Nitya Teachings

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Isa Upanishad, intro through mantra 2

We're using two different commentaries of Guru NItya, one from around 1980 and the other from 1992. We have one class on each, beginning with the older version.




         The Isa or Isavasya Upanishad is a highly compressed gem of Vedantic wisdom, and promises to be the foundation of an intense class gathering. We are using Nitya’s commentary available from Varkala, which appears to have been published around 1980. In addition, there is the beautiful booklet printed by Nancy Y. and illustrated by Peggy Grace in 1992. Nancy may have a few still up in Bainbridge, but we have only one copy, which Deb has offered to digitalize for us. These will be included in each episode. While having an identical focus, the two commentaries are very different, demonstrating how to combine memory with openness in approaching the ever fresh spirit of the work. The later version is by no means a rehash of earlier insights, it is a bold realization in its own right. Both together are Nitya in his prime: gentle, poetic and deep, yet with a forceful undercurrent of absolutist dedication. His words compel us to purposively transform ourselves from armchair philosophers into realized seers.

         Nitya exhorts us to embrace the Upanishad as direct experience/imperience, something to be known from the inside. I’ve included a section of his Patanjali commentary toward the end that elegantly states the case. Throughout the course we will be aiming to use words as a means of penetrating to the essence of our lives. It promises to be a rich and delightful banquet.

         For convenience, let’s call the two booklets Isa I (1980) and Isa II (1992). The Preface for Isa I ends with a call to shake off our lethargy and put our best foot forward:


This [knowing things from within] is a secret that upanishads convey. For that reason upanishad is defined as  “the secret science. “ The charlatan calls his esoterics also a  “secret science. “ That is a secret invented by man’s conceit. In the present case the secret means only that the subject dealt with by the upanishad demands the maturization of knowledge. Such a maturization is not denied to anyone unless they are sorrowfully retarded in the development of their faculties or else wontonly forfeiting their chance. (8)


In other words, like an advanced textbook in any other subject, it takes time and effort before we can understand what’s in plain sight on the page.

         To be honest, we are all slackers who have wasted much of our valuable time, waiting for something or someone to lift us out of our malaise, as we have been taught to do, while in the meantime pursuing various socially-sanctioned mirages. Nitya wants us to mount up, take the reins and put the spurs to our horse, so to speak. That doesn’t mean we have to get agitated or hyperactive, but merely shake off the many distractions and stuporous attitudes that up till now have diluted our potential. Isvara—the Absolute principle within that guides and energizes our life—is continually supplying us with opportunities for expression and evolution, but we have either habitually suppressed them or through laziness allowed them to burst like soap bubbles, leaving no trace. For those who want to understand the Isa Upanishad, we should take resolve to give it some sincere effort.

         In the Preface to Isa II, Nitya recommends one full day to absorb each verse or mantra, afterwards recording our impressions. In the present class we have a full week to let the wisdom sink in. Deb asked everyone to try to write something or respond nonverbally, to be shared or not as you like. I welcome your reactions to circulate through the class notes.

         Although she didn’t have the current class in mind, Wendy, who is the perfect candidate to get the ball rolling, by the way, just emailed me a relevant question:


What do you think about Eckhart Tolle? I have been reading his ‘Living in the Now’ on the train, recently, and he gives thinking and the ego very bad press, whereas Guru rates the power of thought highly and the ego as a useful piece of equipment.


I don’t know much about Tolle, but denigrating thought and ego is a classic brainwashing technique, widely popular in what passes for spirituality these days. When we lower our egos, we become vulnerable to all sorts of external manipulation, which other egos are delighted to provide. Or it can be a feint behind which our own ego can usurp even more power. Nitya is right to teach us that the ego has a vital and honorable role, only that our egos shouldn’t imagine they are alone in the driver’s seat. The ego is a late stage of the long process by which the Isa penetrates the psyche, with its inspiration bubbling up through layer after layer of our spectacularly complex brain, being molded and aligned with the requirements of our universe, and finally bursting into conscious awareness as a  “camera ready “ product. The ego’s role is to discriminate the relatively rare valid inspiration from the less savory promptings we experience on a regular basis. More often, though, it busies itself rationalizing and finding excuses for favoring the junk over our best intuitions. In that sense the ego definitely does need taming and training.

         My favorite line in the Preface of Isa I is: Our  “first and incurable infatuation is with that selfsame ego that all publicly denounce and privately cherish. “ Denouncing the ego is a prime technique of the ego to glorify itself. It will do anything to keep itself on center stage in the public eye, including executing death-defying feats. One main reason for contemplating Isvara or the Absolute is to direct the ego’s attention away from itself to something of surpassing excellence. Then it naturally assumes its rightful size and position. As the Gita puts it,  “Even the residual relish reverts on the One Beyond being sighted. “ (II, 59) Relish means the ego’s craving for ratification and even deification. It has to give those up before true joy can be discovered, and the attraction of Isvara is the only thing strong enough to wrench it away from its self-fixation.

         We had another very rich conversation in our class, which I cannot begin to reconstruct. We covered manana, described below in the Preface to Isa II, and the value of the poetic imagination in complementing mathematical logic in the presentation of truth, from Isa I. There was a palpable eagerness in the participants to be absorbed into truth instead of academically examining it from outside. Because it is likely we will spend two weeks on each verse, these ideas will be revisited soon enough.

         Most Westerners are vague about what the Upanishads are, so let me quote briefly from Robert Ernest Hume’s definitive masterwork, The Thirteen Principle Upanishads, (Oxford University Press, 1877. Seventh edition, 1968) which deserves a place on every serious seeker’s shelf:


The Upanishads are the first recorded attempts of the Hindus at systematic philosophizing. These ancient documents constitute the earliest written presentation of their efforts to construe the world of experience as a rational whole. Furthermore, they have continued to be the generally accepted authoritative statements with which every subsequent orthodox philosophic formulation has had to show itself in accord, or at least not in discord. Even the materialistic Charvakas, who denied the Vedas, a future life, and almost every sacred doctrine of the orthodox Brahmans, avowed respect for these Upanishads. (2)


The Isavasya Upanishad packs a tremendous amount of wisdom into 18 brief koans or mantras. Our goal is to sink into the spirit of each one in turn, and then to share any comprehensible insights with our classmates. It should be a lot of fun, and a nice change from the monumental studies we have undertaken in recent years.

         Isavasya means  “permeated by Isa. “ Isa and Isvara are basically the same. Avasya means  “full of, “ from vasi, abiding or dwelling. “ It is closely related to vasana, the seeded potentials of our genetic makeup, which calls up the image of proclivities bubbling up from the depths of our essential Self. Nitya elaborates on this in Living the Science of Harmonious Union:


When your own nature is becoming more and more evident to yourself, the imperfections of your social personality will become more and more clear. In its place Isvara—the universal person not afflicted with the love/hate dualities of physico-social life—can be accepted as a better model for imitation or identification.

The word Isvara is derived from Is, which literally means  “ruling from within. “ The life of an individual is not an amorphous chaotic structure that comes from the randomness of the physical world. It has a goal to achieve and laws to abide by. The innate law of everything that governs, controls, and maneuvers it to function for the purposeful attainment of a given goal is Isvara. If you know there is such a guiding principle in your life, life becomes all the more dear and an incentive comes to live as correctly as possible. Thereafter, the lower aspect of the self will always be in resonance with Isvara, the higher Self. That Isvara is looked upon as your true teacher or preceptor. Relating always with that Isvara to develop insight into the meaning of your life combines both the purificatory and educative aspects.

         If you have lived for a long time with an undisciplined mind, allowing yourself to be conditioned with indiscriminate social habits, you cannot easily wean yourself from your established habits; you may find that the aloneness postulated by Patanjali’s Yoga cannot be easily attained. (149)


And finally, for those not fortunate enough to own a copy of Isa II, here is its Preface. Anyone who attended the class is invited to supply us with some background:


The Upanishad is meant to be a context, a context in which to imbibe the hidden truth of the all-permeating God, or Isa, by sitting close to the spirit. Yajnavalkya, presented in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad as a teacher par excellence of both King Janaka and Maitreyi, a woman with a great love of wisdom, gives his instruction in a single plain sentence,  “Listen, ponder intensely, and live what you realize. “

We spent three weeks in the Gurukula intimately following the instructions of Yajnavalkya. With the grace of God, the teacher and the taught listened to the words of the Isavasya Upanishad and deeply pondered over the meaning of each mantra and the inspiration of every word we heard. At that time our intention was not to put together what we heard and said into a book but only to fully experience the Upanishad. The actual exhortation which Yajnavalkya gave was to go deeply into what we heard. The term for this is manana. Manana is not going out of oneself but rather going deep into the core of one’s Self. The English word ‘experience’ is inadequate and inappropriate for bringing out the true meaning of manana. Ex means outside, while Yajnavalkya’s instruction is to gather together into one’s center. So we translate manana as imperiential empathy. That was what we were cultivating for three weeks.

We all changed considerably during this study. We were moving triangularly from God to the world and from the world to our inner self. Each time we completed a triangular apperception of the Upanishadic teaching, our world of understanding ascended vertically and spread horizontally. This Upanishad has a structural symmetry. It takes us from beyond our birth to far beyond our death. In between, we imperientially entered into the unspeakable realms of transcendence, became comfortably identified with the immanence of God’s loving care, and became aware of the snares in the periphery which are to be recognized both with effort and care.

What is presented in this record of our imperiential beatitude and experiential sense of reverence and gratitude is not the speculation of one man’s mind. It is a collective presentation of the one spirit and mind that we shared in this rare adventure.

This book is not to be read as we usually read a book. Live with each mantra one whole day. Then record your own spontaneous reactions. That will help you to get into the spirit of this Upanishad.


Part II

         Wendy wanted to know how to obtain a copy of Isa I. I have a very limited supply for class attendees only, so the next option is to write Varkala and hope they respond. They may or may not, and may or may not be able to process any payment (they follow the Gurukula business model of  “Whatever…? “). Let me know how it goes if you try. Perhaps we can prevail upon someone with a copy to type it up for us?


         Michael sent some helpful links related to the class. The Hume is on line nowadays. The class talked about imperience as opposed to experience, which implies involution as opposed to evolution, linked at Wikipedia. And in defense of verbal communication, we talked about how it was the key to evolution, because each individual could build on what was learned by their predecessors. Until language came along, animals could only imitate their fellow beings, endlessly repeating the same actions and evolving very slowly if at all. With language, the acquired wisdom of our species could be passed on as a starting point for development, and a quantum leap took place in evolution. Nitya goes so far as to claim language confers immortality, since although individuals die their wisdom is preserved in the species. After reminding us that death is unavoidable, he writes:


At the same time there is another remarkable thing about life which helps us to mitigate the intensity of the tragedy caused by death. This is the miracle man invented for himself—the use of alphabets and pictures. As a result of this, individual memory transcends the person and becomes the heritage and property of the human society. The Buddha and Christ, Plato and Aristotle, Homer and Valmiki, Dante and Shakespeare, are still around us with their endless dialogues. Two thousand years after Lao Tzu and a thousand years after Sankara, someone can go to the very source from which these masters received their inspiration, simply by reading their books and pondering over their words. Considering the power of the Word to resurrect, one can even forget the death of all those who have inscribed on the walls of history their indelible words of wisdom.

         Only the individual dies and not mankind. Each of us, in some capacity, epitomizes the story of mankind and man’s exploration in several of his vast fields of interest. Thus viewed, our life is both transitory and eternal, of little consequence and of utmost value. (5-6)


Michael mentioned the linked article as noting that chimpanzees have begun the process also. His note:


Hey Scott!


Here’s a link to ‘The Thirteen Principal Upanishads’ in a variety of digital formats for seekers (such as I) that have limited shelf space.


A similar link over at Google Books




Chimps make noises to stop the spread of ignorance:


Part III


In the spirit I most hope to encourage, a friend who I will leave anonymous has written an important response to the notes. There are big issues that come up in the Isa that should not be just nodded over and forgotten. Here’s the gist of his letter:


It is interesting that this part sentence of yours --  “To be honest, we are all slackers who have wasted much of our valuable time “ -- has gotten a big reaction emotionally. It reminds me of a priest sermonizing about everyone being sinners. I believe that this kind of statement is ultimately meant to push people to wake up but for me it goes through the heavily traveled rut in my brain that says  “you are bad, you have blown it, you will only be worthy if you get going and stop wasting time. “ This kind of thinking has inspired me to undertake all kinds of great things in my life but I have come to resent the underlying motivator. I realize that it is not intended to create guilt but for me it does. I think I am hard wired this way from my childhood. You did not say,  “you are slackers “ but including yourself seems to me just a thinly veiled self deprecation — something like sweetener added to a bitter tea. I wonder if this way of talking to people isn’t a type of continuation of the parenting dynamic. And I’m not just talking about you — Nitya and others exhort us in this way as well.


How can we be slackers/sinners, if we (as you say) have been taught to live this way and our culture thoroughly validates that teaching? Maybe it would be better if this were described passively instead of actively? The slackness is more about the state we find ourselves in and the way our egos allow it to continue than about something we purposely do. For me, just being reminded about my sleepiness and the subterfuges of my ego are enough to move me to be more resolute in my study. This approach does not seem to carry the guilt that negative labels carry.


See, I told you it got a big reaction! Perhaps I am just being diverted from really thinking about the class notes by my ego’s need not to be labeled. But it seems to have been helpful to realize how strong is my guilt reaction and how I might change my thinking to avoid it and channel it differently.


This is my favorite thing from the notes: Listen, ponder intensely, and live what you realize.


Scott: My first reaction was to take this personally and be apologetic about my wording, but after thinking it over I realized that this is exactly the kind of  “intense pondering “ that Nitya and the Upanishadic rishis recommend. Sometimes a shock galvanizes us to clearer thinking. The intent is precisely to highlight the  “subterfuges of the ego “ so that we can  “change our thinking to avoid it. “ There are several layers of obfuscation available to us, but usually the first or second is perfectly designed to throw us off the track. We just think  “Well, screw you! “ and turn to something more comfortable. Instead of doing that, my friend took himself in hand and examined his reaction, and in the process learned some important lessons. Not only that, but he returned the shock and stimulated me to ponder more intensely, and then see if there was any more shock still left in it to pass on to the rest.

         Gurus have a knack of putting their fingers right on our sore spots, which after all is their job. In the Isa study we should be prepared for some uncomfortable truths that hit home. That’s why we are taking it on, and why it will never draw a crowd. Most folks don’t want to mess with anything that direct.

         All of us are made tender by our youthful traumas. I never got the churchy guilt trip of being named a sinner, but our secular version accomplished much the same thing. Good was okay, but bad was painfully punished, both physically and emotionally, and there was a lingering threat of more to come. Because such definitions insult our sense of integrity as children, not to mention our bottoms, we resist and develop protective strategies, which pretty soon become habitual and slip out of sight. A seeker of truth is one who wants to root out our habitual behavior and stand free. It helps if we don’t identify with our habits, but we often do. We defend them instead of saying,  “Wow. Right. I can toss that! “ But, contrary to appearances, our integrity and our resistance are not necessarily the same thing. It’s a false identification.

         It’s always interesting how people respond to provocations or encouragements. This person is by no means a  “slacker, “ but has a history of being pushed pretty hard. His reaction allowed some of the old wounds to become visible to him for an instant, which is a golden opportunity to slay the lurking beasts. Real slackers don’t even read this stuff, and if they do they think it’s about someone else. The ego initially defends itself by shifting the blame to others, which is a very successful technique.

         My own wounds include being made to take responsibility for every bad thing in my vicinity, whether or not it was my fault. (See, secular attitudes aren’t that different from religious ones!) That’s why I immediately took my friend’s letter personally, and had an urge to defend my position. That’s my ego trip. After pondering, I could see there was no need to defend anything. My blessing from this exchange was to see that tried and true defensive habit come to the surface yet again, but by now I know not to act on it. I can let it pass, and then I can proceed to something more relevant and valuable. That’s very different from just ignoring it.

         So, thanks to my brave friend for writing, and I hope it inspires all of us to rededicate ourselves to follow Yajnavalkya’s advice to  “Listen, ponder intensely, and live what you realize. “


Part IV

 We’re off to a good start in 2012! Brenda and Charles made a close study of the Isa Upanishad while they were in India in 2010, so hopefully they can drop by and share their gleanings at some point. Meanwhile, Brenda sent a different take on slackers. And yes—anyone who hung out with Nitya or someone like him is bound to be conscious of the gap between a highly motivated individual and the rest of us. Slackers is a somewhat derogatory term, but that’s just my poor word choice. The point is simply to turn up the heat so our mind becomes more focused. Brenda wrote:


Well I think that all of us in this culture are somewhat complacent, yes, and SLACKERS for sure. I know I need to be tempered in the fire of wisdom in order to WAKE UP! The most important things I’ve been told in life were criticisms, which helped me grow immensely. Give me a constructive criticism over a compliment any day.

 We are not raised to be receptive to this form of wisdom in our culture. People are so busy, so compartmentalized and fragmented and over stimulated by information in this day and age. T. S. Eliot said ‘distracted from distraction by distraction’ (I think I have that right).


I think people have gigantic egos and are ready to fiercely defend them. A parenting dynamic, i.e. Guru/mentor relation is essential for cutting through the crap. As you said:

‘In the Isa study we should be prepared for some uncomfortable truths that hit home. That’s why we are taking it on, and why it will never draw a crowd. Most folks don’t want to mess with anything that direct.’

I was just mentioning to a friend last night, if you tell someone the truth, they do not like it, people around me are dropping like flies because of what I’m telling them. Oh well, I’m just not willing to defend their illusions and negative behavior.

Our culture is so ego and illusion supported. The shadow is lurking behind the facade.

 French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century: ‘Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.’’ He also said: ‘all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room’. This was recently published in the New York Times, in an article on stillness and being unplugged. Yes, sometimes it is as essential to be still and do nothing as to know how to proceed, leisure well spent. Gotta go! Times a WASTIN’!

Anyhow, Happy New Year. B


Brenda recalls  “Give ‘em hell “ Harry Truman (about as unlike her as anyone could be),  “I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell. “ His speech writers did give him a few good lines, anyway. Let’s dedicate ourselves to not be among the types who burn like hell when they hear the truth….


Part V

         Too many parts! I’ll try to consolidate responses better in the future, but I was always eager to share what came in. Wendy, who opened this round, sent a bit more:


The comments on slackers was a good example of that Ego, up to its tricks. Making us believe that we are so important by hooking us into its games.

 How wonderful to live from the clarity of Self-knowing.

The power of words to carry forth the torch of wisdom is indeed magical. I always loved it when Guru looked around his study and pointed to his books, naming each as a friend. ‘Keats is here. Shelley is here.’  Not the same on Kindle though!

 ‘Listen, ponder and live what you realize’, yes, as long as we listen to Isvara, the Absolute and not the tricky ego. It is listening to that inner voice and following its promptings which make the difference and indeed feels so different too. Yet how often the ego wins when we are embroiled in life circumstances….but that is our journey to take note, move on and try again and again and again…. And not get bogged down in praise or blame.

Maybe E.T. is okay after all….


Wendy reminded me to add the Varkala email address, in case you wish an Isa I: .

         I just reread my latest submission for Nancy Y’s online Yoga Shastra class, and a part of what I wrote on New Year’s Day is relevant to the ego-as-hellfire theme. I mentioned how Nitya had  “cursed “ me to not be the lazy slacker that I once thought was the highest aim in life, then went on to address the ego:


This is yet another curse of Nitya: the comfortable falsehoods that cushion the orthodox mind have been  “outed “ so they burn instead of soothe. It took me a long time to realize that most people are not interested in stripping off their burning cloaks, so I should keep my thoughts to myself, but learn it I did. The best method is to take lessons from what I can observe and apply it to my own life. Once in awhile someone asks for a little help with a conundrum or wants to have an actual dialogue about spirituality, and then I love to join with them, but otherwise my contemplative relationship to Isvara is a personal affair. I well know, though, that interaction with the world prevents me from becoming narcissistic or otherwise trapped in a world of my own imagining. We have to be very careful to stay open to the whisperings of Isvara all around us, especially those that criticize our favored positions.

 Not only can we visualize that the Absolute is everywhere and in everyone, it is also the inspiration that wells up within our deepest self, as Nitya makes clear in the above quote [the same one I included in the original notes, from p. 149]. The best discipline for the ego is to have it humbly listen to the inner promptings and assume its proper role as a late stage of a long, complex process by which the brain transposes inspiration into action. The ego’s job is to discriminate our imbecilic promptings from the splendid ones, and learn (eventually) to select the latter.



Peace Invocation


aum purnam adah purnam idam

purnat purnam udacyate

purnasya purnam adaya

purnam eva avasishyate

aum santih santih santih


Aum, that is plenum. This is plenum.

From plenum, plenum arises.

From plenum, when plenum is subtracted,

Plenum alone remains.

Aum, peace, peace, peace.


         Before and especially after chanting an Upanishad, peace is invoked via an ancient verse. The Gurukula classes traditionally close with it as well. Nitya’s explication of it is a perfect way to hone in on the essence of why a seeker seeks, and what is being sought, and is one of his most densely illuminating essays to be found anywhere. Appropriately we had one of the largest gatherings ever of our informal community, affording us an opportunity to align our individual compasses to a superlative lodestone.

         Deb has graciously typed up the entire piece, which you can find as Part II. We have done some minor editing and gender neutralization. We are still looking for typists with itchy fingers to assist in digitalizing the rest.

         Translating purnam as plenum—the opposite of vacuum—is quite interesting. It’s a poetic allusion, and because plenum is a mysterious little-known word, it prevents us from taking it for granted. We cannot just nod our heads and move along. We have to wonder what it means. This is an excellent trick of the master teacher we are attending to.

         According to MW (the dikker) purnam means fullness, filled; also finished, accomplished; complete, all entire; satisfied, contented, and so on. It is commonly translated as wholeness or completeness. While these are all correct, none of them generates the sense of wonder that plenum does.

         The most interesting comment I found in a brief online search is that the zero point field—the quantum vacuum—is actually a plenum: densely filled with unimaginable amounts of energy. For those of us who suspect the ZPF and the Absolute are closely related if not identical, this is very satisfying. The Upanishadic rishis who created the peace invocation certainly intended purnam to indicate the Absolute.

         Nitya—who I believe but am not sure is the source of ‘plenum’—was very fond of the triangle analogy, which he expresses perfectly here. (Disciples of Nataraja Guru can please tell us if he was the source of either or both.) While we had a lively discussion last night, we can let the version reprinted below stand on its own, because it is eminently clear. And I encourage others to send in their interpretations.

         The more subtle parts of the essay deserve some exegesis. For instance:


Whatever the mind knows has to be of the nature of the mind. Knowledge means  “cognizing a mental image and declaring the specific details of that image to itself as an awareness of the image. “ The mind, which is continuously witnessing the fleetingness of images that come and go, develops a power other than mere cognition. This power is its capacity to perpetuate the mystery of a faith or belief that becomes something like a receptacle to contain the concepts that are being formulated continuously.


In our search for truth we are limited by the fact that we unavoidably have to interpret our impressions registered from whatever the source of them is, whether we call it matter, nature, God, the universe, or what have you. We presume there is an object which causes the impressions, which we subjectively interpret. This is the horizontal aspect of existence, and the yogi’s task is to strive to refine the alignment between the world and their understanding of it. Misunderstanding leads to disasters great and small. Even though many of us willfully cling to our misunderstandings in the vain hope that that will validate them, our inner witness is not deceived. We feel anxious or unfulfilled when there is a disjunction between concepts and actualities, and this drives us to  “seek truth. “ The search is deflected by an endless stream of falsehoods masquerading as truth, so the dedicated seeker has to overcome those obstacles one after the other. There is no resting place in the horizontal world where we can rest assured all falsehood has been overcome. That’s what we sincerely desire, but it is also where we are forever fooled and tripped up.

         In any case, Nitya’s point is that we don’t simply register impressions, like a mirror reflecting a play of lights, we interpret them. We create a world view to fit the data into, which comprises our faith or belief system. It’s a universal conundrum. Atheists do it as much and theists, yogis as much as dunderheads, because it makes us who we are.

         Society is compassionate to tell us a more or less plausible story for us to believe, so that we can make sense of our world. We live at a time, though, when social constructs are simultaneously falling apart and being aggressively torn down, so philosophy becomes almost mandatory. It’s a very well disguised blessing. Our old stories no longer sustain us, or they barely sustain us at the cost of numbing our common sense. It turns out our faith was misplaced. We can either hang onto it, trusting it is god-given, or we can look deeper, trying to discern truths that cannot be torn down. Again, a yogi is one who insists on not having faith in partial visions and wishful thinking, because they know they are bound to fail. They are searching for what persists through thick and thin.

         We talked about Nataraja Guru’s idea of  “normalization and renormalization. “ Normality is when concepts closely match percepts, and like so-called common sense it is a rare achievement. Our vision is inevitably skewed by our inability to grasp the totality of anything. All our notions are partial, and therefore partially ignorant. Thus, like Procrustes, we fit what we meet at the door into an ill-fitting conceptual bed. Knowing that this is one of our limitations, we constantly strive to adjust and readjust our attitudes to be as neutral and open as possible. We are eager for input that jolts us out of our somnolence, that catches us in our default settings and nudges us toward a wider purview. Fearful people cling to the only triangle they were taught was the  “right “ one, but the wise can dispassionately assess the pros and cons of all of them.

         Nitya also demonstrates the vertical or time aspect of the peace invocation:


In the invocation given above there is an implied scheme of correlation which explains Truth in its pre-postulated state, in its state as an ontological confrontation with its explication of the mechanism of cause and effect, and thirdly as the irreducibility of the post-experiential Truth which has a status different from that of the pre-postulated Truth.


The three states are past, present and future. Nitya liked to expand our normal perspective by positing  “pre-postulated “ as the future, and  “post-postulated “ as the past. The present, of course, is always the present, where things happen and we interact with them. But things rely on both being possible and leaving an impression, which Nitya makes abundantly clear in his triangle analogy. Things don’t just happen out of nothing. They are prefigured, whether by the quantum vacuum, God, the Hypothesphere, or some other information pattern we have yet to find a name for.

         Despite the incredibly prolific chaos of the cosmos, we are able to find peace because we have a coherent narrative by which to categorize the welter of information we are constantly bombarded with. Our brains are kind to screen out almost all of it, and present us a neatly wrapped package with just what we need to pay attention to. In that way we can stay sane (or close enough). Instead of being drowned in an avalanche, once we have made substantial progress in discriminating truth from falsehood we can frolic across the upper slopes and keep from getting caught.

         Everything that comes into being is like a triangle drawn on a blackboard, one of an infinite number of possible triangles waiting in the wings, strutting and fretting its hour upon the stage, and soon enough to be erased. Knowing this, we will never insist that ours is the only right (correct) triangle, and resent anything that doesn’t match our own. We will be delighted by the glory of infinitude that makes so many unique structures out of such simple building blocks. That is the vision that bestows peace, and that we should touch every time we chant that brief but illimitable peace invocation.


Part II

From Isa I:


Peace Invocation


To seek Truth the seeker should have the conviction that there is Truth. They should also have the belief that Truth can be discerned. Thirdly, they should have the power of discernment. And finally, they should have a normative notion to distinguish Truth from untruth.

There is a traditional Peace Invocation which throws light on these basic requirements implied in the search for Truth. The invocation is as follows:


aum purnam adah purnam idam

purnat purnam udacyate

purnasya purnam adaya

purnam eva avasishyate

aum santih santih santih


Aum, that is plenum. This is plenum.

From plenum, plenum arises.

From plenum, when plenum is subtracted,

Plenum alone remains.

Aum, peace, peace, peace.


Our mind has a wonderful capacity. With sensory data and accompanying feelings, it is capable of making five distinct kinds of gestalts. Further it can abstract individual impressions and generate universals, in the form of concepts. Thereafter the mind can recall the memory of both the particular and the universal.

Whatever the mind knows has to be of the nature of the mind. Knowledge means  “cognizing a mental image and declaring the specific details of that image to itself as an awareness of the image. “ The mind, which is continuously witnessing the fleetingness of images that come and go, develops a power other than mere cognition. This power is its capacity to perpetuate the mystery of a faith or belief that becomes something like a receptacle to contain the concepts that are being formulated continuously.

Corresponding to the validity of the concept the mind maintains, it postulates that there must be some reality independent of the mind, which is the source of the continuous flow of sensory data. It is this identical postulation shared by all individual minds that enables human beings to have a common truth accepted for transactions between individuals and transactions between individuals and the society. Otherwise, humans would have been cursed to remain eternally captive in personal fantasies. Such a possibility is picturesquely described in the Old Testament in the story of the Tower of Babel.

Thus it is commonly accepted that there is truth independent of the mind that comprehends it. It is also believed that aspects of this truth can be at least partially comprehended by the mind. The ontological verity of this comprehension is approved and common consent is given to uphold that world as the objective counterpart of the subject. Without this acceptance there would not have been the nurturing and growth of a body of scientific knowledge. It is a matter of common belief that truth can be universally verified.

In the invocation given above there is an implied scheme of correlation which explains Truth in its pre-postulated state, in its state as an ontological confrontation with its explication of the mechanism of cause and effect, and thirdly as the irreducibility of the post-experiential Truth which has a status different from that of the pre-postulated Truth.

The pre-postulated Truth is recognized as purnam adah or  “That is plenum. “ This is an a priori statement. Thereafter its ontic reality is a posteriori recognized as purnam idam or  “This is plenum. “ The causal dynamics of the a priori results in the irrefutable substantiation of the a posterior. That is given in the invocation as purnat purnam udacyate or  “From the plenum, the plenum arises. “ This plenum now clearly reveals time, space, mass, name, form, motion, cause and effect relationship, and many other details. Even when the continuous presentation of these details is going on, everything presented at one moment is pushed away from the illumination of the present into the mystery of a past. The mind does not become bewildered by this prospect, because it pins its faith on the continuation of the plenum as maintained by this invocation, which says purnasya purnam adaya purnam eva avasisyate:  “Even when the plenum that is experienced is taken away from the total plenum, the plenum continues. “

To a child who has just entered his first class to familiarize himself with geometry, the teacher says,  “There is a figure called the triangle. “ The child is hearing the word triangle for the first time. He does not know what it is. However, his dear teacher insists that there is the geometric reality of a triangle. In the place of purnam adah, the child a priori accepts trikonamadah or  “That triangle is. “

This a priori concept of the triangle is a faceless reality to the child. So he expectantly looks into the eyes of his teacher. The teacher does not want to keep him in the lurch for long. She takes a piece of chalk and draws three lines, the ends of which connect with each other, and tells the child trikonam idam or  “This is a triangle. “

The teacher calls the triangle drawn on the board triangle ABC. The triangle in principle, which the teacher first presented as the archetypal triangle, was not ABC. In fact, it has no limitation of name and size, either of its sides or of its angles. But the child knows that the triangle on the board came from the original concept. In other words, trikonat trikonam udacyate or  “From that triangle, this triangle came. “

To give another lesson the teacher erases the triangle ABC from the board. Now there is no triangle on the board, but it continues in the child’s mind. The child goes away with the conviction trikonasya trikonam adaya trikonam eva avasishyate or  “Even when the actuality of the triangle is effaced the reality of it continues as an imperishable truth. “

The truth of triangle ABC is a relative factor. It is forever related with the absoluteness that stands transcending time and space. The happenings in the realm of our consciousness of both the wakeful and dream states are comparable to what is being presented and effaced on the blackboard. However, it becomes inevitable to believe in the continuity of Truth as the pre-postulated, the ontologic, and the post-experiential as a contiguous reality.


*         *         *


The Tall Tale of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11. 1-9):

[1] And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2] And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3] And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4] And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5] And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6] And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7] Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8] So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9] Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.


Part III

I tried to send Michael’s photos of his actual notes, which are very helpful, including definitions and cute pictures of Nitya, but just can’t make it happen. A couple of responses were on the same email that didn’t go, so here those are, anyway. James wrote, I think about ego:


Upon us it is. Do we see?


Rest with meditation


Then transmit


Know not what is; know all accumulated


It is not just one but all


What is one if others are not?


And Baird, on the plenum:


I am intrigued by the plenum as a molecular continuum.

Imagine that you held a piece of bread with both hands before you.

Then you pulled the bread apart.

Question: What held the bread together ?

Answer: The same thing that held it apart.



Mantra 1 (Isa I)


Even what little is of the nature of change

in the world is all permeated

by the Lord. With the renunciation

of that (the changing world), enjoy

(the intimate presence of the Lord).

Whose is wealth? (It is not to be

owned by anyone, so) do not covet it.


         The Sanskrit tradition is to begin every study by clearly stating the topic or theme. The first line of the Isa Upanishad is  “all this is permeated by the Absolute. “ The Absolute is called Isa, here rendered as Lord. The central tenet of Indian spirituality in general and the Isa in particular is that everything is the Absolute: at a core level all is One. The implications of this revelation are going to be spelled out in eighteen brief mantras, nicely typed up for us by Debbie.

         The class reviewed this perennial theme of oneness, which we have frequently examined in the past. It seems that the rishis had an intuitive grasp of what we can actually see today using microscopes: that we exist in an ocean of tiny particles, and that all beings, living and non-living, are mere temporary forms of an underlying universal substance that is never born and never dies.

         Nonetheless, sub-atomic particles are too crude to be the ultimate Absolute substance. The quantum vacuum is better: being estimated to contain nearly infinite energy, while remaining undetectable because we are made of it, it fits the bill impressively. But even that isn’t good enough. The latest theory is that the universe is made of something like aum—a  “busy hum “ of static—and that means it is digital, like a colossal computer program. In other words, the universe consists of pure information, at a deeper level than even matter and energy, or relative and quantum structures. An experiment is currently being prepared by Craig Hogan at Fermilab in Chicago to detect the very aum or hum out of which our universe blossoms. While religious enthusiasts hop up and down about trivial visible differences on the surface, in the spirit of the Upanishads scientists are aiming ever deeper at the heart of the mystery. The latest Scientific American (February 2012) reports:


The two most successful theories of the 20th century—quantum mechanics and general relativity—cannot possibly be reconciled. At the smallest scales, both break down into gibberish. Yet this same scale seems to be special for another reason: it happens to be intimately connected to the science of information—the 0’s and 1’s of the universe. Physicists have, over the past couple of decades, uncovered profound insights into how the universe stores information—even going so far as to suggest that information, not matter and energy, constitutes the most basic unit of existence. Information rides on tiny bits; from these bits comes the cosmos.

         If we take this line of thinking seriously, Hogan says, we should be able to measure the digital noise of space. Thus, he has devised an experiment to explore the buzzing at the universe’s most fundamental scales. (32)


         So as the Isa Upanishad says, all this is the Absolute, even if we aren’t quite sure what the Absolute is. We certainly agree that something (or some non-thing) is universal, at the hub of all the diversity, and discovering it can give us a good buzz. Call it God or Lord if you dare, but be careful not to anthropomorphize or you’ll miss the boat.

         The first corollary is that even the little surface bit of the universe that is going through changes is also the Absolute. Here is where we routinely get fooled. All the stuff we perceive looks so separate. Isn’t it obvious? Doesn’t that force us to battle the bad and uphold the good? The class played with this a bit. Is money the Absolute? Is war, then, the Absolute? Yes, even the things we don’t approve of are the Absolute. If only some things and not others are the Absolute, then it isn’t absolute. Aren’t war and money made of the same atoms as conscientious meditators? Talking about it showed us how we unconsciously assume that God rules the good and some other force corrupts it into evil. The Isa Upanishad intends to correct our partial and therefore erroneous view, from the inside out.

         On the transactional level we aim for the good and avoid the bad. But adhering to a moral stance doesn’t bring us realization, which is the oceanic grasp of the whole. Pitting good against evil produces a constant whirlwind of activity, because they are not really separate, they only look that way. The harder you veer onto one side, the more exaggerated the other side becomes. The cure is to find the center. Seek the havens, as the Hobbits put it.

         The core truth of Vedanta, that all are the Absolute, that unity underlies diversity, is blasphemy to the dualistic religions, and believing it is even punishable by death in some. Many scientists also sneer at it. It is the truth that can set men free, but it is outlawed far and wide. It will be a long time before humanity can come to accept this most radical truth that runs counter to common sense perception. Each person who internalizes it is a preserver of our most valuable heritage, and therefore deserving of our highest praise and support.

         Overcoming our limited view that everything is separate is a panacea for our miseries. That is the idea we are asked to renounce so we can enjoy the totality. If everything is either mine or yours, then I only have a little, and I have to struggle and compete to enlarge my share. My happiness becomes dependent on getting more. But if everything belongs to all of us, we are already infinitely wealthy. That is the secret of renunciation. Instead of seeing what we don’t have, we rejoice in everything there is. Looking at a blade of grass closely, we can experience  “eternity in an hour, “ as William Blake puts it in Auguries of Innocence:


To see a world in a Grain of Sand,

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your Hand,

And eternity in an hour.


         As a class we tried to raise ourselves to the exalted level Nitya was in as he expressed his commentary on this mantra. Because the complexity of it captures our focus, it is hard to sense the bliss that he was trying so hard to share with us. Those in the room at the time could feel it easily, but as readers we have to concentrate hard to envision it. But it can be done. There is the heart of a poet in these words. The poetic soul is what scientists in the next century will be devising experiments to uncover; closer to God even than information. Isn’t it interesting how we conceive the universe in terms of the shape of our mind? Now in the computer stage, we see the universe as a grand computer. Some day, perhaps, we will know it as a song, as poetry and music combined. The gurus are giving us hints in the way they live.

         One perplexing sentence in this superb essay is  “When love hurts, the pain becomes vertical. “ People’s thoughts about what it means revolved around the loss of loved ones; how when they are gone our love moves away from the specifics we shared with them to an eternal orientation. Nitya always related his love for his friends and disciples to a universal ideal, which kept him honorably detached while simultaneously he could be more present than an actual lover. The movement of his mind was to the person he was with and then to the Absolute, out to the person and back to the Absolute, over and over. Most of us are so eager to reach out horizontally to our love that we leave out the balancing part of verticalizing it. Only when our horizontal fixation is painfully disrupted do we then accede to the vertical aspect of life. But we would be wise to practice this before we are forced into it by circumstances.

         Another essential idea here is that the ego is not to be crushed or reconfigured to fit some supposedly spiritual formula, but expanded to include everything. Nitya expresses this in an insightful effusion:


The ego boundary becomes so extended that it disappears in infinity. The relatedness of possession becomes so vast that nothing could be possessed anymore. If there is an  “I, “ there is only  “I. “ If there is a  “my, “ everything is mine.

 In another sense,  “I “ becomes totally lost in the other and the other becomes the eternally assertive and all-embracing Self. Now I am everybody’s and all are mine. I have no occasion to renounce or give up consciously and deliberately. It is spontaneous and natural to renounce everything in the dream upon waking up. I do not renounce; I only wake up.


         The class spent a little time recognizing the tragedy of coveting that has divided up the world into the haves and have nots. Privatization is theft. It is a crying shame that the blissful attitude of the Upanishads and other in so-called primitive societies has been supplanted with a dog-eat-dog mentality where the most aggressive and selfish take home the spoils. As the consequent desperation of the human race for basic sustenance builds to a climax, few are willing to accept the secret of  “relax and enjoy. “ Our animal nature was formed out of raw competition for hundreds of millions of years, so evolving out of it in a few millennia is a lot to ask. The unitive vision of the rishis is a shining light of inspiration to show us the way we must take if we want to actualize peace on earth.



Mantra 1 (Isa II)


This is.

This envelops All.

Apart from this not even an iota

is left in the whole.

It was a mistake to objectivize.

Every thing is back to its own, to isvara.

Knowing That Thou Art, enjoy;

do not grab.

Whose can be desired anyway?


         It’s fun to compare the two versions of the mantra, as well as the commentaries, to be reminded of how the same ideas can be put in so many ways. We truly are in an infinite field!

         Again, the key idea that starts the ball rolling is unity. Isvara refers to the unity within multiplicity that includes the multiplicity also. Here, after an interim of twelve or fifteen long years between his two interpretations, Nitya translates isvara as This All or the whole instead of Lord. Most of us can’t shake the anthropomorphic, not to mention Biblical, shading of Lord or God. With  “This “ we can expand beyond any and all accustomed boundaries, and yet the expansion begins exactly where we are: right here and right now. Somehow we can never quite accept that a God, and certainly not a Lord, is right here. Is us. But This readily includes us.

         This is why the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, or even with deciding to take the first step. We have been bent out of shape and dissociated from ourselves, and are wandering in a psychological wilderness, so we have to come back to who we are before we can proceed with confidence. We have to get back in our bodies before we will be able to maintain our integrity as we go anywhere. In a sense our psyche must shrink to a single point before it can expand again to include the whole universe.

         I don’t know if simply reading the text can impart the subtle magic that was in the original talk, but if you look closely you can see how the content swells and shrinks. Present in person, everyone’s psyche was expanding and contracting in resonance with the coaxing of the Guru. Michael brought our attention to where Nitya actually spelled out what he was secretly imparting:


Isvara or God is the dynamic process of creation. Sitting in a grain of pollen dust, isvara is smaller than pollen. It is the same isvara who we meet as one of the immeasurable dimensions in the processing of the galactic extravagance. Thus we should have a pulsating interest which can centralize itself in the most subtle nucleus of the tiniest of the finite and has an expanding girth that can include the universes, known and unknown. As the interior structure of the inconceivable supreme and our consciousness with all its ability to cognize and judge, God reverberates between the core and the periphery of cosmic pulsations. Isvara is both the substance and its mass. To pulsate in unison with the cosmic throb is your commitment when you opt for God realization. It is simple if you do not have a meddling ego, and it is complicated if you want to have separate frames of reference for every notion that you forge in your individual mind.


Speaking of frames of reference, each mantra in the Isavasya Upanishad is a separate vision of the Real, complete in itself. Scotty likened it to an octagonal building with a garden in the middle that can be observed from windows all around the interior courtyard. The garden is one, but we can’t help but see it from our personal perspective. If there were only a door, we might go into it! But mostly we are content to peek at it through the windows.

         I especially liked the garden idea because as I read idam out loud it sounded for all the world like Eden. This, then, is the Garden of Idam, the paradise we fall out of when we abdicate our innocence to focus on dualities such as good and evil. The class thought I was being stupid again, but at least this once I wasn’t making a joke. Stranger things are possible than idam and Eden being related. Nitya describes what Genesis only hints at:  “We came to know ‘this’ by seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling, and knowing with our mind. Then what did we do? We did the most foolish thing. We divided our knowledge into many fragments and labeled everything…. In our obsession with the infinitude of multiplication we lost sight of our unity: the unity of this universe. “ If that isn’t the Biblical fall, then what is?

         Bill and I agreed on our favorite sentence:  “The rishi asks you to ponder over the imponderable principle on which the ponderable is established. “ If we only ponder ponderables, we will never transcend our limited perspectives. Right on!

         Paul had earlier sent a quotation that struck him as germane to our discussion:


The March issue of Shambhala Sun magazine had an article about the Mind and Life dialogues. Scientists, academics, and meditators from around the world meet once a year to share ideas. Below is part of the article (page 58) where Arthur Zajonc, a physics professor at Amherst College, and the Dalai Lama speak of quantum mechanics:


 “Professor Zajonc and other physicists presented the findings of quantum mechanics, which showed that the properties of elemental particles like electrons are not independent--their measured size, mass, and velocity were in fact dependent on the speed of the measuring apparatus. Hearing this, the Dalai Lama shared the Buddhist perspective that reality does not exist intrinsically with its own objective properties, but only in relationship to a perceiving consciousness. “


The Gurukula agrees with this, but draws a slightly different conclusion from many Buddhists. Just because there is  “dependent origination “ does not mean we should toss out the whole universe. We can know it is maya or God’s dream or a figment of our imagination and still appreciate it for the magnificent, intricate and coherent extravaganza that it is. Everything and Nothing can exist together; we don’t have to choose one and expunge the other. Knowing that Nothing is the Core of Everything doesn’t make us depressed, it frees us to enjoy life with zest.

         The key is that since Everything comes from Nothing, we have to return to nothingness if we want to have a significant impact in changing our life and our world. We pulsate from embracing our whole universe to shrinking to smaller than a mustard seed or pollen grain. Again, Nitya:  “Mind you, the greatest of the great and biggest of the big are compositions of the smallest of the small, the finest of the finite. If you do not know the small, you will not know the big. “

         Nitya uses shorthand in telling us to forgo our ego. What is meant is that we should forgo the part of the ego that identifies with its likes and dislikes and wants to possess. The sense of ‘I’ that is the ego is much more than that, and has an honorable place in our being. Yet it is routinely vitiated by being drawn to superficial values and identifying with them. The Isa Upanishad waxes eloquent in convincing us that by relinquishing possessiveness and opening ourselves to the whole, to the isvara, we in a sense possess everything. This is our paradox: by grasping and clinging we lose all, but by letting go we gain a full measure. The paradox is known to Christianity, as when Jesus said,  “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? “ [Mark 8.36] Instead, let us  “relax and enjoy. “ I’m not sure if Jesus dug that part, but why shouldn’t we?


         Our hope in having two sessions for each mantra is that everyone will have some insights during the intervening week that they can pass along, either in writing or in class. If nothing else, the range of meanings will sink in deeper, even if nothing is shared. It’s hard to talk about unity, but as we forge ahead the various frames of reference should afford opportunities for fresh perspectives that are more amenable to sharing. I invite you all to lend a hand—or a few fingertips anyway—in making this class especially meaningful.


Part II

         Wendy sent a poignant response. In case anyone is wondering whether this philosophy has value, read on:


  Having just watched a documentary about The Baka forest dwellers in Africa, this is a tragic example of when unity goes and life is in pieces.

  This tribe had lived in unity with the forest, animals, nature for hundreds of years, until a timber firm wanted to strip certain trees, like mahogany, which were in the Baka area of the forest, and hunt and kill monkeys for bush meat...The result is that their interference has driven away most of the animals, felled medicinal trees, polluted some of their river, and the tribe have been forced to work in the timber mill. The awful thing is that the timber firm are plying the Baka with poisonous coconut raw alcohol, often in lieu of wages. Many of them are now addicted, including the women, and even some children.

  It was heartbreaking to watch. The team who filmed them twenty years ago and returned last year, were so shocked to find that their way of life has been wilfully destroyed. There was no hunting anymore, no ability to use their energy creatively as it was all drowned in alcohol. They were forgetting their old songs and children no longer learnt to play instruments.

  The team took some Baka families deep into the forest to ‘the looking glass lake.’ So called by the Baka as the elephants drink there and admire their tusks. It was such a beautiful journey for them and the children were amazed at the animals, and the beauty of the many trees and the birds. They reached the lake and spent some days there, singing old songs and remembering their tribal heritage, as they had no alcohol to dull their senses. They were so happy and carefree. They once again found their reverence for the forest. The divinity in each speck. They so mourned the loss of all this.

  The difference when they returned to the alcohol fuelled village was very distressing. The men and women quarrelling, physical violence, sexual problems, children born with disabilities, lack of self worth. It was heartrending. Some timber men had come with more alcohol which small children were drinking.

  They could no longer ‘pulse with the cosmic throb’. This peaceful happy tribe was destroyed, they could no longer live in peaceful harmony with their surroundings. The Baka forest dwellers knew how to stop and just be, to honour their traditions. Now they are lost and angry.

  Yet the timber men were responding to the material greed in the world, as life becomes ever more sophisticated. As we all want more and more and are a society of yearnings.

  As the mantra says we have to learn how to rejoice and become one with the beauty and wonder of all life. Forego all our pieces of neediness.

  This documentary was a microcosm of the bigger world. A real wake-up call.



Part III

         Sometimes “wakeup calls” actually get people to wake up. Wendy sent some further information about the Baka people of Cameroon and Gabon, but first, I include Dipika’s heartfelt response, typical of several:


It upset me a lot to read this and i trolled the web and found that there are people out there helping to give dignity and empower the people to be heard


i think we in india should be helping the villagers and tribals to be heard in a similar way...official help is usually never found and when it is the money never finds its way.






Now Wendy:

Just found the background of this documentary: [sorry, it should have come first!]


Phil Agland revisits the Baka pygmy tribe he last filmed 25 years ago in the Bafta award winning documentary Baka: People of the Rainforest.

It is an extraordinary journey into the heart of Cameroon, where the Baka revisit their past as they watch the 1987 film – raising questions about their former life in the rainforest and what is happening to them now. This is a tragic story of alcohol addiction, the death of little children, and of a people caught helplessly between the environment in which they live and the outside world that appears to reject them. But it is also a chronicle of redemption, inspired by the original film, and a lifeline to the future offered by the children of the tribe.


The Baka children Agland filmed last time are now parents themselves, but in one generation, the tribe’s lives have changed hugely as logging companies and mineral speculators, conservationists, Bantu farmers and alcohol have pushed their way into the forest. As the next generation contemplates formal schooling, Agland asks if education might be their last hope.


It was wonderful to see how the tribe responded to the film they were shown. All sitting by a huge camp fire, in the dark. The older ones were giggling over their child selves, sad about older deaths, and the present children were amazed by the animals and snakes they saw for the first time.

The tribe saw themselves returning from hunting trips with their spears; now they have guns. They watched their singing and dance routines, music playing, tribal ceremonies. Making instruments and other creative tribal customs. Gathering herbal medicine from the trees. A way of life now for the most part gone.

Ali said that the alcohol dulled their senses and they became lethargic and bewildered. Like a blanket had come down and smothered them without any warning.

It was sad to see toddlers picking up broken plastic bottles and drinking the dregs of the sweet alcohol. Now though having watched the film, they were awakening and wanting to take back some of their lives. Send their children to the village school and learn how to be part of the new confusing world they were caught up in.

I wonder if Phil Agland will visit them again……..




PS.  A photo of Ali with his little disabled daughter Yeye, is full of love and smiles. Maybe they are resilient enough to cope….

*         *         *

Dear Scott and friends,

I just remembered that Ali was so moved to see his father, then alive, in the film of 25 years ago. It reminded him of all he had learnt from him as a child. Both in practical and spiritual terms.

So much so that he visited his grave every day after seeing the film and tended it and called out to the spirits of the ancestors to come and help them all. He recalled his father’s wisdom and was deeply touched. Felt as if he was reunited with a lost part of himself.

Very moving.

*         *         *

Having googled some web sites, it looks as if some of these tribes are now thriving, and their culture is also alive and well. Seems as if there is a lot of interest in them from Westerners, particularly in regard to their music. 

I am feeling more optimistic!


You can google in Baka Forest People and several sites will appear.


Please pass on the good news.

Thanks, Wendy.



Mantra two (old)

Desire to live in this world a hundred

years by doing (appropriate) action alone.

If this is so, in you, O man, karma’s stain

will not be impressed. Apart from this

there is nothing (to do).


         A full house of longtime fellow explorers shared a glowing evening around the campfire of Isavasya warmth. Brenda donated a recording she made in Varkala of a young maiden chanting the whole Upanishad very clearly and precisely. The rhythm and poetry of it have an impact even when the words themselves are meaningless, and the chanting immediately drew us into a heightened meditative openness.

         The contrast between the second and the first mantra is intriguing. There we were directed to the immediate present and an awareness of the inner unitive core of life: what we often refer to as the vertical aspect. Here we are called to participate in the horizontal, with its long-term projects, the best of which we like to think of as evolutionary. Nitya advises that  “one cannot be fully motivated if he is always fearing that he will die tomorrow. Even the short-term programs should be looked upon as feeding into the long term ones. “ In other words, we should have a meaningful motivation for our whole life.

         The first mantra counsels renunciation, while the second invites full participation. They are not really two different approaches, either. These two attitudes can and should interpenetrate. They are simultaneously true, and are like the two legs we stand on, psychologically. If we rely on only one or the other it is very easy to lose our balance. We have often considered the people who exclusively withdraw from life, and how that tends toward a tamasic state of mind, as well as those who are caught up in worldly activities to the point where they ignore their own spiritual needs.  “Spiritual needs “ include the need for joy, the need to share our thoughts and feelings with friends and family, and the need to have a meaningful goal orientation, to mention just a few. Above all it is the need to actualize our potentials, which fester like bedsores if they are not brought into the light of day regularly. This is best accomplished when we integrate an element of detachment into our eager enthusiasm to make a mark in this world. Put another way, we participate wholeheartedly while remaining renounced. It’s a relatively easy paradox to resolve.

         The standing advice to not have expectations does not mean that we should not have goals, though it is often taken in that sense. But they are not the same thing. It is healthy to have goals, but we only tamper with their purity when we overlay them with expectations as to how they will turn out. In spiritual life we never know what lies ahead, and we divert ourselves from making progress if we obscure our vision with fixed expectations. Business and contractual activity is another matter, of course. But without goals our brains go to sleep and we stagnate. The  “appropriate action “ of this mantra means healthy, creative and exciting activity that we are drawn to with our whole being. In the Gurukula we often refer to it as unitive activity.

         Nitya reminds us that humans are ordinarily motivated by fear and necessity. Yogis convert their lives to foster joyful motivations. Moni suggested joy was the measuring rod of unitive action: the positive feedback of our souls that we are on the right track. Others felt compassion was central, that when you realized all are one in our core, there is great joy in interacting with your fellow beings in infinite permutations.

         Susan and Bill cautioned against condescension, where compassion becomes dualistic when we think we are better off and are going to help those who are less well off. That’s a form of expectation that pollutes the purity of the compassion. Susan was reminded of community service projects that are now common in schools, and how they are conceived as the fortunate helping the unfortunate, at least initially. The schism is resented on both sides, and the action has to be forced in various ways. Often the learning experience negates at least some of the gap, however, given enough time. Susan’s daughter goes to a care facility for the elderly. The other day she was very sad about something and one of the men talked to her for a long time about it. She felt very much consoled, and discovered that at its best compassion goes both ways. The whole world becomes our mutual support group.

         It is good to remember Nataraja Guru’s take on service as related by Nitya in Love and Blessings. Nitya was enthusiastically  “doing service “ in a school for the blind in Bombay, and told Nataraja Guru all about it in a letter. When the Guru wrote back, Nitya found:


[He] didn’t appreciate what he called my exaggerated notion of doing service to the blind. He never liked the idea of calling someone poor or pitiable.  “We are as poor as anyone else and really pitiable, “ he would say. (195)


So we can and should go good things for our fellows, but restrain our exaggerations about how great we are to be acting like that.

         Scotty worked for many years in Head Start, which supplies food and loving care for young children who are in short supply of them. He recalled a motto posted in the office:  “Working here is like wetting your pants when you are wearing black: you get a growing warm feeling, but nobody else notices. “ So no one should be in it for the glory, because that’s not the point. Subtracting our barely noticed separatist thinking from what we do is a subtle business indeed, but children and animals can readily sense our feelings of superiority, and resent them. To approach a flighty horse, for example, we have to shuck off all fear and the sense of difference it heightens. The same is true for fearful children.

         Scotty had a good story about not having expectations. The other day he was in the post office, when the woman ahead of him at the counter collapsed. He caught her as she fell, preventing possible serious injury. She was still conscious, and stood up defiantly, but then she collapsed again. He asked her if she had had anything to eat today, and she said no. He told her to stay down, and rushed out to his car, got a bag of nuts, and brought them to her. She ate some, and her strength came back quickly. As soon as the food gave her some fortitude, she got up, bought her stamps, and walked out the door without a word or even a glance in his direction. Scotty was reminded that anyone’s normal expectation would be for a word of thanks, or even just a grateful glance. He got nothing, but because he hadn’t had expectations it was fine. Caring for the woman was the joy and the reward, and after that he just let it go.

         The class mulled over  “karma’s stain “ in the mantra. Usually we take it to refer to the additional ramifications that are engendered when we get caught up in some complex activity. But the stain is also the disappointment we feel when our expectations aren’t met, or the bitterness we taste when we meet with hostility or misunderstanding. All sorts of emotions can be generated by thwarted expectations, and we may hold on to them without even realizing it. Even as we strive to let go of persistent emotions and thoughts, we can use their perceived impact to fine-tune our freedom from expectations. Nitya puts unitive activity in a nutshell:  “It is an action based in freedom and done for the very joy of its performance. [Because of this] it does not bind the actor. “

         Debbie recalled how Nitya was never disappointed with people who failed to do what he had asked them or what they had volunteered to do, though he didn’t stint with supportive advice if it was appropriate. But many people were regularly missing the boat in the Gurukula, and he never showed the slightest twinge of personal disappointment, never in any way implied that he had been let down. In fact, he often would take it as a joke, if the fallout didn’t involve innocent bystanders. He would laugh or smile broadly, as if thinking,  “Oh, here is that familiar human weakness showing up again, like an old friend coming back to me! “ There was a sense of endearment instead of rejection for our falling on our face in front of him yet again. It was really very beautiful.

         Michael’s favorite line in the commentary was,  “Even for the person who is well equipped, action is directly related to one’s motivation. One has to say, ‘I want. I should. I will.’ “ Such words inspire shock and horror in the orthodox thinker, who imagines they are exactly what we are supposed to give up. But if we have healthy goals, how will we bring them to fruition if we don’t have any determination? Imagining they will just happen of their own accord is a hangover from the Western archetype of the heroic figure who rides in on a white charger to save us. Subconsciously we expect some divinity or our mother to always bail us out. But the task has fallen to us, and we have to learn to accept it. The key is to bring our goals in line with our dharma or natural proclivities, and once they are in place then being determined to carry them out is excellent. If we are forcing issues where we shouldn’t be, it’s another matter entirely.

         Finally, some of us found the following paragraph oddly familiar, but weren’t sure why. Nitya had painted a picture of our  “vital energies and latent potentials… residing in an unconscious realm whose bounds are not known to us. “ He then adds:


It is in that ocean of the unconscious, like a stir in the watery deep, that the mind becomes precipitated. Mind is followed by associated memories, the predications of subjects that catch the interest of the mind, and affective reactions that evoke in the consciousness the idea of an ego. The incentive comes from that ego to relate the mind to objects outside the body through the senses of perception and the organs of action.


Without making it obvious, Nitya is here describing the antakarana, the fourfold scheme of the psyche according to Vedanta. Recall it consists of manas (mind), citta (memory), buddhi (association via intellection, here called predications that catch our interest) and ahamkara (ego, which is the compendium of affective reactions, our likes and dislikes). Nitya has put this very elegantly in a way that really makes sense. We can listen to the Sanskrit terms all day long, and even know what they mean, but this cited paragraph takes us all the way to comprehension. That was Nitya’s best quality as a lecturer: he knew the meaning of what he was teaching and could get it across to his audience. That is more rare than it might appear, especially in such a profound subject.

         After the closing meditation and chant, everyone stood up and optimistically began the next step on their journey of a thousand miles or a hundred years. We sing with Bilbo, in The Lord of the Rings:


The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.


Part II

         A major part of the class was a discussion of when and how to release ourselves into the joy of unitive action. It sprang from Nitya’s assertion that, in addition to being relevant and useful to fellow beings, a unitive actor  “should also have the sanction of the Unknown, the all-pervading God. The man of action, therefore, considers himself a servant of God, an instrument of the Divine, a fulfiller of God’s will. “

         This sounds good and is a familiar image, but elsewhere Nitya speaks strongly against it. Because it is so dualistic, it really can’t serve as a definition of unitive action. At the same time, we have to release ourselves to something greater than our mere conscious mind, and most people think of that unknown  “something greater “ as God. So we are in another impossible conundrum.

         In the right person, it works, as Debbie pointed out. But we also know that the world’s worst criminals have felt they were enacting God’s righteous judgment as instruments of his will, or something along those lines. So while part of us has to surrender, we have to retain our good judgment too. We practice our craft, sorting out the valid from the invalid, and then at special moments we can let go and take it to the highest levels of unmediated bliss. But first we must be sure we aren’t merely obeying the ego dressing itself up as God to have its way with us. Even worse, sometimes not only individuals but whole nations buy the claim of some power monger to be channeling the word of God, and go mad. We have to know better than to surrender to that.

         On the other hand, if we are always obsessing about proper behavior, we’ll never permit ourselves to let go, and unitive action will be extremely unlikely. So this is another razor’s edge to walk for the spiritually minded traveler.

         Nitya also used to rail against contractual attitudes as selfish and limiting, yet here he says,  “Some arrangement is to be made for give and take. No one can live in society without accepting in some way a tacit social contract. The social contract is an exchange of energies. The question is, ‘What do you do for me in return for what I do for you?’ “ It’s another paradox, in that we do benefit from taking other people’s positions into account, but we shouldn’t be doctrinaire about quid pro quo transactions all the time, because that will lead us to disappointment and a closing off of options.

         A unitive actor does good because it is the most excellent thing to do, without regard for any payback. It is joyful to help our fellow beings, and permit them to help us. Like Scotty at the post office, an enlightened actor doesn’t have any alternative: you do what you can as the situation presents itself. If we hold back to judge whether we will get anything out of the deal, it might be prudent but it isn’t unitive. It may not even be nice.

         Still, there are those we help who are like a black hole or an incinerator, where everything goes in and nothing comes out. They are bound and determined to remain bound and determined. At some point we have to decide that our efforts are better spent elsewhere. This is a legitimate contractual suggestion of the Upanishad. It’s fair to accept dualistic action as part of horizontal involvement, up to a point.

          “The ultimate knowledge is that everything is One. “ True. But there is also relative knowledge. We should bring ultimate knowledge into the relative as far as we can, but I don’t believe it will ever convert all of it to unity. It is fair to accept some limitations and compromises when there is no alternative. We also need to let it all hang out and play our instruments without inhibition sometimes, without limitations or compromises.

         I would dearly love to hear from others about this subject, as it’s central to spiritual life, and there are many valid takes on it. To throw some more light on unitive action, I’ll include here more of Nitya, from Therapy and Realization in the Bhagavad Gita, his wonderful three-day seminar for therapists in Australia in 1975:


      I have shown here on the board some sort of a symbolic, graphic picture. Here there is a vertical axis and a horizontal axis. This is a scheme of correlation we are using to explain the overall structure a little. Take a very common symbol which has verticality and horizontality, the cross. If you take the cross, you see it has a vertical axis and also a horizontal axis. What Jesus Christ endorsed as the main teaching of the scriptures was to  “Love the Lord thy God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. “ We say,  “Our Father which art in heaven.. “ Father in heaven and man on earth. There is a vertical relation in it, a bipolarity which relates man to God. He reaches up to God in heaven, and God showers down grace from above.

      Jesus also gave a corollary to that:  “Love your neighbor as your own self. “ Where is your neighbor? He is on either side. Love for God is vertically placed, and your neighbor is horizontally placed. Your vertical love for God is expressed horizontally to your brothers on either side. In the case of Christianity, horizontality represents the brotherhood of man and verticality represents the Fatherhood of God. Because of the Fatherhood of God the brotherhood of man becomes real, but not without it.

      All the functioning that is happening in the world of becoming depends on the world of being. The beingness is the eternal, the vertical. What appears as momentary on the horizontal also has a place in the eternal. I am hungry. I take some food and my hunger is gone. It is a momentary thing. But hunger is perennial. I was hungry yesterday, I am hungry today, and I will be hungry tomorrow. All living beings have hunger and need nourishment. Hunger is a vertical principle; eating is a horizontal action. Sex is a vertical principle, and the sex act is a horizontal function. Thus in our life all urges come from the vertical but they are lived on the horizontal plane.


Part III

         Happily, the mailbox is again full, and I want to share some excerpted highlights with everyone. Each is long enough to be its own subdivision. First up, John A. sent a very nice screed. Although John is pro-duality and skeptical of unity, he sent in an exceptional example of the meaning of unitive action:


It is often heard,  “what does God want me to do? I want to do what God wants me to do “. If that were really true, that person would do exactly what they are doing. In fact, every person in existence is doing exactly what God wants. We look around and see the universe, then we look inside our own bodies, next we speculate the unseen reality, then realize, we are not in control! We cannot even command our own bodies to do very much, 99% of us are here for the free ride, or though it would seem. Surprisingly to most, probably, is that there is no possible way to do anything that isn’t within the guidelines and predetermined by God! This whole thing is completely created and controlled by God, not a single speck of anything is doing something that isn’t 100% pre-approved by the creator. A person sitting in deep meditation, after many years of studying scripture and acquiring all the knowledge of the world as pertaining to spirituality, may wait upon God for further direction, like Buddha under a tree, waiting for direction from God, so that they can become one with God. That person, if determined enough, will starve to death and decompose back to dirt waiting for guidance from God! If a person had the ability to sustain life for eternity waiting under the tree, eternity would pass, the world would deteriorate into space dust, and still, that person would be waiting, floating in space, waiting for the next big bang to start the process all over again. That person would be doing exactly what God wants them to do... which is... do whatever it is you want to do! There is no way to circumvent the will of God, you will all do exactly what God wants you to do. The question needs to be understood differently. Since we are already doing exactly what God wants us to do, it is better to understand... what are we doing? What is it that God is having us do? Why are we doing it? Why are some doing good things, and others doing bad things? What are we going to do when we are done doing this? Those are the questions to ponder, not  “what does God want me to do “. God obviously wants us to do whatever it is that we so desire. But what then? There is no way to veer off the path, God is in control of everything, but God has allowed us to exercise our own free will and choice, which we are all doing, which is Gods’ will. Buddha waited under the tree until he decided to do something of his own free will and choice, then he got up!

 Opening that door of understanding, is like opening the closet door of a room stuffed to the ceiling with junk; when you open it, it knocks you down with stuff piling over the top of you. But there is understanding to that also, it’s just another bunch of information to deal with, and it is all exciting. This stuff cannot be understood with pure intellect, which is why those who did seem to understand it, expressed a deep love for others and their Creator. Love, like the mustard seed, continues to grow, opening our mind so we can receive that which makes sense of this existence. A person who drinks red wine for the first time grimaces with revulsion, eventually understanding comes, a connoisseur eventually. The wisdom of reality comes through love.


Part IV

Next, Dipika interspersed her comments with some of the original notes. I trust she’ll forgive me because her travails are shared by many of us, and she shows how to overcome them. Excerpts follow:


Nitya advises that  “one cannot be fully motivated if he is always fearing that he will die tomorrow. Even the short-term programs should be looked upon as feeding into the long term ones. “ In other words, we should have a meaningful motivation for our whole life.


this is so true...for a while when i was at my hyper thyroid peak..n i didnt know the cause...i went through months of anxiety, feelings of loneliness n immense depression...and the recurring theme so alone- whats the point of doing anything- when eventually we are all hurtling towards death- n in my case no one is even around to remember what i am all about


i did pull out of it eventually when diagnosed.... n that was a relief to know that a chemical deficiency was making me neurotic n morose... along with my ayurvedic doc’s help and correct eating and also some deep clear thinking which involved seeing that the rest of humanity is also hurtling towards the same end


One has to say, ‘I want. I should. I will.’ “.... i must be orthodox...i too thought that wanting was taboo...thanks for clarifying this


love n rgds





As far as wanting goes, there is the selfish, childish wanting, and there is a mature, intelligent desire to bring good things about for the slice of the universe we inhabit, and they shouldn’t be mixed up. But they are seldom distinguished by half-baked thinkers. Our job as conscious beings is to choose our wants wisely, and not suppress the best of them.




PS And thank Grid for the chemical correction of your depression. That’s a terrible feeling, very disabling, as you well know.



ya ya n ya...


chemical imbalance is one thing...the other is to use the mind with clarity n drop all these defunct ‘emotions’ that really lead one nowhere


from somewhere...the powerful helping me to think sharply n correctly


tho ambition is something i woefully lack


would love to be able to help others… enjoy what am doing and of course be self sufficient


thats all...a simple life


Part V

John H wrote:

I sometimes think I am enlightened - but it seems only temporary. Like a five minute satori or ten minute cosmic awakening - like I’ve been asleep and then awakened, only to have to go back to sleep.


Is that normal? Well, let me rephrase that. Normalcy is a Procrustean bed and quite arbitrary at times. (I have noticed more and more Aspergers Syndrome characters in the popular fictions in media - not to mention classic autism, so I am actually witnessing a redefinition of  “normal “ within a sphere of behaviors I have become very familiar with of necessity.


As for the ‘will to “ element - isn’t that the very fabric of both science and magic (I believe that when what was considered magic becomes scientifically explainable - that is as supernatural an event as experiencing something that is not scientifically possible)


Much L



And another:


I have been mulling over  “duality “ quite a bit in the last 12 months. The reason is because of the class I teach at Portland State - the only class I teach at Portland State, for the Publishing Program, called The Popular Book in America.

I need to digress to explain the nature of my turmoil with  “duality. “


I start the class by telling the wonderful kids who are going into publishing, many of whom are literature majors, that in order to understand my class they have to forget everything they have read and been taught about what makes literature great and good. I am going to show them what sells. Now, there are times when what sells is actually good literature. But that is not always the case. We start the term discussing very dangerous subjects that every  “American “ likes to read and talk about: religion and politics. We then cover the kinds of literature that is considered frivolous, or material catering to our ‘material “ appetites, or material to what some would call our base nature.


I believe that there is a formula for the popular book but no one has found it yet. But the answer lies somewhere wherein dualities meet…. So a good editor has to look at every prospective novel not through the lens of how well written it is, but does it appeal to that duality - or any of the dualities.


Politically - we love our heroes - Lincoln, Washington, the founding fathers - but we are also fascinated with those who  “screw “ people to get to where they are going: we enjoy reading scandalous literature our leaders, seeing their sinful side. Again, the editor must look for this kind of thing. Scandals and hero worship, again, come to us from other places.


Now, where Americans really are distinct is in our love of the how-to-do-it yourself book - and its dualistic opposite, business books that tell you how to get others to do work for you so you can be rich.


Where Americans show something of a wonderful side is our exultation of the pathetic story - that’s why Dickens was so well received here, perhaps even more than in England - and the opposite, the side splitting humorous story - and this is very distinct to the American reader: i.e. Mark Twain…. Again, the duality.


So, where I am wrestling - is there a way to discover the kernel of this duality. Where does the zygote split? Where is the torso from which the legs and arms and head come forth?


I see duality as a part of the universe - but what I’m afraid of is that in fact, duality is a construct. A man made bridge, not a log across the river, as it were.


Any thoughts?



Narayana Guru asserted that everyone is enlightened at least once in awhile, but we downplay it in favor of the big exciting stories that are told about famous saints. We compare ourselves to them and look ridiculous by comparison. Instead, we should know that we are also sparks of the Absolute, and equally worthy in our own curious, unflashy way. So yes, enlightenment is normal. Then again, we only recognize it after the fact. While we are in a temporary state of enlightenment we won’t be doing any self-assessment. The minute you think you’re enlightened it goes away.

 After claiming it is normal to be enlightened part time, I’d like to also agree with you that normalcy is highly elusive. One of the most important things I taught my kids was there is no such thing as normal. Because of that they were more free to be themselves, though the rest of society is always yelling Be Normal! and that gets more attention than some lousy dad. Normal as a static position is a fiction—even a devastatingly negative fiction. Normal as a general condition, on the other hand, includes most of us most of the time. A lot of the joy of yoga comes from opening our eyes to how astounding the  “ordinary “ world actually is. All we have to do is look: it’s already the greatest miracle that could ever be.

Peace, Scott



Balance - yes, therein it is. I love the biggest lesson of yours in this to me is that duality, itself, as an opposite - that being Absolute. I have tried to get my students to understand that, as editors, they must see fiction as popular, i.e. it sells, or unpopular, it doesn’t sell - and let others decide if it literature that is good for you or not. Yes, I want my students to have their own mission statements, but I want to open their eyes to the fact that publishing requires money and that this will come if they pay attention to what sells. They all want to publish the great books - and I love that idealism - but they must understand that there is a practical side to the game in they are getting into.


Balance - yes, therein it is - find what is popular, find what is trashy, but that is also good. In a sense, that is where Dickens excels as a novelist, isn’t it!



 We can wrestle with duality till the black and white cows come home, but it will always be one step ahead of us!

 One thing we try to iron out here at the Gurukula is that it’s not that the Absolute is good and duality is bad. Both go together. You can’t have a universe without duality. Where we go wrong is when the connection between the opposites is obscured and forgotten. Dualities arise together, but then we get caught in liking one side and hating the other, fighting one side and embracing the other, and then we spin out of control. The wisdom lies in always bringing in the opposite pole to balance your current position. You can’t have good without evil any more than you can have up without down, so trying to be good is a fool’s errand.

 In relation to your subject, much popular fiction (poppy fic) is awful, but nonetheless it brings pleasure to people, exercises their brains somewhat, and provides a living for some folks who make and sell the books. And so on. We need to know all the pros and the cons—which are not always commensurate, by the way. That’s likely what you do in your class, too, in striving to give a complete picture.

 Unitive action is when we can accept the whole story, with all its pros and cons, and forge ahead without getting caught up in trying to figure out exactly where we fit into it. If we go forth in ignorance, we are bound to crash into things, but if we have a balanced knowledge base we can proceed nimbly, with expertise.

  The duality you are confronting in your class is idealism vs. practicality. If you're catching on to our vertical vs. horizontal scheme, idealism is vertical while practical matters are horizontal. Mostly we deal with duality only on the horizontal plane, while the vertical is unitive, but the really tough nuts to crack are those where the different frames of reference clash. In any case, the sides have to be integrated. Your students should cherish their idealism but understand they are learning to address practical matters in a  “how to “ class. You aren't teaching them to love literature, they already do! What you can teach is how to retain the idealism while wading into the everyday details.

  As you know, idealism doesn't print books, and pure pragmatism always dives to the lowest common denominator. Only when they stand together does excellence appear. Probably making this clear at the outset would help your students to better come to grips with their situation.

  It reminds me of a favorite Moroccan proverb: Trust in Allah, but tie your camel first.

Peace and chaos,



Part VI

And one more from Susan:


Thanks for the class notes (both parts) and for class. Many times today, I have considered my attitude and my expectations — what are my expectations right now? Am I making assumptions and setting myself up for disappointment or even irritation? Am I participating in this activity with my whole being? This attitude [makes what I do] a fun adventure and I felt less pressured and also less self-critical, which is always good.


I liked what you and Nitya said about  “Karma’s stain. “ I well know that  “bitterness “ and disappointed feeling of not getting what I am expecting and it can really ferment in my psyche and my gut. The study of Vedanta has been a great way for me to free myself of many of these feelings. It is such a relief to realize how unnecessary it is to bind oneself with expectations. But of course it’s not always easy to remember this. Examples abound when I am driving (Cheers, Anita!) and I forget to be in the present moment. If I go down the road expecting every driver to be courteous and sane and expecting my tires to stay inflated at all times and expecting nothing to delay me, then I will inevitably be disappointed and frustrated at times. If, however, I go down the road, with my destination in mind and an attitude of alertness and openness, things will go better all around.


As to your second note, I don’t find the same dualism that you do in Nitya’s words about fulfilling God’s will. Now that I have reconstructed my notion of God, I think of the idea from the first mantra -- that god is everything and we are all one -- so that being an instrument of God just means that you are a wave, forming within the vast, divine ocean. The words themselves are dualistic, I suppose, but that’s just how this study is — it’s back and forth. We feel the oneness (unitive and vertical) and then we read and study and figure it out intellectually (dualistic and horizontal) and then at times we dip back into the ocean. I guess this is kind of what you said too.


You say,  “We should bring ultimate knowledge into the relative as far as we can, but I don't believe it will ever convert all of it to unity. It is fair to accept some limitations and compromises when there is no alternative. We also need to let it all hang out and play our instruments without inhibition sometimes, without limitations or compromises. “


It is all so Catch 22ish, isn’t it? As individuals, we are pulled toward trying to understand the divine as we are pulled toward discovering our dharma. We have to be both separate and all one to do both of these things. If we try to understand the divine and we describe that, poof! goes the divine but then the oneness will be more possible at another time. And when that oneness happens, definitions have all disappeared. Back and forth. Or something like that.





Part VII

         John H and I continued to play verbal tennis, including a revelation well worth sharing:


I was taught to think that  “I shall not want. “  Not getting that  “I shall not want “ means actually, I shall not be without.



What happened to me was self-will run riot. Since I was not allowed to want, I said, oh heck with you guys - and wanted with attitude.

Like that did me a lot of good.  Not.


[The quote is from a Biblical high point, the beloved 23rd psalm.]


Exactly—sometimes a little misunderstanding when we're young amplifies into full-blown confusion. Before long we internalize it and by the time we're adults we don't realize it's still sitting in our psyches and wreaking havoc.

  That's so perfect: I wonder how many other kids misread  “I shall not want”? I think you've hit a key place many of us wander off the path, turning a reassurance that all our wants are supplied by the plenum into an admonition to actively repress our natural needs and wants, including our curiosity. Wow. And then of course we do the opposite of what we think we were told—which is the natural rebounding of a thwarted spirit—and want wantonly.

  Excellent! We may have to go to a part VII here.



Love is definitely the beginning of wisdom. When we love, we are mindful. Not necessarily in control - and I, for one, can't even control myself. But when things work for me in the love/wisdom department, at least I can identify what I'm feeling, thinking, etc. That sometimes gives me just a wee bit of control. Sort of like being able to call out Rumpelstiltskin and having a little control over the critter.  I guess to name a thing is to have some power over it  - though I'm not sure  “power” is the right word - although don Juan and don Genaro liked to play around with those words - or was that just Castaneda.




[Carlos Castaneda passed off his literary creations as factual in an amusing series of books that won him a large following. One theme was obtaining personal power with the aid of plant medicines and other mysterious “allies.”—RST]



         So great to have all your comments and contributions. I've had a lot of positive feedback about it. Even dear Peggy has just weighed in:


S/D: Inspired by the many lively exchanges and contemplations

you so generously send out into the world for consideration.

Much love, grace and gratitude, Peg





Honking chaos plagues my mind

as billions chatter as if blind.

This screeching torment drives me mad

until I find the cave.





In hidden forests where I dwell

beyond the pus of city swell,

I lie beneath the river's flow

and feel the waters cleanse my soul.





Motionless, I hear the rain,

content to listen and maintain

my quiet perch upon this stone.

My hair is soaked but I am home.



Mantra 2 (new)


Performing your apportioned duties,

claiming no agency of action,

desire to live a hundred years of blessedness.

Nothing else is expected of you.

Be assured, no stain of action

will cling to the person in you.


It’s highly gratifying to have had such an enthusiastic response to the Isavasya Upanishad classes! It is a real gem, with a vast amount of wisdom compressed into a tiny, multifaceted jewel.

         The Isa demonstrates that Nataraja Guru is right is claiming that what is now orthodox was traditionally heterodox and vice versa. Today withdrawal and escape is the norm in much of spirituality, but the Gita and the Upanishads, at least, advocate an enlightened engagement with an active life. We are only counseled to escape from traps and mental dead ends, so that we can be more effective participants in the miracle of existence. That is the truly orthodox position, one that is so often treated as weird and unspiritual these days.

         Nitya mentions the ordinary impulse of beings is to respond to provocations by either fighting or fleeing to safety. Provocations are meaningful interactions, both positive and negative. As the Gita makes clear, neither response is optimal: we need to find a middle ground where we can stand firm.

         Fighting having been essentially banned in the civilized social setup, the only ordinary option left is to flee. Since there are few remote places left on the planet to run away to, most people retreat into a well-defended inner state. Hiding behind layer after layer of barricades and peeking out from behind them provides a measure of comfort in a scary, inexplicable world. Several class members lamented how their families are uncommunicative or even openly hostile to attempts at communication. Once a person becomes accustomed to their padded cell, they will aggressively resist any incursion that has the potential to remove the barriers. It leaves their would-be rescuers perplexed that their high-minded efforts to establish healthy communication have been rebuffed, and are even treated as inexcusable transgressions. Chances are they will respond by retreating themselves, sliding into a downward spiral of pulling back.

         The surprising thing is that a few of us have dared to step out from our barriers and keep reaching out to our loved ones, breasting significant resistance. Brenda had a lot of excellent advice to offer on the subject. She intuitively realizes that you can’t just confront someone and knock the barriers aside, you have to very gently and kindly invite them out one tiny step at a time, rewarding each incremental improvement with reassurance and love. Even so, there may come a moment when the person feels dreadfully exposed, leaps back, and brands their rescuer as an unbearable threat to their peace of mind. We have to be prepared for plenty of disappointment in this game! It helps to have strong self-confidence, knowing in advance that our well-intentioned efforts may be resented as hostile incursions.

         Brenda offered a perfect example of enlightened instrumentality, in a family with very strong barriers. Due to the dominance of her adoptive mother, her adoptive father has been estranged from his oldest son, and hadn’t seen him at all for seven years. The father is now 85, and was recently admitted to the hospital with a life-threatening illness. Brenda, seeing a chance to repair a longstanding wound, phoned the son and appraised him of the situation without alerting the mother. The son drove six hours straight to visit his father, who was thoroughly amazed to see him coming into his sick room. The reunion may well have been a factor in the father’s surprisingly fast recovery and release from the hospital.

         No one but Brenda was both compassionate about the situation and free enough to dare to countermand the matriarch’s dominance. Her family is typical in deferring their own freedom to a fantasy of an idyllic afterlife, combined with the pleasure of picturing all those outside the fold roasting in agony in the fires of hell. It takes a brave soul like Brenda to stealthily inject occasional doses of love into such a concoction, one who is able to withstand the animosity it engenders.

         I used to imagine that everyone was dying to come out into the open, so I employed a heavy hand to topple barriers, coupled with a yank to bring friends out from behind them. After years of noting how that approach usually produces a rebound of resistance, I have come to admire Brenda’s more appropriate style much more. I will probably always remain a “bull in a china shop,” but hopefully a kinder, gentler one.

         Brenda’s action was what the Isa refers to simply as “performing your apportioned duties.” There is no outside “apportioner” anywhere. Brenda herself is the one who knew what was needed and what was possible. It was apportioned to her because no one else could or would do it. Nitya puts it this way:


Actually the command [to act appropriately] comes from “this”, the world at large. You are only lending the instrumentality of body, mind, energy and know-how to carry out the command as one who is given a role to play in the sportive arena of nature.


As unique individuals, all of us are in that position all the time, although our opportunities to do something as dramatic as Brenda are relatively rare. Nitya leads us from this realization to an important corollary:


If a person has the normal physical consciousness of sense perceptions, reflex actions, and the urge to act or react, action situations will recur from the day of birth until their vital breath is silenced with death. Hence in the second mantra of Isavasya Upanishad we are told that for a sentient being there is no vacation from action.

   Does this mean that every living person has to be a creature of suffering exposed to inevitable action situations to the very end of life? Only the action is inevitable. To suffer or not suffer is your choice.


Paradoxically we hide out because it offers immediate relief from suffering. It is tragic that humans have constructed a world where misery is its prime feature, instead of delight and joy. Unfortunately, many of the palliatives for suffering are exceedingly dangerous. Brenda’s birth brother became addicted to heroin as an escape from his travails. Groups who hide behind bitterness, exclusivity, hatred and other mental barriers are as severely damaged as drug addicts or alcoholics. Seekers of distraction can turn anything into an addiction: extreme or excessive sports, television (screens), or even something as benign as reading books. I have known people who did nothing but read. They had their artfully crafted worlds that were much more satisfying than dealing with actual people, and they just stayed in them. Meditation or other spiritual practices can act as a drug, too. The Isa begs us to screw up our courage and come out into the light, to share our love with our fellow beings, to try hard to implement what is sometimes called the kingdom of heaven on earth. No crutches are needed, just an open—but not too tender—heart.

         That we choose to relate to life as suffering or not is a challenging notion, because we have been emasculated to feel like hapless victims of our afflictions. Buddha was heavy on life as suffering, and he has convinced many people, but to me that’s really unfortunate. He was raised as a prince, screened off from the harsh realities of life outside the palace walls, which served even better than mental barricades to keep him ignorant and cloistered. When he made his escape, his sudden awareness of the widespread suffering in the world shocked him so that he never got over it. We are like him (if we are lucky) in having been sheltered from the storm for a period in childhood, but at some point we have to leave the fairytale world and confront the inescapable gap between ideals and actualities. The higher calling for many of us is to act upon those actualities to lessen their horror, to possibly even convert them to wonder and delight.

         If we think of life as a vale of tears and the domain of suffering, we will keep our barriers strong and remain closed off in many ways, even though we probably picture ourselves as open and enlightened. By contrast, the Upanishadic idea of life as a miracle to be embraced makes us eager to welcome it and give it our best effort. Although even many Gurukulas are slipping into escapism, the core motivation of its founding geniuses is to dismantle the barricades and become expert in living well while helping our fellow creatures to do the same. Such high ideals can inform any and all dharmas, imparting affirmative meaning to our life no matter who we are.

         I used to dread upcoming events, sure they would be boring or otherwise excruciating, but almost always found them to be fun or at least educational when they actually happened. Somehow I had a predilection toward suffering I had been indoctrinated into, and it took decades to get over. I have finally come to be optimistic that each coming moment will be an opportunity to express my life in new and challenging ways. Now I welcome them as chances to learn and grow. It's very exciting!

         This reflection was inspired by Jan’s account of visiting her mother, who lives quite far away from her. Jan would like her relationship to be different in some respects, and she doesn’t share the same interests as her mom, but she overcame her reluctance and opened herself to go along with her mother’s program. Her example was her mother’s sport of horse and buggy obstacle course racing, which Jan is not excited about. She went to the track reluctantly, but then she got into it, and helped her mother plan the course, and took pictures for her as she went through it. Jan wound up having a fine time, and it undoubtedly furthered their relationship.

         So, what does it take to have an optimistic, alert attitude, in place of the bored, disinterested, or supercilious poses we have been trained to put on? We learn through the brain’s reward system. If you try out a more positive attitude, you will get rewarded in many ways, both personal and in empathy with those who are benefited by your reaching out. But if you keep padding the barriers, spending your energy in remaining well defended, it will give enough illusion of reward to keep you imprisoned for a whole lifetime. Often it is only the immanence of death that finally breaks through our defenses and prods us to come out. It would be much better if we started to wake ourselves up sooner than that.

         And where do we find our inspiration? It boils down to lila, to life being treated as a sport. Paul and Brenda find the best mentors are young children who have not yet been forced to retreat into themselves. As Tagore wrote: “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.” They keep being delivered filled with wonder and exuberance.

         Paul’s guru moment of the past year was seeing a toddler in love with the simple grass in a field. His parents tried to pick him up and “make him behave,” but all he wanted was to get back down on the ground on see and touch that amazing green stuff. Paul was reminded how when we see with a fresh mind, even the most mundane aspects of the world are infinitely enchanting. We lose that capacity, often without realizing it, but children can always remind us of it. Being open to the newness of the moment is the best meditation, one we should practice “without vacation.”

         Brenda is blessed to spend a lot of time with children of various ages, and she is someone every parent should want to emulate. She related many delightful stories of playing with and learning from her little friends. It may be inevitable that we lose our spontaneity sooner or later in a world as complex and chaotic as ours, but then we can learn to find it again, and keep its light alive in our hearts. Children are the perfect exemplars of lila. They are here to play. As they “grow up” they will grudgingly learn that playtime is limited, and may even come to defer it to after death, but that should be seen as a tragedy to be mitigated. Too many adults want to extinguish that gentle light as quickly as possible, and take every opportunity to snuff it out. Let us instead relight our own candle, and not keep its light hidden any longer. This is supposed to be fun! As Nitya says of lila:


This is life. Accept it. Do not think you can run away from it…. When the game is over, sportsmen come off the court and embrace their counterparts. A good rival is the best friend who has hit every nerve in you. You admire your enemy. When you go back home you do not carry a grievance. The action has not left any bitterness in your mouth.


Coming to feel the throb of this liberating awareness in our whole being is the invitation we are given by the rishis of the Upanishads.


Scott Teitsworth