Tag Archives: wisdom

Thoughts on “The Upanishads” – Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester

I originally read The Upanishads when I was in college. In fact, the old paperback copy I still have was my old college text, complete with highlighting and marginalia. Sadly, the binding is coming undone so I think this may be my last reading of this particular book. But it has served me well. Anyway, it had been many years since I read this, and considering all the material I have read in between, I suspected that this reading would be on a different level than my prior readings.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the text:

The Upanishads are late Vedic Sanskrit texts of religious teachings which form the foundations of Hinduism. They are the most recent part of the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas, that deal with meditation, philosophy, and ontological knowledge; other parts of the Vedas deal with mantras, benedictions, rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices. Among the most important literature in the history of Indian religions and culture, the Upanishads played an important role in the development of spiritual ideas in ancient India, marking a transition from Vedic ritualism to new ideas and institutions. Of all Vedic literature, the Upanishads alone are widely known, and their central ideas are at the spiritual core of Hinduism.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Much of the text discusses the Self, which is essentially that spark of the Divine that exists within each being.

The Self, whose symbol is OM, is the omniscient Lord. He is not born. He does not die. He is neither cause nor effect. This Ancient One is unborn, imperishable, eternal: though the body be destroyed, he is not killed.

(p. 18)

There is a belief held by many on the spiritual path that the goal is to renounce the world and focus only on the spiritual. The Upanishads teach that not only is this incorrect, it is actually detrimental to one’s spiritual growth. Balance is needed, and polarity of any sort leads to darkness.

To darkness are they doomed who devote themselves only to life in the world, and to a greater darkness they who devote themselves only to meditation.

Life in the world alone leads to one result, meditation alone leads to another. So have we heard from the wise.

They who devote themselves both to life in the world and to meditation, by life in the world overcome death and by meditation achieve immortality.

(pp. 27 – 28)

For me, one of the most intriguing passages from this reading was a description of how to realize, or “see,” the Divine presence, God, the Self.

To realize God, first control the outgoing senses and harness the mind. Then meditate upon the light in the heart of the fire—meditate, that is, upon pure consciousness as distinct from the ordinary consciousness of the intellect. Thus the Self, the Inner Reality, may be seen behind physical appearance.

Control your mind so that the Ultimate Reality, the self-luminous Lord, may be revealed. Strive earnestly for eternal bliss.

With the help of the mind and the intellect, keep the senses from attaching themselves to objects of pleasure. They will be purified by the light of the Inner Reality, and that light will be revealed.

(p. 120)

I have not even scratched the surface of this book. The wealth of wisdom and insight in this short text is staggering. I highly recommend that any of you who are on the spiritual path read and reread this text.

Thanks for stopping by. May you have a blessed journey.

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“A Man’s Book of the Spirit” by Bill Alexander

This book was given to me about 25 years ago by someone who was providing me with spiritual counsel at the time. Throughout the years, I have read through the daily meditations multiple times. Currently, I am taking a break from this one and reading another daily inspirational book (and I have yet another on order), but at some point, I will likely read through this again, since it provides such a wealth of insight and inspiration.

The book offers daily mindfulness passages with a men’s spirituality leaning. Each day you are presented with a quote, a brief elaboration on the passage, and sometimes an associated assignment or prompt to help reinforce the spiritual principle. What I like about the quotes is that they are not from any particular tradition, and come from poets, religious texts, actors, philosophers, etc. Often with self-help meditation books such as this, there is a “tradition” to which the book adheres. That’s not the case with this one, which is why I have used it for so many years.

I do not think this is in print anymore, but you can probably find a used copy online if you are so inclined. I have to say that my copy is beginning to show its age along the spine, and I am not sure how many more yearly journeys it will support. But I will keep it until it begins to come apart, which I will then take as a sign that it is time to explore other paths.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 65” by Lao Tzu

In the old days, those who were well versed in the
practice of the Tao did not try to enlighten the
people, but rather to keep them in the state of simplicity.
For, why are the people hard to govern? Because they
are too clever! Therefore, he who governs his state
with cleverness is its malefactor; but he who governs
his state without resorting to cleverness is its
benefactor. To know these principles is to possess a
rule and a measure. To keep the rule and the measure
constantly in your mind is what we call Mystical
Virtue. Deep and far-reaching is Mystical Virtue! It
leads all things to return, till they come back to Great
Harmony!

First off, I have to say it feels a little strange to hear someone referring to “the old days” in a text that was written around 400 BC. But what this says to me is that people are always nostalgic about the way things used to be. I think that says something about human nature.

In this passage, Lau Tzu encourages leaders to govern through simplicity and with “Mystical Virtue.” Doing so will return a nation to a state of “Great Harmony.” Clearly, this is advice that many of our modern leaders could benefit from. When I look at the world, it seems to me to be the antithesis of a Great Harmony.

There is really nothing that I can add to this short passage. I hope you found it as insightful as I did. Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading.

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Thoughts on “Piranesi” by Susanna Clarke

This is the first book that Susanna Clarke has published since Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which was published in 2004. I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, so I was eager to read Ms. Clarke’s latest, which although not as great as her first novel, it is still very good.

Piranesi is the story about a person living in an alternate reality, and the text is structured as journal entries. There are some interesting and creative aspects to the book, structurally, but I should say up front that my wife listened to the text as an audiobook and did not enjoy it. I can see how this text would not translate well to spoken word. So, if you are planning to read this book, you should read it and not listen to it.

That said, I figure we can look at a couple passages.

These are the Drowned Halls.

On the Periphery of this Region the Waters are shallow, tranquil, and covered with water lilies, but in the centre they are deep and treacherous, full of broken Masonry and drowned Statues. The majority of the Drowned Halls are inaccessible, but some can be entered from the Upper Level.

(pp. 34 – 35)

The dimension where Piranesi exists is a kind of labyrinthine house, which contains animals and water and statues. What is interesting about this passage is the implication that the house, with its rooms of water, represents the subconscious, the aspects of the psyche which grant individuals glimpses of other dimensions. The deeper you go into the waters of the subconscious mind, the more treacherous it becomes. One runs the risk of “drowning” in this other realm. And the line “The majority of the Drowned Halls are inaccessible, but some can be entered from the Upper Level” implies that most areas of the subconscious mind are not accessible to us, but some may be entered by exiting our normal state of awareness, or the Upper Level. Interestingly, certain words are capitalized, giving them a sense of being proper nouns, or names. Most intriguing is Masonry. While this might be coincidental, I could not help wondering whether it is an allusion to the secret rites of the Masonic order. Ritual is often used to evoke non-ordinary states of consciousness in individuals.

At one point in the story, Piranesi meets a “Prophet” who offers to tell Piranesi how his world came into existence.

He looked gratified by my interest. ‘Then I will tell you. It began when I was young, you see. I was always so much more brilliant than my peers. My first great insight happened when I realised how much humankind had lost. Once, men and women were able to turn themselves into eagles and fly immense distances. They communed with rivers and mountains and received wisdom from them. They felt the turning of the stars inside their own minds. My contemporaries did not understand this. They were all enamoured with the idea of progress and believed that whatever was new must be superior to what was old. As if merit was a function of chronology! But it seemed to me that the wisdom of the ancients could not have simply vanished. Nothing simply vanishes. It’s not actually possible. I pictured it as a sort of energy flowing out of the world and I thought that this energy must be going somewhere. That was when I realised that there must be other places, other worlds. And so I set myself to find them.’

(pp. 88 – 89)

This is an interesting concept, and it is one which I have pondered. If everything is energy, and the First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only changed from one form to another, and if thoughts and consciousness are forms of energy, then what happens to our collective consciousness? Does it take on new forms, or does it flow somewhere else? What is the effect of conscious energy on other forms of energy? If the energy patterns still exist, can the be “re-collected”? These are deep questions about the very fabric of our reality. I don’t claim to have any answers, but this is one of those cases where the answers are not as important as the questions.

Anyway, to close, I will say I enjoyed this book. I would recommend both of Susanna Clarke’s books.

Thanks for stopping by and have a great day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 64” by Lao Tzu

What is at rest is easy to hold.
What manifests no omens is easily forestalled.
What is fragile is easily shattered.
What is small is easily scattered.

Tackle things before they have appeared.
Cultivate peace and order before confusion and disorder have set in.

A tree as big as a man’s embrace springs from a tiny sprout.
A tower nine stories high begins with a heap of earth.
A journey of a thousand leagues starts from where your feet stand.

He who fusses over anything spoils it.
He who grasps anything loses it.
The Sage fusses over nothing and therefore spoils nothing.
He grips at nothing and therefore loses nothing.

In handling affairs, people often spoil them just at the point of success.
With heedfulness in the beginning and patience at the end, nothing will be spoiled.

Therefore, the Sage desires to be desireless,
Sets no value on rare goods,
Learns to unlearn his learning,
And induces the masses to return from where they have overpassed.
He only helps all creatures to find their own nature,
But does not venture to lead them by the nose.

This passage reminds me of some simple tenets for leading a stress-free and productive life. Start out slow. Focus on the task and don’t worry about the outcome. Don’t procrastinate, but start things early and give yourself plenty of time to do what needs to be done. While these are simple, we so often fail to practice them, and as a result, we create unnecessary stress in our already hectic lives.

I have been making a conscious effort to simplify my life, focusing on single tasks instead of trying to multitask. Taking time for myself. Relaxing. Trusting that things will work out the way they are meant to, and not trying to force the results that I think are the best. As a result of these small changes, I feel happier and calmer, most of the time anyway.

Our world is stressful, and it is easy to get caught up in the turmoil. Lau Tzu teaches us the importance of slowing down and shifting our focus to what is really important. It is old wisdom, but certainly applicable to modern life.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 63” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

Do the Non-Ado.
Strive for the effortless.
Savour the savourless.
Exalt the low.
Multiply the few.
Requite injury with kindness.

Nip troubles in the bud.
Sow the great in the small.

Difficult things of the world
Can only be tackled when they are easy.
Big things of the world
Can only be achieved by attending to their small beginnings.
Thus, the Sage never has to grapple with big things,
Yet he alone is capable of achieving them!

He who promises lightly must be lacking in faith.
He who thinks everything easy will end by finding everything difficult.
Therefore, the Sage, who regards everything as difficult,
Meets with no difficulties in the end.

My interpretation of this passage is that when faced with any situation, the goal should be to maintain balance and equilibrium. This is sage advice. When faced with a large, daunting task, it is best to take a small step. When you have a small, simple task, take a swift and sure step, taking care of it quickly and easily.

Too often, in our current society, individuals attempt to fight fire with fire, to apply Herculean effort when confronted with a difficult challenge. As Lau Tzu shows, this is not the way of the Tao, and if we are honest with ourselves, we are forced to admit that our default way of responding often fails to achieve the desired outcome.

Regardless of where each of us stands on the socio-political spectrum, we can all agree that things are not really working well right now. It seems that it would be in our collective best interest to explore other ways of dealing with situations. I for one like Lau Tzu’s approach.

I hope this inspires you as much as it does me. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 62” by Lao Tzu

The Tao is the hidden Reservoir of all things.
A treasure to the honest, it is a safeguard to the erring.

A good word will find its own market.
A good deed may be used as a gift to another.
That a man is straying from the right path
Is no reason that he should be cast away.

Hence, at the Enthronement of an Emperor,
Or at the Installation of the Three Ministers,
Let others offer their discs of jade, following it up with teams of horses;
It is better for you to offer the Tao without moving your feet!

Why did the ancients prize the Tao?
Is it not because by virtue of it he who seeks finds,
And the guilty are forgiven?
That is why it is such a treasure to the world.

This passage begs the questions: What is treasure? What is it that is valuable in our lives? What are the things that are truly meaningful? What are the gifts that are worth giving?

Lao Tzu asserts that the answers to these questions are found within, and not through material wealth. What is worth more, a shiny trinket or expressions of love, compassion, and caring? For me, this hardly even seems a question worth asking. Yet, in our market-driven and status-obsessed culture, many of us can easily lose sight of this simple truth, that relationships matter more than material gain. When we reach the end of our roads, the only things we will still be carrying are the treasures within our hearts and souls.

I hope you found this passage as inspiring as I have, and that it reminds you of the importance of reaching out and doing something nice for another person. These are challenging times, and the best gift we can give to another is a moment of empathy and support.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you never stop reading and learning.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 61” by Lao Tzu

Shiji Niangniang: goddess in Chinese religion and Taoism (source: wikipedia)

A great country is like the lowland toward which all
streams flow. It is the Reservoir of all under heaven,
the Feminine of the world. The Feminine always conquers the Masculine by her
quietness, by lowering herself through her quietness. Hence, if a great country can lower itself before a
small country, it will win over the small country; and if a
small country can lower itself before a great country, it
will win over the great country. The one wins by
stooping; the other, by remaining low. What a great country wants is simply to embrace
more people; and what a small country wants is simply
to come to serve its patron. Thus, each gets what it
wants. But it behooves a great country to lower itself.

I really like this passage, particularly because Lao Tzu establishes a correlation between a powerful country and the divine Feminine. In Western thought, power is often associated with the masculine, but this is clearly not the case in Lao Tzu’s philosophy. It is within the subtle, the yielding, and the fluid where true strength resides, and these are characteristics of the divine Feminine.

Another metaphor that resonates with me is that of the Feminine being a lowland, or Reservoir, to which all streams flow. Lowlands are associated with fertility, since valleys are fertile areas. Hence, the divine Feminine is both the source of being, and the place where all life must return. There is a sense of cycles here.

The symbolism of the great and small countries establishing a symbiotic relationship likewise represents the symbiotic relationship between the Masculine and the Feminine. Each needs the other to maintain balance, and each provides the other with the aspect that is required to create wholeness and unity.

I trust you enjoyed this passage and that you found my interpretation interesting. I hope you have a blessed day, and keep reading things that uplift your soul.

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Thoughts on “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chödrön

My wife recently bought and read this book and told me she thought I would like it. Since it is short (only 150 pages) I decided to squeeze it in between my other reading projects, and am very glad I did. The book provides practical, spiritual suggestions that are pertinent to coping with the stresses that we have all been dealing with during these chaotic times.

In her introduction, Ms. Chödrön encourages you to allow this book to help you to:

… settle down with your life and take these teachings on honesty, kindness, and bravery to heart. If your life is chaotic and stressful, there’s plenty of advice here for you. If you’re in transition, suffering from loss, or just fundamentally restless, these teachings are tailor made. The main point is that we all need to be reminded and encouraged to relax with whatever arises and bring whatever we encounter to the path.

(p. xii)

Pema eloquently reminds us that  these difficult times can actually impart important life lessons to us if we allow them to teach us.

Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors—people who have a certain hunger to know what is true—feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.

(p. 13)

And it’s not just difficult times that teach us. All of life’s experiences, all of our spiritual learning and seeking, ultimately help us to discover who we are and instruct us on how to navigate the world around us.

Listening to talks about the dharma, or the teachings of Buddha, or practicing meditation is nothing other than studying ourselves. Whether we’re eating or working or meditating or listening or talking, the reason that we’re here in this world is to study ourselves. In fact, it has been said that studying ourselves provides all the books we need.

(p. 73)

There is a wealth of wisdom in this small book, and it is written in a style that is easy and conversational. We can all benefit from the insights that Pema shares, and I encourage you to read this book if you even have the slightest bit of interest. I am sure that, like me, you will be glad you did.

Many blessings, and thanks for stopping by.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 60” by Lao Tzu

Ruling a big kingdom is like cooking a small fish.
When a man of Tao reigns over the world, demons
have no spiritual powers. Not that the demons have no
spiritual powers, but the spirits themselves do no harm
to men. Not that the spirits do no harm to men, but the
Sage himself does no harm to his people. If only the
ruler and his people would refrain from harming each
other, all the benefits of life would accumulate in the
kingdom.

“Ruling a big kingdom is like cooking a small fish.” I had to think about this for a little bit before grasping the metaphor, but once I got it, the entire passage became clear. Cooking a small fish requires being gentle and careful, and not to use a high heat. High heat represents a hot temper in a ruler. Essentially, society should be governed with compassion and care, with support and understanding. To rule with an iron fist is detrimental to the health and prosperity of a society.

The last sentence is particularly poignant in our world: If only we could refrain from harming each other, the world would improve. It is really simple, yet incredibly difficult. As long as we maintain an us v. them  mentality, and as long as we allow our self-centeredness to dictate our behaviors, there will always be unnecessary suffering in the world.

It is the responsibility of all of us to do what we can to make the world a better place for all people. Remember, small personal changes can lead to grand global changes. Let us try to keep this adage in mind as we go about our day.

Thanks!

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