Art and Culture

The Parable of the Guru, the Disciple, and the Mad Elephant

It is a constant dialogue that arises for me with others in my various communities about the place of political discussion in a spiritual community.  Is there a place for examining the state of the world, calling for action, and trying to change things when we believe (or are seeking to understand) everything as being at its essence infused with the light?  I just happened to read this parable today, after being advised that spiritual and political dialogue have no place being conjoined (today, it was about the budget and the war; it could just as easily have been about how to address from a place of spirit the complexities of how to shift and respond to the Gulf oil spill):

“RAMAKRISHNA: … [W]ater remains water, whether it stands still or breaks into waves.  Divine Reality remains exactly the same when one is silent and one speaks.  Relax your mind a moment and consider this parable.  A guru teaches his disciple that every being and event is simply God.  The ardent disciple, while walking home meditating on this truth, encounters a mad elephant.  The elephant-driver, who has completely lost control of the animal, shouts to all who are in the way, warning them to run.  But the stubborn disciple refuses to deviate from his path.  He continues his contemplative exercise, regarding himself as God and the elephant as God.  The crazed beast picks up this foolish man with its trunk and dashes him to the earth.  The guru, famous for his healing powers, is called to revive the unconscious victim.  After certain prayers are recited and holy  water is sprinkled, the young man regains consciousness.  He is surprised to find his guru gazing at him.  When asked why he did not run from such evident danger, he replies:  ‘Why should I run?  My guru, you teach that all beings and events are God.  I have implicit faith in your inspired words.’  The venerable master then addresses his immature disciple:  ‘But my child, why did you fail to heed the inspired words of the elephant-driver, who is also God?'”

Lex Hixon, Great Swan:  Meetings with Ramakrishna (Shambala Publications 1992)


“How did I get to be so lucky?”

most of us might ask, who have the health, education, material well-being, and computer access and skills to be able to read this.  “Not luck, but grace,” Paul Muller-Ortega advises that Swami Chidvilasananda would say.  For this grace, practice gratitude.

When we fully recognize that what we have are gifts, then it should lead us naturally to want to use our gifts to serve and share our well-being.


One Love

There are several heart-shaped holes in the sidewalks on my usual haunts. A number have gotten progressively more heart-shaped over a period of months. Who are the good fairies who are chipping away at things to remind us of the heart if we are just paying attention?


Green advertising (and viveka)

One of the important principles of yoga practice is viveka — discrimination.  The longer and more steadily one practices, the greater ease with which one will find path that leads towards recognition and remembrance of our own light and the light in others.  In modern culture, I think one of the critical aspects of practicing viveka is having a healthy doubt and willingness to question claims that consuming certain things will make us happier, or better, or will make the world better.  Paying too much attention will probably just create a tangle of intellectual confusion that will not lead to a greater openness of spirit.  Learning to listen well to your body and mind and what and how you feel and hear on and off the mat will help you start to know better your body and mind and how they interrelate with all around you, is likely to shift your choices and actions.

It is now fashionable to be “green.”  Discerning what that means, though, is where we need to practice discrimination.  For example, claims of “natural” foods, “organic” foods, and “green” products are now ubiquitous by companies that are part of the existing Wall Street profit-driven industrial and marketing complex because they think they are money-makers and expect most consumers not to question the claims.  We are also seeing more and more articles and stories debunking these claims and calls for regulation so that consumers will understand what is bunk.  If we stop and pause, we can probably figure out some of this without reading about the pros and cons.  Do you know who is selling it to you?  Does it come in packaging with a lot of small print?  Is the packaging recyclable?  Are shareholder profits critical to the entity selling you the food or garden supplies or other consumer good?

Taking the example of the success of the big companies, small entities are using “green” in their names and advertising without discrimination.  Around town I see fairly regularly, landscaping companies with cozy-sounding “green” names.  When I watch them working, though, they are using Round-up or other chemical weedkillers, throwing into the trash compostable yard waste, and planting non-native shrubs.  They may be making a garden the color green, but they certainly aren’t doing “green” gardening.

Here’s some great information on having a “climate-friendly” garden from the Union of Concerned Scientists.  The tips are more helpful for a yard large enough to have a lawn, and do not fully apply for my small patio (though I have a tree in front, don’t leave bare soil, and do not use pesticides or chemical fertilizers.  I haven’t yet tried planting winter crops in my containers, but I’ve rearranged the patio so that I have a place for a raised bed (to sit on the brick where the table and chairs once were).  This winter, I’m hoping to add the bed and a cold frame to lengthen the growing season.


Not Wanting to Know

I don’t want to see the pictures.  I don’t want to read the news, but putting my head in the sand will not eliminate the existence of the tragedy.  Those of you who have read this blog regularly, know that in my own comfortable middle class way, I am seeking to reduce my energy consumption.  As I write, a contractor is replacing my old rubber roof with TPO roofing (“cool roofing”).  My old black rubber roof has been needing repairs for the past few years.  I am working with another group to get solar panels installed, and I needed to replace the roof first.  I hope this will make things more comfortable and reduce my footprint.  (Yes, I know the only way truly to do it, is to live in a whole different way).


“Avoid False Dichotomies”

is part of a headline for an article in today’s BNA (Bureau of National Affairs) Pension and Benefits Daily. Not only is this sound advice in every realm of life, but a linchpin of yoga practice, which is designed to free ourselves from being constrained by the play of the pairs of opposites.


Neighborhood Fruit

This spring I decided to for the second time growing a fig in a container.  It has about five figs, all of which I intend to eat before the squirrels can get them (I’ve beaten them and the birds to the three blue berries that have ripened so far; I have high hopes for the figs).  I don’t think my fig in its container is suitable for sharing as “Neighborhood Fruit.”  Do you have a fruit tree that has too much fruit for you?  Let people know.