Sunday, January 27, 2008

the roots of the indestructible tree

When people are engaged in their proper work,
they attain the highest end.
One’s own duty in its imperfection
is better than someone else’s duty well-performed.
Bhagavad Gita 14:45, 47

So I am in Tiruvanamalai again for a concert tonight at the venue that got this whole new phase going, Arunai Ananda. I am trying to not project last year’s great night onto tonight, but just et tonight be what it will be. Though JP had offered to send a car for me, I was going to come up by train and bus, but we were unable to get me anything but waiting list on the proper train. So MC stepped in and arranged for and paid for a car to come and get me and drive me here through our friend Kumar. It was still a long hot drive, but worse for the driver, also named Kumar, who had driven all the way down that morning and all the way back up with me in tow.

JP had yet another evening program, a “cultural program” as are so popular here in India, planned at Quo Vadis, mainly for the benefit of yet another group of Danes that had come in plus a group from somewhere in northern Illinois. He asked, very nicely, if I would please come and end the evening leading the crowd in some music and meditation, around 8:30, he thought. It is worse than just “Indian time;” here it is called IST: Indian Stretchable Time. 10:30. I didn’t mind. Among the presentations before me there was a spectacular dance troupe. I must find out more about them, but I know this much. They were all from a dalit village, that is, of the lowest “untouchable” caste. As I remember, and it was explained again, the Brahmin cannot touch drums (they can’t touch animal skin) so the dalits would actually have to play the drums for some of the rites, at a distance. Out of that, a whole tradition of drumming and dancing and telling stories developed. How I wish John Pennington could have seen this. Apparently this particular group has been called on to perform by the state of Tamil Nadu as well at large cultural programs. They were three men and three women together, playing a sort of round frame drum that was actually shaped like a hollow bowl, and one man off to the side striking a large bass drum. And while they played, they did kind of syncopated steps sort of like a marching band, crossing each other on the stage and yelling out what seemed to be orders. It was so strong and joyful and triumphant. You could almost feel them celebrating their pride at being who they were.

I am sort of disappointed to find the Bhagavad Gita sort of justifying the caste system, but no more than I am to find Paul tolerating slavery and mysogeny. It comes from the same mind set. But in Chapter 18 after describing all the duties of each caste, Krishna says––I had just read it before I went to the cultural program––“When people are engaged in their proper work, they attain the highest end. … One’s own duty in its imperfection is better than someone else’s duty well-performed.”

I am staying over at the Bungalow, where Kay and Valerie stayed last year, and where we had those beautiful liturgies on the porch. It seems like a lot of house for one guy, but I don’t mind. When he brought me over JP was embarrassed about the state of the house since it has been in some disuse for a while, and offered to get me a room at Arunai Hotel. I was tempted for a moment––air conditioned comfort and modern plumbing––but just for a moment. Having this kind of space to myself and so near both Quo Vadis and the ashram. His faithful capable young friend Benni (who had run me off the to doctor last year after I cracked my head open on the stone lintel) came over with JP and dusted and ran the water and set up a mosquito net. (Kay and Valerie would have loved such luxury!) I set up a little meditation spot and my yoga mat out in the front room, which is just about big enough for a small yoga class or a regular size sangha meeting, and I have had dreams of having a Christian meditation center in the midst of Tiruvanamalai.

I was sitting out there this morning finishing my morning routine with the screen door open, when suddenly I heard a little voice say, “Hallo!” It was a beautiful little girl with a tiny girl following her, the latter naked as a jaybird except for a little red thread around her waist, Konabi and Shadika, (no idea if I got the spelling right), ten and two years old. It was obvious I was being invited out to play, so I went while Koniba very expertly finished building and lighting the little scrap fire they burn to chase the mosquitos away, and then I took their picture and then she insisted on asking mine with Shadika, before we were joined by another little naked angel named Tirupadhi, and Konabi ordered us all to pose for another picture. I’ll post them.

Off to Mass in the little red hut at Quo Vadis.

* * *

Let us be yours, Lord!
Pervade us, live in us;
gather scattered humanity in your body,
so that in you everything may be subordinated to God
and you can then hand over the universe to the Father,
in order that ‘God may be all in all.’
Pope Benedict XVI

Just one (complicated) thought on today’s Gospel. “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light.” “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Those two are equivalents, eh? But what is this “kingdom of God”?

Evagrius, a little harder to understand, says “The kingdom of heaven is apatheia of the soul along with true knowledge of existing things. (Praktikos #2) When we reach apatheia (the state of all our passions being ordered), he is not sure but that the nature of the mind is such that it in and of itself is luminous, or if it is illumined from something outside of it. The former would have him agreeing with Mahayana Buddhism, according to Ashvagosa: “when the mind’s essence is kept away from all discrimination and prejudices (could this be equivalent to apatheia?) it radiates its inherent brightness to all parts of the conceptual world.” I was thinking of Plato’s people in the cave, our normal way of viewing the “enlightenment.” The philosopher is trying to get the people who are facing into the dark inside the cave to turn around and look at the sunlight streaming in from the outside. Okay. But the east turns that around. Looking inside the cave means looking out at the outside world without being rooted in Spirit. Katha Upanishad says, “The Lord made the senses look outward and see we look out and do not behold the deathless Self. Every now and again some wise ones, seeking immortality, look inward and behold the deathless self.” This is not far from St Paul’s understanding of the situation. We need to go deeper than our bodies and deeper even than our souls to the Spirit within. And that’s when the enlightenment experience happens, because it is then that we are governed by the Spirit of God who dwells in us. And that, according to a most ancient understanding, is where and what the kingdom of God is.

John Cassian taught that
after the devil has been expelled and the vices no longer reign at all, the kingdom of heaven can be established in us, as the evangelist says: ‘The kingdom of God will not come with observation, nor will they say: Here it is, or there it is. For amen I say to you that the Kingdom of God is within you’… Thus, if the kingdom of God is within us, and the kingdom of God is itself righteousness and peace and joy, then whoever abides in these things is undoubtably in the kingdom of heaven.

In his book Being Still, Jean-Yves le Loup explains that for the ancients, the Kingdom of heaven is nothing other than “the Holy Spirit ruling over our faculties, ‘on earth as it is in heaven,’ … the Kingdom of God is ... the reign of love, love that informs and directs our other faculties.” And who else agrees with that is none other than Pope Benedict. In this section on the Our Father from Jesus of Nazareth he writes: “kingdom of God means ‘dominion of God’” (p. 146);“The Kingdom of God comes by way of a listening heart.” Since Jesus is the kingdom of God (autobasiliea), communion with Jesus is entry into the kingdom, hence he quotes Reinhold Schneider:
The life of this Kingdom is Christ’s continuing life in those who are his own. . . . [I]n the heart that is touched and transformed by [the vital power of Christ], the Kingdom begins…. The roots of the indestructible tree seek to penetrate into each heart.
And then Benedict goes on to write this beautiful prayer:
Let us be yours, Lord!
Pervade us, live in us;
gather scattered humanity in your body,
so that in you everything may be subordinated to God
and you can then hand over the universe to the Father,
in order that ‘God may be all in all.’
So, by turning inward, to the Spirit within (how Fr Bede would love that!) we establish ourselves in the reign of God.

I am happy to find out that this stuff I am teaching and learning from the Desert Fathers is coming in handy.

* * *

dhyana mulam gurur murti
puja mulam gurur padam
mantra mulam gurur vakyam
moksha mulam gurur kripa

the root of meditation is the image of my master
the root of my mantra is the word of the Lord
the root of all worship is the feet of the teacher
the root of salvation is grace
Dhyana Mulam mantra

28 january 08

Heading back down to Shantivanam today. The much anticipated concert at Arunai Ananda went well last night. Due to a snafu in late advertising, I think not as big a crowd as last year and not quite as lively either, but the reception was still powerful and, in spite of many doubts listening to them set up, the sound system was wonderful. Theophy and I had had a good practice surrounded by six or seven local kids who kept inviting themselves into the main room of the bungalow––I’ll post pictures. They were adorable. At one point they were imitating me singing on, of all songs, “Lead Me From Death Into Life” which of course has an echo. But they were echoing the long held notes I do during the verses: “I–––––––––––!” and they would answer “I––––––––––––––” Just beautiful. Theophy and I agreed that we were both very relaxed together on stage and were actually breathing together. He was really following my dynamics and tempi quite well. I also tried some new things (of course), pulled off the new song from the Dhammapada, “There is No Joy (Like Freedom).” (But I didn’t throw in “Good Gets Better” yet, John.) And led the meditation with the “Jaya Guru Deva” chant I love so much, and came out of it with the Dhyana Mulam and my version, “The Root of Meditation,” which I’m a little surprised how much people like. It’s such a simple little tune I’m almost embarrassed by it.

There is a large Danish contingent here, not mostly Lutherans this time but Theosophists and New Agers etc. led by a theologian (apparently well known) named Mogen Mogensten, and a well know theosophist named Lars. We had great conversations already and I am catching a ride on the bus with them down to Shantivanam today. India affords all kind of opportunities like that, but I have been thinking about what Theophy said to me. He said if I come back I should go and stay in a village some time. During his training to be a pastor he spent one summer there himself and he said it changed his view of spirituality.

Many blessings. I’ll post again when I can.