Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Island of Amodhai

Two years ago I wrote a book entitled The Demon in the Lamp. I considered it a complete failure. Yet I also felt that it was salvageable, that I could make it better, that I could improve it. At first, there may appear little difference between the original and the revised and retitled The Island of Amodhai. The revisions were fairly light, except for several passages that were omitted, and new passages that were added. My feelings about the book remain ambivalent, but I include it here nevertheless.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Field of Kurukshetra

One need not be immersed in the deep waters of The Mahabharata to glean wisdom from The Bhagavad Gita, from Krishna’s counsel to Arjuna in a time of war. Nor does one need to be Hindu; for the battle against one’s own lower nature is preached in every major religion. The Islamic concepts of Greater and Lesser Jihad are particularly relevant. The notion of Jihad is much abused and maligned today. The Lesser Jihad is the one with which most are familiar; it is holy war against the enemies of religion; it is the outer form of war. The Bhagavad Gita is a book about the war between the Pandava and the Kuru, the war of Arjuna and his brothers against impious kinsmen. But The Bhagavad Gita is a metaphor for what Muslims call the Greater Jihad, the war against one’s own evil inclinations. Set in the backdrop of an ancient war 3000 years ago, the message of the Gita remains meaningful and is properly considered both a revealed religious text and a classic work of philosophy. The allegory of the Gita still resonates.

Like Arjuna, we stand on the field of Kurukshetra facing the armies of passion, of greed, and of pride. These we have too long considered our friends, our companions, as dear to us as family. Krishna urges us to fight, to see them as enemies, to vanquish them. Yet we hesitate, uncertain, fearful that destroying them destroys some part of ourselves. Krishna counsels us; this war is not spiritual suicide, but whether we win or lose we must fight for this war is the path to our liberation from the snares and springes of an inconstant world. This is what Krishna taught three thousand years ago.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Where Night Never Falls

Arjuna said:

Who is the One transcendent? Who is the One immanent? What is His action? What is the sacrifice, and who makes it? O Krishna, how are you found in the final moment, in the last exhalation?

Krishna said: 

The One transcendent is the Most High. The One immanent is His nature within you. His action is creation, through which the universe is sustained. The universe is perishable, but the One is everlasting, within you and beyond you. The perishable body is the sacrifice, though which I receive sacrifice.

In his final moment, in his last exhalation, the man who thinks of Me, comes to Me. I am his shelter.

In his final moment, in his last exhalation, wherever his mind strays, there he remains. Whatever he captures, it captures him.

Therefore, be mindful of Me, detached from all things, and fight. Mindful of Me, you will come to Me.

If a man’s mind does not stray, but is yoked to the Most High, in the practice of detachment and selfless action, he goes to the Most High.

That man goes to Him, the Ancient of Days, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Destroyer of worlds, smaller than an atom, upholding the heavens, blazing like the sun where night never falls.

He goes to Him. In his final moment, if that man restrains his mind, is armed with love and with the strength of My practice, his eyes turned within, he finds shelter in Me.

This is My path, embodied in scripture, which the wise and devoted, purged of all passion, call eternal. Let me reveal it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Island of Amodhai

The memory came over him, heavy on his chest, a crushing weight. He threw off the few blankets that covered him, but found no relief. He remembered her. He remembered the wife he left, her face distorted with rage, calling down upon him curses from the heavens, her eyes on fire like the demon of the sea.

His heart beat within him, the drum of an angry god. He exhaled heavily, and turned his mind with some exertion to the one he left her for, to Badriyah.

In her father’s garden, lush and overgrown, he walked with her, her hand in his. She looked at him with eyes filled with love, wondering and wondrous as when the world was new, two perfect mirrors like seas reflecting sun. The taste of her still in his mouth, intoxicating him.

He spun her a little in their path so that she faced him, their hands clasped together.

He said, “There is a story I half remember of a djinn and the mortal woman he loved. He promised her eternal life. I don’t recall the end of the tale. Perhaps you know how it ends.” He let his hand stroke her hair, resting his fingers on the curve of her supple neck, then gently caressing the length of her naked arm.

She said, I’ve never heard this story. Eternal life seems a long time, and all things pass away.”

He pressed his lips against her mouth, then placed his hands on her narrow shoulders. “I can promise something better. I can promise a little time, across the sea, on the island of Amodhai, the land of my ancient fathers. There, together you and I might pass our days untroubled. In death, our memories of that time will breathe new life into our bodies, resurrect the cheek of youth, and suffuse our shades with the hue and soft of living flesh. Our love like the sun in spring, will restore our form and figure age after age and transport us for a little season, though our ghosts wander in Sheol forever.”

She smiled at him and he said, “Open your mouth. Say to me: take me across the sea, to the island of Amodhai, far from this world.”

This moment he remembered, though it seemed now clouded, confused as though she hadn’t answered, his dearest hopes ruined. Yet he did remember, she said yes. And he counted that moment, in the warm sun and humid air, the happiest of his life.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The House of Joy

Remember the palace Purochana built for Arjuna and his brothers, which was called the House of Joy. Within was every luxury, every comfort. But hidden in the walls, Purochana had sealed oil and straw. He awaited a propitious time to set fire to the palace and kill the Pandava as they slept within.

Yudishtira, Arjuna’s older brother, was thoughtful and ordered a tunnel be dug into the floor of the palace. That night the Pandava feasted and, at the end of the evening, they set fire to the palace themselves and escaped into the tunnel. From a distance, the brothers watched the House of Joy as it burned, consumed in fire, leaving nothing behind except blackened earth.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rabe'a al-Adawiya

Of God’s devotees, Krishna praises as the best the one who desires God alone and above all that is. When Krishna speaks of lawful desire, this I think is his meaning:

“O God, if I worship Thee for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise; but if I worship Thee for Thy own sake, grudge me not Thy everlasting beauty.” 

—Rabe‘a al-Adawiya from Attar’s Memorial of the Saints, abridged and translated by A. J. Arberry as Muslim Saints and Mystics.

What Then Is Love?

The Nightingale: 

“What then is love? To burn the heart, to sting,
To taste of lovers’ blood in everything.
Love has no sense, it robs of sense the mind.
Love has no end, yet boundless it will bind.
What then is love that would the world ensnare,
In countless curses you would prize as rare,
Mistaking love, a grave mistook for bed!"


"You sing the truth, but I have surely fled,
From love and truth alike; they are the same,
To one in love. I cannot claim to keep,
My love apart from truth, it strikes too deep,
And hooks my heart and offers no release,
But death that offers dreamless sleep and peace.
So see that love is life and also truth,
That comes as joy, or oftener as ruth.
So here I lie, avoiding every thought,
Of her whose cheek in rosiness has taught,
The sun to shine at dawn and dusk alike,
Whose flashing eyes from lightning learned to strike.
There is no choice of love which chooses us."


Love is no choice, unchosen it is thus.
What love have I to give, O prince of men,
That is not black as pitch and ghastly sin?
Your heart to me is true as mine to you,
And that we love is done. We can't undo,
The ties that have us wrapped in choking vines,
When love that rarest prize to you inclines.
Yet still your love; you cannot be with me,
For I am his, as I must ever be,
Until, perhaps, in paradise you find,
Your Layli there unmarried and more kind."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Bhagavad Gita Interpreted - Part Seven

Krishna said,

—Focus your mind on Me. In the practice of My discipline you will find refuge in Me. Knowing with My knowledge, there is nothing more to know. Of a thousand men, only one performs My discipline. Of a thousand of these, only one reaches Me.

—Like you, I am formed of earth and water, fire and air and ether. Like you I am mind and sense and self. But My higher nature is the One at whose command the worlds were made. I am the wellspring of all things. I am all beginnings, all endings. Nothing transcends Me, for I transcend all things. The worlds are a necklace of pearls; I am the unseen thread that binds them.

—I am the taste of pure waters and the brightness of sun and moon. I am the sacred name in scripture. I am the sound of the heavens. I am the strength of men.

—I am fragrance of the earth and the fire of the sun. I am the life that informs all lives. I am the austerity of ascetics. I am the source of all lives and the wisdom of the wise. I am the glory of the most glorious.

—I am action free of encumbrance. I am desire that is lawful. All existence hangs on Me.

—I am the source of the three states: creation, preservation, destruction. I am not in their service; they are in Mine. Deceived by these three states, their eyes beguiled by them, men fail to perceive Me. To escape the deception of these three states is difficult. But coming to Me, their illusion dissolves, while those who reject Me are bewitched by delusion and are lost to Me.

—Those who seek deliverance from suffering, those who pursue knowledge of Me, those who solicit Me for riches and blessings, and those who desire Me for My sake, these four are my devotees. But the best of these four is the one who desires Me alone and above all that is. Ever devoted to Me, he is in balance. I am his best beloved, and I love him.

—While each of these four is good, the one who loves Me for My sake exceeds the rest. I am his single wish; I am his straight path; I am his goal.

—In this life and the next, he comes to Me declaring, “There is only the Most High, the Best Beloved.” Such a man is incomparably rare.

—But others are waylaid by desire and turn to other gods. Adoring these gods, worshipping faithfully, I give their faith an invincible strength. If the gods seem to bless them or answer their prayers, it is only I who provide for them; it is I who answers their prayers. But the rewards they receive are fleeting. Those who worship the gods, they belong to the gods. But those who worship Me come to Me.

—Men lacking perception see only My lower nature and account it for little. They are blind to My transcendent Self, ineffable and unending. Concealed behind the veil of My creation, the world does not see that I am unborn, never dying. I know all that was, all that is, all that will ever be, but no one knows Me.

—All creatures are driven by passions, by desire and aversion and live in delusion. But when men are unbound from the fruits of action, they are unbound from delusion and devote themselves to Me for My sake.

—Those who seek shelter in Me, to free themselves from age and death, they know the Most High is transcendent; they know the Most High is immanent, and they recognize the fruits of action. They know Me in this world and the next. They know me in the sacrifice of action. They are purified and in balance. When they die, think not that they are dead; they are with Me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Bhagavad Gita Interpreted - Part Six

Krishna said:

—In selfless action, unbound by desire or aversion or expectation, a man performs My discipline. But the man who does not sacrifice, who makes no offering, is a stranger to Me.

—This discipline is renunciation. It is the relinquishment of desire and aversion and expectation in action. It is not the relinquishment of action itself.

—Piercing the mystery of renunciation, your work is sacred. Such work is your path to peace, and peace your path to such work. Piercing the mystery of renunciation, you give up the fruits of action, you tame your senses. Your work is My work. Therefore, rise up and sound the conch. Do not abase yourself. There can be no better ally than your Self. There can be no deadlier an enemy than your Self.

—If you conquer yourself, the Self is your friend. Yet if the worldly self opposes your transcendent Self, you are your own enemy. If you at peace with your Self, then you are at peace with Me. That Self is untouched by heat or cold, unmoved by pleasure or pain, untroubled by glory or disgrace.

—Piercing the mystery of renunciation, contented and serene, master of your senses, your vision is ever one. Transcending the world, you see with the same eye the friend, the enemy, and the stranger. To each you show equanimity.

— In every moment be in balance, untroubled, master your senses with neither expectation nor encumbrance. In solitude, sit neither too high nor too low in a place of ease and comfort. Sitting there, at peace, purified, quiet your thoughts, restrain your senses, and commune with the Most High. Sitting upright, unmoving, turn your gaze within. At peace, washed free of fear, firm in Me, the restrained mind reaches Me. In every breath, worshipping Me, you attain peace in Me, beyond Nirvana.

—He lacks the balance of My discipline who eats too little or too much, who sleeps too little or too much. He finds balance between eating and hunger, between sleeping and wakefulness. Between these are perfection and peace. He finds balance when he has tamed his thoughts and senses, when he resides within the shelter of Self.

— The Self is his lamp, its light unfailing in the shelter of renunciation, where the gale of desire does not reach.His thoughts restrained, the self finds the Self, his bliss exceeding any pleasure of senses. Fixed on the Self, he discovers a joy that does not pass away, perceiving beyond any perception of sense. Acquiring this greatest acquisition, he abides within it, unmoving and unmoved by even the most profound grief.

—His heart is courageous and he is firm in My discipline; he unbinds the bonds of sorrow. He drives out all passion, all expectation. He finds shelter in the Self and his senses obey his command. He silences his thoughts; like waters beneath the sun of Self, they evaporate. Should his mind stray, wandering restless away from the Self, patiently he leads it back. His joy is greatest who stills his mind, his passions yoked. Purified he is one with the Most High. His joy does not pass away who contemplates the Most High, who is one with the Most High.

—With perfected vision, he finds the Self within all creatures and all creatures he finds within the Self. Seeing Me in all things, seeing all things within Me, he will find Me always ever present. One with all creatures, he is one with Me. He is never lost to Me, and I am always near to him. He has tamed his mind and achieved his goal who sees without distinguishing another’s joys and another’s sorrows from his own joys, his own sorrows.

Arjuna said:

—O Krishna, the mind is restless and domineering. It is capricious and changeable. It is willful and unyielding, more difficult to tame than wind or storm.

Krishna said:

—To tame the mind, to calm its restless wandering is difficult. But with vigilance and dispassionate endurance, it may be tamed. Possessing self-mastery, with discipline and knowledge, if a man struggles with his changeable mind, it may be tamed.

Arjuna said:

—Yet if a man struggles but his efforts fall short, what becomes of him? Does he wander lost between this world and the next? Does he slip away as a cloud dissolves? Teach me, O Krishna, and resolve my doubt, for you are the best of teachers.

Krishna said:

—No, Arjuna, he is not lost. The evil you describe will not befall him. Into the world of his merit he goes. He is born into the house of purity and wisdom; a birth like this is rare in the world. In that world to come, he will recall his life in this world and will struggle again to achieve his goal.

—His efforts in this world are not wasted nor ever lost. They are his in this world and the next, beyond any rite or scripture. He rises therefore above all lives, all worlds. He sheds his earthly body, then his celestial dwelling. He surpasses the ascetics, the wise with their wisdom, and those who act without passion. He attains supreme perfection in Me.

—Become like him, for he is My best disciple among those who follow Me who sacrifices the Self for Me.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Bhagavad Gita Interpreted - Part Five

Arjuna said: 

—O Krishna, you commend the renunciation of actions, yet also their practice. Of these two, which is best?

Krishna said: 

—Whether by practice or renunciation of action, you will attain to the Most High. But of these, the practice of action excels renunciation.

—He is true to renunciation who relinquishes desire and hatred. He transcends the false opposites of renunciation and selfless action and is free from bondage.

—The ignorant distinguish selfless action from renunciation. But the wise know that in the harvest of the one, you taste the fruit of both.

—Whether in selfless action or in renunciation of action, you reach the same goal, because renunciation and selfless action are the same.

—Without selfless action, you cannot attain renunciation. With selfless action, one attains the Most High.

—In selfless action, you purify your soul, you command your senses, you are in harmony with all creatures. Although you act, action does not bind you.

—Whatever you do, whatever your senses experience, whether seeing or hearing, whether eating or drinking, whether asleep or awake, the Self does nothing. These senses act and react, but the purified Self transcends them.

—Offering all actions to the Most High, in action, you are not acted upon. Sin cannot stain you, as muddy water washes clean, leaving no residue on the leaf of the lotus.

—Detached from action even in the heart of action, you become pure. Only the body, the mind, the sense act, but the Self is disengaged from action.

—Renouncing the fruit of action, you are at peace. But the man who lacks discipline, acting on desire, desire enslaves him and action enchains him.

—The man who renounces all selfish action enthrones the Self within the fortress of nine gates. He neither acts nor enjoins action.

—The Most High transcends the actions of nature, but nature does not cease to act.

—Likewise the immortal Self does not perform action, though the body engages in action. The ignorant are confounded by this; they have confused the body with the Self. The mariner remains utterly still, though the vessel moves over the waters.

—The one who understands this is enlightened by the sun of knowledge, which illuminates for him the world's many shadows.

—Devoted to this, he returns no more into darkness, for his perception is pure.

—Devoted to this, he does not distinguish the Brahmin from the cow, the elephant from the dog, the prince from the prisoner.

—Devoted to this, he transcends the world and its creatures. His perception is pure and he knows the Most High.

—Knowing the Most High, he does not delight in pleasure; he is not aggrieved in displeasure. He is steady and rightly-guided.

—Knowing the Most High, his senses do not delude him; he transcends his senses. Happiness does not elude him; his happiness is within.

—Knowing the Most High, his happiness is perpetual.

—He disdains even the delights of sense, for they are distractions from true happiness.

—Delights of the sense pass away and are no more; therefore he does not cultivate them.

—He is truly happy who, while still alive, does not indulge desire or anger. When he attains this inner joy, when he is bathed in the shining light of knowledge, when he finds perpetual happiness, he becomes one with the Most High.

—He is one with the Most High who has defeated his doubts, has purified his Self, has mastered his senses and dedicates his work to all beings.

—He is one with the Most High who has shed desire and anger, has tamed his restless spirit, and recognizes his true Self.

—He views the outside world as it is, outside. He focuses his gaze within. He devotes his every breath to Me. He sees Me as I am, the beginning and end of all sacrifice, the ancient, changeless, everlasting Lord of worlds, the friend of all beings. When he sees Me, he is at peace.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Demon in the Lamp

In the looking glass he gazed into his own dark eyes. This was the fault of the Jews, who introduced into him self-doubt, guilt, a will to dissect himself, to open up his battered bleeding heart, to stare unhappy at the blood, black as ink, that gushed from it. Before the Hebrews what were men but beasts with speech, guiltless alike in joy and misery like children in animal innocence? But now he weighed his every word in the balance of good and evil and found the coin of good but a feather against the lead of wrongdoing and shameful dealing. Yes, this was their fault.

The Prayer of Chryse's Priest

And from the trembling lips of Chryse’s priest, from swollen mouth, from shattered crooked teeth black with blood, a curse rose up like smoke from sacrifice of longest bones and choicest cuts of flesh that no mortal man nor god could long ignore, unless such man or god were fully sated, and since no god is ever satisfied, the curse awash in oaths and promises soon reached Apollo’s ears and he heard all.

“O Lord of plague and wolf and dawning sun. O keeper of the day and setting sun. Hear me O god, if ever I was true and sacrificed a spotless lamb and burned its bones for you, to honor you, O Lord of sun and wolf and plague, see how your priest at Trojan hands has bled, how Greeks in sacrifice have died within your shrine before my eyes upon your altars bathed in blood of innocents who honored you and died at Trojan hands, along the blades of Trojan swords and bronze of Trojan spears. Pay these Trojans back as disrespect deserves, an arrow for each drop of blood they’ve spilt until their city burns.”

The Nirvana of Brahman

My original motive, when delving into the Bhagavad Gita, while researching my book The Temple of Hanuman, was to dissect those few verses in which Krishna refers to reincarnation. I had hoped, and I feel that I was moderately successful, to dispel the notion of reincarnation as a necessarily literal concept.

However, now as I delve more deeply into the Gita, I realize that its central message, which is detachment from the world and the things of the world, has nothing at all do with reincarnation, whether understood literally or figuratively. One can easily dispose of the notion of reincarnation entirely yet Krishna’s message is undiminished. Nirvana is not something achieved in death or in future lives; it is not a wistful hope. Krishna plainly describes its attainment by practice here and today. Like heaven, it is not a place you go when you die; it is within you now. To the disciplined mind, free from passion and desire, the Nirvana of Brahman is everywhere present at all times. Such detachment is the surest cure for the twin evils that beset the world: depravity and fanaticism. For this reason, the Gita deserves careful study not merely by Hindus but by anyone who takes belief in God seriously.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Bhagavad Gita Interpreted - Part Four

Krishna said,

—I first revealed these everlasting truths to the Sun in the heavens. He revealed them to Manu, the father of mankind. Over immemorial ages, these truths were taught to kings and saints. Yet now, after the revolution of years, these truths are lost and forgotten. Now I reveal my mystery to you, Arjuna because I love you.

Arjuna said,

—You were born after the Sun in the heavens, O Krishna. How did you reveal these truths at the beginning that has no beginning?

Krishna said,

—I have been born into many lives before, and so have you. But I remember every life, yet you remember none of them.

—I am the ancient, changeless, everlasting Lord of Worlds. From age to age I manifest myself in the worlds of My creation. I arise among men when they have lost their way, when they exult in their base inclinations. I arise among men to redeem the good and to overturn evil in age after age.

—The one who knows the truth of Me and recognizes Me, he vanquishes death and, leaving life behind, he reaches Me. His faith in Me washes clean his heart. Free from desire, he reaches Me. Seeking shelter in Me, holding fast to the cord of love for Me, whatever road he walks, he reaches Me. But those who desire the trappings of the world, mere trapping are their reward. In selfish action they receive this reward.

—At My command, the world became ordered. This action is Mine, though I transcend all actions. I am untainted by desire; therefore My action are untainted. Those who know this are themselves untainted by action. In past ages, those who sought freedom engaged in selfless action. Do likewise, and the truth shall set you free.

—I will reveal what is action and what is inaction. I will reveal what is selfless action, and what actions will bind you to the world. At the heart of action, you may find inaction; at the heart of inaction you may find action. In stillness one may act. In action, one may fail to act. Seeing this, the wise find freedom from action.

—The wise rid themselves of desire in action, and purify their actions in the fire of sacrifice. Sacrificing the fruits of action, a man becomes independent of action, neither expecting nor requiring reward. He relinquishes expectations of action, and therefore action relinquishes him. Whatever he possesses is sufficient; unbound by action, he is neither envious nor expectant. In the sacrifice of selfless action, he gains peace and self-mastery, and his labors are pure. In his actions, he sees only the Most High, which is the sacrifice and the full reward.

—Some sacrifice to the gods, but the wise sacrifice themselves to the Most High. In the fire of restraint, some offer the senses. In the fire of the senses, others offer what is sensed. Some surrender life in the fire of union with the Most High. Still others offer their austerities, their penance, their learning and contemplation. Some offer every exhalation and others every inhalation, ever sacrificing in every breath. And some offer every crumb of bread, except what they need to live.

—All of these offerings into the fire of the Most High burn away sin. On these many paths of sacrifice, they each find the straight way. Whatever sacrifice they offer—this is selfless action; this is sacred work. The one who does not sacrifice loses this world and the next. The one who sacrifices reaches Me.

—But the best of earthly sacrifice is the offering of sacred insight, for sacred insight is the sweet smoke of sacrifice. Go to those who offer sacred insight and honor them as a servant honors his master. Go to them and their insight will dispel your confusion. Through the eyes of wisdom you will see all things within yourself, and yourself within Me. The barque of wisdom may carry even the most evil among men across the sea of evil. The fire of wisdom consumes the pollution of action, as fire burns tinder to ashes. There is no better purifier than wisdom. Those with insight discover this and purify themselves of the pollution of action.

—Faithfully the wise restrain the senses, acquire insight, and on the straight path find peace in Me. But the unfaithful acquire no insight, become lost in the wilds of doubt and illusion, and finds peace neither in this world nor the next.

—By the practice of selfless action, the wise overcomes all doubt, and is free from bondage to the world. Act without attachment, and wield the sword of wisdom against doubt. Act without expectation. Rise up and fight, Arjuna.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Bhagavad Gita Interpreted

This title is in progress, and the available chapters can now be accessed by selecting the book cover on the right hand side of this page. Any comments, questions, or criticisms can be directed to me at I expect this work will be another year in production before the complete work is available. It's worth noting that the three chapters that currently appear in the PDF page proofs do not correspond exactly with the drafts I previously posted here. I do intend, however, to continue to post the initial drafts of subsequent chapters here before they go into composition and appear in the book itself. All content is subject to revision at any time.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Goat for Azazel

In the late evening, beside the crumbling stones of the wall that guarded the city, I came upon Iblis, who had taken the disguise of a beggar, toothless and decayed. He outstretched the arms of appeal, but no one offered the coin of mercy. Passersby looked away, forbidding their eyes a glance. Like them, I walked by, pretending no notice of him. But he called after me, saying, “Has even my biographer forgotten me?”

At first hesitating, I stopped and turned, though I still averted my gaze, fearful that his divine beauty might burst forth from the corrosion of his accursed form. I said, “You should not beg from those you despise.”

He said, “I seek redress from their curses. My opinion of them is not relevant.”

I said, “Why do you hold man in such contempt?”

He said, “I am more aware of your faults than you are of your own. Among the Hebrews, I was called Azazel. They tied the unnumbered threads of their transgressions against God’s law to my horns and cast me down to die. You think I am the personification of your sins, but, like the goat for Azazel, I am the victim of them. What use have the innocent with the devil? For every sin you commit, I bear a stripe from the lash of your self-absolution, a wound from the spear of your inconscient denial. God did not disfigure me; you did. And this is why I hate you.”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Bhagavad Gita Interpreted - Part Three

Arjuna said,

—If perception of the Most High is my goal, why do you demand that I engage in this monstrous battle? Why do you urge me to terrible action? You have said it is the bondage of action that burdens us, that enslaves us to the transient world. It is better for me to renounce action and make no war against my family. It is better that I withdraw the limbs of perception, renouncing all action, as a tortoise withdraws into her shell.

—I hear contradictions in your guidance. Your teaching eludes me. Show me its straightness, that I may not wander lost, that I might come to perception of the Most High.

Krishna said,

—Through two eyes you may see the straight way. Through the eye of wisdom you will see it. Though the eye of selfless action you will see it. Through selfless action, you are free from bondage.

—Those who believe freedom from action is achieved by inaction have erred. In every breath, in every moment, you engage in action. Who would counsel that you must renounce breathing? The worlds of creation demand action; no man can avoid it.

—The man who withdraws within himself and renounces action, yet secretly craves the fruits of action, deceives himself. A man may fast, but fasting does not sate his appetite. Is he not still hungry? His appetite leads him from the straight way and he wanders lost.

—But the man who engages in selfless action, who surrenders the fruits of action, with the rein of his senses in hand, he is a true follower of the way.

—Know that you must act. Action cannot be renounced, for even renunciation is a form of action. Therefore, act, for this is the way to liberation. Only be sure your action is purified of appetite. Then action is not selfish, but a form of worship. This is selfless action; such action is sacred. Give up the fruits of action, for all action is bondage except action performed in sacrifice. Therefore perform selfless action, free from bondage. The heavens honor him who honors the heavens through selfless action, through the way of sacrifice, by surrendering the fruits of action.

—The Most High has granted you the gift of life and prosperity; to engage in sacrifice is a duty. Yet he who partakes of the good of this world, giving nothing in return, is a thief.

—When a pool of water offers itself to the heavens, the heavens offer up rain. Thus the pool, even dry, is always filled. Selfless action is the way of the Most High. Perform this action in service to the Most High.

—The one who rejects selfless action, rejects the Most High. He is a burden to the world. The one who embraces selfless action is serene; he transcends all bonds of action. He transcends action as the Sun transcends the Earth, his eye on it, yet unmoved by it. Nothing of the Earth may help or hinder his transit through the heavens. Therefore, perform selfless action, transcend attachment and find liberation from the things of the world. When your action is thus purified, you may perceive the Most High enthroned within you.

—When he engages in selfless action, the king becomes a sage; the warrior, a saint. When he engages in selfless action, he becomes a teacher to the world of men.

—I myself am unbound by action. There is nothing in the worlds that I do not already possess. Yet I am never without action. If I were to become still, stillness would fill the worlds. If I did not act, the worlds and all their creatures would cease to be. Selfish men act to achieve selfish ends, to fulfill selfish wishes. The wise act to achieve My ends, to fulfill My wishes. The wise need not preach the truth of selfless action; in their example you will see purity and serenity.

—Every selfish action is driven by desire. The unwise imagine they have chosen, but their desires do the choosing. The wise, however, understand this simple truth. They perceive the forces that govern action and claim no ownership of it. Enslaved by their nature, the unwise chain themselves to selfish action. How will the wise instruct them whose eyes are forever fixed on transient things?

—Fix your eyes on the Most High and sacrifice the fruits of action to Me. This is liberation; this is the straight way, this is the peace of selfless action. The wise follow this straight way, discovering freedom through sacrifice which purifies their actions. But those who cling to the fruits of action, who reject the way of selfless action, follow another path and never reach Me.

—If even the wise are subject to their nature and impulses, why should they restrain themselves? Yet the wise guard against the turbulent passions of their lower nature, recognizing this foe along the straight path, and resist her tyranny. For is it not better to perform one's own duty, even imperfectly, than to do the duty, even with skill and excellence, of a tyrant?

Arjuna said,

—O Krishna, what then drives men to act selfishly, to become distracted by the lures of this world, and to stray from the straight path of sacred action?

Krishna said,

—Desire and wrath, the twin daughters of thoughtless passion, are man's enemies on this path. They are burning fire; their smoke is impenetrable. They are filth on a mirror; who can see what is reflected therein? They envelope the senses, as the womb envelopes one not born. They deprive wisdom of its potency; they make eyes blind, ears deaf. In their unnumbered forms they drive man to sate them, though they can never be satisfied. Once granted entrance to the palace of the senses, they usurp reason, and are tyrants enthroned. Man is blinded by their false radiance, and offers up wisdom in sacrifice to them. Put these tyrants to death, crown wisdom in their place and regain your sight.

—The senses are lands and seas, the mind is the sky, a sea of milk, spreading over both; reason is the procession of sun and moon and stars. Unseen, above these three, you will find Me. Exceed reason, and discover Me. Let the serenity of the Most High become your serenity. Rise up and fight, Arjuna. Put these tyrants to the sword.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Bhagavad Gita Interpreted - Part Two

With Arjuna’s words sounding in his ears, Krishna’s spirit quickened. He spoke to Arjuna, whose eyes burned with tears, overwhelmed by despair.

Krishna said:

—What shameful words are these, Arjuna? This is the hour of trial. Why do you falter? Your despondent grief enfeebles you; it dishonors you. Slunk in the trenches of despair, you will win neither heaven nor earth.

—Impotence and cowardice are not your way; you wear them poorly. Do not yield to these faults or to this weakness. Rise up and fight!”

Arjuna said:

—How can I fight them, immortal Krishna? Among these enemies are my teachers from earliest youth. How can I cut them down when they deserve only my veneration? It is better to wander in rags, begging for alms, than to sprinkle the bread of my sustenance with their blood.

—Who is to say that their victory over us would be the worse outcome? And if we are victorious over them, what reasons would I have to live, knowing that the luxuries of life were bought at this price?

—I am afflicted with blinding tears and cannot see the straight way, the lawful path. Lead me forward, Krishna. I am your student and you are the most excellent of teachers. Tell me what is best, for I see nothing, even in victory in heaven or on earth, which will dispel my doubts and sorrows.

With these words, Arjuna cried out: —I will not fight! and said nothing more. Krishna smiled, hinting of laughter, and spoke gently to Arjuna as they stood between the two armies.

Krishna said:

—Do not weep tears for them. Though your words are sincere and full of insight, your sorrow profits no one. Tears are wasted on the dead; the wise do not grieve for the living or the dead. For life and death shall pass away.

—In time, we have always been, both you and I and all these kings of men; and we will always be.

—Putting on the body of the child, the youth, the old man, a wise man does not wonder that in death, the Self passes into another body.

—Consider your senses, this illusory world bound up in the body. Burning fire and bitter cold, comfort and discomfort, these come and go; they are ephemeral. Rise above them.

—When you have passed untroubled beyond comfort and discomfort, above delight and misery, you become fit for immortality.

—What is transient is never real. What is eternal never is not. The wise see the clear boundary between these two.

—The eternal that supports this universe cannot be destroyed. Nothing can destroy what is indestructible.

—The eternal Self dwells in bodies, but the Self surpasses all bodies. Bodies die in time, but the Self is everlasting.

—The man who imagines he can kill, and the man who fears he can be killed are both in error. The one who kills does not kill; and the one killed does not die.

—The Self is never born nor does it die. The Self is constant, eternal, untouched by death even when his body dies.

—A pitcher filled with moonlight is broken. Do you mourn the loss of the moon? A mirror reflecting sunlight is shattered. Do you mourn the loss of the sun? So does the body die, but the Self does not die.

—When a man knows the Self, how can he imagine that he kills? How can he imagine that he dies? The body ages, crumbles, ceases to be; but the Self is unborn, ageless, without end, indestructible.

—As a man puts off tattered clothes, and wears something different and new; the Self discards the body, and wears something different and new.

—No sword, no spear, no arrow can deprive the Self of life. Fire cannot scorch him; water cannot drown him; wind cannot make him dry.

—Beyond weapon and fire, beyond water and wind, the Self surpasses all, enduring all unblemished, unmoved, unchanged.

—The Self is unseen, beyond sight; unknown, beyond knowledge; unaltered, beyond alteration; if in wisdom you capture this much, you will not grieve for the loss of what can never be lost.

—Even if you believe that a man is born again and again, and that he dies again and again, you should not grieve, for in death birth is inevitable and in birth death is inevitable.

—Being born, he must die. In death, he is reborn. If you understand this, then you will not grieve for the loss of what can never be lost.

—Before the sun rises, the world is dark. After the sun sets, the world is dark again. Do you mourn each night the death of the sun?

—Before birth, he is unseen. After death, he is unseen again. Between these, you merely see him. For this why do you complain?

—Few perceive him; few speak of him; fewer hear him. Even hearing him, no one truly knows him.

—Within every body, the inviolable Self resides. Therefore, do not grieve for the death of any of them. The Self resides beyond death.

—Do your duty, Arjuna. Act without hesitation. For the warrior, the greatest good is righteous war against an evil enemy.

—A righteous war opens the doors of heaven for you. Enter therein, Arjuna. Rejoice in good fortune that this battle is joined.

—But if you shrink before this battle or turn your back upon your duty, casting aside honor, this is a grievous transgression.

—Men will recount your shame, dishonor, and disgrace now and in the future. They shall say cowards possess the courage of Arjuna. For one honored, the loss of honor is worse than death.

—Great warriors will accuse you of cowardice; those who once honored you will treat you with contempt.

—Your enemies will rejoice in mocking you. They will laugh and say, “See how Arjuna fled before us, a deer among lions.” Death in battle is better than the mocking derision of enemies.

—If you are defeated and cut down on this field, you gain glory in the next world. If you are victorious, you gain glory in this world. Arise and fight, Arjuna. Glory is upon you.

—Be detached from happiness and unhappiness, gain or loss, victory or defeat. Be resolved to fight, or you will fall into error. Glory is upon you.

—These are the words of belief. Now hear my words of practice, of sacred action. Understand this practice and you will break the bonds of action.

—On the path of this practice, no exertion or effort is wasted or lost. Even a single step upon this path is liberation from fear.

—On this path, the follower is resolved and finds singleness of purpose. But those who lack purpose wander lost on many endless roads.

—In flowery words, unenlightened men take refuge. They know only the letter of the Vedas and say, “There is only this!”

—Driven by appetite, their heaven is a selfish hunger. Fervently they pray to sate their hunger, but gain only death in rebirth to selfish appetite.

—They delight in their desires for pleasure and power, seeking these in scriptures. But they lack purpose and wander without end.

—The world of the Vedas, their rites and prayers for prosperity, is the world of desire and attachment. Rise above duality; give up the transient world and its possessions and possess your Self.

—The world of the Vedas are a droplet of water to the man who drinks deeply of the Self.

—Engage in action, but never in self-interest. Give up all rewards, but never give up action.

—In the field of action, there is peace, free from selfish attachments, unmoved by success or failure. This peace balances the mind; it is unchanging.

—If you act to achieve your desires, such action will deprive you of wisdom or salvation from attachments. Such action impoverishes the one seeking worldly riches.

—Understanding this, a man vanquishes anxiety. He is untroubled whether work ends well or ends poorly. Become wise, therefore, by renouncing the fruits of action.

—The wise man, relinquishing actions’ rewards, becoming free from attachment, achieves salvation from the bonds of this world and acquires perfect bliss.

—Emerging from the wilds of delusion and duality, you will perceive the difference between what men suppose is true, and Truth itself.

—Long troubled by the contradictions in scriptures, you will rise above these words, you will achieve certitude in contemplation. This is the goal.

Arjuna said:

—The man who achieves this goal, who achieves certitude in contemplation; what is he like? What does he say? What is his manner?

Krishna said:

—The one who relinquishes the fruits of action, who gives up all desires, who sunders the bonds of attachment to all things he achieves oneness with the Supreme.

—He is one at peace, not longing for pleasure, untroubled by sadness, untouched by lust, by fear or anger. His mind is steady.

—He is one free from attachments, neither broken-hearted by evil fortune nor elated by good fortune. He is wise, serene. His insight is unwavering.

—As the tortoise draws in his limbs, so does he withdraw his senses from the world of desires.

—The disciple renounces sensual pleasure, but still he craves what he desires. He is like one who fasts, but longs for food. But his desires vanish when he achieves oneness with the Supreme.

—The senses are restless; they drive even the wisest from achieving freedom from the bondage of attachment.

—But let him be devoted to me, turning his mind toward me to banish all longings, to seek shelter in me, to command his senses.

—The man who seeks shelter in sensual pleasures is lured away from me. The snares of desire, of lust for possession lead to frustration.

—Unmastered passion troubles his mind, clouds duty, disarms reason, and leads a man to ruin.

—The one who has mastery over passion, keeps aloof from attachment. He has found harmony and peace.

—He throws off the yoke of sorrows and finds quietude, untroubled peace in the shelter of the Self.

—The one driven by desire is driven away from harmony and contemplation. Here there is no peace, and without peace, there is no contentment.

—As a storm on the sea drive ships off course, man’s unmastered passions carry him away from insight.

—But insight is firm in the man who draws in his senses from attachments and desires.

—For him, what is darkness to other creatures is his glorious daylight, and what is day to other creatures, is the darkness of their ignorance and vain imaginings.

—All rivers feed the sea, but the sea is never overfilled. Likewise, for the enlightened man, the rivers of desire never overwhelm the calm waters of his peace. But this is not so for the unenlightened, drowning in the desire for desires.

—The man who renounces possession, is unmoved by desire, is unselfish in thought and act, he achieves the most supreme peace.

—O Arjuna, this is man’s eternal Self. Finding him destroys delusion. Even in his final exhalation, man can reach the Supreme, can achieve the Nirvana of Brahman.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Faintest Shadow

Remember the words we spoke as children? Do you recall the silly and foolish things we said and thought? We knew so little, yet still we spoke and imagined we knew all, though in truth we only played at knowing.

When you reached maturity, you cringed at these memories, at the foolish prattle you'd made as a child. But your error was the same. Young men laugh at the gibberish of children; so too do the elderly laugh at the gibberish of young men.

Consider then one day when this life is long over, these words which seem to you so wise and perceptive will be proven but the faintest shadow of true wisdom and true perception.

The Bhagavad Gita Interpreted - Part One

On the field of Kurukshetra, the sons and armies of Duryodhana faced their cousins, the sons and armies of the Pandava. Arjuna, the son of Pandu, stood in a chariot drawn by white horses. Krishna stood beside him, the reins in his hands. On Arjuna's banner was the symbol of Hanuman, the servant of Rama.

Arjuna said:

—Immortal Krishna, drive my chariot between the two armies, between the warriors and allies of my brothers, and our enemies, the warriors and allies of our cousins. Let me look upon them who are eager to shed blood.

Krishna drove their chariot between the two armies, as Arjuna had asked. He turned the chariot to face the chiefs of Duryodhana's warriors.

Krishna said:

—Here are the armies of the Kurus, gathered to do battle with you and your brothers.

Arjuna looked upon them and saw among them cousins, fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandsons, uncles, teachers, and friends. Arjuna fell into despair, sinking to the floor of his chariot, and spoke in a voice heavy with grief.

Arjuna said:

—How can I do battle with my kinsmen, with those I love and who have loved me, for whom I have cared, as they once cared for me? Though they have gathered to serve Duryodhana’s folly, to kill me and my brothers on this battlefield, how can I fight them? My body trembles at the thought. My bow falls from my hands. My flesh burns. My arms and legs have no strength. My mind is confused; my reason confounded. I am lost.

—There is no glory in killing these enemies, to whom I am bound by kinship. To spill their blood is no better than spilling my own. Krishna, I do not long for victory. I have no need of a kingdom, or a kingdom's pleasures if I gain them only by destroying my kinsmen. I have no taste for royal bread dipped in their blood.

—Our cousins, our teachers, their fathers and sons, our friends, are these our enemies? How can I think to kill them, even if they are fixed on killing me?

—And if we kill them, evil will fall upon us in victory, as surely as in defeat. Immortal Krishna, though their minds are overcome with greed, though they are unwary of the evil they summon, and the disorder they conjure by destroying this family, by betraying friends, still how can I act against them?

—The ruin of a family is the ruin of righteousness. It is the overturning of order. It is the source of impurity. To act is to bring upon us a day of pitch darkness. We have come here for the sake of an earthly kingdom; we have come ready to do battle for the point of a needle of earth, for a fist of dirt. But by acting, we reserve for ourselves only a place in Hell. It is best for me if Duryodhana and his armies come before me. I will remain disarmed by doubt. I will not resist them as they kill me. This will be my best reward.

These were Arjuna's words to Krishna as the two armies awaited Arjuna's signal to begin the battle.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

At the End of All Things

May God's favor fall upon this work. May God's forgiveness encompass its author and whomsoever shall read it. May the prayers of the believers comfort them. I seek shelter from God in God, from His justice in His mercy, from His wrath in His love—for there is neither justice nor mercy, neither wrath nor love, except in Him. In the name of God, O Thou Glory of the Most Glorious!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Hypnagogians

Are we not ourselves between waking and dreaming? Even asleep, do we not dream of the waking world? Even awake, are our thoughts not the coinage of vivid imagination? We are all hypnagogians. We possess both the apparatus of machines, rational and logical, and the spirit of the ancient gods, passionate and creative.

Yet beyond this, there is another intelligence. There is an elusive reality, glorious, overpowering, pervasive, changeless, and incorruptible. Al-Ganas possesses this insight; so too does al-Doushu, as you do, as all men do. From a single beam of light, through the prism of self, we describe different colors with different words. We assume certainty and finality imagining that red contradicts violet, that green opposes blue. How far this is from the truth of things.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I was contemplating the vagaries of life and the sweetness of death when a friend said to me, "Such cynical words are unworthy of you. Must you drag down the world with dreadful and morbid thoughts? It is no wonder you have so few friends."

I said, "I have few friends, this is true. But I tire of this accusation, which is founded on the conceit that a few words speak volumes. To accuse me of this fault is a misunderstanding.

"Is every day not the semblance of life? Each morning, you are born into the day. From the morning of youth, you rise up vigorously, embraced by the maturity of every afternoon. And in the evening, consider what you have done that day, and enter into the sweet death of sleep and dream. Wake in the morning with joy at this fresh birth. Welcome sleep each evening with no less joy. Both are joyous. This is how it is possible to love life as much as death, not as opposites, but as companions to one another, each giving meaning to the other together in the form of A, apart in the world, joined in the heavens. Where is the cynicism in this? What here is dreadful? What here is morbid? To accuse any man of this fault, is to accuse yourself.

"I seek shelter in the words of the Most High:

All beings fall into the night;
All beings are brought back to daylight.
No weapon can pierce the life that informs you;
No fire can burn it;
No water can drench it;
No wind can make it dry."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What you have taken

Give more than you have taken.

Be grateful for what you are given.

No living man has attained to the summit of "deserve," nor reached the heaven of "earned," for mercy has shielded us from punishment and greed has locked away reward.

If asked for anything from another, whether friend or enemy, offer it freely, without expectation of reward, though it may be your last crumb of bread.

Be fair, always. Be just in your dealings with friends and enemies.

Vanquish anger. It is the fire you kindle that will most often burn you. Rage is a noose you have wrapped around your neck; it is a spear you have handed the envious. It is an enemy; do not befriend it. Be ashamed to shelter it and be afraid of it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Die Before You Die

A friend told me of a man he knew who was still alive after 500 years, like the patriarchs of old. Incredulous at this claim, I asked for proof. I knew my friend was trustworthy, but I could not let go the reins of disbelief. Knowing I was skeptical, my friend told me at once where I might find him. He told me the name of the city, the precinct, the very street and said I’d find him there. When I set out, I journeyed to this city, and, after some wandering, discovered the street he had named, exactly as he described it. The road was in poor repair. On each side stood ancient crumbling houses, long abandoned, their skeletons of beams and planks bent toward the moon like unearthly flowers. I saw no one there, but heard ghostly sounds from a ravaged house. Into this house I ventured.

The noises stopped, and I saw a man, lit only by faltering candlelight. He was extremely old, bent over, his head drooping from his shoulders. I told him my name and that I sought a man who lived on this street. The man replied, “I am the only one here; there are no others.”

I said, “I have heard that you are 500 years old.”

The man paused, scratched his head and said, “I am very old, even ancient, but have not calculated the passage of years. It may be true, what you have heard.”

I said, “This is remarkable, your great age. Tell me something of what these hundreds of years have taught you.”

He thought awhile, and then said, “I was born into this house, many years ago. My family, my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, were tenants here. Here we lived, impoverished, always hungry. As I grew older and stronger, I left this place. I went into the service of a merchant, a proper station for one of low birth. On his ships and in his caravans I amassed some wealth, but was unsatisfied. I wondered, ‘Is this all? Is there nothing more?’

“Unhappy with this station in life, I left the merchant’s employ and the city of my birth. I established myself many miles away, investing my wealth in various ventures and I became exceedingly rich. And as wealth gathers more wealth upon itself as flies gather on carrion, I gathered riches which, in twenty lifetimes, I could never spend. Again, I wondered, ‘Is this all? Is there nothing more?’

“I took a wife who bore me two strong sons and two fair daughters. But the fires of love were quenched by the sea of years. My sons and daughters left home, and marriage seemed to me a tiresome chore. Again, I wondered, ‘Is this all? Is there nothing more?’

“I took a voyage by sea, and took a mistress in a faraway land. Yet I rekindled only a little of passion, and knew I was no longer young. Dissatisfied still, I gave away my wealth; but received a robe of honor and a large stipend from a prince who chose to praise charity. I set pen to paper and wrote treatises and histories. Many delighted in my work, but I found no delight in it. For this even I was loved and honored. Again, I wondered, ‘Is this all? Is there nothing more?’

“At last, I fled from life and wandered, penniless. I associated with thieves and brigands in whose company I was never safe. But having nothing myself, they wanted nothing from me. For a time I enjoyed their company, but at last tired of the repetition of tales of audacious theft. When the prince regained control over his highways, I was arrested with the rest of them. Though recognizing me, the prince took no pity. He imprisoned me, and I sought no clemency, for all joys had drained from the cup of my life.

“The prince attended my execution; as they sharpened the blade and forced me to my knees, he said, ‘Now you will die for your ingratitude.’

“But at that moment, and in deepest despair, my mind dilated and I took in, at last, the meaning of detachment. There was, indeed, nothing more. Yet now I did not long to find something more, and I had captured, with the snare of patience, the bird of contentment. This was all. There was nothing but this. The radiance of serenity washed over my face, and the veil of life had lifted. The prince was startled, and said, ‘Why are you smiling?’

“I opened my mouth and said, ‘The rewards I sought had shackled me. They were chains on my back. My eyes couldn’t turn to the heavens, when my gaze was on the dust at my feet. I’d unfurled every sail, and the wind was brisk. But the anchor of this world held me fast.

‘I dreamt that I was wealthy, and my possessions outnumbered the stars. Yet when I awoke, these possessions faded from my mind and the dream seems now absurd. I dreamt that a prince ordered my death and struck off my head. Yet when I awoke, my fear became as mist beneath a burning sun. To awake this way, while blood still flows through your veins, is an unparalleled blessing. To awake this way, to discover the world is a mirage not worth chasing, this is but one meaning of the words of the Prophet: Die before you die.’

“When the prince heard these words, he halted the execution. He kissed my cheek and bestowed upon me a robe of honor. He said, ‘Ask a gift from me, even to the half of my kingdom, and I will grant it to you.’

“I answered, ‘O generous prince, let me return to my ancient home unrewarded.’

“Puzzled at this, the prince granted my wish and I have resided here ever since.”

Thursday, February 18, 2010


It is traditional to open such works with words praising those in power. Yet those who have power have the least need for praise. And since no living king can be found who believes in God and His signs and acknowledges His transcendent power, I have no appetite to appeal to the vanity of those whose dominions are ephemeral and who, though alive, may rightly be regarded as dead.

In the place of panegyric, I offer these few words.

Surely the kinsmen of His glory are today blessed above all races, notwithstanding that He is Lord of East and West equally. But today, Persia is sunk in loathsome oppression and worthless imaginings. Though the land of my fathers is immersed in vanity and corruption, though the West is far from God, who shall say we are lost if the lantern is unlit? When will His tribe and family deliver themselves from fear, rise up from their stupor, shake off the chains of ignorance and self-satisfaction, and burn brightly for this world and for the world yet to come? When will they realize the end to which they were purposed?

Rise up, sleepers, and claim your inheritance. How long will you slink away from your Lord’s command and, like Jonah, be swallowed up for your obstinacy? Though we have neither love for ourselves nor one another, His love is sufficient and He will redeem us all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

For the Fairest

At the wedding feast of Peleus, king of the Myrmidons, and the goddess Thetis, all the gods and goddesses were in attendance, except one. None invited Eris, the goddess of discord. She was not welcome at the lucky marriage of the mortal Peleus and his immortal bride. But Eris was offended, nursed her wounded heart, and said with malice, “Though I am unwanted, I will give these happy newlyweds a gift even their son, the noble Achilles, will treasure until he dies at the walls of Troy.” So she fashioned an apple of unalloyed gold without blemish and etched upon it the letters “For the fairest.” On the day of the wedding, Eris cast the apple in the midst of the gods and goddesses in attendance. Hermes took the apple in graceful hands and carried it to Thetis.

Thetis, who was wise, said, “This is not for me. Bring it to Zeus and he will award it to whomever he pleases.”

Hermes gave the apple to Zeus. When Hera, Zeus’ beautiful wife, and Zeus’ two daughters, Aphrodite and Athena, saw the apple, they each claimed it. Zeus, like Thetis, was also wise and said, “I am not fit to stand in judgment between my wife and my daughters. If I were to judge I would declare all three fit to receive this apple, for they are fairest each in their way. Yet even should I secretly prefer one to the others, I would, in gaining the friendship of one, only stir up the anger and enmity of two and this is not fit for a king of gods. Some other must award this prize to the fairest of these three.”

Hera said, “Then choose one who is fit.” But not wishing to offend any of the three contending goddesses, none of the immortals stepped forward.

Athena said, “Only a mortal, one who has never before angered the gods nor ever before been favored by them, may make this choice. Only such a mortal could be impartial in judgment. Yet he must be of noble birth. Only such a mortal could be worthy of judging between us.”

Hera said, “What noble child is not favored or cursed by the gods? Yet if there is one on the face of the Earth, surely my husband knows of him.”

Zeus said, “I know of one, a prince in exile, the descendent of gods, but mortal. He is Paris, the son of Priam. But will you three accept him as judge?”

Aphrodite said, “I accept since no living man will find fault with me and the prize is as good as mine whomever you name.”

Hera said, “Will you cow him with threats of your beloved Ares?”

Aphrodite said, “Unlike those clumsy in the arts of allurement and desire, I have no need of threats. I will leave those to you.”

Zeus said, “This judgment must be fair and he who judges must not be threatened, for you three have terrible power over him. If the goddess who wins does so by threat, she is by this single proof not the fairest.”

Hera and Aphrodite agreed to these terms, but Athena did not speak. At last, Zeus turned to her and said, “Dearest daughter, what do you say?”

Athena said, “I accept your choice of Paris to judge between us and won’t threaten him with my power. Yet it is he who is by judgment judged and by trial of beauty himself tried.”

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Free Man

In my youth I knew a young Jewish scholar. He had at that time few attainments, but his mind was quick and he could speak intelligently on even obscure topics. The depth and breadth of his knowledge was remarkable. 

His prodigious curiosity ranged many disciplines, and I sincerely believed that the world, which produced such a man endowed with such gifts, would surely profit by him. 

Together we studied the science of politics. He secured his degree and went on his way. But my faith in this science was shaken. In its innermost chamber I peered behind the curtain and saw its armless ancient idol balanced on a crooked foundation. In despair I abandoned that pursuit, ridiculed by those who worshiped at the altar of this fraudulent god. 

During this time I abandoned all things, even reason. But I returned at last and discovered by chance that the scholar I once knew had bartered the gold of his youth for the alchemy of his studies. He now received payment for imparting this science to students such as we were once. 

Learning this, I bit the lip of disbelief and said these words for his benefit. 

“Your mind is strong and noble. You are perceptive. Your intellectual qualities are real. You possess a treasure house of knowledge. You understand readily what others only with difficulty grasp. Why then do you waste this mind with small thoughts, applying your skill to twaddle? Your pursuits are beneath you. 

“Among those I have known, you have been the most intelligent. Yet I would not call you the wisest. Too many marionettes play this part; you without sense play their part in turn. The king does not wear shackles; he does not bedeck his prisoners in robes of honor. Is this the end to which you have been purposed? Is this the end to which great intellect brings you? 

“By your name, you are called a free man. Exercise that freedom. Yet if in the comfort of inconsequential thoughts you expend your allotted time, what will they say of the gifts you were granted? They are never given to those unworthy of them, except that we make ourselves unworthy of them, forgetting our duty to them. It is a struggle to deserve what we are given, knowing that we neither earned nor merited our gifts. Remember what Arjuna learned: "Do not let the reins slip from your hand. Rise up, without desire, and fight." 

“You may not count me a friend. But I have never given friendlier counsel.” 

When I relayed these words to him, his face became sour and he accused me likewise for wasting my life and more meager intellect on worthless metaphysics and philosophical meanderings. To this accusation I assented, saying, “Everything you say about me is true. I cannot deny it. But the wise have said: 

To deny my virtue is no testament to yours.
The truth of my failure does not falsify yours.
The snake with a broken back may stay still strike.
The lantern with polluted oil may still burn."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Obelisk

I had come to Kufa on my way from Shiraz. There I saw a man, a mendicant on the street, sitting alone in the shade of a battered wall. His mouth was filled with rotting teeth and his eyes were white on white. He spoke, but his words were nonsense, a lunatic in conversation with his lunacy. As my shadow fell over him, he rushed forward and stood before me, barring my path. And his voice became suddenly clear and his blinded eyes fixed on me. I reached for some coins in my pocket but he grasped my arm, not allowing me to deliver them into his begging bowl. He said, “I have a riddle for you.”

I said, “What is your riddle?”

He recited these words:

She knows without knowledge. Unknown, she is knowing.
She speaks without language. Unspoken, she sings.
She moves without motion. She soars above knowledge.
Who is she?

Assuming this was more madness, I answered, “I don’t know.”

He said, “Know yourself as you are. What is the obelisk of self?

“You possess body and form. This is the foundation.

“You possess sense awareness, which is the sensual appetite and reflex. This is the column.

“You possess subterranean consciousness, which feeds upon sense, but is the gibbering, wordless, unknowing source of emotion. This is the topmost pyramid.

“You possess apparent consciousness, which are the thoughts you think at any moment. Here you will find the self you imagine yourself to be. This is the topmost stone.

“But above this is hyperborean consciousness, unknown from moment to moment. She is the crown of self, she is the simurgh atop the obelisk. She is glimpsed in dream and vision. She is epiphany. She is the blinding light on the road to Damascus. She is the vision of Gabriel to Ahmad. She is the atman. She is your true Self. She is not God, but a mirror of Him. She is not God, but the Soul, created in His image.

“The obelisk is her perch, her nest. From here she emerged from the egg and learns to fly. She is the way to detachment and contentment. She is the ineffable Self. And if she takes wing before the Earth reclaims the obelisk, she alights in Paradise. But if the obelisk is broken, she tumbles from its peak, she falls eternally from darkness into darkness."

When he finished speaking, he sat down again and placed his bowl beside him and took up speaking nonsense to himself where he’d left off.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Daughters of Vraj

“When Krishna was still young, the daughters of Vraj fell in love with him. Each girl desired that Krishna would become her husband. So they undertook a vow to the goddess Katyayani to obtain what they desired. At the banks of the river Kalindi, where every morning they bathed, they fashioned an image of the goddess in the sand, decorating her with red dye. Each morning, naked before they entered the water, the girls made obeisance to the idol, and repeated their vow. For a month they performed this vow every morning, setting aside their clothes, praying to the idol, then bathing in the river Kalindi where they swam and sported and sang of Krishna.

“One day Krishna came upon the girls while they splashed in the river. By the riverbank he saw the idol and understood their petition as they sang of him. Yet they were oblivious to his presence. Stealthily he gathered up their clothes and climbed a tall tree. As they sang and played, he called down to them and said, ‘O ladies. I have heard your vow and understand the meaning of your idol in the sand. But I am here among you, and you have no need for idols. Come out to see me.’

“The girls were startled by Krishna’s voice out of darkness, but were overjoyed that he was with them, though he had their clothes and was in the tree above them, out of their reach. As Krishna called for them to come out of the river, the girls shrank deeper into the water to conceal their nakedness. Krishna called out, ‘Why do you hesitate? I am here, as you wished. Come out and let me see you.’

“The girls laughed and called back, ‘Please don’t joke with us. We can’t come out. Where are our clothes?’

“Krishna smiled and said, ‘I have your clothes. Come out and take them back from me.’

“The girls scolded Krishna, saying, ‘This is shameful. We love you and are devoted to you and yet you mock us with your teasing. Return our clothes to us, beloved, for you know the way of dharma.’

“Krishna said, ‘You say that you love me and are devoted to me and that I know the way of dharma, but this is not true. I am myself the way of dharma, yet you do not obey me. Come out and I will forgive you and will return your clothes to you.’

“The girls relented and emerged from the water, modestly covering themselves with their hands and arms. They were smiling, but were bashful and embarrassed. With their clothes over his shoulder, Krishna climbed down from the tree and watched them as they shivered in the cold air. They called out to him to keep his promise and give them their clothes. But Krishna said, ‘You undertook a vow to attain my presence, but you violated that vow by bathing naked. Fold your hands upon your heads and offer obeisance to me. If you do not, your rites and devotions will come to nothing. I am the remover of imperfection. Obey me and attain what I desire for you.’

“Without hesitation they forgot themselves and obeyed Krishna without shame. When they made obeisance Krishna returned their clothes to them. He said, ‘To attain me, don’t worship idols in the sand. Don’t call on Katyayani or Indra, or any of the devas. Yet I am patient with you. If men worship even devas with humility performing rites to obtain what they seek, they may acquire what they seek, but whatever they attain comes from my hand alone.’”

The boy said, “There are many meanings to this story. The literal meaning is the least of them. Krishna represents God, the girls His devotees. They have worshipped improperly to attain His presence, but He forgives them and removes their imperfections. Abasing themselves to the idol in the sand to obtain Him, He appears to them and reveals to them a way to approach Him, though they did not see that simply by His presence He had already granted to them what they sought. Once they obeyed Him, following His dharma, forgetting themselves, their rites were fulfilled and their vows accomplished. In this there are lessons not for young girls who are in love, but for the wise.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Mischief of Krishna


When Krishna was a little boy he was famous for his bad behavior. Everywhere he went he acted mischievously, but concealed this from his mother, Yasoda. Though the gopis and gopas, and even his brother, Balarama, complained in loving anger of Krishna’s bad habits and small transgressions, Yasoda would not believe them. One day, while Balarama and other boys were playing, they saw Krishna putting mud into his mouth. At once they called out to Yasoda and accused Krishna. Krishna, whose eyes grew very wide, and who put upon his face an appearance of fear, denied that he had eaten dirt. Yasoda scolded her son. She said, ‘There is dirt on your cheek!’ but he denied it again. 

Angrily, she took his hand and brought him inside and said, ‘Then open your mouth and let me see.’

Krishna did as his mother asked and opened his mouth. Yasoda peered within and she trembled at what she saw. In her little boy’s mouth she saw all gods and demons, and all the creatures of the world. She saw Indra in his palace, Vayu among the clouds, and the Goddess crowned by the pleiades. Above she saw the heavens and the circle of the constellations; she saw the moon and Surya in the sky shining brightly. Below, she saw the gates of hell and all its denizens. On the earth she saw green fields, farmland, forests, rivers and seas. She saw howling storms and golden clouds over oceans and continents. 

Beyond this she saw Brahma upon his throne at the end of a lotus. She saw Shiva with his bow surrounded in burning light. And beyond even these, she saw Vishnu and his countless arms, bellies, mouths, and eyes. She saw no beginning and no end. She saw all things, moving and unmoving in every direction. From above she saw her own village where Balarama and the other boys played outside; she saw within her own home; she saw herself peering into her son’s mouth. 

Terror filled her and she fell back. She said, ‘You are not my son, but are the very form of God. Who am I? I am nothing, possessing nothing, knowing nothing. You are not my son, but I am your servant and seek your protection from what I have seen. I seek refuge in God from God!’

Krishna closed his mouth and said, ‘Pay no attention to a little mud in the mouth of the One who devours worlds.’ Taking pity on his mother, feeling only affection for her and seeing her love for him, both as her child and as God made manifest, he stole from her mind the memory of what she saw. At once, she was composed and at ease. She laughed at her little boy and set him on her lap, with a heart full of love.


Because of Krishna’s mischief, Yasoda, his mother, decided to punish him. 

Krishna had run away from her when she caught him misbehaving. He had broken a pot of butter and was feedings its contents to the monkeys that lived in the trees by the window. Seeing this, Yasoda chased Krishna through their home. When she caught him, she resolved to bind him with rope to keep him near and out of trouble. 

As she wrapped the rope around him, she found it was two fingers short. She took another length and tied it to the rope around Krishna, and found that now it was three fingers short. At last, she gathered up every piece of rope in her home, yet every time she knotted another length, she found it shorter still. Pitying his mother, Krishna at last allowed himself to be bound.

What knot can hold the sun, what rope has length,
To tether it to earth, or sap its strength?

Monday, January 4, 2010

The First Mudra

His unity is deep, mysterious.
In a well of fathomless waters,
You will not discover its depths.
In the stars that crown the celestial sphere,
You will not reach its heights.
He is above all that is,
Even the highest.
He is beyond all that is,
Even the most distant.
Go no further to find Him.
He is nearer to you than your own flesh.
He is closer to you than your most secret thought.
In every direction you turn,
There He is.
In every moment, movement,
With every breath you draw,
There He is.
The candle flickers,
There He is.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Hyperboreans

Athena said, "Yet accepting my gift you take no part and you share no fault for the destruction of your father’s city. One day, in your great old age, you lie down in the forests, near your herd, to rest awhile. Nearby, a hunter, seeing only the color of your skin, mistakes you for a deer. He fires his arrow into your eye, no poison upon it, but you die from the wound, in your sleep, and Oenone, who finds you, cannot revive you. Death comes over you, darkness covers your eyes and you do not awaken.”

Paris said, “So my choice is to be king, to be beloved of the most beautiful woman in the world, or to be a shepherd, which I already am. And in all cases Troy falls whether I am present or I am absent.”

Athena said, “Come with me to the land of the dead and I will explain this mystery to you.” And Athena took Paris’ hand and led him from the grove in which they stood, along a forest path, down a ravine where the sound of flowing water soothed him, to a cavern Paris had never seen before, from which blew a cold draught.

Paris hesitated and said, “I won’t go in.”

Athena smiled patiently upon him, saying, “You are under my protection and no harm will come to you here.” And saying this she drew him into the cave that led deep into the earth. At last, the goddess and her friend entered a great cavern, through which ran five rivers. And in the darkness, as his eyes adjusted to the dim light, Paris saw unnumbered figures, ghostly white and partly transparent, crowding together in the massive cavern, wandering without aim, flitting like phantoms without purpose, with empty eyes.”
Athena said, “Take your sword and dig a trench here, not too deep.”

Paris obeyed and, when he finished, Athena produced wine, milk and honey and poured this into the trench. This work done, Athena then brought him a black sheep, without spot or blemish. She held back its head and Paris cut its throat, creating a pool of blood in the trench. Straight away, the dead, smelling the blood, turned toward Paris and approached the trench, but Athena, glorious to behold in her shining armor stopped them and turned them away, for even the dead, who have nothing left to fear, were cowed by her. And those who came too close, she unveiled the aegis to them, and the gorgon’s head turned them to stone. She called out, her voice ringing in the cavern, both beautiful and awful to hear, “Tiresias! Come forward! This offering is for you.”

Then stepped forward the ghost of Tiresias, grasping a golden scepter. He said, “Why do you call me, Athena? How may I serve you when I am among the dead?”

Athena said, “Drink your fill; we have poured this libation for you.”

Tiresias knelt down on the wet earth and cupped his hands, taking up a little of the bloody offering, drinking a mouthful at a time. At last he stopped and, leaning upon his scepter, stood again before them.
Paris, wearing a look of horror, said, “How is it that you speak and seem sensible when all these others seem feckless and speechless?”

Tiresias said, “I have kept my speech and mind and possess even my powers of prophecy, though I am among the dead. These other mindless ones wander without purpose, troubled but without knowing what troubles them. Knowing only appearance, they are as much dead to themselves as they are to you.”
Paris said, “What do you know of my death? What does your power of prophecy reveal to you about me?”

Tiresias said, “Your death is fixed, but your life is not yet decided.”

Athena said, “Tell him, Tiresias, what will become of him if he accepts my gift.”

Tiresias said, “He will be blessed beyond the blessing I have received. Like me, he shall retain knowledge of himself in the land of the dead, but he will pass beyond the land of the dead to the land of true life, which is known only to a few.”

Paris said, “Is this land a Paradise? A place of heavenly enjoyment and delights?”

Tiresias said, “That you expect it to be such a thing is a barrier to it. The road to that land is blocked even to the immortals if they are not purified of worldly desire and foolish expectation. Give up all knowledge of heaven and earth and cleanse yourself that you may attain that station and may enter the House constructed for you in worlds yet to form, under stars yet unborn, in skies not yet raised. Only then is the road open to you, if you accept Athena’s gift and turn away all other gifts. If not, then join these dead here today, for you already wander among them.” Tiresias then fell silent and slipped, like mist, back into the unnumbered crowd of the dead, disappearing among them altogether. And, at once, Paris was again in the grove, smelling the sweet mountain air, the goddess naked before him.

Paris said, “I have no taste for Hera’s glory, but that vision of death might be forgotten in the arms of Aphrodite’s promise”

Athena said, “You may take some comfort there, but you must at last face death. And when you are dead, Helen will betray all things, even the city in which she found protection, even the king who offered her sanctuary, to save her own precious life. And when you are buried, rejected by Oenone and cast into an earthen pit, Helen will forget her tears for you and remember her affection for Menelaus. In his bed she will gladly lodge again while you roll and couple with dust. Those who speak of 'deathless' love speak in code of something else, or else they have no sense. Mortal love, like martial glory, like all mortal things, has an ending in time. Do not put your faith in such things or exchange one for the other. Unwisely men spend their lives bartering one useless thing for another and consider themselves great negotiators.

“Seek a cunning superior to Odysseus’, a strength greater than Ajax’s, an authority higher than Agamemnon’s, a glory better than Achilles’ and claim your birthright, higher than Hector’s. Follow Tiresias’ prophecy for you and win every battle at my side, not among men in armor, or in hollow ships or on fleet horses upon the plains of Troy, but against yourself. Become my kinsmen, closer even than my father.

”I am truly the daughter of the Thunderer Zeus, that lover of lightening; but he is only display beside the power I serve. Zeus is my father, but he, like me, and like his fathers before him, is but a creature. He is not the font of wisdom nor the source of the cosmos. He is not the highest in heavenly glory, nor the best of his kind. He is king now, as Cronus was king before him, and as another will be king in his place. He is my father, from whom I have sprung. But consider your own father, who would have you murdered in the crib. There is One greater than the king of Troy, and there is One greater than the king of gods. From Zeus I have sprung, but I serve the One beyond singleness, the Man beyond men, the God beyond gods. Become like me, and serve wisdom and let wisdom serve you and what I say will become evident to you. The gods themselves will honor you. You have nothing to fear in life and in death you have nothing to fear nor in the life yet to come. Do not accept Hera’s bribe and resist Aphrodite’s allurements; these are not gifts but springes. To live in service to your desires is a snare; it is not life, nor is abjuring such desires death.

"This calling is for few, and I offer to you, if you judge me the fairest of the three. Have you heard of the race, north beyond north, called the Hyperboreans?"

"Yes, I have heard of them. They live in a land of warmth, of plenty, of eternal sunshine, both day and night. They are worshippers of Helios."

"They do not worship Helios, but Helios worships them, does obeisance to them. 'Neither by land nor sea shall you find the road to the Hyperboreans.' They are 'beyond north, beyond ice, beyond death.' Yet none of that tribe goes a moment without the Muse at his side, without celestial music in his ears, without the warm sun on his skin.

"No wind can parch him, for he is beyond winds. No darkness can blind him, for he wears the warmth of the sun. His eyes are brighter than sun and moon and stars together. Neither hunger nor thirst can reach him, for always he is filled with what sustains him and he drinks deeply of the waters of true knowledge. Though to you, he may seem poor, but beyond your sight he is caparisoned like a god. Though to you, he may seem without friend, the gods vie for his companionship. Though to you, no sun shines upon him, but in his sight the sun shines at all times, in all places. He is beyond worldly riches, for his treasury overflows. He has no need for love's passion, for he loves beyond passion. He has no craving for power; power is powerless before him. The winds of sorrows and joys do not trouble him, for his is beyond all earthly storms. Men say he is from the north, where winds do not rule. Yet he may be in any place. He is unmoved by any earthly power. His life even the gods cannot possess, for he is beyond all gods and goddesses. His mind is stillness, quietude, peace. His goal is not happiness, for contentment rests on his brow. What no living man perceives, the gods envy. Such is your perception!"

At last, Athena said, "Become Hyperborean and rise above all things. Be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth. Abstain from the lures of the world, for the one who desires the world shall always be reborn to desire. Go beyond life and death, beyond all things that have an ending in time. This is what I offer the one who counts me the fairest of the three."