What questions arise when I focus on “Shankara in the jaws of a crocodile” as an object of Vedanta meditation?
Over 1,000 years ago, when Shankara’s father was dying, the boy realized the fact of reincarnation. After his father passed, Shankara begged his mother to allow him to renounce the world to pursue spiritual wisdom. His mother forbade this because she loved her son and could not bare to let him leave her. One day, mother and son were at the river, and a crocodile caught the boy in its jaws. Shankara cried out to his mother saying that if she let him renounce the world, the crocodile would release its grip on him. Desperate, his mother promised to let him go. Fiercely, she prayed her son’s life be spared. Instantly, the crocodile released Shankara. Unharmed, he swam to shore and walked away from his mother. She wept to watch him go.
Reading about Shankara in the jaws of a crocodile, a Jnana yogi might ask, “What am I holding onto that if I let it go, the letting go may actually save someone’s life? Under what circumstances must I finally realize the impact of my grip? Who hears the one who prays, “may ignorance be dispelled before anyone gets hurt?”
What questions arise when I focus on “the womb of the witch goddess” as an object of Vedanta meditation?
Cerridwen is a woman who is feared and revered for her power to enchant. She gives birth to a beautiful daughter and a hideous son. Like any loving mother, she wants what’s best for her children, so she creates a brew that will give her hopeless son all the knowledge and wisdom of the seen and unseen worlds. To make the brew, the fire under the cauldron must be maintained at the right temperature. The exact herbs must be added at the precise times, and the brew must be stirred constantly over the span of a year and a day. She can’t do it all herself, so she hires an old man and boy to help her. The boy’s name is Gwion Bach.
There are different versions of this story, but today we’ll say that just as Cerridwen was going to get her son to receive the only three drops of the potion that would contain this power to confer wisdom, Gwion Bach — who was stirring — notices the potion suddenly bubbles wildly. Those only three magical drops jump out of the boiling cauldron and onto Gwion Bach’s thumb. Instinctively, he sticks his thumb in his mouth because it hurts. Accidently, he sucks the drops and gains the knowledge and wisdom that was meant for Cerridwen’s son. She gets mad and chases him. They transform into birds, fish, and farm creatures. She eventually eats him, and he develops as a baby in her womb. After he is born, she wraps him in reeds and sends him up the river to be raised by the king and queen of another realm. He becomes the Prophet of Poetic Spirit, Taliesen.
Reading Cerridwen’s story inspires a Jnana yogi to ask, “Will you tell me your magical tale? Please, will you sing of everything that combined to create you? Shall we sit and Witness, together, every combination of events, every chemical reaction, every cause and effect that arises to transform us? Shall we see clearly that from the Brew of Awen to the light of Brahman, the reality of Existence, Consciousness, Bliss pervades all?”
What question arises when I focus on “Mothers” as an object of Vedanta meditation?
Two women create a baby. One gives birth to her then leaves. The other feels abandoned, unworthy, and left alone to raise the baby. She doesn’t know how. Hell, she doesn’t even know the baby’s name. Then she remembers. She remembers the love the mothers shared, the dreams, the plans, the anger, but not what caused the anger. She remembers, oh, that’s right, the child’s name is Mara. The baby cries for hours. The long breaks of silence between scream sessions seem to promise rest, but she never sleeps again. When the mother closes her eyes for a moment, years pass. She loses count of the split seconds between crying and silence. She and the baby occupy a sacred home that is watched over by 1,000 Brides of Christ who are constantly chanting erotic hymns from the Book of Lilith. After totally botching the lullaby, the mother grows confident: yes, she can raise this baby on her own at the same time she realizes the child is grown and she has been a bad mother.
Reading “Mothers,” a Jnana yogi might ask, “If Space and Time do not belong between the heartbreak that has made you stronger and your Mothers’ Love, why judge yourself as Good or Bad? Also, suppose your mother forgot to teach you how to swim, are you going to judge her for that, or avoid swimming?”
What question arises when I focus on “10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World” as an object of Vedanta meditation?
Elif Shafak did research and found scientific studies that said the brain can be active for up to 10 minutes and 38 seconds after the body dies. This gave her structure for her novel about Tequila Leila, a sex worker who lives and dies in Istanbul during a time period spanning 1950s to the 1990s. After Leila is murdered and thrown into a dumpster, her continuing mind activity give readers moments of her life that reveal her dehumanizing story. But the love and courage her friends show in remembering her after her death restores Leila’s dignity and gives hope, inspires longing for us all to live with more elation and compassion.
All of the writing I have read by Elif Shafak makes a Jnana yogi wonder “If the fact of Existence is the same in the lowest outcast and the highest saint, why is equity, equality, fairness, and justice so hard to achieve in our social systems? If we dwell in the continuing reality of perceiving all as Brahman, what must we do now to make that equality manifest and a felt reality in the realm of names and forms? How do we bring spiritual ideals into embodiment? Can Being, Consciousness, Bliss heal broken political systems?”
What question arises when I focus on “The Left Hand” as an object of Vedanta meditation?
This story tells of the left hand having a dialogue with the right hand. Well, not a dialogue but an argument. The right hand is feeling defensive because the left hand started the conversation by priding itself on being more refined, slimmer and smoother, than the right hand. Because the right hand does all the work, it makes its own claim to superiority, especially when it comes to playing the piano.
Reading this story as a yogi, I have to admit to growing impatient with this beautifully written creative expression. Though I have been meditating for years, I couldn’t help but get irked; as the argument developed, I wanted to scold those hands and shout shut up, already, and just hold yourselves together in Anjali mudra!
This strange story could make a Jnana yogi ask, “If the right and left hands were sentient beings — independent creatures with minds and hearts of their own — what wisdom would they seek to grasp? What blessings would they confer when placed upon objects with names and forms? Alone with each other, would the hands press together and hold one another in prayer? Or, would they only argue over who is better and who does more work?”
3 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen along with reading a short story by T.C. Boyle called “The Apartment.” You can find the text for Dṛg Dṛysya Viveka online as a PDF; you can find Boyle’s story in The Best American Short Stories 2020.
What question arises when I focus on “The Apartment” as an objects of Vedanta meditation?
This story tells of a lawyer living with his wife and two teenage daughters in a small apartment in the South of France. Due to a sense his family is growing too big for their current home, he wants to move; his ideal place is owned by a ninety-year-old widow who lost her only son years ago. Not thinking it’s any risk, the man offers the widow a deal. She can live in the place while he pays her 2,500 francs a month. “You’re betting I’ll die—and sooner rather than later.” The old woman sees clearly. For years he goes on paying her, always assuming that she will die any day now, and the sunlit apartment will be all his—for a good deal. But she goes on living. She outlives him.
This disturbing story could make a Jnana yogi ask, “What if I were to gather everything that I have at stake right now — my longevity, my home, plus my sense of “I am” — and place it all upon this passing breeze. What powers this Witness of names and forms to outshine even the shrewdest of women?”
Is meditation watching the movements of the mind and then continually bringing the mind back to a mantra or object?
Is meditation sitting quietly and forcing intense focus on one object until the meditator merges with that object and goes beyond? (Yogic)
Is meditation boring?
Is meditation hard?
Must we meditate daily, in the morning, as the sun rises and as the sun sets?
Is meditation something that makes us transcend the world and abandon the world to walk the path of the renunciate; or, does meditation connect us and make us more aware and make us more joyfully involved in everything we do?
Is meditation something that helps us to maintain a refined sense of awareness toward our body, mind, and movements in the world? (Mindfulness)
Is meditation something that I can engage in all of the time; therefor, I don’t need to practice any method because if everything is a meditation nothing is a meditation? (nihilistic)
Can / should meditation be defined?
Does meditation lead to levitation; or, is meditation all about balancing gravity and levity?
One day, while thinking about these questions, I came across an Urban Outfitters advertisement that appeared in my email inbox that said, “New bikinis are the answer.” This made me laugh.
Yogic meditation chooses an object like the breath or a mantra, and disciplines the mind to stay focused on that one object. Yogic meditation guides the practitioner to still the fluctuations of the mind.
Mindfulness meditation assesses the here and now moment with intense focus to refine and expand awareness in the moment.
Vedanta meditation is not exactly meditation in the yogic sense, nor is it meditation in the mindfulness sense. Vedantic meditation urges the practitioner to encounter everything in the world in a state of Being the One Illuminating whatever is encountered. It is a path to Self knowledge. It is a path of Brahmavidya, the direct experience of Pure Consciousness in all moments at all times. So, for instance, I know for sure that my eyes are different from the objects I am seeing. Vedanta guides me to know–equally as clearly–that the Witness / the Pure Consciousness is right here and now, shining forth in this moment no matter what I am experiencing. Brahma — undivided and luminous — generates the conscious reality, reveals and hides, and is equally present in every being. Plus, it exists beyond the grasp of language; so we don’t really need to talk or write about it but just be with it, dwell in it, celebrate it, acknowledge it, bow to it. Love it. I want a t-shirt that says I (heart) Brahmavidya. Ha! Ha! Funny, right? I wish Urban Outfitters sold such a t shirt. I would buy it. Peace!
Infinite gratitude to Swami Sarvapriyananda whose YouTube classes are a treasure to me.
2 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen along with reading a short story by Clarice Lispector called “100 Years of Forgiveness.” You can find the text for Dṛg Dṛysya Viveka online as a PDF; also, you can find Lispector’s story translated from Portuguese by Rachel Klein online at “The Paris Review” Issue 199, Winter 2011.
What question arises when I focus on “100 Years of Forgiveness” as an object of Vedanta meditation?
The story is narrated by a young girl who walks the streets of Brazil with her friend. They play a game of claiming which of the wealthiest houses belong to them. One house has a garden of well-trended rose beds, and the narrator is overcome with a desire to possess one of the beautiful roses. She sneaks into the garden, and steals a rose and keeps it and loves it. No one notices. Thus, begins her habit of stealing roses and then she moves on to steal red pitanga berries. Roses and pitanga berries are things of quiet beauty, things that keep hidden; so, no one notices when they are gone. No one notices the joy and pleasure these things give to a young girl. Possessing these things of beauty feels so good, and she never regrets stealing because “a thief of roses and pitangas has 100 years of forgiveness.”
This beautiful story could make a Jnana yogi ask, “Who am I when I am enjoying something that I deem to be beautiful? Who am I when I am reminded that the thing of beauty I behold in adoration is a play of shadow and light that both hides and reveals who I am?
This month I am conducting an experiment. I have humbly requested the universe grant me time to read stories from around the world, stories from people in various lands and with a variety of experiences. I long to be a patient Listener of Stories. Then, I will attempt to ponder these stories through the lens of a meditation technique from Advaita Vedanta, specifically the meditative inquiry into the Seer and the Seen.
Here is one question: What inner experience can I enjoy reading a story while applying the wisdom of the text called Drg Drysya Viveka: An Inquiry into the Seer and the Seen? I hope this will be a fascinating inner space investigation for me, and I am curious what shines forth as I attempt to remain absorbed in Brahmana consciousness, and free expression, as a way to honor various beautifully-written narratives from around the world. The goal of this process is to improve my ability to ask questions that lead to inner contemplations that will make my heart feel lighter and calibrate my mind to be habituated to joy or contentment.
1 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen along with reading a short story by Kiprop Kimutai called “The Black Unicorn.” You can find the text for Dṛg Dṛysya Viveka online as a PDF; also, you can find Kimutai’s story online at the literary magazine called, “No Tokens.” Over the month of March, each day, I intend to share a new reflection question that arises from studying this 700-year-old Advaita Vedanta text of uncertain authorship, Drg Drsya Viveka, alongside a literary story. My game here is to focus on short stories as my objects of Vedanta meditation.
“The Black Unicorn” tells of a mother and her son, who were abandoned by the father and then are forced to flee to the father’s homeland to seek refuge from the regional tribe that has assumed power. Mother and son adjust to a destitute life after being run out of their comfortable home. To restore his dignity, the queer boy wishes to become a priest; but, the local father tells him a secret about a unicorn, advises him to radiate his pure heart. The boy does, enjoys mystical vision, and it turns out the boy becomes more than a priest — a seer of the truth. What’s more, the boy’s sage gift helps people see the truth within themselves. It’s a powerful story, and my favorite part is when the boy is riding the unicorn through the cedar forest. No one else can see the unicorn making this experience between boy and unicorn a welcome experience of deep privacy.
After reading the story and hoping that I listened closely enough, I considered the inquiry of the seer and the seen, and I came up with this question for reflection for March 1, 2021.
Question 1: What would I do in a private moment when I know that my worries related to identity, sexuality, desire, mystery, and freedom are but the reflection of the sun in a dewdrop that will evaporate before noon? #AdvaitaVedanta #shortstories
For many years I believed teachers who told me that the way to be joyfully absorbed in Consciousness is through long sessions of sitting in meditation, focusing on the breath or mantra unto absolute stillness of the mind in order to enter samadhi. I practiced with this goal in mind, and it helped to some degree; but not always and not with every kind of human endeavor; plus, my hips and butt hurt from all that sitting. Also, there was a time when — although I was suspicious — I wanted to trust teachers who insisted I be able to “go to a place of ‘no mind.'” In my experience, to equate Cosmic Consciousness and Nirvikalpa Samadhi with the spoken injunction of “go to no mind” is ultimately horrific and misguiding.
That’s why I like Advaita Vedanta. I don’t need to take anything on faith; also, the mind is not an enemy or a monkey or something that needs to be destroyed. Instead, the mind needs to be Seen for what it truly is and does. And if for one split moment I can glimpse what it is that Witnesses the mind, then I will feel that my load is lighter.
See the mind for what it is and needs to do feels like a useful approach to me, especially these days when the world is in such deep despair. I feel that listening to one another’s stories with compassion is urgent at this time. After reading tons of texts from the yoga tradition that all assert that I should be seeking to be liberated from suffering, I guess I have learned that I am not seeking to liberate myself, but like a bodhisattva, wish to see all beings liberated together. And what I have noticed that while exchanging energy through storytelling may not lead us all to the kinds of liberation the yogis aspired to, listening to each other’s stories surely helps to lighten our loads. Hence, I like to experience both storytelling and meditation. I am seeking to find ways to connect to fellow human beings to ensure that we all know one another more intimately, and we can say to one another, in a spirit of friendship and solidarity: I am with you.