct is the same reason a person confounds atman and anatman as different when they are the same; nirvana and nivana, etc. etc.  Thus, logic founded on such dualistic understandings is understood as a type of fabric: self-reinforcing, woven together, and only broken through wear.  Only when the combined-knowledge (vedana) is individualized, when each strand is separated from those it is tied and woven to, will their distinctiveness reveal their conditions of beginning and ending.

This yatra is undertaken in stages, Ashramas. These Ashramas, Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa, are accomplished by Asanas of Dharma: Jnana Yoga, for the accomplishment of Karma Yoga, and ultimately Bhakti Yoga.  This requires the skills of Hatha Yoga.  Loka, Hatha Yoga! 

Let yourself think

Lady Paldarboom asked Milarepa to cut her hair (cut her ties to her past karma), instruct her and give her his name, that she might become a nun.

Milarepa smiled kindly, "if you practice Dharma, you will awake with a full head of hair.  You don't need to cut your hair or make other superficial changes to become a nun.  You don't need me as your teacher or example.  It is senseless."  Milarepa then sang,

Oh, Lady Paldarboom
Fortunate and devoted student!
Look to the sky for your example:
practice without any sense of limit or position in space or time!
Look to the sun and moon for your example:
practice without any sense of clarity or distortion!
Look to the mountain for your example:
practice without any sense of movement or change!
Look to the ocean as an example,
practice without any sense of depth or surface!
Look to your own mind,
practice without doubt or hesitation!

Milarepa then showed her how to sit, and direct her mind through the jnanas.  She was self-motivated to practice, and became practiced quickly.  Overcome with happiness, the Lady then sang to Milarepa as her Lord, her equal,

Treasured Lord, perfected expression of awakeness,

I was overcome by happiness - practicing with the sky
but then grew uneasy when my practice became clouded,
give me instruction on how to practice with the clouds?

I was overcome by happiness - practicing with the sun and moon
but then grew uneasy noticing the other stars and planets,
give me instruction on how to practice with stars and planets?

I was overcome by happiness - practicing with the mountain,
but then grew uneasy with its grasses and trees,
give me instruction on practicing with grass and trees?

I was overcome by happiness - practicing with the ocean,
but then grew uneasy because of its waves,
give me instruction on practicing with waves?

Lord, I was overcome by happiness with my mind
but then grew uneasy because of my thinking,
give me instruction on practicing with thought.

Milarepa was delighted, and congratulated her on not remaining overwhelmed, and by developing her jnana into thoughtful consideration, singing back to her about removing impediments and accomplishment,

Oh Lady, fortunate and devoted student,
clouds are created by the sky as a consequence of its dharma, 
    and are therefore the sky itself
    as are you
planets and stars are present even when obscured by sun and moon, 
   yet the sun and moon are but a star and planet so the stars and planets are never truly obscure
   you are like the sun and moon and planets and stars
so are grass and trees are created by the mountain, and the waves are the ocean itself
so permit yourself the mountain its grass and trees, and ocean its waves, 
let the sky have its planets and stars!
be the ocean, mountain, sun, moon, and sky
Oh Lady, happiness is a result of practice, thoughtfulness a result of happiness,
you are mindfulness itself; you cannot be lost to such thoughtfulness, let yourself think.

Lady Paldarboom practiced with these instructions and came to understand the dharma of pure being. As a consequence, she went to the dakini realms in her own body, accompanied by the sounds of cymbals.

How Angulimala became a monk - Majjhima Nikaya 86

Angulimala the bandit chased the Buddha through the forest, intending to rob and kill him.  The speed and endurance of the Buddha seemed endless.  Angulimala was beginning to grow tired and angry.  Exasperated, he shouted at the Buddha, "Slow down! Stop!"

The Buddha, not even winded, shouted back at Angulimala, "I cannot slow down - I already have stopped, Angulimala. You slow down and stop."

Angulimala didn't understand. "What?  We are both still running through the forest."

The Buddha said, "I have stopped, Angulimala.  I am no longer violent to any living being.  You, though, are utterly unrestrained, without self-control."

Angulimala remembered something he heard when he was young, before his killing and robbing began. Suddenly, he became aware of what he had been doing, and what he was about to do.  He stopped running right there, and threw down his weapons down and away.  He knelt down right there in the forest, and greatly regretted everything he had done.

The Buddha stopped and approached Angulimala.  Studying Angulimala only a moment, the Buddha helped Angulimala to his feet and said, "come, monk." 

This was how Angulimala became a monk: he became aware, and acted in self-control according to that awareness.

Hunting without sympathy or greed

The ranching industry is one defined by subsidy, whether on the feedlot or in the forest. Succinctly, we subsidize cattle and sheep to graze at sub-market rents on our federal lands.  And, frequently there is compensation for the occasional loss a rancher finds is due to wolves.  That many ranchers find difficulty in proving such predation as a cause for their losses is due more to the innocence of these animals than to the complexity of the process for seeking this relief.

We shouldn't withhold sympathy for these ranchers, nor their sheep and cattle - their losses, however small and few, are painful, and deserve advocacy.  Besides, it is easy and necessary to feel sympathy for sheep and cattle; it is easy and necessary to sympathize with a rancher's financial difficulties when suffering predation.

But we also cannot forget that the wolf fundamentally contributes to the health of our rivers and forests, and the plains which stretch out from these distant habitats.  Every plant looks to the wolf for protection; and this includes the trees of the lumberjack, and the crops of the farmer - and the miller who buys the farmer's grain, and another miller who cuts the lumber. The bread which feeds our children and timbers which shelter them are watered with rivers diluted by the blood spilled by predators such as these.

A wolf is a better hunter than humans ever may be. Unlike the wolf, human hunters are driven by greed or sympathy. It's our human nature to strike at the strong and eat only the healthy, even if it means starving the young of a herd. And we should not now permit our greed or sympathy to drive an emotional reaction in defense of sheep and cattle, and their ranchers, to the inestimable detriment of our own young. Rather, understanding adequate protections and ample subsidies are already in place for these ranchers, and the urgent necessity for the wolf and numerous other endangered and threatened species, we must dutifully support the endangered species act and other environmental protection laws.

Give Venkateswara Nothing

This story may be controversial, or upsetting to some - but it is nevertheless a fact that once, Vishnu sat in the hills dishonored. Vishnu had utterly lost Laxmi, and everything he loved, and had no reason to believe he would ever recover; true, he would often play games, but this was no game.  A great sacrifice was required to regain what was lost.  But having lost everything he had nothing to sacrifice. 

So Vishnu was compelled to humble himself and explained the situation to Kuber to beg for help.  Vishnu knew Kuber never failed at anything.  "Certainly," said Kuber. "I am happy to help! I will make sure you are able to accomplish your sacrifice. Whatever you require, I will supply."  Kuber was Vishnu's friend: he could not permit his friend to fail, especially for the reason of having nothing to sacrifice.  Not when Kuber had everything.  But Kuber didn't know much about sacrifice, or what would be acceptable.  So Kuber asked Shiva, who knew everything there was to know about sacrifice.  Shiva explained that "the greatest sacrifice is to sacrifice everything."

Misunderstanding, Kuber offered to give as a gift to Vishnu every thing.  Shiva laughed, "no, you misunderstand me.  Besides, such a sacrifice would be unacceptable. The honor would belong to you, Kuber, not to Vishnu, as it is your gift to Vishnu.  Vishnu would then merely be accepting what is yours, and he is presently unworthy of this sacrifice: the reason for his sacrifice is to earn honor, and become worthy again.  Vishnu has nothing.  Let Vishnu sacrifice nothing, Kuber."

Kuber misunderstood again, thinking Shiva was prohibiting Vishnu from sacrificing.  So Kuber offered to loan what was required to Vishnu, without interest. Shiva shook his head, "You still don't understand. Kuber, I do not prohibit Vishnu's sacrifices. Or any sacrifices.  But this proposal of yours would also be unacceptable.  A loan without interest is also a form of sacrifice: giving and sharing are the same thing as using things up. All three accomplish the purpose of things. The honor would still be yours for sharing with Vishnu what is yours.  No, it is Vishnu who would need to sacrifice everything.  And every thing is yours.  Vishnu has nothing.  Vishnu needs to sacrifice nothing"

Kuber misunderstood again, thinking no sacrifice was required of Vishnu.  So Kuber offered to sacrifice on behalf of Vishnu.  But Shiva shook his head again.  "No, Kuber, you are still not understanding me.  A sacrifice is required of Vishnu.  Yet your proposal is also unacceptable.  Though anyone can assist another in their sacrifice, or permit the conditions required for that sacrifice to be successful, no one can sacrifice for another," explained Shiva.  "Vishnu must sacrifice everything."

Kuber now was thoroughly confused.  "But... Vishnu has nothing!"  Shiva smiled in agreement.  "Yes, now you understand."

Kuber did not understand.  So Kuber asked Shiva if he might loan to Vishnu what was required - with interest?  "No, Kuber, no.  If you loan to Vishnu what Vishnu sacrifices, the debt is still not his own. It is to your credit."  Shiva paused to consider the matter.  "Well...that is, unless...Vishnu should pay you back?" Shiva thought better of it. "But no, such a loan, being so kind, so generous, can never be adequately paid back.  He would have to remain here in these hills forever just collecting everything he owed to you.  And because of this he would never enjoy what he sacrificed for. This would be regrettable."

Kuber had to agree - how could Vishnu pay Kuber back?  It seemed impossible.  Kuber was distraught.  How would he keep his promise to Vishnu and help?

Shiva saw Kuber despondent and tried to comfort Kuber, and tried to explain himself better.  "I did not say it was impossible, Kuber.  I said Vishnu must sacrifice every thing - even sacrificing itself.  That is the purpose of sacrifice.  The sacrifice must be successful, so that no further sacrifice is required.  Then, one can give the opportunity to others to sacrifice, and share in their sacrifices, and be worthy of sacrifice. One must accomplish the purpose of using things up.  What is left to say when all the Vedas have been said?  When all has been let go of, what can and is taken hold of?  You see, Kuber, even if Vishnu has no thing to sacrifice, no thing (nothing) is still an acceptable sacrifice.  It is the manner in which things are done, not what is actually accomplished, that matters most to determining whether we are worthy of what we would obtain by that effort: giving, sharing, using up, these accomplish the purpose acceptably.  Besides, nothing is actually quite a lot: rooms can be filled with nothing, hearts are frequently filled with nothing at all.  Some people have too much of nothing.  You wouldn't know, of course, because you have no nothing, you have everything.  But it might be possible for you to imagine?  Well, Vishnu has nothing now.  He has too much nothing.  And there is a difference between involuntarily losing, and giving up.  Sacrificing nothing for something would be acceptable under any circumstances, but is especially necessary for Vishnu to do now.  Everyone loses things involuntarily - and loses nothings, too, getting things back or new things, involuntarily. And this is why you can do nothing to help Vishnu.  And Vishnu needs to do nothing now."

Kuber protested, "but I promised to do whatever was needed to help!"

Shiva assured Kuber, "and Vishnu does need your help!  You need to do nothing, Kuber."  Kuber was hopelessly confused.

Laxmi, nearby, had heard everything and understood.  She did want Vishnu to succeed, after all.  But like Kuber she did not know what to do.  Now she knew she had to do nothing.  So she approached and encouraged Kuber loud enough for Vishnu to hear: "I understand, Shiva.  Don't you see, Kuber?  Vishnu should have to sacrifice nothing - there is nothing for us - or Vishnu - to do!  We should do nothing to sacrifice nothing if we would be helpful."  Vishnu heard this, and also understood - and understanding, freed himself from his attachment to nothing by doing nothing, sacrificing everything.

So Vishnu enjoyed the benefits of his sacrifices.  And after all was done, it was perfectly true: Vishnu needed to sacrifice nothing to reclaim Laxmi, and all he loved.  Everyone was content, and required no more sacrifices. Everyone lived happily ever after.  And though he did not need to remain in those hills collecting to repay Kuber, Vishnu remains there today - enjoying all he sacrificed to obtain.

Now, of course, we all know this is not how the story was originally written.  Nor is it how it is traditionally told.  But no one can deny the fact that the story is not yet over and done - not when Vishnu's friends and devotees continue to give to Kuber on behalf of Vishnu's debt.  And as things have not yet ended for poor Venkateswara, it may be premature to declare that the story has come to an end.  Indeed, since the debt is not yet repaid, perhaps it is not too late to write a better ending?

So it may be that, despite whatever you formerly learned, it is time to learn something new. Be assured, if you would be one of those treasured devotees who would share in Vishnu's debt to help him, you need to do nothing to sacrifice "nothing."  Nothing is a difficult sacrifice to make.  Nothing is a difficult thing to do.  But this is what is presently required of you.

Kala Chakra

The space-time cycle (kalachakra) is a Dharmic reference to the proper duties at any given time and place, as well as the time and place of particular duties.  It has the double meaning of referencing the chakra of Vishnu, a type of frisbee-like or wheel-weapon, symbolic of the Dharma.  It connotes the understanding that because every action gives rise to new conditions, new actions are required. The pattern of these conditionings is cyclical.

One sacrifice ends, and another begins; one Asana is held, only to be followed by another.  Standing, we sit, then sitting we stand. We go to the shrine, and return home, and go to work, and return, and go play.  There is perpetuity, and cyclicality in all things.  Such perpetuity is a means by which to understand what is beyond eternal, and permanent: the nature of change itself subtly changes as time begins and ends - and we understand that the time has not yet begun, nor ended. Beyond time, beyond space, beyond duty, beyond the conditioned and co-conditioned, there is that which is non-conditioned and un-conditioned. There we find true Dharma.

This understanding was applied by Rama to the development of Ashramic practice: there are stages, or rest stops, in every pilgrimage. And life itself is such a journey through time.  When we have traveled far enough, we must rest: rest, Asana, is the means by which we "occupy" the path which has been conquered, and prepare to begin another stage.  Parashurama showed that even varna may be taken up and laid down as our nature evolves cyclically.  Krishna showed that the conscious growth in a moment of pause is valuable.  The Buddha and Kalki advanced ashramic practice further.

There are at present understood to be at least four major stages to any journey: Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa.  There are many minor stages.  These stage are typically sequential, but the Buddha taught a training by which one may free one's self of the sequentiality of these stages - and all of time. One may, through this Yoga, choose the time and place for a particular duty, or perform a particular duty at any time and place.  Such self-control is achieved through a combination of Jnana, Hatha, Bhakti and Karma Yoga.  Kalki instructed in the means by which the Yogi may release control of time and place.  To briefly summarize, at any given Asana, rest, between stages, the self, identity (often mistranslated as soul, or god), is wielded as a tool using Maya to shape our basic instincts and nature, to consciously alter our Dharma.  This Dharma is then itself placed on the altar for sacrifice and utterly given up in the self-sacrifice.

One of these most basic instincts which is shaped is that of belief and believing, and the religiosity and other insanity which results from belief.  When it is understood that we need not remain without gods, but may create them as our need requires, or even become such a supreme being, there is no limit to our ability.  But this requires understanding the very nature of our gods, and a firm grounding in Vedic theory.  The practice when performed by experts has in the past resulted in dramatic revolutions in the practice of Yoga, most recently the development of Ganesh during the expulsion of the British from India. In America, it has and will continue to be used to manifest Shambhala, and bring a successful end to the Buddhist Yoga of Gotama.

We must journey beyond theism, beyond atheism, beyond non-theism, far beyond what is beyond these if we are to truly understand the nature and purpose of our practice.  The means of this journey is sacrifice: it is only by giving up, using up, sharing and other acts of sacrifice that we will find the limits of belief, and probing it, discover how to break through.  Through sacrifice, the purpose, the end, of sacrifices is found. Sacrificing is sacrificed.  We must sacrifice our sacrificing.

We must not be afraid to leave our refuge, our island in the flood, our little area of light in the darkness.  Give up all you hold onto and bravely enter the water: you have rested long enough to continue your journey, and the path resumes on the far shore.  Far beyond your religiosity and gods.  Far beyond your atheism.  Far beyond your non-theism.  We cannot remain where we are in any case, for that refuge is impermanent, and whether we choose to let go or not, we will be forced from it.  The only safety is in growing strong enough to not require it.  All our monastic practices, our dogma and religion, our doubts and faith - these are unnecessary and heavy baggage.  Beyond the far shore the path is not easy to follow, and even disappears from time to time.  What will you do in that unfamiliar wilderness with no path to guide you - if you do not know where it is you are going?

Look for the Sangha, and if you have lost your companions, look for your teachers and heroes; if you have lost their banners too, then remember the Dharma: know the purpose of your training.  You will accomplish your goal: even if you are lost, and remember the direction you are travelling, you may yet find your way. 

Understand the five skandhas as empty, and this emptiness as the form of form, if you would cross beyond your present difficulty.   Form does not differ from the void and the void does not differ from form.  Form is void and void is form.  The same is true for feelings, perceptions, imagination and consciousness.  Understand delusion, the characteristics of the void.  See all Dharmas are non-arising, non-ceasing, non-defiled, non-pure, non-increasing, non-decreasing.  In the void there are no forms, no feelings, perceptions, imagination or consciousness.  There is no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body or mind, there is no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch or even imagination.  There is no realm the eye can see until we come to the non-realm of consciousness.  There is no ignorance, also no ending of ignorance until we come to the end of old age and the end of death.  Until we come to eternal old age and eternal death.  There is no truth in suffering – truly we do not suffer!  Because there is no beginning of suffering, there is no end of suffering, nor a path, because there is no path, there is no knowledge, there is no gaining of enlightenment, only the destruction of obstructions.

Om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.

Worn out

We are a social species, our nature is to compare ourselves with others. Simply seeing another will result in our comparing ourselves to them. And, comparing ourselves, it is our nature to see what we lack. This is a biological fact of all social behavior, not only in our species, but all social animals: in all social species, inequality results in a specific kind of social anxiety called "inferiority complex."

Inferiority results in an economic phenomenon called "conspicuous consumption." When a person believes they have inadequate resources they will make their wealth visible, or "conspicuous," in an effort to calm themselves. They will spend money to convince themselves that they have enough. They will impoverish themselves because they fear poverty. They then displace their dissatisfaction on the things and experiences they have acquired, thinking their things and experiences are as inferior as they are.  Identifying with their possessions, attaching to them through materialism, worsens a sense of inferiority.  In their growing anxiety, they feel hatred, and do regrettable things.

Things and experiences cannot make you happy.  They are insufficient and unsatisfying.  If you enjoy what you have bought better, you will buy fewer things: it is by fewer possessions, not more, that there is the potential for greater satisfaction, and happiness - because it breeds familiarity with the objects. Even if a thing is broken, or imperfect, we may love it - and even learn to love ourselves, our family and friends - despite numerous imperfections.

Clothes kept in a closet stay new and don't wear out - but they also get no use as clothes. It is the wearing of clothes, and their washing, which stains, tears and fades them.  We cannot avoid this vulnerability if they will achieve our purpose: it is by proper use all things are ruined.  Food becomes feces. You will one day grow sick, old, wear out, and die. To be broken by use is reasonable, and honorable.  Like a drum, you may inspire heroes to success - but only if you allow yourself to be beaten to pieces!

Consider why you purchase things. Is it to use them? Will you, on your deathbed, be happier for those clothes, or other things you worked so hard to purchase and now keep dusty in a closet? Will you enjoy them 10 years from now? A week from now?  Even if they get worn, and ruined? Well, you should.  Enjoyment is also your human nature.

Worthwhile work is worth doing, good things are always worth the price we pay for them.  Remember the reason for which things are bought, and you will never regret the price you pay. Remember the purpose of your life, and you will die contented that you achieved all that was needed to be done.  You will have earned honor; your sacrifices will be acceptable.  So don't feel badly your clothes are worn, they are well used. Properly used.

Besides, the people you compare yourself to wear clothes bought with borrowed money, driven by the same anxiety you feel. It is not good to compare your best clothes against someone who has no clothes of their own, even if their borrowed clothes are finer.

We are all human.  We see only what we lack.  And then we desire what we already have.  And it is precisely because we and our world are not lacking in goodness that we seldom notice goodness, or enjoy it.  Perhaps, though, today we can remember that goodness, and make it conspicuous?

We share an unbreakable bond of kinship. We are all human.  We care greatly for each other.  Be without regret. Be content, and happy.

The burnt riverbanks

There is told a story of the war between the pigeons and the owls, started over some minor disagreement or another, or perhaps some insult that couldn't be overlooked.  No one remembers why now.  It turns out that it really isn't that important.  But they lived on two sides of the same river, and had coexisted peacefully enough for a long time, even in friendship, yet when the fighting started, forgot about all the kindness they once shared for one another.  The pigeons would attack the owls in the day, and the owls would attack the pigeons at night.  Reprisals and escalations resulted, and soon not even their chicks were safe.  Nests were overturned, and eggs broken.  Birds can be vicious.  As can people.

Naturally, they asked for help from their friends - some agreed to sound the alarm if they saw an attack coming, and others agreed to even help defend the innocent eggs and chicks.  Soon, these friends were attacked, too, for they were aiding an enemy.  All the animals grew divided by the river they once shared, turning against their cousins on the other.  Now, the snakes on one side attacked the snakes on the other, the rats on one side attacked the rats on another, even the deer and bears and lions - some of whom used to cross the river frequently to enjoy themselves here and there, now crossed the river only to fight.  Even the human beings on one side of the river began to attack the human beings on the other side of the river, even though for time immemorial they had been friends, and were even distantly related to one another.  Carrying on their flags an owl, or a pigeon, they crossed the river to hurt one another.  And then they did not confine their hatred only to people, but harmed every living thing they found on the other side of the river.  And all the animals followed this example.

Well, no one knows who first lit the fire, but soon, both banks of the river were torched, and the hungry fire burnt through the nests of both the pigeons and the owls, and the nests of all the other birds, burning alive the snakes and rats, killing even the deer and bears and lions who couldn't outrun the flames.  Many human beings died too, some of them babies, and children, separated from their mothers and fathers when the fire tore through their villages. 

Like fire, war is cruel.  And does not stop until it has burnt through every home.  And though when we tell this story to children we are quick to add that in the end, all the good creatures were brought back to life when they finally learned the lessons required to understand the futility of fighting with their neighbors and friends, as adults we should know a great deal better than to believe in such things as that.  We should know a great deal better than to light the fires of war, for when we do, they demand such a sacrifice of blood to extinguish them that whatever reason compelled us to this dreadful worship to begin with is rarely worth the price.  And we know that the proprietaries of honor and good conscience will compel us - and our enemy - to stubbornly complete the dreadful rite we started.

As adults we know there is pain.  There is death.  We know, there is suffering enough and life is short.  We know we should be good to one another, for we have no one else to comfort us but each other.  We know what we fight over is not usually worth the price of our fighting.  No, we are not like children, who need stories to remind us of what we know we should and shouldn't do.  And we certainly don't need to hear those stories more than once.

No shame in addiction

There is no shame in addiction, or any other disease.  Though our reaction to disease and injury is naturally one of many kinds of disgust, motivated out of unthinking instinct to avoid what might harm us, it is easy enough to overcome this.  And when we become aware of how our family, friends, coworkers and neighbors suffer, developing sympathy and empathy for their suffering, we, too, instinctually suffer - whether or not they may transmit that disease to us, or otherwise injure us.  We suffer with them out of a different, and conflicting, instinct not to avoid our own harm, but to alleviate their suffering in altruism.  This other instinct must be observed: because, as much as there is an instinct to avoid what might harm us, there is also that instinct to help, motivated out of both sympathy and empathy for the one who is hurting, and the conflict between these two instincts is yet another cause for distress.

Relieving this inner conflict requires understanding neither of these instinctual reactions of empathy or sympathy, nor even the instinctual disgust with which they alternate, are naturally conducive to our duty, our interests, our Dharma.  Feeling any of these, we lack compassion - and compassion is what is required.  This compassion is developed not by feeling, but by rationality.

By rationality, not instinct, true compassion can be cultivated, and Dharma accomplished.  There is danger in the cowardice borne of disgust - quite as much as there is from the pity borne of empathy, or the callousness borne of sympathy.  Shame is caused through our pity, disgust and callousness, and we should not have those who suffer addiction, or any other disease or affliction, even poverty, suffer shame additionally - especially since shame is not conducive to their recovery.  We should do what is conducive to recovery, not what is unuseful - or even harmful.

Consider, there is an instinct to hope for their recovery - and to despair they will never recover.  But instinct is not always wrong: it is rational to hope for their recovery.  Though medicine and nursing do not always result in recovery, it is because they sometimes do that they are administered.  Hope is not necessary to the administration of medicine: only the rational understanding that there is an opportunity for recovery which should not be ignored.

Similarly, it is not necessary to diminish our capacity for empathy and sympathy, or even disgust, or to do away with them entirely.  No sacrifice is required to take hold of rationality.  We need not do away with any emotion, or instinct; it is enough to feel their discomfort, and simply be unmoved.  Our actions must be governed by reason, and choice - to the extent that they are involuntary, and unuseful, they should be minimized.

Consequently, while it is easy enough to contemn those who arrive at work exhausted from a night of drinking, tobacco, marijuana, or video games, or any number of intoxicants, or to feel pity for them when at last their disease matures into incapacity or death, understanding these coworkers do not choose to remain ill, or choose not to recover, illuminates weakness as the cause of their present disease.  Willing, but unable, they will not benefit from our condemnation or pity; nor will our own disgust with addiction or illness sufficiently protect us from a similar fate.  No one chooses to be sick, and may still become so even after precaution and prudence.  Not our coworkers, nor friends, nor family.  We ourselves do not choose to be sick.

It is better, should you be overcome with contempt or pity, to consider the strength of will in these athletes as they wrestle themselves daily, and though daily defeated, determine to fight again.  Admire this willpower.  They lack only strength - and adequate training.

Then consider, do you have strength to lend, can you support them and free them from that oppression?  Can you gain the medical skill, the resources, the ability necessary?  If you don't and can't, by trying to rescue them you risk merely following them into that hell and becoming captive yourself, and also requiring rescue.  Understand that feeling their pain does not take it away from them.  Not any more than shaming them and attacking them gives them the strength they lack.  If you lack the strength to rescue them and share in their victory, it is all you can do (and enough) to support them with friendship: share in their defeat so they may at least be comforted.  Such friendship is in fact the very source of strength which is required, and one which you have in sufficient abundance to safely share.

Consider, you have withstood what overcame them.  Do not deprive them of the opportunity to share in your victory.

Consider all those around you, overcome by emotion: anxiety, depression, anger. Consider those overcome by poverty, those overcome by all the many forms of distress.  Remember they are also your friends.  Once healthy and strong, as you are; now as you may yet become.  Understand the injuries that brought them here.  It is time to share in their defeat, and to grow stronger together - that they may share in your victory.

And if it is you who is suffering, find your strong friends - do not feel pity for yourself, or disgust for yourself. Do not feel jealous of the victories of others. You may share in the victory.  Because we are all fight, opposed to addiction and other disease, and all forms of distress.  You are not alone.

Thank you to Maria Tamayo's Farm

 We wished to thank and recognize Maria Tamayo, and her farm, for giving so much to their community.  Not only the fresh tomatoes and other produce given to their neighbors who she saw in need of nutritious and wholesome foods, but also by their simple acts of friendship, honesty and reliability presented by her, and all in her employ.  She inspires a greater business ethic, and respect for her profession.

This was their first year farming in Grand Junction, and having sold at all the local markets, they plan on expanding next year up the I-70 corridor. 

While generosity is important to any business model, and comes instinctually to Ms. Tamayo, it was a combination of her understanding of her importance to her neighbors, and her love for them, which motivated her exemplary actions.  This guided her interactions with customers, and others who received her food by gift - some of whom had not tasted fresh foods, or knew what to do with it. 

Love of growing, love of cooking, love of eating - enthusiasm encouraged even first-time chefs to eat better, to take better care of themselves, and in turn to take better care of the community they share with Ms. Tamayo.

Wounded Lion - Samyutta Nikaya 4.13

After another attempted assassination, the Buddha Gotama was recovering his strength, staying near Rajagaha at the Maddakucchi Deer Reserve.  His foot still pierced and broken, it grew infected. His whole body experienced excruciating pain, fierce, sharp, wracking, repellent, disagreeable.  But he endured this mindful, alert, and unperturbed.  He lay on his right side in the Lion Asana, careful to place his more injured foot on top of the other. 

It was at this moment that Mara (Maya) approached Gotama, and badgering him, asked,
"Why are you laying there in stupor? Or drunk on poetry? Are you goals and ambitions so few you might lie there and rest, alone in private lodgings all day?  Do you choose to be alone, or are you neglected?  Should you not be at work?  Why are you resting? What is with this dreaming, sleepy face?  Only your foot is injured."

The Buddha Gotama responded,
"Your assumptions are wrong.  I do not lie in a stupor, nor drunk on poetry.  I have already achieved all my ambition: I am without regret, or sorrow.  What is there left to do that I am not doing?  And I am not alone: I lie here in sympathy with all beings.  Even those whose chests have been pierced with arrows, even those just struck with an arrow, their heart beating rapidly in fear, so near to death, even they are able to rest, and recover their strength.  And need to.  Even they are able and need to sleep.  So why shouldn't I - I, whose arrow has been removed?  I am prepared to live, and prepared to die: so I am not awake with worry, nor afraid to sleep.  Neither day nor night oppresses me.  I see no threat in my decline, nor in the decline of any being in any world, nor entire worlds at all.  Or in their rising.  But to answer you simply, this is how I rest: in sympathy for all beings.  Even you, Mara."

Vote Yes on Amendment A

To compel criminals to work, and earn, and then to deprive them of the benefits of that work is contradictory to the goals of public safety.  It's by enjoying the benefits of work that people learn to love freedom, and come to value both law and the safety of their neighbors.  Consequently, the practice of slavery has been long and entirely abandoned in our penal system.

The apology offered by those proponents of slavery, who fight against Amendment A, may essentially be understood in the context of cruelty, and violence.  Those who argue it is necessary to punish criminals don't intend our public safety.  Rather, their hatred reflects those dishonorable dogmas which first motivated this bad law in the shadows of the Civil War.

Those who died to defend Freedom in that war, and all those who gave their lives, fortunes and happiness for freedom since then, cannot be allowed to have sacrificed in vain.  In voting for Amendment A, we bear the responsibilities of these sacrifices.

To ensure the final defeat of criminality, cruelty and violence, to gain the honor of every criminal's reform, requires no act of punishment, nor indeed any obsolete system of justice. Rather, it requires the new ways of a scientific Criminology.  Medicine, economics and psychology - not the gun, chain and whip - are the tools today's crime fighters require of us. Vote, then heed the call of volunteerism and civil leadership.  Love, and friendship, are what is required of you.  We cannot again permit the domination of our neighbors through futile punishments.

Those who truly love Freedom will never be masters, nor tolerate the mastery of others.  Yet while there are many benefits to developing self-restraint, are there benefits in the temporary restraint of others, especially those who are dangerous to themselves, or society?  Opponents of Amendment A (who would continue the enslavement of our criminals) confuse the issue upon this question, that we might ignore the fact it wouldn't alter the restraint we place upon our criminals - only require of ourselves greater self-restraint.

What is Guru?

"Guru" is a word that has come to mean something different than its definition would otherwise imply.  It is a word that connotes that which is heavy and must be borne, like the weight of a late term pregnancy, or the obligations a head of household owes to their family.  It connotes a difficulty that must be accepted: as we must accept that we cannot see some things without a lens. It connotes impetus, the effect or shaping which cannot be avoided during profound interaction, or impact, whether physical and natural as snow striking trees in an avalanche, or psychological in the friendships and enmity we share with others.

From these meanings, it has been applied more broadly: the spouse, parents, and other loved ones of another cannot be known by direct familiarity, but are evident in the people we do know, for they have been shaped by the profound depth of those familiar relationships.  It has come to connote the respect you would show someone who is the head of your household, you are their burden, and they are your support; this bond cannot be broken.  It is the respect you have for one who has impacted you positively or negatively - they have very much become a part of yourself, and this bond cannot be broken.  Guru is a capital city, a capital letter, the longest vowels, a chieftain, the first among equals, great, utmost, superior, large, extensive, that which exemplifies a violent excess, devoid of moderation and mediocrity.  It is the meal that is difficult to digest, which sits extensively in the stomach or intestine.  And, in more modern times, it has become applied to those who would teach - for by teaching, they actually learn.  And with double-meaning, especially to a particular sect of "heads of household" (Swamis).

There are hundreds of kinds of teachers in Yoga, and especially in Sanskrit: far too many to list.  There is the Krishti who cultivates knowledge in themselves and others, the Ijya who is the merchant of knowledge, the Karanika who is capable of judging whether something is correct. And so forth.  But none of these are, truly, a "Guru."  Among the hundreds of kinds of teachers, there is made further differentiation: there are those who teach this or that, who specialize in technical skills, or pure knowledge, or even in particular methodologies - there are even those teachers who have the ability to teach how to teach.  There are those who teach by example, those who lecture, those who teach by socratic interrogation, those who teach by attacking and criticizing, those who teach by taking what is improper away, those who teach by giving what is lacking.  A teacher can be an enemy, or a friend, or someone who is indifferent.  And among so many kinds of teachers, there are instructors, masters, apprentices of greater or lesser degrees, there are those who are practiced, and those who are trained, those who are informed.  But none of these are a Guru.

The object of a teacher must necessarily be to cease their teaching.  The object of learning must be to learn how to learn.  The lessons of Yoga are such that you must necessarily teach yourself to learn.  And you learn that only You can teach your Self.  It is a fact that by teaching yourself you understand the truest nature of your self.  This is why "Guru" is the source and inspiration of the knowledge of the self: the nature of reality is determined by the seeking of one who seeks it.  Reality has no innate nature, and cannot be known until knowledge is conceived.  

The seeking, the seeker, and that which is sought is co-conditioned: thus, we always will find what we are looking for.  It is vitally important to be unbiased and detached in our search for knowledge.  In seeking a teacher, you will find what you are looking for.  You will find yourself.  You will find all your teachers inadequate, and eventually, learning only from yourself, find yourself inadequate as well.  You will discover your bias, and come to understand the truest nature of reality - and yourself.

Who do you seek for when you come to doubt yourself?  How will you give up your attachments to confidence, and be comfortable with degrees of uncertainty?  Western science has already caught up to the eastern in this sense: it is undeniable that perfect certainty is neither possible, nor desirable.  The line between fiction and fact must remain blurred.  It is a difficulty which must be accepted: we cannot see accurately without a lens obscuring our vision.

Therefore, the sacrifice of a guru is most important to learn: necessarily, you must give up your teacher, as you would turn close the back cover a book. You must excel, and exceed, your teachers.  You must exceed your own humanity.  The purpose of seeking a teacher is to not require that teacher anymore.  Do not lose sight of your goal, but let it guide your studies.

Om! Mahamuni. Svaha.  What is "Siddha Artha" but the skillful accomplishment of your own goal.  You will know a great teacher when you see one, they embody your Dharma.  You will know sufficiency when you see it.  You already have the capacity to judge whether something is correct, Karanika.  You already have the capacity to obtain knowledge from those merchants who peddle it, Ijya.  Or to obtain it directly, by cultivation, Krishti  Who will give you a mantra to sing, when you already break into song so freely? What mantra will you sing? And when will you be quiet in it? Who will train your knowledge into skill, Siddhi?  What will give you Siddhi, but your Self, through practice and training?  For what purpose do you seek Siddhis, except contentment, Riddhi?  Are you not capable of self-contentment? 

Class ends. Practice ends. Training ends.  What is the end, the purpose, of this study?  Embody the Dharma, and perform duties of sacrifice.  When you have become a better human being, a Brahmin, perform your duty and perform sacrifice.  Sacrifice is the using up, the giving, the sharing of something - the exchange for something better.  Self-sacrifice, and you will find it is insufficient to merely be a better person.  A Guru takes sacrifice to extremes.  A guru uses (up), gives (up), shares (into infinitely small parts with everyone).  This you can do too, if you truly understand the nature of self and reality.  The best teacher does not teach anything which the student does not already know.  It is insufficient to study, it is insufficient to teach, it is insufficient to perform the Dharma.  The Dharma itself must be given up.  The Vedas must fall silent.  Sacrificing must be sacrificed.  Only in this ending can something truly wonderful be begun.

Now learn patience

By Yoga we learn that everyone does as much as they can to the ability that they can. When we find our own limits, we are able to see how we need to become more able - stronger and smarter.  Whatever adversity we find is our own fault.  And while this may appear adversarial, and frequently we are a cause of our own self-harm, especially in whatever obstruction we are now confronted by, there is good reason to trust we will eventually grow and overcome this, and all that would limit us.

However, until then it is necessary to temporarily tolerate your own faults: this tolerance is Ahimsa, the promise of non-harm, of safe passage, given to even such a constant enemy as our Self.  Learning to tolerate our faults helps us become more tolerant of others who are not always our reliable friends, and our world, which is frequently a hard place.  Eventually we come to see that the world is exactly as it should be right now, and though others may present to us adversity, they are not our antagonists.  We learn to even withstand our own distress.  This is Shanti, the peace of invulnerability, of invincibility.  It is possible to learn this invincibility and be victorious - and you will succeed, if you persist a little longer.

Have you yet learned persistence?  Then persist.  Do not feel distressed by your present inability.  You are doing enough to eventually succeed.  You struggle honorably, intent on success.  You have always honored your limits in the past by exceeding them when it was possible to do so.  However, now it is not possible - and that is acceptable.  You will grow stronger if you do not waste your strength on senseless fighting.  Patience is the means to your victory in this challenge - and in many others you must soon meet.  You have learned persistence.  Now it is time to learn patience by practicing tolerance.

Going to work

There are Asanas which are easy, and those which are difficult: but neither of these are what is necessary to do.  We learn what is easy so we may accomplish what is difficult.  An Ashram is a place where things are easier, and was intended to be so.  However, just as you do not lay in bed all day, and stop after eating enough, when strength is recovered, performance of what has been learned, trained in, and practiced is undertaken naturally enough.  An Ashram is merely a rest-stop in life, whether we are talking about the Ashramas of a lifetime (Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha, Sannyasa), or those Ashramas we construct on our wanderings (through samsara).  A mindful, focused environment is restful, and conducive toward study, training and practice - but this does not make Yoga possible. 

When you begin to examine what prevents you from actually accomplishing Yoga, you will see that the wider environment cannot be kept wholly out.  There is pain, there is weakness, there is death.  And these are here, in your place of rest, too. Like a cow is prepared for slaughter with a safe pen and grain, we have chosen to not ignore the consequences of our Karma: there is an urgent necessity to practice Karma Yoga, and taking control of this destiny requires self-sacrifice, the sacrifice of "self", the sacrifice of identity.  This requires skill in the four Jnanas: self-control begins with the body, the mind's thoughts and feelings, the consciousness and ultimately with the identity.  Perfecting this skill (Siddhi) toward your contentment requires understanding sufficiency (Svaha), and this requires a mastery of Hatha Yoga.  Ashrams are comfortable, and easy - and are frequently necessary.  But an island in a flooding river is no place to stay very long.  We have chosen to not be afraid of the water - we want to cross entirely over, and see what lies beyond.  It is necessary to journey on from each Ashrama, from Brahmacharya to Grihastha, to Vanaprastha, to Sannyasa.

A house provides shelter and safety.  But a Yogi cannot stay at home all day.

Sacrificing time

"Sit and do nothing."  If You were to sit, You would still be doing something.  You are always in action.  This You is your Self.  To still your Karma, and control it, requires self-control, which is mastered through practice in Jnana and other forms of Yoga.  Consequently, when sitting, it is beneficial to undertake some training and practice before attempting to do nothing.  However, having obtained all necessary prerequisite skills and strength to sit and do nothing, it becomes possible to perform any other Asana selflessly.  This selfless action is Karma Yoga.

It is by the requisite skills and strength of Karma Yoga that sacrifice becomes possible: training and practice in the sacrifice of self (becoming selfless) is foundational to training and practice in any form of sacrifice.  A sacrifice of Time, by sitting and doing nothing, is difficult to accomplish.

There are many other benefits to this Asana: sitting and doing nothing is one of the most expedient means toward recovering strength of mind and body, and naturally results in awareness of Time, especially its effects of impermanence - and its nature of destruction, which is not unlike sacrificial fire.  An understanding of Time permits a better understanding of Dharma.  One who frequently sits and does nothing finds awareness of their Self, and their Dharma, easy.  Their desire, ignorance and hatred are easily observed - as are the effects of these.  All of their Karma can be understood - and as one might discover their body, and is subsequently able to learn self-control of their body, and mind, and consciousness, and self, merely developing awareness of Dharma founds the development of many other profound skills.

For example, it is possible when sitting and doing nothing to become acutely aware of all your other pressing duties, or to become aware of your own thoughts and feelings, your own inclination toward action.  Understanding these as your own, you are able to see your Self.

Food burnt at the altar is not wasted, nor is a proper gift of food well given and refused wasted.  Time spent in Yoga, even if it is only by sitting and doing nothing, is not wasted: rather, when it is understood You are part of this world, it is easy to see that doing nothing improves the entire world.  As beings perform the sacrifice of food to sustain the Yogi's effort, Time may be sacrificed by the Yogi to bring an end to their Self, to being, to beings, to entire worlds, to all of Karma, even to the Dharma itself.  Even to Time itself.  For this is the meaning, the purpose, the use, the nature of Time.

Sacrificing strength by exhaustion

It is easy to become lazy in each Asana and simply rest, but the Yogi must bear into them with all their strength and heart.  It is by the sacrifice of strength, by exhaustion, that we learn to trust our second wind, to trust our recovery of strength, that we gain honor and become capable of heroism. An occupying army can never rest, but must remain vigilant and constantly exert themselves: so too must the Yogi become occupied by their breath.   A field must be continually weeded to remain cultivated, a wheel continually trued to remain round, an animal continually trained and practiced to remain domesticated: a Yogi must continually remain aware and alert in their self-cultivation, their truth, and tameness if they will bear the yoke to perform their duty.

Certainty of success

It is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game which matters more to whether it is worthwhile and enjoyed.  Sacrifice attachments to winning and losing to obtain the truer prize of honor.

Some things are impossible to accomplish.  But the victory of success is never one of them.  The warrior who falls in battle may die, but remains unconquered.  The captive is defeated, but rebelling, disobedient and defiant remains unconquered.   The land and people who lose a war to be occupied are not necessarily conquered.  But a hero, the one with sufficient honor, will conquer, and sit (Asana) in this victory.  And would be worthy of their subjects.  Thus the victory blow, the strike which ends a enmity and fulfills the vow for which fighting was begun, is made not by destroying the opponent, but by winning their friendship.  Thus, the Yogi seeks to earn their own self-respect, and honor.

Anguttara Nikaya 3.22 – the logic of hope

The Buddha said, there are three types of sick people: there is the one who will recover from their illness only if they receive medicine, nursing, proper food, and other care - and will not recover if they do not receive these things. There is also the one who will not recover from their illness, even if they were to receive all the proper care. And there is the one who will recover whether or not they receive care.

Though it is unknown whether a sick person will benefit from care, care is nevertheless given to the sick.  Though it is just as reasonable to fear that a sick person will not benefit from care as it is to hope that a sick person will benefit from care, it is not the hope that guides the provision of care: there are many reasons care is not withheld from the sick: if one seeks health, the unnecessary withholding of care is less reasonable than the unnecessary provision of it.  It is because there are some who do benefit from care that care is given to all sick people.

In the same way there are those who will benefit from seeing the Tathagata, from hearing the Dharma instructed, from training, and other guidance. And there are those who will not - some people will develop sufficient understanding on their own, or fail to do so. But it is because there are those who do benefit from guidance that guidance is provided.

Good luck, Mr. Sessions

There is something to agree with in Jeff Session's stark complaint.  Every person has the right to determine their own faith and creed according to conscience, including the renunciation of faith.  And because of this, government shouldn't interfere with the religious practices of its citizens by imposing requirements for practices upon any citizen contrary to their religious traditions.

Our City shouldn't conduct activities or adopt or maintain policies to prevent any citizen from participating in official public functions by cause of their religion.  And yet they do, at the beginning of their meetings (and many other times, besides).

All men and women of majority age, without any limitation due to religion, have the right to marry and to found a family - regardless of its adherence to or aberration from one religious belief or practice or another.  And yet, these rights too are limited unnecessarily when we deprive homosexuals and others with un-Christian practices of their freedom.

Everyone has the right of equal access to public service and participation in civil leadership and functions regardless of their religion. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment by cause of their religion, and its required practices - including religious observances like prayers and holy days. Everyone has the right to purchase property which has been offered for sale to the public, to just, equitable and favorable conditions in public commerce, free of discrimination upon the basis of their religion.  But we frequently and unjustly deprive our fellow citizens of these rights.

In the exercise of their religious rights and freedoms, everyone should be subject only to such limitations necessary for securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others.

Good luck, Mr. Sessions.

The temple of Kirtan

Kirtan is a word that connotes a type of temple or monument which is constructed by repeatedly mentioning, saying, reporting, and telling - in the sense that a physical temple is constructed by repeatedly placing bricks, or other construction materials.  In this regard, Kirtan has aspects of study, training, practice and performance. 

This temple of Kirtan, once constructed, is no different than any other temple: it is a facility for particular forms of sacrifice.  Sankirtan is the svarupa, the true, or essential, form or nature of Kirtan.  It is differentiated from mere Kirtan by evidence of spontaneous emulation in sacrifice: in the sense that a Priest facilitates the spontaneous emulation in sacrifice of a devotee within a Temple they construct or maintain.  When Kirtan is performed successfully, others emulate the construction and perform the sacrifices too.

Kirtan is accomplished by any of the athletic or performing arts through play; these plays are undertaken through a system of Asanas for the purpose of Dharma, Artha and Kama.  Sankirtan manifests the Vedas themselves: as the Vedas are not the words, but the melody which carries them, so is the Dharma not the play, but the player.  

Like all Yoga, Kirtan is an individual and lonely practice.  However, there are reasons for which Yogis gather to perform not only Kirtan, but numerous other things.  Kirtan is performed together typically either because of the need for the assistance of a Priest or the Priest's need for assistance in sacrifice, but also for study, training and practice.  

When people play together, a harmony and concord naturally arise which make success easier: as a fairer price is settled upon by buyer and seller in auction than in individual bargaining, as a melody is stronger when sustained by multiple voices, as a team of athletes succeeds where an individual might fail, as an army succeeds where a single warrior would fail.  The merchant sings advertisements of their price and wares, and the buyer spontaneously responds.  The athlete wins a game, and their fans spontaneously celebrate in the same victory.  The musician plays the melody, and the words are immediately sung by a thousand voices.  It is by Sankirtan that spontaneous mutual service for the same goal arises: truth, love, fairness, and numerous other objectives which are shared are achieved.  This is not mystical, but the result of the fact that all beings desire the same things, and when they work together, these become priorities which overcome any minor differences which differentiate the individual players.  We all desire truth, and love.

There are tools for play which players rely on, as there are tools to accomplish any task easier.  A single musical instrument can keep the tone steady for a vast number of musicians by remaining constantly in true tune, a drum can keep an army marching in the unity of courage by remaining constantly in true rhythm, a book can keep every voice in harmony by maintaining the constancy of verbage, the northstar can guide millions on different journeys by remaining in constant position in the sky.  The tools of Kirtan are designed toward constancy: an objective standard of perfection to which every participating Yogi may look for guidance.  Say the name of fire in a theater - and everyone runs in terror!  When you say a mantra, or the name of a beloved, their influence is brought to bear; by repeating training, confidence is gained.

When gathered for group Kirtan, each Yogi strengthens, guides and reinforces each other, together with whatever tools are used.  Kirtan is an expedient means by which even amateur Yogis may share in expertise and confidence - if only for a while.

There are simply too many techniques to summarize here, each specific to a particular tool, or objective of a particular sacrifice.  However, it may be said that as each instrument in an orchestra must be both heard and not dominate, these techniques are intended to bring harmony among the multiple efforts of each Yogi.

Kirtan relies on the use of Maya (magic, illusion, abstraction - like a graphical representation of numbers, or a 2 dimensional rendering of a 3 dimensional object, or the convincing performance of a theater actor, etc.), and this makes it both effective and dangerous for someone who is unskilled or insufficiently trained.  Of the numerous dangers of Maya in Kirtan, the greatest is entertainment: the athlete or musician must enjoy the game differently than the spectator, and each must remember their place.  For the spectator, it is easy to become entertained and too passive in their witnessing, and in such a dreamlike state, gain no benefit from the work of Dharma.  For the athlete, it is easy to become entertained and too active in their participation.   

If a Yogi stays aware of the Maya by perceiving the tools through which it is created, this danger is somewhat minimized: this is why it is necessary to first train in describing the merits (gunakirtana) of the players and their tools, why Puja is necessary to honor all those who play.  This act of friendship helps one remain conscious of the Maya, and not be overcome by it. Understanding the illusion does not rob it of its potency, only its power to control.  Understanding the illusion permits the Yogi to benefit from it without being overcome.  Taste each ingredient in the meal, smell every flower in the perfume, see every color and stroke in a painting, discover the actor behind the mask of your favorite character - if you can understand and praise the study, training and practice the player on the field undertook, even if they oppose you, you not only can come to understand what athleticism truly is, but will doubtlessly emulate them and exceed them.  

There is no honor in overcoming a less capable opponent, only in withstanding their antagonism.  There is no honor in speaking over a more eloquent voice, only in patient dialogue or supporting chorus with it.  The honor of a Yogi is observed in their self-restraint, their collaboration and cooperation, their ability to construct and service the temple for the sacrifice of this self: it is in Kirtan that we willingly give up our own individual voice to lend it to the choir.  Our voice, distinct and powerful, is important to hear - but is frequently bettered by supporting others.  

While entertainment is a desired effect of the performance of Kirtan, and necessary to achieve Kama, the enjoyment of the work, it is not the primary goal.  Performance is often the best (and sometimes the only) means by which a student may come to understand the Dharma.

Silent meditation free-style

Come and sit around and do nothing with us - at the Ashram on Mondays from 10:30am to 11am. Silent meditation, free-style. Every tradition welcome. Tea is sometimes available before hand, beginning at about 10:15. But sometimes there is no tea.

We also sit and do nothing in other (semi-random) places and times around Grand Junction - email us at lokahathayoga@gmail.com or call (970) 778-2835 to get on a list of where we'll we'll be sitting and doing nothing this week. .

Soon, you can also come and sit and do nothing with us at Metta from 5:30pm until 6pm on Fridays. There will be (sometimes) tea available beginning at 5:15. Sometimes not.

Beyond interfaith friendship

We participate extensively with the Grand Valley Interfaith Network in various capacities, and helped to organize a Theological and Knowledge Exchange.  Having attended the services and studied (to some minor extent) the practices and traditions of all our friends in the several faith traditions of Colorado, and shared our own practices and traditions with others, it is immediately clear that the most pressing question for any visitor is not the reason why the practice was undertaken, but the reason why it is persisted in.

Someone may begin a practice for any number of reasons: their friends, parents, or even distant ancestors may have benefited by the practice, by growing up and knowing no other choice, or even the casual discovery of the practice through some accident of coincidence.  But the reason why a person persists is always the same: for someone to persist in a practice, it must give benefit to them - not only in the present moment, but in the future as well.  Such is human nature: we hold onto what is valuable, and let go of what is not.

Yet after only the most cursory exploration of a culture, it is clear that the practices of today are not as they were a decade ago, or hundreds of years ago, or even thousands of years ago (if that religion has even lasted so long - many faiths are quite new).  And getting to know in friendship any of the practitioners of that religion, it is clear that their own personal practices have changed radically since childhood, or when the religion was first adopted - and even differ considerably from a year ago, or months ago.

By practice, greater skill and competence is gained: there is improvement.  In every culture, first human and animal sacrifices are given up, then sacrifices of plants and all other living creatures - as the knowledge of what a sacrifice is is truly understood.  Eventually, sacrificing is sacrificed, prayers fall silent, and in the quietude of this vedasamnyasa atheism is adopted.  Eventually, atheism is itself given up for non-theism.  And non-theism given up and the practitioner, now Tathagata, unbound and free, travels far, far, far, far beyond.  And never again considers themself a hindu, or buddhist, or christian, or jew, or muslim, or bahai, or atheist, or anything at all.  Not even human - for they have exceeded their humanity to develop a much better nature.

That we all journey on the same path is not the consequence of any god, but the consequence of a shared human nature.  It is our nature to self-improve.  To change, to grow, to seek what is true and valuable, and let go of all that is not.  It is for the purpose of discovering - and fulfilling - the full promise of our humanity that we undertake any practice at all.  And all faiths and religions are expressions of this same humanity.

Just as the purpose for which a path is taken is that we may not travel the expanse alone, but enjoy the journey through friendship with our fellow travelers, the purpose of our humanity guides us from being lost to the wilderness from which we were borne.