The Western Baul Podcast Series features talks by practitioners of the Western Baul path. Topics are intended to offer something of educational, inspirational, and practical value to anyone drawn to the spiritual path. For Western Bauls, practice is not a matter of philosophy but is expressed in everyday affairs, service to others, and music and song. There is the recognition that all spiritual traditions have examples of those who have realized that there is no separate self to substantiate—though one will always exist in form—and that “There is only God” or oneness with creation. Western Bauls, as named by Lee Lozowick (1943-2010), an American spiritual Master who taught in the U.S., Europe, and India and who was known for his radical dharma, humor, and integrity, are kin to the Bauls of Bengal, India, with whom he shared an essential resonance and friendship. Lee’s spiritual lineage includes Yogi Ramsuratkumar and Swami Papa Ramdas. Contact us: westernbaul.org/contact
Shadow and Luminosity, Descent and Transcendence (Nachama Greenwald)
The metaphorical aspect of darkness can refer to the dark night of the soul, to a deep descent within ourselves, our individual or collective shadow, a time of transition, grief, or depression—whenever we’re suffering. We have a bias towards light. The sacred nutrients of wisdom, creation, and transformation dwell in darkness. Darkness has a fertile, receptive, feminine quality because something wants to be birthed from it, as from the womb. The talk is not about glorifying darkness or trying to be free of it but healing through darkness. The greatest courage is to see and be with all that life brings. When darkness is welcomed, nothing is rejected. If we run from darkness, we run from ourselves. Awakening cannot be separated from this joyful, painful life. The path embraces the full spectrum of darkness and light. St. John of the Cross said, “If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.” A bodhisattva is someone who has found the path and is committed to it. What we are looking for must be found in the dark. We sacrifice certainty, surrender to losing our way, and sometimes have to fall apart for a vision to arise. If we do the work the great possibility is that we become more fully ourselves, who we are intended to be. Many seekers tend to bypass the dark and focus exclusively on the light. Knowing our own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people. We fear knowing ourselves because of what we might discover—not just about the darkness but also the light. We can walk through heaven and hell with an open heart, developing compassion for ourselves and the world. Some of the Dark Mothers of various traditions are discussed. Nachama Greenwald is a physical therapist, editor, and musician who for seventeen years was a member of the Shri blues band which performed Western Baul music.
The Direct Path: Taking the Backwards Step (Peter Cohen)
The direct path is a refined articulation of the principles of nondualism, and the backward step is the actual practice of it. The mind feasts on complication. One of the features of the direct path is its simplicity. It does not involve lineage, guru, or ritual. We are always looking at things, but what are we looking out of? When we look at what we are looking out of, we are taking a step back into ourselves. Awareness is empty of anything solid so when we take a backward step we are no longer relating as one thing to another thing, from the duality of subject and object. When we step back into ourselves as far as we can go, all that’s left is being. What is looking out of our eyes now is essentially no different than what was looking out of our eyes when we were kids. It’s the same being that looks out of everyone’s eyes, including every saint and sage. That’s what is meant when we consider that everything is one. If we investigate where “me” is, we will not find it. We will just find layer after layer of qualities if we peel everything away like an onion. Our thoughts, feelings, and sensations would not be experienceable without awareness. The only thing that is aware of being aware is awareness itself. “I” is the name that what knows itself gives to itself. The “I” doesn’t know what it is, but it knows that it is. If we can be silent enough to be aware of awareness itself, that is a backward step. Welcoming the problematic parts of ourselves into the light of awareness, awareness will do the work. Nondual teaching is the crown jewel of Buddhism and all esoteric traditions. Awareness is the background of thoughts and personality. Everyone will find the help they need if they have earnestness. Peter Cohen was the drummer for the Western Baul rock band, Liars, Gods, and Beggars from 1988 to 1994. He has followed the nondual path and rhythm of life in Alaska and Idaho as a nurse and a musician.
The Value and Necessity of Suffering (Red Hawk)
We need help to continue to grow. The name of a God-realized being invokes the Divine. We can make efforts to return to the present, to ground the attention. Attention is crucial in learning to use suffering so that suffering does not use us up and can become food for growth. Two kinds of attention are possible for a human being: mechanical attention which is an unconscious survival mechanism, and a second or conscious attention which makes self-observation possible and is different than the mind observing the mind. Yogi Ramsuratkumar said that if we are born, we suffer. The Four Noble Truths of Buddha are considered: there is suffering, a cause of suffering, an end to suffering, and a path to that end. Why must there be suffering? What is the difference between suffering and pain? The mind makes no distinction between types of pain. There is only one place the mind can go to escape pain—into the imagination. All humanity is trying to escape mechanical suffering; conscious suffering involves not trying to get rid of it. The desire to change or avoid “what is” leads to constant, repetitive suffering. When we have the courage to stay with it, with discrimination, friction between “yes and no” produces heat which allows the heart to catch fire as mercy, as compassion. “May the heat of suffering become the fire of love.” All human suffering can be seen as the result of identification, clinging to a false sense of self. Mechanical suffering becomes universal suffering with the sacrifice of identification. There is a path to the end of mechanical suffering as a deeper sense of conscience develops, which takes in everything—suffering and joy—and when we do not seek one and avoid the other. Red Hawk is an acclaimed poet and the author of 12 books, including Self Observation, Self Remembering, The Way of the Wise Woman, and Return to the Mother.
One’s Face on the Path (Jocelyn del Rio)
The expressions of certain faces in spiritual paintings or sculpture and of genuine spiritual teachers in photographs or in-person can communicate our own basic goodness or organic innocence when we are in an open state. Something in us responds to a face that dances to the rhythm of creation, that exudes the peace of surrender. We are hard-wired for connection, which gets made through the face—for example, by babies. As we get older, layers of defense show up in a mask, as tenson in the face. We use our faces to create an identity. There’s a lot of information in how we decorate the face to make it something it isn’t. Are we aware when we are looking for recognition through our faces? Grief or shock or intense need can create cracks in the mask that let the light of reality in. When we start to let in and accept what we have previously denied, we may find that we do not know who we are anymore. It’s not popular to look how we feel, to be honest about it. Breathing starts and finishes in the face, which is where we can start to connect to the body. We can learn to face the howling wind and the sun, which are both gifts. When our desires manifest, we can accept, and when they do not manifest, we can accept. Our face was not our face when we were born; it was the face of heredity. Our face can start to manifest the original terrain that exists before the mask. We are not the face, but something comes through the face. When the clouds part the sun is always there. What faces do we have to lose for our original face to appear? The experience of magic, mystery, and miracle, which can occur through surrender to the Carver’s hand, only comes through losing face. Jocelyn is a spiritual student, artist, therapist, mother, gardener, and builder whose main interest in life is growth, development, evolution, observing in awe and participating in the cyclic nature of life.
What If? An Exploration of Transformational Possibility (Regina Sara Ryan)
All failure to live life richly and fully is based on the feeling that love is scarce. We may sense at times that love is the ground of all being. What if we lived on the basis of this truth? There is so much music and poetry that reflects on our inner longing. Those in attendance at the live talk were asked to write down sayings, mantras, or mahavakyas (short sentences of wisdom teachings) that came to mind. They were then asked what they thought would happen if they realized the truth of what they had written. “What if?” can be a “pea under the mattress” that can orient us in our spiritual lives. Great statements are often the result of practice and not something we just hear and fully understand. We can practice with sayings such as “Love your neighbor as yourself” and allow them to be absorbed into our skin. It can be a source of discouragement to take on unrealistic expectations. We can be inspired by great beings, but to take the way their lives showed up and try to translate them into our own can be less worthwhile than lowering our expectations and approaching our lives honestly. What if the very state we are in is exactly where we need to be? Not expressing the “just this” of our current state could be detrimental to our spiritual life. The moment we recognize we’ve lost our attention, we wake up for a moment. What if, instead of digging many shallow channels of practice, we dig one deeply? We don’t generally consider that everyone we meet is going to die. The tenderness of being opened by love can sensitize us to the suffering of others, to heartbreak that we do not want to stop. There are many ways we can keep ourselves attuned to the reality of love as the ground of all being and not scarce. Regina is the editor of Hohm Press, a workshop leader, retreat guide, and author of The Woman Awake, Igniting the Inner Life, Praying Dangerously, Only God, and other books.
Cultivating Transparency: Realizing the Emptiness of the Stories You Tell Yourself and Others (Rob Schmidt and Stuart Goodnick)
We could say that all we know about ourselves cognitively are stories we tell ourselves. These are not necessarily obvious to us because they play so constantly. We respond to the universe through the stories that filter our experience. How do we work with this since we can’t think ourselves out of this box? Transparency hints at a different way of relating to stories. Many stories we identify with are cultural views. Stories in and of themselves are not a problem; they are a feature of what it is to be human. It’s when we hold onto stories that they capture our energy and attention so we don’t come back to the present and to the next event gifted to us by the universe. Transparency involves listening, seeing, generosity of spirit to others and ourselves, without reactivity to a story. This is not trivial work and a tool we have is self-observation, which is an energetic and not an analytical act. One feature of mature practice is relaxation of the tense form of attention we compulsively hold. This can allow for humor and for different kinds of spaces or chambers to be created. Belief is an emotional relationship with a lie. When a story turns into a belief, we can’t put it down. Resistance manifests differently in the three centers that are discussed in the Gurdjieff work. It is a rich vein to mine to reclaim energy of attention we’ve invested in story. Conscious suffering is the willingness to be present with resistance. Practice can be seen as an offering rather than as a story with an agenda to wake up. Creativity is an end in itself, the universe doing what it most wants to do. When not bound by our stories, we can accept the universe’s invitations to engage in higher work. Rob and Stuart run Tayu Meditation Center and founded Many Rivers Books and Tea in Sebastopol, CA. They invite spiritual teachers, practitioners, and authors to articulate their stories on The Mystical Positivist podcast.
I find these talks to be deeply thought-provoking and inspirational. The speakers are well grounded in spiritual practice as well as in every day life.