Sutras II: 50 & 51
Its (pranayama’s) modifications are external,
suspended, regulated by place, time, and number, prolonged and subtle.
That fourth variety of pranayama goes beyond
internal objects of interest.
rishis’ ideas of how the mind functions are being confirmed by fMRI studies
observing the brain in action. Most crucial is the appreciation that conscious
awareness is only the final stage in a long, complex process in which an
impulse is developed via the coordination of many disparate parts of the brain.
This should engender a change in our attitude from “This is what I want, and I
have to force it to happen,” to “Oh, now I see what’s happening. How do I best
participate in that process? What can I do to make it come out beautifully?” In
the first case, the ego becomes a tin-pot dictator, a low-grade boss with
delusions of grandeur, while in the second case the ego is more an enabler,
like a waiter who keeps delivering one delicious dish after another out of the
invisible kitchen behind the swinging doors.
in its broadest sense includes the harmonization of our impulses in just this
way, preparatory to allowing them to take a vacation in samadhi. Nitya starts
right off saying, “Just as a certain physical posture is not asana, the gross
form of breathing exercises is not pranayama.” Pranayama is the science of
harmonizing the vital (life-giving) systems so we have a lot of energy and
don’t waste it in extraneous efforts. Our energy level is something most of us
are fairly obsessed with, but not always with the best information driving the
obsession. Patanjali is helping us to pare away the anxieties, neuroses,
falsehoods and tail chasing that dissipate so much of the abundant resources
pouring into and out of our systems.
instructs us that our vital energies are directed four ways, into the wakeful,
dream, deep sleep and turiya states. The first two stand for perception and
conception on the horizontal plane, and the second two the alpha and omega, or
say seed and fruit, of the vertical.
are happiest when we feel good. When we feel ill, we take whatever steps we can
to get back to health, because we can’t function as well when we feel bad.
“Health is our only real wealth,” as Dr. Bronner would say. Deb received an
inspiring example of this first type of pranayama, where, especially in the
beginning, attention is rightly focused. A friend wrote to her, in part:
I have been eating
a wheat free
and gluten free diet for about ten days now. I feel fantastic. My allergy
symptoms seem to have subsided greatly. I am lactose intolerant and
hypoglycemic—and guess what—so are most other people with wheat or gluten
I have not gone this
tummy trouble for some time. My blood sugar seems to be stabilizing at a faster
rate. I have more accessible energy.
Thank you for all
I am very excited
to see what
else happens with my body. I notice I am more flexible too. weird. Well,
much love! Eugene
all have the potential, if we cure all our malaises, to feel as fantastic as
Eugene. Incorporating the right kind of food, water and air and healing our
physical ailments takes care of the first quadrant of the regulation of vital
forces that is pranayama. The second quadrant involves stabilizing the mind’s
energies, a very complex endeavor in which we learn to see things as they are
rather than as we wish they were, and develop our interests, our dharma, so the
brain is humming along at a high level of effectiveness. Some form of expertise
in action brings a lot of pleasure to a machine that is only fully alive when
operating. A large proportion of our Yoga studies have been spent in this very
important area, because confusion drains off energy at a phenomenal rate.
this perspective, asana and pranayama are almost identical, with pranayama the
more subtle end of the continuum. Energy is conserved by stabilizing our minds.
Spending energy is fun and pleasurable, but gathering it together into a
sizeable reservoir is even more thrilling. Balance can and should be achieved
on every level, from the purely physical to the most sublime.
I have been writing about the importance of set and setting in a successful
psychedelic trip, but they weigh heavily on every kind of endeavor. Set and
setting are our modern terms for the horizontal pranayama, mental and physical
respectively. Setting references our physical surroundings, including what we
eat and drink and where we are. As Nitya says, “Just as the time of day is significant,
the place where you do sadhana is important. A person sitting in a dingy room
with doors and windows shut is different from a person sitting outside who is
aware of the vast expanse surrounding him. Time and space both have an impact
on your sadhana (practice).”
is of course our mental state, which in equipoise allows us to soar high and
dive deep. Attaining an intelligent mindset is where we’ve put most of our
energy in the classes. While crucial, it is made infinitely more difficult if
the physical system is out of whack. Both set and setting should be optimized
together, and only then are we free to give our chosen practice our best
have all experienced how when we first sit to meditate our breath is strong,
and as we calm down it becomes more gentle. In very deep meditation we hardly
breathe at all, and there may be times when so little energy is being expended
that we stop breathing for a period of time. Breath is a natural indicator of
the depth of our meditation. Some strenuous practices take it the other way,
restraining the breath in an attempt to force deep meditation, but we are not
using that approach. With a harmonized set and setting it is easy to sink into
an absorbed state, and then the breath eases off of its own accord. When
distractions cease to intrude, we concenter into a more vertical orientation.
Nitya describes it this way: “the multitudinous impressions of the mind become
quiet and the time that the yogi can sit in the deep serenity of inner
aloneness is slowly prolonged.”
that aloneness is a contraction of
all-oneness. In deep meditation we are alone, not because we are isolated, but
because there is no other. We are part of everything. Penetrating into our
inner being allows us to link up with everything we once imagined we were not.
All-oneness is the optimal achievement of the harmonization of vital energies
known as pranayama.
depicts the vertical aspect of pranayama, which we are finally exploring at the
very end of our study, in this way:
The breath connected
evoking of energy and its channelization is like a mechanical device. Before [the
device] is turned on, there has to be the registry of an interest in the
unconscious or preconscious. Without the rousing of an interest, there is no
demand for the expending of energy. A person who is internalized—first with
asana and then with pranayama—is cut off from all external interests. That
naturally develops into the abandoning of catering to inner urges. Thus the
demand on the body/mind to rush energy to any part of the body is negligible.
That means the inner movement of energy comes to a standstill.
We cannot simply suppress our inner urges and
we have attained samadhi. Well, we can, but it would be a delusory, egotistical
triumph. Instead, when we focus on our core, it gently quiets the upsurging of
interests that ordinarily keeps our pot boiling. Because our true nature is
already blissful, there is no need to launch new proposals to move toward
happiness. We are there already.
closed with an acknowledgement of the harmonious way the class is gliding along
these days, which is an advanced expression of the greater pranayama. There is
no energy being wasted in bickering and trying to refute one another, and no
frustration of not being able to speak, of being blocked by someone else. We
don’t require a “talking stick.” Everyone politely takes their turn while the
rest respectfully listen. Each offering is appreciated and reflected on. The
result is a deepening harmony, a radiant calmness, that everyone conserves in
their heart. Our energies are amplified and retained, small disturbances
allowed to dissipate like ripples on a pond, and the result is a profound
moment together. Our breathing regularizes, becomes quieter, relaxes. Sometimes
there is even some gentle snoring…. Nothing could better exemplify the fourth,
most sublime, type of pranayama, which Nitya describes as “the inner
preparedness for total composure that comes at the end of the discipline of
pranayama as the most gentle acceptance.”
Sutras II: 52 & 53
the fourth type of pranayama is attained] then the covering of light is
dissolved. And the mind is fit for holding a focus.
pranayama is directed to turiya, the fourth state of consciousness that is not
a state at all, we become absorbed in ananda. The other three “sheaths” that
pranayama can be aligned with correspond to our familiar structural scheme as
follows: food, the objective or
wakeful state; knowledge, the
subjective or dream state; and mind,
the unconscious or deep sleep state. Pranayama refers to the directing of our
energies to each of these four arenas in turn. There is an implied progression
here. Our primary focus in life is survival, after which we have to become
knowledgeable about how everything works so we can fit in with it. When these
are well in hand, we can begin to express our individual dharma, our own
natural proclivities embedded in the mind. This marks the beginning of our
is the care and nurturing of our growth from an unconscious seedbed of
potentials into an exuberant flowering garden of conscious expression. Now that
our gardens are actively growing, we can begin to enjoy and share the fruits of
our labors. The more our energies are withdrawn from survival and transactional
needs, the more we can use them to fertilize, water and weed our little patches.
the perspective of a universe of light, which is the same as love and pure
consciousness, our ordinary states of mind are like living in a dark and murky
dungeon. When we withdraw our vital forces, our pranas, from their natural
attachment to the walls that hold us in, it is like dissolving our prison,
allowing the light to flood in. We may even be able to step out to bask in the
intense radiance. After all, there are no guards and we are under no sentence
from any judge: we have constructed the dungeon ourselves as a place to hide.
It is our ego fortress. By now in the yoga study we have hopefully become brave
enough to no longer need it, or at the minimum creep cautiously out of it on
describes this spiritual emergence as a vertical continuum. In sushupti, deep
sleep, tamas dominates and shuts out objective and subjective interests. When
pranayama—the conscious allotment of vital energies—detaches itself from these same
distractions and simply resonates with cit, pure awareness, then the supreme
light of the Self overwhelms all the dim bulbs of our dungeon mentality.
short, when our unconscious is brought into conscious awareness, it is
supremely blissful and meaningful.
wanted to know if anyone had successfully accomplished this, because it sounds
so exotic. But, as Narayana Guru put it in Atmo 48, “It is evident that
everyone has truly experienced.” We have all had an “aha!” moment when our
delusions were swept aside and we felt really great about our new
understanding. At least for a brief time we were totally drawn in to the new
way of looking at things. Or we were doing something really well and were able
to stop concentrating on what we were doing and just feel the joy of pure being
for a moment. This bliss can be magnified greatly by sitting still and
intentionally letting go of distractions, something I hope everyone indulges in
regularly in some form. We spent much of our class time doing exactly that,
since a group meditation is so mutually reinforcing as to draw everyone in
reminds us of just how Patanjali visualizes the process:
mind is usually very busy generating images or inferring them out of partial
illumination and creating a big commotion based on each such provocation. In
the transactional wakeful experience and the dream state, a lot of energy is
expended in the act of perception and the act of imagination. In the fourth
aspect of pranayama, these two out-going flows of energy are neglected and the
concentration is only on the nature of the Self, which is ananda. This is
conducive to the mind going into the steady state of dharana. As the three aids
for dharana suggested earlier—maitri (friendliness), karuna (compassion), and
mudita (gladness)—are based on the imperiential unity of seeing all in oneself,
there is no verbalizing of any mantra or any creative auto-suggestion of the
purport of maitri, karuna, and mudita. Dharana strongly manifests as pure ananda
when all specific modulations are automatically negated.
It’s of more than passing interest that
back in I:33,
maitri, karuna and mudita, along with upeksha, equanimity, were to be actively cultivated to clarify the mind. That
The mind is clarified
cultivating friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward misery, gladness
toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice.
If you recall, we had a wonderful class or two
concepts. Anyway, now “there is no verbalizing of any mantra or any creative
auto-suggestion of [their] purport.” We don’t have to work at cultivating them
anymore, because friendliness, compassion and gladness are the natural
expression of being grounded in the ananda of pure consciousness. We no longer
have to generate or develop them; they are precisely where we’re coming from.
Everyone knows that forced friendliness, compassion and gladness are worlds
apart from true friendliness, compassion and gladness. We can go so far as to
say that any forced expression is a
pale imitation of its natural counterpart, though perhaps better than none at
all. We are now living life from the inside out rather than the outside in, and
it’s vastly more delightful that way.
recited a poem reflective of the yogic outlook, Outwitted, by Edwin Markham:
He drew a circle
that shut me
Heretic, rebel, a
thing to flout.
But love and I had
the wit to
We drew a circle
and took him in!
There was definitely a feeling of us all being
loving circle on this beautiful evening, with warm breezes tinkling the Soleri
bell outside the open window and a profound sense of peace permeating the air
together all Patanjali’s restraints and observances, with our mental state and
vital energies in balance, we are fully prepared to sit with distractions
ignored and our attention focused on the most sublime contemplations, which
quite naturally absorb us in ananda, the value-form of delight.
Apropos of living
virtues as opposed to cultivating
them, from the
Tao Te Ching, verse 38, Gia-fu Feng’s
A truly good man is not aware of his goodness,
And is therefore good.
A foolish man tries to be good,
And is therefore not good.
A truly good man does nothing,
Yet leaves nothing undone.
A foolish man is always doing,
Yet much remains to be done.
When a truly kind man does something, he leaves
When a just man does something, he leaves a
great deal to be
When a disciplinarian does something and no
He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to enforce
Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is kindness.
When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty,
Knowledge of the future [expectation] is only
trapping of Tao.
It is the beginning of folly.
Therefore the truly great man dwells on what
is real and not
what is on the surface,
On the fruit and not the flower.
Therefore accept the one and reject the other.
Sutra II: 54
When the senses do not come into contact with
objects of interest and, as it were, follow the essential nature of the mind,
that is withdrawal from distraction, pratyahara.
we melt into the final few heartbeats of our study, Nitya’s commentary is more
highly compressed than ever. He is counting on us being familiar with his
references so he doesn’t have to explain them again. At least we try, though
not everyone has been along for the whole ride. This is very challenging
writing, though happily the subject itself isn’t too arcane, and the class made
a lot of good sense out of it.
began by talking about how both words and archetypal situations—as useful and
even essential as they are—draw us into what can be described as distractions
from the point of view of centered consciousness. While these may start out as
revealers of meaning and cogent patterns of behavior, once they become formalized
they erect a barricade between us and our environment.
succinctly expresses how archetypes are to be addressed:
A person who is infatuated
love identifies with the archetype of a lover. A person who is soaked with fear
identifies herself as a fugitive. An angry man shaking with hatred identifies
himself as an enemy…. Hence it is necessary to rectify value-norms so that the
external world will not have an undue impact on the mind. At the same time, the
deliberating mind is to be trained to withdraw the external senses from objects
We can see that our archetypal states are projected
outside world and then—having forgotten that their source is in us—are either
craved or rejected. The flickering shadows on the wall of our cave assume the
attractiveness of reality even as their actual source is ignored. It’s no
wonder our actions are ineffective, when they are directed only at the shadows!
Pratyahara involves dealing with them at their point of origination instead.
first four limbs of yoga helped us to become “normal” in the sense of having a
stabilized psyche (asana, supported by the restraints and observances) brimming
with harmonious energy (prana). Now we are facing the fact that even after we
have cleared away all the extra junk we were carrying, we can still be
distracted by what’s going on around us. Our brain’s normal function is to pay
close attention to sensory input and sort it in terms of its likely impact on
us. But for us to listen to the “still small voice” of inspiration inside, we
have to cancel the brain’s operational directives for a period; we have to tune
out the wind, earthquakes and wildfires that rage around us.
Guru writes, in his Atmopadesa Satakam
commentary, of the unintended consequence of a “normally functioning” brain
attending to sensory input:
As soon as this primary
fundamental conditioning natural to the intellect in relation with projective
interests in life is admitted into our way of thinking, it has the disastrous
effect of shutting out the unconditioned aspect of the Absolute. One already
views it, as it were, through colored glasses of conditionings of three kinds
to begin with. These three give birth to other secondary ones whose
ramifications … fill the whole area of the field and stream of consciousness
with multiplicity of interests, rather than with that unitive one which is the
highest and supreme Value in life. (79)
refers to a key concept of our study, that we are mesmerized by the reflection
of the Absolute as its manifested images. He says, “The reflected image of [pratyak
atma, the core of the Self] is to be transcended to arrive at the blissful
state of the Self.” Recall back on page 107, advocating the chanting of aum to
redirect our attention to the core, Nitya said, “By repeatedly thwarting the
outward-flowing consciousness, the hindrances to imperiential empathy with the
core aspect of the Self become weaker and weaker.”
this talk made Paul wonder about transcendence, which is often taken as a
unilateral rejection or separation from “the slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune.” Transcendence is commonly understood to mean your are not even
cognizant of the tragic and irritating aspects of life that oppress the
unenlightened, but in the Gurukula that is considered at best a
misunderstanding and at worst an ugly, egotistical posture. It’s a defensive
and fearful attitude, one that the psychologist John Welwood refers to as spiritual bypassing, the “widespread
tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing
unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental
tasks.” He speaks of “premature
transcendence: trying to rise above the raw and messy
side of our humanness
before we have fully faced and made peace with it. And then we tend to use
absolute truth to disparage or dismiss relative human needs, feelings,
psychological problems, relational difficulties, and developmental deficits.”
(I sent Welwood’s excellent interview out in June, but if you’ve misplaced it
just ask me for another copy.)
favorite Vedantic analogy is the light of the sun being reflected in
innumerable dewdrops. We don't angrily reject dewdrops because they are false
images; we revel in them for their beauty and their ability to reflect light.
The light of the Absolute makes them glow and sparkle, but the dewdrops make
the Absolute visible to our eyes. Both go together. We are not supposed to
reject one to attain the other, because part of the illusion is that we have
forgotten there is only oneness. Rejecting half of oneness is the same as
rejecting the whole.
us in the Gurukula, then, transcendence means an open acceptance of everything
as it is and not as we might wish it to be. For a period of time, though, we
have to turn off our fixation on the play of external events so we can attend
to the insights and inspiration of our core. Once this broader orientation
becomes comfortable, it no longer has to be sought exclusively in solitude.
and I watched a documentary this week called Soul Searching,
The Journey of Thomas Merton. The twentieth
century’s most famous monk fled the entanglements of the world to take refuge
in the monastic life, and it suited him beautifully. But about ten years after
he entered the monastery he was standing on a street corner in Louisville,
Kentucky, watching the mixed crowds of people walking by. Suddenly he was
overwhelmed with an intense surge of love: he realized he loved everyone, that
they were all an essential part of his life, and that their needs and
aspirations were also his. From that day he became an impassioned advocate for
social causes of every stripe. He didn’t have to surrender his core values,
rather they were now expressed in a transpersonal fashion instead of being
bottled up inside him. Sadly, in the long human tradition of killing our
prophets when they threaten to upset the apple cart of the money changers, he
was assassinated at the peak of his charismatic outreach, but like the greatest
of our rishis he left an immense legacy to add to humanity’s treasury. For us,
we are inspired by those like him to both reach in and reach out, while keeping
a low profile so the guardians of wealth and power don’t notice us.
now know that our unconscious, regardless of whether it’s conceived as a simple
mass of neurons or a divine ganglion in contact with something greater than
ourselves, is a tremendously brilliant piece of work. In ordinary life we don’t
pay too much attention to it, because there is so much “flash” in our faces
from the reflections of the world. The flash distracts us from the very
important, passionately felt, and highly constructive impetus generated or
transmitted by our unconscious core. Pratyahara is the time we set aside to
listen to it, putting all other demands on hold. And as Nitya reminds us,
practice gradually makes this easier and easier. Practice means actually doing
it, of course. It isn’t the same to think it’s a good idea and then move on to
the next distraction. That’s why the class has been so fulfilling: we actually
spend a little quality time connecting with our core, and the group setting
reinforces it. Our brains are very responsive to peer pressure, and in the
class the pressure is to dismiss petty concerns for awhile and sink in to a
very blissful state. The more we “remember” our native bliss, the more it
becomes part of everything we do, accessible even in the most trying times.
talked about how in painful situations we would prefer to select the “total
transcendence” mode, but that yoga anchors us in a way that we can deal with
them most effectively. We transcend precisely by being present. Nataraja Guru
elaborates on this idea in his Atmopadesa Satakam commentary:
On reading this verse
it is important to note that the Guru takes pains to give in detail the
agonizing stages in the dialectical situation portrayed in the metaphysical
experiment that he describes. The resolution of the paradoxical duality of the
two persons into the one of the last line, does not take place without effort
or earnestness. A thirst for more knowledge is implied on one side and the
inclination to remain quiet on the other. If the first man did not insist on
knowing, the silence would have remained unbroken and wisdom would not have resulted.
Active seeking of wisdom is a form of agony or thirst for knowledge which
represents the knocking at the door to open, to put it in the biblical idiom.
One has to want to know badly before knowledge can result. The duality then
becomes transcended. The two partial selves merge into unity in the Absolute. (58)
It’s sad but true that we easily become
complacent when life
is problem free, and only challenge ourselves when things go haywire. At least
we might try to challenge ourselves before
things get off kilter, but life is kind to crank it up for us as necessary.
made an impassioned speech about how instead of looking to our core humans
seemingly prefer to substitute stupefying medications, trivial diversions, or
hatred, warfare and cruelty, just to name a few. Anything except regain our
inner balance and focus. While we don’t usually make any grandiose claims, yoga
is indeed an excellent alternative to those tedious and barbaric behaviors that
regularly make the news. Behind the headlines, millions of ardent souls are
doing their best to help the species to evolve by evolving themselves. Not by
rejecting, but by understanding and transforming. We wish them every success,
as we well know we are all in this together. Aum.
online study of Patanjali with Nancy Yeilding continues to provide interesting
parallels with the Portland class. My response to Sutra I: 37 bears on the
subtleties of transcendence and immanence in pratyahara, so I thought I’d clip
it in here.
Sutra I: 37 reads “Also the mind fixed
on freedom from
attachment to sense experience acquires steadiness.”
my opinion, most of us habitually fail to properly distinguish “freedom from
attachment” from “detachment.” Detachment is a thoroughgoing severance of
connection with sensory experience, and as such is a dramatic hardcore practice
where our reactions are rigorously suppressed. Freedom from attachment, on the
other hand, is a much gentler endeavor in which we still register and respond
to sense inputs but are not overly manipulated by them.
free of attachments is an intense and enjoyable form of yoga that can easily be
a fulltime practice. In the course of our day (or night) we register a gestalt,
and then observe how we reflexively respond to it. Bringing in an intelligent
assessment allows us to catch a glimpse of our attachments, which are the
discrepancy between what we might assess as a neutral reaction and what we can
observe as our actual manifestation of self-interest. We can “feel” this as
well as think it. By intuitively making adjustments in our psyche to correct
the discrepancy, we learn how to regain our mental balance at all times. Nancy
succinctly describes this process in her first exercise as: “becoming aware of
such attachments within yourself and purposely focusing on freeing yourself
steadiness of mind is the mental correlate of learning to walk as a toddler,
though much more complicated and usually sans the loving support and
encouragement of a caregiver. In fact, we may well be pressed into pondering
how to do it by stressful circumstances. It would be far better if we could
mimic the toddler’s eager excitement at learning to walk, determined to achieve
what we can plainly see most adults have already mastered. And it shouldn’t
matter that this adult achievement is not nearly as universal as it appears….
I’m making an artificial distinction and am all wet, but it seems helpful
anyway. We could just as easily conceive of two types of detachment, one
ferocious and absolute in rejecting all input, the other gentle and tolerant of
input as inevitable and even potentially delightful.
Then the greatest mastery over the senses.
last two sutras of the Sadhana Pada should be read together:
When the senses do
not come into
contact with their own objects of interest and, as it were, follow the
essential nature of the mind, that is withdrawal from distraction, pratyahara. Then the greatest mastery
over the senses.
Deb began by noting that the mastery over the
senses is the
completion of Patanjali’s initial proposition, citta
vritti nirodha, the cessation of mental modulations, which
correct. But despite our nearly three and a half years of study, a widespread
misconception persists, which is that all mental activity is supposed to cease, not just the modulations, the
wavering. Like ripples on a pond, modulations are by no means the same as the
underlying activity. Yogis confused by the language spend years trying to kill
off their mind in the belief that by doing so elysian fields will be opened up
to them. But brain activity only truly ceases in physical death, and we aren’t
in any hurry for that. In both the deepest meditation and the most profound
slumber the brain continues to be globally active. Our sense of cessation is
only the diminishment of our conscious awareness, not the death of the brain.
Patanjali means by citta vritti nirodha is the alignment of our perception with
reality, of our conscious with its unconscious ground. The mental modulations
that are to be brought to a close are the wavering, colored, projective
thoughts that erect a barrier between us and our world. Only when these are
discarded can we be at our best. But we are not to throw the baby of our
beingness out with the dirty bathwater of our modulatory misconceptions.
Western concept of sin is similar to the affliction of ill-considered mental
modifications. “Missing the mark” or sin in its spiritual sense indicates the
gap between perception and reality. Minimizing of eliminating sin is like
focusing a camera lens, and an attentive yogi should be able to observe the
fuzziness in their perceptions and conceptions and dial in the clarity just as
we expect the videographer (or their computerized equipment) to do.
explains “To restore the spark of consciousness that originated in the spirit
back to the spirit is the theme of Yoga.” We have become mesmerized by the
modulations of our environment and forgotten who we are. Yoga aims to restore
us to ourselves. Some insist that nature has to be annulled completely in order
for us to return to our true spirit, while others realize that by normalizing
the relationship between spirit and nature we can continue to enjoy this realm
of abundance while avoiding the pitfalls of excessive externalization.
exhorts Arjuna in XI, 33 of the Gita: “Arise and gain fame! Conquering your
foes, enjoy the realm of abundance.” Our foes are the myriad blockages and
confusions that lay siege to our psyches, the very things we have been
combating for such a long time in our studies. The world is a battlefield of
challenges for us to meet squarely and defeat. The Gita is not escapist in the
least. It does advocate that we drop out of our limited, socially defined
context in order to tune in to a transcendental or absolute reality, but once
that is accomplished we can rejoin the fray to fully participate in the grand
drama of a life well lived. Nonetheless, depending on their personality type
some opt for solitude where others seek companionship. In this, Patanjali’s
Yoga is more equivocal than the Gita. Nitya says:
At this point the
has a choice. You can prefer to remain in this world as a comrade and friend of
your fellow beings and dedicate yourself, or you can bring an ultimate
termination to your individuation by returning to the plenum of the spirit and
becoming one with it. If the second is your choice, you have to go beyond asana
and pranayama by developing the ideology of transcendence, that is, a new dharana….
In the maturation of dharana both the prospective and retrospective sprouting
of imagination and memories are abandoned. That is a very drastic step to take
for those who retain their love for this world.
A very drastic step indeed. Virtually all the
gurus we know about chose the integration of spirit and nature, rejecting only
the garbage and not the essence. The class spent a long time pondering the need
for seclusion and withdrawal and how it fits together with openness and
sharing. Narayana Guru famously retreated to a remote cave to find his
enlightenment, but then the light he found drew him out to touch and transform
the world in which he lived. Mohammad also found his guiding light in a cave.
Nitya spent nearly two years in seclusion and silence, blasting away all the
artificial planks beneath his feet so he could discover the true ground to
stand on. But then, like Thomas Merton in the example from last week, he
suddenly found himself overwhelmed with love for all of existence. In the delight
of his realization of divine unity he was moved to literally embrace everyone
he met, but he soon saw how it terrified people to be hugged by a madman, so
his love became internalized, and even more intense for that.
of us begin by withdrawing from the madding crowd and introspecting apart from
the persistent distractions of daily life. This should be considered merely an
initial stage toward liberation and not an end in itself. True freedom moves
wherever it listeth.
“listeth” in the online King James Bible I find only two examples, both
appropriate. The one that always leaps to mind is John 3:8, “The wind bloweth
where it listeth, and thou hearest
the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth:
so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” James (3:4,5) apparently responds
to this with “Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are
driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm,
whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the
tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a
matter a little fire kindleth!” Hidden in this widely separated dichotomy is
the paradox of spiritual freedom versus egotistical license, something that we
still confuse nearly two thousand years later; a very tough nut to crack.
talked about a similar stretch of time he spent living alone at the beach.
Eventually he became used to his solitude and enjoyed it, but then when he’d go
back into the city he found his former friends now ignored him, and that was
when the loneliness set in. We can see that it’s the expectations that cause
our desolation, rather than the circumstances. Yet it is definitely a shock to
find that our fellow beings are so caught up in their psychological
machinations that open sharing is the exception rather than the norm. This is
the tragedy of all tragedies, that we “lay waste our powers” by being caught up
in busyness. We put off living until later, always later, not now, like Andrew
Marvell’s Coy Mistress, who he implores, “Now let us sport us while we may.” As
Let us roll all our
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
we have often argued, the creation of the universe was not a mistake to be
erased, but a supreme achievement to be continually celebrated. It is a shame
that we humans become so wrapped up in ourselves that we fail to reach out and
share joy with our fellow beings, fail to lend a hand when our dear friend is
carrying a burden or lend an ear when they are crying out to be heard. We
rationalize our failure to participate as “spiritual practice” when it is
merely selfish indulgence.
find it perennially interesting that the spiritual fantasy is so strongly in
favor of absolute renunciation, possibly because it makes such a dramatic
story, but very few are willing to actually commit themselves to anything close
to it. This is an important place where our wishful thinking fails to match
reality. The mismatch serves as an excuse for laziness and evasion, and so is
essentially tamasic. Our pretense is like the hard shell of a clam, a defensive
mechanism, where what we believe should be a guiding inspiration.
Gurukula stands staunchly in favor of life before
death, a life of generosity and kindness, as if the grand illusion truly
mattered. Narayana Guru set the standard for us by pointing out the cosmic
truth that selflessness and giving enrich us all, while selfishness grinds us
down under its heel. He was not speaking of material giving but the gifting of
our spirit, our soul, our love. In his Ten
Verses on Compassion he proclaims, “A heart empty
of love spells disasters
of every kind.”
returns to evolutionary imagery in his commentary, describing the most
elementary creatures as reactive, even before they have developed sense organs
or even a brain. Life as we know it is based on sensation, and mastery over the
senses means evolving from unconscious reactivity toward conscious determinism.
As we have pointed out elsewhere, this doesn’t mean exclusive reliance on
consciousness, but rather an integration of consciousness with the vast ocean
of the unconscious on which it forever floats. Consciousness grows by nibbling
away at the surrounding unconscious terrain.
excellent meditation is to see how the primitive abilities and constraints of
all our ancestors still operate in us, lordly as we like to imagine we have
become. Deep in our vasanas or genetic makeup are the learned behaviors of
viruses, bacteria, protozoa, flatworms, amphibians, reptiles and all kinds of
scurrying mammals, to name but a few. As a species we are still crudely
reactive and survival oriented. We have spent three billion years playing the
game of eat-or-be-eaten, reproduce-before-you-die, and there is a tremendous
inertia restraining us from expanding our parameters. A perverse streak in the
human psyche seems to want to desperately hold on to those crude determinants,
to drag us back to a brutal world and dismantle all the civilized advantages
that provide us the opportunity to evolve away from fear. It’s a complex
challenge that has to be met with full idealistic intent, or we will not
and I are about to embark upon a month long vacation, a trip of a lifetime to
Brightest Africa. When we return in October, Grid willing, we will finish the
final four sutras elaborated in Nitya’s Living
the Science of Harmonious Union. After that, no further
classes have yet
been proposed. We shall see what comes up. But we go forth in full confidence
that a profound study has been adequately completed, and everything we need to
know has at least been brushed up against. Our class consists of and is
intended primarily for those who feel no need to reject this wonderful world,
who would rather embrace and cherish it. Nitya concludes this second Pada by
affirming: “For people preferring to live the normal lifestyle of an
individuated person, the instruction in the discipline of Yoga is now complete.
It is optional whether to go beyond this or not.”
we concluded our evening’s pondering there was a murmur of appreciation for the
exquisite joy of sitting together in a rare gathering dedicated to serious,
nontrivial meditation. Reviving Patanjali’s time tested wisdom in a modern
setting surprised many with how good the fit still is. Moni told us that in
India a single sutra might be discussed for months in some ashrams, until
everyone is satisfied that they fully understand it. It is indeed a rich mine
of therapeutic insights.
our class we are not trying to be anything we are not—such carrots are dangled
in other venues, not ours. We are all the Absolute in essence already, and
meeting in concentrated ecstasy for mutual exploration underwritten with compassion
is the high point of the week for many of us. I admit, there are no youngsters
among us. Their joys are faster paced, less reflective. It takes a long, long
time for the human flower to mature into a fruit, and longer still for it to be
pressed into wine. That’s just as it should be.
closing meditation was so blissful there was no urge to go beyond it, nothing
to seek. The only bug was that I knew I had to arbitrarily bring it to an end
at some point. Aum thrummed in the silent air. Deb didn’t dare disturb the
stillness to read the poem she handed me this morning from a fellow
contemplative soul, Czeslaw Milosc:
glowing in the
sun, zealous hum of bumble bees,
somewhere beyond the river, echoes of lingering voices
sounds of a hammer gave joy not only to me.
senses were opened, and earlier than any beginning
for all those that would call themselves mortals,
that they might
praise, as I do, life, that is, happiness.
Holding the focus of the mind is dharana.
eerie full moon webbed with silvery clouds blowing rapidly across its face
greeted the hardy crew who girded their loins for the final push to the summit.
How’s that for an all time mixed metaphor? Happily, Deb also greeted everyone
with a fresh plum tart, featuring Italian prunes from our tree, many of which
have exploded from all the rain but are still delicious. The fickle fruits are
nearly three months late this year, but the timing seemed just right as the
tart was scrumptious as well as appealing to the eye. Everyone demanded the
recipe and took home a bag of prunes to make it with, so you can find it here: http://www.food.com/recipe/plum-tart-85182.
Whipped cream lifts it into the transcendental category, if you’ll forgive the
oxymoron: transcendence can never be categorized.
reading itself is quite challenging, despite the seeming simplicity of the
subject. It is good to have some measure of the study go over our heads, because
the subject matter really is infinite. If we could pigeonhole it into neat
packages, it would undermine its efficacy. At least with this book there’s
little danger of that!
lot of what we’ve studied is difficult and hard to pin down in familiar terms,
but that’s a good thing. The ideas are seeds that have worked their way into
the soil of our unconscious. By now, a few may have even sprouted and begun to
press up through the garden bed into the light.
front flap of That Alone has an excerpt from Nitya’s closing words after verse
65. The feeling is the same as now in our present junior version of that
amazing class, where so much has gone into us yet our conscious grasp of it is
This was certainly
experience for all of us to gather in the mornings and sit together and
commune. Not all the days were alike, and everything you heard might not have
been so inspiring, but here and there something must have gone deep into you.
That little bit which strikes home, that makes a flicker of recognition and
continues to shimmer in us, is enough to give us some direction in life. There
is no need to learn each verse and then rationally apply it in everyday life.
You can even hear it and forget it. Forgetting means it only goes deeper into
you. Once you have heard it, it will go and work its way by itself.
effect will be very subtle. It comes almost without you knowing that it is
something which you heard that is enabling you to see things in a new light or
make resolutions in a certain more helpful way. Nothing is ever lost. Even this
very peace that comes to our mind during these verses is so penetrating that we
feel the depth of the soul, the Self. It is indescribable. The indistinct part
of it is as beautiful as the distinct. In a Chinese painting most of it is
indistinct, but this does not make it in any way less valuable than a realistic
So do not despair! Nitya elsewhere cautioned
us not to pull
up our seeds too early and have a look at them, because that can damage or
destroy them. Definitely don’t bring in the neighbors to show off the
burgeoning plot. Let the seeds lie as long as they require, and simply keep
them watered with emotional enthusiasm and fertilized with eager curiosity.
offers a brief introduction to the final Pada that touches on this same idea.
He was always fond of horticultural metaphors. One of the very first letters he
ever wrote to me touchingly summed up his self image: “My lot is of a clumsy
old gardener who cuts and prunes the bushes and hunts out the vermin and the
fungus that come to destroy the delicate buds of his blossoming bushes.”
on to dharana. Holding the mind in focus is something everyone does naturally
when we are captivated by an interest. Additionally, a substantial portion of
our study has been aimed at stabilizing the mind, rooting out the weeds and
vermin of traumatic misunderstandings to restore healthy and symmetrical
growth. When that is done it is easy to maintain concentration.
of the implications of Patanjali including dharana as one of the eight limbs is
that yoga requires enthusiastic interest in freeing ourselves from the shackles
of conditioning accompanied by a thirst for freedom. The tedium of life and the
pressures of social adjustment tend to sap our determination to bring forth
flowers and fruit from our own seedbed of potentials, and instead we
repetitively produce what we think other people want us to. We become like a
mass production assembly line churning out products for sale. Yogis are the
rare ones who do not allow their personal integrity to be sacrificed to mere
productivity, who aim to “return to the very foundation of ourself and to
remain in it in a state of beatitude.” Well okay, most of us compromise to a
greater or lesser degree on this absolutist vision, but at least we need to be
clear about the range of values involved. The beatitude of their personal
foundation is not even considered by most people. It is the missing piece of
the puzzle that is only felt by its absence.
sent an article the other day about the feelings of emptiness and despair of
people who had everything: perfect childhoods, good jobs, lots of friends, lots
of stuff. What could be missing? People feel empty because external factors
aren't enough. We can be very successful, and still feel like something is absent
in our life. What satisfies us is understanding and meaning. Nothing is more
exciting than these, and they are to be found within rather than without. So
the yogi differs from the “ordinary” person by seeking inner solutions rather
than trying to jostle the outer circumstances into a favorite alignment by what
Nataraja Guru called opening the door from the hinge side. If the outer world
is a broken reflection of our inner state, we don’t operate on our psyches very
effectively by tinkering with objective details. The outer world is a series of
effects whose cause has to be discovered in ourselves. If the causal impetus is
ugly and selfish, the results will be commensurate. When the cause is seen to be
breathtakingly gorgeous and inspiring, the effects will also become aligned
with that. Nitya says:
From the first formation
cause, a future harmony is to be envisaged. This is where our parents, society,
and governments all fail. Effects cannot be corrected without conceiving a
cause that will harmoniously elaborate itself, with bright reasoning prevailing
between a volatile will and a frenzied action program.
“Bright reasoning.” Because we know
our own reasoning is dim
and faulty much of the time, we regularly bring ourselves back to sit at the
feet of a wise teacher like Nitya, whose reasoning really is bright and
enlightening. Some of that light stays with us, and as we have noted, it helps
stimulate the growth of our own best potential. We don’t always fully
understand it, but we can feel the radiance soaking into our DNA.
is a testament to those who have persevered through this long and difficult
study, despite plenty of confusion and bafflement, that they have stuck it out.
Holding to an excellent vision is the essence of dharana as it applies to yoga
study. Nitya elaborates:
us that only
with a continuous and consistent vision of the purpose of life maintained for a
long time, with several inner corrections carried out from day to day,
sometimes from moment to moment, can the inner and outer match in their beauty,
meaning, and goodness. We should begin from the least illumination of
consciousness and go through its evolution in life up to this day; then we will
have a transparency of vision of ourselves through time and space, and through
all the interactions that we had to come through.
The transparency of vision comes from stepping
back from our
immersion in willing and acting to sit still in one form or another of samadhi,
sameness. We are asked to reflect on our whole life from this perspective. When
we can let go of our obsessions for even a short while, we can bring clarity to
the unfoldment of our evolution, and very gently nudge ourselves toward a
glowing realization. Nitya puts it this way:
From the very start,
have a purposive consciousness wanting to direct their lives, consciously as
well as unconsciously, to arrive at a steady situation in which inner calm can
be maintained for short durations or even longer durations. Thus the dharana
that is seeded in consciousness is a program for the whole life. However, to
bring consciousness to its aloneness or to an absolute steady state is totally
opposed to nature. Nature is a continuously proliferating phenomenon.
We are all very familiar with the strength of
we face in trying to become centered. Not only does nature bash us about, but
our own mental chaos goes against us:
A confused mind is
flooding turmoil of a river with many rapids. By plunging into the middle of
it, no one can generate any harmony in it. Each individual needs to chart a
course whereby the navigation of life can be made a smooth sailing. The
challenge is to live through the misery and joy of life in which we are exposed
to a million encounters, continuously recognizing the imagery and returning
again and again to the essential.
The class wrestled with several of the challenging
the commentary, demonstrating that pondering together we are more capable than
any of us is alone. One particularly interesting discussion revolved around
When we try to examine
phenomena of the world, we have to make many reductions and abstractions to
delimit the field of cognition. Spatially we limit the field to that which we
can measure in terms of physical dimensions such as length, breadth, height,
and weight. We detach ourselves from the bodies in question and limit ourselves
to certain qualities that can be rationally conceived and formulated.
is that we come to a notion of measurement that
is far different from the original stuff that we were assessing. Instead of
arriving at reality we only arrive at approximate measures of quantifiable
entities. Hence the physical view of things alienates the subjective agent of
knowledge from what is being assessed in terms of objectivity. There, the
aloneness we arrive at is the aloneness of a fictitious notion generated in the
world of fluctuating energies. To hold on to this is even worse than being deluded
by appearance. In a world where both the subjective cognition and the objective
matter to be cognized are in a state of flux, what good is it to concentrate?
There is another
way of making an assessment of reality.
That is to seek from within the truth of the perceiving stuff that is derived
from the subject. If we go into cerebration about the physical nature of
appearances, we will not arrive at any better angle of vision than that of the
physicist or physiologist.
What Nitya is saying is that when we analyze
things we run
the risk of reducing them to mere characterizations, which no longer have their
full stature. This leads to all sorts of conflicts, not to mention the sense of
loss and despair that humans are frequently beset with. The corrective is to
let go of our definitions and try to “sink into” the object of our attention.
Then it will be known to be unbelievably rich instead of impoverished by our
example we mulled over was in relationships. When we fall in love with someone
we experience the vastness that they (and we) are, and it feels fabulous. But
all too often the glow fades eventually as we replace the beloved with our
mental conception of them, which is a pale imitation at best. Then we become
unhappy because we have substituted a “cardboard cutout” version for the former
spiritual bounty. As both partners suffer from the same tendency toward
reductionism, the relationship deteriorates, to be either discarded or shored
up via mere pretense.
we cannot always vouchsafe our partner’s efforts, we can put our own energies
into “seeking the truth within” of who our friend is and who we are too. While
all our associations end sooner or later, a really valuable relationship
deserves nothing less.
humans crave simple explanations and easy excuses, which are so much more
convenient than opening ourselves to the true complexity of the world! One of
our brains’ primary and most useful functions is to transform input into
manageable code. But unless they are generous and open enough, shorthand
explanations sell us short, omitting the full spirit of the thing and in the
process eroding our enjoyment of life and love. We have to be very careful
about our reductionist tendencies, because self-interest twists them and
perverts them. They are seldom as pure as we imagine, and never as complete.
was highly amused by Nitya’s last line in the above quote, “If we go into
cerebration about the physical nature of appearances, we will not arrive at any
better angle of vision than that of the physicist or physiologist.” It reminded
me of a quote by Mark Twain that I’ve included in my Gita XI commentary. In an
essay entitled Was the World Made for
Man? Twain lampoons the pretension that evolution has
its culmination in humans.
As the Creator struggled to bring about the human race:
It was foreseen that
have to have the oyster. Therefore the first preparation was made for the
oyster. . . . This is not done in a day. . . . At last the first grand stage in
the preparation of the world for man stands completed, the oyster is done. An
oyster has hardly any more reasoning power than a scientist has; and so it is
reasonably certain that this one jumped to the conclusion that the nineteen
million years was a preparation for him; but that would be just like an oyster,
which is the most conceited animal there is, except man. And anyway, this one
could not know, at that early date, that he was only an incident in a scheme,
and that there was some more to the scheme, yet.
Twain and Nitya agree, then, that even though
it is often
necessary in everyday affairs, reducing life to a conceptual scheme inexcusably
downgrades it. In dharana we dedicate ourselves to putting our energies into
turning the tables: to retrace our steps from our minimalist concepts back into
the vastness of what really exists all around us. Instead of reduction, we
embrace expansion. It goes against the tide of a brain designed and conditioned
to epitomize, but the results are not only worth every effort, they are the
only valid option for seekers of truth.
In that, the continuous flow of consciousness
refers to contemplation in its highest sense. Guru Nitya concludes his essay on
this sutra with the mystifying statement that, “One can meditate but one cannot
contemplate. Contemplation is not a causal factor; it is a consequence.” He clarifies
the distinction between meditation and contemplation in his commentary on
Narayana Guru’s Darsanamala:
In our own times,
contemplation are used as synonyms: both the terms have lost their precise
connotation and have become vague in meaning. So it has become necessary to
revalue and restate the terms ‘meditation’ and ‘contemplation’. Sequentially, meditation
comes as a prelude to contemplation. The way to know something, as Henri
Bergson puts it, is not by going around it, but by first entering into it and
then being it. Meditation is an active process of applying one’s mind to make a
total ‘imploration’ of the depth of whatever is to be known. The state of
actually being it is what is achieved by contemplation. It is a passive but
steady state. (368)
In other words, meditation is the philosophical
have been performing all through the study, and contemplation is its
culmination, the discovery of precious jewels of useful wisdom deep within.
Nitya goes on to say that, in his Darsanamala commentary at least,
bhakti—literally conjunction with light—is translated as contemplation. So we
seek the light via meditation, and upon finding it are perfectly at home in
contemplative contentment, because it was our true nature all along.
of the text here discusses the near-universality of a three-part myth in
of the higher or pure Self, the individuated self, and their final union
represents the same scheme held by theistic religions like Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam and non-theistic religions like Buddhism. Three stages
are conceived: an original state, a state of transformation, and a state of
Nitya includes the Samkhya Yoga version, where
spirit or purusha becomes wrongly identified with nature or prakriti, and then
returns to its pure state by a process he describes as regressive remergence.
This recalls his movie theater analogy, where the audience gets so caught up in
the action on the screen that they forget who they are and imagine they are
participants in the drama, only being restored to their real selves when the
lights come on and the screen goes blank.
can add to this the scientific myth where beings act through unconscious
instinct, almost like animated matter, then a spark of consciousness appears
that gradually grows in complexity. The awareness of unity by that
consciousness is posited as a final achievement yet to be attained, but which
is always to be worked toward. So the U-shaped myth of paradise-fall-return is
very nearly ubiquitous. Stripped of its exotic imagery, in its most basic
version it is death-life-death, which from a cosmic perspective is really
life-death-life. As Nitya asserts, we only know the middle part, where we can
speculate about the before and after and add in a lot of wishful thinking.
in all these versions is an underlying unitive state, often regarded as
blissful, which we have left and are in the process of returning to. As several
people noted, we get caught up in the middle state, and if we don’t feel
inspired to direct our lives toward understanding we can fall victim to despair
and anguish. What gives life meaning is the aspiration to return to total
consciousness or union with the Absolute, which helps us have a measure of
distance and perspective on the turmoil that we are immersed in.
describes this in realistic terms:
In our daily experiences
brought by the five senses is empirically tied together to give orientation and
meaning to every gestalt. Thus the turbulent state of the mind flows into a
more unified stuff of consciousness. If the yogi does not aggravate the
situation with the associations of ideas and previously formed habits,
consciousness once again becomes transparent and void of both memories and
imaginations at the point of focus or ekagrata. A state of pure duration is
established. Then the mind has come to its spontaneous culmination in
Dhyana is therefore essentially identical with
sameness or union.
of the class discussion was sparked by Jan and Paul questioning whether dhyana
was an unchanging state. A widespread misconception is that the unity we may
attain is a single monolithic item. You arrive there and all your problems are
solved and nothing really happens ever again. People are right to rebel against
this static vision. Nature is the actual field of our expression, and so not to
be abandoned, but it can also overwhelm us. We are pulling back from our
entanglements in nature precisely to allow more freedom in our responses. The
transparency of vision we can achieve throws us open to the reality of our
surroundings so we can relate to them with expertise. Many of us have seen how
even a little of this can improve our relationships with family and friends.
present the United States is filled with angry, hysterical people who have been
manipulated by media pundits. I have had encounters with a few of them lately,
and they shout all sorts of false accusations, things that they have been told
and they want to believe, about how the people they hate are responsible for
all the problems of the world. Unfortunately their passionately held beliefs
block any possibility of communication. Their fixed ideas are like a wall
between us, a defensive display of a terrified small creature trying
desperately to make itself look huge and inedible. Nothing positive can happen
in such a situation.
Tolkein wrote brilliantly in The Lord of
the Rings, of the influence of a devious advisor, Grima.
by everyone but King Theoden, he whispered plausible lies in the King’s ear,
designed to undermine his strength. The King became old and weak and resigned
to loss long before his time, mentally prepared to surrender his kingdom to the
evil Saruman, who was Wormtongue’s real employer.
are everywhere these days, employed by a wealthy elite to maintain their
dominance, but trying to appear as just good old boys helping out the masses.
Yogis--and all those with common sense--need to know how to resist their
allure. Like that, the songs of the Sirens are so compelling they lure us off course
to our (spiritual) death. In their presence Odysseus lashed himself to the mast
of his ship and stuffed his crew's ears with wax. Yogis can use a well-grounded
intelligence that questions everything and gives its allegiance only in
superlative instances. Additionally we open ourselves to our peers to reveal
our shortsightedness to us, because we know without assistance we will miss a
great deal of importance, and might well strike a hidden reef.
is not a way to shut out dissonances and stay quivering in an isolated cell
defended by slavering monsters, it is technique of dynamic openness. That's why
Odysseus did not plug his ears to the Sirens’ song, but just “held fast” to his
ship. Happily, our minds are masterful at knitting together a coherent picture
from chaotic strands of sensory input. The yogi takes care that the pictures
produced are optimized with intelligence, and minimally colored by selfish
attitudes. When that challenging task is brought to a high degree of
excellence, dhyana takes place effortlessly.
In that, when the object alone shines, as if
there is a void
of one’s form, that is samadhi.
the pinnacle of our sojourn, we are confronted with a complicated sutra very
difficult to translate, which on first blush appears to be a step backward.
There is nothing like a little confusion to activate a reconsideration of our
perplexing why we should suddenly be contemplating an object. It would be quite
contradictory if, at this ultimate moment, we were supposed to be focusing on
outside objects. And what is this voidness of our form all about?
brought out the most crucial point to consider. The word artha, translated here as “object,” also means “meaning.”
indicates the value that is the aim
or purpose we have directed ourselves toward, the motive for doing what we’ve
been doing. We tend to think of an object as a material thing, but Patanjali is
speaking of a metaphysical ideal here. This is what we’ve been aiming at all
along, whether we realized it or not.
the artha that is shining is a dynamic ideal, and not a static form. Nitya
offers “several spiritually rich imaginations,” that fill the bill: fellowship,
compassion and gladness. In such matters we don’t hold fixed expectations, and
quite naturally minimize our sense of ‘I’. When we’re with a friend or group of
friends, we are readily absorbed in the interplay, and we can see how any
personal obsession we may indulge in interferes with the ease of sharing.
gave the example of a walk I had had earlier in the day with a good friend. We
took a route I had been on a thousand times before, but there was no sense of
repetition. My friend and I talked of many important issues effortlessly. There
was no scheming about what to say to advance any agenda. The next morsel just
poured out, and the back-and-forth led us to valuable insights that made us
both feel good. We enlightened each other. It didn’t hurt that the sun chose
that hour to burst forth and highlight the colors of the fall foliage.
we could think “This was what we did,” but at the time the ego and its
objectification were downplayed in favor of fellowship. We weren’t doing
anything. Life merely unfolded, and it was good.
of our lifetime of training in goal orientation, we tend to think of samadhi as
a singular, static achievement. We get to a certain place, something major
happens, and everything changes. After that we are enlightened, and we can
append the title “rishi” to our name like M.D. or Ph. D. We have to discard
that conditioned attitude before we can realize that just being alive is
samadhi. This is it! What could be better or more amazing than to simply exist?
Guru, in Atmo 48, insists that everyone is realized to a degree. There is no thick
line between the knowers and the ignoramuses, the saved and the lost. We are
all on a continuum of increasing enlightenment.
couple of people wanted to know how we recognize samadhi, how we tell it from
ordinary consciousness. Just what is it, anyway? The question itself is beside
the point. Like the Absolute, where if you identify it, it is not the Absolute,
samadhi is not something that can be pinned down or defined. We want to say,
“Now I’ve got it,” but that type of statement is proof that we don’t.
is the “void of one’s form” Patanjali is talking about. The ego’s posturing is
wholly fictional, a snare and a delusion. Consciousness is 100% open ended. We
identify with the slimmest web of neurons on the surface of our brains, and
undersell the rest.
reiterated how Nitya would so often tell us that if you said “I am realized,”
it was proof you weren’t. If you were truly realized, the ‘I’ would be gone.
This course of study is all about giving up our mania for self-identification,
which is a severely limiting discipline. If we can let go of what the ‘I’
thinks it is, our potential is unlimited. Not only that, but every moment is
perfect in being what it is, unique and unsurpassed. Our goal orientation in
imagining realization as “other” is taking us away from appreciating the now in
all its magnificence.
have been taught we aren’t good enough, so we automatically downgrade our
experience. Everyone I know suffers from this ridiculous malady, which causes a
lifetime of anxiety and discontent.
Deb was just setting Nitya’s commentary on verse 48 in the Gurukulam Magazine,
and came across this:
is an infinite range of what may be called the ego boundary. The state of the
ego actually changes according to the expansion it attains. It becomes more a
transcendental ego than an ordinary ego. A transcendental ego is not a social
ego, it’s only a center of consciousness. Here the center of consciousness is
not just a passive witness, because the bond of affection is the one which
makes the person go beyond his body limitations in saying “my child” “my
friend,” and so on. If you are a very altruistic person, like a mystic, you are
so in love with everything that you can even say “my universe.”
In practice, then, we don’t eliminate
the ego, we expand its
limits to infinity, thereby educating and taming it at the same time.
Merton, in Mystics and Zen Masters,
describes the historical period when Christianity externalized its salvation,
and imagined it was something that Muslims could take away from them and
possess. It has led to almost a thousand years of armed struggle to try to get
it back, with the present anti-Muslim pogrom being only the latest crusade, as
George Bush the Inferior loudly proclaimed. So there is nothing trivial in
being uprooted from our divine birthright as the Absolute, and being restored
to it is the best balm we can offer for ourselves and everybody else. The key
is to remember this is an inner process, and that external impediments—real or
unreal—are nothing more than distractions. We don't have to waste our time
battling them, for the most part.
the other hand, Nitya is careful here to warn us about the pitfalls of
mistaking the ego for the Self, since the ego is the most external part of our
ego is wrongly identified as the Self. So if the mind is withdrawn from objects
of interest, its immediate reaction is to concenter around the ego. In the case
of perceiving external objects, there are certain empirical limitations that
prevent a person from seeing what the sense organ does not permit. But in the
case of the visualization of one’s ego, the stuff of the ego itself is
imagination and so egotistic imagination can go wild. Thus it is far safer to
perceive an external object than to dwell on one’s ego.
For this reason, the Gita and the Yoga Shastra
in regard to life. They do not advocate withdrawing into a remote cave or a
monastic cell for thirty years to obtain a very special reward, but to live a
holistic life right in the midst of the chaos of friends and family. In
isolation there is nothing to keep you company but your own ego, and it is very
clever to take the forms you expect it to: Buddha or Christ or ectoplasm or
talked about a friend who boasts about how he got enlightenment one day. It
just came to him by accident. Now he is enlightened. Other people are not
enlightened, because only he knows the secret. In a colossal understatement,
Nitya says, “In contemplative life, such identification with the ego is a
pitfall to be avoided.”
friend is a perfect example of mistaking the ego for the Self. “I’ve got it,”
is the tipoff, because there is nothing to get, and no one to get it. Each
person has lots of extraordinary and ordinary adventures navigating the
bountiful miracle of life, but we labor under the delusion that what we have is
either right or wrong. In that way we either over-value or under-value
everything that happens. We set realization apart, and then want to go and
search for it. Daunted by the challenges, we take up arms for the crusade.
talked about how she hoped she could learn to be more stable in difficult
circumstances. She already is! People look up to her and cherish her as a
friend because she is strong and wise. But she has come to believe that when
things go haywire in life it’s a sign that she has failed. Things always go
haywire in life—it’s the nature of the beast. It isn’t a unique fault that we
screw things up, it’s inevitable. Steadiness is not the same as stasis, either.
We get knocked about and lose our balance. The key is whether we can recover by
getting back together quickly, or whether we are going to carry on feeling
miserable about it.
has worked hard to elucidate Patanjali for us, to disabuse us of all the false
notions that keep us from enjoying the perfection all around us while stifling
it in others. These notions, inculcated from birth, are very sticky, and very
compelling. For three and a half years we have confronted them as boldly as we
could. Now it’s time to let all that striving sink deeply in, so we can accept
who we are and how amazing that is, and how amazing everyone else is too.
left time for a short group meditation at the close of the class, where we could
link all our electromagnetic dynamos together, which makes for a powerful
community “search engine.” We were asked to simply discard all intrusive
thoughts, so we could naturally penetrate into the infinite fields of our
minds, which at their core are nothing less than the Absolute itself. Again,
the Absolute is not a monolithic entity but a principle, capable of endless
expansion in our understanding, and it’s nothing we should ever claim we fully
have and hold. The infinite can never be compressed that far. We simply open
ourselves to it, and take a drink.
currently in Hawaii, sent a timely letter this week. I’ll also type up a brief
excerpt from the Merton for part three, which will also deal with the impact of
refusing to accept unity:
As I mentioned to you several months ago, it seems that every time I go
into the verses something in my world directly connects, making the circuit
complete. In your comments on the most recent class, you mentioned the anger
and the shouting of lies you have run into “out there” in our
political/social scene. I know what you mean. They now emanate from both sides
of the political spectrum and from some sources I would have at one time never
expected to operate that way. I think that at the base of it is a profound
and unexamined—and I would say now a militant—conviction that the wave and
the water are two. The fundamental truth that they are one—that we either know
or do not as Nitya pointed out in his Foreword to That Alone—has been turned on
its head and buried in a deep cave of denial.
Until last Friday, I didn't know quite how far until I had a
conversation with a now retired pastor of an ultra-progressive
Congregationalist Church. At one point, we were moving into a discussion of the
infinite and the concept of suffering, a subject, he noted, that today's
progressive church members had little interest in. His implied disparagement of
their materialism notwithstanding, I made an attempt (however clumsy) to point
out the connection between Christ's comment of the world of God being within
and the wave/water analogy. In both cases, the manifest and the infinite are
both one as the world dances in, around, and through us. I was then corrected. The
authors of the 1611 King James version of the Bible, I was informed, had made
an error in interpreting the original Greek. The term among rather than within was the most accurate.
other words, the kingdom of God is not
within each of us, it's among several
Neat boundary identification, no?
If the kingdom of God exists only among people, then it is quite a
separate thing altogether (rather like the old concept of the ether.
Unexplained, it still exists as a thing outside other things). What I realized
by his comment is the profound depths to which the progressive Marxist camp of
organized religion in the west has gone in solidifying its position as the
coalition in opposition to that which accepts the same boundary and
separateness of the transcendent but then re-arranges the remaining deck
chairs. Fundamentalists or literalists assign tasks to the “thing that is
among” that the progressives do not, and vice versa. (Now God can be, on the one hand, the old patriarch
on the other, some trans-gendered mother of us all.) (In his closing chapter of Up From Eden, “Republicans, Democrats,
and Mystics,” Ken Wilber gives a vey tight summary of this general situation.)
The conviction with which my friend corrected me indicated the level to
which he did not want the issue examined. And he is one of the most open-minded
folks I know (involved in exoteric religion). Perhaps that characteristic is
the most depressing of all. There is nothing quite as certain as the closed
mind, and now that closure has become a virtue for those who at one time would
have celebrated open inquiry.
I once wrote a textbook for English Composition (that went nowhere)
using some basic ideas drawn from a variety of sources. Sri Aurobindo opened
the text with one of the best reasons for education I've ever seen:
So long as the hour
rational age has not arrived, the irrational period of society cannot be left
behind; and that arrival can only be when not a class or a few but the
multitude has learned to think, to exercise its intelligence actively—it matters
not at first however imperfectly—upon their life, their needs, their rights,
their duties, their aspirations as human beings.
I would now go into the failure of our education
but, as Dirty Harry said, “A man has to know his limitations.” —And they are legion—
This is very
good, but I think the hostility is more one-sided than Jake realizes. Emily
just sent us a photo she took of the “violent protests” in Oakland, a scene of
happy, smiling young people hoping to turn the tide with their love and
concern. They are idealists taking an unpopular risk on behalf of the greater
community, and should be commended. The media that calls them violent is a big
part of the hostility, aligned totally with the right wing. But that's another
Mystics and Zen Masters, by
Merton (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991) first ed 1967.
Written half a century ago, but eerily prescient,
this is an
excerpt from the essay From Pilgrimage to Crusade. Merton has hit the nail on the
head about the fault of looking outside for salvation, and how deeply engrained
in the psyche of the West it has become:
Thus we see that in the course of time the peaceful
defenseless pilgrimage, the humble and meek “return to the source” of all life
and grace, became the organized martial expedition to liberate the land
promised to Abraham and his sons. It is surely significant that in the Middle
Ages this conception of the Christian life became deeply embedded in European
man: the “center,” “the source,” the “holy place,” “the promised land,” the
“place of resurrection,” becomes something to be attained, conquered, and
preserved by politics and by force of arms. The whole Christian life and all
Christian virtue then takes on a certain martial and embattled character. The
true life of Christian virtue now becomes a struggle to death with pagan
adversaries who are wickedly standing in the way of one’s divinely appointed
goal and perversely preventing fulfillment of a “manifest destiny.”
of course, certain ambiguities appeared in this conception of the Christian
life as a mystique of martial and political organization. In the Second Crusade
these ambiguities made themselves decisively felt: if the Crusade is a war to
annihilate the enemy, then strategy comes first and the army should besiege
Aleppo. If it is primarily a pilgrimage, then the crusading pilgrims should go
up to Jerusalem. Yet the king had not made a vow to conquer Aleppo, only to go
to Jerusalem. Thus, the concept of an essentially embattled Christian society
tended to become inseparable from the Christian outlook, one might almost say
the Christian faith. Christian eschatology in the West took on a very precise
historical and social coloring in centuries of combat against Eastern and pagan
autocracy and power.
would be na´ve to underestimate the sincerity and the deep spiritual motivation
of the Crusades, just as it would be na´ve to ignore the fact that the
violence, the greed, the lust, and the continued depravity of the worst
elements continued unchanged. In point of fact, the Crusades had an immense
effect on European and Christian society in the West. They certainly opened the
way to renaissance and modern Christendom. But the paradise of spiritual
benefits that had been hoped for was never attained. On the contrary, from the
point of view of East-West relations in Christendom, the Crusades were a
disaster. They certainly made all reunion between Rome and Constantinople
all, the Crusades introduces a note of fatal ambiguity into the concept of
pilgrimage and penance. What was intended as a remedy for sins and violence,
particularly murder, now became a consecration of violence. There is, of
course, a distinction between war and murder, and the sacrifice entailed by
warfare can certainly be regarded as “penitential.” But a man prone to violence
and passion, a potential or actual murderer and sadist, is not likely to make
too many fine distinctions when he discovers that he can now not only kill
people legitimately, but even offer his acts to God as “good works” and as
“penance,” provided he concentrates on infidels, regarded as the embodiment of
know that the Crusaders did not confine their warlike activities to what was
juridically “holy.” The sack of Christian Constantinople and the internecine
battles among the Crusaders themselves are there to prove it. (105-107)
We get letters! This came from Deb in the next
addressing our separation from our own indwelling spirit:
Scott and Jake, It may be more one-sided but
it is, as I
think Jake points out so poignantly, still a problem for every one of us. That
is our challenge especially: how to see all of us as connected even when the other
side is violently proclaiming separation and difference. How to remain true to
that and yet not just blindly naive. A very complex and challenging position.
But one that has to be addressed and lived. love, Debbie
Sutra III: 4
The three (dharana, dhyana, samadhi) taken together
an invisible yet comprehensible harmony, we finished the book Living
the Science of Harmonious Union
on a day that is represented by all ones, three and a half years after the
start of our study, and with Nitya’s 87th birthday (11/2/11) already
a fact on most of the planet, including India. Such is the nature of accidents.
will hold an additional class session next week to sum up what, if anything,
we’ve learned during that time. Classes may be spotty for awhile before we take
up another massive project, but we will go through Nitya’s Isa Upanishad
commentary soon. I’m not averse to a rest from the Herculean labor of
accurately rendering class notes, but I crave it as an excellent brain exercise
that also gives my life a measure of meaning. So you will likely find more
notes coming your way before too long.
final commentary is a masterful summation of the entire program. High points
-Being and becoming are interlocked as one supreme
principle, known as sat, the way things are. Our mind can’t help but analyze
them separately, but they are two sides of one thing, whether called life,
existence, creation or what have you.
-Dharma references the world of becoming, and
world of being.
-At its most acute, contemplation is an ecstatic
in which life and death, or becoming and being, merge. Our role is to simply
abandon ourselves to the compulsion of the situation, or open our hearts to the
-When this happens, mystical experience goes
beyond all the
esoteric fantasies that formerly impelled our search. Fantasies can be more or
less ridiculous, but they are what command our attention and even guide us in
the initial stages. By discarding our fantasies as we outgrow them, we open
ourselves to the all-absorbing spirit that unites being and becoming.
-This is the nirodha
of the citta vritti, the cessation of
mental modifications, with which Patanjali began our study. His initial
hypothesis is brought to reality in the mystical experience of union.
-Citta vritti has five factors that summarize
path: kshipta, vikshipta, mudha, nirodha and ekagra. Nitya introduced them in
the very first commentary, on sutra I:1.
-Kshipta is continuous motion. We begin yoga
study as active
entities impelled by a torrent of demands from the environment, including our
inner chemical and conceptual environments.
-Vikshipta is the state where our natural volatility
further exacerbated by our attraction to items of interest. Asana, attaining a
stable seat, is the antidote for the ensuing restlessness.
-Mudha is the state of opacity that divides
from the next. We have to forget what we are doing in order to make room for
the next thing. In a life where the pursuit of items of interest is the entire
focus of consciousness, we conveniently forget our beingness in order to
promote full-bore becoming. This is like becoming absorbed in watching a movie
screen and forgetting it is only a projection.
-The attempt to put the brakes on the mad rush
of life is
-Ekagra is the focused mental state in which
have been converted into consciously held attention. Holding to a sincere
effort to realize yoga, in the present case through a series of steps, leads to
-Samadhi and kaivalya, stability and aloneness,
steady state of silence. “Aloneness
does not actually mean an alienation from anything. It is arriving at a neutral
zero by finding out the law of contradiction.” The neutral zero is attained by
relaxing all the compulsions that act on us, usually by a dialectical
offsetting of opposites.
the neutral zero, ekagra, one-pointedness, comes without effort. Prior to that,
it does take effort. Either way, we should hang out in an attentive condition
as often as we can, as it conduces to progress.
next likens word dynamics to these five broad stages of the path. What he means
is that the words of a wise preceptor are very often what guide us through the
transformations that lead to samyam, which is the amalgam of the final three
limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga: one-pointed focus, contemplative wonderment, and
sameness, which definitely do overlap. Without that guidance, we would have
accomplished little or nothing. Nitya’s words here are, fittingly, very important:
Through millennia, ideas have been
coming to disciplined seekers in an intuitive way, like a flash of lightning.
These ideas have then been passed on from the seers to their disciples, and on
to their disciples, for the well-being of the listeners. Samyam is like a
creeper originating from a seed, then branching off in different directions and
threading through the perceptive consciousness of all those who are ready to be
spiritually evolved. The instructions from a teacher to a student, through a
hierarchy of such teachers and students, have been transforming humankind
through millennia with the suggestive power of samyam.
samyam, the word of the
preceptor is the main instrument by which the disciple's persona is carved out
or orchestrated…. The Yoga student goes from listening to instructions, to
meditating on instructions, to finding in all external environments appropriate
challenges to be accepted and converted into one's own natural counterparts in
the process of evolution.
That last sentence is brilliant and crucial.
Nitya insists that we practice our yoga in relation to the world we live in,
and not treat it as an escape. Life provides us opportunity after opportunity
to realize our self, drawing us out of our static mindsets and challenging us
to excel. The Guru, wherever we may find it, gives us the tools to become more
than simple bumblers, if we diligently process what it offers us, most often
are instructed to maintain conscious participation at each of the three levels
of samyam so that we don’t lose our way. Dharana has to resonate with our own
true dharma. Nitya reminds us we should not try to change ourselves so much
that we become alienated from our svadharma, our innate propensities. The
exotic trappings of a foreign religion, for instance, may be quite compelling,
but they are not likely to resonate very well with our actual needs as a person
fashioned of different building blocks. The acid test of whether our dharana is
congruent with our svadharma is joy: the steady growth of an inner joy. Not the
visceral pleasures of raw excitement, titillation or escapism, but a really
solid, unshakable joy, the ananda of experiencing a meaningful connection
between sat and chit, between reality and our appreciation of it.
fact, the achievement of meaning in our life is the gateway to all the rest.
Presumably those who have persevered through this long and arduous study have
felt at least an occasional twinge of meaning as compensation for their time
invested. We wouldn’t bother with it if there wasn’t something in us that is
profoundly attracted, even if its exact nature remains indescribable and
mysterious. Something in us is not satisfied with cheap substitutes for
meaning, like consumer products or entertainment; we will accept nothing less
than a calling in our life that doesn’t fade away, that is non-transient, one
that promises to lift us out of our shortcomings and give us a life truly worth
at the last moment, Nitya has a caveat for us:
(dhyana), you have to assure that your ego
does not transform into a parasite privately feeding upon your spiritual
exercise, gloating on the importance of your relativistic position in
integrating the external and the internal. To grow into the unlimited
dimensions of the Absolute, you should be on the lookout for any relativistic
factor becoming negatively conditioned in your transactional consciousness.
This is similar to my motto “self-description
stultifying.” Do your program, but don’t make a big deal out of it. One of the
dangers of a well spelled-out linear system is that we get caught up in a kind
of trivial game and miss the point. If I have to perform 10,000 pranams to
become enlightened, by the 5790th I’ll be really excited about the
counting. Counting isn’t a spiritual development program, however, only a
method of self-hypnosis or a way to kill time. I remember I used to think that
sitting in lotus pose was a big deal, and spent months torturing my legs,
eagerly assessing every centimeter closer I got to it as if it would make me
wise to sit in a certain way. This is exactly what Nitya is cautioning against.
we may think of some socially beneficial activity as promoting our spiritual
development. Nitya says, “In
social circles, such socially attainable efforts are very much appreciated.
That may encourage a person to be a social reformer or a philanthropist. But
those efforts will not bring a person to liberation. There has to be a
self-releasing awareness that prevents the identification with socially
accepted titles from imposing on the consciousness of an aspiring yogi.” So
yes, go ahead and do service. Fine. Just don’t imagine it is a substitute for
insists that we throw away all our stupid parlor tricks and turn to what really
is important: “raising consciousness from a specific mode of time, space, and
physical involvement to the final stage in which awareness returns to its
source and merges with the spirit that originally initiates consciousness into
an organism for the primary animation of every embodied being.” In other words,
we have to shift our focus from our individuality to its universal grounding in
the Absolute. Anything less shouldn’t be taken too seriously. We may well do a
lot of altruistic or artistic things, but they are not to be conflated with
spiritual liberation. There is another dimension here that we commonly ignore,
but which contains the whole game of yogic evolution. We pretend to be
interested in it but often aren’t. Thankfully, we have the excellent words of a
true guru to help us get past our own blocks.
of excellent words, indicative of clarity in thought, I’ll let Nitya
demonstrate his superlative intelligence one last time. He closes the study
with a recapitulation of the eight limbs that epitomizes each one perfectly.
While we all have more or less vague notions about them, his descriptions cut
to the essential core of each, in the process paring away a lot of extraneous
fat. Sitting at his feet—symbolically as present circumstances require—he never
fails to induce at least a faint echo of the tremendous electrical charge his
intellect maintained, day in and day out, presenting to us the essence of every
idea, and by so doing paving the way for us to discard all our extraneous
suppositions. He and Patanjali deserve our deepest appreciation for our
opportunity to learn from them, which we can only demonstrate by bringing their
science into our lives as harmoniously as we possibly can.
reprise of Patanjali’s eight limbs goes like this:
Samadhi is the
of the eight steps of discipline enjoined by Patanjali’s Yoga Shastra:
behavioral pattern (niyama);
psychophysical state or condition that provides a comfortable and stable
posture for directing one's attention to observe one's changing inner
4) slowly and
translating the involuntary function of respiration into the conscious
deliberation of an observing consciousness (pranayama);
disciplining one's awareness to delimit the choices of interest within a frame
of reference from which extraneous interests are dropped and a basic interest
is again and again promoted (pratyahara);
6) the consequent
stabilization of a well scrutinized and emphasized idea of direction (dharana);
boundaries of awareness in which the conscious observer and his or her
consciousness become mutually merged to give the effect of an unmodulated state
of pure consciousness, a state of at-one-ment or beatitude (dhyana); and
8) the equipoise
state of aloneness (samadhi).
In gratitude for all dedicated participants,
for the guidance of a great teacher, Aum.
Nitya instructs us that profound joy is the measure of spiritual progress, it
immediately suggests a corollary, which is, if you regularly find yourself
angry and joyless, something is off base. Negative emotions are a measure of
spiritual stagnation or regression. We can see any number of purportedly pious
people who are judgmental, negative, blaming, and so on, desperately seeking
happiness by inflicting pain or confusion on others. Since they are certain
they’re right, their case is grave. We have to want to change or we never will.
yogi wants to be sure not to fall into that trap, with its wide gate and
slippery slope into the pits. Without the measuring rod of joy and its subsets
of acceptance, insight and understanding, we might never realize we were
mistaking the non-Self for the Self, and shut ourselves off from the very thing
this is a very important element to keep in mind. We all are mature enough to
distinguish temporary pleasures from lasting happiness, but we also have a
tendency to become accustomed to a kind of tedious mediocrity. We say, “Oh,
well,” and resign ourselves to our fate. Or we secretly fume and fulminate
about abstract “others” who we regard as inferior to us. Instead, let’s put
every effort into resurrecting our lives into the consistent joy that should
accompany our brief sojourn on this astonishing planet.
First Pada review
decided to read back through the sutras standing alone, and it proved to be an
intense practice in its own right. We were reminded of the sheer magnitude of
the territory we have explored. It felt a bit like standing under a waterfall.
case anyone mislaid or never received the document with only the sutras, it is
attached. Reading them in sequence is a very different experience from the
gradual way we have been preceding. Some of the sutras are simple enough, but
many are very complicated, partly due to translation barriers, yet after three
and a half years they make a lot more sense than before.
few of the highlights are as follows. Patanjali begins with the concept that if
our mental modulations cease, we are in our own essential nature. When
modifications occur, we identify with them. Modifications modify our unmodified
nature. They change it into something other than its pristine state. The class
took time to sit quietly. With our long practice and the group energy, it is
fairly easy to perceive the open space of our true nature. Periodically
modulations surge through like wave impulses in an underwater cavern. While we
are meditating, they don't have the strength to motivate us; we can simply
watch them pass along, separated by moments of calm. Later they will play their
little tricks and catch our attention to the extent that we will get up from
our stable seat and do their bidding. But thanks to our meditation we have
gotten a little distance on them.
of what we have learned is to not be caught by our mental modulations for a
period. Ordinary people seldom take a vacation from “getting and spending,” and
tend to forget their essential nature and lay waste their powers. That’s fine
if such is your interest, but those who are drawn to a class like this prefer a
measure of detachment in our lives. We don’t want to be driven by the winds of
fate all the time. Staying still in equipoise is a blissful respite.
mentioned that Nitya suggests we can retain our connection with our oceanic
inner selves even as we interact with the world. The more we become familiar
with that place, the easier it is to keep it in mind as we encounter the
vagaries of existence. This is very much a Gurukula tenet. I’m sure everyone
remembers Nitya’s conclusion of verse 48 of That Alone:
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.
tells us that the way to restrain our mental modifications is through
repetitive practice and detachment. We have to let them go and not respond to
them all the time, but they never go away for long. Then we have to do it
again, or we will get stuck. Being glued onto painful modulations is misery
making. We can't just tear ourselves away; it takes a lot of patience. Over and
over we have to assure ourselves we don't need to take the bait, we can leave
it dangling. Eventually we come to see it for what it is: a poisonous
temptation that we have been conned into believing it was our duty to swallow.
ourselves of the habit isn’t accomplished in a day.
those of us who are not naturally enlightened—which includes everyone in the
class—Patanjali tells us that faith, energy, memory and discernment are
required. This means we have to believe we can change; we have to be motivated
to carry out what we envision, which relies on a coherent sense of continuity;
and we have to distinguish between what is helpful and what is distracting
nonsense. Oh, the energy we expend pursuing attractive illusions!
says that if we have intense ardor for the goal, it is easy of attainment. Of
course, one of the great mysteries is why people take this subject lightly and
don’t put their whole heart into it. Certain people have a strong drive to
figure out what’s going on, others are content to flow with the river they are
immersed in, whether or not it's polluted, and a few don’t care in the
slightest. To each his own, of course. As someone who always had a burning
passion to decode life’s mysteries, I can’t explain why seemingly normal people
don’t care very much about something so important. Can early training alone
explain it? I don’t think so. Some of us resist being molded into a social
being much more than others. It certainly isn’t a reproductively beneficial strategy,
especially since many renunciates become celibate, and yet it seems to be in
our genes. Somehow, somewhere, the ancient call finds its way into certain
receptive ears, and we answer it.
you have the ardor, the love for it, continuous contemplation on the Absolute
is recommended. It is here called Isvara, and is signified by Aum, which is
excellent for chanting and pondering.
pondered sutra 25: “In that (Isvara) the seed of the omniscient is not
exceeded.” This is one of those brain breakers: it sounds very wise and poetic,
but what does it mean? One thought occurred to me. Isvara is like the
singularity that is presumed to have given birth to the Big Bang, a point
source from which everything manifests. The point or seed is omniscient in the sense
of containing everything in potential form. But once it starts to expand into
expression, it is no longer just Isvara or the singularity. This cautions us
that Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Jehovah, Mother Nature or however we conceive of
God, it is not the true source. We mix up our contexts by mistaking aspects of
manifestation for the unlimited original.
Bill thought, the Absolute we take as interpenetrating and supporting
everything is different from Patanjali’s Isvara, which emanates all but does not
go along with it. Heavy stuff.
practice gets us over the obstacles, which Patanjali lists as “Physical pain or
distress, mental depression, doubt, exaggeration, laziness, hankering after
objects, insanity, having no firm ground for spiritual orientation,
instability—these obstacles cause the distraction of the mind.” Sounds like a
typical day for me…. Moreover, “Pain, despair, shakiness, and hard breathing
are the companions of distraction.” Things haven’t changed much since this was
written, have they? For the antidote, Patanjali all but quotes the I Ching:
perseverance furthers. He might have added, Good luck!
stabilizing the mind, Patanjali gives one of the greatest of the sutras, number
33: “The mind is clarified by cultivating friendliness toward happiness,
compassion toward misery, gladness toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice.”
Our original class and the notes for it were terrific, as I recall.
Particularly noteworthy is the last phrase, “equanimity toward vice.” So much
of human aggression is directed toward stamping out vice, punishing ourselves
and others for it, and feeling guilty about it. Patanjali assures us it's all a
waste of time, if not downright horrific. Understanding achieved through
intelligent examination of causes should bring us to equanimity, not only about
vice but about virtue as well. Absent that, we unintentionally strive to make
the world a living hell, and in the process become entrapped by the very thing
we reject. Very sad.
lists several other ways to clarify and stabilize the mind, really excellent,
general categories, and concludes by saying that any other way you want to do
it is fine too. This isn’t a rigid program we are constrained to adhere to.
However you find clarity, that’s the way to go. Don’t feel pressure from any
fixed notions. It’s really very beautiful. Patanjali isn’t going to fight you,
but rather bless you.
final dozen sutras of the first pada are real brain breakers, partly because
sutra 43 isn’t about seeded absorption while the rest of 40-46 are. Sutra 43
reads, “In unobstructed consciousness, the memory is purified, as if devoid of
its own form, and the object alone is illuminated.” Compare this to the
penultimate sutra, III, 3: “In that, when the object alone shines, as if there
is a void of one’s form, that is samadhi.”
first pada thus takes us to the highest. The second pada, which we will examine
as a whole next week, covers parallel terrain, leading back through hard work
to samadhi. In either case, once clarity is attained, consciousness flows along
undisturbed toward the higher Self, the domain of pure consciousness, which is
“pregnant with truth.” Truth is such that it displaces untruth, which sounds
too good to be true. But it is not—nothing is too good to be true, because
truth and goodness go hand in hand.
gave an illustrative example. There are plenty of intelligent people who know
very little about the Yoga Shastra, and who are provincial and even defensive
about their chosen bailiwicks. They might well give these sutras a passing
glance and say something like, “That’s stupid. It’s all false, the ravings of a
deranged mind. Religious poppycock!” But we, who have invested a lot of time
and effort into getting to know how much of value there is in the study, will
instantly realize that such comments are the prating of ignorance, and not an
informed opinion. We won’t be tempted to give up the tremendous insights we
have garnered, just because someone makes fun of us. We even can understand the
mechanism by which ordinary people like to ridicule anything that isn’t in
their comfort zone. Hopefully, the study we have dedicated ourselves to for so
long has helped us to make our own comfort zones really vast, and also
welcoming of many different approaches to truth.
and there during the class we shared some of what we feel we have learned.
Michael mentioned that his artistic inspiration has been flowing more freely
since joining the class. He has gained confidence that once he is prepared he
can mentally step aside and allow his art to bring itself into being. He
doesn’t have to make it—it makes itself.
of us mentioned an increased sense of stability from the study. Now when
problems arise we aren’t knocked so far off course, and regain our balance much
more quickly. It may sound simple, but this is a commendable achievement that
will always be with us.
aren’t making any claims to “see God” or access divine beings dancing under
mushrooms. Increased creativity and psychic equipoise are excellent enough
outcomes. Anyone wishing to receive messages from the Andromeda Galaxy or
ancient Lemuria is free to seek elsewhere. And that’s just fine.
Susan was unable to make this week’s class,
and so did the
next best thing, submitting feedback in written form for public perusal. It’s
not too late for others to follow her example:
I was sorry to miss class last week. If I had
been there, I
might have mentioned one of the many things that have been very inspiring in
the last three years of study. And that is the emphasis that Patanjali puts on
regaining one's balance after begin thrown by life's mental and physical
challenges. There were several wonderful references to this idea, but I'll go
all the way back to the Letters that we studied in June of 2008 to find a
"One norm of the
well-attuned is the capacity for regaining tranquility and perfect balance
after every incident of disturbance. Life is a flux and therefore there will be
a repeated knocking around and tossing caused by the randomness of several
things pulled or pushed by circumstances. In your personal case, objects of
interest make impact on your senses. Your sense of duty dictates that you do
the chores of life and also meet several contingent states. You are exposed to
heat and cold and to pain and pleasure. The people with whom you associate are
not always thoughtful or cooperative. This can cause strains. Thus, innumerable
are the occasions for you to lose the poise of your body and mind. Each gives
you an opportunity to apply the norms of sameness in your life. One test is how
easily you can regain your tranquility when assailed by pairs of
opposites." (from Letters to an Aspiring Yogi, Letter Five)
Through these last years, I am less and less
arguments with family members, worries about family members, interactions with
drivers on the road, sad memories, bad dreams, as well as exaggerated
attachment to hopes for the future. This is all a significant change that makes
me feel more at peace, less anxious, more able to meet the challenges of my
life. In the past, an "incident of disturbance" could throw me into
such a tailspin that I either dwelled on it for days or wanted to give up
completely and pull away. This inevitably meant that I was so stuck in my head
that I could not reach my inner, lighter, freer self and I was not as available
and as easy with my family. I didn't have that reservoir of joy and peace that
now enables me to be present and be resilient.
Second Pada review
contrast to the garrulous first review class, the final session on Patanjali
was spent mostly in silent absorption, sinking into the wonderful sense of
communal peace we have developed over our time together. Often, the very best
thing we can do is Nothing, and we did quite a lot of it last night.
couple of points were made, however. The second pada is dedicated to the
practical side of yoga, while the first was theoretical. This parallels the
Bhagavad Gita, divided right down the middle between abstract and concrete
issues, and it’s an eminently sensible plan. First we have to understand the
playing field and the rules, and only then can we go out and play the game.
Both sides of the equation are essential in the sport of life.
begins the second pada with the afflictions. When we hear the term ‘affliction’
we tend to picture difficulties coming upon us from the outside, plagues of
locusts, bodily ailments, employment struggles, all the exterior challenges
with which life abounds. But in Patanjali, and Vedanta in general, the
afflictions are attitudes we hold that support the continued dominance of our
mental modifications over our inner transparency. Our afflictions, then, are
self-generated and self-maintained. This is a good thing, because they are
therefore available for us to resolve, or at least improve on, whereas external
afflictions are much more impervious to our efforts. Yoga doesn’t repel
earthquakes and floods, as far as we know. One of the first things an aspiring
yogi should do is turn away from the press of external afflictions and confront
those lurking within their own psychological makeup. This is the arena where we
can do productive work.
tells us that the “sense impressions of external events we register and
preserve” can be managed to reduce the misery they might cause. This is because
they are converted into an internal passion play by the brain. The idea is not
to convert them into something they are not, or make them disappear—which, it
seems, is a common fantasy in popular yoga—but to pacify them with incisive
understanding and a measure of detachment. Then we can minimize the negative
impact of events in our life by not adding layers of psychological exaggeration
insight brings us to one of the outstanding understatements of the Yoga
Shastra, sutra 16: “The pain that has not yet come is to be avoided.” Brain
imaging studies have revealed that avoiding pain is precisely how the brain
functions on a regular basis. When our expectations based on previous
experience are met, we receive a little jolt of dopamine that makes us feel
good, and when they aren’t met we suffer the misery of the absence of dopamine.
We go through life trying to adjust what went wrong, indicated by suffering, to
make it right, indicated by pleasure. This takes place on many levels,
including the rational, but more importantly on what could be called the
instinctual. Some pain can be avoided by intelligent analysis, but that’s only
the tip of the iceberg. The brain is addressing our needs in amazingly complex
ways, which are fortunately veiled from our conscious awareness. Otherwise we
would be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of processing that is going on. But
we touch these instinctual levels when we dive deep in meditation.
intent of bringing our mental modulations to quiescence is so we can transcend
the whole business of pain-pleasure conditioning. Ordinarily we are obsessed
with avoiding pain and receiving pleasure, both consciously and unconsciously.
With Patanjali’s guidance we are trying to get to a clear space beyond the
surging ocean of ups and downs that defines our world more thoroughly than we
too often, we mistake a sophisticated search for pleasure for the samadhi or
enlightenment held out in Vedanta as the highest ideal. In How
We Decide, Jonah Lehrer describes how science has come
same conclusion as Vedanta (which he has likely never heard of) that pleasure
isn’t the be-all and end-all of existence. Lehrer reports that in one
experiment, electrodes were placed in rats’ brains at the spot where
pleasurable feelings are generated (the nucleus accumbens, if you want to
know). Then a small electric current was run into the electrodes, producing a
continuous state of bliss. The rats immediately lost interest in eating, drinking,
sex, movement, everything. It looked exactly like they were in samadhi, totally
detached from their needs (my interpolation). In only a few days, though, they
all died of thirst, because they could no longer feel the needs of their
bodies. Only a scientist would prolong the experiment to that extreme; a
philosopher would see what was going on, shut off the stimulation, and give
them a drink. But that’s another issue. The point is that obtaining eternal
pleasure isn’t the answer. It’s not even a good idea.
bottom line is that avoiding pain is not a matter of replacing it with
permanent pleasure, which is the materialist, consumerist mentality,
universally held up as the ideal in popular culture, but of absorption in
Isvara or the Absolute, which is what we typically call the neutral balanced
state beyond the give and take of dopamine driven actions. This wisdom is at
the heart of yoga philosophy.
key notion is conveyed in sutra 33: “When disturbed by confrontation, cultivate
the opposites.” Far from counseling us to avoid confrontations, we are called
to welcome them as opportunities to perform the delicate balancing act of yoga.
As yogis we are to transcend the normal fight-flight response, the tug of
pleasure versus pain, joy versus fear, that ordinarily guides our life. Tuning
out conflicts because they are “unspiritual” doesn’t do anything. We have to
intelligently counterbalance them with their opposite in order to regain our
inner stability. Determining an effective oppositional attitude is an exciting
challenge to our intelligence. When it works it’s like an alkali neutralizing
an acid. Where both sides may be corrosive in themselves, the net result of
combining them is benign.
concludes with his famous eight limbs of yoga, which we have thoroughly covered
in the regular season. Here in the post-season playoffs, all we need to
remember is that the limbs are not monumental fixed entities, but great ideas
for how to manage confrontations. They are ongoing practices, not finalized
attainments. Very often in spiritual communities there is a kind of secret
grading comparison going on: “My ahimsa is more perfect than his,” “My asana is
more developed than hers,” and so on. All such thoughts are toxic waste,
churnings of the spiritual ego. Patanjali does urge us to become firmly
established in these limbs, but that just means they are available to us to use
them when necessary. They are our fallback position. The very translation
“restraints and observances” conveys the sense of an ongoing striving for
excellence. But the minute you think, “I’ve got nonviolence down pat,” or “my
self-study is the best,” you are in serious trouble. The one that really
catches us is “I’m worshipping the true Isvara, while those other guys are
missing the boat.” We have said it before: yoga is a process, not a finalized
position. Egotistical attitudes are the very confrontations we have to
neutralize with their opposites. They are to be negated whenever they pop up,
closed-minded postures that beg to be laid to rest by throwing the doors of
generosity and tolerance wide open.
Narayana Guru reminds us, our effort is to know and let know, not to argue and
win. Yoga is not a competition, it is a global mutual support group. We are all
in this together. Our class exemplified this beautifully last night, sitting
together in an electromagnetically charged silence, as one mass of
consciousness extruding a roomful of bodies, all feeling included rather than
excluded. That togetherness is our native state, the legacy of millions of
years of community, if nothing else. The samyam, the sameness, with which
Patanjali concludes the essential part of the teaching, and after which we take
our leave from him, is the perfect expression of an enlightened communion with
the entire universe we carry with us wherever we roam.