Sayings of a modern mystic who was down-on-his-luck
(more about the Yogi)

"If all the other clocks are wrong..."

"If all the other clocks are wrong, you best be callin' 'Time'"

Ananda:

The Yogi said that a lot of people made a hobby of finding fault with others, basically trying to show their superiority and that they were "right" while everybody else was wrong

Calling "Time" would be a reality check. When you hear, "At the tone, the time will be..." you can reset your "watch" to the way things really are.

Ed.:

The deeper problem here is the formation of any judgments. The Faith-Mind Inscription of Sengcan (the Third Patriarch of Zen [Chan] in China), begins:

The Great Way is not difficult

for those who have no preferences.

When love and hate are both absent

everything becomes clear and undisguised.

Make the smallest distinction, however,

and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

If you wish to see the truth

then hold no opinions for or against anything.

To set up what you like against what you dislike

is the disease of the mind.

When the deep meaning of things is not understood,

the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail.

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Questions:

1. In what ways can a person "call Time"? That is, what are some possible sources of "reality check"?

2. What are the implications in your life of the passage from the Faith-Mind Inscription?

"Being born in a garage don't make you a Buick"

"Being born in a garage don't make you a Buick"

Ananda:

People are always interested in pedigrees. A lot of the Sangha members always said they were "born in" this group or that group, and they'd lord it over the others. "I was born a Buddhist," they'd say, or "I was born Baha'i." (The Yogi would often reply, "I was born a baby.")

I guess that when the Yogi said, "Being born in a garage don't make you a Buick," he meant that just because your parents belong to some religion, you don't "automatically" get the benefits. You still have to make a personal commitment and accept the discipline for yourself. You still have to practice to reach the goal.

Ed.:

Ananda's analysis is a good one. The "cradle Catholic" or the child born in a Hare Krishna ashram may have the advantage of early exposure to important ideas, but they still are not "perfected" until they do the work themselves.

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Questions:

1. What are the plusses and minuses of being "born into" a particular tradition?

2. How can one be sure that one's spiritual path is one's own, and not a path imposed on one by others?

"Knots in the net"

"Knots in the net"

Ananda:

The Yogi often told us that "everything connects." When something happened that made us realize this connection of everything, he would often say under his breath, "Knots in the net..."

It was several years after we met that he told me this story.

In Indra's heaven, he said, there's a net that is 3-D, and reaches in all directions, to infinity. At each intersection of strings (or "knot"), there's a jewel. Every jewel is reflected in all the other jewels, and all the other jewels are reflected in it.

So if you move one jewel, all the jewels are affected.

That's what the Yogi meant when he said we're all just "knots in the net." I guess the story must have come from India, since Indra is the king of the Indian gods.

Ed.:

The image of "Indra's Net of Gems" comes from the Mahayana Buddhist Avatamsaka Sutra. It shows that all phenomena interpenetrate all others, a complex way to say that "Everything contains everything else."

To apprehend this is considered to be one of the highest states of realization.

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Questions:

1. Have you ever had a deep experience of the phenomenon described by "Indra's Net"?

2. Do you know of other illustrations of the idea that "everything connects"?

"Out of the mouths of *ssholes... "

"Out of the mouths of *ssholes... "

Ananda:

Not everybody who joined The Sangha was highly evolved. In fact, just the opposite: we seemed to collect troubled souls that more conventional institutions had rejected.

But even these made important contributions to the community.

There was one guy, a total "jerk," who argued with everyone about everything all the time. He never did a lick of work, either, unless his job was just to be obnoxious.

Even so, he was often the only one to catch what the Yogi was saying.

He would also make a lot of important points in our discussions. And sometimes, when he did, the Yogi would say (sort of jokingly, from the corner of his mouth), "Out of the mouths of *ssholes..."

Ed.:

Truth can come from any source. The "people we like" are often the ones who just tell us what we want to hear.

Saints, on the other hand, often make terrible neighbors.

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Questions:

1. Do you know a person like the one described? How can you learn to appreciate such a person?

2. Can we accept "the right message" when it comes from "the wrong source"? Why or why not?

"Even a rat's got a job to do"

"Even a rat's got a job to do"

Ananda:

The building we live in (well, he used to live in) wasn't exactly The Ritz. We used to say that if the cockroaches stopped holding hands, the place would fall down.

We had lots of visitors from the better parts of town who would get all squeamish when, say, a rat ran across a rafter, or a cockroach scuttled under the hotplate.

The Yogi, though, seemed really comfortable with these "guests," like a sort of slum-dwelling Saint Francis. "Even a rat," he'd tell the offended parties, "has got a job to do."

Ed.:

There are two "big ideas" here. One is the interconnectedness of all things: rats (and roaches) are as important to the ecology as bunnies and butterflies.

The other is the idea of non-discrimination. To say, "Rats are bad, but hamsters are good," is to make a distinction based on these creatures' relationship to me. (Yes, I am mindful of the health issue--a separate one from this sort of learned disgust.) This aphorism cuts through all that by pointing out the role of scavengers (perhaps more important than that of pets!)

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Questions:

1. Why are people attracted to bunnies and disgusted by rats?

2. Can you think of the "jobs" of other things, like mosquitoes, or influenza, or suffering?

"Rinse it now or scrub it later"

"Rinse it now or scrub it later"

Ananda:

A lot of the Yogi's sayings seem to come from the kitchen. I asked him once if he had ever worked in a restaurant, and he said no, but he'd worked in the kitchens of lots of communes and "ashrams."

This saying was one of his favorites. For example, someone would say, "I know I should do such-and-such but I just don't feel like it," and the yogi would answer with this. Lots of people didn't get it, but some did.

Ed.:

The meaning is clear: A problem ignored will fester into a bigger problem. We should, as they say, "Nip it in the bud." This is consistent with the Yogi's overall message of personal responsibility.

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Questions:

1. Think of a story about a time when you "let something fester." How would acting sooner have changed things?

2. How can we bring ourselves to "scrub something now" when we don't feel like it?

"If you screw around, you'll get the clap"

"If you screw around, you'll get the clap"

Ananda:

The Yogi lived through the 60s, the era of "Free Love," when "the clap" (gonorrhea) was pretty common. (I think it's still pretty common.) He once told me that the only people he knew who didn't have it were the few who never had sex!

Anyway, he was always big on personal responsibility. He always said that whatever we do will have consequences.

Ed.:

This is "The Law of Karma." The word karma itself just means "action," but it's tied into the concept of cause and effect. Simply put, the law states that "we reap what we sow"; our actions determine what happens to us next.

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Questions:

1. What do you think of the "Law of Karma"?/p>

2. Are there other sources of trouble in our lives besides the consequences of our own actions?

"Lotsa mechanics in this world, not many drivers"

"Lotsa mechanics in this world, not many drivers"

Ananda:

As we've seen, the Yogi didn't think much of "fixers," the people who go around telling others what to do instead of just "walking their own walk" (as he used to say).

He'd say this thing about mechanics whenever he got fed up with that kind of behavior (which was pretty often).

Ed.:

This reminds me of Jesus' saying in Matthew Chapter 7, about removing the log from your own eye before offering to "help" your brother with the speck in his.

There is also the familiar saying, "Too many chiefs, not enough Indians," except that in this expression the Indians are merely followers, not "fixers." The Yogi seems to suggest that "every man should be his own chief," the "driver" of his own life.

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Questions:

1. Talk about the roles of "mechanics" versus "drivers" in your own life.

2. Do you feel that "every man should be his own chief"?

"Keep your g*ddamned nose out of other people's business"

"The highest moral precept is this: 'Keep your g*ddamned nose out of other people's business.'"

Ananda:

A group of friends developed around the Yogi and his "teaching." They weren't exactly disciples (though he half-jokingly called them "The Sangha"). But they were a sort of "spiritual support group."

And, as in any group, sometimes they squabbled.

Once, one woman took it on herself to criticize another for every little thing she did (she said she was "just trying to help"). Things blew up, and there were hard feelings in The Sangha for weeks.

Later, someone asked the Yogi what precept, what commandment, what "spiritual law" might have prevented this.

He replied, "The highest moral precept is this: 'Keep your g*ddamned nose out of other people's business.'"

Ed.:

I am not aware of any rule that specifically prohibits "busybodyness."

All religions speak of proper speech. "Right speech" is part of Buddhism's "Noble Eightfold Path," and the first half of Chapter 3 in the Book of James is all about using the tongue correctly.

But to my knowledge, there is no prohibition against admonishing others, at least in prominent lists like the Ten Commandments or the Five Precepts.

Odd, then, that the Yogi should call this "the highest moral precept."

But maybe not so odd, as he seems to have chosen the path of a solitary practitioner.

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Questions:

1. Why would the Yogi call this "the highest moral precept"? Do you agree?

2. Do you know of any precept that prohibits "busybodyness"?

"It's better to sit on your ass..."

"It's better to sit on your ass than run in the wrong direction"

Ananda:

Another time, a woman came who said she had quit drinking and smoking. She was no longer going to bars, and had stopped seeing "the wrong kind of men."

At the same time, she just couldn't get motivated to do "spiritual stuff."

"Don't worry about it," the Yogi said. "It'll come to you. For now, though, it's better to sit on your ass than run in the wrong direction"

Ed.:

Many of the moral codes of the great religions focus on "Thou shalt not," with the emphasis on what we should stop doing. The Buddhist precepts, also, teach that we should "refrain from" killing, stealing, etc.

So the first step in spiritual development is to stop doing harmful things. Replacing them with positive things is the next step.

This is implicit in the simplest "moral code" ever, the Buddha's elegant statement:

Avoid evil.

Do good.

Purify the heart.

Perhaps it's best to try it in that order.

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Questions:

1. What do you think of the Yogi's advice? Should he urge the woman to do more?

2. Had you heard this statement of the Buddha's moral code before? How does it strike you?

"Ya eat garlic, ya burp garlic"

"Ya eat garlic, ya burp garlic"

Ananda:

A man came to the Yogi with a problem. He was trying to be more "spiritual," but it just wasn't happening.

So the Yogi asked him what he did in his spare time.

The guy watched TV, read spy novels, went out with friends a couple of nights a week--nothing terrible, but nothing especially spiritual either.

"Well, ya eat garlic, ya burp garlic," the Yogi told him.

Ed.:

Jesus said in Mark Chapter 7, "There is nothing from outside of a man that can make him unclean by going into him: but the things that come out of him, those are the things that can make him unclean."

The emphasis is on what we produce, not what we ingest.

But production depends on ingestion. Christian teaching encourages fellowship, reading the scriptures, listening to teachers--in short, "ingesting" spiritual things.

It's a universal rule: the more we imbibe of spiritual things, the more we "rub up against the holy," the more our spiritual awareness develops.

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Questions:

  1. Do you think there's anything "wrong" with watching (secular) TV, reading (secular) novels, etc.?
  2. Do you agree with Jesus that what goes into our mouths does not make us unclean, only what comes out of our hearts?

"'Tolerance'" is a load of horsesh*t..."

"'Tolerance'" is a load of horsesh*t. Love me or hate me, but don't tolerate me."

Ananda:

The Yogi couldn't stand it when people were all nice, the "butter wouldn't melt in their mouth" kind of nice.

He couldn't deal with the "gentle Jesus meek and mild" stereotype of God either. He called God something like a "tremendous and fascinating mystery."

So one day some sort of fundamentalist guy came and was talking to the Yogi, and said something like, "I think it's ok to believe like you do. I believe in tolerance."

Well, the Yogi let him have it right between the eyes. "'Tolerance'?" he yelled. "Tolerance is a load of horsesh*t. Love me or hate me, but don't tolerate me." He told me later that he felt we shouldn't just be tolerating the beliefs of others, but embracing them, celebrating them, rejoicing in them.

Ed.:

This calls to mind the difficult saying of the Christ in Revelations Chapter 3 when he said to the Angel of the Church at Laodicea: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot; I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth."

The Yogi's saying not to be "lukewarm" may seem at first to contradict the "wisdom of the East," with its emphasis on "balance" and "the Middle Way."

But in matters of the spirit, even the East brooks no aloofness. "You must approach enlightenment," one saying goes, "like a man whose hair is on fire approaches a pond."

That kind of passion may be what the Yogi is calling for here.

By the way, the term Ananda is referring to (how the Yogi spoke of God) is "Mysterium tremendum et fascinans." It comes from The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto; "tremendum" here is not "tremendous," but rather "dreadful" or "awe-inspiring." God is not a tame servant, as many people fancy; he (it) is fiercesome, "wholly other," and not to be trifled with.

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Questions:

  1. What do you think of "tolerance"? Is it so bad?
  2. What do you make of the saying of the Christ about being "cold or hot"?
  3. Which god are you more comfortable with, the "gentle" one or the "fiercesome" one? Or are these not useful categories when talking about God?

"Blah f*cking blah"

"Blah f*cking blah"

Ananda:

The Yogi was pretty impatient with long philosophical discussions. Because people had heard he was "wise" (a label he rejected,) they often came, not to learn from him, but to show off how much wiser they were.

He'd cut them off at the knees. They'd start going, and he'd interrupt them with "Blah f*cking blah."

Sometimes, if they kept going, he'd keep repeating it, or even shout it in their faces, until they got frustrated and either shut up or went away.

Ed.:

This is a less elegant tactic than the one used by Nan-in in the famous story, but it was probably just as effective.

A university professor had come to ask Nan-in about Zen. He was typically arrogant, full of opinions and speculation.

So Nan-in served him tea. When the professor's cup was full, Nan-in kept pouring. The professor watched, calmly at first, but then he became agitated.

"The cup is full!" he said. "Nothing more can go in!"

And Nan-in replied, "You, like this cup, are full of your own opinion. I can't show you Zen until first you empty your cup."

Another idea in the Yogi's saying is that words are provisional; in India they call the Absolute "That before Which words fail."

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Questions:

  1. Does such a technique seem wildly inappropriate to you? How do you think the Yogi would justify it?
  2. Do you think Nan-in's technique was any more appropriate? Why or why not?
  3. In what respect do "words fail" when describing God?

"You gotta scratch your own balls"

"You gotta scratch your own balls"

Ananda:

The Yogi often said this when people were asking him for help, or expecting someone else to "come to their rescue."

It's not that he wasn't generous with his time. It's that sometimes only that person, the one asking for help, could do what was needed.

He'd say things like, "Everyone wants to get to heaven, but no one wants to climb the ladder."

Or, "You want to be a prize fighter, but you don't want to do the road work."

Or, "How ya gonna swim in the Olympics when you won't even swim laps?"

You get the picture. He was basically saying, if you want to achieve anything worth achieving, it's going to take some work.

Ed.:

The topic being touched on here is the famous distinction called in Japanese "jiriki" (self-power) and "tariki" (other-power).

The Indians call jiriki "the way of the monkey." When a mother monkey travels, the baby must cling to her with all its might.

Tariki is "the way of the kitten," who is carried safely in his mother's mouth and doesn't need to do a thing.

Jiriki is Zen, rajah yoga, asceticism, mystic practice.

Tariki is Pure Land chanting of the name of Amitabha, bhakti yoga, prayer to a savior.

The Yogi clearly favored jiriki.

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Questions:

1. Is Ananda (and the Yogi) right? Do most people just want the "easy way out"? If so, why do you think this is?

2. Which is more comfortable to you, jiriki or tariki? What benefits and drawbacks does each have?

"Even an ugly girl can have a nice ass"

"Even an ugly girl can have a nice ass"

Ananda:

This is not some namby-pamby "everyone has good points." That would not have been the Yogi's style.

I think he was talking about transcending categories of "good " and "bad," "beautiful" and "ugly" altogether. He often talked about Yin and Yang, saying that the "real deal" was above all that.

Anyway, that's how I understand this saying.

Ed.:

While Ananda's take on this aphorism is interesting, it's also problematic.

If one wishes to "transcend duality," why would one speak in such dualistic terms? "Ugly girl" and "nice ass" are as bleakly dualistic as possible.

No, I'm looking for something else here. (Unless he just meant it as it stands.)

"Ugly" is in front (the face); the "ass" is behind.

Could it be that the Yogi was speaking of changing one's perspective?

Or perhaps, that what is apparent (the face of the girl walking toward you) hides something else (the ass)? Is this "The jewel in the Lotus"?

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Question:

Do you agree with Ananda (this is about transcending duality) or Ed. (there's more to it than that)? Or is there another way to see it?

"F*ck can be a mantra if you say it right"

"F*ck can be a mantra if you say it right"

Ananda:

I'm starting off with this saying to show you what you're in for. I want you to see how unorthodox "the Yogi" was.

(By the way, I can't help but think how much he would have hated being called a "Yogi." He made no pretensions to any kind of "wisdom" or "enlightenment." Still, as I saw him, he was more advanced then most men, so I guess the label fits.)

Anyway, regarding this "aphorism" (if you can call it that):

He often said that it was not what you do, but how-- and especially why-- you do it that was important. Intention, he said, was everything.

He was fond of telling the story of the Zen master who killed a cat to for the benefit of his disciples. "That," he said, "was a sh*tty thing to do, but it was done with a pure intention, and that made it alright."

Ed.:

The story of Nansen and the cat is an example of what Buddhists call "Skillful Means" (Sanskrit upaya), the idea that a master can break the rules (here, the First Precept, which proscribes killing) if he or she sees a higher good in it.

But what the Yogi asserts in this aphorism flies in face of all we know about mantras. It's not only the intention that matters, but the words themselves. When Sanskrit mantras were adapted for use by the Chinese, they weren't translated, but transliterated, in an effort to maintain the efficacy (some would say the "magic") of the original sound. The translators felt that sound was more important than meaning.

So "Om Mani Padme Hum" was not translated (it means something like "Hail, the Jewel in the Lotus"), but rather it became "an ma ni ba mi mou," which is totally meaningless in Chinese. (According to one dictionary, the six characters represent: syllable ☼ [a modal particle] ☼ woolen material ☼ [denotes a sound or sharp noise such as gunfire etc.] ☼ [denotes a sound to call a cat] ☼ [denotes the sound made by a cow].)

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Questions:

  1. Is the Yogi right? Can f*ck be a mantra if you say it right?
  2. Would you be willing to learn from someone who stated things so crudely?

About the Aphorisms

Here's the story:

Little is known of the early life of Derek X, the man I call "The Derelict Yogi."

We know he went to Berkeley in the 60s; "tuned in, turned on, and dropped out"; and took off for India. What happened between then and 1980 or 1985 is shrouded, as they say, in mystery.

But for the past 25 years or so he was living in a fifth-floor walk-up in Hollywood, with a hot plate to cook on and a toilet down the hall.

A friend found his body one day not too long ago, after what the county described as "several days." He (or she) also found some notebooks. This friend had known the Yogi, and wanted to share his wisdom with the world--but anonymously.

I don't even know if this benefactor of the world's wisdom is male or female, let alone his/her name. But from what I can tell, he (I'll call this person "he" and use the name "Ananda") was as familiar with Derek's life and thoughts as anyone.

Why call him "Ananda," you may ask? Three reasons:

  • He's an amanuensis (scribe, copyist, secretary) and it sounds a little like "Ananda."
  • Ananda was the disciple of the Buddha best known for passing on his teachings.
  • If it turns out he's a she, I can easily change it to "Amanda."

Anyway, Ananda has chosen to share these sayings in bits and pieces, sometimes with comment and interpretation, sometimes standing alone. He often sets the sayings in the context of the Yogi's life (as Ananda did with the Buddha's stories). I will publish them as they're received, and as I have time.

I made up the title "Aphorisms of a Derelict Yogi"; in fact, I decided (with Ananda's tacit agreement) to even call Derek a "yogi." This word means one who pursues yoga, a connection ("yoke") with that which is beyond.

I, too, could not resist adding occasional thoughts to those of the Yogi and Ananda. These are clearly marked "Ed."

Warning: some of these sayings are not for the faint-hearted. The language and imagery can be crude. (I have chosen to censor some words with asterisks (*) not out of prudery, but to avoid various filters built into the Internet.)

But they show that wisdom abides everywhere. It may be a fluke that Ananda has brought these to our attention, but it reminds us of the countless accomplished yogis throughout the world that we will never hear of.

That's what we know. If I learn more of Derek or Ananda (or Amanda) I'll update you in these pages.

But mainly, I hope you will read and contemplate these Aphorisms without worrying too much where they came from.

Everything on these pages is © 2009 by James Baquet.