Nitya Teachings

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Yoga Sutras XII: II.50 - III.4

8/9/11

Sutras II: 50 & 51

Its (pranayama’s) modifications are external, internal, or suspended, regulated by place, time, and number, prolonged and subtle.

 

That fourth variety of pranayama goes beyond external and internal objects of interest.

 

         The 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.

         Pranayama 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.

         Nitya 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.

         We 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 sensitivities!

 

I have not gone this long without 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 the support. 

 

I am very excited to see what else happens with my body. I notice I am more flexible too. weird.  Well, much love! Eugene

 

         We 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.

         From 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.

         Elsewhere 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).”

         Set 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 effort.

         We 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.”

         Remember 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.

         Nitya depicts the vertical aspect of pranayama, which we are finally exploring at the very end of our study, in this way:

 

The breath connected with the 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 pretend that 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.

         We 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.”

 

8/16/11

Sutras II: 52 & 53

[When the fourth type of pranayama is attained] then the covering of light is dissolved. And the mind is fit for holding a focus.

 

         As 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 spiritual unfoldment.

         Spirituality 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.

         From 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 occasion.

         Nitya 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.

          In short, when our unconscious is brought into conscious awareness, it is supremely blissful and meaningful.

         John 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 almost effortlessly.

Nitya reminds us of just how Patanjali visualizes the process:

 

The 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 sutra reads:

 

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

 

If you recall, we had a wonderful class or two around these 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.

         Anne recited a poem reflective of the yogic outlook, Outwitted, by Edwin Markham:

 

He drew a circle that shut me out—

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle and took him in!

 

There was definitely a feeling of us all being within a 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 within.

         Putting 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.

 

Part II

Apropos of living virtues as opposed to cultivating them, from the

Tao Te Ching, verse 38, Gia-fu Feng’s translation:

 

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 nothing undone.

When a just man does something, he leaves a great deal to be done.

When a disciplinarian does something and no one responds,

He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to enforce order.

 

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, the beginning of confusion.

Knowledge of the future [expectation] is only a flowery 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.

 

8/23/11

Sutra II: 54

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.

 

         As 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.

         Deb 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.

         Nitya succinctly expresses how archetypes are to be addressed:

 

A person who is infatuated with 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 of interest.

 

We can see that our archetypal states are projected onto the 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.

         The 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.

         Nataraja 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 “basic” 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)

 

         Nitya 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.”

         All 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.)

         The 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.

         To 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.

         Deb 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.

         We 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.

         Jan 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 [10] carefully, 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.

         Paul 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.

 

Part II

         My 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.”

 

         In 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.

         Breaking 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 from them.”

         Attaining 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….

         Perhaps 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.

 

8/30/11

Sutra II:55

Then the greatest mastery over the senses.

 

         The 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 is 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.

         What 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.

         The 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.

         Nitya 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.

         Krishna 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 aspiring yogi 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 saints and 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.

         Most 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.

         Searching “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.

         Scotty 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 Marvell suggests,

 

Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.

 

         As 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.

         I 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.

         The 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.”

         Nitya 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.

         An 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 escape.

 

         Deb 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.”

         As 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.

         In 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.

         Our 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:

 

An Hour

 

Leaves glowing in the sun, zealous hum of bumble bees,

From afar, from somewhere beyond the river, echoes of lingering voices

And the unhurried sounds of a hammer gave joy not only to me.

Before the five senses were opened, and earlier than any beginning

They waited, ready, for all those that would call themselves mortals,

So that they might praise, as I do, life, that is, happiness.

 

10/11/11

Sutra III:1

Holding the focus of the mind is dharana.

 

         An 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.

         The 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!

         A 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.

         The 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 still limited:

 

This was certainly a wonderful 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.

  The 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 photograph.

 

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.

         Nitya 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.”

         So, 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.

         One 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.

         Susan 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 of 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.

         It 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:

 

Patanjali forewarns 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, human beings 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 the opposition 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 like the 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 ideas in the commentary, demonstrating that pondering together we are more capable than any of us is alone. One particularly interesting discussion revolved around this section:

 

When we try to examine the 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.

  The result 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 inadequate conceptions.

         One 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.

         While 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.

         All 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.

         I 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 man would 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.

 

10/18/11

Sutra III:2

In that, the continuous flow of consciousness in unitiveness is dhyanam.

 

         Dhyana 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, meditation and 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 mining we 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.

         Most of the text here discusses the near-universality of a three-part myth in humanity’s outlook:

 

The epistemological relationship 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 final union.

 

Nitya includes the Samkhya Yoga version, where the pure 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.

         We 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.

         Implicit 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.

         Nitya describes this in realistic terms:

 

In our daily experiences the data 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 contemplation, dhyana.

 

Dhyana is therefore essentially identical with samadhi, sameness or union.

         Much 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.

         At 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.

         J.R.R. Tolkein wrote brilliantly in The Lord of the Rings, of the influence of a devious advisor, Grima. Called Wormtongue 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.

         Wormtongues 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.

         Yoga 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.

 

10/18/11

Sutra III:3

In that, when the object alone shines, as if there is a void of one’s form, that is samadhi.

 

         At 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 false assumptions!

         It’s 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?

         Bill brought out the most crucial point to consider. The word artha, translated here as “object,” also means “meaning.” It 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.

         So 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.

         I 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.

         Later 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.

         Because 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?

         Narayana 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.

         A 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.

         This 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.

         Deb 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.

         We 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.

         Synchronously, Deb was just setting Nitya’s commentary on verse 48 in the Gurukulam Magazine, and came across this:

 

There 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.

         Thomas 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.

         On 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 mind:

 

Until Self-realization comes, the 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 are positive 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 whatever.

         John 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.”

         John’s 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.

         Jan 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.

         Nitya 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.

         We 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.

 

Part II

         Jake, 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:

 

Scott:

     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. In other words, the kingdom of God is not within each of us, it's among several of us

     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 or, 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 of the 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 system, but, as Dirty Harry said, “A man has to know his limitations.”  —And they are legion—

 

Jake

 

 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 story.

 

 Part III

 Mystics and Zen Masters, by Thomas 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 and 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.”

         Meanwhile, 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.

         It 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 unthinkable.

         Above 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 all evil.

         We 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)

 

Part IV

We get letters! This came from Deb in the next room, 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

 

11/1/11

Sutra III: 4

The three (dharana, dhyana, samadhi) taken together as one are samyam.

 

         Evidencing 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.

         We 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.

         Nitya’s final commentary is a masterful summation of the entire program. High points include:

 

-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 brahma the world of being.

 

-At its most acute, contemplation is an ecstatic experience 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 onrushing wave.

 

-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 the entire 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 is 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 one interest 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 nirodha.

 

-Ekagra is the focused mental state in which our compulsions 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.

 

-Samadhi and kaivalya, stability and aloneness, designate a 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.

 

-In 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.

 

         Nitya 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.

In 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. Once again 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 through words.

         We 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.

         In 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 living.

         Even at the last moment, Nitya has a caveat for us:

 

In contemplation (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 is 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.

         Similarly 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 critical self-examination.

         Nitya 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.

         Speaking 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.

         Nitya’s reprise of Patanjali’s eight limbs goes like this:

 

Samadhi is the culmination of the eight steps of discipline enjoined by Patanjali’s Yoga Shastra:

1) restraint (yama);

2) commitment to a behavioral pattern (niyama);

3) entering into a psychophysical state or condition that provides a comfortable and stable posture for directing one's attention to observe one's changing inner environment (asana);

4) slowly and gradually translating the involuntary function of respiration into the conscious deliberation of an observing consciousness (pranayama);

5) consciously 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);

7) expansion of the 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 of the state of aloneness (samadhi).

 

In gratitude for all dedicated participants, and especially for the guidance of a great teacher, Aum.

 

Part II

         When 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.

         A 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 we crave.

         So 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.

 

11/8/11

First Pada review

 

         We 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.

         In 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.

         A 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.

         Much 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.

         Bill 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:

 

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

 

         Patanjali 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.

         Curing ourselves of the habit isn’t accomplished in a day.

         For 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!

         Patanjali 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.

         If 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.

         We 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.

         As 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.

         Repetitive 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!

         For 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.

         Patanjali 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.

         The 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.”

         The 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.

         I 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.

         Here 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.

         Several 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.

         We 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.

 

Part II

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 quote:

 

"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 thrown by 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.

 

11/15/11

Second Pada review

 

         In 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.

         A 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.

         Patanjali 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.

         Patanjali 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 to them.

         This 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.

         The 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 realize.

         All 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 to the 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.

         The 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.

         Another 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.

         Patanjali 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.

         As 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.

Scott Teitsworth

rsteitsworth(at)yahoo.com