RICK: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually Awakening people. We’ve done nearly 600 of them now. And if this is new to you, and you’d like to check out previous ones go to bat gap comm bat gap and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website. And there’s also a page with alternatives to PayPal. My guest today is Steven cope. Steven is the scholar emeritus at the renowned Kripalu center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He is the author of many best selling books on the topic of yoga and meditation. for over 30 years, his interest is has been in bringing important but esoteric yoga scriptures to the mainstream, including most recently, the 2000 year old spiritual classic, called the Bhagavad Gita, or the song of God. Here’s a book that I just read. And Steven helped me get both the audio and the physical versions of the book. So I was able to go back and forth and listen to and read the book in three days, which was great, because a lot of times I don’t get to finish books. So it really helped having the audio. And he has a new book on the Gita coming out entitled The Dharma of difficult times. He’s just finishing that up, and it’ll be released later this year. So we’ll probably be primarily talking about this one, the great work of your life, but we’ll also dip into the dharma of difficult times. And he has another book here that I’ve read a little of deep human connection, maybe we’ll touch on some of those points, too. And whatever. Oh, wait a minute, I was just showing those books on the screen. I’m sorry. But you couldn’t see because I had the camera on Stephen. So great, great work of your life. Deep human connection, there we go. And, of course, you know, whatever Stephen wants to talk about whatever comes up, and whatever questions you may ask him, it’s all fair game. So I really enjoyed your book, Stephen. I like biographies of famous not not necessarily famous, but sort of important people. And you cover a lot of important people in that book. And some not some very well known like Beethoven and others, not so well known. And, and also some ordinary people that have been friends of yours. And the main reason for bringing these people up, is to discuss examples of people finding their dharma, or in some cases, losing their dharma not finding it. So since Dharma is really one of the central themes of the Gita, and the central theme of this book, I was thinking maybe we should start by defining the word.
STEPHEN: Yeah, absolutely. You know, Rick is one of those very subtle, complex Sanskrit words, very often you’ll hear Dharma, meaning the truth, or the path or the law. It comes from the root DHHR, which, which literally means to hold together. It means different things in different scriptures. So different scriptures focus on different aspects of the meaning. But in the Bhagavad Gita, it universally means sacred calling or vocation. sacred duty, actual is the is the correct translation there. So throughout pretty much our conversation, we’re going to be talking about sacred duty as the definition of dharma.
RICK: Yeah. And just a little elaboration of that definition that I have always liked to use is, you can think of it as that course of action, which will be most conducive to your spiritual evolution. Yeah, in a phrase, I mean, you could say more but that’s that’s essentially it.
STEPHEN: No, that’s exactly right. Yeah. The, I like to very often cite the the ancient tale of have Indras. Net, which I think I did in this book.
RICK: You did. In fact, that’s the first note I have for us to talk about here. Oh, okay. So,
STEPHEN: so just for people who aren’t familiar with With the story, it’s a great story that kind of rather nails the idea of dharma and the way it’s used in the Gita. So Indra, of course, was one of the great gods of the Vedic pantheon. And as with these gods, they he lived on mountain mero, he lived up on a mountain. And the tail goes that he had spread a vast net over the entire universe. And at the at the warp and woof strand at the vertex of each strand, was a gem. And it was that gems job to hold together that part of the web. So that, that that part of the web was held together by each individual soul doing its own duty. Yeah. So the reason that’s important is that from the beginning, there is this really interesting connection between individual fulfillment or the souls fulfillment and the common good. And I absolutely love that because as I’ve studied Dharma, and worked with my own Dharma, it, it appears to me that one’s Dharma actually exists at that very intersection between one soul is good and the common good. And so I love the Indras. Net story, because there is a way in which it describes our connection, our inner connection that that while we tend to think of the self as separate and and sometimes isolated, it’s actually deeply bound in with this entire web. And, and in order to hold together your part of the web, you have to do your, your particular calling your idiosyncratic calling.
RICK: Yeah, no man is an island and a man is an island. Like, yeah, yeah. Was it Blake or John Donne? Oh, John Doe. Yeah, other man is an island. That’s not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee? Yeah. Go ahead.
STEPHEN: No, I was just gonna say I, I love that. And you mentioned my the other most recent book that I wrote, which is, which is a study of the way in which the self that we usually think of as, under its own power, and separate is, is actually profoundly socially and CO created with with other cells. So you get back to the whole idea of the profound interconnection between all
RICK: Yeah, as you’re saying that I was dwelling on it a bit. And there are sort of like hierarchies of dharma, you could say, I think, I mean, you can even break it down within your body, you could say your liver has a Dharma, you know, and, and if it’s not functioning properly, then the whole of view is going to have problems. And you, of course, are part of a family. And there’s a family Dharma and each member of the family if they’re out of alignment, or if some of them are out of alignment with their dharma, it kind of throws the whole family Dharma off, and then community and nation and world and there are all these levels of it. And, you know, we could say individuals or units of society, the way trees or units of a forest, and, you know, if all the trees are properly connected with the ground, then we have a thriving green forest. But if they’re not, then the whole forest from above looks gray and weathered.
STEPHEN: Exactly. And, and this view occurs in many different of the great world’s great wisdom traditions. So in the Christian tradition, for example, many gifts in one spirit is basically the same idea. Yeah.
RICK: So is there anything at the beginning of the Gita there’s that verse I should have written it down. But it’s Krishna says to Arjuna, when, when a Dharma flourishes and dharma is in decay, I take birth from age to age, and basically to restore the dharma of the world restore Dharma of society. So what that tells us is that, you know, dharma can sort of become a dim flickering feeble flame, either in an individual’s life or in the entire society. And that flame can be rekindled and brightened through certain measures.
STEPHEN: And there again, you have you have a similar a with Christianity where you have Krishna who’s an avatar of Vishnu, and Avatar, the word avatar literally means crossing over downward. So, you know, these, these emanations of the divine in the Hindu tradition, where we’re always taking human form, in order to help out and it’s very similar to the idea of the Son of God in the Christian tradition taking human form. In order to in order to help out, and yeah, and the Bhagavad Gita starts out at the beginning of a great epic war, the Battle of courage shutter, which was said to be ushering in the dark age. And so along comes Krishna at that pivotal point to help out. Yeah.
RICK: I think, yeah, the theme that maybe I’ll spring off of what you just said is that there is this higher realm or we could say, celestial realm or divine realm. And obviously, it’s not somewhere off far it permeates everything, if we have eyes to see it, but there are actually denizens of that realm, who sometimes intervene in human affairs, Krishna being one and Rama, another and Jesus another. And there’s a verse that came to me from the Gita, which is, through Yaga use to stay in the gods and those gods will sustain you, by sustaining one another, you will attain the highest good. So Gods meaning sort of, you know, these higher beings, people might think of them as Ascended Masters or Devas or whatever, but they’re, whether we know it or not, you know, there’s, we have a relationship with them. And we can, if we neglect that relationship, then we don’t get the support we might otherwise get from, from them.
STEPHEN: Yeah, I mean, in the Buddhist tradition, there are heaven realms, where celestial celestial beings reside. And these are by and large beings who’ve worked through a ton of their karma, and in rebirth are reborn into into heavenly realms. It’s interesting to me, though, that very often in in Buddhist theology, you you will read about the notion that the the human realm is actually the most effective realm from which to attain enlightenment. And that is, because there’s, there’s just the right mix of pleasure and pain, and suffering, yeah, in order to goad us into our practice, right. So suffering is kind of where it all begins. And that’s where the Buddha begins his teaching. And so as human beings, a human birth is said to be extremely auspicious from the point of that particular tradition, which I love. The Buddha said something like the possibility of your achieving a human birth, is akin to there’s a turtle swimming at the bottom of the ocean, and there’s a, a tube, like an inner tube floating on the top of the ocean, in the possibility that that turtle would poke its head, through that tube as it comes up is the same probability as achieving a human birth. So I love that because it, you know, it makes us appreciate this, this realm that that we live in and the possibilities here.
RICK: Yeah, there’s a quote from Swami brahmananda Saraswati, who was the Shankaracharya of Jota mouth in India. And he said something like, there, you know, he some large number of kazillion lives that a person can go through before getting a chance to be human. And he said, once you’ve gotten the human birth, if you fail to reach God, it’s like selling a diamond for the price of spinach. That’s so
STEPHEN: beautiful. That reminds me, and I’m sure you have memories like this to have when I first heard the Dharma. So I was in graduate school, and I was living in Boston. And for some reason, I Oh, I know what, so the Dharma doctor took them Trumper Rinpoche, his group, dharma Datu in Boston, as it was no, none. Had a meditation center near my home in Cambridge, and I was at Boston College in graduate school. And I walked past it every afternoon, and I looked at and there was this huge window, looking out into a garden, and I looked in and there were 30 or 40 people just sitting in there. And I wondered what that was, I didn’t know petitions and I, I kind of wandered in and I asked, I said, What are you guys doing? So well, we’re meditating. Would you like to join us? So he gave me very, very initial instructions. And I started dropping in there every evening on my way home from school. So from I think it was five to six. Every evening, I would sit with this group. And I then I also began to attend the Dharma talks and it was the first time I did I heard the Dharma Rick and I was absolutely on fire with the Dharma. I was abs. To hear the clarity. And, you know, I had aspired to be an Episcopal priest after college, and I went to Episcopal Divinity School because there, there was always something for me that was attracted to God to to the numinous to church, even when I lived in Europe as a kid, I was very attracted to the cathedrals, none of my other siblings were and I thought it was pretty weird. But I went to Episcopal Divinity School and I was so disappointed to find tons of theology, a lot of how many angels can dance on the head of and metaphysics, but actually no practice there. They they absolutely in theological school taught no practice, to bring closer to divine or to your own divinity. And, and there was even very little God talk. So when I encountered the Dharma, I was so lit up by the, the concrete practices that that that it offered.
RICK: Now, I guess, I don’t know where Father Keating was at that point. But if you had encountered him, you probably would have gotten some kind of practice you could have done and not far from where he was right near where you are now.
STEPHEN: And that was the that was, keep in mind, I’m 72. Now that was 40, more than 40 years ago. So Father Keating was just getting started as kind of an author and centering prayer and so forth. I would have I would have eaten that up. But it didn’t exist on that
RICK: gap for those listening and you want to check that one out. It’s a good one. I just want to add something based on what we were just saying, you know, it can be it can sound a little discouraging to say, Oh, it’s so rare to get a human birth and if you don’t get enlightened, you blown it, you know, but um, you know, there’s a verse from the gaydar Juna asks, well, what happens, you know, If I don’t reach the goal in this life? And Krishna basically says, Well, if you’ve been striving toward it, then you will, you know, when you die, you’ll dwell on the world to the pure, pure and illustrious for a long time. And then you’ll be reborn in a auspicious family, or if you’re lucky, a family of Yogi’s. So basically, you said, you pick up where you left off. So you know, people shouldn’t be discouraged if they feel like Oh, I’m, I’m 80 years old, and I don’t think I’m gonna make it. If you’ve established a momentum that momentum will continue.
STEPHEN: You know, I absolutely believe that. And I also, when I looked over your website after you after Irene called me, I thought I should not be on this program because I, I do not claim any special awakening whatsoever. And I’m a very plodding practitioner. And I have been, since I started, I’m a very enthusiastic practitioner, and I’m highly disciplined. But when I when I listened to some of the interviews with people who, who really claimed special awakening, I thought, well, this is going to be this is going to be a non starter.
RICK: I mean, you know, that old saying those who know Don’t say and those who say don’t know, and personally, I think it’s a good quality to underrate oneself rather than overrate oneself.
STEPHEN: There’s a there’s an interesting story about that a buddy of mine, who was a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition in Burma, came back and told me said, Steve, there are three ways you automatically get kicked out of the monastery, the monastery was in which was a Tera Vaada monastery, number one, taking anything that is not freely offered, in other words, stealing. Number two, any act of sexual incontinence. And number three, exaggerating your progress on the path. And I thought that was so interesting, and, and instructive, and I try never to do it. Not that I have anything whatsoever to brag about, but I think it’s it’s a wise. Yeah.
RICK: I think it’s difficult to assess one’s progress on the path. You know, I mean, I’ve known people who were always up on the microphone in meetings, talking about their flashy experiences, and then they end up totally crashing and burning in life. And, you know, so what was that all about? And, you know, slow and steady wins the race perhaps? Yeah.
STEPHEN: It does in my world. It does. I so as I said, I’m 72. I’ve been practicing since I was 25. And I have several practices. that I’m that if I listed my goals in this lifetime would be at the very top of my list I never Yes. The first one is meditation, where as you see me right now I’m in my office which is screened out. But it’s a big comfortable office and I sit here with my dharma buddy three times a week, we sit for an hour and a half, we practice a form of upasana meditation. And then we’ll spend about an hour talking about our experience and about dharma. I’ve been practicing this form of meditation for since I was 25. And I now have to tell you that I exhort my younger friends to learn meditation. Because for me, at this age, I’m in a period of what Jack Kornfield calls fruition, which is, I put in my hours in a way and the experiences I get in sitting, are just so profound tons of bliss and rapture, not all the time, but very often and very reliably. Which, which gives me a regular experience of profound sense of well being that the notion that everything is already Okay, we just had this wonderful. Rishi, Rishi provoca Have you ever interviewed Krishna Voce? Oh, dude, you shouldn’t drive him. Okay, Resharper baccara is a classic non dual teacher from from Canada. And he has his main motto is, is everything is already okay. Right. So I love that and I just have it on my wall. Everything is oddity, okay, and forgive the accent, but I have to say it in his dialect. My, my practice yields this regular touching in with everything is already Okay, profoundly so. And so. I see, for whatever reason, I’m young at heart, I don’t know. But all of my friends seem to be in their 40s. And I exhort them to learn meditation so that by the time they get to be older, my age, there’s this opportunity to regularly touch into and know, this is a question of what we call verified faith and know that everything is profoundly okay. And I, you know, I watch them struggle, and I watch them try to learn meditation. And the fact is that it takes some work, right, especially early on the, it may take some work and like, one of my monk buddies says, you know, hard at the beginning, easy at the end, like the ordinary American life, which is easy at the beginning hard at the end. So, anyway, I yeah, I, I love my practice. Like I said, I’m a plotter. I work hard. I’m very disciplined. And it does bear just profound fruit for me.
RICK: Yeah, you may have read Malcolm Gladwell, his book Outliers, do you ever read that? And he talks about, take several examples like The Beatles, and Bill Gates and a few others, and how they put in at least 10,000 hours, you know, of practice, to become so good at what they do. And I’m sure that you and I have amassed more hours than that now over the decades, but it’s, you know, in India, sometimes people say, Oh, I will turn to spirituality when I’m old, you know, and all the spiritual teachers say, no, no, you really should start it when you’re young. And, and but I’m too busy. I’m raising a family and all that. But the point is, it’s not a distraction from those things. It’s actually an aid. It’s a preparation for daily life really, and it enhances each day, and it has cumulative effects that sort of set the whole course of one’s life in a beautiful direction.
STEPHEN: Yeah, I love the cumulative effect thing. And, and the thing is that stress also has cumulative ducks, right? So you can either take the path of the cumulative effects of stress or of awakening is, as you might call it, or meditation. I, you may have read in my book, I can’t remember what’s in that book because I wrote it 11 years ago, or 10 years ago, we once did a study of some of the greatest young musicians in the world. Kripalu Center, which is my home center is right across the street from Tanglewood Center, which is this. It’s the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. So we’re friends with them. And they asked me to be on their faculty for three years and I I taught yoga and meditation to these brilliant young musicians. Every, every summer. And we studied the effects of meditation on their performance and also on their psychological profile with a with our team from Harvard Medical School. And we discovered that the students who were in our training, that is yoga, meditation, and so forth daily, did not become crazy, stressed the way the others. So the others, this is a training program that’s like medical school for highly advanced musicians, right. And part of the training that I gave them, actually, Rick was, was we read the Bhagavad Gita together. And these are kids who are dedicated to concentrated mind. And of course, meditation is just about training the mind to attentional training. But these are kids who, from the age of three have been playing their instruments, and have these minds that are so fine tuned in terms of their capacity to concentrate. But what they didn’t have was the third pillar, what I call the third pillar of karma yoga, which is let go of the outcome. So in in the book that you held up the great work of your life, I’m looking primarily at what I call the four pillars of karma yoga, and karma yoga. Karma literally means action. Karma Yoga is the yoga of action or the yoga of selfless service. And the four pillars that I describe are, number one, discern your dharma, that is, find out what your calling is, in this moment of your life. Number two, do it full out, that is to say, Bring everything you have to it that this is sometimes called the doctrine of unified action, unify your actions around dharma. Number three, let go the outcome. And number four, turn it over to God. Well, number three is a huge stumbling block for so many people who have already mastered the capacity to profoundly concentrate, but have not mastered the capacity to let go of the outcome. And that grasping that holding on to the outcome for these beautiful young musicians created so much suffering, as we know grasping is the root of suffering. And there, there are two different kinds of grasping number one is is called reaching. And number two is called guarding. So if you’ve reached the pinnacle of your career, like these young musicians have or are about to, there’s they’re both there’s reaching for these optimal performances that they imagine. And there’s guarding their own reputation and their own achievements so far. And so when I was teaching them the Gita when I was teaching them about, let go of the fruit. Well, that was a real stretch for them. What do you mean like go with the fruit? That’s the whole thing is holding on to the outcome?
RICK: Yeah. Let’s go through all those four. But since we’re on that point, I’ll read the Gita versus chapter three, verse 35, because one can perform it. One’s Own Dharma, though lesser and merit is better than the dharma of another, better as death in one’s own Dharma, the dharma of another brings danger. Oh, excuse me, wait a minute. I just read the wrong verse.
STEPHEN: So that was read. That’s
RICK: a good one, too. Yeah. Okay, I didn’t even write down that. The other verse that I’m thinking of which I forgot to note down is, you have control over action alone, never over it’s fruits live not for the fruits of action, nor attach yourself to inaction. And we’ll get back to that other verse a little bit later. But the key thing is you have control over action alone, you know, and if you put your full gumption into your action, then chances are the fruits will be ideal, or will be as good as they can be. But you don’t have control over that, you know,
STEPHEN: exactly that. And I, I end up talking about this a lot because because of our culture of grasping, but the contemplative traditions had had this fascinating different point of view about, about mastery. So my young musicians or by recently I met with a group of hedge fund experts and Masters. I’m constantly interacting with people who have this level of mastery, but they will say back to me Well, without this, clinging this craving this holding on to achievement to my achievement to my outcome, I will not succeed and So I say to them, we know now that the clinging and the grasping and holding on it actually comes from the limbic system from the, the, the, you know, the, the more primitive part of the brain. And there’s another way of doing that, which you’ve already referred to, which is what what we call deliberate practice. So for the musicians, I say, and for the hedge fund, guys, I say, take on your practice, if it’s music, or hedge funding or whatever, do it deliberately. Do it like a craftsperson, build a little bit every day, move the marbles forward every day. And then when you’re performing, let go with the outcome. Step into yourself, let go of the outcome and bring everything you’ve got to the moment. Because grasping to the outcome simply takes you out of the moment. And if you’re not in the moment, none of the magic can happen. Now, I will tell you that dude, once the kids get onto this, I say kids, these are 22 to 26 year old can fall. Yeah, once they get on to this, they fly, they soar. It’s such a relief for them to realize that they can rely on their craftsmanship. Right. And they don’t have to rely on their trade.
RICK: Yeah. And there’s a distinction between motivation and grasping. You can have a burning motivation for something. But it doesn’t mean you’re, you’re clinging to something that’s not in the present, you know, you think of like Lindsey Vonn going down a ski slope. If she’s thinking about, you know, winning a gold medal at the end, she’s gonna crash, you know, she has to be laser focused on every single, you know, gate that she’s going through. And then, you know, maybe she’ll win the gold if she does that. Or maybe she won’t, but she definitely won’t if she’s got her mind, other than what on what she’s doing at the moment.
STEPHEN: Rick, that’s such a great story. Because we’re the same age, I can use this other story from the Olympics, which is Michelle Kwan. Remember Michelle, the famous figure skater who won gold. There was a moment when Michelle Kwan was defending her title at the Olympics. And all of the chit chat was about her defending she’s the champion, she’s defending it. Now, that’s a perfect example of the aspect of grasping called Protecting right? And along comes this younger skater named Sarah Brady. And in the in the pre interviews, Sara Brady was saying, I don’t have anything to defend, I’m just going to go out and have a good time. I’m going to really enjoy myself, I’m going to be there. Well, of course, she won, right? Because she was fully in her moment. She was enjoying it. And so that that’s a that’s another kind of sports analogy. I think it’s good.
RICK: All right, let’s backtrack a little bit. And you mentioned the four pillars. Well, let’s go through them one by one. But the first one is about discerning your dharma. And you have a point on your book about I think it’s three components of Dharma discernment. So let’s go through what those components are.
STEPHEN: Okay. I again, I I know what I currently say they are I don’t know what I said they were 10 years ago. But these these for me are there three areas that I think are fruitful hunting grounds for dharma, especially. Because, you know, as you and I both know, when the Bhagavad Gita was written, you were born into your dharma so, So Krishna was born a warrior. And it was, it was virtually impossible to change your dharma. In in, in that time, or the time when the Gita was written, which would have been maybe 200. BCE, before the Common Era. I just lost track,
RICK: discerning your dharma, figuring out how do you figure out what your dharma is?
STEPHEN: That’s so. So for those of us in the West, it’s a it’s a different question. It’s discerning what our dharma is, and the three, what I call fruitful hunting grounds are, first of all, I will always ask people this question, what lights you up? This is an energetic thing, right? And I’ll very often ask people to make make a list of what’s lighting you up right now. Don’t censor it. Even mundane things like what? What TV program lights you per movie or what book? Are you reading? What? What’s lighting you up? Very often on that list are elements of their dharma. So that list is is not dharma itself, but it’s pointing in that direction. So first of all, what lights you up? So if I’ve made that list right now, there would be some very mundane things on it, like the current mystery I’m watching is actually lighting me up in some very serious things. The second area I ask people to look at is, and this is a very different question, what’s your duty currently? What do you consider your duty at this point in your life? And, you know, the lit up question is a totally fun one people really get off on that. But the duty question is complicated people will will usually ask me what what do you mean by duty defined duty. So, the way I define duty, its duty is that thing, that if you do not do it, you will feel a profound sense of self betrayal. So in in my parlons, duty is prescribed from within, not from without, there are many things that other people will tell us or our duties. But what is it that if you do not do it, you will feel a profound sense of remorse, or self even self betrayal? Very often. Excuse me, I got a little cough, I’m going to take one of these guys, very often. On the list of duties, there are some duties that are that we know right away, right that the baby falls into the swimming pool, and you know that it’s your duty to save the baby. There are other duties, or duties to our families or duties to our loved ones are what’s our duty to our country? What was our duty during COVID? Did we have a duty other than taking care of ourselves? So this is a really important and juicy question, what’s your duty? And then the third hunting ground that I use very often is what difficulties or challenges are you facing right now because very often, you probably read the chapter on Marion Woodman which, which is titled when difficulties arise. One option is to take those difficulties as your dharma. So in that chapter on Marian, Marian, one of the greatest union analysts of the last century, got bone cancer was told she would die, she decided, I have a new Dharma, my new Dharma is getting to the bottom of that question about my bone cancer, am I going to die? Maybe if so, then it’s coming to terms with that. But I’m going to do everything I can not to. Of course, she survived, she survived brilliantly to live another 20 years. So she took that difficulty as her dharma. So what’s lighting you up? What’s your duty, currently? And what difficulties are you facing that might actually spawn off of normal?
RICK: Alright, a few thoughts about that. I was thinking as I read your book, one, at one point, you said you can be like, really close to your dharma not realize it could be 1% off, and and you’re not going to hit the mark, kind of like, if we’re 1% off when we send people to the moon, they’re not going to hit the moon. And, you know, and I thought about all the millions of people working in Walmart, and Amazon warehouses and places like that, and I wonder how many of them really are feeling lit up by that? Or, you know, maybe a small amount. Our I know, in our local Walmart, there’s a lady who kind of stands at the self serve registers, and she’s just really lovely to interact with, she’s always so happy and cheerful, and gregarious, and, and so on. But most of the people working there don’t, it doesn’t look like this is what they look forward to when they were a kid. And then, and then the duty thing, you know, maybe you have a family to support, you have to have a job. And the only thing you can find at this point is to work in the Amazon warehouse, even though it doesn’t let you up. So your duty may not concur with what lights you up. So let’s address those two before we say anything more.
STEPHEN: Yeah, no, those are really important questions. So on the duty one first, I think for a lot of people, their job isn’t not their dharma. Right? Because of the way our system is organized. So I have a younger sister, for example, who, who had a pretty crapple a job for most of her life. She’s now just a little younger than I am. But her Dharma has really been raising her kid. She adopted it. She adopted a boy and she really put Everything she had into the dharma of raising Dustin, and did a magnificent job. And now it’s all about his kids and his family. And it’s actually provided her with an amazingly rich life. So there, there are a couple misconceptions about Dharma that important to look at. And one is that your job is your dharma. And that’s definitely, often not the case. If it is, you’re pretty lucky. And and another one of those is what I call the romance of dharma. Maybe I talked about this in the book that the romance of dharma is the notion that you need to leave your job selling insurance and go to Paris. Right. So that may be the case. But for the most part, and I know I said this in the book, people are already mucking around somewhere in the field of their dharma, like most people have already, at least got a little string on it. Right? So a lot of what I do and helping people discern their dharma is a is about aim. Okay, let’s, let’s really aim the thin point of the spear at exactly where it needs to go. What are the other Dharma misconceptions, oh, that you only have one dharma? No, you can have multiple dharma at the same time. You can also have consecutive Dharma has run out of steam. So I, I had a Dharma when I was younger, I was a I was a very good pianist as a young man. And I often thought that that would be my dharma. And I put everything I had into it and it wasn’t my dorm or somebody else’s dorm. I don’t know why. That’s a mystery. But it didn’t turn out to be my dorm. I have a piano at home and I play. So dharmas run out and new dharmas then arise very often. At by the way, is a very interesting time between dharmas when people are really clear, and then and then it runs out. And usually people try to hold on to that one. And getting them to let go and open to I, at that point, I asked, I’m always asking people will look for the open door, like, stop going, trying to go through that closed door, where’s the open door in your life? Look, look there, there’s always an open door. So anyway, there are a bunch of misconceptions like that about dharma. The first, the first one that you asked me was, Is this a class thing? What about the people at Walmart?
STEPHEN: It certainly is a class thing to a certain extent. I mean, we’re, we’re privileged people I’m, I’m a privileged person, by by dint of the family I was raised in the kind of opportunities I’ve had, even my capacity, my ability to hear the Dharma to go to meditation retreats. So I consider that part of my dharma is helping people who work at Walmart, who, who haven’t heard the Dharma, so part of my dharma, and is helping to mainstream some of the ideas, the very idea that there is such a thing as Dharma, and that you could find it. So yeah, it’s available to everyone and I daresay there are plenty of people working at Walmart who have found a way to embody everything they’ve got in that job. But also, you and I would both and I’m sure this is why you’re doing what you’re doing. Like to spread the idea of this possibility to as many people as as we can. And in this has been amplified I think, over the period of COVID. So that Kripalu center so for those who don’t know, Kripalu, which is my home base is pretty much the largest residential yoga center in America. We see between 40 and 50,000 people a year there in our, in our programs of meditation and yoga. And over the course of a week, we can accommodate 650 people a night it’s a huge operation, right. But over the course of the this wave of interest, deeper interest in social justice and and diversity, equity and inclusion, we’ve actually begun to modify our very mission and to take it off the hill. Our retreat center which is rather expensive to come to Take it out into the community. So and for me, that’s a very big part of dharma, you know, that Krishna says, later on in the Dharma, that one’s own individual fulfillment, and the and the common good arose together, they were born together. And I really do believe that, that whatever your target is, it will eventually draw you, let’s say it’s it’s stamp collecting, which is something I used in the book as an example, which we think of is a fairly isolated thing. Whatever it is, as you as you master your dharma, it will pull you toward the need of the world, the call of the world right now. So maybe you’re a stamp collector or designer, and you ended up designing a whole series of stamps on conservation, or on racial equity, or whatever it is. My view is that if you’re doing your dharma and holding it the way perhaps you and I hold it, it draws you to the need of the time, just as ours, you know, was drawn to the most important battle, the most important moment was this battle that was said to it was going to tear the very fabric of the universe. That’s where Dharma us were Krishna ends up doing as
RICK: I saw a CNN series on Lincoln, not too long ago. And at one point, towards the end of the series, the commentator, commentator quoted somebody who was a, you know, writer in Lincoln’s day, they, they said, he just came out of nowhere. And he just showed up at the right time, and did what no one else could have done. And then when the war was over, he was gone. And if you look at Lincoln’s life, it was very improbable that he would even become president, you know, much less president at such a critical juncture. And, but, you know, I think a number of people you cite in your book, a number of examples I can think of are, are people who just seem to be emissaries from some kind of higher, you know, realm, like we were talking earlier, who have a mission, and it’s a significant mission writ large on on the world stage. And, of course, there are millions, millions more who we’re never gonna hear of, but you know, they to have a place of purpose, which might not be earth shaking, but which in their way, could be extremely significant if they can find it. And I think we want to do a little bit more on this thing of how to find it. One thing that we just one more quick point is, as you were speaking, I was thinking about what some people have said about automation, while some people look at it sort of in a negative way, like Oh, it’s just gonna put everybody out of work. But you can take that same sentence and say, great, it’s gonna put everybody out of work, you know, there, if ever proper distribution of wealth, the sharing of resources, and so on, you know, people wouldn’t have to do all these drudgery jobs, and who knows what creative endeavors, they might, you know, feel called to pursue?
STEPHEN: You know, I’m thinking right now, the dinner I did in New York for this group of hedge fund, guys. And this was a group of men and women, both very highly successful, who, after the 2008 2009 crash, came together as a group and ask themselves, what are we doing in this industry, that’s, that’s exploded our entire economy. And of course, the more challenged people in the culture always get the shaft. And most of them had considered leaving because they felt leaving their industry because they felt it was corrupt. But this group that we put together for a while, helped them to see that they could actually go back into their industry with this idea of dharma and actually make a lot of corrections, that that made it much more equitable and much less corrupt. And to me, you know, I wrote the chapter on Whitman for this reason, it’s entitled think, listen for the call of the times. Listen for the call of the time. So Whitman had just published Leaves of Grass and Emerson had raved about it, and everybody was thrilled about his success as a poet. And Emerson said, I greet you at the beginning of a great career. Whitman, whom I absolutely adore was was tuned in to the call of the times. And when his brother George was injured, and in a home in a, in a hospital in Washington, Whitman went down to the hospital, we visited George, and he felt the call at the times, he felt that he could, he could leave his career and poetry, and become what he called a soldiers missionary, which meant he would read poetry to the soldiers, he would write letters home for them, He then turned his attention toward this huge wound that was happening right in front of him, and decided to dedicate himself to that rather than to his brilliant career. And he became then the bard of the Civil War, and if you’ve ever read his Civil War poetry, it’s absolutely stunning. I, I challenge you not to sob reading it, he, he used himself up in the process, and he was never the same. But he, he became a figure much bigger than himself. As a result, of course, he wrote about Lincoln when Lincoln was shot. And it’s a very moving story about somebody who relinquishes the, you know, the Golden Globe that we want, we all think we want, in turn to the need that he saw in front of him. We’ve all seen this this past year with, with medical workers, I had a friend Toby who, who left his hospital in Akron, Ohio, and went to the worst situation in New York City where the more trucks were lining up outside the hospital. And, and he devoted three months of his work as a as an RN, there. That’s listen for the call, the time is right.
RICK: One of your components of Dharma discernment is the intersection of the gift and the time. So this is just what we’re talking about, then you say, the gift cannot reach maturity until it is used in the service of the greater good. And I’m thinking of Beethoven now who, you know, was kind of a, you know, obviously, incredible genius, but also rather mixed up guy and was suicidal at many times in his life, but that he had this sort of clear urge that he had this gift that he had to give to the world and he couldn’t kill himself because he had to give this gift and it kind of kept him alive. The sense the sense of service to the greater good.
STEPHEN: Beethoven knew that he had an exceptional gift. And he felt a responsibility to gift which actually gives me shivers right now. Because as Beethoven was going, going deaf, he seriously considered suicide. And he went away to the country. And he wrote his great declaration. And in which he said, No, I’m not going to die. I’m not going to kill myself. I’m going to dedicate the rest of my life to this gift that I’ve been given. And of course, he had a relationship with a higher power. He was brought up as Catholic, I believe, or as a Lutheran, I’m not sure about that. But he was brought up in the church, of course, and he had a deep relationship with a higher power and he could not he could not turn away from his gift. It’s a beautiful story. And then of course, he wrote those those glory like the the Ninth Symphony, which which moves from the dark to the light, joyful, joyful, we adore thee. He had every reason to be cynical and to complain and yet in reaching down to his deepest conflicts, he discovered this joy
RICK: he was totally definitely wrote the ninth wasn’t the
STEPHEN: only deaf totally halfway through his career he
RICK: was were fifth six when did he go death?
STEPHEN: Yeah, like in the early 18 like 1820 something like that or even 1815 by done I think he was he was almost fully
RICK: symphony that would have been when he really went deaf.
STEPHEN: Well, I can tell you that at the at the rehearsal of the Messiah ah, oh no, that was handled handles What am I thinking? I’m thinking of something. Anyway off to check that out. But you went up earlier than we usually
RICK: this Yeah, the point about him having a calling or being connected with the diviner is, if that’s how you put it. And I’ve often I’ve always thought that, you know, when, when some great movie comes out, that introduces a profound concept to humanity, like Star Wars, you know, or ET, or something like that. I always think, you know, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, these guys, they may or may not know it, but they’re actually kind of an an instrument of some larger intelligence that wants a certain concept to be popularized in the world.
STEPHEN: Yeah. I mean, look, that’s Krishna, his whole point is that if, if you’re onto your dharma, you’ve surrendered your life and your work and your action to a higher power. And now you’re just a channel. And, you know, honestly, and I don’t like to exaggerate this, but I experienced this all the time. Like, I’m just finishing a new book wreck, and, and a book, the writing of a complex book, like the one you read, and so forth, it just kicks your butt all over the field. Right for, say, those books take me about four years to write. And my motto is suit up and show up, I simply suit up every day, almost six days a week I show up here. My agreement with myself is if I don’t feel like writing, I don’t. I almost always feel like writing. And then stuff just comes through. And I don’t know even where it comes from. And sometimes I’ll go home and say to my partner, Susie, Susie, where did that come from? I have no idea. It’s, it’s like such a cool thing. Or I’ll get up and go to the bookshelf and pick up just the right book. It happened to me this morning, when I was preparing for this. It happens all the time. And, and, and I know it’s related to my practice. I know it’s related to my letting go. One, one of the great golfers I can’t remember who used to say the more I practice, the luckier I get. So the more I practice, the luckier I get.
RICK: Yeah, I was in Belgium in 1974, teaching a course that that was training TM teachers. And I would have this experience where someone would ask a question, I wouldn’t really know the answer, but I’d start speaking and then the answer would come. And you know, I asked marshy about that. And I said, this happens to me said, yeah, it happens to me too.
RICK: Oh, go ahead. I know, he’s gonna read that, quote, If you bring forth what is within you, it will not only save you, it will save the world, which I think relates to what we were just saying, but maybe you were going to comment on the previous point before we get on to that.
STEPHEN: No, this, this is a this is actually a quote from the Gospel of Thomas, which is not canonical Christian gospel. It’s one of the Gnostic Gospels, that is now very well respected. Right. And, and so Thomas was was a gnostic, which, which makes him very much like a yogi, right, because in the yoga tradition, the whole emphasis is on is on is on vigia is on knowing is on Nona is on is on knowing and that was the context there. But he writes, If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you. What is within you will destroy you. And I absolutely love that. That’s that’s the thing about I mean, I know that that’s true. I know that that’s true. And I’ve seen it in action, my own dear father, who was weighted down by his responsibilities to family and he was a college dean and President and stuff. And yet he had all of these possibilities, right? And all of these great ideas that never came to fruition. And I don’t want to say it destroyed him. But but on a certain level, I think it it did. And I just I hate to see that. If you do not bring forth what is within you will destroy you.
RICK: There’s a similar verse in The Gita actually chapter six verse six, it says, He who has conquered his self by his self capitalists alone is himself his own friend, but the self capitalist of him who has not conquered his self lower s will behave with enmity like a foe.
STEPHEN: There you go. That’s exactly the same thing.
RICK: I what is that? So chapter six verse 666.
STEPHEN: Okay. You know, we should say to the viewers that there are many translations and commentaries on the Gita, and sometimes they can sound quite different, right? I, I like the way that one sounds, I’ll have to double check that in my own trends.
RICK: Now someone might ask, Well, how can the self capitalist in the Atman, the universal self, how can that behave with enmity like a foe? Why would that not either be neutral, or have our best interests in mind? But I think that behaving with enmity like a foe, could be an indication that it does have our best interests in mind, because it doesn’t want us to do what we’re doing, you know, and it was this, like you were saying earlier, suffering can be an impetus or an incentive for enlightenment. If you’re off the track, nature is going to slap you around until you kind of get the message.
STEPHEN: Well, the just a sidebar on that. Ignatius Loyola, who was the one of the greatest Catholic saints and was the Catholic saint who wrote about discernment talks about that exact issue. If you’re off the track, the spirit will SWAT you around a little bit. And we’re gonna get you back on. He, by the way, anybody who hasn’t studied his his reflections on discernment. That’s a that’s a great place to go. Especially if you happen to have a Catholic background. Yeah. I gotta go ahead. No, I was just gonna you brought up the the issue of suffering. And I mean, honestly, what I see so often for Apollo is that people who are suffering are broken open in a way that makes them extremely open to new information. And very often what I mean, if we look at our June at the beginning of the Gita, Arjuna was broken open, and whether he was on a seat or the floor or on his knees. He basically says, you know, to Krishna, let me be your disciple. Tell me what to do. And so I think this is one reason that the Bhagavad Gita is such a vibrant Scripture even even 2000 years later. I mean, I’ve studied the yoga sutra and a lot of the other great yoga scriptures. But this is the one scripture right that every every villager in India knows the story of Krishna and Arjuna. And it’s it Yeah, it’s it’s so human because because because our Juna is so broken open at the beginning. And a lot of great spiritual writing actually begins with the protagonist, in a state of breakdown, are broken, you
RICK: know, before he says, I’m your disciple, tell me what to do. He goes through this whole logic of why he shouldn’t fight this battle. And then he says, I will not fight and he drops the ball and sits down. And so he’s kind of stubborn at that point is adamant. I’m not going to do it. And but then Krishna starts in on his logic, and you know, kind of masterfully gets him to the point where he kind of realizes that he needs help. And he’s a he’s opened.
STEPHEN: Here’s a question for you. I know you’re studying the Gita with a great master. And I’m Gandhi who wrote a, okay, you know, from reading my book that that Gandhi believed the Gita to be his textbook for life. And he said, If you want to see what a life guided by the Bhagavad Gita looks like, look at mine. And in his commentary, he says, he cannot believe that our Juna would actually end up fighting in a battle because anybody who’s actually been cooked by the theology and in the experience of the Gita, would be incapable of harming. So Gandhi’s, Gandhi’s view, and his commentary is that by the end of the tale, the whole thing about about warfare has been completely reframed. And it’s, it’s it’s not actually about a real battle in that Arjuna does not fight. Now in the MaHA bark. Arjuna does fight and he does kill people, and he kills kin. So does your does your guy who’s teaching you have a view on?
RICK: I don’t remember if you’re referring to Swami sobre pa Ananda, I’m taking some classes. I don’t remember if he’s commented on that. I think he may have commented that it was was in his opinion, it was a real battle and not just a metaphor. But I wonder what Gandhi I, I’ve heard things that Gandhi sort of said about World War Two, which was going on during his activity. And I think he was sort of I may be correct me if I’m wrong, or someone else can correct me, but I think he was sort of advocating a satyagraha nonviolent approach, but I don’t think you could have done that with Hitler, or with or the Japanese at that point, they were the aggressors, and they weren’t just gonna say, Oh, we were wrong, we’ll back off. Yes, sometimes you have to meet force with force violence with violence, as it’s interesting in the 11th Chapter of the Gita, where I read, I mean, I just got an email from my reading chapter, where I read in 11th chapter where Lord Krishna shows our Juna, his divine form, it’s terrifying to our Judah, because it’s not an entirely rosy picture, he’s sort of seeing the dynamics of creation in a cosmic way. And there is as much creation as There is destruction, you know, because the two of them are kind of counterbalancing forces. So, you know, some people might take, have ception to that and feel like we should just always be passively resistant, but not in my own personal opinion. I don’t think that’s always going to work. And certainly, I mean, I did, I was lucky to get a high draft number and didn’t have to go to Vietnam. And I think I would have been a complete, who would have ruined me to go to Vietnam, I was not the soldier type. And so I’m really glad I didn’t go. But it ruined a lot of people. And that was probably an example of a war that shouldn’t have been fought. But I think probably there are wars that need to be
STEPHEN: in the in the Hindu tradition, as well as the Christian tradition, war is, is wrapped around with all of these prohibitions, like there are only a very few reasons for an actual just war. So adjust for in the in the Buddhist tradition, all war is destructive. But there are a few exceptions. One of them is if a whole race of people is being oppressed. There are three or four exceptions. And I believe that Nazi Germany falls into one of those the oppression of a whole race of people. And anyway, it’s it’s an interesting question, I always ask people who are reading the Gita because I, my, my own view is similar to yours, that there there there are a few exceptions, although we wish that perhaps during the Second World War, there were a great leader like Gandhi, who, who knew how to engage his satyagraha campaign against the Germans, but there was,
RICK: I don’t know if it I don’t know if satyagraha campaign would have worked. And, you know, it’s like one thing about the Hindu scriptures is they really throw you a lot of curveballs in and they don’t let you sort of settle into a comfortable perspective and just sit with it. So for instance, you know, towards the end of the Mahabharata, most most everyone has been killed, and it comes down to a battle of mesas between our Juna I think it’s our Juna under Yoda, the or perhaps is Bhima under your Anna, maybe it’s Arjuna. And it’s going on and on. And they’re starting to violate Dharma more and more, they’re starting to fight after dark and do things like that that was against the rules. Now Krishna supposedly is God, he’s calling the shots. And this battle between the two protagonists at the end is interminable. And at one point, Krishna points to his thigh, indicating that I think it was our Junior said, hit him in the leg, break his leg. And that was verboten. That was against dharma. And yet, this guy who was supposed to be God is telling him to do that. And so they Yeah, these, these books. I mean, if you take them seriously, they just don’t give you a solid ground to stand on. Very often they make you realize and this actually brings in another point that I wanted to read from your book, which was I think it was Keats negative capability, the capacity to be comfortable in uncertainty, certitude is to look more deeply into our doubt. So these these books kind of crack open your certitude over and over again.
STEPHEN: Yeah, I love that story about about kids. I think I tell the story in there that that my roommate in college, believed he was a reincarnation of John Keats. So I got to learn a lot about that. And I You know, I wrote about it in the context of grasping because the young kids was grasping profoundly after he wanted to be the greatest poet in the English language. And he endeavored to do that he brought everything he had to the battle. And he wrote some great poetry. But it wasn’t until he let go of that grasping just like my young students at Tanglewood and that he discovered the negative capability, the idea that that grasping itself was actually interfering with his art and with his performance, and having let go of it, he then proceeded to write his six last grade pawn some of the greatest poems in the English language, dwelling precisely in that, that space of mystery and, and not knowing. The great scripture on that, by the way, is is the doubt a Ching. Right, that that is all about not knowing. And I, I will tell you that at my age, I’m less and less interested in being the one who knows, right when I was younger, I wanted to know, and, and I recently reconnected with. I went to Amherst College, which is a very fine school in Massachusetts. And I reconnected with my English professor there who kind of taught me to write 50 years ago, and I hadn’t seen him in 50 years. He was a very distinguished professor there, he left after teaching for 52 years, went to Maine and opened a candy store. And his motto now is live unknown. He doesn’t want to be anybody. He doesn’t want to be a big deal anymore. He left Amherst because he was a big deal, right. And now he’s he sits in a candy store reading market surveillance. Yeah. And, which, of course, is fabulous stuff. And I have become, to be very attracted to this idea of live on. You know, Thoreau said, simplify, simplify, most everything is a distraction. And I think this is partly an age thing. I don’t know how I got off on this right now quick, but well,
RICK: he actually mentioned your roommate in college, and I think you called him Ethan in your book. Yeah, I wanted to bring him up, because he was an interesting example. And he was the guy who thought he might be a reincarnation of Keats, and he was really into Keats, and you and he used to take long hikes, and sit on mountain tops, gazing at sunsets, talking about Keats, and poetry. And this guy, you know, just totally was into that whole world. But he found out that his father had, you know, gone and mortgage the farm to send him to college. And he felt that he had to somehow pay back that debt, and thereby going into medical school. And he went to your room or you went to his room, and he sobbed for hours, you know, over this decision that he was changing the course of his life and going to medical school, basically selling out on his dream of being the next Kate. And then you ran into him sort of serendipitously years later. And he was he was going through a very bitter divorce from some debutante that he had met Mary and you’re socialite, and he had become an alcoholic, and he barely recognize you, there was like, just a glimmer of the old Ethan when you looked in his eyes. And so that might be an example of you know, that what you don’t bring out will destroy you.
STEPHEN: So that’s, that’s the reason I put that story in the book for that very reason. Um, you know, it was a noble thing that he did. And, and I’m not I think that very many of us have sacrificial callings, that actually are dharma. And, and we don’t understand that. So in my new book that I’ve written, I really struggled with this question of did Arjuna fight or didn’t a Gandhi thing and I wrote a story about a great young Civil War soldier who was an unlikely hero. And yet he gave everything he had, he became a hero. He won the battle of Cedar Creek, which literally turned around the 1864 election in Lincoln’s favor because Lincoln was about to lose. And at the end, the last scene that I talked about his his funeral where they talk about sacrifice and, and its sacrifices, a great mystery mean, it’s at the center of the Christian ministry, for example, It’s it’s very much in their in this in the Bhagavad Gita the idea of sacrifice. What is the sacrifice that is dharmic that actually incorporates your calling? And what is the sacrifice? Like the one of my friend, Ethan, that doesn’t turn out to be Darmok? I don’t have the answer. But I do know that the some sacrifice will be required. And here’s one reason why. Because once you get onto your dharma, you discover that there are many other very attractive things in your world. Besides your dharma, I’m a writer. Now, I’m 72, I’ll be writing the rest of my life. There are other things that would be have been fun to be called to, but they weren’t my dharma. I wasn’t called to them. And that doesn’t mean they’re bad. There’s some very good things in there. But I had to give them up. And to that extent, there’s, there’s been a good deal of sacrifice involved in this. And I wouldn’t give it up for a second. Yeah. But it just raises the issue of soccer.
RICK: Yeah, I mean, in my teens, I was a rock and roll drummer, semi professional and loving it great fun. But then I had the opportunity to go to this one month course and you know, become a TM teacher. And I thought I got to do and so I told the band, I’ll be back or you come with me, but and then but they replaced me. And so I remember when I came back, I was like, Oh, they replaced me. And then I went and drove an ice cream truck, went to teacher training, and boom, got into that and became a very successful meditation teacher did that for 25 years. And then at a certain point, that became untenable, and it was very hard to leave. And, you know, I ended up because I’d always drilled that into my head that this is the most evolutionary thing I could do. I ended up doing computer consulting and desktop publishing, and I was crawling around under people’s desks plugging in cables. And all I thought, this is this what I’m meant to do with my life. But then I got into a little web design and search engine optimization, and all those computer and web design and search engine stuff, that all contributed, plus all the meditation stuff before it all contributed to what I’m doing now, which I feel like is the most dynamic thing I’ve ever done. So you know, you never know where something that kind of sucks might end up really being beneficial later on.
STEPHEN: That’s such a great point, Rick, I I’ve discovered that. For me, I get something in my writing career, I get something I called Dharma assignment. Like I will. The Bhagavad Gita was a Dharma assignment, I realized I had to write a book about it. I’ve been teaching it for 15 years, I had something to say I loved it. The period of time when I was writing that I had this profound experience of certitude, I know what I’m doing, I know what I’m about every day is clear, it’s unified action. Then there’s a period after that, of stumbling around for a while, before I get another Dharma assignment, and it can take a year or two or longer. And that’s a period when I’m in doubt, and when I’m living in the mystery, and when I’m living in the gray area, I much prefer the period when of certitude to that next, when I’m fussing around, to try to figure out what comes next. But they go together, there are two sides of the same coin. And you have to begin to appreciate the factor of doubt, right? You we think of doubt as, as an afflicted state, but in discerning your dharma doubt is very full of all kinds of stuff that usually arises when something’s changing. When you’re unclear. And you have to examine it, you have to open it. I I read a zillion biographies for for this book, and for the book I’m working on now. And what you see you tend to see like Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial and whoever, you know, Martha Graham on the stage, you see them in their moments of certitude, but you don’t see them in their moments of doubt, which are also really important to understand. Right. So when, when Mother Teresa died, remember how people were shocked when they discovered her diaries that she had been through these long periods of dry spells, when she no longer had faith? And everybody was shocked. It’s not shocking, that doubt goes along. It’s it’s the other side of the coin of faith. And it has to be valued it has to be investigated. Just like in the contemplative traditions, the the instruction with all of the afflicted states Grace Swing aversion and delusion is always don’t push them away, move toward them, investigate. Okay, investigate doubt go into it. What are all what are the, you know, what are the angels on this side saying and the angels on this side saying? So that’s one thing that’s come out of my career I really, I’ve really learned how to use doubt more.
RICK: Yeah, several thoughts there, you know, and I guess Jesus was experiencing out in the garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified. And eventually, after he pondered that for a while, it was like, alright, God, thy will be done. You know, I’ll go with with your call. And there’s a great quote from Nisargadatta, which is sort of related to this. He said, he said, the ability to appreciate paradox and ambiguity is a sign of spiritual maturity. And so, you know, and obviously, our junus doubt was extreme, he was torn between his heart and his mind. His mind said, This is my dharma, I have to do this, and XYZ, these are all the reasons these guys need to be defeated. But his heart said, you know, I love these people, and some of them are my relatives and teachers and so on. So it was a result it was unresolvable. There was this conflict. And it’s interesting what Christians advice was to him, he basically said, transcend the duality. So this dragon yo Barbra Jean, be without the three gunas chapter three, verse 45. And so go to the transcendent. And then three verses later established in yoga, perform action. You know, once you’re established in unity, then you perform action and all these eras irresolvable conflicts kind of get resolved, and you find a course of action that is kind of larger than the dualities.
STEPHEN: Oh, I absolutely love what you just said. There’s a parallel to that in the psychoanalytic world, which they call the third way. So in psychoanalysis, when you when you’ve entered a paradox, it’s a resolvable, when you’ve encountered a duality, should I go x, or Should I Go Go y, the attempt is, are always to look for a third way that actually unifies x and y. And I wrote a whole chapter in the book that you haven’t finished about Charles Darwin, to encounter just this kind of paradox, which is that he, he was on his five year voyage around the globe on the Beagle, with his mentor, who was a, who was Robert FitzRoy was a fundamentalist Christian, the captain of the Beagle. And Darwin keeps getting closer and closer to believing this blasphemy of evolution. And at Fitzroy is in his ear all the time saying, No is all about the flood, and God created the world and, and if you watch Darwin, he moves from that duality, to this beautiful third way, where he, where he declares that the universe operates by predictable laws, but those laws were created by God, and it’s all to the glory of God. So rather than X out the divine, he includes it. And if you read late Darwin, it took Darwin 20 years before he published on the Origin of the Species, he sat on it for 20 years, because he was afraid it was going to hurt his wife and his family who are profound Christians, until finally he came to the third way. And his late writings are absolutely sublime. They, you know, what, what you were talking about there, Rick is getting this much bigger perspective. Like, can you widen your perspective now? And that’s always a good thing.
RICK: Yeah, I tried to take personally, I tried to take the God’s eye view of things, which, of course, doesn’t mean that I can see things as God does, but I can at least conceive of what God does. In fact, right now, always on my screen, I have different pictures of galaxies and things like that flashing as my desktop picture. And when you think about all the dramas that are taking place, and all that, you know, conflicts and happiness and the suffering, it’s all contained within the totality, which we could call God or Brahman. And there’s a very Vedic saying that Brahman is the eater of everything, meaning that the totality subsumes or includes all conceivable diversities. And if we can sort of tap into that to some extent, both intellectually, intuitively and experientially, in our personal lives. It makes them run much more harmoniously. I think.
STEPHEN: All is common. All And that’s a beautiful non dual teaching. I’ll give you a story about that I, I was once invited to the home of a wonderful noble teacher who lives here near near my city. And we were asked to bring food. And I brought an Indian dish that had chicken in it. And, and I don’t know what I was thinking it was all vegetarian, of course, and, and his wife was aghast and she said, she said to me, Steve chicken isn’t a vegetable. And her husband, who’s the great teacher said, all his Brahman chicken is phenomenon. That’s Brahma. I thought, Oh, that’s
RICK: a funny story. I was on my TM teacher training course. And a friend of my one guy was sick, and his friend was picking up dinner for him or something. And he went to the dinner line and got the food and it was chicken on it. And my friend who’s from Texas, sort of picked up the chicken leg as if it were radioactive, held up in front of the serving lady said, my friend don’t eat dead birds.
STEPHEN: That’s very good. Yeah. So I was Brahman,
RICK: you know, on this point of doubt, and hesitancy and, you know, ambiguity. And you know, this sort of not always being cocksure of oneself. I think we could all we could swing around again, to say that, you know, once you have kind of found the groove, you know, found your dharma, then you pursue it with, you know, just one point of dedication. And so it’s not like we’re always going to be wishy washy about things, but there might be gearshift moments where we’re not you know, accelerating. And actually, if you tie in Jyotish, the astrology thing, they have all these doshas and sub doshas, and so on. And sometimes when you go from one Maha Dasha to another, whatever your whole wife gets mixed up, and then it kind of gels again, on the other side, but I just wanted to read a quote from your book. This is from English explored wa Marie, until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans. That the one moment that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves to all sorts of things occurred to help one that would never otherwise have occurred, a whole stream of events, issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of girdles concepts, in fact, this whole thing I just read, I used to think that was from Gartner. But it gets it’s this guy inspired by Gartner. But he quotes kurta here as having said, Whatever you can do or dream you can do begin it. Boldness has genius power and magic in it.
STEPHEN: You know, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but I have definitely experienced the way in which the field shifts when I come in. So I wrote the chapter about Robert Frost precisely for this reason, because frost had a few moments in his brilliant career as a poet, when he took what what he thought was a leap off a cliff. As a way of committing to his practice. One of them was giving up teaching because he’s had a foot in both camps teaching and poetry. When he bought that farm in New Hampshire and gave up teaching, everything shifted for him and, and the farm and dairy. He bought not to farm but actually as he said to form poetry. And his his poetry just exploded. The second one was when he left America does a huge risk with his whole family and went to England for two years where he could only focus on writing his poetry. I believe he was 38 at that point, and I believe he’d he’d had very little success, but it was that risk. And there’s there’s always a little risk, because we don’t really know it does feel like jumping off a cliff. But my experience is it’s once you jump off it it’s more like oh, that was just like stepping off a curb. But you don’t know that. Yeah.
RICK: You definitely have something very Joseph Campbell about that. And in fact, Campbell was one of George Lucas’s inspiration in Star Wars and and you can think of stories like Star Wars where this you know, scruffy little band of rebels takes on the, the Empire and, you know, against all odds or Lord of the Rings, you know, where Frodo and a few hobbits go out. And, you know, this is, you know, they don’t have a chance in hell of succeeding. But once they make that commitment and start doing it, then all the help comes from unforeseen places, and they end up you know, winning today.
STEPHEN: Yeah, synchronicity that, that you didn’t expect when could not have predicted. It. It’s, it’s uncanny. And very often, it’s just at the point where people are ready to give up, but they like, Okay, I’ll give it one more shot. And then, you know, the Christians would call this grace. They’re a great writer, and he Dillard is one of my favorite says, about writing, she says, you know, you, you bust your butt over and over and over again. And then just when it feels like it’s gonna fall apart, there’s this wave of race. And, and it’s not that you’ve earned it, it’s just, that’s the way it works.
RICK: And this loop is us back to one of the points we started with, which, you know, put another way, we’re not alone. It’s not just sort of these Meat Puppets in this material world, kind of doing what we can crashing against sort of random, meaningless, you know, processes. And there’s, there’s all these strata of creation and, you know, impulses of intelligence operating on so many different levels, whether you want to think of it as God, big G or gods or guardian angels, or devas, or so on. But these things I firmly believe, play a part in our lives. And either they may thwart our intentions if our intentions are misguided, or they may assist and support them, if they’re in tune with dharma. And but, you know, God helps those who help themselves. There’s the saying, and so you do have to sort of, I thought of a great example of this the other day, maybe it’ll come to me, I don’t know. But forget it for now. But you do, you do have to say, take the initiative before the support can be offered.
STEPHEN: Yeah, exactly. Right. That’s, that’s the path. And I also experienced that kind of support. Not all the time, but enough of the time that I’ve verified faith in it.
RICK: There’s a Sanskrit saying, which I don’t know the Sanskrit but the English is the means collect around sutra. And what sought was the word for purity are and if we think of it in terms of purity of intention, or purity of life, or the kind of spiritual purity that gets cultured, you know, as one stays on the path, the means collect, you know, that old saying of like, the guy with a rain cloud over his head, and it’s always raining wherever he goes, Well, you know, some people actually have like, Sunshine over their heads, even though it may be raining all around, because they have sort of generated an influence which which earns them some we could call it supportive nature, supportive, the divine supportive God, whatever.
STEPHEN: You know, the, the Christian translation of that is from the Beatitudes, Blessed are the poor, or the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Which brings us to this a whole aspect of, of the yoga tradition in the Buddhist tradition, about, about purity of action. That is extremely unpopular in our culture in our world. The notion of living a holy
RICK: lies that unpopular
STEPHEN: Well, in a kind of in the mainstream world, resisting when they talk about it in the Gita, a ton resisting sensual pleasures and excess and so forth, it’s just not the way our culture is, is organized right now. So the I’m very devoted to the idea of Blessed are the are the pure in heart for they shall see God, the the notion that you have to live in the world in a certain way. And look at our culture right now, people don’t even want to take the vaccine or not to get into into that whole. But we have this thing about freedom. You know, Robert Frost said, Freedom is moving comfortably in harness. And I, I really believe that and I also believe in living a disciplined life and living a holy life to the extent that I can and see the way in which it bears. I talked earlier on about this, this experience of fruition that Jack Kornfield talks about this, this stage of life, where the fruition is partly the fruit of having lived well, and you know, and and having followed the yamas and niyamas. I in in our world and in the yoga world, you kind of have to teach the yamas and niyamas. Last because people don’t really want to hear a lot about ethical practice. But I, it’s
RICK: very central one. One thing Swami Satyananda sometimes says is, you can have ethics without enlightenment, but you can’t have enlightenment without ethics.
STEPHEN: Yeah, there’s a great Buddhist story about the guys who, who rode the boat all night long, they were trying to cross the river out of four, and they’re rowing all night long, and they wake up and they’re in the same place. Why? Because they haven’t untied the boat from the shore, and untying the boat is, is is the first part of that, which is
RICK: or if you’re trying to fill the bathtub, you better put the plug in, or else the water is gonna drain out as fast as it comes in, you know?
STEPHEN: Yeah. Which is a great energy metaphor.
RICK: Yeah, I mean, Don Juan, you know, Carlos gustan, is teaching us to talk about energy a lot and kind of not squandering it and sort of being impeccable in one’s behavior. And there’s a verse in The Gita, for many branched and endlessly diverse, so the intellects of the irresolute. But the resolute intellect is one pointed. So you can imagine just sort of scattering our attention to the winds like buckshot or something, it just doesn’t have the oomph, you know, to, to hit the target. It’s too diverse to what’s the word scattered? Yeah,
STEPHEN: you know, I, I want to did a study of American self help literature going all the way back to the 1850s. And it turns out that this very notion of, of focus of concentration of energy, is, is one of the most enduring notions in in our self help literature. So you go to the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of them is winners focus, losers scatter, just the very, you use. Emerson said, A man becomes great through concentration of effort. And the entire really tradition of yoga is about precisely about that about concentrating, focusing, gathering energy, and aiming it in the right direction. Yeah, yeah.
RICK: And that’s not to say that, you know, we’re not saying that everybody needs to sort of wear a sackcloth, or just live it. I mean, all these scriptures were referring to basically talk about balance. There’s plenty of verses in the Gita like that balance of mind as yoga. This Yoga is not for him who eats too much or too little sleeps too much or too little. And the Buddha said, you know, has the what is it the Middle Way, or something where, you know, you do things in balance. So we’re not saying everyone should become a recluse. But there’s such a thing as appropriateness in life and not, you know, doing things to excess, which are not going to provide fulfillment anyway, people should learn that or do learn it sooner or later. You know, so you can enjoy life. I mean, you and I were talking before we got online about things we’d like to do, like walk with our dogs or play pickleball or this or that. And, you know, we have friendships we have you wrote a whole book on the value of deep human connection here. So it’s not a matter of deprivation, or austerity, really, it’s just a matter of kind of appropriateness, I think.
STEPHEN: You know, it’s a matter of wisdom. So in in the Buddhist lexicon, who paikka means equanimity means balance. So it’s a matter of balance and who pica is said to be the wisdom function of the four Brahma viharas. Is are you acting wisely? Are you acting skillfully, that’s all. What I love about the Bhagavad Gita is you know, at one point, Krishna says, this is the passion that is not contrary to the Dharma. When you find your dharma, you can bring all your passion it’s the way to live a life. So I look very passionate, right? I do and I love art and music and poetry and dance and and and yet it has to be done it does have to be done a certain way it has to be done wisely. So
RICK: I think the key again, because we can get we can lose track of how how to do this but the key again, is basically self realization or you know, getting down to your your foundation, and then acting from there. Establishing yoga, perform action this Another verse yoga karma sukoshi from Yo, yoga is skill in action. So it has practical utility or application in regular practical life. It’s not just for, you know, yogi’s in caves or anything like that.
STEPHEN: It produces an experience of fulfillment that is so profound. I’ve become very interested in the, the difference between happiness and fulfillment. Because our culture right now is pretty focused on happiness. But fulfillment is something different. It’s, it’s slightly different than happiness. Like if I look at my, I’m at the end stage of this book. It’s difficult sometimes I don’t get enough sleep. But the fulfillment that fulfilling my dharma provides me is there is deep, deep experience of ardency and love and, and transcendent joy. And it’s not always happiness, though.
RICK: I was just gonna ask you, based on the last point you just made, what would happen if there was a big solar flare, and the book you’ve been working on got fried and Carbonite servers got fried and everything else? What would that do to your fulfillment?
STEPHEN: You know, it’s so interesting. You asked that question. So interesting. And I’ll give you the backstory there. So I’m working on my sixth book right now. And it’s, it’s another book on the Bhagavad Gita. My fifth book was deep human connection, which is a it’s actually a very good book, and it got a lot of great reviews. But I shifted, I moved to a different publisher. And I don’t want to blame this on the publisher, but it did not get the editing that it needed. What’s happened interestingly, Rick backstory is that I’ve been writing for 20 years, and over the course of that 20 years, people’s concentration levels have actually dropped people’s capacity to engage with complex material has, has attenuated profoundly. So a book that you might have published, well, 20 years ago, people won’t read. So I ran and the only book I’ve ever run into problems with is that book. And it sells fine, but it’s not a best seller, like my other books. And it was, I suffered because of it, I suffered because it wasn’t fully cooked when it went out. And so I determined that this book that I’m writing now, I would find the fulfillment in the writing of the book, not in the publishing or the success of it, and this is classic Bhagavad Gita, like are the fruits, such that if, in fact, what you just said, happened if Carbonite exploded, and the book was gone, I would be left with that same profound sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. And I’ve done it, like I really, I love what I’ve been about for the last four years, what it’s had me read and what I’ve written and, and, you know, Keith said, John Keats said, If my poems were burned up the next morning, after I’ve written them, I still have the satisfaction of having done my, my work in the world. And I can tell you that I intentionally did that with this book. And it’s, it happened. So that’s the answer to your question. It was long.
RICK: I mean, a good answer. Already, well, I better let you go. But, you know, we can do another one in a year or two if you want and talk about the book that will have been published by that time. And I really have enjoyed getting to know you.
STEPHEN: I’ve enjoyed this so much, Rick, it’s just great to have a conversation. And and you’re a great interviewer. And you’re you’re right there with the question and and the feedback in the conversation. So I would love to do it again, at some point do that.
RICK: So thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching you know, who I’ve been talking to Steven cope and as always, I’ll have a page on his on my website on that gap for this interview, and we’ll have links to his books and his website and all that. And then while they’re on the website, check out the other menus and see what’s what we’re just building a new section which is recommended reading books that have been recommended by various people in the back gap forum on Facebook and WhatsApp, I want to say, oh, yeah, the next interview coming up is Anita Moorjani, who was supposed to be last week but had to reschedule. And following her Lawrence Freeman, who’s a priest of some sort is over in France. And he has done a lot of work with the Dalai Lama and others. So I’ve started listening to his talks, and he sounds great. I look forward to that conversation. So if you’d like to be notified whenever a new one of these comes out, there’s a you can do it in several ways. But subscribe to the I mean, subscribe on YouTube, or you can subscribe to the email that we send out. There’s a link for that on that gap site. So thanks for listening and watching and thanks again, Stephen.
STEPHEN: Thank you. My pleasure, indeed. Thanks, everybody. We’ll be in touch. Okay, bye for now. Thank you, Irene.