Friday, September 9, 2011

Just Rewards, Only Rewards,and You Call This Rewards

   To the work you are entitled, but not the fruits thereof--Bhagvad Gita
For numerous reasons, this particular quote and the men who wrested it from its original Sanskrit, then translated it, have been some of the stars shining through the dark cover of night.  Often, when the night appears to be a bit misty or a good deal more cloudy, thinking of this line from The Gita, and particularly of the Englishman-come-to-America, who helped the Bengali-come-to-America to translate it, helps you see those stars you have come to value, along with the moon.

It is all metaphor, of course, even, when you come down to it, the aspect of work, the thing you do or, better yet, the work you have chosen to do.

The Bhagvad Gita is the quintessential story of karma yoga, work as worship.  You came into life within a culture you often admire and from which you take great identity, even though you regard YHWH as a metaphor.  Nevertheless, you love the tradition of not placing the vowels within the name because to do so, according to much of the culture, brings forth the power of that force.  Given the experiences that befell Job, you are sent reeling across one the culture of your birth and into the culture you stumbled into some years back, wherein you met the Swami who translated The Gita from Sanskrit with his disciple, Christopher Isherwood, who told you about all the arguments and discussions regarding this translation over an incredible picnic of hamburgers and Kosher dills, lovingly prepared by  Vedanta nuns.

One of the things Isherwood observed is the seemingly circumspect way the Hindu/Vedanta approach to mentioning of The Godhead is in some ways similar to your own cultural reasons for omitting the vowels.  "Description as limitation,"  Isherwood said.  "Hindus and Vedantists refer to 'It' if you will as 'The One Without a Second.' "

That,too, is a metaphor for you.  Joys and insights to Jewish and Vedantist sisters and brothers for whom these are Reality as opposed to metaphor.

Working at something without expectation of reward has become for you an anomaly; the act of the work becomes the fruit.  The sense of it becomes the fruit, the doing it is worship, although neither to YHWH nor The One without a Second, rather to itself.  There is this delightful, mindless moment where the work is done with neither hope nor expectation of becoming better.  Better is already of a reward nature; it is highly subjective, capricious.  You are probably better than you were when you began or even ten years ago, but these things, too, open the door for the invasion of subjectivity, and you have only to look at the GOP debates of the past hours to see the capricious nature of subjectivity gone off on steroidal rampage.

You are by no degree in possession of the disciplines required by the spiritual student in either of your cultures; your temper still has the ability to flare much as the wildfires of your native state,your cholers as acidic as bile, as liquid as molten lava.  And yet there are moments when thinking of the mist clearers that allow you to see the stars of your choice in the sky of your choice, you do see a measure of control as a fruit of your added labor, which is portraying the dramatic nature of your species in a narrative form that is interesting.

Interesting, to you, represents the margins, the extremes of the existential landscape, the hillsides and oceanfront, the places where conventional wisdom dictates against lingering, much less building an edifice.

Writing books, reading books,listening to music, hanging out with friends, falling in love,eating remarkable meals; these are all stars in your personal sky.  Each one of them has a dialectic.  Writing a book can mean writing a bad or so-so book.  Reading a book can be disappointing.  The music can become clangorous.  Hanging out with friends is tough to find fault with, it is true.  Falling in love can mean the chemistry stops developing, producing in its way the same kind of heartburn as eating a meal that seemed remarkable.

To the risk you are entitled, but not the fruits thereof.

We'll see about that.


Storm Dweller said...

I like the idea of work as a form of worship... worship of this gift called living. It fits in nicely with what I just advised my brother of late, that life is work. Perhaps life is the fruit we are entitled to, as long as we are happy to work at it. Perhaps the outcome of an experience is not what we want, but the experience was what was valuable to begin with. Maybe I'm over reaching my own stars.

Stuart Strum said...


As I have come to expect, an interesting and provocative piece. I was particularly taken with the point you make regarding control, which I understand as self-control, in how one regards self, work, and our successes and disappointments.

I was raised in the Protestant tradition, but it was also tempered by the outlook of the Stoics, with their appeal to rational thought, self-reliance and insulation of one's mental state from surroundings and circumstances. They considered themselves "conservative" as a matter of course. Yet they differed in many ways from the freak show of hotheads, lunatics and con men that have somehow gotten hold of the reins.

We've got some serious work (agh!) to do with regards to the role of work in how we view ourselves and how it supports our material survival, given the great amassing of wealth by so few and the concurrent loss of livelihood for so many. As the supposed curse goes, we do live in interesting times.