Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bhagavad Gita

(The Bhagavad Gita was originally posted 11/27/10. I am posting it again, complete and in a revised form, because the following post, The Compassion of Impermanence,has a number of references to the Mahabharata the story that supplies the context for the Gita.)

The following excerpts are taken from the Bhagavad-Gita, the teachings of Krishna, which comprise the sixth “book” of the great Indian epic called the Mahabharata. It is much like how the teachings of Christ in the New Testament are found in the context of the Old Testament. The back story is this:

The Mahabharata is set in that transitional time between the end of the Dwarpara Yuga and our own Kali Yuga—somewhere around 5,000 years ago, according to most traditional calculations.

Dwapara was a great age, a time of knowledge and Satvika attributes. (The qualities of Satva Guna are lucidity and purity. Satvika actions have the power to aid one in the pursuit of the ultimate goal, Gunateeta, which is described by Upasani Maharaj, as “the state devoid and beyond the Gunas” i.e. God- Realization. Satva Guna is the golden chain that binds the real saints to this world.)

But Dwarpara also marked the transition between the ascending and descending cycle of the four yugas, and divine intellect, which had been the inheritance of the Krita and Treta Yugas, became lost. Consequently, the ability to think, speak, and act truthfully was also lost and life became growingly deceitful.

Mahabharata means great family—the great family of man, but as Dwarpara approached Kali, the great family had become divided by greed and distrust. It is a long story, but eventually the two sides of the family, the Kauravas and the Pandavas, were arrayed on the battlefield poised for war. Krishna, the Avatar, had done all that He could to avoid the confrontation, but even He could not stem the tide of destiny.

In the great battle, Krishna stood with the Pandavas, who represented the embodiment of Satva Guna, against the Kauravas who embodied Raja and Tama Gunas. In fact, it was Krishna himself who drove the chariot of Arjuna, the Pandava prince and greatest of all warriors, into war.

It fell to the exalted status of Arjuna to throw down the gauntlet that would begin the war. Lord Krishna drove the chariot onto the battlefield between the two opposing sides but Arjuna balked. Seeing the faces of both sides; faces of his brothers and kin, his teachers, and respected elders, and realizing that to start the war would bring suffering and death to all, he became frozen with indecision. Seeing his hesitancy, Krishna asked, “What are you doing? Why do you hesitate? Throw down the gauntlet to begin the war.”

“I cannot!” Arjuna answered back, “How can I start this war and bring death upon all of these people?” And so it came to pass, that right there, between the two armies poised for war, Krishna taught Arjuna the Great Teachings know as the Bhagavad-Gita.

“He who shall say, ‘Lo! I have slain a man!’
He who shall think, ‘Lo! I am slain!’ those both know naught!
Life cannot slay. Life is not slain!
I say to thee, weapons reach not that Life,
Flames burn it not, waters cannot overwhelm it,
Not dry winds wither it.
Unentered, all-arriving, stable, sure, invisible, ineffable,
By word and thought uncompassed, ever all itself — thus is the Soul declared!”
– Krishna

Krishna is speaking here from His direct experience of illusion and reality. These bodies of ours, these bodies we cherish so deeply, exist only in illusion. It is like a man who is sound asleep and dreaming. He dreams the dream of himself and others—their joys and sorrows, their successes and failures, their births and deaths—his own births and deaths. It all seems so real— until the man wakes up.
And this leads Arjuna, and us, into a very important question. “So if it is really a dream, yet our experience tells us that it is real, then how should we act in the world—moment by moment, day by day?”

In the conversation that follows, Krishna speaks to Arjuna about the life of action and the life of meditation—the contemplative life. He extols the virtues and shortcomings of both, saying on the one hand “And live in action! Labor! Make thine acts thy piety…” while on the other hand saying, “Yet the right act is less, far less, than the right-thinking mind. Seek refuge in thy soul, have there thy heaven.” And so Arjuna remains confused. He asks Krishna which of these two paths is the better way to attain the Supreme Reality.

Seeing Arjuna’s mind impaled on the horns of this dilemma, Krishna slips between the horns saying that the two paths are, in fact, really one.
Krishna —“Yet these (two paths) are one! By shunning action; nay, and none shall come by mere renouncements unto perfection.”

We have probably all heard the saying, “…to be in the world, but not of the world.” This is quite consistent with what Christ told His disciples, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and save for God what is God’s.” But Arjuna’s questions persist—our questions persist—and in order to explain the why and how of His proclamation, Krishna begins to talk about the three qualities that inform action—namely our friends Satva, Raja, and Tama Gunas.

In the fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says, “Satva, Raja, and Tama—so are named the qualities of Nature—Lucidity, Passion, and Ignorance. The three bind down the changeless Spirit in the changeful flesh, though sweet Satva by purity living unsullied and enlightened, binds the sinless Soul to happiness and truth; and Raja, being kin to appetite and breeding impulse and propensity binds by tie of works the embodied Soul, Oh Kunti’s son! But Tama, begot of Darkness, blinding mortal men, binds down their souls to stupor, sloth, and drowsiness.”

There is a saying, “Good is not God,” another by Meher Baba, “The saint is bound by a golden chain, the sinner by a spiked one—but the goal is to be free of all chains.” From this we can conclude that even too much Satva Guna is a hindrance to attaining the Supreme Reality. This is why Krishna counsels Arjuna that one should rise above all the Gunas.

Krishna —“When, watching life, the living man perceives that the only actors are the Qualities (the Gunas), and knows what rules beyond the Qualities, then he comes to Me! The soul passing forth from the Three Qualities— whereby arises all bodies—overcomes Birth, Death, Sorrow, and Age; and drinketh deep the undying wine of Amrit.” (Amrit literally means Nectar— here meaning the Eternal Bliss of Union with God.)

Of course Arjuna is more than interested at this point, and asks Krishna;
“Oh my Lord! Which be the signs to know him that hath gone past the Three Modes (Gunas)? How liveth he? What way leadeth him safe beyond the Threefold Modes?”

Krishna —“He who with equanimity surveys luster of goodness, strife of passion, sloth of ignorance; without anger, nor wish to change them: who sits a sojourner and stranger in their midst unruffled, standing off, saying serene when troubles break, ‘These be the Qualities!’
“He unto whom—while centered in the Self—grief and joy sound as one word; to whose deep-seeing eyes the clod, the marble, and the gold are one; whose equal heart holds the same gentleness for lovely and unlovely things, firm-set, well-pleased when praised or blamed; satisfied with honor or dishonor; unto friends and unto foes alike in tolerance, detached from undertakings—he is named Surmounter of the Qualities.”

The teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita were not new—even in the time of Krishna.

Krishna —“This deathless Yoga (these teachings), this deep union, I taught to Vivaswata, the Lord of Light.” (The significance here is that Vivaswata is a name associated with the Sun. So, Krishna is saying that indeed He has been around for a long time!) Vivaswata gave it to Manu (his son) who passed it down the line to all My Royal Rishis. Then with years the truth grew dim and perished, noble prince!
Now once again I will declare to you this ancient lore, this mystery supreme—seeing I find you my devotee and friend.”

But Arjuna is puzzled. How can this same being have been around since the beginning of time?

Arjuna —“How shall I comprehend this thing Thou sayest, ‘From the beginning it was I who taught…?’”

Krishna —“Manifold the renewals of My birth have been, Arjuna! And of thy births, too! But Mine I know, and thine thou knowest not, oh Slayer of the Foes! Albeit I be unborn, undying, indestructible, the Lord of all things living; not the less by Maya, by My magic which I stamp on floating Nature-forms, the primal vast—I come, and go, and come. When righteousness declines O Bharata! When Wickedness is strong, I rise, from age to age, and take visible shape, and move a man among men, succoring the good, thrusting the evil back, and setting Virtue on her seat again.”

This is the story of the Avatar, The Ancient One, The Highest of the High, The Christ, The Buddha—His Names are many, His shapes are many—He dons them like we put on clothes appropriate to the situation and the time. And Arjuna believes in the divinity of Krishna and by His teachings his darkness is dispelled but Arjuna still sees Him as a man and so asks Krishna to reveal Himself.

Arjuna —“If this can be, if I may bear the sight, make Thyself visible…show me Thy very Self, the Eternal God!” And Krishna obliges His beloved devotee.
Krishna —“Gaze then Arjuna! I manifest for you those hundred thousand shapes that clothe My Mystery: I show you all my semblances—infinite, rich, divine—My changeful hues, My countless forms, see in this face of Mine…Behold! This is the universe! Look! What is live and dead I gather all in One—in Me! Gaze, as thy lips have said, on God Eternal, Very God! See Me! See what thou prayest!”

And right there, on the battlefield, between the two armies poised for war, Krishna reveals to Arjuna His Universal Form.
After Krishna tells Arjuna that what he wishes to see cannot be seen with earthly eyes, He gives Arjuna a sense divine saying, “Therefore I give to you other eyes, new light! Now look! This is my glory, unveiled to mortal sight.”

It is interesting that what Arjuna sees is narrated by Sanjaya who is Dhritarashtra's advisor. Dhritarashtra is the blind king who is the father of the main characters of the Kauravas. Sanjaya has the power to see events from great distances. It is he who is informing the blind king what is unfolding.
He tells him that Krishna is now displaying to Arjuna all of the splendor, wonder, and dread of His Almighty-head.

Sanjaya —“Out of countless eyes beholding, out of countless mouths commanding countless mystic forms enfolding; in one Form supremely standing, countless radiant glories wearing, countless heavenly weapons bearing, crowned with garlands of star-clusters, robed in garb of woven lusters, breathing from His perfect Presence breaths of every subtle essence of all heavenly odors; shedding blinding brilliance; overspreading—boundless, beautiful—all spaces with His all-regarding faces—so He showed! (and) sore amazed, thrilled, overfilled, dazzled, and dazed, Arjuna knelt, and bowed his head, and clasped his palms and cried, and said…”

Now Arjuna continues the narration. Try to imagine, if you can, what Arjuna sees. He sees the earth, its moon and sun, the solar system; all solar systems that make up our galaxy; all galaxies; the entire creation coming into existence and then being absorbed through Krishna’s Divine Form. Now try to imagine that all of this creation is less than even a speck in relationship to the Subtle World that also issues forth—the Subtle World with all its powers and experiences, heaven and hell, angels and gods and all divine beings; and the Mental World, the abode of Archangels and real Saints—the world of Mind itself—being born and existing and then being absorbed—crushed between the teeth of Krishna’s Divine Form. This is what Arjuna saw while standing on the battlefield between the armies poised and ready for war.

Arjuna —“Thou hast fashioned men, devourest them again, one with another, great and small alike! The creatures whom Thou mak’st, with flaming jaws Thou tak’st, lapping them up! Lord God! Thy terrors strike from end to end of earth, filling life full, from birth to death, with deadly, burning, lurid dead! Ah Vishnu! Make me know why is Thy visage so? Who art Thou, feasting upon Thy dead!?”

There is a misconception in the Western World that Hinduism is a religion that worships many Gods. But one could argue that Hinduism, and the Vedic font from which it springs, is really more an example of a pantheistic monotheism that acknowledges many gods who personify the various aspects or qualities of the One Infinite God.

With regard to Creation, Infinite God plays the role of Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer—Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (or Mahesh). The Avatar is always the incarnation of Vishnu, the Preserver and Protector of all. I believe this puts Arjuna’s terror and question into perspective, because when Krishna reveals to him His Universal Form, Arjuna sees all of Infinite God’s qualities including that of Shiva. Krishna answers him thusly:

Krishna —(It is because now) thou sees Me as Time who kills, Time who brings all doom; the Slayer Time come hither to consume. (And I tell you this); excepting thee, all these hosts of hostile chiefs arrayed (the Kauravas), shall not leave the battlefield (alive)!”

Remember that this whole conversation began when Arjuna could not find the will to fight—could not conceive of killing. In the next statement, Krishna advances his argument.

Krishna — “Arise Arjuna! Destroy thy foes! (It is) by me they fall—not thee! The stroke of death is dealt them now, even as they show thus gallantly: My instrument art thou! Tis I who bid them perish! Thou wilt but slay the slain!”

Apparently, Arjuna gets it—gets who Krishna really is—and after praising Him in every way utters, what I think is a very interesting observation—how easy it is when graced with familiarity of a Divine Presence, to forget that He is not like we; or as Meher Baba said on more than one occasion, “I come down and laugh and play with you—but never forget, I am God!”

Arjuna — “…For thou art All! Ah, if in anger now Thou shouldst remember I did think Thee friend, speaking with easy speech, as men use each to each; did call Thee ‘Krishna,’ ‘Prince,’ never comprehending Thy hidden majesty, the might, the awe of Thee; did, in my heedlessness, or in my love, on journey, or in jest, or when we lay at rest, sitting at council, straying in the grove, alone, or in the throng, do Thee, most Holy! Wrong, forgive me for that witless sin! For Thou art, now I know, Father of all below, of all above, of all worlds within… I, in reverence, ask Your grace, as father to a son, as friend to friend, as one who loveth to his lover, turn Thy face in gentleness on me…be merciful, and show once more Thy visage that I know…let me once again behold the form I loved most of all, my Charioteer, in Krishna’s kind disguise.”

Krishna responds saying— “Let trouble shake your heart no more because your eyes have seen My terror and My glory. As before I have been so will I be again for thee; with lightened heart behold!” (At which point the Lord God returns to His familiar form as Krishna).

Sanjaya — “…(and) back again the semblance dear of the well-loved charioteer; peace and joy it did restore, when Prince Arjuna beheld once more, Mighty God’s form and face clothed in Krishna’s gentle grace.”

With Arjuna’s earthly sight and familiar state returned, his heart beats calm, his mind can think, and Krishna tells him of the rarity of his experience.

Krishna — “Yea! It was wonderful and terrible to view as thou did, dear Prince! What the gods dread and continually view! Yet not by Vedas (studying the sacred texts), nor from sacrifice, nor penance, nor gift-giving, nor with prayer shall any so behold, as thou hast seen! Only by fullest service, perfect faith, and uttermost surrender am I known and seen, and entered into, Indian Prince! Who doeth all for Me: who findeth Me in all, adoreth (Me) always; loveth all which I have made, and (loveth) Me as an end in itself, that man, Arjuna! unto Me doth wend.”

There are many paths that lead to God-Realization; but here, in this passage, Krishna reveals the highest path—the path of Love. It is so simple, one needs no special talents or intellect; no diet, or dress, or mode of life, or sacrifice, or practice is necessary—only love for God—only love for the God-Man—the Christ—the Avatar. It is a path so pure, so simple—there is no place at all for the intellect—for the mind. And that is why the mind itself hates it. Because the mind, steeped in arrogance and self-importance, wants to be in charge and run the show.

It is the mind that demands our respect and unquestioning obedience. And here, upon the path of love, the rug is pulled out from under the mind’s feet and it is made to feel unnecessary, even a hindrance. No wonder it rebels.
But Krishna has revealed to Arjuna the Universal or impersonal aspect of God, which leaves Arjuna with a question.

Arjuna—“Lord! Of the men who serve Thee—true in heart—as God revealed (i.e. the personal expression of God as represented by the Avatar [Vishnu] and Perfect-Masters—God-Man and Man-God); and of men who serve, worshiping Thee Unrevealed and Unbodied; (the impersonal expression of God as represented by Brahma and Shiva as well as God in the Beyond and the Beyond the Beyond states) which is the better way of faith and life?”

A very interesting question it seems to me, because I have met people whose nature seems to favor a preference to one path or the other.

Krishna —“Whoever serve Me—as I show Myself—constantly true, in full devotion fixed, those hold I very holy. But (those) who serve, worshipping Me, The One, The Invisible, The Unrevealed, Unnamed, Unthinkable, Uttermost, All-Pervading, Highest—who adore Me thus, mastering their senses, cultivating an impartial mind that looks upon all without distinction, joyful in response to all acts of goodness, these blessed souls come unto Me.

“Yet this is a path most difficult—the travail to reach the Unmanifest. That viewless path shall scarce be trod by My man bearing the flesh! But as for those who live their lives renouncing self for Me, full of Me, fixed to serve only the Highest, night and day musing on Me, who clasps Me with heart and mind, whose soul clings fast to Me!—him will I swiftly lift up from life’s ocean of distress and death, to dwell with Me on High!”

But Krishna is also a pragmatist—the Avatar in any of His incarnations and all Perfect Masters as well—are always, as I have gathered, pragmatists. They don’t stand on ceremony; they are always adaptable to every situation—because they are always here for us only and having everything, have nothing more to gain for themselves. They never give up on us; they never give up on anything; you can never be so bad or sink so low that they will give up on you—because they know, it is their experience, that they and you are one.

Meher Baba put it this way, “You and I are not we, but One.”

So Krishna, recognizing that He has just set the bar rather high offers the following options/yogas:

Krishna — “But if thy thought droops from such height; if thou be’st weak to set body and soul upon Me constantly, despair not! Instead give me service! Seek to reach Me, worshiping with steadfast will, but if thou cannot do that, them do your work for Me, toil in works pleasing to me! For he that laboreth right for Love of Me shall in the end attain! But, if even in this thy heart fails, bring Me thy failure! Find refuge in Me! Let go of failure or success — the fruits of labor— renouncing even hope itself for Me, and with lowliest heart so shalt thou come; for, though knowledge is greater than diligence, yet worship is better than knowing, and renouncing better still, for near to renouncing — very near — dwelleth Eternal Peace.”

It is interesting that in this statement Krishna has made what appears to be the lowest path the highest — the fruit of failure becoming the requisite for renunciation. Is this not an expression of God’s mercy and compassion? Krishna then describes certain types of individuals saying, “…that man I love!” Are these not the true renunciates He has just described?

Krishna — “Who does not hate any living thing, being himself kindly and harmless, compassionate, exempt from arrogance and self-love, unmoved by good or ill, patient, contented, firm in faith, mastering himself, true to his word, always seeking Me heart and soul, vowed unto Me,That man I love!

“Who troubles not his kind, and is not troubled by them; free of wrath, living beyond gladness, grief, or fear, That man I love!

“Who does not chase after his desires, looking here and there with longing, free of sin, serene, well-balanced, unperplexed, working with Me, yet from all works detached, That man I love!

Who fixed in faith on Me, dotes upon none, scorns none; rejoices not and grieves not, letting unperturbed when good or evil manifests or departs, That man I love!

Who keeps an equal heart for friend and foe alike, equally bearing shame and glory; who remains at peace in heat and cold, pleasure and pain; abides without desire and endures praise or calumny with passionless restraint —linked by no ties to earth, steadfast in Me, That man I love!

But most of all I love those happy ones who without effort or awareness live life in single-minded fervid faith and love unseeing, drinking the blessed nectar of my Being!”

And in the end, Krishna once more turns to Arjuna and counsels him to fight. The war would have to happen—even the Avatar could not stop it. The forces of destiny were fixed; there was no way out. There is an old story about a candidate for the priesthood who was being examined by a bishop, and a question regarding God’s omnipotence was asked of the candidate who responded by saying that even God cannot do everything. “And what is it that God cannot do?” asked the Bishop. The candidate answered calmly, “Even God cannot beat the ace of spades with a deuce of clubs.” Of course, to do so, would destroy the game, and if the game itself was destroyed, then the whole question of winning and losing would become mute. For Krishna to stop the war would destroy the game—His game—the game of awakening God to God’s own Reality—His own true Self—our own true Self—our own Divine Reality.

And so it was time for Arjuna to commence and fight the war; but the real question was how he should fight; how he should be; how he should hold himself. To this Krishna responded:

Krishna — “Do all thou dost for me! Renounce for Me! Sacrifice heart and will and mind for Me! In faith of Me all dangers thou shalt vanquish, by My grace. But, if instead you trust to yourself, forgetting Me, then thou can’st help but to perish! If this day, relying on thyself, you say’st, ‘I will not fight!’ vain will thy resolution prove, for the qualities of thy nature spurred by fair illusions will rise within you and prompt you to the very actions you have disavowed and you will be lost. Arjuna, I am the Master that lives in your heart; it is I who pulls the strings and you dance to My tune. Trust Me, thy Master, and take Me for thy succor, oh prince of men, and only then, by My grace, shalt thou gain the uttermost repose, the Eternal Place.”

Then Krishna offers His last words to Arjuna, revealing the unique relationship of God and man and the love that God, in the form of the Avatar, has for each and every one of us—for all of His creation—for each and every state of Himself.

Krishna— “Arjuna, precious thou art to Me; right well beloved! Listen to My last words; I tell thee this for thy comfort. Give Me thy heart! Adore Me! Serve Me! Cling in faith and love and reverence to Me! And I promise that thou shalt come to Me! For thou art sweet to Me. And let go those rites and writ duties! Fly to Me alone! Make Me thy refuge! I will free thy soul from all of its sins. Be of good cheer!” (“Don’t worry, be happy!”—Meher Baba)

So what Krishna is saying is that there are numerous ‘ways’ to reach the Supreme Reality. There is meditation and contemplation; works done with an attitude of renunciation and detachment; living life in the knowledge that “all things shall pass.” But it is also pretty clear that Krishna is saying that of all the ‘ways’, the best and the highest, is to hold on to Him—the Avatar.

Meher Baba wrote/dictated a book called God Speaks. In it He answers many questions about how the process of God Realization works through the dream of creation and the mechanics of evolution, reincarnation, and involution of consciousness. I have read God Speaks many times over the past thirty-five or so years and have come to the conclusion that God Speaks is God’s story; it is Meher Baba’s story—the Avatar’s, the Christ’s, story. In other words He is telling us who He is.

But just imagine the difficulty of the task. Let’s say that you were suddenly to awaken on another world inhabited by beings that have never heard of or seen a human being, or, have even heard of the planet Earth. What would you tell them when they began to ask you who you were? “Well, I’m Michael; I’m a musician, I live on this planet called Earth…”

But that approach wouldn’t work because in all these answers there is an underlying assumption that the beings you are talking to understand what it is to be human. You would have to first explain what it is to be human. That would be a little difficult, no doubt. Now, by extension, how can the Avatar begin to explain to us who He is—that He is God in human form?

The book, God Speaks, is His explanation—His story—and it takes Meher Baba 159 pages of the 201 pages of principle text (2nd Edition), before He even mentions the word Avatar. He is like an artist painting the under-painting, background, and all of the other characters from stone to man to angels and saints, before painting himself into the canvas.

Now, the reason I mention this in these posts about the Bhagavad Gita, is to give you a sense of the story behind what Meher Baba says regarding the Avatar in God Speaks—which is remarkably consistent with Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad Gita as well as many of the assertions of Jesus in the Gospels.

Meher Baba, page 159— “Hence, at the end of every cycle, when God manifests on earth in the form of man and reveals His divinity to mankind, He is recognized as the Avatar—the Messiah—the Prophet. The direct descent of God on earth as the Avatar is that independent status of God when God directly becomes man without undergoing or passing through the processes of evolution, reincarnation, and involution of consciousness. Consequently, God directly becomes God-Man, and lives the life of man amongst mankind, realizing His divine status of the Highest of the High, or Ancient One, through these (five) Qutubs or Sadgurus, or Perfect Masters of the time.”

Meher Baba goes on to make the distinction between the Avatar and other God-Realized individuals. Then returning to the unique status of the Avatar He says on page 162:

Meher Baba —“In this manner, infinite God, age after age, throughout all cycles, wills through His infinite mercy to effect His presence amidst mankind by stooping down to human levels in human form, but His physical presence amidst mankind not being apprehended, He is looked upon as an ordinary man of the world. When, however, He asserts His divinity on earth by proclaiming Himself the Avatar of the Age, He is worshiped by some who accept Him as God; and glorified by a few who know Him as God. But it invariably falls to the lot of the rest of humanity to condemn Him while He is physically in their midst…

“The Avatar is always One and the same because God is always One and the same, the eternal, indivisible, infinite One who manifests Himself in the form of man as the Avatar, as the Messiah, as the Prophet, as the Buddha, as the Ancient One,—the Highest of the High. This eternally One and the same Avatar is made to repeat His manifestation from time to time, in different cycles, adopting different names and different human forms, in different places, to reveal Truth in different garbs and different languages, in order to raise humanity from the pit of ignorance and help free it from the bondage of delusions.”

Please remember that the story of the Mahabharata takes place roughly five-thousand years ago, but the actual writing of the story is much more recent—approximately 1700 years ago. Before it was written down in Sanskrit in its final form, the Mahabharata was communicated in the long tradition of oral transmission. Of course, the English renderings are very recent in comparison—going back a mere hundred years or less.

In other words, and in the words of the legendary Sufi Saint Mullah Nasredin, what we have here is the soup of the soup of the soup of the chicken your friend brought. Allow me to digress:

A friend knocks on the Mullah’s door one day. “What do you want?” asked the Mullah. “I’ve brought a chicken for your wife to make into a soup.” So the Mullah invites him in, they sit around while the soup is cooked, and then they eat it.
The next day there is another knock on the door. “Who’s there?” asks the Mullah. “The friend of your friend who brought the chicken,” the man replies. “Can I have some soup?” The Mullah invites him in and goes back to the kitchen. There is only a little soup left, so he adds some water and serves the soup.
This goes on for several days, friends of the friends of the friends coming to his door asking for soup and the Mullah adding more and more water before serving. “This isn’t soup!” states the seventh guest. “It is water!” to which the Mullah replies, “No, it is the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup, etc. etc. of the chicken that your friend of the friend of the friend etc. brought.”

What was it that Krishna said?

(It is because now) thou sees Me as Time who kills, Time who brings all doom; the Slayer Time come hither to consume.”

And even the actions of eternal God, when He releases them into the world, are not exempt from the effects of time. The point was brought home to me one day while I was sitting in Mandali Hall at Meherazad, India with a number of other pilgrims listening to the stories of Eruch Jessawala, one of Meher Baba’s closest followers. Somehow the subject of the Bhagavad Gita came up—perhaps it was something I said—and Eruch offered the following:

“There are so many paintings of Krishna and Arjuna standing next to each other on a golden jeweled chariot. It is really very beautiful, but brother, those chariots of war were not at all like that. You see, in those days, the war chariots were built in such a way that the driver (Krishna) sat below the warrior (Arjuna) just above the wheels breathing the choking dust, smelling the stinking corpses, unable to even see where He was going, while the warrior above, with his feet on the shoulders of the driver, would direct Him by kicking Him on the shoulders and face. You see, it was the Avatar, Beloved God Himself, who accepted the position of the lowest of the low out of love for His lover. What a sacrifice it is that He makes for us.”

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The Compassion of Impermanence

One day a man came to the court of the great King Solomon seeking an audience with the legendary Perfect Master. He went on and on for a long time enumerating all his troubles, dwelling on his misery and bad fortune. King Solomon listened attentively but said nothing. As he listened, He twirled an impressive jeweled ring around His finger.

When the man had finally exhausted his tale of woe he waited for the Master’s reply, but King Solomon continued to say nothing and continued to twirl the ring on His finger. After some time, the man began his story again, this time embroidering his tale with even more details of his personal suffering and woe. King Solomon continued to listen and twirl His ring and continued to say nothing.

Again the man launched into his story, but after the third time he was exasperated and addressed the Perfect Master with these words, “You are the great King Solomon; you are the wisest man in the world; I have come to you seeking your guidance and yet you say nothing and continue to turn the ring around your finger.” King Solomon stopped turning His ring, removed it from His finger, and gave it to the man. The man seemed confused and began to look at the ring. Inside the ring, around the band, was engraved “All things pass.”

All things pass. All things pass. All things pass…

What are things? Things are the universe, the cosmos and all of the forms that populate creation. Things are all, and are all of, Illusion. In creation—in illusion—all things pass, because they have been created—have a beginning—and therefore must have an end. This is the compassion of impermanence.

Perhaps you’ve seen them? They are very common in India, sold to tourists, ensconced in prayer rooms and Hindu temples, decorating fancy restaurants in five star hotels.

Some are small, the size of your fist, some are so large it would take three men to lift them up, but the images, the depictions, remain remarkably consistent—a dancing figure with one leg raised in the air, the other foot on the back of a small prostrate figure.

He has many arms with many hands that hold fire and a drum and a snake. He dances the dance of bliss in a ring of fire.

He is called Nataraj, the king of the dance and is a depiction of the Lord Shiva, the personification of the third of the trinity of Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer, and the figure He dances upon is the dwarf-demon Apasmara, who represents ignorance and illusion.

Brahma creates, Vishnu sustains, and Shiva destroys—can you imagine anything more terrifying than a creation without destruction? Would the creation just continue to be filled up with “things” that once created never died—never changed?

“Before you wish for immortality, first be very sure you can live with yourself.” – Christopher Freemantle

A human being is born. It is said that birth begins the process of dying. This process of dying we call living and this living is the work of Vishnu. But without Shiva, without dying, Vishnu could not do His work, and so there would never be any change. Infants would never become children, children would never become adults, and adults would never die—how terrifying is the thought?

It is interesting, we fear Shiva most when things are going well, yet long for Shiva most when we are in pain. It is not that we cease to be terrified by Him, but we overcome our fear when the status quo becomes just too intolerable—when the tipping point between pleasure and pain is passed.

Who has not felt that temporary elation immediately after being fired from a job they dislike, or learning they do indeed have that dreaded disease they feared they may have? “At least I know now,” we say, “knowing is infinitely better than not knowing.” What do we know? We know that there is change, that nothing stays the same—that “All things pass.”

Yudhisthira was the great Pandava king in the Mahabharata. He was virtuous and honest and unlike most kings, he was not intoxicated with his position or his power. But he had one weakness, he liked to gamble, and this was a problem because he was not a good gambler.

Now it so happened, that Shakuni, the uncle of Duryodhana the Kuru king, was a master gambler, and he conspired with Duryodhana to engage Yudhisthira in a game of dice in order to win from him all his wealth and kingdoms.

Against the protestations of his four brothers the game began and, true to form, Yudhisthira began to lose—and lose big. He lost his armies, his weapons, and his wealth. He lost his kingdoms, and when all that was lost, he wagered and, one by one, lost his brothers. Then, with nothing more to lose, he wagered and lost himself!

He lost himself! What does that mean, to lose oneself? Is it just the loss of one’s freedom, or is there something more, something deeper to the idea of losing oneself? This is addressed in the Mahabharata when, after losing himself, Shakuni asked Yudhisthira if, in fact, he had nothing more to gamble. In the Peter Brooks’ film adaptation of the Mahabharata, Yudhisthira remembers that he does indeed have something more to gamble. “I gamble Draupadi, my wife,” he says.

Draupadi was the perfect woman. She had been won years before in a royal contest, and soon later married not only Yudhisthira, but his four other brothers as well at the behest of their mother Satyavati after, as it is said, “fate slipped into her words”. And so Draupadi had five husbands and she loved them all and they, in turn, loved and worshiped her.

After Draupadi was wagered and lost, Duryodhana’s guards came to her house and dragged her back to Duryodhana’s court. Hearing what had happened—hearing how she had been wagered and lost— Draupadi was humiliated and enraged and turning to Yudhisthira asked, “Did you wager me before or after you had wagered and lost yourself?—because if you lost yourself first, you would have no right to wager me after that.”

Draupadi certainly makes an interesting point and the story itself raises many subtle questions about the nature of identity in this transitory and illusory creation.

“All things pass. All things pass. All things pass…”—even that which we take ourselves to be.

Since the compassion of impermanence cannot be separated from the threefold actions of God as Creator, Sustainer, and Dissolver, let’s look a little more deeply into these roles—remembering all the while that, in Reality, nothing is being created, sustained, or dissolved.

“All souls (atmas) were, are and will be in the Over-Soul (Paramatma).
Souls (atmas) are all One.
All souls are infinite and eternal. They are formless.”
—God Speaks, Meher Baba

God as Brahma (Creator) is asleep, so deeply asleep that He is not even aware of Himself or His dreams. Yet, He dreams—He dreams the dream of creation. Creation is a dream, and that is why in Reality, nothing is being created; and if nothing is being created, then nothing needs to be sustained; and if nothing needs to be sustained, then nothing needs to be dissolved.

Some yogis intone the Sanskrit word Aum (Om) as part of their practice. At the human level this word—this sound—represents the acts of creating, sustaining, and dissolving. Ah is considered to be the most open—most primary—of all articulations. When articulating ah the throat is totally open. Ah calls forth the breath which subtly transforms the articulated ah into an uh sound—the sound sustained until it is dissolved (closed) with an um. All singers know this; sounds—notes—are always held—sustained—on a vowel and finished—dissolved—on a consonant—in this case, um. Try it for yourself.

Ishwar is the name of that aspect of God that is involved in the acts of creating, sustaining, and dissolving creation. But Ishwar does not experience His dreams—Ishwar does not experience His creation. A fair enough question would be; if the dreamer does not experience his dream, does anyone or anything experience his dream—in this case, Ishwar’s creation? Meher Baba explains that it is Infinite Intelligence that experiences creation, but then, what is this Infinite Intelligence?

Infinite Intelligence is God and it is in the nature of Infinite Intelligence to know—to wish to know—but in order to know it must think and in order to think it must have a mind, because that is what mind does, it thinks. What is the thought that Infinite Intelligence longs to think? It longs to think—to know—Itself. It longs for the answer that began with the Whim—the question, Who am I?

But Infinite Intelligence is infinite and so to know Itself—to experience Itself—to think Itself—its thinking must be infinite, and to think infinitely an Infinite Mind is required. Infinite Intelligence, through Infinite Mind in its role of Ishwar, thinks and experiences Its thinking within the dream of creation.

The creation is the dream-state of God and its illusory existence is necessary for the acquiring and perfecting of that conscious through which God experiences Himself—drop by drop—soul by soul.

A Sip of Wine – by Michael Kovitz

“Inscribe these words in your heart. Nothing is real but God
Nothing matters but love for God”
—Meher Baba

“Oh Lord,
My eyes believe that all they see is real—
Are not these stones and trees and birds and bees
and creatures of the earth and sky and sea real?

My lover, they are not real,
the Self within them is what’s real.
Their forms are only shadows cast
that come and go
from nothing to nowhere.

See them, love them,
but upon them do not depend.

And my Lord,
what of men who speak and walk and love and hate,
who laugh and cry with joy and pain,
and grow from babes to live and die—
are they not real—like You and I?

My lover, they are not real,
nor is the pain and pleasure that they feel.
The Self within them is what’s real,
while their forms like clouds that cross the sky
appear as shapes that dance and cry.

Know them, love them,
but upon them do not depend—
the Self that is real has no beginning or end.

But my Lord, I am a man.
Am I not real,
or my thoughts and what I feel?
Who is it then that seeks for You
and in my heart what voice speaks to You?
And are You real or just a dream?
It seems that nothing’s what it seems!

My lover, you are not real,
the Self within you is what’s real—
that Self and I are really one.
When you experience this, my work is done.

You say that nothing’s what it seems,
and that’s because your life’s my dream,
though in this dream my life’s displaced
and found again when you’re effaced.

Know Me.
Love Me.
Upon Me alone depend.

Within you I will awaken in Bliss,
beyond beginning and without end.

Remember, dear one, these words I say,

"Nothing is real but God.
Nothing matters but love for God.”
—Meher Baba

(© Copyright 2000 Michael Kovitz)

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