Call and Response Ep. 71 | Life Is A Teaching

“There’s nothing in this world that doesn’t have some dissatisfaction associated with it. Either you have what you don’t want, or you don’t have what you want, or you have some combination of the two. Or, you just recognize that everything is like that… That’s the way it is. You can’t squeeze water from a stone.” – Krishna Das

Where were we, oh, yeah…

So, India, you know, you walk down the street, you see Durga Travel Agency. You see Krishna Insurance Agency. Sri Ram Carding Agency. Everything is, they’ve got everything, it looks like everything’s Holy until you look a little closer. But in America, you know, we don’t have the… spirituality has infused the culture of India for many thousands of years. Now, who knows what’s going on but at least… but here, our own culture, Western culture’s a few hundred years old, right? Right? Hello. Hello? Anybody home? Am I right? I don’t know. I think so, right? The cultural, so-called cultural revolution or whatever? No, that was something else. The Age of Enlightenment. Ha. What a name, huh?  So, you know, it’s a few hundred years old and it’s based on the world of the senses and sense perception, intellectual understanding of all that. As far as India, as the East is concerned, that’s a very narrow bandwidth. A very limited understanding of things. But my point is that, here in the West, being born as who we are, with a very Westernized sense of self, sense of ego, so to speak, when we do these practices, we should understand or we could understand, I don’t like the word “should” because I never liked anybody to say that to me. “You ‘should’ do this.” And I’d just do the other thing. Absolutely. The exact opposite. Which is why Maharajji never told me to do anything, except “go away,” which I didn’t do. Which is why He told me to go away, because He didn’t want me to go away. But He knew that, you know, how it goes. So, yeah.

It would be good if we understood that adding chanting, that we should see practice as adding a new, adding something new to what’s already in our lives. And it’s something that doesn’t necessarily have to be understood intellectually to a great degree. You have to kind of understand why it is you’re doing what you’re doing, but how it works is not, is not, can’t be known in a conceptual way by the intellectual understanding because these practices work under the radar. And that’s an important thing to keep in mind because a lot of times we’ll do practice and we’ll be like, “I’ve been meditating for 18 minutes, I don’t feel a damn thing. Oh, there’s something. Hm. Oh, yeah. Ok. That’s nice. Oh, wait. Where’d it go? Oh my goodness. This is no good. I can’t do this. Wait. Maybe I can.” So, that’s our meditation practice, right there, pretty much. We think. We think. We think. We think. We think. So,  what we understand, what we can realize when we add a spiritual practice through our daily lives, that practice is designed to release us, little by little, from the tyranny of our thoughts and our emotions and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves all the time. The 24-7 kind of critique that goes on all day and all night. And these practices have the ability to do that, whether we understand how they work not, which we really can’t understand. Like, we don’t, if you’re sick and you take an antibiotic, you may not understand how it works, but it worked. Then it screwed up your intestines, but at least it saved you from pneumonia, you know. That’s a good thing. What is the sense of having intestines if you’re dead? That doesn’t make any, that’s not useful. It’s going to be quite an afternoon. Anyhow, so the chanting, that’s why, the way I share this practice is really the way I do it, which is really, I really don’t try to manipulate myself and my emotions into having some particular kind of experience. Like, I don’t try, I’m not trying to get all ecstatic, or all blissful. You know? Because my understanding is that that’s our true nature.  It’s who we are already. And of all the so-called ecstatic, ecstasy stuff, like, I hate going to ecstatic chant weekend at Omega. It’s a lot of pressure. What if I don’t feel ecstatic? You know? I mean, I’ll hide in my room? What should I do? You know? But that’s the point, you know, if we have some idea in our heads about what it’s supposed to be and what we want it to be, we’re going to be very depressed because it’s not really, we’re not going to get it that way, because… Who was it, Groucho Marks? Said he never wanted to join a club that would actually invite him? You know, because, you don’t want anything you can conceive of or imagine could never be enough, because you’re conceiving and imagining it from your own programmed reality right now, which is reaction to everything else that’s going on. It’s not a free imagination. It’s a programmed response. And then you get it and then it’s not enough. And you’ve spent your whole life trying to be a sadhu from India when you’re really a jerk from Long Island. It just is not going to work. “Believe me,” said the jerk from Long Island. So, let’s try to remember that, when we add this practice to our lives, we’re adding, it’s like a medicine we’re taking into ourselves which cures us, little by little, from the disease of believing everything we think. We believe everything we think. That’s so fucking crazy I can’t believe it. I’m sorry. I told you. I’m going to stop right there. Why do we believe everything? We wake up in the morning, “I’m such a piece of shit,” you know, and we go through the whole day pooping on ourselves. And we don’t even question that. Like, we don’t question, “Why do I think that?” “Where did that thought come from? Why did it arise?” Forget about thinking, trying to figure out why we believe, that’s a whole other ballgame. But where does this thought come from, you know. We just completely identify with that stuff. Of course, it’s not completely, because it could never be completely, because we are actually, the thoughts are actually happening in, within us. It’s a very, I’m not going to edit myself, ok? You deal with it. Go to the video tape. The thoughts are actually happening within us. We’re not thinking them. They are floating through our awareness and when the awareness meets the thought, consciousness meets the thought, we would say, “I’m thinking.” But that’s not what’s happening. It’s the thought. It’s the thought becoming, lighting up inside of our consciousness. And, but we’ve been doing that our whole lives so it’s very difficult to actually see it. But when you do some practice, you start to have a different, develop a different perspective on things. It happens naturally, that you begin to see things differently. You even begin to see yourself differently. And then when you see yourself differently, you wind up acting differently and feeling differently and being attracted to different people and being attracted, and entering into different situations that you might never imagine that you would be interested in before. And that’s how these practices work. They change us from within. So, that’s the good news and the bad news because it means you have to stay living in the weird life that you’re living and just add a practice to it. You can’t go anywhere. There’s no sense trying to create another you. Believe me. I tried to create another me for ages and I happily failed. You can’t. We’re who we are. So now, let’s deal with that, right?   It’s deal-able with, fuck it. We can deal with it. It’s not going to kill us. Well, it might. But asking the ego or the mind to kill the mind, to destroy the sense of separateness, which is ego, is like, Ramana Maharshi said, “It’s like asking the thief to be the policeman. There will be a lot of investigation, but no arrest will ever be made.” So, you add the practice to your life and you just do it. You find one that works for you for a while or that you like, that’s what that means, like, I like chanting. And once I asked Siddhi Ma, who was one of Maharajji’s greatest devotees and She took care of us for many years after He left the body. I said, “Ma, you know, should I meditate or should I chant?” And She looked at me, She said, “Well, what do you like to do?” Now, my mother never told me that what I liked to do could ever be good for me. And now my spiritual mother was saying, “Yeah. What you like to do is good for you. You can do that.” And that was fantastic. Another thing She said, which is, She said that Maharajji never asked Her to meditate in 40 years with Him. 40. Years. But He told Her, asked Her to do, to repeat these Names, like we’re doing this practice, it’s called “japa” or in this case it’s called “kirtan” where you do it out loud. Chanting. But He said that the more subtle, deeper or higher states of mind, which we, you know, we might think we’re aspiring to, they can’t be brought about by the use of our own personal will. What that, it’s like, trying to pick yourself up like this. You can’t. No matter how hard you try. You can never pick yourself up like this. Because once again, anything we can imagine or conceive of can’t be something that’s beyond who we think we are. Which is who we are. Who we really are is beyond is much deeper than who we think we are. And so, when I share this practice with people, I say, “Just sing, and when you notice you haven’t been paying attention, sing. And when you notice you haven’t been paying attention, sing.” And, you know, because if you’re paying attention, you see, it’s almost impossible for more than a billionth of a second to actually stay with it. When you’re really, really right there razor sharp. But you keep coming back. And what we’re doing is training ourselves to just let go of the stuff that beats us up all day long, all life-long. Whatever it is. And it’s different than pushing away. We are not pushing away. That’s a whole other ballgame. We’re releasing and coming back to the chant. You’ve made a deal with yourself. Whatever period of time you made the deal for, you’re gonna, whatever you catch yourself lost in, you’re gonna let it go and come back to whatever your object of concentration, so to speak. The mantra or the chant. That’s the deal you made when you sat down and now you’re watching, you know, “When are the Sopranos on?” But you know, you’ve seen the Sopranos 42 times already. It’s just the reruns of the reruns of the reruns now. But you still want to, so, “Ok, I have five more seconds. Time? No. Three more seconds.” It’s so hard to really do this stuff. Really. We, you know, many years ago, before I went to India, I was up in the mountains of New Mexico at the Lama Foundation.  And “Lama” means “mud” in Spanish. And we had heard that there was an artist who had lived in New York, had gone to India and come back, was living in a cabin just down the mountain from where we were. So a few of us got together and went down to see him and he, he knew how to meditate. We went, “wow. He knows how to meditate.” This was in 1966 or something like that. ‘7. ‘8.  ‘9. ’68-’69, the winter. So, we went down to see this guy. His name was Herman. And we went into his little cabin and I think he made tea for us or something and I was sitting in the back kind of, just listening, and everybody else was asking questions and, so when it came time to leave, I was the last one out the door and he grabbed my arm and he looked at me and he said, “You, you have to find out why it is you can’t give yourself 100% to whatever you’re doing.” You ever see like a squirrel on the wall?  He nailed me to the wall. I mean, I can feel, right now, how that felt. That was what, fifty years ago. Something like that. Forty years ago. Holy shit. I can still feel that. Because he was absolutely right. And that was, and I knew that, I mean, there was my, I could, I was suffering so much from my inability to really do anything. You know? That had to do with real life. Basketball I could play. But anything else was torture for me because I just couldn’t get into things. I couldn’t give myself totally. I was too paranoid. I was too sensitive. I was too neurotic. I was too whatever. Whatever. Whatever. Whatever. Whatever it was, I couldn’t. And he just, boy. Wow. And so, my whole life has been answering that question. Why, not really why this? But how? To be able to give myself 100% to what I’m doing, right? And when I first heard chanting in India, I knew this was something I could really do. I could really give myself to this. And then I started going around, listening to, wherever there was chanting going on, I would just go sit there and just be part of it. So, it’s not useful to try to make another you. It’ll be just as screwed up as the first one. You know? So, just take it easy, you know? And we have to really recognize that, you know, there’s this thing and they call it the laws of karma and one thing they say about karma is that no one can understand it fully. That only a fully enlightened Buddha can really understand all the subtleties of karma. But the simple take on it is that, it’s like, there’s always these waves coming from way out in the ocean and they come and they roll and they roll and roll and roll and they finally get to the shore and they crash and the energy of that wave is dissipated. Right? Something created that wave. Some movement. Some storm in the middle of the ocean and that energy was carried all the way to the shore, manifested by that wave. This is like, these are our own actions in the past. That’s what they say. And that’s what I say when I don’t really know what I’m talking about. But when I haven’t personally experienced something, I say, “That’s what they say.” But, it’s my intuition, intuition and my belief that what I’m saying, I believe what I’m saying. I’m sorry if you don’t, but what are you going to do, you know? I’m just sharing my own craziness with you. So, our own actions in the past of some kind, in some past, some kind of past created, like, an energy and that energy will keep going until its dissipated. So, sometimes that energy can act like, can be manifested in thoughts but something… and if we get caught in those thoughts and fight against them and allow them to push us around, we are not allowing that energy to dissipate. We are actually pushing back against the wave and creating more waves. More waves. And so, that’s why we train ourselves to just let go. Not push away and cling to. Let go and come back to the practice that we agreed with ourselves to do for a certain period of time and then you get up and be stupid the rest of the day, it’s ok. Really. It really doesn’t matter because that practice you’ve done, that practice letting go, that, that’s an intuitive movement that will happen from within more and more as we get more comfortable with that. The letting go. And you may not notice, but like, a depression that was going to last three hundred and sixty five days may only last 364 and three quarters. You didn’t notice but it’s different.

And that’s the way it works. We get used to letting go and coming back to ourselves for a millionth of a second and then we’re gone again, letting go, coming back, letting go, coming back. That’s why they call it practice. You’ve got to do it. You don’t do it, you don’t do it. Nothing’s going to happen. The same story’s going to keep repeating itself on and on. So, whatever practice means to you, by the way. It can be anything. Whatever works for you to help you unravel and untie the knots in your own hearts. This is what we should try to find, we could try to find, if we’re interested. Now, chanting has helped me a lot, I think. I mean, I would say that. I probably can’t prove it to anybody, but, one thing is that, I mope around a lot less than I used to. And you know, I was born a moper. You know. I learned from my parents how to mope and I just carried the tradition right on. And now, I really, I actually mope around less. Really. It’s extraordinary. I can’t even believe it myself. I miss it. And truly, sometimes I’ll mope around just for fun. It’s just nothing that feels like that. “Ahhhh, shit. Son of a bitch.” Ah. It’s ecstasy. Fantastic. So, it’s really the complete, there’s so many ways to look at this, I mean, there’s a sloka in Sanskrit, “Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheswhara, Guru Sakshat Param Brahma, Tasmai Shri Guruve Namah”. This is part of what they call “The worship of the Guru.” It says, “The Guru has created all this. The Guru preserves all this. The Guru destroys all this. The Guru is that, right before my eyes. To that Guru, I bow.” Now, we can take that on a personal level where, the physical level where you see your Guru as the one who’s doing everything and you bow to that Guru, that manifestation of the Guru in a human body. But you can also take it a different way.  Guru Sakshat Param Brahma”… this means “everything I see.” Everything is the Guru. To that Guru, I bow. To which, I surrender. I drop my trip To that Guru. And I accept everything in my life as teaching. As teaching for me. Personally, and that everything in my life is there because it’s there. And if it’s there, one has to deal with it. So, there’s different ways of approaching this. Somebody who’s very devotional might approach it that way. Somebody who’s more, less devotional, might see it differently or a combination of the two. And there’s so many other ways of looking at it. The bottom line is, we have to, we have to give ourselves a break, to start. We can’t be our own worst enemy forever. It’s just not going to be fun. It’s not going to work. It’s not going to be ok. And when we recognize that, that it’s up to us, we have the power and the intuition and the wisdom to begin to unravel those things and release those energies that we’re carrying around with us from all the broken hearts, all the betrayals, all the stuff we’re going through. And we have that power to do that. And more than that, only we can do that. We can get help and assistance and friendship and teachings but we have to do it. We have to ultimately let go. You’ve got to let go. Sooner or later, it’s your hand has to let go, nobody else’s. Yours. And that’s the good news, by the way. I know it doesn’t seem that way. But that’s the good news, actually. That we can do that. That’s the way the whole system was set up, by the way, that we, ourselves, can do that and will do that, by the way. It’s just inevitable. It’s a process. We’re in the middle of it right now. We’re not at the beginning. We’re not at the end. We’re in the middle of it. It’s an inevitability because once that, you ever see those quaker oats commercials? Shot out of a cannon? Remember that? Who’s old enough to remember that? Don’t raise your hand. Shot out of a cannon. Once you’re shot out of a cannon, the ball’s going to hit the ground sooner or later. It’s inevitable.  And that’s what it is. This is an inevitability. We’re in the process of revealing ourselves to be that one of which we are all a part.

You know, I don’t know, well, I do know, when I went to India, I was never coming back. I was gonna go. I, you know, I just had this fantasy I was going to go live in a cave, you know, and the hair and the ashes and all the stuff, you know, and the sacred fire and all that. I’ve seen caves. There’s no fucking way I’m going to live in one. Rats and scorpions and mice and bats and snakes. Are you kidding me? Give me my foam mattress and my MTV, you know? I’m outta here. Give me a break. Oh, my goodness. But yeah. So, I had this version of myself which I was hoping would be true, because I hated myself so much, I couldn’t be me. But I had this other version, which I thought was cool, you know? No. After two and a half years, Maharajji looked at me. He said, “Go back to New York. You have attachment there.” “Attachment?  But I’m just learning Hindi.” “Too bad. Go.” You know, I, “What is He talking about, attachment?  What does He mean? I left everything. I gave my jeans away. I sold my car. My guitar. I gave my records away.” Remember records? I was never coming back. What’s He talking about? I know what He’s talking about now. Every single thing that I’ve experienced since that moment to this moment. Fifty years of bullshit. That’s what He was talking about. My life. The seeds were in there to unfold, you know, you can’t, we planted those seeds ourselves. I don’t know what we’re thinking, but we did that. And now, here we are. Happy New Year, you know? Here it is. So, you’ve got to deal with it. There’s so many ways of dealing with things, but the first step is recognizing that this is life and we’re in it and this is me and yeah, this sucks. I’m gonna find out a way to make this ok. And that’s what Buddha said when He came out of the jungle. He said, “Yo, monks. Life sucks.” That’s a direct translation. More or less. He said, there’s suffering. Period. That’s it. There’s nothing in this world that doesn’t have some dissatisfaction associated with it. Either you have what you don’t want, or you don’t have what you want, or you have some combination of the two. Or, you just recognize that everything is like that. There’s no… that’s the way it is. You can’t squeeze water from a stone. People have been telling us, “Oh, yeah, squeeze this stone, you’ll get so much water out of it. Get this car. Get this job. Get this wife. Get this husband. Get this house. Get this. Get this. That’ll make you happy.” Who has it made happy? Nobody. It’s made people more stupid and more selfish. And more afraid. The more you get, the more you’re afraid of losing it. Really. Big gates. Gated communities. “Nobody can get in here. We’re safe here.” Then an earthquake happens. Nobody is safe. Nobody in the outside world, in the outside stuff, the physical body, we’re never safe. You can be at ease, by the way, with whatever arises, that’s part of the practice. That’s a fruit of practice. To be at ease of heart with whatever arises in your life, with whatever is in your life. Now, that would be nice and that’s a possibility, but on the physical level, nobody’s safe. So, you know, already. Shit happens. Stuff stops working. And you? “Wait a minute? I signed a warranty here. What’s the deal?” The warranty, you can’t find it.

So. Once we begin to get the strength to let go of the way we identify with everything so much that we think and feel and imagine and all our programs and all our stories. As we get the strength to release that, it’s an incredible experience, because no one can hurt you. And it’s not an invulnerability that’s hard. It’s an openness and a relaxed space where everything is free to come and go: the pleasant stuff and the unpleasant stuff.

There was the third patriarch of Zen. He said, “The great way is not difficult for those with no preferences.” Ok. Is there another way? How about the not-so-great way? Can we try that?  And my dear friend who’s picture is up there in the back, Bernie Glassman, you know, he used to talk about, he said, You know, Buddha, if you call the four, you know, Buddha used to, it’s often said that Buddha described the Four Noble Truths, right? The fact that everything has dissatisfaction associated with it, the cause of that is craving, and then there’s the path to free one’s self from identification with those cravings, so to speak, and then, the result is nirvana, enlightenment. So, that’s usually called the four noble truths. So, Bernie said, “You know, I call them the Four Noble Opinions.”  Only he could do that, you know. Because if it’s a truth, you can’t really discuss it, you know. So, either accept it or you reject it. I don’t believe that. But if it’s an opinion, “Let’s talk about it. What do you think about that?” And that’s the beauty of that. So, once we kind of get with the program and stop identifying with the victim stories so much and get our asses down to doing a little bit of practice, that’s a very hard step to take, because we are all victimized. All of us. And some, to more degree than others, but the biggest victimization is thinking that we’re separate from the universe. That’s number one. And then, from that, everything else comes. Everything else comes after that. You know, these great Beings experience all the suffering, all the pain, all the distress, all the turmoil of all Beings in the Universe, but it doesn’t shut them down because they’re hearts are as wide as the world. That’s the phrase that I stole from Sharon Salzberg. Her heart is as wide as the world. I can appreciate that and steal it. So, when your heart is as wide as the world, everyone is welcome to come and to go. It doesn’t affect that space. It doesn’t change that. And you can become at ease with everything. It’s very hard. I mean, it’s very painful. We all have our hurts and betrayals and our scars and our wounds. And we all need help to deal with those things. Spiritual practice can help us develop the strength to let go. No matter what else we’re doing, therapy, counseling groups, whatever else we’re doing, ultimately, you’ve gotta, you know, you’ve gotta open it up and let go. So, practice can really help with that over time. Many times, you don’t even realize the things that don’t get you anymore, don’t grab you because they’re gone. They disappear from your awareness and you don’t even remember them. Every once in awhile you go, “Oh, what?  You know, what happened to that?” So, but once again, you’ve got to do it. And it’s not easy to create a habit of doing practice. Because our habits, you know, are so deeply ingrained, habits of thought, the habits, behaviors that we have, the things we do to pacify our negative emotions and we’ve been doing those things so long, it’s very difficult to, to change that, so that’s why I say, just do some practice. Don’t try to change anything. It will change. You’ll notice things will change. Opportunities will arise that you didn’t even see before. They’ll show up in your life that you didn’t see before. They might have always been there, but now you’ll notice it. It’s like a person who, you know, always you’ve seen around and one day you look, “Oh, hi.” You know? They show up in a different way in your awareness.

Ok. We have a microphone somewhere… or two… and if you have something to say please raise your hand and we’ll hand you a mic to talk.





Leave a Reply