Nitya Teachings

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Yoga Sutras II: 40-49


Sutra II:40

From purity: disgust with one's own limbs and avoidance of contact with others.


         The sutra caused a predictable uproar and got the class off to a fast start in reaction to it. We deemphasize the puritanical sidestream of spirituality in this Gurukula, and here it comes up with a vengeance. It is utterly out of character with the rest of this section. My take is that sutra 40 is a later insertion by a sannyasin from the medieval period when repression was most fashionable. It may well indicate the incursion of the Semitic religious outlook into the subcontinent. Compare this sutra with a few from the first pada:


33: The mind is clarified by cultivating friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward misery, gladness toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice.


35: When absolute interest is shown to a sensory experience or activity, that will bring the mind to a steady state.


36: Also by meditating on the sorrowless state of inner joy one can attain luminosity of intelligence.


37: Also the mind fixed on freedom from attachment to sense experience acquires steadiness.


Disgust and avoidance are pretty much the contrary propositions to these teachings, which we have taken to heart and which seem perfectly plausible.

         In this section of the Yoga Shastra, each of the ten observances and restraints has one sutra highlighting its benefits, all very positive. Only saucha, purity, has this one extra sutra, promoting a dark and unspiritual state of mind. It strikes me as totally out of place. Studies of the Bible as it appeared in different eras reveal how much was added and altered over time; unfortunately, India doesn’t have all those old manuscripts secreted in buried pots, so there is little or no historical record. But humans have always “improved” the treasures they deal with, and the more hard headed they are the more they find tampering irresistible.

         Still, as Deb pointed out, there has always been a strong streak of self-abnegation in Indian spirituality, where the body is treated as an impediment rather than an instrument. One big strand of spiritual history is a litany of the tortures people inflict on themselves and others in the name of some high principle. But as we have explored over the years, this is more likely to be a perversion of the psyche rather than a path to divinity. When the soul is crushed it lashes out or lashes in, and frequently both.

         Puritanism has grown over the millennia, as humans become more closely packed together and thus sensitive to outside opinions. Sometimes it seems like spirituality is a strict, loveless code of conduct, and anything else is mere self-indulgence. But we will uphold a happier view as long as our light continues to shine. With his gentleness and humor, Nataraja Guru affirms the value of delight in his commentary on Atmo, page 92:


It is true that in the Bacchanalian European context of wine and women, there is to the present day evidence of a love of the bright side of life. In India too the Vedic Aryans were also hedonists who drank wine and ate meat. To love the good things of life and participate in them with intelligence and sobriety, never violating kindliness for all living beings, would of course be normal. A philosopher, however, who is a realist and is not carried away by the superficial vanity and gaiety that is merely a thin superficial veneer on life, will be able to see that life with its multifarious wants and the need for much labor in connection with them, is one of “getting and spending and laying waste our powers.” Adversity has its “sweet uses” in teaching us to seek Happiness instead of mere pleasures.


Nataraja Guru’s “thin superficial veneer” of life corresponds to Nitya’s “makeup.”

         Our take on yoga is that it is a cure for the tragedy of a damaged psyche, and not an advocacy program for it. Purification is the healing of battered states of consciousness, which include disgust and aversion. Deb’s good friend had a roommate in college who was so ashamed of her body that she dressed in a closet so she wouldn’t have to see herself. Not just that she couldn’t be seen by anyone else, she could bear to see herself. We have to wonder if she’s in a straitjacket in some institution now. What a sad state of mind! And not one that any child is born with. It is a curse laid on her by her elders, and it would take a lot of loving care to restore her to normalcy.

         When we think of the great yogis, gurus and saints of history, especially outside the Semitic tradition but even within it, we don’t see them filled with revulsion, but evincing love and compassion. Even a Jesus who battled valiantly against the Roman Empire and religious hypocrisy was motivated by his love of God and not hatred; certainly not self-hatred. Yet it was all around him, as it’s all around us.

         As Brenda and others mentioned, the body is a miraculous, fabulously complex machine to enable us to act with expertise. Nitya goes to the heart of the matter in his commentary, which salvages much of value from this sutra:


Everything in this world is devoid of its primeval purity: we cannot see pure spirit anywhere nor pure matter anywhere.

  Spirit interpenetrates into matter and matter articulates the spirit. If the animating spirit leaves a body, it becomes a corpse. It has no sensation or knowledge. It has neither pain nor pleasure. Spirit cannot manifest itself and become a percipient or cognizer to perceive, to cogitate, and to evaluate. Spirit has to shine through physical entities such as the various faculties of our body. As the body is constituted of material or physical elements, it is governed by physical laws from which it cannot deviate. The biologic aspect is a meeting ground of spirit and matter.


Paul underlined Nitya’s idea that the integration of spirit and matter is central to our study, and not the prying apart of one from the other, which is the common misconception. We imagine we have to reject nature to become spiritual, but in actual fact we need to infuse it with spirit and let the unlimited wonders unfold. We didn’t come to this earth so we could find a way to leave, we have a grand donation to make and a drama to revel in.

         What we therefore recognize as an enlightened attitude is that the body is worthy of worship, not disgust. It’s what permits us to be alive, and from experience I can tell you the alternative is awful: when the spirit is detached from its means of expression it wanders lost in a dead and barren land. Revulsion at the physical is a schizophrenic attitude where we are pitted against ourselves, and as Jesus in the Bible says, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” (Matt 12:25.) Or as Chogyam Trungpa taught, we begin by learning to be our own best friend.

         When a new student comes to the Gurukula, there is a period of normalization where the self-hatred they have accumulated from their previous life is gradually rectified, replaced with a loving respect for existence and their rightful place in it. It is a most important step, without which real learning can’t even begin. This sutra teaches the exact opposite, so take it with an extra large grain of salt. Self-hatred and self-aggrandizement are two sides of a very ugly coin that needs to be discarded by the spiritual aspirant.

         Nancy and Moni led the revolt against this sutra by affirming that beautifying oneself can be a sign of respect that enhances life’s charm. Nancy believes that the urge to decorate things is a normal and charming feminine quality. Moni pointed out how all the icons in India are made up to an extraordinary degree. Kathakali dancers probably wear more makeup than anyone else on the planet, and it is a means to lift the audience to a mystical height. Brenda agreed that dressing up was an affirmation of herself as a caring individual and a way to share beauty.

         Nitya’s idea was not so much that makeup per se was bad, but that makeup can be a mask to protect our true self from the world, obscuring our inner purity. If it is put on to beautify, well and good. But as a repair program for the psyche it’s woefully inadequate. In Part II, Susan accurately portrays the negative side, so I’ll leave that to her.

         The legitimate purification of saucha is to learn to perceive the persona we have “made ourselves up” with. Probably we will continue to maintain our persona to some extent, but at least where we once lost our identity in it, we can gradually recover our self-awareness. A mask or veil does serve a useful purpose in casual interactions. The important thing is that if we feel unfulfilled in life because we don’t fully match our persona, we will spend vast amounts of energy trying to fit ourselves to it. It is much healthier to peel away the junk aspects of the persona—which, you’ll recall, is a strategy devised by an infant—and rediscover our authentic beingness. Who we are is the brightest light in the cosmos, but the light has become covered over with the dirt of ignorance and self-doubt. Saucha is where we scrub off of the dirt to allow the light to shine through ever more brightly.

         The class didn’t discuss the second half of the sutra, but the Gurukula affirms that contact with others is essential to our spiritual development and the avoidance of egomania and many other problems. We learn so much from feedback from our fellow travelers, and if we dwell in isolation we run a serious risk of wandering up a blind alley. Nitya used to say that the rocks in a stream bed are rounded off by bumping into one another as they are swept along. The contact wears away their sharp edges. We come together to add our best insights to each other, and help correct false notions that we pick up from the often toxic environment in which we exist.


         Okay, I smelled a rat with this oddball sutra, so I compared it with its surroundings. You all have the list I sent of the sutras by themselves, and if you read them in order, sutra II:40 stands out like a sore thumb as the only negative one, and the only extra one, in the present section. I’ll compress the list here to just the benefits of the yamas and niyamas, which are:


35: Hostility ceases. (yama: ahimsa)


36: The fruits of action rest on truth. (yama: satya)


37: All precious things present themselves. (yama: asteya)


38: One gains energy. (yama: brahmacharya)


39: Knowledge of the “how” and “wherefore” of existence arises. (yama: aparigraha)


40: Disgust with one's own limbs and avoidance of contact with others. (niyama: sauca)


41: Cheerfulness, one-pointedness, control of the senses, and fitness for the vision of the Self. (niyama: sauca)


42: Unsurpassed happiness. (niyama: santosa)


43: Perfection of the body and sense organs. (niyama: tapas)


44: Union with the worshipped deity. (niyama: svadhyaya)


45: Accomplishment of absorption. (niyama: isvara pranidhana)


It actually made me laugh out loud to see disgust and avoidance in such august company, like a fundamentalist at a science convention. My theory can’t be proved one way or the other, but the circumstantial evidence is quite compelling that sutra 40 is a later insertion. There may be others, though we’ll never know for sure. It reminds us to be on our guard and not make unwarranted assumptions, even when a thousand years and millions of people have testified to a revered falsehood.


Part II


         Susan did a nice thing: knowing she had other commitments last night, she read the material on her own and wrote about her impressions:


Since I won’t be coming to class, I thought I’d read through the commentary and I’m so glad I did. This is a great one.


I liked how Nitya starts by talking about the interdependence and relation between body and spirit; inanimate and animate. The spirit needs the body and the body needs the spirit. When one ponders this it is hard to understand how there can be any doubt about the existence of divinity in everyone and everything. Not only can I feel that divinity in my own being but I can look outside today at the new leaves dripping with fresh rain and see how full of spirit they are (I realize that a human spirit is different from that of a leaf/tree but there is still the animating thing happening). Even the rain, falling down is not purely matter. It is full of life, and the process that brings it to us (unceasingly) is full of life. And of course it makes life possible. It’s all so miraculous.


One of the greatest lines in this commentary is, “It is a pity that people take dirt for purity and the purity of nature for unattractiveness.” What a perfect response to human vanity. I really think that aging helps one to learn about this. I remember standing before the mirror, especially in my teens, and feeling so desperate to look a certain way. Amazing how I really thought that that image in the mirror was me!!! That image was the inanimate me — akin to a corpse really. I transferred all my being there and whatever that mirror told me about myself was what I heard. Of course it often told me that I was unattractive and worthless. I tried so hard to fix that with a hairbrush and some makeup. Of course it is nice to feel somewhat put together to fit into our social world but the primping should never take the place of or trump (I just went to bridge class) the true beauty within. Now that I am older and I can’t see as well and I feel that the inside of me is much more important than the outside of me, the mirror has a very minor role in my life. Love that.


The last two paragraphs of the commentary are wonderful also.


Looking forward to the class notes. Here’s to a wonderful class tonight.





         Susan, like most of us in the class, found the sentence at the bottom of page 279 -- “Those who are endowed with the brightest light of the spirit lose their track and fall into the filth of their physical secretions” – confusing, because it sounds like Nitya is referring to certain special people, like saints or gurus. He means all of us. The spirit is the brightest light of all, and everyone without exception is endowed with it.

         The most surprising thing is that the light, brilliant as it is, can be ignored or veiled in the first place, permitting us to lose our way and thrash about in outer darkness. It’s one of the greatest miracles of existence, perhaps the greatest. Marooned in darkness, we treat the light as the miracle, but it is our true nature, our ground. The real magic is that light has managed to create darkness out of itself, which permits the whole panoply of transformation to take place. If there were only light, we would have nothing to learn and nowhere to grow.

         Bill considered something that had crossed my mind also, that Nitya’s emphasis on dirtiness was a veiled instruction for people in the room when he gave the class who may not have been paying enough attention to their hygiene. Bill remembered Nitya sometimes calling us his “hippie boys and girls,” meaning not so much that we were hip but that we were slobs. He often had to combat the drug-induced complacency of some of us that just having a buzz was the essence of spirituality. In fact, he apparently referred to us as his “marijuana boys and girls” too. Some of the ubiquitous misconceptions about spirituality can be directly traced to drug use, in my (admittedly first hand) opinion.


Part III

         Jan made a really important contribution that deserves its own entry. Having a handicapped child with a degenerative illness, she is particularly sensitive to how the nearly omnipresent obsession with appearance is unintentionally hurtful to those who are never going to match the collective hallucination of “perfection,” and which is the goal of so much striving and anxiety, especially in teenagers. There is an implied insult when people carry on about their minor flaws, not realizing how immensely fortunate they are.

         Jan has worked long and hard to convince her son Louis that his light is as bright as everyone else’s, despite the surface anomalies that are what people tend to focus on. Basically, Jan has seen how an attitude like disgust can have a devastating effect on a person, and how very, very important it is to have a positive self image. Cases like Louis’s are not cause for pity; they should be a stimulus to realize that the worth of a person is not predicated on their physical attributes. It also reminds us that not everyone has as wise and dedicated a caregiver as Jan, who can help them realize their intrinsic value, and that many handicapped people (most of whose challenges are not visible) have had a very difficult time coping with being different and feeling worthless. Much more than the rest of us who have felt the same way with much less provocation.

         Sutra II: 40, then, scores low on both its points. Disgust about oneself is harmful, and the consequent withdrawal from social contact only exacerbates the damage. Better to learn to accept ourselves as we are, which is miraculous in all cases, and be encouraged to maintain nontrivial friendships. The advice is equally appropriate for a spiritual path and an ordinary happy life, which really should not even be seen as two different things.



Sutra II:41

From inner purity: cheerfulness, one-pointedness, control of the senses, and fitness for the vision of the Self.


         This sutra is so much more like it! It energized one of our truly excellent classes, where we collectively worked our way deep into the practical implications of purity, beginning with clichés and ending up somewhere down the road to “fitness for the vision of the Self.” I'll set as much as I can of it down, but this was a class where you had to be there. Frankly, thinking back on it I'm a bit overwhelmed by the wealth of ideas we generated.

         The thrust of Nitya’s commentary includes one of his favorite, and very apt, metaphors:


An analogy will be helpful in understanding the dialectics of the one and the many. If a certain area has a powerhouse, the power generated there goes to many individual units such as homes, public institutions, factories, theaters, and so on. Each unit has its own power control but the supply for all is controlled by the powerhouse. We can understand the powerhouse as representing the supreme Self, the nature of which is sat-cit-ananda. The individual units are very much like people, each of whom has an inner organ that controls their wakeful, dream, and deep sleep hours. Although the power in the powerhouse and the individual units is the same, at each individual unit it can be stepped up or down as required. When power is transmitted through a stove, it gives heat; transmitted through a fan, it makes a current of air; through a refrigerator, it freezes, and so on. Similarly, when the pure aspect of Self (pratyang caitanya) is directed into the individual, it is only a reflected reality or self (abhasa caitanya).

  The pure light that comes into the individual has the same quality as its absolute source. But the individuated person experiences only the reflected image of the Self. The medium through which the reflection comes is nature.


He adds that the natural world is reflected through the lens of the three gunas, pure, fractured or dark.

         One of the earliest memories I have from Nitya’s first Gita class in Portland, in 1970, is of a similar metaphor. He pointed to a light bulb and said, “I am like that bulb, with no light of my own. I am only a receptacle. My Guru is the electricity that produces the light. I have to have the proper apparatus to afford the light the opportunity to shine here, and the ability to switch it on. Without the Guru flowing into me, I am only a darkened bulb.”

         The class wrestled with the gunas for awhile, because there are a couple of different takes on them that do cause confusion. The first directive is to transcend them all, but there is also the call to purify them in an ascending order from darker to lighter. These strike people as mutually exclusive, but they aren’t really. Graded purification relates to horizontal factors and transcendence to vertical ones, but as yogis we strive to integrate them. A fully nondual attitude rejects “mirror polishing Zen,” the eternal purification process, but Patanjali’s Yoga is mildly dualistic, and it definitely fits better with most of our mental orientation. Patanjali indicates that the clearer our vision, the easier it will be to transcend our limited point of view, and that makes sense.

         But this is all empty clichés until we bring it down to earth. One-pointedness and control of the senses are the familiar purificatory arenas where yogi-gladiators combat the wild beasts of their limited understanding. When we meditate we have to screen out mental and physical distractions in order to maintain our focus. My favorite analogy is playing music, where the least intrusive thought disrupts the flow. It's a wonderful feedback mechanism for staying on task and letting the extraneous thoughts pass without hanging on to them. As a rank amateur musician, I used to get angry with myself when my mind wandered, which would only make the consequent mistakes worse and last longer. Then I'd get more upset at my anger, and take the disruption to another level. So the purification for one-pointedness, and control of the senses (itchy nose, sneezes), is to let go as quickly as possible. Sometimes you can jolt yourself back on track with a brief burst of “Come on, you stupid fool!” but you can't stay on that note for more than an instant or it will catch you.

         Nancy, who has a duck spirit, describes her exemplary cheerfulness as being like how water runs off a duck's back. Duck feathers have an oily coating that repels water, so, like the lotus that sits in water and never gets wet, they can swim around all day in a rain-drenched pond and stay perfectly dry. Nancy has the same kind of neutral attitude, where even if a drop does get past her equanimity and chills her for a moment, she doesn't hold on any longer than the situation requires. She has what Michael referred to as buoyancy: the ability to recover quickly from a blow. Susan likened it to a ship with adequate ballast that rights itself even after a heavy wave knocks it for a loop.

         Admittedly, this much of purification is old hat, and yet we still over-manage ourselves all the time, and consequently our progress is often very slow. Purity is not a finalized position we sit in, it is a process of continually disentangling ourselves from the well-tended brambles we regularly stumble over. We must not do either too little or too much by way of purification, and neither indulge our faults or get overly impatient at how many we still possess after all these years.

         Deb remembered Nitya once (long ago) telling her, “I hope someday you'll have less to defend.” As Guru-spears do, that one went deep into her heart. It dawned on her that we don't even realize how so much of our “normal” behavior is a defense of our position, legitimate or otherwise, and it caused her to look long and hard into herself. Any fixed position is indefensible in the ultimate analysis. One aspect of purification is weaning ourselves away from the need to defend who we think we are. This was probably our most important group realization of several major ones.

         When we are accused by someone, especially someone we love, it elicits a negative response in direct proportion to the degree of our impurity, of our attachment to a fixed position. If we are a saint—Bill gave his favorite example of the Dalai Lama—the accusations don't cause any disturbance in us, because we are so thoroughly identified with the Absolute we have nothing to defend. In other words, there is no guilt, nothing for the accusations to activate. We are pure, in that sense. But to the extent we have a hidden agenda of selfish motivations—as likely as not hidden from our conscious mind as well—we feel compelled to bark back and keep the accuser at bay.

         In this way, life is acting like a wise guru and throwing light into our darkly protected areas. Our egos are content to leave a lot of garbage lying just behind our defensive barricades, out of sight out of mind, as they say. So life blesses you with your child, or a coworker, or even a stranger, who points a finger at you. They probably are pointing at something else entirely, but deep down you know what you are hiding, and you feel the sting in your heart, the pangs of guilt. If, instead of getting angry, we use that flash of recognition to bring what it reveals up into our consciousness, it is a true act of purification.

         One of the happy results of facing these things, and what makes for the cheerfulness listed first in this sutra, is that the poison that has been leaking out of them is neutralized. Much of the time, converting lurking resentments into conscious images defangs them. This is the practical process by which we sacrifice our presumed individuality, which is primarily a composite of the quirks we have developed from painful and pleasurable experiences, in favor of our universal selfhood. “I” am the person who has all these beliefs and needs (demands, desires) and as “I” give them up I make room instead for the “laughter of the immortals,” which is a favorite phrase of Deb’s, apparently coined by Herman Hesse in Steppenwolf. As I become less of an I, I become more my Self, and levity soars in my gladdened heart. I may well burst out in laughter.

         The cheerfulness we see in enlightened people, or the enlightenment we see in cheerful people, comes from purifying ourselves from the hidden agendas we secretly cling to, imagining we need them to survive. When we give them up and find they are not at all necessary, it is like rolling a great stone away from the door to our tomb. Coming out is such an uplifting sensation, it is like rising up to heaven, lighter than a feather.

         Michael admitted that he is suspicious of cheerfulness, as many of us are, because it is often a false posture, and painfully superficial. But authentic cheerfulness is grounded on self-realization, and it doesn’t grate on the nerves at all. It is more like a refreshing drink at a cool mountain stream after a long dusty hike. Gurus don't gnash their teeth and curse under their breath, they laugh and go on to explain exactly what the problem is in no uncertain terms.

         I would like to add, though, that recent studies have shown that our mood is very much manipulable by conscious strategies. If we force a smile, soon we will feel better, and so on. We are much more in charge of our state of mind than vested interests would like us to know, so they can sell us patent medicines instead of permitting us to manage ourselves. Be that as it may, people who evince a false cheerfulness that is obviously masking a tragic sadness don’t cheer anyone else up. Quite the reverse. The real cure is to purify our psyche by facing up to who we are, and that is most likely to be revealed by crashing and banging against the world, because to our ego we’re fine just as we are.

         One of the best examples of the class regarding purity was when you have a four-year-old child who is yelling at you, you rarely feel like there is any connection with you in their ranting, so you don't get upset. You comfort them and try to get to the bottom of their misery. But your sixteen-year-old is much more clever to know who you are, and she can really hurt you. Likewise, a stranger can be insulting and the pain it causes passes immediately, but your spouse can say the same thing and it burns for weeks. It's our own impurities that burn, and for a conscious seeker that means they are burning up and going away. For an ordinary person, the resentment may be harbored forever, encouraged by a false appreciation of its value. Western psychology believes that getting angry is a solution in and of itself. In yoga it can be an intermediate step to break the logjam, but it should never be the last word. What upsets us shows us our hidden impurities so we can cure them and become sincerely cheerful.

         As Bill said, these are the tools that we can use to become fit for the vision of the Self. We investigated what exactly that means. Anne wanted to know what the vision of the Self was. She thought the self was the ego, and what kind of a vision was that? But the atman or Self is more like Jung’s collective unconscious or de Chardin’s noosphere, the sphere of human thought, the conscious living sheath of our planet. Essentially, the Self represents the unity of all things as opposed to the multiplicity we perceive with our senses. Unity transcends our sense perceptions, and is a metaphysical reality apprehended by thought and meditation. In a very real sense it is the goal of our Yoga study.

         Purification in relation to the vision of the Self involves discerning the oneness within our experience. The world is not impure in any moral sense, but it does capture our attention and distract it from the underlying unity. The final benefit of purity, fitness for the vision, comes from no longer being sucked in by the side of life that is always grabbing at our lapels and shaking us. As Brenda quoted from Nitya’s interpretation of sutra II:33, “When we are identified with this universal mind, God's mind, the person who is spitting venom or kicking at us is seen only as a patient with a malady.” Then we are free to minister to the divinity within them.

         Once again, all this does not mean that there are pure people and impure people. We all have a vast store of impurities, and they make us who we are. They are normal, but inhibiting and problematic nonetheless. We work on them to free ourselves, but we never trick ourselves with the lie that we are now pure, pity the fools who aren't. Saucha, purity, is a yoga practice, something to do all the time, something really fun to do all the time, and not a finalized position where I egotistically believe I am holier than thou.



Sutra II: 42

Unsurpassed happiness comes from contentment.


         The evening was enlivened by two new participants, Ananda and Prasanna, who happily had no reluctance to join in the discussion. Ananda spent some time with Guru Nitya in Fernhill in the mid-1990s. He opened the class with a serene and beautiful violin solo, which set the perfect tone for the subject matter: the supreme happiness brought about by contentment.

         Nitya bases his comments on a vertical axis visualized as having absolute necessity at the negative pole and total freedom at the top. Spiritual life is an intentional progression toward the liberation of freedom over its entire ambit, not excluding the great many ups and downs everyone experiences. Nitya puts it this way:


The world of necessity holds before us the need to nourish and sustain the body, to tickle the senses, to over-awe the mind. These all belong to the negative pole of the vertical parameter. There is a noble desire that transcends all these: the desire to free oneself from the dictates of the transient, to gain absolute freedom. This is the desire for emancipation or realization. Emancipation comes with the recognition of the homogeneity of the worthwhileness of every passing moment. It is a peak experience, not a transitory peak but a continuous one in which the fluctuating differences in the environmental factors that envelop each situation are glorified for whatever merit is outstanding in that given situation.


         Obviously, the compounding of necessities in our lives—while widely advocated as a kind of consumerist freedom—is diametrically opposed to the unfettered state aimed at in Yoga.

         A simplistic view of the continuum described by Nitya can make us believe that the goal is total freedom. Spirituality tends to be viewed as a black and white dichotomy. Buddhists seek the void of nirvana, while Hindus extol the minimalist Ramana Maharshi. Narayana Guru’s model, however, like the Buddhist Bodhisattva, was to retain a modest degree of involvement in necessity while living as freely as possible. He held back at the brink of full merger so that he could lend his light to his fellow beings. Remaining poised at that delicate psychic interface was a key to his virtually unlimited effectiveness in bringing about large-scale positive transformations.

         This has been explored in depth in the class notes to Nirvana Darsana, from a few years back. They’re actually fun to read! Here’s a paragraph I found about Nancy that relates well to Sutra 42:


Despite being our local prophet and oracle, [Nancy] sees herself as someone who loves her sensory life much more than any “realized” state of mind. But the other day she was sitting on her back porch and gazing at the forest, and she suddenly realized that it was just a flat two-dimensional image she was looking at, and interpolating its depth with her mind. Then she became aware it was her state of awareness that mattered most: that each of her senses was only picking up a tiny fraction of the totality of sensations, but that she herself—her awareness of it all—was what supplied the beauty and excitement that the trickle of sense input merely hinted at. And then she thought, “Oh, THIS is what they’re talking about in all those classes!” A welcome epiphany indeed, but we also hope that she never loses her pro-life stance, meaning her love of experience and enjoyment. This study is not about discarding joy, but about discovering the far greater joy that is possible when we transcend our limitations and our learned fixations.


         So, while the sutra sounds at first like it’s not very important, true unforced contentment is a hard won prize, with many hurdles to surmount. We have to really think hard and cast off any number of plausible but binding concepts. Michael gave the best example of several we came up with, one that perfectly exemplifies the niyama we are hereby called to practice.

         Michael has several friends who are what we might call doctrinaire progressives. Idealistically they put the happiness of others before their own happiness, and so they are always angry, dissatisfied, worried, and or complaining. Michael wondered rhetorically if they exemplified happiness in themselves whether it would make them more effective at making things better. Their negativity puts many people off. Concern for others is but one of many good reasons humans have to intentionally curtail their own happiness, and while it's understandable it's still sad. The world will always have more problems than an army of saints could ever ameliorate. One of the biggest problems we all face is how to become content in a world of discontent.

         As a Vietnam War protester I agonized for years over this issue myself, and I have known many examples of the friends Michael was referring to. Almost all of them are good-hearted people who care a lot—really fine folk worthy of admiration. During the Vietnam War the evening news regularly carried film of the actual atrocities, and it was almost impossible to think that anyone should allow themselves a moment of peace until the slaughter of innocents was brought to a halt. “He who laughs has not yet heard the terrible news,” as Bertolt Brecht put it. Well, we were all hearing it loud and clear, and we were fighting mad. Our intensity not only impelled the Establishment to escalate its malevolence, it galvanized it to rapidly abandon the slim pretense of democracy it had formerly used as a cover.

         The paradox involved is that allowing yourself to get sucked into misery is a way of keeping the misery thriving. In the face of the unending terrible news, we have to struggle to learn a non-evasive, fearless form of contentment or supreme happiness. That is the only strategy to help others that those of us outside the corridors of power can use effectively. That’s because who and what we are—our state of mind—radiates out and has a direct effect on the world around us. If we radiate hostility, we produce hostility, and if we radiate love… well, I’ll let you guess.

         This is true on a global scale as well as the personal. After World War II, both the US and the Soviet Union were idealistic superpowers aiming at universal brotherhood and prosperity, but each felt compelled to be utterly inimical to the other. As a result, both slipped rapidly into criminality and mendaciousness, coupled with an all-out arms race. They became the most destructive forces ever known on the planet, while all their purported blessings drained out through the cracks.

         Prasanna asked several astute questions, the most important of which was does santosha, contentment, require us to act spontaneously? There is a strong streak in mysticism that if we restrain our impulses we are inhibiting our spiritual nature, and conversely, by acting without restraint we must therefore be spiritual. In fact, both spontaneity and restraint are essential factors in achieving the neutrality of true contentment.

         Susan lent me a book before class, How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer, (Boston: Mariner, 2009) that puts this matter in a nutshell. Lehrer is speaking of decision making, but isn’t that the crux of the matter? What we decide either builds up or tears asunder, leading either to contentment or dissatisfaction. Even taking the time to not decide anything for a meditative stretch requires an intentional decision:


  Our brains [don’t] come preprogrammed for good decision-making. Despite the claims of many self-help books, intuition isn't a cure-all. Sometimes feelings can lead us astray and cause us to make all sorts of predictable mistakes. The human brain has a big cortex for a reason.
  The simple truth of the matter is that making good decisions requires us to use both sides of the mind. For too long, we've treated human nature as an either/or situation. We are either rational or irrational. We either rely on statistics or trust our gut instincts. There's Apollonian logic versus Dionysian feeling; the id against the ego; the reptilian brain fighting the frontal lobes.
  Not only are these dichotomies false, they're destructive. There is no universal solution to the problem of decision-making. The real world is jut too complex. As a result, natural selection endowed us with a brain that is enthusiastically pluralist. Sometimes we need to reason through our options and carefully analyze the possibilities. And sometimes we need to listen to our emotions. The secret is knowing when to use these different styles of thought. We always need to be thinking about how we think. (xvi)


It’s so exciting that fMRI is allowing us to objectively observe the brain’s functioning, and it is verifying and even enhancing the insights of the rishis. Science makes many religious and superstitious beliefs obsolete, but truth cannot be disproved, else it would not be truth. For those who care, anything short of truth will not bring contentment. Bowing to necessity can sometimes imitate freedom, but it always fails in the last analysis. We must keep refining and enhancing our search until the light of unsurpassed happiness dawns. That's what keeps life interesting.


Part II

         Ananda related a story to illustrate the unattached aspect of Yoga no matter what the external circumstances may be, which he kindly typed up and sent this morning. It sounds like it comes from the Yoga Vasishta, but we’re not sure. Here’s his note:


I've read from Osho. Don't know where he got it from though! But that has really changed something in me. That's why I wanted to share. I thought it will make easier on you not to key in the whole thing again. There are two sentences I would like to alter in the story which are highlighted here. About the 'becoming and being' related to contentment was an insight came to my mind while we were pondering after the reading of the text. That could be also from memory. But it is a part of me now. Thank you for the great opportunity created for learning and growing within. A real Gurukulam indeed.


Once upon a time there lived a king. He used to go for rounds every evening in his country. Every time he used to see a naked man standing happily under a tree at the border where the forest begins. One day the king went to the person and politely introduced himself. The king told: “you look like a great yogi. You radiate so much peace. Please come along with me to my palace. I request you to be my Guru hereafter.” The yogi readily agreed. As they both traveled towards the palace, they entered a village. The yogi stopped and said: "Dear king, it won't be proper for you if I come naked like this to your place. It will be enough to cover myself if you can give me your shawl. The king thought that was a sensible request and gave away his precious shawl to the yogi. They proceeded further and reached a small town. This time the yogi said to the king that it is not proper for the Guru to walk and the disciple to ride on a horse. This time the king was a bit shocked but had to yield. On the way, the yogi himself started to announce to the crowd that he is the Raja Guru. The king was a bit annoyed by all these and became a bit skeptical about his decision. He thought that the person may not be a real yogi, but just a crank.


Eventually they reached the palace. The king gave all the facilities to his new guest. The yogi really enjoyed a very luxurious life. He also proved to be a competent Guru who helped the king in all his duties brilliantly. A couple of years passed by. One day the king hesitantly asked the yogi “What is the real difference now between you as a yogi and me as a king?”  Yogi said he will reply to this doubt in the evening. As usual they went for their regular evening stroll and reached the border where they first met. The yogi alighted from his horse and said to the king that this horse belonged to the king. Then he took off the valuable dress he was wearing and told that even this belonged to the king. Seeing this, the king was stunned for a moment. Yogi continued, “This doubt came to you not just today but the very first day when I asked you to alight from the horse for me. You may take all these and kindly go back to your palace. You won't be able to leave everything and be here. That is the difference between a yogic life and a luxurious kingly life.”


The king realized his mistake and apologized, asking the yogi to return with him to the palace. The yogi said that this is his answer to the king's question. He also told that he was happy in the forest without anything, and he was happy in the palace enjoying all the luxuries too. He further told that he will continue to be happy here in the forest under the same tree, and anytime the king needs any help in the country's affairs he is welcome to come and discuss it with him right there.



Sutra II: 43

Perfection of the body and sense organs through destruction of impurity by self-purification.


         In our ongoing attempt to demystify Patanjali's Yoga, we can see that for him tapas is aimed at physical and mental well-being. If we are healthy, our minds will be available for advanced thinking and contemplation, and if we're sick or addled they won't. Tapas is about optimizing our health, both mentally (remember that the mind is the coordinator of the senses) and physically. Health is one area we have learned a great deal about in the 2500 years since this Yoga was set down.

         The impurities in question include disease-causing germs, toxic foods and beverages, chaotic relationships and environments, and so on. We just spent the weekend with Bill’s dear friend and dream wizard Stanley Krippner and his associate Sideon, a grandson of the Native American shaman Rolling Thunder. Sideon talked about how absinthe used to be colored green by adding shaved copper to it, and the derangement associated with absinthe actually came from copper poisoning. More well-known is the mercury poisoning that made for mad hatters. In his memoir Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks wrote about how radium was ingested as a health supplement when it was first discovered, until the takers began dying of radiation sickness. Watch makers (blind or otherwise) who used radium to paint luminous dials also contracted the disease. The point is that humans have been churning through a lot of ignorance regarding health issues, and only very recently has it started to make coherent sense. Started to. We inhabit a very delicate biological system that can be thrown into chaos by all sorts of subtle and unsubtle pollutants, including ideas and the words used to express them.

         Tapas is thus something that practically everyone is obsessed with. The right foods, the proper exercise, the value of sun exposure, the cleanliness of the air we breathe, how much radiation we tolerate, it’s all vitally important to us. The only problem is that tapas can become an end in itself. We are so caught up in optimizing our health we sometimes forget to use the resulting good health to align ourselves with the Absolute. Gurus are well aware that our bodies will give out no matter how nicely they are treated. We are searching for that which persists in the midst of all the deterioration, and would be foolish to hitch our star to the part that is doomed.

         In Patanjali’s orientation, then, tapas is like sraddha. In his Gita commentary, Guru Nitya says, “What is prized most highly in the Gita is an unfailing attention to the Absolute, which runs through every moment of life like a golden thread, giving unity to life and order to the world. This is called sraddha.” (342) He adds later, “Sraddha means one-pointed attention, perfect bipolarity, total acceptance, pure devotion, ardent faith, full sympathy, unconditional appreciation, and an attitude of loving regard which is continuous and consistent, like the unbroken flow of oil.” (373)

         Hatha yoga, which is called simply yoga in America because it’s the only game in town, is a form of tapas, a practice promoting bodily health. Because of a confusion of terms, it is wrongly associated with asana, posture, which we will address in a few weeks. Posture means having the proper orientation to contemplate the Absolute, and does not mean the position we put our physical forms into. When we are undistracted by extraneous attractions and sub-par feelings, we are in the proper asana. Our three years of dedicated study of the Yoga Shastra are primarily aimed at attaining the right asana, the right attitude to open ourselves to the Absolute.

         Once upon a time I used to practice hatha yoga regularly, and shared the common belief that it led to realization. You just kept doing it, and eventually it freed up your kundalini and boom! enlightenment. I suppose it was a great incentive to keep practicing, but I eventually realized it was just another fantasy, and therefore just another form of religion. I suppose that is a kind of realization, though! Nitya sums up the whole kit and caboodle in his Brihadaranyaka Upanishad commentary: “Religion itself has become the greatest snare to stop a person from the vertical ascent of spiritual pursuit.” (Vol. III, 174). He doesn’t just mean what is commonly called religion, but whatever we put our faith in.

         Tapas in more general terms references the heating up that occurs when you are embroiled in something you love. It often includes the heat generated when your ego is thwarted by your teacher or therapist, which can lead either to a breakthrough or a disadoption, a cooling of the ardor. But for the casual student who is not interested in risking their comfort for that kind of intensity, it can be taken simply as attaining a proper balance, the ever-elusive equipoise. Deb was kind enough to distill her ideas on this from the class into the following paragraph:


Purifying oneself is not what we commonly assume: it's not a process of cleaning off something, scrubbing or scraping off something bad and polluting. Rather it's a process of harmonizing and balancing our physical and emotional factors (the Ayurvedic components and the gunas that Nitya refers to in the commentary). That harmonizing cleans or purifies us of the emotional exaggerations, the tangents, the accretions that prevent our natural radiance, the Absolute, from shining forth and from expressing itself through/with us. It's a dynamic, continuous process or experience.


Again, this is what Patanjali calls asana, a properly balanced psychological position, which is arrived at intentionally through tapas.

         An especially interesting aspect of our discussion related to words. Modern science is observing a direct link between thoughts, words, and our very ability to conceptualize. Thoughts and words are a chicken and egg development that take us into new regions, states of mind never dreamed of until we have terminology for them. Deb and I had just listened to a group of fascinating audio broadcasts from Radiolab ( It’s a welcome antidote to the prevailing anti-wisdom that words are a block to spiritual awareness. In fact, they open up new terrain, introducing their users to the galaxies they stand for, galaxies that were not even suspected before.

         One particularly poignant story concerned a 27-year-old deaf man who had never learned to associate words with his world and so lived in a kind of vacuum. No one taught him to sign; they just thought he was stupid. A teacher began working with him, and all he would do was imitate her movements uncomprehendingly. It was incredibly frustrating, but she finally hit on a strategy to get through to him. She remembers a subtle shift in his body language as it started to dawn in him what language was. Then, like the dawning of ten thousand suns, it burst upon him. He began attaching signed words to everything around in a frenzy, and then burst into tears as the glory of his expanding mind overwhelmed him. It was as if his life began at that exact moment.

         So words are keys to open up unexpected expanses as well as maintain the ones we are familiar with. Paul in particular has been ecstatic about the new realms he is discovering from reading Nitya’s books and getting turned on by them. The words simultaneously sweep away long-entrenched blocks and offer springboards in their place. He is well aware that many words can hold us in bondage, but he is happily discovering that other word constructions can liberate and stimulate him. And this is by no means a fantasy: Paul’s new ideas are like horses (or elephants) to carry him into uncharted territory. He is confident to go ahead because he has trust in Nitya as a level-headed guide who will not lead him astray. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.

         Paul treated us to a neat analogy. It’s like he’s been walking around for weeks with a coin in his pocket that he’s sure is a penny, but when he takes it out and looks at it, it’s a much more valuable dime. In other words, we often use our concepts to downgrade what we’re carrying, without even realizing it. We imagine we are poor, when in truth we are quite well off. So even one simple verbalized idea can convert all our small change into something much more valuable, for an entire lifetime. Not bad.

         One aspect of words that science may never be comfortable addressing is that they can serve as a jumping off platform into the unknown. It seems fitting to conclude with the yogic secret of how to accomplish this, again very well expressed in Nitya’s Brihadaranyaka Upanishad commentary:


It is not with any word that we comprehend the Word, but with a total plunge into inexpressible wonder, to which we come with the canceling out of all the contradictions of this eternal paradox. After exhausting all possible complementarities and reciprocities, we come to grapple with the all-out contradictions. This gives us the secret of canceling out opposites to land in the neutral zero from which words recoil and the mind is melted away into oblivion. (Vol. II, 171)


Part II
         Deb sent a perfect poem she was inspired to write about the young man who learned language at 27:


In the Beginning


Sheet-white, a block of snow,


filling space.


A black ribbon hanging down,


feelings of anger? hurt?




Water streaming

through the world,

the body,

carrying with it

shards of color.


Warmth and touch,


settling into a corner.


In all of this

no sound, no words,

no me,

no you,

no thing.


Into this unbroken block

some newness comes,

one face looking into another,

moving hands,


moving lips,

again and again.







Again and again


Then one afternoon:

birds in the trees,

a shaft of light,

land masses shifting.
An egg cracks open,

shell pieces shatter and fall,

and in that wind,

in that mind,

a word comes,

a word,

any word,

and I see:



a hand

a table.


That world begins

to divide,

to flower,

to become:

one self,

one thing,



and I collapse, weeping,

to the floor,

tears watering the ground

as my self comes into a world,

a world being made

word by word,

self with others,

infinite, endless.


Part III

John sent some fine feedback, including:


Did you ever read Helen Keller's autobiography? Helen Keller's autobiography, the triumph of the human soul, mind, whatever it is, in the quest for enlightenment…. And the triumph of the soul over the limitations of the physical world and limitations placed upon us by our fellow humans.


I mention this because of her thoughtful thoughts on the acquisition of language:


“I knew that word, w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were the barriers still, it is true, but the barriers could in time be swept away. I left the well house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought.”


After we gave my [autistic son] Sean, at age 9, the Barrard therapy, he acquired receptive language. No longer did he just look blankly when I talked to him - but suddenly, he cocked his head, eager for his ears to lap up every syllable, his eyes watching, not glancing over, my lips. Now I could say: get out of the way, and he would endeavor to cooperate, to collaborate, and concepts had meaning for him then. Of course, that was also when he understood that he could not speak, and he learned how to cry, too.



Sutra II: 44

By self-study, union with the worshipped deity.


         A long-awaited gorgeous Oregon day capped by a handsome sunset formed the backdrop for our midsummer night’s dream of Patanjali, as a palpable wave of relief coursed through the local collective consciousness.

         Nitya’s comments on this sutra are a kind of veiled guru transmission in which the poles of the search for truth are brought together in unity. The typical seeker posits a deity absolutely other than themselves, and develops a relationship to that hypothesis. Those with a more philosophic bent seek truth “by systematically refuting everything that is of a relativistic order,” the most essential form of relativity being between God and man. If done with wholehearted dedication and clarity of mind, both approaches “ultimately arrive at the Adorable in which both the worshipper and the contemplative vanish.”

         Deb and I had just had a visit with our nephew, raised fundamentalist Christian, who is slowly breaking out of the dogmatism his childhood has been shrouded in. We had a fine discussion with him, but it reminded us that to a modern day Christian, God is wholly other, absolutely unattainable, and that the only proper attitude is to humbly denigrate yourself. To believe you are in any way like God is to be deluded by the devil and condemned to hell. This is the exact polar opposite of the Vedantin, who intuits that there is only God, that there could be nothing else than God anywhere, and so everyone is necessarily That. This sutra counsels us that these ideas are only apparently divergent, and if followed to their logical conclusion they dovetail in what is true, which is common to both.

         There are also drawbacks to both tactics. The latter attitude runs the risk of developing megalomania or narcissism, which is avoided through community and/or surrender to a guru. The former runs an even greater risk of the ego rebounding from its overt suppression and becoming vicious and exclusionary, and unfortunately its preachers and priests very often encourage and amplify such divisiveness. In both cases the cure is to go beyond the all too human tendency to insist that we know everything there is to know, and instead cultivate an open attitude of welcoming new insights. The ego defends itself by pretending to knowledge it in fact does not possess, and only if it becomes healthy and courageous can it dare to surrender such a pose in favor of straightforward honesty. Svadhyaya, self study, aims to bring about this optimal state of mind, to transpose us from posers to practitioners.

         Only after the ego relinquishes its fixation on itself, either positively or negatively, can it at last turn to the Absolute or God or Nature and experience the joy of adoration.

         In our study now we are moving very powerfully toward unity. Having painstakingly laid the groundwork for several years, we can seriously begin to let go of many impediments and enjoy the delights of unfettered existence, which are a small measure of the blessings bestowed upon us by whatever-it-is. Our previous experience with exploring the Yoga Shastra is that the intensity is subtle enough to be missed by the conscious mind, but there is a very powerful undercurrent generated by our involvement with it. The ego resists anything promising to reduce it from a dictator to something like a democratic president, so we see the dropout rate increase. This might be a good thing if a person isn’t ready for the transformation we have been building toward, but it’s too bad if a simple trick of the ego is allowed to sabotage so much admirable effort. This is a point where some pointed dedication can make a big difference. Excuses are many and varied, and almost always plausible, but should be carefully scrutinized for their validity.

         Our class took a different tack from Nitya’s, viewing the sutra more literally. Patanjali says that by examining ourselves we become united with the beloved deity. We don’t look outside anywhere for it, it is discovered by delving into our own nature. And so we requested examples from everyone of how self study revealed aspects of “divinity” within them.

         Charles offered an illustration that bridged the gap in the two techniques. From early on, the famous Hindu rishi Ramakrishna was enamored with Kali, a fierce version of the Divine Mother. His worship was the most intense of anyone, so much so that he was called the Mad Brahmin. He was always in deep samadhi, enchanted within a magical world of worship, holding interminably long pujas (worships) where he talked with Kali and ecstatically revered her. Yet he never became her, he remained an especially worshipful devotee. One day a wise Advaita (nondual) Vedantin spoke with him, and told him he would never know God unless he gave up the idea of it having a particular form. He asked the Mother if she would give him permission to take this final step, and she said yes, fine, go ahead. Ramakrishna at last surrendered his idea of separateness and immediately became merged in the Divine Mother, which was his ultimate realization.

         Closer to home, Susan has struggled for years with what she now calls “protection anxiety,” the natural instinct a parent has to care for their offspring. It is often taken to extremes, especially in modern day America. She remembers when her first child was born she immediately felt very anxious, and has been plagued by extravagant worries about her safety ever since. That child has just turned eighteen, and something in Susan now recognizes her as an adult, at least in some respects, and one day at lunch she could feel her protection anxiety melting away. She has been working on it for years, and the combination of her self study and the natural progression of her child’s life has finally released her from its grip.

         Giving our children the freedom to be themselves without a rigid guardian hovering over them is divine, if anything is! A few days after experiencing this leap forward, Susan discovered the book NurtureShock, which described exactly what she had experienced in a very helpful way. New brain studies are showing that sheltering kids actually retards brain development. Like us, they have to have real encounters in a real world in order to grow. They have to learn about their self directly, including negative feedback. We call that kind of learning spiritual, but it is actually merely normal and natural. It’s a crime to sequester it from so-called ordinary people of any age. But we do. And we try to shelter ourselves from it, too.

         Jonah Lehrer, in How We Decide, explores how the brain learns through dopamine-mediated feedback. His conclusion: “When the mind is denied the emotional sting of losing, it never figures out how to win.” (47) That kind of mental stagnation is the sorry state our fears have led us to.

         Deb remembers Nitya, during their first long wrestling match of discipleship, telling her, “I hope someday you’ll have a different idea of freedom.” They had been talking politics, and as a hotheaded young product of revolutionary times, Deb conceived of freedom as being allowed to do just as she pleased, of not being told what to do by other people. The question got her thinking, as guru promptings usually do, and over the long haul it helped her to have a greatly enlarged concept of freedom. Nitya was never over-protective; he knew that disciples learn best when they reach their insights on their own. His job was to stimulate questioning and then get out of the way, even as he continued to present new options and possibilities.

         Over time Deb came to understand that freedom from her own desires was an even more profound type of liberation than just escaping from busybodies. And she has come to realize how important it was to question her limited definition of freedom, because otherwise she would have remained content with the narrower version.

         John added that just getting older helped bring that kind of insight: that what seems so pressing when we’re young loses its grip on us as we age. That’s true to a degree, and it’s a wonderful thing, but abetting the process consciously can’t hurt. Many older folks still obsess about freedom as personal license, and have a hard time accepting the kind of freedom Nitya was hoping to ignite in Debbie.

         We have arrived at a most exciting moment in history, when scientists can actually watch the brain at work, and thereby begin to distinguish between fantasy and reality within that most incredible of creations. Far from disproving the insights of seers over thousands of years, it confirms and even enhances many of them. We are only beginning to study the vast realm of the psyche scientifically. Patanjali promises that doing so in depth will reveal our divinity, because what we truly are is divine. Contemplation is our personal fMRI to dive into our Self and reveal hitherto undreamed of potentials.

         We definitely want to encourage more direct self examination, and the sharing of insights with the rest of us engaged in this study. It’s not easy, but the rewards are great. Please think about it and pass on a personal example if you are able to.

         In closing let’s reprise Nitya’s summary of classical svadhyaya, from our first encounter with it back in II: 32. This is how it’s usually understood, and it’s very valuable:


  Svadhyaya is generally recognized as the study of words passed on by seekers who have gone before. The records of the experiences of wise people are available to us as compendiums of great works. It is worthwhile to study those books every day. Further, it is very wholesome to spend at least some time each day with an enlightened person, listening to their word directly. It is not possible to gather wisdom all in one day, but each day you can learn a little. Wise persons teach with their words, their modes of action, their thought processes, and, above all, with their silence. Attuning to all these aspects will bring conviction.

  When what you experience, what you hear from great people, and what is recorded in the scriptures from time immemorial all come in one line, then you can be sure that your svadhyaya has been profitable. Such is the royal path in which you are confirmed that whatever you have been doing as sadhana (practice) is ultimately successful.


Most importantly, all that input from our wise forebears is to be directly applied to our own personal dilemmas, otherwise it is merely an academic pursuit. For the study to have an impact, it has to be put into practice. Ultimately yoga isn’t about posturing on any level, physical, mental or spiritual. It is about learning to be, unencumbered by any stereotyped poses. Only then do we gain our full freedom.


Part II

         When carefully considered, theism and atheism are not very different. The worshipper imagines a deity and attempts to direct their attention to it. A philosopher imagines some “facts” and attempts to organize them into a coherent and meaningful ensemble. Both fail to the extent that they bring preconceived notions to the endeavor, and yet what else do they have to work with?

         The philosopher imagines they know something certain based on what they perceive, and the worshipper imagines a god and tries hard to believe in it even when it is not perceptible. At best, both discard falsehood in order to improve their relationship to what they love.

         So it should come as no surprise that we actually spent a fair amount of time in class discussing worship. In the broadest sense, worship is what you love, and that can be either overt or mystical, or both. The same holds for contemplation at its best.

         I, for instance, am highly worshipful despite being a confirmed and contented agnostic. Agnostic means waiting to see what it's all about and not anticipating it, which suits me because I believe that my conceptions limit reality, and I prefer to try not to. I get high on many, many “minor deities” like music, children, theater, natural surroundings, good conversation, hugs, love, and more, so I don’t have any need for hypostatic notions, as Nataraja Guru terms divinities.

         Agnostic or not, the recent day when our family visited Chartres cathedral in its fairytale village in northern France, and we walked in to a service with full organ and a superlative female singer, it bowled us over. Heavy metal rock is a lullaby compared to that weightiest of music. Our spirits soared to the heavens, and the doors of bliss were thrown wide open. It was as though all the combined brilliance of the human species were concentrated in the most alluring forms conceivable, and all poured on us at once. Our daughter Harmony, who ordinarily mocks me as a religious fool, wanted to become a Catholic right then and there. And she was serious. Don’t we all live our lives seeking to repeat such peak experiences as often as possible?

         Susan recalled when she converted to Catholicism for awhile and she had a love affair with the ritual and the sumptuous appointments and decorations, and especially the gorgeous music. Then when she discovered Nitya’s books, they appealed to her so much more that she stopped attending church. Satisfying her intellect trumped sensual excellence coupled with lukewarm preaching. Yet if the sermons weren’t so trite, she could undoubtedly have enjoyed both. They are not mutually exclusive, but Nitya does coax us to raise our standards. Humans all too often are satisfied with the bare minimum of joy, even as they cast about for an excess of pleasure.

         Michael reminded us that he is a devotee of Ganesha as the remover of obstacles. Whenever an obstacle melts away, or he wishes it would, he thinks of the elephant god. Possibly it aligns his psyche with energies that are helping him overcome difficulties, certainly an excellent role for any deity. Or perhaps it’s just more fun picturing a fat, happy boy assisting him than imagining a cold and uncaring universe pitted against him.

         In that regard, John warned that imagining ourselves to be victims of fate was extremely deleterious, and having a friendly assistant in the invisible realms was one way that people avoid that trap. Believing that divine energies are supporting you encourages you to work to extricate yourself from difficulties.

         In talking about Susan’s epiphany regarding over-protectiveness, Michael noted how much our class addresses child rearing issues. As a single man, he feels somewhat left out by it. I assured him that nearly all the saints and rishis of history were also single, leaving them free to pursue their seeking without the pressing responsibilities of a family. No matter what your marital or parental status, if you keep an open mind and pay attention, life is always kind to bring you an unending series of revelations. It’s just that kids are the most familiar gurus around, and they have been sadly ignored by most philosophies.

         For some reason adults believe they are enjoined by God to teach children about harsh reality, when in fact they are supposed to be reminded of God’s joyous reality by them. There is no source of natural worship that compares to suddenly being presented with a child. It’s a reminder of what we have lost of our divine nature, and the more we impose our visions on it the faster that divinity disappears.

         Possibly the most educational thing a child-guru does is knock your ego off center stage and replace it with itself. Instantly. There is no time to struggle with suppressing the ego, no time for anything other than caring for the little blort in your arms. But along with eradicating your ego (usually temporarily) comes the natural loving worship that every creature on God’s green earth experiences when they become a caregiver. Probably renounced seekers have to do all those complicated rituals and practices because they don’t have their own mini-gurus around, but eventually they can accomplish the same thing without them.

         That’s why the Christian image of the glowing baby in the humble manger hits a homerun all over the globe: it speaks to an intuitive grasp of divine bliss that everyone having a child or who has ever been a child has felt deep in their hearts. For Hindus, Krishna is more like an eight-year-old boy than a baby, hyperactive, full of whimsy and trickery, so his protolanguage appeals to another level of intuitive divinity, a little more distracted. Buddhists, though, have the image of Siddhartha sneaking out in the middle of the night to abandon his child and its mother. No wonder it has become the model for the asceticism that comprises so much of religious life in the present day.

         Because almost all systems propound their own preference as the only right path, the Gurukula has to reiterate that all forms of worship are optional. After correcting for your defects, whatever turns you on, whatever speaks to your heart, is the path you should take. Svadhyaya, self study, means responding to what we love in what the stork of life drops on our doorstep. In a million different forms we are being bequeathed a bundle of joy. All we have to do is nurture it, give it love and sustenance, and it will thrive.



Sutra II: 45

Accomplishment of absorption comes from continuous contemplation on Isvara.


         Rounding out the yamas and niyamas with the achievement that sets us solidly upon the way of Yoga, Patanjali encourages us to see the Absolute in everything, always. To set the stage with a properly reverential attitude we listened to Robbie Robertson’s uplifting song The River Hymn:


The ladies would put the baskets on the table
And the men would sit beneath a shady tree
The children would listen to a fable
While something else came through to me

The river got no end
Just rolls around the bend
Then pretty soon the women would all join in
On the river hymn…

The whole congregation was standing on the banks of the river
We are gathered here to give a little thanks

The voice of the rapids will echo
And ricochet like an old water well
Who would ever want to let go
Once you sit beneath its spell

It's dark and wide and deep, towards the sea it creeps
I'm so glad I brought along my mandolin
To play the river hymn

You can ride on it or drink it
Poison it or dam it

Fish in it and wash in it
Swim in it and you can die in it,
Run you river, run

Son, you ain't never seen yourself
No crystal mirror can show it clear, come over here instead
Son, you ain't never eased yourself
Till you laid it down in a river bed

If you hear a lonesome drone
It's as common as a stone
And gets louder as the day grows dim
That's the river hymn…

The whole congregation was standing on the banks of the river
We are gathered here to give a little thanks, thanks, mmmmmm.


I well remember the excitement the Band’s album Cahoots generated in the Portland Gurukula when it came out in 1971, especially with Peter O and me. Lines like “Indian maid will plant the seed and cultivate a whole new breed.” and “when they’re torn out by the roots, young brothers join in cahoots, and send a smoke signal near and far, a smoke signal no matter where you are.” Those were days when a heady optimism prevailed that the ancient wisdom of India was going to transform our world permanently and ecstatically. And it did, it did. Didn’t it?

         We chanted our “lonesome drone” of aum and Deb read out the sutra. Nitya’s commentary is a perfect example of how he could summarize a complex subject in one or two short sentences. My favorite is “Isvara is the crowning interest of all dispositions.” When our disparate interests are knitted together into higher and higher orders of knowledge, until they merge into a single all-absorbing gem of pure bipolarity with the Absolute, that is the absorption we are invited to cultivate in our lives.

         Nitya gives the impression that each of us has an innate disposition in a specific vocational field, but I think a better way to look at it is that life as a whole is our prevailing interest, and aspects like being a musician, artist, writer, doctor, and so on, are like icing on the cake. Everything we do should be invigorated by an interest in the highest values we can bring our attention to. At that level of samadhi, washing dishes has an equal status with performing Shakespeare.

         Nitya adroitly expresses the gist of this sutra in two sentences: “The Isvara referred to here is not like the Allah of Islam or the Yahweh of the Jewish and Christian notions. It has more resemblance to an over-soul supervising the entire life of an individual than to a theistic godhead.”

         Modern science is coming to recognize the same kind of embedded supervisor in our brains. There is no outside source pulling puppet strings, but rather an inner guidance system that meticulously plans and executes our lives for us, and without which we would disintegrate into a pile of rubble. Ordinarily our conscious mind learns to ignore the suggestions of this “Isvara” and instead pay attention to the dictates of external directives, but this causes more or less severe disruptions between what we intuitively know and what we are told to think by others. Patanjali is asking us to pay heed to our inner atman, our self, which is coextensive with the universal Self, because it truly knows how to rearrange the world to suit the needs of our development. Once we learn to trust this benign friend inside us—to befriend our Self—we can begin to develop an unexaggerated self-confidence that is the optimal mental posture of the yogi.

         We freely admit this is easier said than done. Paul related that he had had a tough time on vacation last week, taking a car trip with his wife where everything seemed to go wrong. He was surprised at himself for getting frustrated and upset, after being as cool as a cucumber for a long stretch. We talked about how it’s the challenges and disruptions to routine that teach us the most. This brings to mind one of the innumerable highlights of That Alone, Nitya’s conclusion to Verse 48, where he calls us to attend to the present circumstances instead of imagining ourselves to be sacrosanct or otherwise finalized:


  All the religious words have frightened and confused us. Narayana Guru wants to give us courage, telling us, “Don’t be afraid. You are as good as anyone. The essence of realization is in your own daily experience.” With this realization you come to establish a universal norm for living that experience with others, not just in a state of absorption. When you are alienated and isolated it is easy to remain always good. There is no chance for the Pope to smack another person, for instance, because everyone stands before him with great politeness and reverence. Nobody even says one offensive word to him, so why should he get angry? It is easy for him to be pious and good. But bring him to the marketplace and expose him to all the troubles there. Then we will see his true tenor. There is no need for any ethics when you are in the state of a contemplative who is completely absorbed in the Absolute.

  Your realization is to be lived here and now in society where you touch and are touched by other people. Let us bring our realization to the marketplace. But you think realization is so holy and sacred that it must be kept separate, kept apart. That means you cannot live it. If you want to live it, it should be lived everywhere, at all times. Your perfection is a perfection for all time, not just for the church on Sunday. If you are perfect now you should be perfect in everyday life, too.


         This reminded John of a farmer he met in Michigan when he was 13 or 14. The man lived in a rundown shack on a blighted farm, with a few scraggly cows; it was the type of scene that ordinarily sends modern kids running. But the man was so happy, so appreciative of his simple blessings as he milked his cows, that John was bowled over, and the memory is still vivid. He learned right then that it isn’t what you have, but who you are, that matters. Paul agreed that happiness or contentment is all in the attitude. He tried to get help from passersby on his trip, but the self-absorbed people he accosted just gave him the cold shoulder. Finally he was helped by a man who had recently gone through a series of major disasters that made Paul’s car troubles seem pretty insignificant. Despite a daunting series of evil strokes of fate, the man was willing to stop what he was doing and lend a stranger a hand.

         Paul also wondered about the difference between the Self and the non-Self in relation to the contemplation of Isvara. I told him that according to Vedanta there is no non-Self to begin with, there is only the Self, but what we do is erect a protective barricade around ourselves, or perhaps we simply start life with one. By drawing that line we create a fictitious non-Self outside the fence. The barrier does serve a valid purpose because we definitely need protection until we are capable of taking care of ourselves. But in spiritual dedication one central task is to remove or at least minimize the barriers. Rarely, we can wipe them out in a blast of absolutism, but more often we gradually include more and more of what looks to us like the non-Self, moving the barriers outwards, annexing more and more territory into the Self we know and trust. Nitya details the process magnificently in That Alone, verses 36-42, including how we become habituated to the fences and leave them up even when we imagine we have already taken them down.

         Expanding our boundaries doesn’t happen merely by wishing, it has to be an intelligent, intentional program. If we are afraid of certain types of people, we need to learn more about them, understand both who they are and where our feelings are coming from, and then the fear will go. Enemies will become friends. We’ve mentioned before that whenever Deb as a child would move to a new town she would hate certain kids in her school. Over time she realized that the ones she hated at first were the very ones who became her best friends later on.

         Such are the magnetic mysteries of attraction and repulsion that take place despite our superficial intentions, at least if we are open enough to let them guide us. We may despise what we secretly crave. Among other things, that's how God prevents us from solving the mystery of life too quickly, and quitting the game before it's over.

         Keeping our eyes wide open, we can see that Isvara is arranging our life to promote its intention of universal love and amity. It constantly tricks us into doing its bidding. Continuous contemplation on Isvara means that we pay heed to the valid inner promptings that are continually being offered us. Our conscious mind is so cluttered with advice and demands from our chaotic environment that it stumbles and lurches ahead unaware of its own presiding genius. Unsupported by our inner Isvara, rational consciousness is a “pitiful, helpless giant,” in the words of the execrable Richard Nixon in another context. But by attending to the pure instructions broadcast in our deepest recesses, we can learn to glide forward smoothly in accord with our dominant interest.

         Bill heard a radio interview with someone he hadn’t known at the time but who had also been associated with Stanley Krippner’s Dream Lab in the early 1970s. He thought everyone would enjoy hearing it, so I’ll add the link, plus a couple of others I found while I was looking for it. They all have to do with the way science is trying to confront spirituality and separate truth from fiction. The Dalai Lama, who Davidson works with, is quoted as saying that if science ever disproves one of Buddhism’s tenets, he will gladly give it up. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone felt that way! More commonly we find an excuse to discount the new information and hang on to our preferences. As Mark Twain said, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” Here are the links:


Richard Davidson interview - Click on “learn more about this show” and then “listen now.”

Prayer may reshape your brain…and your reality -

Decoding The Mystery Of Near-Death Experiences -


         Needless to say, it is our ego that clumsily fumbles the spectacular input from our inner window into the divine harmony, and fails to distinguish between the valuable and the worthless. We have to learn to mitigate the ego’s tyranny, and permit the words of the messenger reach the one who presides. Nitya assures us:


If your life is well harmonized with your supreme interest you will conduct yourself as if lost in it, having a natural absorption known as sahaja samadhi. You do not become any less than yourself by effacing your ego and allowing yourself to be prevailed upon by the dictates of the Supreme that govern you from within. That is how samadhi is attained through continuous contemplation on Isvara.


Part II

         Susan’s email of yesterday deals with a writer finding her “voice,” which is another way of describing aligning our psyche with our inner intelligence. Once again inspired by Anita, she does some of her best thinking while in her car:


My epiphany while driving happened very early in the trip. It’s related to Debbie’s freedom from desire (class notes last week) and my efforts to write with my own true voice, which of course relates to our recent exchange of emails. I have been writing a page a day for the last week just for the exercise of doing it. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to write and so I’ve been reading sections from one of my favorite writing books by Natalie Goldberg —Writing Down the Bones. She talks about finding one’s true voice amidst all the other voices and working to write with that voice. So as I was driving to the freeway today I thought how hard it is to write in this way, to let go of the rules and the conditionings and the idea that one has about one’s identity that has been forming over the decades. It is a deepening and deepening. It is a peeling away of the onion layers. When one does manage to speak with one’s true voice, it makes sense that that is something that comes from the Absolute because that is the deepest part. So when Jerry Garcia said that his music was coming through him from the universe, this is what he meant. This is what the artists mean too and what you have mentioned also about your writing and your music. So this epiphany is about taking things that I’ve already learned about and putting them together for my own understanding — the idea of grappling with conditionings and the idea of finding one’s voice. For me this is a helpful way to think of the idea from Patanjali that we must recognize and overcome the obstacles that keep us from equipoise and the Absolute. Writing is such a good meditation for this.


Finally, Deb sent yet another poem that accords well with the class:


The Arithmetic of Knowledge


We learn to divide early in our lives, night and shadow different


from day and light, above and below, this from that,


now, not later—opposites and antonyms that spell our circumference,


define our loves, aversions, our very selves.


The appraising eye that casually, irrevocably


evaluates and breeds exclusion, the cruelty of a harsh laugh,


spun on cold air, that judges and thus freezes.


These divisions must be turned, spiraled around,


brought inward to be held close—to burn, to ache,


and erase the boundaries we call my world.


To know is to not divide. The arm's extension


is measured by what is held inside, its inclusion,


and the eyes' widening circle defines by identification.


The inundated grasses are bent over by ice, melting,


bleached and loosened, particles of leafstalk sodden,


giving themselves up to the flooding spring.


Part III

         To many people, “effacing the ego” means suppressing their capacity and inclination to make judgments. But judging is one of—if not the—most essential contribution of the frontal cortex, so suppressing it is a tragic mistake. Sure, wrestling it down will give you a heavy workout, as your natural good sense repeatedly tries to stand up and be counted and you try to squelch it, but this is a perfect example of how effort alone is not the measure of spiritual worth. Even more importantly, allowing our impulses to run wild free of judicious restraints is not the same as being harmonized with the Absolute, the yearnings of youthful folly notwithstanding.

         What really needs to be minimized if not effaced is our egoistic talent for making excuses and rationalizing what we do, and this is something we seldom feel guilty about. We are more likely to hotly defend it, in fact. Here’s how it works. An action propensity is activated deep in the unconscious, in what we collectively refer to as the seedbed of vasanas, and various parts of the brain begin to arrange the local environment to make the propensity’s expression not only possible but fruitful. The action gestalt becomes seasoned with samskaras as it moves toward consciousness. When it is as fully prepared as possible, it begins to actually happen, and as it does our conscious mind witnesses it and at the same time invents a plausible explanation. If the action itself is called into question, the ego defends it tooth and claw, employing various strategies to depose the challenge.

         Douglas Adams had a lot of fun with this propensity of the ego in his masterful novel, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. To demonstrate how the mind excels at making excuses for the most inexcusable actions, which is a major subtheme of the book, Dirk makes a post-hypnotic suggestion to a client to jump into a filthy canal and then find himself unable to swim, when he hears a certain code word as they are out walking later on. When Dirk fishes him out, the client has perfectly rational explanations for all of his actions, only we as readers know they have nothing to do with the real motivation, which was the hypnotic suggestion. And as Steven Heller maintains in Monsters and Magical Sticks, we are all hypnotizing others and being hypnotized pretty much all the time. That means we are also defending ourselves pretty much all the time. You can read the whole amusing scene online at .

         The very major point here is that the proper restraint for the ego is to keep it from making up its own self-serving tales to justify its absurdities, so that we can pay attention instead to what is here called Isvara, the flow of genuine inspiration from the center of the universe inside our being. The cheesy story we are telling the world to justify ourselves sells our soul short, very short. If in place of it we listen with an open mind to Isvara, we will find ourselves as protagonists right smack in the midst of the greatest story ever told.



Sutra II:46

Posture should be steady and comfortable.


         I permit myself one fantasy during our yoga classes: that the sound of jets flying over is actually the sound of Nitya’s presence hovering over our little Gurukula gathering. It’s remarkable how often we will hear “him” at the most profound moment of the evening, or as we are at last getting to the point after some wandering. Last night we must’ve been right on the mark the whole time, because there was a constant roar from the heavens right up until our closing meditation.

         Deb started us off mentioning the reversal of the usual linear logic, that attaining asana is not a process of painstakingly performing certain steps to attain a goal. Rather, if we assume an excellent mental pose to begin with, everything naturally falls into place. While this is certainly true, we have spent the last three years in a detailed study to bring ourselves to that mystical state of equipoise. Unless we are amazingly blessed or eat some magic mushrooms, it isn't something we just instantly are enveloped by. But Deb's point is central to a properly oriented yoga study.

         The Bible says roughly the same thing in Matthew 6 and Luke 12. The latter version is:


And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. (29-31)


         The bottom line is that attaining a neutral “posture” that does not exaggerate in any direction, in which the mental modifications are restrained so the seer remains in his or her own essential nature, is the main thrust of yoga. It was set forth in just these words at the very beginning, and now having hopefully accomplished it in some measure, we are well prepared for the contemplative union in samadhi that concludes the Yoga Shastra as far as we are going to pursue it. The groundwork we have laid can be epitomized as learning the proper asana.

         Patanjali tells us our mental posture must be steady, naturally enough, but he also uses a word, sukham, that means blissful, enjoyable and productive of happiness, in addition to simply comfortable. We’re talking really comfortable, so comfortable that you almost never want to get up and do anything else. Fun.

         A proper posture, then, is neither too aggressive nor overly self-effacing; it is not excessively positive or negative; it isn’t anxious or over-confident; timid or swaggering; and so on. When you are seated right in the middle of all the polarities, at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical parameters, it is a solid place out of which all your best options become easily accessible. That is the asana, the seat, we are aiming for.

         Nitya reminds us that our relationship with the Absolute, in whatever way we conceive it, is the essence of our posture. In the science of the Upanishads, brahmavidya, it is “the unitive vision of the One to which the many belong.” That means the correct asana is to see unity in everything. He then lists the Absolute as it is visualized in several religions and vocations. It inspired us to take a moment to examine and share our own versions.


         For most of the class we tried to get a handle on Nitya’s “Most people live in the fleeting present. Only the wise one lives in the eternal present.” What exactly does he mean by that?

         For some, living in the now means responding to every moment as it appears, but that can turn us into mere reflections of the passing show. A wise person is grounded in their deepest self or their true nature, and so they are also present in the now but not jolted off their solid, stable seat by whatever comes along.

         Scotty gave a good example of his Qigong and Tai Chi work, where you practice a physical grounding in the center of your being. When he stands like that, people sometimes bump into him, but they just bounce off. He isn’t trying to repel them; he is just maintaining his anchoring. (Does that make him an anchorite?) Yoga is the psychic equivalent. Your relation to what you love is so strong that the winds of fate cannot tear you away from it. If they knock you off your center, you naturally reestablish yourself with the focus of your love, as if you had a gyroscope spinning inside you.

         How do we make our relationship to the Absolute real? Nitya says, “It is the continuity of perceiving a value and giving perfection to it that makes life worthwhile.” In plain terms, a value is what you love. What do you love most in your life? What is your primary motivation? This is a question a yogi should sort out early in the game, because many of us waste a lot of our energy on tangential indulgences. Take it from an expert!

         Moni recalled a friend of Nitya’s who had a fantastic idea to save the world every time they visited him in Madras. But he never actualized his ideas, and each time they saw him he would be enthralled with a new one. Perfecting a value means not only having the initial inspiration, which is the contribution of sattva, but then working to actualize it (rajas) and building it into a solid actuality (tamas). When all those aspects are completed harmoniously, there is a high degree of personal satisfaction and also a benefit to the world. Those who cannot actualize their ideals often feel disembodied, oppressed with anxiety, and unfulfilled.

         Scotty recognized that once he had found his true calling as an artist, he felt a tremendous sense of completion. The inner mechanism of completion is described by the ancients as the vasanas, the inner seed-potentials, choreographing our life. Very often we are deaf to their entreaties, distracted as we may be by the demands of necessity. But our vasanas are very clever to arrange our life despite our best efforts to tune them out. When they eventually succeed it brings a tangible sense of sukham, happiness or comfort.

         Scotty remembers that the transition from one identity with the Absolute to another is aided and abetted by a degree of chaos to help break away from the previous and open the doors to the subsequent. For a long time he was a musician and then became a painter, and it helped him to let go of being a musician to actively reject it, even though it was perfectly fine in its time. As several people brought up, we aren’t just aiming to be one thing, we can be many. The aggregate is our relationship to the Absolute. We are not a painter or software designer or teacher; we are vast multidimensional beings finding our expression momentarily in one way or another. Usually we cast about until we happen upon our master interest, our dharma, which has been waiting for us, and then we can concentrate our best abilities on it because it is so much fun.

         Another John, who may pop in to the class later this month, has gone from being an integral part of a Western religion to an independent contemplative. We might ask him to speak of the chaos that he has wrestled with in relinquishing a passion that he has outgrown and trying to make his way against a lot of resistance. Wherever there is significant change, there is bound to be a gap that we must somehow bridge. Sometimes it takes a pitchfork in the derriere to prod us to make the leap. Loving kindness may not be enough.

         The question put to the class, and meant to include all you email participants, is this: How has your asana, your posture, changed from your yoga studies? Or any studies for that matter. We just barely began to answer this in the time we had, so I’m hoping to hear more later on this week, and I’ll share what’s appropriate. After three fine years of study, something should be different, some transformation must have taken place. I see an impressive amount of growth in many of us; this is a time to publicly acknowledge and appreciate what your asana has become.

         The irrepressible Scotty took the lead in answering the call with some excellent points. Almost trumping all other attitudes, he has learned to listen, to still himself so he can hear. Instead of carrying around a prepared presentation of his own mental baggage, he feels confident in setting it aside so he can take in what comes to him. This is such a key to an excellent mental posture! In the past, some people have come to the class hoping to strut their stuff, impress the rest of us, and get praised. Instead of learning what was being taught, they were biding their time until they could thrust themselves into the center of attention. What it amounts to is their minds were closed. Scotty’s point is so important! If we can quiet all the clamoring of our ego, we will automatically be in an excellent position to learn and grow the most. This is one more way that those with a hidden agenda are living in the fleeting present, while those who are open and not preprogrammed are in tune with the eternal present.

         Some people chatter on endlessly, subconsciously unsure of themselves and needing to maintain a string of verbiage in order to feel alive. They fleetingly flit from one subject to another, striving desperately to produce a virtual self that everyone can see. By contrast, the wise settle into themselves silently, and develop a certitude about their existence, their ground underneath all the flashing glitter on the surface. The eternal present is fully supportive, so they feel no compunction to pawn themselves off as this or that. They are who they are. The ultimate asana is for us to finally become ourselves.

         John didn’t have anything specific in terms of posture, but he wanted to say how every time he comes to the class he accesses a mysterious peacefulness, and he goes home feeling very much calmer and less oppressed by the outrages of life. Yet that’s an excellent posture in itself: a learned expectation that something you do will put you in a peaceful and positive state. Gradually that can grow to fill in the potholes in the road, so the whole journey is smoother and less hazardous. John also appreciates that the Gurukula is not peddling any specific religion or program, but is only offering to support everyone’s best efforts in the direction they wish to go.

         In any case, it’s nice to consciously acknowledge the good times, to make up for the hours we spend complaining about our problems. John’s affirmation reminded me of one of Kurt Vonnegut’s oft retold stories. This version is from God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian:


My late Uncle Alex Vonnegut, my father’s kid brother, a Harvard-educated life insurance agent in Indianapolis who was well read and wise, was a humanist like all the rest of the family. What Uncle Alex found particularly objectionable about human beings in general was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy.

  He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

  I myself say that out loud at times of easy, natural bliss: “If this isn’t nice, what is?” Perhaps others can also make use of that heirloom from Uncle Alex. I find it really cheers me up to keep score out loud that way.


I want to defer to Nitya’s beautiful closing. He never sold brahmavidya, the science of the Absolute, short by trivializing it. So many talks he ended with a similarly uplifting clarion call, gently blown into our hearts, punctuated with lengthy contemplative pauses:


There is no field in which you cannot find a stable seat on which you can be established to make the pursuit of your life, growing richer and richer. Then you can say your seat is firm and comfortable. The asana to which a yogi should aspire is certainly not the physical posture of an acrobat. Unfortunately, many protagonists of Yoga have taken such a low and almost worthless view of this very profound sutra on which the entire practice (sadhana) of Yoga is based. The truth that surpasses all wisdom and, on being found, becomes a light forever is indicated here as the seat on which you have to establish yourself. That will be firm. That will be comfortable.


Part II

         Baird sent a small piece of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, currently making its rounds on the internet for the US Independence Day, which elegantly expresses an exultantly healthy posture:


This is what you shall do;

Love the earth and sun and the animals,

despise riches, give alms to every one that asks,

stand up for the stupid and crazy,

devote your income and labor to others,

hate tyrants,

argue not concerning God,

have patience and indulgence toward the people,

take off your hat to nothing known or unknown

or to any man or number of men,

go freely with powerful uneducated persons

and with the young

and with the mothers of families,

read these leaves in the open air

every season of every year of your life,

re-examine all you have been told at school

or church or in any book,

dismiss whatever insults your own soul,

and your very flesh shall be a great poem

and have the richest fluency

not only in its words

but in the silent lines of its lips and face

and between the lashes of your eyes

and in every motion and joint of your body.


Part III

         I’ve received one or two responses to the assignment so far, but we’ll be studying asana all month, so there is plenty of time. Charles sent a painting he did of Narayana Guru in his familiar pose surrounded by mathematical lines of force, titled Asana. I’ll try to attach it to the email, but I’m unable to put it in the document due to my lack of skills. If it doesn’t come through you can just visualize the Guru with visible energy pulsing around him.

         Dipika sent a very nice letter, almost a poem. She lives in Mumbai, and joined us about a year and a half ago. We have had a good ongoing conversation, but mostly off the record. This, though, goes straight to a universal and practical aspect of asana:


What a nice note on the sutra...what a nice class...lesson ...learning


my contribution to this is

that i was given a chance to be a Producer in an organisation, a small production house with 2 directors churning out adfilms...

my background was that of a line producer and here i was being given an office to run and the extra money would come from all the shoots i would line produce


right from the beginning it seemed too much..but i thought it was my battle with numbers and the excel sheet that was daunting

so i mastered that...we didnt even have a full time accountant..he came in 2ice a week or sometimes once a week..hence all the cash flow of advances and petty cash went through me


we were averaging 3 films a month and though i did get on top of it...the sheer responsibility of someone else's money and being on call almost all the time with a young boss who was happy to place all the onus on me...took its toll and had me thinking


i was earning pots of money but i was miserable

i couldnt get away on weekends

i was dog tired at the end of the day

and i had no time to do any other hobby or even think about it


i could see that money was the only reason to stick to a job that really did nothing else for me

being a single separated woman in my early 50s living in an expensive metro...friends and family all advised me to ignore the minor problems and carry on for a bit and least get a bank balance of sorts (id been there only a year)


i think i thought about it for a week and thought a year in this job already too long so decided that i was going to quit

i realized money was not my main aim in life and i had to accept that growing old meant my energy levels were dropping


so i did just that...of course later discovered i had a health problem which may have aggravated my issues at work


and am happy to say have found another job which pays me a quarter of what i earned, gives me a 3 day weekend and enough energy to pursue other pursuits


to understand when to step back and listen to your inner voice and trust it when everything around you begs you to something which i think has a lot to do with the class notes i have been imbibing and the lessons learnt through my association with the gurukula


sheer flattery scott :) but am sure your notes have an insidious way of changing our thinking


love n rgds


Well, if that was sheer flattery I would’ve edited it out, but I think the class, and perhaps its consequent notes, deserve some credit for fostering positive transformations. Otherwise, why bother?

         Lastly, the John I mentioned in Part I in respect of the value of chaos in promoting change, sent an unrelated paragraph worthy of inclusion. (We now have not only John P in the class, but John H and this John A on line.) He has lately been reading some Nitya and the recent class notes, but it’s fair to say his main interests are elsewhere. His letter is an excellent example of ongoing transformation, where gradual, incremental steps suddenly accomplish a leap. I should add that until now he has been highly critical of gurus, so perhaps Nitya has showed him the upside of the genre. His revelation addresses the asana of both the teacher and the student:


(my new revelation):

There two ways to correct, or realign a tree that is growing in the wrong direction. My method: Utilize the largest bulldozer I can find to correct the wrong growing tree, uprooting it or busting it in half with the overpowering strength of the bulldozer, resulting in the death of the tree. Or the other way to correct the wrong way growing tree would be more along the line of a good Guru: The Guru would observe the strength and size of the wrong growing tree before applying any corrective measures, keeping in mind that the survival of the tree is paramount. Only then would he start applying pressure against the will of the tree, in the exact opposite direction the tree wants to grow. A constant pressure to the upper part of the tree which is still malleable will cause the tree to eventually grow upright. Eventually the guru can remove all influences once the tree is set in the proper direction, the tree will add strength to its twisted trunk to support its own new direction, sometimes becoming stronger than a perfectly straight tree.


I sent John a one word response to that: Amen!


         Paul’s subconscious brought him a vivid lesson on asana, where moving from fear and aggression to peaceful contemplation freed him from some internal resistance:


I can't stop thinking of a dream I had a last night. It was one of those stressful kind with the added bonus of going right back into the same dream even after waking up briefly. In one part of the dream there was an aggressive ghost or spirit tugging at the back of my shirt as I was trying to walk from one room into an adjacent room. As I got near the door, the tugging on my shirt increased in severity until I could no longer move forward. Not only was I terrified of my captivity, but I also found myself getting really pissed off. In anger I turned and yelled at the ghost (excuse the language... I was asleep), “Let go of me you little fuck.” But the ghost did not let go of my shirt. Terrified, I gazed into its transparent form and realized silently in my dream thoughts, “...both you and I are just effects of a single cause... and the concepts of both cause and effects are bipolar descriptions of One Thing…” It was only at that point in my dream that the antagonistic entity let go of my shirt and allowed me to pass.


This whole morning I've been thinking of all the “false spirits” I use to re-create Truth into a “personalized” illusion of reality. And there are many such disjoining beliefs. The personalized life-experience of my false beliefs work to create dis-unity out of Unity. If you half a whole you end up with two parts. Neither of the individual parts are any longer the whole - as they are half. When the divided halves are again seen unified as the whole, neither of the previous halves exist - as it is now again the Whole.


That dream will remain within my synaptic junctions as an epiphany to be practiced during my waking walk on this earth. I hope my waking hours can be as smart as my dreams.


—The next thing for Paul to investigate would be what the spirit that was holding him back might symbolize. Acting excellently in the dream is a terrific step in the right direction, but another leap would be added if he can bring it all the way into his waking consciousness. RST


Part IV

         I want to pass on an asana compliment. Once in awhile friends ask me for advice, which takes substantial bravery. I try not to be brutally honest, but my personality is definitely direct; maybe “uncomfortably honest” is the proper term. I'm sure an element of dread must be involved in seeking advice from me. In person this can be ironed out, but via mail it’s a scarier proposition. When I fire off an intense letter to someone, I say fervent prayers that it will be received in the right light. There is every chance of a person’s feelings being hurt and that they will reject the suggestions. I’m on pins and needles until I hear back.

         I have been very gratified that so many friends have responded admirably to my prodding. They have maintained their asana of equipoise, even if they were rocked a bit at first, and have taken what I have said in the best possible way, that is, to heart, knowing it was sincerely offered by a friend. I want to thank you all—you know who you are. It is a blessing to me to be taken seriously; and most of all a blessing to you, in that by holding steady in the gale you can use the advice for fertilizer instead of being injured by it. As someone who was raised in a feisty world where lashing out was the correct response to any provocation, I’m delighted to have found a peer group that is significantly more mature than that.

         Nice work. Thanks again! Scott



Sutra II:47

Apportioning the effort with continuous meditation on the endless nature of perfection.


         While we were sitting around before class munching cookies and sipping tea, Michael unconsciously paraphrased two of the most important ideas from Nitya's commentary. He had just spent a weekend with friends on a mountain lake in celebration of an important birthday, and it was a time for him to take stock. He's at an age where he can see his cup as either half full or half empty, being roughly halfway through an average lifetime. Sometimes the emptiness can shake you up at such times, so he makes sure to appreciate the fullness of his life. Lately he has set aside an hour a day for artistic focus, and he has been astonished at how it adds up. His cup is being further filled one drop at a time. The continuity provides not only a sense of accomplishment, but makes him feel that anything is possible if he just keeps at it. He is replacing the anxiety of not doing enough with the confidence that anything is possible.

         That pretty well sums up what Nitya communicates, that nature is never in a hurry but all things happen in their allotted time, and every stage of the cycle is perfect in itself. This is a good model for yogis. We don’t need to be so fixated on a goal that we don’t enjoy the journey. Moreover, we proceed in a quantum pulsation of meditative reflection alternating with well-directed activity, where each feeds and shapes the other. Nitya says:


If we believe the evolutionary theories put forward by biologists, we have come a long way from our bacterial ancestors to become bipeds with nervous systems and organized brains that discern right from wrong. Now we have discovered that we have before us a way to perfection. It will not bring the desired fruit miraculously. Some effort is to be applied, but it does not bring results by quantitative pressurization. Our effort should have the quality of quantum pulsation. It has to be regular, repetitive, and consistent….


In each pause you bring composure to yourself. Thus being mindful of the eternal quality of perfection for which you are aspiring and toward which you are moving all the time, you accomplish everything by not doing anything…. The yogi’s goal is to ultimately become an unmoved mover whose seat is stabilized and yet who moves everything and everyone. Such is the beauty of the concept of asana.


         The idea of quality not quantity reminded me of my brief stint in the Self-Realization Fellowship. Like many youngsters in the 1960s, I was inspired by Paramahansa Yogananda’s autobiography. Of many ridiculous claims made in it, or maybe it was in the course I took based on it, was that doing one million repetitions of their brand of pranayama brought enlightenment. I think I gave up after a few thousand, so I’ll never know. But quantitative programs do appeal to the simplistic wiring of some parts of our brains. We love to go from step 1 to step 2 and then to step 3. We love eightfold paths and sequential merit badges, “working our way to the top.” It appeals to the tamasic part of our nature. The only problem with well-defined programs is that they guarantee that spirituality is kept at bay, unless they can somehow be taken qualitatively and not linearly.

         Deb said that asana was not static, that it was like a three-dimensional movie we participate in, constantly adjusting our relationship to the world. Michael agreed that asana was more of a verb than a noun. We all wanted to emphasize that asana is dynamic, fluid, ever expanding. Deb has been reading How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer, and was excited how the way the brain learns through dopamine feedback is just like what we strive for in yoga. Basically, we learn from our mistakes. No mistakes means no adjustments, no dynamism. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And being wedded to a fixed course means we don't venture into the unknown; there is no adventure.

         Sutra 45 was “Accomplishment of absorption comes from continuous contemplation on isvara.” Two sutras later we have “Apportioning the effort with continuous meditation on the endless nature of perfection.” These are the same. Isvara is another name for perfection, or the Absolute. Adding in the next sutra, the meaning is: meditating on unity displaces duality.

         We talked some about whether dynamism meant you should always be doing new things, searching for greener pastures. Openness to what we don’t yet know is certainly important, but so is a continuous connection with your master interest. If we hop from one thing to another we will always be beginners. That’s fine when you haven’t yet found your calling, but once you have you should stick with it, because expertise evolves gradually. As with every polarity, a dialectic blend of new and familiar is ideal.

         Scotty talked about how when he goes to his studio he walks up two flights of stairs, and for him it’s like a religious ritual of taking the ascending steps back to the core of his inspiration. When he gets to where all his equipment is, deep in a mazelike sprawl of artists’ cubicles, the creative flow is already awaiting him picking up his brush. In a very real sense he invites the new in through the old. His improvisation—and all recognizable improvisation— arises from known or at least knowable laws and forms.

         Ritual activity works for Scotty because he’s already in tune with his creative juices. That’s the key: once we have opened the floodgates, certain repeated actions can cement our connection with them, but when we perform rituals in hopes that they themselves generate the insight, we are getting it backwards, putting the cart before the horse. Mindfully walking up two flights of stairs doesn’t make you an original painter. Connecting with perfection has to be a direct experience, underwritten with a lot of talent and training.

         We also tend to think that perfection is remote and rare, and so we ignore the perfection that surrounds us on all sides and is readily available to us. Continuous meditation on endless perfection means that we look for the intrinsic divinity in everything. We don’t reject something because it offends us; instead we look beneath the surface to see how miraculous it truly is. Even tragedies have their fearful symmetry, their perfection.

         Everyone seems baffled by the assignment to share their present asana with the rest of us, so I want to explain it more. We are not fishing for compliments by asking what effect the class has had on you, we are asking you to examine your life, like Michael on his birthday, and see and appreciate what you have accomplished in your studies, whether in the class or anywhere else. You should know where you stand, and how far you have come. It’s good for the heart.

         Then too, when you can tell us about some fault you once had, some lameness, that now has been corrected so that you walk upright, it reveals something everyone can learn from. We all have more or less the same faults. Our brains are remarkably similar, and so are our traumas and blind spots. By sharing we make progress together. Now that we are coming to the end of a long course of intense study, there should be a lot for everyone to offer.         Going out the door, Anne said to me. “I don’t know what to write about. This class has been so important to me, but it’s so subtle. It’s the most positive stimulus I’ve ever found. I don’t go home hating myself, or thinking how awful I am. I carry away respect. It’s the group thing. The group gives so much….” She went on and on, and all I could say was, write that. Tell us how and why the class is important to you. Not just that it is, but why. What changes when you meditate on perfection in its myriad guises? After all, self-respect is no minor achievement. Again, this is primarily for your own benefit. No one has to share any of it, but it seems that doing so helps us to overcome the unhealthy guardedness we slip through adulthood behind. You don’t have to stand naked—keep your fig leaves in place, but do show us a little more skin….

         I’m adding a long blurb I recently wrote in Part II, but I can also give a simple example of my own asana-in-progress. I suffer from chronic self-abnegation. Running myself down was a useful technique to avoid a lot of grief in my younger days. I would beat people to the punch, so to speak, and insult myself before they did. But it no longer serves a useful purpose. It is merely a bad habit, and I now see it as a negative egoism. Whenever it rears its ugly head, I give it a nod and tell it to get lost. I don’t want to be either self-assertive or self-negating; both are obnoxious. I know that entrenched attitudes take time to get rid of, but I’ve made some good progress in the last few years. It feels good to not go there, and it's good to have friends who remind me of it (usually indirectly) when it does pop up. They see me better than I do.

         Okay. Please write, if only for yourself, about changes that Patanjali and Nitya have helped you to bring about in your life. In Part II you can read Wendy’s beautiful essay on another sutra, and one of mine where an old sutra says a great deal about the present one. And as we used to say in the ancient days, Hang Loose!


Part II

         Wendy in SW England and I share our responses to Nancy’s online Yoga Shastra classes, as we are in different groups. Her latest is very much a summation of aspects of her present asana, and she has agreed for me to share it. Taking a moment for a broad view of changes that have happened is an excellent idea, and one the assignment for our class is supposed to encourage. Like Michael, she finds her birthday is a perfect time for retrospection. She writes:


It was my birthday on Friday, and I like to have an annual review of my life and see my progress at this time. So this lesson felt very timely.


Nitya/anitya:  I thought a lot about the eternal and fleeting, and my birthday picnic and family outing to the zoo environmental park gave me an example of how much love and joy was woven into this all too fleeting day. How real and wonderful each moment was, even though it was a day of fleeting pleasure. Yet still the fragrance of it lingers…….Although it is gone, as Guru would say ‘it is none the less adorable,’ and represents the permanent value of the beautiful: The thought, care and love in the making of our picnic of delicious food, from my darling daughters, grandchildren and dear Dieter. The little presents so carefully chosen and wrapped and the smiles and warmth of shared happiness. The presence of dearest Karel.

Although these following days seem mundane in comparison, it has encouraged me to look more actively for the beauty in small things, ways to be kinder, more patient, and practice gratitude. Living the details of life mindfully, more joyfully, in resonance with the eternal; the greater Self which I can realize, when my heart and mind are congruent and open to the joy and wonder of this fleeting life. I looked up all the references to joy in the That Alone index and realized that unlike happiness, joy does not need to have an attachment. Joy is complete in itself. Then Nancy added the following quote, by Irma Zaleski, from the essay ‘The Door To Joy.’

The true source of joy is love – love of God, love of beauty, love of wisdom, love of another human being, it does not matter which. It is all one love: a joyful awareness of dissolving boundaries of our ordinary narrow self, of being one with the reality beyond, of being made whole.


Sukham/duhkham: Following on, I recognized my tendency to expect perfection and make shining pledges, with which to flagellate myself when I fall short. Feel I have fallen from grace and should get things right all the time. But imposing my agenda on the natural rhythm of life takes me further away from my Self, which knows that I am perfect anyway. So I am becoming more aware of when this happens, reaching out as well as reaching in to the quiet space within. Becoming more aware of the inner glow worm – of the light within myself. As Guru said: “The glow of the soul, of the Self, is coming from within. In the vast ocean of ignorance the spirit glows and brings consciousness.” [class notes. Fernhill. 1987]


Suci/asuci: As the years have passed I have learnt from life experience to be more relevant, tolerant and appropriate in many situations. I have studied and read and practised so many life enhancing principles; learnt from Guru’s wisdom and example and other sources, and dedicated myself to what is good and true. But mostly because in the past I was very selfish and did not know any better. So I had a lot of karma to reap, painful stuff to face up to, understand, accept, and let go of before I could develop ways of helping others. Now in the deep autumn of my life as leaves of grace shower down, karma is more instant and connections made! So my quest is ongoing: To discover and live from my/the Self. To accept that ups and downs, like hills and valleys, are to be navigated with loving care and mindfulness.That happy times are to be celebrated with gratitude, and to let the light joyful winds of Lila remind me of my daily blessings.

I give thanks for our study group to share and learn with.


Atma/Anatma: After several times of doing this exercise, it led into more of a being than a doing….into silence. AUM.


With love as always, Wendy.


My own for I:33 was particularly germane also. The sutra is “The mind is clarified by cultivating friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward misery, gladness toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice.” Patanjali implies that clarity of mind brings asana:


         It’s quite wonderful how our progress in the Yoga Shastra class in Portland parallels this online study group. Right now we’re going through the eight limbs for the last time, studying asana (posture). Sutra 33 also gives the essentials of asana. It’s very gratifying to me that on reflection all four aspects mentioned by Patanjali here have become the base of my relationship to my surroundings. I say aum in gratitude to the great teachers who have guided me to a decent posture after all these years.

         Nitya only describes the first of the four directions given in the sutra, friendliness toward happiness, leaving it for us to fill in the others. He warns us of the corresponding weakness here, of taking happy situations for granted, and so tuning them out. I’d add that many people are actually suspicious of happiness, not trusting it. Being happy can bring out a nasty streak in people, where they want very badly to “cure” the person afflicted with it. How sad, and yet I suppose there is good reason for it in a world where happiness is linked to pleasure, and pleasure can be gotten in some strange places. Sometimes happiness is not as deep as it could be, but we should be content to let everyone decide for themselves what makes them happy. In any case, learning to be accepting of another’s happiness (not to mention our own) isn’t as easy as we might think. Yet only when we can identify with the happiness of others can we appreciate what a liberating feeling it is.

         Compassion toward misery is easier to imagine, but harder to implement. The natural response to misery is avoidance. It’s as if we subconsciously believe it’s contagious. Once we become firmly grounded in our own steady state (asana) we will know that it cannot be stripped from us by circumstances. We cannot contract misery from others unless we welcome it in. It is generated by our own shortcomings. Knowing that, we can be brave enough to be compassionate to our unhappy friends, and the negativity of avoidance will be canceled.

         Cultivating gladness toward virtue is also a relatively simple matter. Still, there is a very human tendency to resent and be secretly jealous of virtuous people. I’m not talking about the kind of swaggerers who wear their virtues on their sleeve as a badge of holiness, but real deep-down virtue, which is among other things unselfconscious. The cure for our veiled resentments is to be glad. Gladness is like a light shining into our dark recesses. Ordinary people do such amazing things, and think nothing of them! Admiring them should be easy.

         Maintaining equanimity toward vice is a bit more complicated. Many people feel it is their duty to get very upset about vice, and they want to put it behind bars forever. It’s a way of loudly proclaiming their own innocence, which they secretly know is a deceitful mask to begin with. But shoving things out of sight doesn’t fix them, though it sometimes satisfies the gullible. If we were actually normal, though, we wouldn’t feel we had to protest so much. Add to that an incisive understanding of the roots of every situation, and vicious people will seem more like hapless victims than diabolical evildoers. It doesn’t mean we should “kiss the hissing cobra,” but knowing why it hisses helps us to treat it correctly; to let it be what it is instead of hysterically smashing it as soon as it raises its head. Then our often violent negativity will be neutralized, allowing us to reassume our solid asana.

         Of the four “directions” described in sutra 33, two are neutral and two are moderately positive. We are instructed to move toward the positive and remain centered about the negative. That is the proper asana, the mental posture that allows us to progress in yoga, not to mention our daily life. Sutra 34 tells us that sitting properly in a balanced state of mind naturally evens out the breath; or better, the breath is naturally even, but our chaotic states of mind make it ragged. By assuming a harmonious posture we naturally quell the chaos.

         I’ve just spent a week immersed in Portland’s annual piano festival, which from my side means sitting still and listening, listening, listening, with full attention. The dazzling display of harmony and complexity performed with the most prodigious of human talents is easy to attend to. In fact, it is so captivating it’s impossible to mentally wander off very far. The festival is a lot like those ten day meditation retreats some people take, all-absorbing and engulfing, and for me quite a bit more stimulating. The spectacularly talented performers are my gods and goddesses, hurling thunderbolts of brilliance and wafting clouds of nuances at us mesmerized mortals riveted to our seats. I’m quite sure there were many times I stopped breathing so as not to intrude the slightest ripple into the peace emanating from those grand—truly grand—pianos.

         Listening to a great performance is a practical version of the eight limbs for the nonreligious person. Restraining all extraneous mental modifications and observantly educated in the art form, I am filled with gladness toward the virtuous works of the masterful composers as reanimated by transcendentally gifted musicians, who interpreted their visions in stunning performances. I must say the expertise exhibited by those geniuses is breathtaking. Rapt in the experience, my breath becomes almost nothing. Distractions are easily banished by the intensity of my focus on the music, allowing me to glide with the flow into unimagined realms of ecstasy. Absorption is the natural consequence of all those elements being brought together at the same time and place. Patanjali calls it samadhi. When it’s happening I don’t call it anything—that would be too distracting. Aum.


Part III

         Charles sent a very thoughtful meditation on asana, fleshing out some of its history and comparing it to the present. For the cognoscenti, his last sentence is a paraphrase of one of Nataraja Guru’s favorite lines, quoting or misquoting Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man:  “Because something is happening here / But you don’t know what it is / Do you, Mister Jones?” The guru would often address Western disciples as "Mister Jones" to remind them of their cluelessness. Charles writes:


         The Kagyu lineage goes from Tilopa to Naropa to Marpa to Milarepa to Gampopa, the founder of Kagyu monasticism. When Gampopa took leave of Milarepa for the last time, the guru took him to a private place and gave the final, nonverbal teaching. Milarepa showed his ass to Gampopa, and Gampopa wept. The guru was skin and bones and his buttocks were deeply calloused from years of sitting on the stone floors of caves, in deep meditation, all alone. This was his lesson in asana.

         In Patanjali’s India, the climate wasn’t as severe as in Tibet, but as we would have experienced it, very hard. In those days there were a lot fewer people and a lot more trees in India. There were no chairs. Everyone, young and old, sat on the ground. Social life was hierarchical and static. People sat together for hours every day, not as a special discipline: that’s what people did back then, as normal social life. The average person’s asana was what we’d think of as a yogic accomplishment. And yet they felt this wasn’t nearly enough; and so for serious meditators there was the more intensive development of asana in hatha yoga. The purpose of hatha yoga was to make the body fit for long periods for meditative absorption with a straight back.


         That was another age of the world. Now when we study Patanjali we have been directed to practice in a manner that is possible for us in our very different cultural and technological circumstances. So Guru Nitya not only wrote a commentary for us but also gave the practice of reading it together as we sit together. We may think of asana as our sitting together reading the text and discussing it in a leisurely and spontaneous manner as we sit comfortably in chairs. I would suggest that our asana is a group asana, a sitting together. There is a quantum pulsation of weekly sharing time sitting together. For years I have been going up to Skyline Drive and sitting on the sofa looking at Andy Larkin’s mysterious landscape on the north wall or watching the panoramic sunsets over the Beaverton Alps, and experiencing the communion. Often I have come away with no recollection of what anyone said. It has been the experience of a social field, for me. It hasn’t been intellectual at all, and if exams were given, I would surely flunk. What is happening is mostly subliminal and at a very slow tempo. I don’t think there will be enough time in this life for me to understand what’s happening. I know something is happening but I don’t know what it is.



Sutra II:48

Then no disturbance from pairs of opposites.


         It’s better to read this final sutra along with the two previous ones. The full pronouncement on asana is: “Posture should be steady and comfortable, apportioning the effort with continuous meditation on the endless nature of perfection. Then no disturbance from pairs of opposites.”

         Despite significant differences between Patanjali’s Yoga and that of the Bhagavad Gita, this is a close match. The Gita’s verse II, 59 reads, “Objective interests revert without the relish for them on starving the embodied of them. Even the residual relish reverts on the One Beyond being sighted.” The One Beyond, the endless nature of perfection, Isvara, and the rest are all appellations of the Absolute.

         Nitya expands on this key idea in his commentary: “A yogi develops a neutrality in which the plus and minus do not cause attraction or repulsion. Leaving the fluctuations of becoming, one remains in a state of being.” Neutrality, equipoise, here called being, is the correct asana in which to contemplate the Absolute. When we’re battered about by events, it is easy to become caught up in them. The Gita acknowledges this in its very next verse, II, 60: “Even with a man of wisdom, Arjuna, in spite of his effort, excited sense interests can forcibly distract the mind.” Sense interests appear in binary form: off-on, light-dark, hot-cold and so on, producing a mental world-image and engendering a response of attraction or repulsion. Some of these babies really know how to grab you by the lapels and get your attention, challenging us to ever find our way back to a peaceful state.

         Because we tend to favor the calmness of being over the chaos of becoming, Nitya reminds us, “Becoming and being are reciprocal functions of a truth that cannot be adequately explained with words.” Becoming is multifarious and being is singular, so this is the famous paradox of the one and the many. Discerning the reciprocity between them corrects the possible misunderstanding of the previous statement that we should somehow dispense with becoming and rest in being. Both are inextricably entwined, and our psychic disturbances stem from separating them in our mind. Becoming is obvious while being is subtle, so the tendency is to overlook the latter. Contemplation serves to restore our awareness of being, providing a suitable ground for becoming to unfold without bowling us over.

         The class wrestled with the idea of sameness or samadhi, whether it requires the isolation of pure being, utterly detached from becoming (which is an ever-popular fallacy), or whether it arises from a dynamic tension between being and becoming when they are contemplatively united. Nitya stirs the pot when he says, “Resolving this paradox is not accomplished by reducing contradictories into uniformity. It is resolved by the transcendence of pairs of opposites.” What exactly does this mean?

         The jumping off point for me is Nataraja Guru’s assertion that joining opposites reveals the Absolute. Samadhi, then, is the essence of contemplation, a dynamic act rather than a reduction to nothingness. It’s not that good and evil, for instance, are equal and therefore meaningless. Rather, they arise out of a single context and are dependent on each other for their very existence. You can’t have one without the other, but they still retain their relative value. When being loses touch with reality in the form of becoming, you end up with random acts of insanity.

         It is well known that good literature and good music generate their attraction through tension and release, conflict and resolution. A few stories for children are sweetness and light from beginning to end, but they quickly become boring, even for the very young. In both music and literature, a tantalizing problem is delicious, and the more convoluted it is, the more relief and excitement are elicited in its solution. Endless sameness is vapid. We don’t go to the ocean to see it flat and featureless. We want to watch giant waves crashing down, with expert surfers zipping across their faces.

         My feeling is that the entire course of evolution—which is not a mistake, but a triumphant achievement of manifesting joy immortal out of Nearly Nothing—has been determined by the tension of opposites. Creatures are met with a challenge, and in dealing with it they grow. The early history of the planet has been ever more complex ways to beat the competition to a source of food while avoiding becoming one yourself. Now that the food supply for humans has, for the moment, become relatively certain, the tension and release of uniting opposites has shifted into the metaphysical realm. Being free of the endless quest for food is the great opportunity we present-day humans are mostly squandering, but occasionally using to try to peek behind the curtain of becoming to learn what we are capable of. The forces of darkness, or call them the “little helpers” who want the game to go on a lot longer as it has been before it moves to a new paradigm, are trying to force us back to a survival mentality. If they succeed, we will sorely regret our wasted opportunities to play the game in ever more subtle realms while we had the chance.

         Nataraja Guru often said: “There is a paradox at the core of the Absolute. If you try to resolve the paradox, if you try and pin it down, you get a chair or a table; it does not dance.” A proper resolution opens a door for more paradoxical dynamism to occur. It doesn’t make it go away, because the paradox is the very source of existence. At the risk of trivializing something so mind-blowing, the paradox is that the Absolute takes on the appearance of multiple manifestations that are seemingly other than It. When the Guru says “pinning it down” he means separating those manifestations from their source in the paradoxical wonder of the Absolute. Yoga is all about staying focused on the wonder. If we become partisans of one side or the other, being or becoming, it kills the spirit.

         We had one excellent example last night of how this plays out in actual terms. Brenda has had a close friend staying with her recently who has a small child. Brenda observed that she was being somewhat selfish and putting her own wants ahead of the child’s needs at times. It’s always tempting to avoid confrontations and just ignore the problem, but Brenda took the yogic approach of grabbing the bull by the horns. She calmly talked to the mom about how she needed to change her behavior and focus more on the child. The initial reaction was furious rejection. The woman packed her stuff in the car and was all set to leave in a huff. But Brenda wasn’t upset or hostile—she kept her cool, her poise. And before long the woman also cooled down. She came back in and said, “I really need you, don’t I?” Brenda nodded, “Yes, you do.” They were able to have an effective talk about parenting, and some positive changes came about. I’m hoping Brenda will write up the long version when she has the chance, so I’m not going into details. The lesson for us was, where the norm is to avoid conflict and pretend nothing is wrong, Brenda’s unselfish state of mind pressed her to speak out. In friendship she brought her perceptions of the problem to bear. There is always a moment’s pause when the ego tries to duck out of an impending conflict, like Arjuna’s hesitation on the battlefield. But Brenda forged ahead. She didn’t run and hide when her words raised a storm, but stood her ground. The wild waves of her friend’s selfishness crashed on her rock and spent their fury, where they would have washed away mere sand. And that opened the door to an influx of maturity, of growing up.

         Because opposites were brought into tension but Brenda was not upset by them (or only minimally disturbed), everyone benefited. The child now receives more care and love, the mother is directing her energies more constructively, and Brenda has put her wisdom to excellent use instead of keeping it under wraps. She has walked across a bed of hot coals and come out unscathed. Not that she feels proud of what she did, only content or happy that there has been an improvement. Avoiding the conflict would not have accomplished anything. In fact, the misery would have been prolonged and even compounded. The Gita calls this kind of bravery of the tender soul yoga in action.

         The world is filled with so much suffering! It needs the help of everyone who can rise above their own timid self interest. Takers outnumber givers a hundred to one, but people like Brenda do what they can, as life offers them the opportunity. They don’t let others take advantage of them, but they freely extend their hand to those who will take it. And as Deb said, ruefully, life gives us plenty of chances. We don’t have to go looking for needy situations, they are all around us. We probably won’t solve all the world’s problems, but we can make a dent.

         Nitya began his commentary with “Stabilization in one's own seat is the beginning of samadhi, union with the Self.” He concludes the section on asana, the third limb of Yoga, by according it the highest status in no uncertain terms:


The entire theme of Yoga is conceived in the discipline of asana as a mystical state of being. From this glorifying of asana in the sutras, we can easily see it is not one of those postures that is said to be the most appropriate posture for this or that kind of healing. The word asana is used in a very comprehensive sense; being established in asana corresponds to terms like gunatita (one who has transcended the effects of the three nature modalities), brahmavidvarishtha (one who is totally merged with the Absolute), and yogarudha (one who is fully established in the state of aloneness).


All our painstaking efforts to realign our attitude to the Absolute are summarized in the term asana. We have not achieved yoga until we have learned a comprehensive dialectical balance. Whether our friends have checked in about their progress or not, it is evident that some profound transformations have taken place in the course of our study. Well and good.


Part II

         Both Charles and Brenda blessed us with an asana tale. Brenda’s is a fuller version of the one I sketched in the notes, while Charles compares the two of them to iconic crows, though in many respects they are much rarer birds…. First, from Charles:


         On my 72nd birthday, a golden afternoon, I remember a small Pallava Temple carved out of sandstone, now weathered, all detail effaced and only the noble simplicity of essential form remaining.

         Day before yesterday, Brenda and I got word that our current housesitting job is coming to an end. “Housesitting,” a word that suggests Asana, the common Asana. Like the crow's nest, the common Asana of those birds. Many animal species mate for life; such animal couples signify nonduality in that realm as do Shiva and Parvati in the god realm, and Brenda and I in the house we are sitting.

          In that Temple, as I remember it, there is but one theme, repeated: Shiva and Parvati sitting together on Mount Kailas, while buried underneath a giant Chaos Monster, like a tectonic subduction zone, waits to destroy. This is the eternal moment in the sun, which Dr. Mees called “The height of manifestation.” Gods and Monsters signify being and nonbeing (impermanence). The Gods too are impermanent. The Palavas who carved this exquisite Temple are long gone now.

         The Divine couple sit on Mount Kailas as the crows sit in their nest. The crows mate for life and they defend their territory against other crows. They compete with the other crows but they don't compete with each other, they are at one with each other, and signify nonduality in the bird world as do we human couples in ours, and Shiva and Parvati in theirs.

         This is the philosophy of housesitters. A human couple have a common ego (magic circle around them). Transcendence of egoic separation is rooted in our animal nature which we idealize poetically as the cosmically conscious divine couple. Yet in the philosophically correct stone protolanguage of the ancient South Indian Temple, the Chaos Monster (temporarily on hold) tells us that in the end all compounded things are impermanent, leading Brenda and me to contemplate the more dynamic notion of a mobile common Asana, something like a trapeze for two. This Asana swings.


And Brenda wrote:


         Two years ago I was present for the birth of Theadora. Having cut the cord after an arduous three day labor, I handed her to her mother. This woman was a single 32 year old, and she took safe harbor within my care. I was a constant support for this mother and child for the first year of her life, which posed many hurdles because of her being a single mother. She moved away to Houston but I remained a constant support through our phone calls, actively listening to her suffering and adjustments and at times having to tell her calmly what she herself was unable to see.

She recently returned to the NW and stayed with me for five days. Now 34, the Mother more than ever wishes to have the child be subordinated to her own egocentric hipster life (Tamas) instead being fully in the child's life, given over to what the child needs at all times (Sattva). She hasn't fully realized how her actions deeply disturb the child's development, and wonders why the child's sleep is disturbed and why the child has screaming fits with her, but not with me.

         I had to gently confront this mother, by saying that her abruptness, selfishness, impatience and harshness was deeply wounding the child and was isolating the two of them from the rest of society and from each other. The mother lives from a paradigm where she criticizes everyone else in detail while unable to recognize her own shortcomings.

         Having heard my words, she stormed around the house gathering up her things, and packed her car, and prepared to sever our relationship. I stood my ground without reactivity and without malice. After packing her car, she stood before me and we looked at each other face to face. She was full of emotion. I didn't spar with her, I remained present and attentive, waiting to see if she recognized herself, and then she began to cry, I opened my arms, but I didn't put them around her, I waited for her to come to me.

I know how important it is when I give safe harbor to someone, I cannot simply take it away. When she let me hug her, I told her that I cannot watch her damage her child, that when she comes to me and allows me to love her and her child, that I have to be honest with her, and sometimes that honesty can hurt as it heals.

In this case our world together opened up, cooking many healthful meals and having meaningful child centered afternoons full of playdates and ventures to the farm and out into the blueberry groves to have a direct experience for the wee one. The child's temperament was evened out by the balm of attention and the natural world, and by many songs that were sung, and many books that were read to her, and what stories she told us as the pages of the book were turned!! Her sleep improved and her tantrums were shorter as the mother learned by example more techniques of mindfulness and patience.

         My proactivity in her life, (Rajas) words delivered without emotional weight, but with compassionate directness touched her demon shadow side so intensely that consciousness was born out of darkness.

         Sattva born out of Tamas, with Rajas as the midwife.


Brenda later wrote to add a number of continuing positive ramifications of her solid asana in this challenging interchange. By holding her ground in the right way she has made a significant impact on our community and by extension our world.



Sutra II:49

Upon this (perfection of asana) being accomplished: pranayama, the regulation of the movement of inspiration and expiration.


         It’s interesting to me that the words for breathing in and out, inspiration and expiration, also can refer to the psychic energy that animates or inspires our being and its termination in death, when we are said to expire. Can that be a coincidence? Not likely. In any case, the Indian theory is that prana is the energy that brings us to life and which leaves us at death, and like oxygen is carried in the air we breathe. That’s why, gestation notwithstanding, life is considered to begin with the first breath and end with the final exhalation.

         Pranayama is the science of nurturing and culturing this inspiring energy. Ordinary life takes it for granted and dissipates it whenever the chance arises, because spending prana is enjoyable. But feeling “spent” isn’t; it’s exhausting. Retaining prana is equally or even more enjoyable, but it isn’t followed by a corresponding letdown.

         The yogic theory is that when the reservoir of prana is more full, it brings a clarity of mental focus that can be directed to contemplation and absorption, which are the highest aspirations of the truth seeker. After pranayama, the remaining stages to be covered of the eight-limbed yoga are withdrawal from distraction (pratyahara), holding the focus of the mind (dharana), contemplation (dhyana), and absorption (samadhi).

         Our long and sometimes arduous study has brought us to a comfortable stable state of mind, which naturally allows for the accumulation of prana. As the psychic energy increases, distractions lose their hold and the mind becomes like an arrow shot from a sturdy bow toward the goal.

         Now we can see the importance of asana. Equipoise allows the rain barrel to fill up. If we are unbalanced, we spend a lot of energy overcompensating. If our ego is offended in some way, we pour our efforts into anger or self-pity, until we feel drained, and only then do we give up the reaction game. If we spent a small amount of energy neutralizing the offense and regaining our center, it is far healthier in the long run. This is true for all the many ways we “lose our cool.”

         Nitya felt that pranayama discipline was too strenuous for the average person, and thought that just plain prana conservation through mental health was about right. The various practices can produce weird states of mind that rebound to cause injury or mental instability, and there just was no good reason to risk it. He always insisted that pranayama be studied under the care of a knowledgeable guide, to minimize the possible negatives. But if we are in balance, we accumulate prana with every breath.

         When he first came to America, Nitya did some pranayama practice with us. His uncle, an adept tantric yogi had told him that no one should mess with this stuff, it was too dangerous. Because Nitya was the mystic in the family, he had given him his library of occult books, but somehow Nitya lost all of them except one slim one on pranayama. Deb worked with him on translating it, and there are a few copies around. I don't know if it's been reprinted ever, but perhaps some brave volunteer could digitalize it for us some day. It covers the basics very well. Anyway, Nitya decided we Americans were all too damaged to be playing with fire, and abruptly cut off the classes. He refocused on helping us regain our mental health, which is where the need is by far the greatest. If the human race in some far future ever becomes sane, we can readdress the ancient science of pranayama at that time.

         Nitya’s commentary includes a structural scheme that positions the individual as a reflection of the creative sun of Isvara. Like the sun, our very nature is bliss. Surrounding our blissful core are several “sheaths” of different types of energy. The outermost is generated by food, and in ever more subtle stages we have prana, mind, knowledge, and the solar core.

         Jyothi recalled talking with Nitya about this class. She wondered if the scheme was like an onion, with each layer distinct inside of the next. Buddhists love the onion analogy because it’s very rational, and helpful for study. But Nitya said no, all the sheaths interpenetrate, and do not have a specific form. It’s an abstract scheme, and not a static picture of how we are constituted.

         Like that, the eight limbs of yoga do not constitute a sequence, except for ease of examination. Yoga is one overarching confection, to be reassembled in our core after we have learned as much as we can about its parts.

         We can picture in our minds how we are nourished by the various energies in an all-pervasive fashion. Food is carried by the blood via the capillaries to every cell of the body. Prana also enters the blood via the lungs, but is so subtle as to be distributed by the nerves, which also spread throughout the system. The ancient scheme had a separate, invisible network of nerves to carry the prana, but I’m not sure that’s necessary. Scientists have recently identified several distinct nerve types, each with its own function.

         The location of the mind is extremely hard to pinpoint. The brain is part of the nervous system, but the mind is an emergent phenomenon arising out of the electrochemical basis of the brain. And knowledge, at least in the Indian sense, is a collective aggregation of all minds, the total potential comprehensibility of the universe. It's definitely much bigger than our bodies.

         But the exact location of these various energies is largely beside the point. We know we are filled with them, and yoga aims to conserve and amplify them. Finding their exact spatial coordinates or trying to prove they don’t exist is a waste of time. Their impact is palpable and something we can control with our intelligence. For instance, when we are hungry we get grouchy or light-headed, and we know we have to pop some food into the furnace. If our breathing is jagged, reflecting an upset, we can regulate it and make it calm. Or if our mind is chaotic we can attend to its demands and settle it down. Sometimes a more complete understanding cures us if partial knowledge is bringing us heartburn. Those are the four levels of the present scheme, all within our control if we focus on them and don’t take the ordinary escape route of “ignore it and it will go away.”

         Jyothi also told us how important appreciating the present moment was to Nitya. A “course of correction” like yoga is often undertaken because we are dissatisfied with who we are and want to become someone else, which is a purely egotistical attitude. He insisted we should always be ourselves, because that was absolutely spectacular. The asana we have attained in almost forty months of diligent study is to love ourselves as we are, at all times. Part of us is always changing, and part is ever the same, a reflection of Isvara. That means we change and stay the same, simultaneously. The change should be a growing and enrichment of the divine being we are, and not a desperate attempt to make ourselves acceptable to some mental construct created to fool others and serving also to fool ourselves. If we correctly gather ourselves together, we will have no need to adopt a program attract prana, we will be a pool where it naturally accumulates.


Part II

         Michael has been wrestling with the assignment for awhile, and has finally sent his current asana assessment. He has only been in the Patanjali class a short while, though no stranger to philosophy, so this is more about where he’s coming from than where he is now. That’s very valuable in itself, and skirts the danger of a fixed self-description, which can be unnecessarily limiting.

         I am unable to append the sketch Michael sent, but he describes it adequately in the text.


Dear Class,

  I too have been baffled by this writing assignment and have restarted from scratch four times. I think I get it now. Like Anne said, “it’s too subtle”, so I’ll endeavor to be as elaborative as possible. Seat belts on?

  Patanjali, Nitya, and congress with the Portland Gurukula, has revivified my practice. This association has helped stabilize and affirm my prior developmental course. Most importantly my weltanschauung [overall outlook; world view] is lively again, instead of torpid and immobile in the frozen wasteland of my own Dark Night of the Soul. This Dark Night is usually regarded as a spiritual malaise of the Western practitioner, but cursory research indicates some flavors of Buddhism also recognize an equivalent condition. What the Western Mystics generally say of the Dark Night of the Soul is this: after long years of practice and illuminating insights, the aspirant will enter an extended period of utter divorce and abandonment from all that is of spirit, Self and the Absolute. The literature often describes a dryness of spirit, I think this also manifests with a metaphysical environmental temperature suited to the temperament of the yogi.

  The big chill of my practice began about a year before the untimely immolation of my late “guru” Kendrick in early 2006. Of course I could still intellectualize what I had learned. There was no doubt that the “I” that’s constant in the three states is my true Self/Īśvara, that “consciousness is a singular of which there is no other” and so on, but I was cold to it. The metaphysical game had become the chewing gum that lost its flavor on the bedpost overnight. Last September I spontaneously made a few sketches of buoys, one in particular frozen in an ice shelf (see below) and slowly I began to realize my predicament. Cold, dry, stuck and disconnected. The buoy of course represented my core state of being, the polar bear family is mostly there to reinforce that the setting is an ice shelf, they could have been penguins, which might make a cheeky revision since ol’ chum Kendrick was fond of them. I’m not sure when I finally arrived this self-diagnosis of the Dark Night of the Soul, but Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism (1911), James Marion’s Putting on the Mind of Christ (2000), and Ken Wilber with Engler & Brown’s Transformations of Consciousness (1986) were key references in arriving at that conclusion.

  Once I had a grasp on my situation, I realized that I ought to email Mr. T about the class schedule and, as the Beatles sang, get back to where I once belonged. Overall I am more deeply engaged and cheerful of disposition since rejoining the Gurukula. I recently marked my 45th birthday and the gift to me was two fold: “the cup is only half-full”, rather than always half empty- and also “I have all the time in the world”. Allowing the transactional self/ego to be unhurried tempers its inertia into a more concise, steady, and naturally receptive state to the always- already ground of Īśvara.

  Nitya’s use of the word equipoise has been a blessing in disguise for me too, as an ever-ready system refresh to address the flow of consciousness and transactional dynamics. My creative output has been gradually re-energized by making structured time just for that purpose. I’ve also initiated a 30-45 minute semi- daily walk, to leave the office or home behind, breathe fresher air, hear the birds, see a cloud, and get my heart rate up. I rather enjoy this new discipline that is developing within and without. I’m more at ease and happier just simply being. That buoy is finally loosening from the disintegrating ice flow...

ॐ Michael

Scott Teitsworth