Nitya Teachings

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Brihadaranyaka Upanishad class notes

Only two classes, but nice:

 

12/6/11 class notes:

Verse III.7.11

 

The one who inhabits the moon and stars, yet is within the moon and stars, whom the moon and stars do not know, whose body is the moon and stars, who controls the moon and stars from within, that is your Self, the inner controller, the immortal.

 

         To keep our toes in the pond, we will visit a couple of Nitya’s Brihadaranyaka Upanishad commentaries this month, while we wait for the supposed delivery of the Isa Upanishad exegesis from Varkala, where they are doing their best to stay out of touch.

         This verse shows Nitya on one of his poetic flights of fancy, doing his best to lift our muddy spirits:

 

We are asked to look at the lighter side of life which can save humanity from the grotesque calamities brought to our world through industrial revolution and war mongering. We experience a little of this joy or peace when we stand before an altar or gather to listen to a concert or sit around a table with no serious business to deliberate but to sip a cup of tea amidst an exchange of pleasantries. Even this has a place in spiritual life.

 

Our gathering was definitely in the “exchange of pleasantries over a cup of tea” mode. The content of the verse is self-explanatory, so we shared a wide-ranging bouquet of ideas around the warm winter fire.

         Paul had heard recently that the relationship of electrons to the nucleus in atoms was expanding at a rate commensurate to the expansion of the universe, an extraordinary discovery. Nancy surmised that was why she had so much trouble keeping things straight these days, and John imagined that was why he could never find anything when he went looking for it. Shape-shifting can definitely be the culprit for any number of oddities in the local time/space continuum!

         To me, the expansion of the universe is evidence that it consists primarily of consciousness, so the more we peer into it, the vaster it has to become to accommodate the looking. It is infinitely expandable. If we imagine that by going outwards we will eventually discover our true nature, we are mistaken. If that were the case, only some finalized being far in the future would have the possibility of becoming realized. But by turning around and looking inward, we can know the universe’s (and our) nature at any time. It is always within reach.

         Looking outward gives us all the new knowledge and inventions that keep us eternally amused; looking inward reminds us of who we are, so we don’t get lost on the journey.

         The “indwelling immortal, inner controller,” is highly reminiscent of something we have been bandying about this year, the point source deep in our brains that guides the expression of our physical life along with our mental and spiritual development. Our life resembles a great tree that has grown from that seed, which is more like an aperture through which the inspiration of the universe flows into us than a hard little nut.

         You could call it God if you were so inclined, but it functions harmoniously whether you acknowledge it or not. Often it’s better to leave it alone to do its business, since we mainly inhibit or skew it when we bring consciousness to bear, especially if we get heated up about our version of God. Even a name can be distracting, as Deb reminded us, so some rishis ban speaking the name of God. Why call it anything? Perhaps it’s better to follow Nitya’s example here and simply appreciate every dewdrop and blade of grass with a sense of wonder and admiration. In that way we are simply opening our hearts to the onrushing wave.

         In that spirit, I’ll post Nitya’s comments and sign off. I have to add them in plain text below, since one friend has a computer so ancient that it must wind up with a key, and she can’t open my attachments. Or perhaps she has learned that attachments are unspiritual. That’s likely the case, because she is one of our most adept contemplatives. For the rest, though, Nitya’s words will be correctly formatted in the attachment.

         Nitya was a great lover of art, and a fine artist himself. He mentions Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which you can see here: http://www.vangoghgallery.com/catalog/Painting/508/Starry-Night.html . The print we passed around in an actual book is a thousand times more beautiful, but you can get the general idea off of your screen.

 

Nitya’s talk:

         On a clear night when we look at our sky we see far-off stars shimmering like gold dust. Some of them are only barely visible. Amongst the stars we can also see the moon. If we are pleased with such a sight, our enjoyment of the shimmering stars and the moonshine is not that of an astrophysicist. It is more natural for a poet to feel inspired when they see the night skies bedecked with jewel-like stars. There is nothing we can actually do with the stars and moon and yet they fill our heart with great cheer.

         In the morning when we come out of our sleeping apartment and see fresh blossoms in our garden, we are overwhelmed. We feel like going near to have a good look at each flower. We may even touch their dainty petals affectionately. When the toddlers of the house come crawling to us with their toothless smiles our bosom is filled with delight and we instinctively pick them up to cuddle and kiss. The chiming of temple bells or peals of bells from a nearby church bring a special solemnity to that hour. We attribute something sacred to such caressing sounds that greet us in the peaceful hour of daybreak or a quiet evening. All these things that delight us are represented symbolically by the night sky with the stars and moon. When we speak to an astronomer, he may point out an almost invisible star and tell us that it takes two to three thousand years for light to reach us from its far-off position. Yet that does not excite our interest. We are pleased because the star twinkles.

         In this mantra our attention is called to the innumerable brilliant specks of joyful interest with which our world is strewn. If you go for a walk in the morning you will find dewdrops hanging on the tip of every blade of grass. The first beams of sunlight which fall on these dewdrops transform them into pearls of priceless worth. The great poet Rabindranath Tagore said that God does not expect us to thank him for creating the sun, moon and stars; but he certainly expects us to look at the little violet which he thoughtfully put in our garden to smile at us. It is heart-touching that the ancient rishis of the Upanishads wanted to tell us that we should not miss these little details that make our life on earth truly meaningful so that the passing moments can be eternalized in our memory as moments which we have really lived. Of course, most people have no time to see how carefully our world is decorated with innumerable items of beauty and gaiety that can be heard, touched, seen, tasted and smelled.

         In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus asks us to pray to God to give us this day our daily bread. At the same time he does not forget that the same God who gives us food and drink also gives us the most heart-warming songs of birds which come fearlessly to our garden to sing for us. Jesus did notice how beautiful is a lily that grows in the field. Even though it remains there for only for a few days and then withers away, the Creator has taken so much care to decorate it with garments more regal than those of Solomon. When Jesus reminds us that God gives us our daily bread, he does not forget to say that the same God cares for the birds in the sky who do not sow, reap, or gather grains in barns, but will always have enough to eat each day.

         In our terrible haste in a world which we have made competitive, we miss the elegance of each leaf and the creepers which go twining in the nearby tree and decorate it with pretty flowers. The ugliness of a drab, monotonous and competitive world, where people are bound by obligations and necessity, is more than balanced and complemented with beauty, daintiness, suppleness and the promise of the future. Even in very old trees we see new sprouts coming from the tip of their branches to assure us that the trees are not too old to enrich another spring.

         To get into the spirit of this mantra we should leave aside all our heavy-duty assignments and sit back so that we can ponder over what we have achieved by our own effort, and how much more is given to us by Providence without our even asking for it. Sunlight is given to us without our reaching for it; the summer cloud showers in our garden for no return; day after day, week after week, we are surprised by new clusters of buds coming on plants in our garden. It is this joyous experience of living with the bounty of life on earth that we should look into to understand what the moon and stars, which in this mantra are used symbolically, mean to this world. What the great God is doing for us, we can also do in our own life. Instead of a dingy mind filled with misery, we can make it as vast and brilliant as the starry sky.

         A long time back, far away from us, on another beautiful night, Vincent Van Gogh saw not only the moon, but every star dancing in the sky, with a circular ring around it. He painted this scene as the backdrop to a cypress tree. The cypress tree with its conical shape looks like a cathedral spiraling into the starry sky. It symbolizes the human aspiration to go from here to the beyond where one can be free, and where one can befriend a star. Afterwards that painting became so inspiring to every connoisseur of art that it is still being marveled at. Years after Vincent Van Gogh's death, a poet could not resist the beauty of that starry night and wrote a poem dedicated to Vincent. Today we can still hear romantic singers singing "Starry, Starry Night."

         To experience this, one has to be away from Wall Street and the profit-loss lamentations of the industrialists and commercial entrepreneurs. God, the inner controller, does not expect from us nuclear bombs and the arsenals we fill with deadly weapons, but that we make festivals of light instead. A bunch of colored balloons given to a child can be more useful than sending a battalion of killers with monstrous weapons to some border area. Upanishad itself means to sit near. Its message is also to ask every one of us to go near where love and beauty are; where music and friendship are. Thus the mantra under consideration is a meditation in itself. Like some great lovers of humanity, such as William Blake, Lewis Carroll or Walt Disney, we are asked to look at the lighter side of life which can save humanity from the grotesque calamities brought to our world through industrial revolution and war mongering. We experience a little of this joy or peace when we stand before an altar or gather to listen to a concert or sit around a table with no serious business to deliberate but to sip a cup of tea amidst an exchange of pleasantries. Even this has a place in spiritual life. In the Kena Upanishad the most striking definition given to God is the exclamation "ha!"

         However light this mantra may sound, it gives crowning glory to the science of the Absolute, brahmavidya, because that is arranged by the loving God who is the indwelling immortal in the heart of our hearts.

 

 

12/13/11

BU 1.3.15

 

Then it carried the ear beyond (death). When it was delivered from death, it became the directions. Those directions, having transcended (death), remain beyond it.

 

         The verse itself is part of a sequence of nearly identical verses that include speech, smell, vision, hearing and thinking. Prior to this, each item in the same series is said to exalt goodness but then become “pierced with evil” by demons. At last, breath (prana) is brought to bear, and the demons are pulverized and destroyed, carried off to a far place and dumped, leaving the prana knower “very far from death.” The whole section is a study of how creation or creativity begins with a pure vision but is then compromised and undermined by doubts and negativity. The task of the seeker is to dissipate the impediments and recover the openness and joy that are our essence. I chose this verse because Nitya is at his best in it, and the liberating ideas can be applied to every aspect of life. While Nitya takes religion as his specific focus, the class, being primarily irreligious, correlated the teaching with more quotidian considerations. Nitya himself generalizes the subject as how to overcome all the inhibiting and obsessive beliefs we are saddled with on our journey:

 

In the present mantra of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we are told that when the ear casts into the wind all inhibitory and obsessional injunctions and prohibitions in favor of the ever-widening meaning of true wisdom, it erases all frontiers and allows the mind to flow in all directions. It also allows words of cheer and bubbling joy to enter into one's mind from all sides when the shutters of the mind are fully thrown open.

 

This ancient wisdom is finally being widely considered in scientific studies of the placebo and the opposite nocibo effects. How we think, based on what we see and hear, is now acknowledged to have a profound impact on our physical and mental health. This year, Harvard University inaugurated an institute to study placebos, the Program in Placebo Studies and Therapeutic Encounter. What we hear is seen to make us well or make us worse, and bringing that into the medical awareness is long overdue.

         This is an even more critical realization in a world where venomous curses are regularly hurled even in the most historically dignified public discourse. Such curses make everyone sick, hurler and recipient alike.

         Speaking of which, I had a perfect example of how to put this verse’s advice into practice a few days back. I was editing my Gita commentary at the computer when the phone rang. I picked it up, and it was a recorded message from a loathsome Presidential candidate. I got as far as “This is Newt Gingrich, and I love America…” before I burst out laughing and hung up. I could have gotten angry and ticked off in my mind his sordid and hateful ideology and worked myself into a snit, and that’s one strain of my personality, but instead I cast the whole thing to the winds and got right back into my creative work. Two grandiose lies in only eight words: why should I waste any time with it?

         Joann wondered if I was being open to a situation that presented itself to me. Actually, if I had become bogged down with a recording of a lying politician and turned away from my productive activity, that would have been closing myself down. I stayed open precisely by blowing the whole thing off. I do agree that you should know what you are throwing away before you toss it, but I am well informed on psychopathic manipulations, as well as that particular example. They love to draw you into their world and hold you in thrall, all the while speaking evil into your ear. So openness cannot be formulaic. Sometimes it means paying attention to something unpleasant and other times it means shutting it out.

         The most touching story along these lines is on page 173 of Love and Blessings. Nitya had fallen out with Nataraja Guru, and felt totally misunderstood, so:

 

  I decided to go home. Without explaining myself I went straight to my room and packed everything. Then I headed out to the front gate intending to prostrate before Guru and take my leave. Seeing my bundles, Guru said I didn’t have permission to take anything from the Gurukula. I said I wasn’t taking anything other than my own books and clothes. He called to the other man, who I totally despised, to call the police, since I had probably stolen some books. This made me so furious I threw the bags down and cried, “I don’t want anything from here! Take it all!” Then Guru said, “All right, take those bags inside,” and someone did.

I started walking down the road. He followed me, saying “You are mad, absolutely mad. It is dangerous to allow a madman loose in society.” I stalked on. He shouted, “Suppose a tiger in a circus wants to run into the street, will the circus man allow it? Like that, I am the ringmaster and you are the wild tiger. Get back in your cage!” I didn’t see the humor of his comments, so I just kept walking.

  Then Guru caught up with me and tenderly held my hand. “If you really are going, I can’t let you go scot-free. I should punish you.” I agreed, and held out my cheek like a martyr. He slapped me lightly twice. Like an ideal Christian I turned the other cheek, and he slapped me again. Then, in a prayerful voice full of benediction he said, “I am beating you so that the world will not beat you.”

  I was still determined to leave him, and I started to turn away. He held my hand with the utmost tenderness and said, “Wherever you go, always remember Narayana Guru’s words alapamatram akhilam (it’s all a meaningless sound in the air). After all, what we hear from others is only the air vibrating. It can sound like praise or blame, but that is only our interpretation. True spirituality is to cancel out all pairs of opposites and maintain one’s equanimity.” My feet faltered. My anger was gone. Peace and a sense of great blessing came. I recalled how Ramana Maharshi had asked me to read the story of Milarepa, and remembered all the painful days of Milarepa’s intense mortification, which had brought him so many changes. But I decided to continue on into silence.

 

         Susan mused about how as small children we are powerfully affected by what we are told. She recalled how anxious she was in the presence of her very regal grandmother, who lived in a world of “proper behavior.” Susan’s point was that sometimes it takes decades before we realize that what seems like the way the world just is—the tiny slice of it we are familiar with—is not representative at all. We can spend our whole lifetime clinging to a limited image of what it’s all about, but it’s very liberating to come to know that there are many more possibilities open to us.

         The class had a lively exploration of some of the many other threads of this verse. A main one was how beauty and sanctity are everywhere, not just in the special places dedicated to them by the commercially minded. Nitya exemplified that perfectly. We would be walking along an ordinary street in a dull town and he would stop to notice a flower or pick up a rock and marvel at it. He would always improvise an uplifting sermon on the spot, as if it was something anyone could do if they put their mind to it.

         Joann talked about feeling the intense energy of a canyon in Hawaii, how special places do have special powers. It’s true. The world is varied and stupendous, and there is nothing wrong with touching the highest it has to offer. Everyone agreed, though, that the experience was primarily an internal one. Deb mentioned being at the poet’s corner in Westminster Abbey and how inspired she was, sensing the “vibe” of ages of great poets standing there before her. And yet another tourist might have no feelings at all, not being moved by poetry and never having heard of any of those events.

         Nitya’s commentary is another perfect example of a cryptic verse that makes no sense to most of us if we just read it, but he could tune in to the spirit of it and come up with an inspiring lesson for all of us. That’s one reason we continue to honor him. His words that have fallen into our ears or otherwise touched our minds and hearts, uplift us to the best interpretations of life and how to live it. As the solstice of 2011 approaches, we can rededicate ourselves to sharing kind and healing words with everyone we encounter in the coming year, and the coming century.

 

The full text follows:

 

BU 1.3.15

 

Then it carried the ear beyond (death). When it was delivered from death, it became the directions. Those directions, having transcended (death), remain beyond it.

 

Religion in Sanskrit literally means that which binds. In Sanskrit it is said that a religious scripture, grantha, can be a knot, granthi. The binding is effected with many devices. Certain places are considered very sacred to particular religions. People are told of the time-honored legends connected with such places. The Hindus in India consider Kanyåkumari, Rameshvaram, Kåshi, Puri, Dwåraka, Haridwår, Rishikesh, and Badrinåth as very sacred to them. Even though India has a pre-history dating from less than three to five thousand B.C., people are willing to believe that a Råma was born in Ayodhya. Once the sense of sacredness is attributed to a place, whether a hill or a river or a place of worship, people shudder to question the validity of it. The Jewish people are sentimentally very attached to Israel and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. To Christians, Bethlehem and Calvary are sacred. Officially they also cling to the Vatican and the birth and burial places of saints. Muslims adore Mecca and Medina. The Sikhs have their several Gurudwåras.

The solidarity of faith is built on scripture. It is considered blasphemous to examine the verity of a scripture which is believed to be infallible. Although it is said that religions stand for truth, established religions are afraid of truth that can be interpreted against their basic beliefs. Another strong religious bond comes from the congregates of a particular faith. The solidarity of a religious faith is affirmed by the common prayer of the congregates and the rituals that are carried out by the priests of each religion. Even in religions like Islam where no intermediary priest is tolerated between God and the faithful, scholars who can interpret the scriptures are honored and some kind of hierarchical order has come to stay in Islam also. While most religions try to propagate their religion by getting novices to know the scripture, Hinduism stands apart as a religion that has hidden its scriptures from the common folk.

No arena of life is as replete with contradiction as the established religions. When people become obsessively infatuated with "sacred" hills, rivers, rocks, caves, etc., they lose their orientation and think of their particular hill or rock or river as the very center of the world. In Delphi we can still see a stone with which the ancient Greeks marked the center of the world. The great pilgrimages or annual gatherings in places of worship like Puri, the triveni sangam at Allåhabåd, Tirupati, Íabarimala and Guruvayur, are examples of religious exaggerations which blind people with their hysteric faith in places of worship.

Next in the series come saints, or god-men and god-women, who are held in great reverence as sources of supernatural benefits. If a religious person held in reverence dies he or she becomes a thousand times more venerable. Religious zeal and allegiance to such a person prohibits the believer from accepting any other person who claims similar nobility. Thus instead of love, hero-worship in religion promotes rivalry and hatred. Within a religion there can arise many sects. Saivites may fight with Vaißnavites; the hatred between the Sunnis and Shias of Islam is very well known. Even so is the hatred between the Catholics and Protestants. Another source of rancor is the authority of books. What is infallible to one group of people is sheer nonsense and trash to another. The symbol of one religion is a symbol of curse to another. The Star of Solomon is sacred to the Jews and it is an anathema to the Christians and the Muslims. The costumes dear to one religious group are considered uncouth and barbarous by another. It is blasphemous for a Hindu to enter the place of worship with necktie, suit and shoes, and in a Christian church this is most acceptable. Going to an Islamic place of worship without a cap or turban is considered a rebellious act. Thus the habits that are generated around the world through religious teachings have made human beings thrice-bound slaves to tradition and conventional mores. It was to liberate humanity from the tyranny of religion that Victor Hugo wrote his famous novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

There are religions which allow obscenity and even antisocial catharsis as a correct form of worship, whereas in the Puritanic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, an attitude of fear, melancholy, sadness, distress, and self-humiliation are considered most welcome. Thus on the whole a believer is virtually nailed to the cross of his or her belief. A beautiful description of this is given in Words, the famous autobiography of Jean Paul Sartre, in which he complains that he could not even recognize the cheerful face of his mother when he saw her in church where she looked melancholic, depressed, and wooden-faced because of her conformity with the other church-goers who were always thinking of the sad crucifixion of Jesus.

In the present mantra of the B®hadåranyaka UpaniΩad we are told that when the ear casts into the wind all inhibitory and obsessional injunctions and prohibitions in favor of the ever-widening meaning of true wisdom, it erases all frontiers and allows the mind to flow in all directions. It also allows words of cheer and bubbling joy to enter into one's mind from all sides when the shutters of the mind are fully thrown open. It is as if one has gone to the pinnacle of a mountain and sees a vast panorama in all directions, with the canopy-like sky above, studded with stars and heavenly bodies. The freedom that is spoken of in this mantra is like that of a playful child running unhindered on a beach of soft sand with the infinite range of the ocean spread before him. Those who broke away from conventional traditions and customs, like Moses, Christ, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Nanak and Prophet Mohammed, were all rebellious souls who left the darkness of their people. They transcended death because they all had special ears to hear the whispers of truth and the courage to live the truth they heard. Some of them, like Socrates and Jesus Christ, were physically killed, but the truth they heard in their innermost hearts made them brave and courageous and took them far beyond death. That is why, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James speaks of people of first-hand experience and people of second-hand belief.

Around their religious scruples or sentiments, people have built great temples of worship with architectural fineness, painted and sculpted artistic displays of enormous physical beauty, and made creative arts of music, operatic songs and liturgies which are all fascinating. But, they have the death touch of the morbidity of the soul. It is from all this travesty that humanity is to be saved by exposing it to the truth which can save every person whose soul is not benumbed by the magic of religion.

 

 

Dipika kindly sent in an excellent example:

 

very interesting...

 

one can only measure ones progress and yogic understanding by how we react and how our mind settles with each encounter with the outside world

 

last evening i was attending a friend's engagement and happened to bump into my ex who i knew would be bound to attend

 

started off very pleasantly but within the hour he had consumed 2 large glasses of red wine and as i watched was getting steadily unsteady on his feet

 

i drifted off for dinner and even offered to get him some but he was not interested...when i came back he was decidely 'high' and getting overfamiliar and extremely loud with all and sundry

 

i said i was leaving and said my goodbyes upon which he started saying wait 10minutes and we will leave together...i decided not to and said so and was immediately addressed as 'you stupid bitch cant you wait a bit am also ready to leave'....that was it...i left

 

on my way back...i thought what a jerk and wondered how he would get home n hope he doesnt fall on the way....and BAM cut him out of my system

 

came home and didnt think about him or feel hurt or get upset

 

in the older days i probably wouldve stuck around to make sure someone dropped him,wouldve called the next day to check if he was ok...etc etc

 

in fact i dont even feel guilty about not doing all the above...

 

am not suggesting being hard hearted is progress but pulling myself out of 'thinking' is....

 

much like your newt gingrich incident and susan's point of view

 

for many years...that was my world...to deal with alcoholism and all its plus points !!!!

 

This is an even more critical realization in a world where venomous curses are regularly hurled even in the most historically dignified public discourse. Such curses make everyone sick, hurler and recipient alike.

         Sometimes it means paying attention to something unpleasant and other times it means shutting it out.

 

 

 

    Susan's point was that sometimes it takes decades before we realize that what seems like the way the world just is--the tiny slice of it we are familiar with--is not representative at all.

 

 

 

We can spend our whole lifetime clinging to a limited image of what it's all about, but it's very liberating to come to know that there are many more possibilities open to us.

 

 

love n rgds

 

   dipika

 

My brief response, on behalf of all of us:

Right on! Your example is a good one, and totally in the spirit of the Brihadaranyaka. Cast those ugly thoughts to the wind and get back to being you! RST

Scott Teitsworth

rsteitsworth(at)yahoo.com