Meditations on Stories 21

Meditations on Stories 21

21 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside the story of Astavakra who was cursed in the epic Mahabharata.

What questions arise when I focus on “twisted limbs” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

When Astavakra was in his mother’s womb, his father would sit by her every evening, and he would chant the Vedas. One evening, father and mother heard a voice come from within the womb, the unborn child—who already knew the scriptures—said, “Father, you are chanting the Vedas incorrectly; you are mispronouncing some words and messing it up!” The father, Khoda, cursed the unborn child. The baby came out of the womb with twisted limbs. So, he was named Astavakra, which means 8 twists.

Years later, Khoda visited the court of King Janaka to challenge the illustrious scholar, Bandin, to a debate. Khoda lost this debate and was punished. Astavakra heard that his father’s punishment for losing the debate to Bandin was death by drowning. So, Astavakra went to the king’s court to debate Bandin to restore his father’s dignity. Astavakra won this debate by proving Brahmadvaitam (ultimate oneness). When he won, Astavakra learned that his father was not drown but was only banished to serve the king at the bottom of the sea. Astavakra requested Bandin set Khoda free, and the scholar obliged. Khoda was grateful to his son Astavakra and wanted to lift his curse. He told him to go bathe in Samanga River. The son obeyed his father, bathed in the river, and when he came out, his limbs were straight.

There is a book in the Vedanta tradition called The Astavakra Samhita whose author is unknown. He/she/they, the author(s), took on the persona of Astavakra to enable a transmission of Brahmadvaitam. The Astavakra Samhita does not present a philosophical argument; it is not theology; it is not scripture; it is not narrative; it is not poetry or any kind of literary expression; it is not teachings. The Astavakra Samhita is a transmission of wisdom. To read this text is to be in Brahmadvaitam.

I love this word, Brahmadvaitam, and I could repeat it all day; but, this kind of japa practice is not necessary with the Astavakra Samhita. One line from this book is enough to bestow the experience of moksha (liberation). Actually, Brahmadvaitam, this is the real experience pervading all the objects of meditation. But it is not spoken, it is not named; the real object is not an object at all.

Advaita Vedanta meditation is an experience of making what is commonly regarded as gross—the body, stories, mind-stuff, objects—into the subtlety of illusion; meanwhile, it also makes what is commonly regarded as subtle—Brahmavidya—into the gross.

This is how it was so when Swami Vivekananda asked “Have you seen God?” Ramakrishna said, “Yes, I see God right now as real to me as you are, but even more intensely.”  This answer convinced Swami Vivekananda to take Ramakrishna as his teacher because he was so impressed that this man actually sees God, not as a belief but as an experience right now.

Over time, Ramakrishna requested Swami Vivekananda to read aloud to him the Astavakra Samhita. The swami didn’t like the book at first. He didn’t want to read it. But Ramakrishna innocently and gently requested him to read it aloud to him, and eventually the Astavakra Samhita became dear to him.

Let’s read it aloud all over again, dear One! Let’s know we’re already free! 

Meditating on twisted limbs, a Jnana yogi might ask, “In a world where fathers curse sons, where friends hurt each other, where races hate each other, how dare you show these pains have no impact on our Freedom? Despite my struggle, I see this reality: now, how do I remain in this knowledge that nothing binds me? Oh, all the pain and hurt shall carry on, you say? Then how shall freedom remain ever most real in my awareness?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 20

Meditations on Stories 20

20 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside the novel Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein.

I read Turtle Boy with my daughter. Both she and I are very familiar with what it is like to be an introvert. Reading Turtle Boy together gave us a lot to think and talk about regarding coming out of our shells.

What questions arise when I focus on “mortality” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

Will is twelve years old, and his favorite thing to do is to walk in a nature preserve behind his school, the back 40. He catches wild turtles and keeps them. He avoids all social activities. He has a slight facial deformity and often tucks his head between his knees. Peers call him Turtle Boy. He hates that nickname. He has two close friends, Shirah and Max. As part of preparation for his Bar Mitzvah, Rabbi Harris requires Will to pay hospital visits to a sixteen-year-old boy, RJ, who is terminally ill. After their relationship gets off to a rocky start, they warm up to each other. RJ teaches Will to play drums. Will learns RJ has a bucket list, things he’d like to do before he dies: swim in the ocean, go to a rock concert, ride a roller coaster, attend a school dance, perform in the talent show, date a girl. RJ cannot do these things in his poor health. So Will, very reluctantly, agrees to do them on RJ’s behalf. These tasks cause great anxiety to Will, but eventually he learns about the joy of connecting to RJ and coming out of his shell.

Meditating on mortality, a Jnana yogi might ask, “If my body is too sick, and someone else must complete my bucket list on my behalf, which gives comfort: 1. Realizing my benefactor’s experience and my experience are one; or 2. Realizing I am an Ocean of Consciousness upon which every completed bucket list, plus the whole universe, floats in one tiny boat?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 19

Meditations on Stories 19

19 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside the story of the famous meeting between Guru Ram Das and Baba Siri Chand. This is a story from the Sikh tradition, but I heard this story told orally by an Udasi Nirmala sage. Stories are shaped by their tellers; thus, here I take liberty to add my own embellishment, experience, and flair.

What questions arise when I focus on “humility” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

In 16th century, Northern India, an ascetic yogi named Baba Siri Chand paid a visit to the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das. He was accompanied by the yogis who were following him, yogis who had attained siddhis (supernatural powers). These yogis could fly, read minds, walk through solid objects, be in two places at once, control the weather, etc. They had attained all the powers that come with decades of austere practice. Their leader, Baba Siri Chand, was 90 years old at this time; but, he had the body of a sixteen-year-old boy, no beard and a flawless physique. The guru, on the other hand, aged to midlife and had grown a long, dark beard.

The two enlightened beings sat together with a large audience around them. The audience was filled with anticipation to hear what words these two beings would exchange. What discourse would they expound? Rarely did an ascetic yogi and householder guru sit together. Surely this dialogue would be like that exchanged between Krishna and Arjuna, or like that between Ashtavakra and King Janaka! Surely this exchange would reveal the highest teachings!  

The yogi and the guru sat in silence.

No one spoke. No one moved for hours, even days. Who knows how much time passed with the whole gathering immersed in profound, divine silence?

Finally, Baba Siri Chand spoke. He asked the guru, “Why do you grow such a long beard?” The meaning behind his question was asking why, if the guru were so enlightened, did he allow for his body to age; if the guru had mastered his physical form through meditation and yogic techniques why didn’t he control his aging process?  

The guru bent low and wiped the yogi’s feet with his beard.

He said, “I’ve grown this beard so that I can wash the lotus feet of such a high One as you!”

Baba Siri Chand turned to all the siddhas and he said, “Hail Guru Ram Das! You all see this humility he has shown here! Let’s bow to him. He is the true yogi. This humility is the true yoga.” Humility is the highest teaching.

This is a beautiful story that I heard within the kundalini yoga community that I am consciously no longer associating with due to the fact that its leader, yogi bhajan, was a criminal. Tragically, his abuse will get swept under the rug if we lone, post-lineage Jnani yogis do not commit to destroying ignorance. #MeTooInYoga    

Meditating on humility, a post-lineage Jnana yogi might ask, “So what if humility is the highest teaching? What kind of paradoxical poppy cock logic is it to attain to this: oh, I am so high because I have the most humility? What does it take for traditions to See they are abusing the idea of ‘the highest,’ and See that vying for great height often renders them more toxic than helpful?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 18

Meditations on Stories 18

18 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside the biography of Swami Vivekananda.

What questions arise when I focus on the “sisters and brothers of America” as objects of Vedanta meditation?

In 1893, Swami Vivekananda traveled by boat from India, through Hong Kong, Japan, and to Vancouver, and he finally made his way to his destination: Chicago. Though he was not formally scheduled to speak as a delegate, Professor Wright of Harvard University assured him, “To ask you, Swami, for credentials is like asking the sun if it has permission to shine.” On September 11, 1893, Swami Vivekananda stood before a large crowd who was attending the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, and he said, “Sisters and brothers of America …” And the crowd burst into an uproar of thrill and applause at the simple utterance. It was a well-worn phrase for opening up a speech, but the way Swami Ji said it, with his projection, the wisdom that supported every word he spoke, and his presence transformed a common speech opening into a statement of simple truth: our humanity makes us kin. 

I’ve been spending time just sitting and imagining the scene at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. With three words, Swami Ji convinced us we are family. I’ve been repeating the historic moment in my head, letting it run through me the way I practice mantra japa unto embodiment of the mantra. It is refreshing to deeply meditate, to repeatedly conjure that feeling that we are sisters and brothers.

Meditating on sisters and brothers, a Jnana yogi might ask, “Oh Sisters and brothers of America, are we experiencing our kinship as real right now? Sisters and brothers of America, are we feeling strong desire to know Advaita (non-dual reality)?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 17

Meditations on Stories 17

17 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside a story by Gyӧrgy Dragomán called “The Puppet Theater”

What questions arise when I focus on the “scarcity and abundance” as objects of Vedanta meditation?

Olgika takes the narrator by the hand and leads him through an outer courtyard then an inner courtyard to a big, iron door. She pushes it open, telling him that she is going to show him something he has never seen before, something quite extraordinary. They walk through a large space with old puppets hanging from the ceiling and crates stacked on top of each other. Then they get to another door. They greet the godmother, and she pushes them into a huge space with endless shelves stocked full of packaged food, candy, chocolate, toilet paper, coffee, canned fish, etc. etc. etc. They stand in awe at all this abundance, especially after years of living with stores that had empty shelves, food items had been so scarce. Human beings would murder each other that one tin of fish. So when the godmother is able to offer the younger generation all of this abundance, she feels overcome with emotion and love. The godmother and Olgika embrace one another while eating chocolate; the crumbs fall to the floor. Meanwhile, the narrator feels compelled to tear open every package, knock items off the shelves, toss the abundance in the air. The narrator feels a strange sense of wanting those abandoned puppets, the horse, the owl, the bird to carry him away from all that abundance that seems to him too sweet, that easily turns nauseating.

Meditating on scarcity and abundance, a Jnana yogi might ask, “When scarcity arises then dissolves in awareness, how can this prevent hunger? When abundance arises and dissolves in awareness, how can this prevent over indulgence? When we see once-starved godmothers bestowing over-abundance upon young people, does identifying with illuminating consciousness reveal oneness or variations? How does this set us free?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 16

Meditations on Stories 16

16 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside a story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez called “Blacaman the Good, Vendor of Miracles”

What questions arise when I focus on the “miracles” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

A con man named Blacaman takes on an apprentice. He is cruel to the boy, and this cruelty somehow makes the boy into a great miracle worker. The boy can heal the sick. He can bring back the dead, but he doesn’t like to do that because the dead prefer their eternal rest. The boy helps the con man restore his wealth and reputation. However, when Blacaman dies, the boy does bring his mentor back from the dead and leaves him living in a tomb as a way to take revenge for all the tricks and deceptions he played on people who were willing to buy his snake venom antidotes.  Ultimately, this whole story is a trick of the author’s genius to try to fool death with narrative.   

Meditating on miracles, a Jnana yogi might ask, “If a con man stands before me, charming me, trying to convince me that his product can solve all my problems, and then I just close my eyes for a moment and mentally remember Aham Brahmasmi, will that be enough to ensure I am never deceived? Hey, con artist, aren’t my problems also Brahma? Why does it too often seem the only immortal thing is the con in infinite forms?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 15

Meditations on Stories 15

15 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside a “The Tale of King Pariksit: Cursed to Die in Seven Days.”

What questions arise when I focus on the “curses” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

The Bhagavata Purana tells of King Pariksit who was out hunting deer when he became tired and hungry. He stopped at the hut of the sage Samika and expected the customary hospitality any priestly sage would show to a warrior king. But the king was not offered a comfortable place to sit, a bite to eat, nor tea to drink. Samika was sitting in samadhi. All of his sense perception was shut down, and he was merged in Purusa, pure consciousness. He didn’t even notice the king’s presence and was not able to host him. The king grew angry and used his hunting bow to pick up a dead snake, and he placed the snake corpse on Samika’s shoulder. Then he left.

When Samika’s young son returned and saw this, he cursed the king. The boy sent out a snake bird to deliver a lethal bite to the king. The king had seven days to live. The boy cried loudly over the offense to his father, and his cry roused Samika out of meditation.

When Samika learned that his son cursed the king, he scolded his son and told his son that brahmans don’t curse kings. He explained that saintly people don’t get easily offended because they have realized atman situated beyond the gunas.

Meanwhile, the king felt bad about his behavior, learned he was cursed, and accepted his fate. He returned home to consult with sages who helped him answer his question: when a man knows he only has a limited time left to live, what is the best way to spend that time?    

Meditating on curses, a Jnana yogi might ask, “If I don’t have the resources to ‘be the better person,’ and if I am not ready to ‘forgive and forget,’ would Brahmavidya be enough to help render someone’s offense against me less hurtful? Or, if I can really see that the hurt I feel is also Brahman, then wouldn’t that be like giving people permission to hurt me?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 14

Meditations on Stories 14

14 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside a story untitled tale told by the Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu.

What questions arise when I focus on an “unfinished story” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

A kuai is a one-legged creature whose existence was recorded in an ancient Chinese text called The Mountain and Sea Scripture (Shan Hai Jing  山海经). The ancient philosopher Chuang Tzu told this tale about the kuai.

The kuai envies the millipede; the millipede envies the snake; the snake envies the wind; the wind envies the human eyes; the eyes envy the heart – mind.

One day, hopping on down the road, the kuai encountered the millipede and expressed admiration, “Wow! You look so graceful. How I wish I could move with many legs instead of being clumsy as I hop along on one leg. How do you do it?” The millipede said, “It’s my nature.” Down the road, the millipede encountered a snake and expressed his admiration. He asked the snake, “You move so smoothly without any legs! How do you do it?” The snake said, “it’s my nature.” Next, the snake encountered the wind and said, “Wow, you move so quickly without a body! How do you do it?” The wind said, “it’s my nature.” When the wind encountered the human eyes, in awe, the wind said, “Wow! You reach distances without moving! How do you do it?” The eyes said, “It is my nature.” The eyes then turned to the human mind – heart … {The rest of this story is lost to time. We can only guess how it ends. Or, we have to accept it as incomplete or an unanswerable mystery. Note, too, that in Chinese, there is only one word that means mind – heart together (心 xīn). The Chinese language does not make a distinction between mind and heart. Vedanta makes such a distinction; plus, Vedanta distinguishes four parts of the mind: 1. The manas is the sense perception 2. The ahamkara is the feeling of an I or ego 3. Buddhi is the intellect 4. Chitta is the storehouse of memory.}

Meditating on an unfinished story, a Jnana yogi might ask, “What would the story be if the one-legged kuai had turned her vision within, and the first being she encountered was her own heart – mind? What would become of the millipede, snake, wind, and eyes in such a story? Won’t you please tell me that story?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 13

Meditations on Stories 13

13 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside a short story called “Real Women Have Bodies” by Carmen Mari Machado.

What questions arise when I focus on the “faded women” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

A young woman, Lindsay, worked at a dress shop in a mall. Her boss liked her. Her co-worker had a bad attitude. Young men working in the photography studio taunted her. The dresses sold well, but something was strange about them. The news of the day reported a strange phenomenon. Women were fading away. No one really knew how it happened or what fading meant. First, the women couldn’t pay their rents. In one case, some heartless landlord captured on video a woman in her vulnerable, early stages, of her fading state, and the video went viral. Nothing could explain this phenomenon of women fading. Then Lindsay met Petra, whose mother was the dress shop’s seamstress. Petra showed Lindsay where the dresses were made and stored, a place where the faded women liked to hang out. The faded women liked to be sewn into the dresses. No one knew why or how to stop it. Lindsay and Petra began a love affair that ended when one of them fades. The news eventually started to report stories about faded women connected to terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, Lindsay grieved her lost love and wanted only to free faded women from being sewn into formal dresses. But even after all the dresses were destroy, the faded women stayed in the dress shop. They didn’t move.  

Meditating on faded women, a Jnana yogi might ask, “When we see the gross realm of physical reality as the ever-changing mirage, and we see the subtle realm of Being, Consciousness, and Bliss as unchanging truth, doesn’t fading become a superpower?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 12

Meditations on Stories 12

12 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dg Dsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside a sacred text from the origins of Tantra called the Yoga Spandakarika by Daniel Odier.

What questions arise when I focus on the “sacred tremor” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

Once, a woman who was poor and suffering encountered a man who was a wealthy pleasure seeker. The man felt compassion toward this woman, so he invited her to join him for a warm meal at a cozy inn. Over the meal, he told her that his spiritual practice had brought him prosperity and solutions to his problems. He told her, “if you follow the spiritual path, I am sure it could really turn things around for you. It could turn all your suffering into good fortune. Would you like to follow me?” The woman looked at him and said, “Never.” He asked, “Why not?” She said, “There is nothing to turn around. I happen to love my suffering!” When the warm meal arrived, the woman overturned the table, laughed heartily, and left the inn. The man sat amidst the mess, baffled. He asked the innkeeper, “What’s her problem? Do you honestly know anyone who loves their suffering?” The innkeeper replied, “Sure, we see plenty of people come in here who say they love their suffering because what is suffering to one who feels the sacred tremor?”

Meditating on the sacred tremor, a Jnana yogi might ask, “The yogi says still the mind. The devotee says love god. The tantrika says transcend opposites. The swami says destroy ignorance. What do you say, dear One? How do you confront suffering?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories