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Friday, January 2, 2009

Karma Yoga and The Three Donkeys — CREDO XXXII

There are several types of yoga; the most familiar ones are:
Hatha Yoga: the physical discipline of various postures or asanas for health.
Bhakti Yoga: the path of active devotion, gratitude, and praise.
Raja Yoga: becoming a monk or nun in Hinduism.
Jnana Yoga (pronounced gnana): the path of the intellect (cf. Thomas Aquinas).

And then there is Karma Yoga, which to practice calls for “living in the world and giving all of the fruits of your action to God.”

Many years ago, I said to myself, “I can do that!” It wasn’t easy as I was to learn. I began at bedtime by reviewing each day and trying hard to come up with anything I had accomplished by good intention, words, or actions that would be worthy as a gift. I sorted carefully through each day and came up with maybe one or two possibilities.

After about two weeks of this, I became increasingly morose and depressed, and a miasmic sense of guilt pervaded the day. What on earth was I doing wrong? I went back and reread the instructions, which I urge the reader to do. What word had I missed? Can you tell? Many of us, brought up in the West, have fallen into the trap Jung has pointed out – the conscious assumption of positive and the denial of negative (shadow) behavior. The latter banished into the personal unconscious, causes that vague sense of guilt. In other words, as I was trying to extract a speck of gold, the shit (nigredo) was piling up outside my door!

The word I, with my sorting Moon in Virgo, had missed was the little word all! Karma Yoga means offering up one’s failures as well as one’s virtues. If one has the courage to see them, one has made them conscious and maybe one can do a little better the next day. Keeping the balance of impartial observation is what’s tricky. Too harsh judgment is the sign of a negatively inflated ego; the smug assumption of nothing but good bespeaks an inflated ego, but an honest appraisal would point to a reasonably healthy ego. I tried to describe that in “The Tale of The Three Donkeys” in my The Beejum Book. I will try to include it as a sort of Easter present. Feel free to share it. It has been read in churches.

Chapter Eighteen
The Tale of the Three Donkeys

Once upon a time there were three donkeys who lived in the same stable, and this stable was in the countryside, a fair distance from the nearest big city. Every day, together or separately, the donkeys trotted out to market with heavy baskets at their sides, and every evening they munched their hay back in their stalls and compared notes about the day’s events.

The first donkey was by far the strongest and the handsomest and he always had the best tales to tell. It seemed he always carried the heaviest load or the best of the produce. He was, if the truth were known, the most conceited donkey anywhere about. And when his companions teased him about this, he simply put his nose up in the air, and closed his eyes with long-sufferance, and told his two friends how incapable they were of understanding him, because if they did, they would realize that he was really the humblest donkey in the world!

Now, the second donkey was just as big as the first one and was a very presentable donkey, indeed. But he was shy and suffered from a very poor opinion of himself. He always felt inadequate and stupid. The stories that he would tell invariably dwelt on his mistakes or his clumsiness – how he had stumbled and how his baskets had fallen off and spilled or how the other donkeys at the market mocked him. Secretly, he thought he was the worst donkey in the world, and apparently so did his master, who beat him daily with a stick and insulted him as a matter of course.

The third donkey was, in truth, the smallest of the three, but she was certainly the most realistic. She knew that she was a good solid and dependable beast of burden, and when she came home at the end of the day, there was little for her to brag about and still less to be ashamed of. She did the best she could with what she had at the moment it was most needed. She didn’t tell many stories about herself, because she knew that sometimes she was good and sometimes bad, sometimes smart and sometimes stupid, and that was the way of it. She got along very nicely with the other two, because she always listened to them with interest, if not curiosity, and in this manner she profited from their experience as well as her own.

One morning, an important man was going to ride to the city and needed to hire a donkey for that purpose. So he came to the stable to make inquiries of the owner. Naturally, the owner came into the stable and chose the first donkey. He was always the first chosen! So the man got on the donkey and began riding towards the city, and as he went down the road the news of his coming spread. People began to gather, and to point, and to shout, and to clap their hands. Soon they were waving palm fronds, calling him king, and throwing the fronds under the donkey’s feet.

The first donkey was delighted to be recognized as a king. Finally! It was about time! And he thought how splendid it would be to wear a golden crown and be the first King of all Donkeys. He completely forgot about the rider on his back and he pricked up his ears smartly, pranced a little this way and that and switched the tassel on his tail in what he thought to be a regal manner. He bowed his head graciously to the applause of the crowds, attempting withal to appear modest. However, when a young man, who had climbed up a tree just to see him better, waved and called for his attention, he just could not resist responding to such an effort to admire him. Thus it came about that he raised his head to acknowledge his admirer and, in so doing, stepped into a hole, fell, and broke his leg! His rider, who had almost been thrown off, dismounted, and decided – since he had gone only a third of the way to the city – to retrace his steps and return to the stable to hire another donkey. As he walked back, a wagon came to pick up the first donkey, and eventually he was carted back to his stable in considerable disgrace.

When the man spoke to the owner of the donkeys, he went straightway into the stable and chose the second donkey. But the second donkey, having heard the roar of the crowd, suspected the importance of this rider and immediately decided that he was unworthy to carry such a personage. Besides, his own coat was too mangy and his tail all ratty, so people would only make fun of his ugliness. None of which was true.

When the owner came to get the second donkey, he braced himself on all four feet and absolutely refused to budge. And we all know how stubborn even a small donkey can be! And all the while, this donkey was thinking bitterly to himself that if this man were truly a king, he should have hired a white horse! What on earth could he, a miserable donkey, do for a king! Why should anyone choose him to ride upon? So, the owner cursed the second one roundly and beat him soundly and called him the stupidest of all donkeys. And, at that moment, so he was.

Finally, the third donkey was brought out, and she sturdily and sensibly carried the man, without further to-do, to where he wanted to go, which was the big city of Jerusalem. She did the best she could with what she had at the time that it was needed. And she thought no more about it, since it was another day’s work, although she had to admit, there was a lot of attention given to the gentle rider on her back.

And strange as this may seem, that donkey ride has gone down in history, and that very donkey has been mentioned in a book that has sold more copies than any other in the world! That donkey has been painted over and over again carrying one of the greatest Masters of your world. It is quite true he could have ridden to the city on a fine white horse, but he didn’t. He chose a humble donkey who was willing to serve.
— From The Beejum Book by Alice O. Howell


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