Karma Yoga: Get Out! Get Out!
By Fashi Lao Yue Xiang Shakya
Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
The mind is covered with dust; the dust of the concerns of the world. The ego is attached to those concerns and has become a stumbling block to self and others.
My teacher once told me a story about her practice. She was a disciple in a Ch’an Temple, the only woman amongst a group of male disciples. Her teacher was both beloved and tough. During one of the times she was with him and her fellow disciples, her teacher began to holler at her, “Get out! Get out!” At first she thought he was kicking her out of the Temple, as though she was not worthy to be there but then it dawned on her he was telling her to wake-up. Get out! Get out! referred to her attachment to her ego. Instead of being annoyed with her, he was encouraging her to wake-up.
The story “Get out! Get out!” reminds me of what Christ said to Peter when Peter challenged Jesus who had just revealed he was going to suffer, die and rise again with strong wake-up words as well; Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
When we merely focus on human concerns we are overcome by the dust in the mind; the dust of resentment, worry, greed, and the whole swamp of delusion. And when in this condition we are unable to see and hear the concerns of the Divine. Our ears are laced with the poison of self-concern and involvement with the disquiet and bottomless pit of human unease.
In both admonitions, Get Out! Get Out! And Get Behind Me Satan! An alarm is given, a warning that there is danger. Jesus makes it clear what the danger is when he says “those who want to be my disciples must deny themselves….” THAT is plain language to forget about the ego, about the disquieting and upsetting accuser, the hindering meddler.
Both these teachers instruct their disciples to get out. Another way to understand this rebuke is to stop whatever is blinding the Truth and to take actions that protect the clarity of the Truth; but we first have to know that the Truth is ever-present.
My teacher knew the Truth, which she endearingly called ‘The Boss’ and I have little doubt that Peter saw Jesus as the embodiment of the Truth on some level; that he knew that profiting from the world leads to the loss of his soul. He was, as many have described him, an impulsive man who was misguided by his desire to save Jesus. It is a common misdirection with spiritual insight and practice which rises in the shape of a desire to save others.
In the essay, Work: Karma Yoga by Ming Zhen, karma yoga, the union of action with the Divine rests parenthetically on one word, non-attachment. Peter’s misguided desire appears to be saturated with attachment for his teacher. His ambitious act towards his teacher is one of countless examples of attachment and entanglement with human concern.
In the same essay we learn karma yoga is the most difficult to practice and when we are negligent the consequences are quite severe as Jesus’ words exemplify. Calling Peter Satan was no small scolding and it shows that even a moment of human concern, even one that sounds genuinely consoling and caring of another person we may be subject to the ruthless effect of karma yoga. It is sobering and at the same a stern eye-opener.
At each moment the (individual soul) is subject to innumerable influences which from all quarters of the universe pour upon him.”
—Sir John Woodroffe
We don’t know what all the influences were for Peter, but we do know he did not like Jesus’ announcement of his impending suffering and death. Ming Zhen never mentioned specifically the influences pouring on her life at the time but we can be sure that they fell into the category of human concern and attachment to the self.
The strict and stern reproach given by these teachers to these disciples speaks well of both the teacher and the disciple. The teacher was aware of something that at the time the disciple did not see and was able to strike a blow strong enough to stop the disciple from grave mistakes. Both Ming Zhen and Peter trusted their teacher and were strong enough to hear the sword of truth in the words spoken. Both the disciple and the teacher need to be willing to stay, no matter what arises which is no small task. It requires strength and commitment on both sides. If one side falters, it falls apart. The teacher is aware that the soul faces innumerable influences and tells the disciple over and over again and in myriad ways to Get Out! of attachment to the drenching that comes to all.
The mind needs to be trained and in order to train the disciple he needs to be willing to guard the mind. When the disciple sees the influences of the world pouring upon him and arising from within he needs to avoid getting involved with the things that cause emotional upset and a straying mind. The disciple needs to shift away from the troubled world of human concern and keep the eye of the mind on the Divine. This requires non-attachment to make such a shift.
The contents of mind, thoughts, images, perceptions, feelings, impulses are power and we must look after this power.
When the mind perceives an object it is transformed into the shape of that object. So the mind [that] thinks of the Divinity which it worships is at length, through continued devotion, transformed into the likeness of that Divinity.”
—Sir John Woodroffe
Icons and images of the Divinity which are perceived in the mind serve to help this transformation. It is akin to Ming Zhen’s suggestion to discover or create a personified force (the Divinity within) i.e., kuan yin as the guardian of the mind.
We have to be able to concentrate so thoroughly that we can hold an inner dialog with this personified force (the Divinity), and we have to possess enough faith and trust to obey the wisdom that is imparted to us. This is no place for superficial Zen men. This is a place for believers, for devotees.”
—Ming Zhen Shakya
Her edict amounts to the same edict as given in Proverbs.
So as a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”
— Proverbs 23:7
This pronouncement is a watch ward directing the disciple to contemplate what is in the mind and to clean it up when it is full of dusky involvement with worldliness. If the disciple is looking at a mirror of self-interest, whether it is worry about a loved one dying, so he will become….a self-involved, worried man. Peter exemplifies this as he thought to save Jesus from dying making him into the savior.
We have to avoid the causes of turmoil, protect the mind from the distractions in the world which weaken our concentration and disconnect from the concerns of the world. This requires non-attachment. Each moment we detach we are free to discover the Divine, to look at and turn to the personified force i.e., kuan yin and not to the self-involved ego. The wise disciple knows the folly of worldly concern and disentangles himself, tout suite.
The disciple is not left adrift to flounder, but is given oodles of instruction. Jesus apparently gives an added correction immediately when he says, ““If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself….” Strong medicine.
Here is another….
Set your minds on things above, (the Divine) not on earthly things (the transient).”
—Colossians 3:2 New Testament
When the disciple is able to see and hear these admonitions, he recognizes the words of these teachers, “Get out! Get Out!” “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world….” as real. In other words, the disciple, when instructed, makes the turn away from the mess in the mind and looks immediately to the Divine within.
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