Nitya Teachings

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Isa Upanishad, Mantras 3-7

2/28/12

Mantra 3 (old)

 

Those worlds named godless are covered

with blinding darkness. Whoever are the

people who are slayers of the Self, they

go, when they are dead, into those worlds.    

 

         The third mantra provides a little extra incentive, in case we aren’t yet adequately motivated in our search for understanding and liberation. Deb began our excellent class by comparing its import to Patanjali’s opening gambit, where we are directed to bring our mental modifications to a state of stillness. There is what Nataraja Guru would call a note of severity, as in his Gita where he says, “a bad disease needs a drastic remedy” (121).

         Those of us raised in the shadow of the harsh judgmentalism of the Semitic religions tend to think that messages like these are aimed at those bad other people who cause all our problems. Nitya adroitly redirects our focus to ourselves, where the real work has to take place.

         The Isa Upanishad is a dialectical masterpiece. Rather than rejecting the darkness and barreling willy-nilly toward the light, the two aspects of life are to be equalized, brought into harmonious relation. Nitya hints at this with his opening image, comparing a moth that surges heedlessly toward its destruction in brightness with a planet rotating its faces alternately toward and away from the light of its star. Despite the fact that the sun is the first cause of all earthly life, it has to be experienced from a distance or we would be instantly vaporized.

         Somehow we have to balance our aspirations to perfection and purity with an honest appraisal of our present position. It is easy to exaggerate one side or the other. We may come to think of ourselves as holier than we are, or we might rue our shortcomings so much that we never make progress. Yogis, like Goldilocks, have to find the porridge of self-esteem that’s just right: neither too hot nor too cold.

         The lesson here is that the ghosts of experience—memories or vasanas—can be either beneficial or destructive of our well-being. Somehow we have to redirect our attention to something greater, the One Beyond that puts our petty pace into proper perspective. Nitya exhorts this in a classic way:

 

As we grow older and older, we become more and more ghost-infested. These ghosts of the past give content to one’s personal identity, with the pockmarks of the memory of past experiences. What we usually consider as ourselves is only a shadow of the Self. In Vedanta it is called a perverted or freak self-identity. Thus from childhood we learn to hug and endear ourselves to a false identity through a series of misunderstandings.

 

By the way, the petty pace reference is to Macbeth, in a breathtaking soliloquy, that we can take as a paean to how life can be devastated by the ghosts of  “all our yesterdays”:

 

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

(Act 5, Scene 5, 19-28)

 

Unlike the unhappy Scotsman, we are given an opportunity to break free of “dusty death” if we can shrug off our foolishness and give up our infatuation with false identities. Not an easy task, but considering the alternative an excellent option.

         A superficially appealing option in the “be here now” mode is to reject all memories and strip the psyche back to a tabula rasa of emptiness. For those who hate and reject this world, that is an available technique. But most of us cherish and love our life, and only want to make it as beautiful as we can. If we relinquish the first few layers of our self-absorption, there is still plenty left of great value. This can give joy to others and instill a sense of purpose into our life at the same time.

         Susan gave a great example of why we shouldn’t simply discard our memories. All of us have periods of dissatisfaction or even painful struggles with our close family members, but if we recall to mind the wonderful times we have shared with them in the past it reminds us to love them even as we are being hurt, or not getting our way. It helps us to keep our arms open, instead of becoming polarized and negative ourselves. So our deeper memories help ground us, keep us from simply reacting to the present moment, and furnish the overall context in which we love and care for each other.

         Jan talked about how emotions also provide us with a meaningful context. Like memories, we sometimes imagine we are supposed to reject our emotions also. It now is coming to be appreciated that emotions are the brain’s shorthand, a way of compressing a large body of information into a feeling, which enhances our flexibility and expertise. Where slowly reasoning through a linear argument takes a long time, our brain compresses the data into an emotion, which gives us an “intuitive” reading of the situation we are in. As with anything, there are intelligent and useful emotions, and negative, reactive ones based on fear, and part of our work is to promote the former and heal the latter. Experts work at the accelerated pace of keen emotions, but people can just as often become trapped by their emotions and remain stuck, psychologically constipated.

         Deb remembered dream expert Stanley Krippner talking about his work with soldiers suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). They had done terrible things in the war, and then kept dreaming about them, torturing and battering themselves. Stanley suggested they direct their dreams to not simply replay the terrible events, but to have a better outcome. They might apologize to their victims, or resolve to change their ways in the future. Some were able to do this, and it helped relieve the symptoms of their PTSD.

         In a sense we all have at least mild PTSD, and we are more or less frozen in a static image of ourselves as a defense mechanism. The yoga we are incorporating into our lives aims to lift us out of the miasma that unresolved traumas have led us into. As with a planet that rotates through light and darkness, we need to face our dark side part of the time, and turn to the light part of the time, in order to effect a lasting cure.

         Brenda has taken this to heart in her life. The example she shared was of missing her grandmother’s death because she was rushing to something else and didn’t take the time to stop in to see her. She didn’t know she was dying, but not going to visit her could have been a cause for regret anyway. Many people are hard on themselves with regrets of all kinds. Brenda used the remorse she felt to resolve to be as present as possible with people whenever she could. It’s beautiful to see how she turned a seemingly negative into a powerful positive, with a measure of inner resolve. Now Brenda is a compassionate bearer of light to the ill and the dying, and to the healthy living as well. Because she admitted to herself that she had missed an opportunity, she resolved to do better next time, and she consistently has. Hers is a terrific example for all of us, and it demonstrates how we can direct our renewed sense of purpose in many different ways.

         After relating a spectacular and edifying joke of his own invention, Nitya sums up the purport of this mantra, that we have to be very careful not to get caught up in limiting self-identity:

 

When we assume the agency of an interest, we identify ourselves with the requirements of that specific context and forget our original and unchanging reality. On all such occasions we become the marauders of our Self. The rishi calls such people atmahanah, killers of the Self.

  Although we are fully qualified to remain awake to our imperishable reality in the eternal present, we degenerate into a cyclic event that perpetuates the process of becoming.

 

Anyone still with us in these studies knows the Gurukula isn’t about sipping sweetness and light while ignoring the complex realities that perturb our soul. Both darkness and light are integral to a holistic philosophy.

 

 

For Isa 9 (is it?)

Those who imagine a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow are wrong. Those who gloat that the rainbow is meaningless because there is no pot of gold at the end, are even more wrong.

 

Part II

Dipika actually wrote this before reading the class notes, but it fits perfectly:

 

had to share this piece of epiphany....

listening to a really nice track about missing someone and immediately it takes us back to our own memories...

so here's how you deal with it...

not by switching it off or getting maudlin or drowning it with drugs or alcohol

but understanding that the one who has composed it...has gone through the same emotions.

so you are not ALONE...the whole world and humanity is in this with you

here’s where ONENESS and UNITY is so obvious

 

this goes for anything that brings up memories

 

memories are usually defunct emotions unless they help with day to day survival

 

every moment is new...as everything including you in it are different

 

Later she added:

just clarifying what i mean by defunct...dead and destructive emotions that hinder a positive approach

 

3/6/12

Mantra 3 (new)

 

There is a demonic world

enveloped by darkness, confused.

The marauders of the Self

go into it, dead in Spirit.

 

         A nearly full moon shared a crystal clear night sky with Jupiter and Venus, inspiring a class of warm and intense sharing, almost as though they were participating with us.

         Bill reminded everyone that the note of dread in this mantra serves the purpose of directing us toward the light. All too often in religion the negativity becomes an end in itself, because the ego enjoys it. Plus, there is the added bonus of diverting attention from our own failings. Turning the arrow of interest back onto ourselves is a major challenge. It requires detachment from the absurd play of obvious stupidities we may see around us. As long as we are mesmerized by them, we—knowingly or unknowingly—can continue to avoid the real issues that are the keys to our own evolution. The Isa Upanishad is intended to lead us out of that darkness and back into the light.

         The most important thing for us to understand is that distinguishing the Self from the non-Self, or the light from the dark, is a very subtle business, and we are easily lured off the track. Everyone imagines they are seeking the light and finding it too, including dictators and mass murderers, and not excluding any of us. The Gita expresses the inversion that a yogi has to make: “What is night for all creatures, the one of self-control keeps awake therein; wherein all creatures are wakeful, that is night for the sage-recluse who sees.” (II, 69) It’s amazing that the light looks dark to us, and the dark is so alluring, but that’s the fix we’re in (pun intended).

         I asked at the outset of the class for the criteria by which we can differentiate wisdom from ignorance, and it formed the basis for the evening’s discussion. This is a matter for serious contemplation. I’ll add the Bhagavad Gita’s expert summation in a second installment.

         Jan set the tone by asserting that the sense of oneness, of being akin to everyone and everything around us, lies at the heart of wisdom. She noted how we are struck first by our differences, but then if we can consciously add in the missing part, that we are all part of a unified system, it has a tremendous effect in mitigating the misery we might otherwise feel.

         Several people noted that problems are ever-present. They don’t go away, and we can’t make them go away. They are invitations to teach ourselves to reverse the ordinary perspective and see the light within the darkness and vice versa. As Nitya puts it, “You are trained in the world through a series of opportunities given to you to exercise your questioning faculty, your attention and recall faculty, your faculty of discernment and judgment, and ultimately your faculty to react with pleasurable acceptance or painful avoidance.” Note that this is another description of the antakarana, the fourfold structure of the psyche according to Vedanta: the questioning faculty (manas), comparison with memory (citta), intellectual selection of the best fit (buddhi), and value affectivity or ego (ahamkara).

         Nitya adds the optimistic note that we are being directed to the Self, to Isvara or the Absolute, as the corrective to our tendency to wallow in darkness. We are trapped in a nightmarish hall of mirrors, and as long as we keep butting our heads against them we cannot escape. The trick of this puzzle is to turn to the wisdom of the Self. Whether this eventually acts as a corrective on the outer world is an open question, but it most definitely is a corrective for what ails us.

         Keeping the focus on ourselves was reiterated throughout the evening, because we so easily slide into condemning others for the faults highlighted here. Narayana Guru gave us the inimitable image of the yogi sitting under the jungle tree, whose twining creepers threaten to bind them fast to the thick trunk. They have to stay alert to not be caught, even as they remain centered in contemplation. They don’t lose their cool and freak out about the creepers, or blame their state of mind on them: they are simply the normal course of existence, part of nature. Nonetheless no Self-respecting yogi is going to let themselves be caught by them! They want to stay free to move about when so inclined.

         Nitya does not make light of the drastic note struck in the third mantra:

 

Success or failure depends on your proximity to your inner brightness or your unfortunate alienation from it. When you walk away from the central core of the light of the world, you stumble in darkness. Various kinds of dangers are there waiting for you with their tragic mouths open. Mistakes never come alone. A small mistake leads you to a grave mistake, and a grave mistake to a still more serious mistake, until you find that you are in a blind alley from which a reverse is not possible. The Isavasya Upanishad calls it the path of the demonic. If you are not clever enough to steer past it, you will be so alienated from Self-knowledge that you will become verily a spiritual suicide (atmahanta). Not to know even the shimmering of your Self is as bad as murdering your Self. One becomes lost when one goes into the deep dungeon of death without having a single positive wish in one’s mind….

  Love wisdom and you will gain it some day. Or, if you forgo your chance and indulge in darkness, you have to wander around in the labyrinth until you meet with a gentle and kind soul who may lead you back to the path of wisdom.

 

The real kicker is that when we get entangled enough in the labyrinth of our blindness, we resist anything that might lift us out of it. When the ego sees the other as threat, it has a built in device to block out all helpful suggestions from it. Then it really has brought itself to a dead end. Unless a firm resolve is taken to extricate ourselves from the pit, it becomes our final resting place.

         This is not some rare and abstract philosophy: examples of this kind of disaster are everywhere. We live in a social setup that despises reflection on the Self and instead offers us an endless series of ineffective and costly palliatives. Many of them are highly addictive, and addiction follows Nitya’s schematic exactly: “A small mistake leads you to a grave mistake, and a grave mistake to a still more serious mistake, until you find that you are in a blind alley from which a reverse is not possible.” We may think, “I am medicating myself to ease the pain of dealing with these idiots.” And it works, it works! Except that it doesn’t cure, it only obscures. So then we need another dose of forgetfulness. Very quickly we forget who we are.

         This isn’t only about drug addiction. We have a bountiful array other indulgences to help us block out the fear we have of our own Self. Psychologist Stanislav Grof talks about how even psychiatry as it’s currently constituted often acts as a buffer against realization:

 

Around the world people are going through crises that are potentially transformative. Unfortunately, the way psychiatry works today, there’s a tendency to stop anyone from going through such a crisis. But if we properly supported these people, the crises could lead to personality changes that would make it more likely for humanity to survive, because we could work through a lot of the aggressive and self-destructive impulses that we are acting out on a large scale. (Sun Magazine, August 2009, p. 11.)

 

Amen. The theme here is that our problems have to be faced in ourselves, rather than projected onto the world, if we want to break free of them. Otherwise they are continually reflected back in our face, as if from outside, and since we never consider their source we cannot undergo that transformative experience. Granted, it’s stressful and even terrifying, but we are fortunate to have the support of the wise teachers of history. They may not be here in person with us, but their words have been preserved to give us the courage to dare to become our real selves.

         John told us about a lecture last week by Sebastian Junger, a journalist and war correspondent, who talked about the camaraderie of a group of soldiers he covered in Afghanistan. Being thrown together in life-threatening situations helps people to overcome their reluctance to face life directly, and fosters mutual support. Reporters and psychologists have wondered for centuries at the paradox of people becoming most alive when they are in a war or other hostile setting. The immanence of death is one of the experiences that is intense enough to galvanize us to overcome our complacency. But in theory, at least, a yogi can provide their own galvanic shock based on a simple desire for liberation. Why wait until we are stuck in a dead end and the evening mail train is bearing down on us at full throttle? We can be proactive and get off the tracks.

         Humans are very comfortable banding together in groups to fight, because we’ve been doing that for millions of years. If we are to survive, though, we need to evolve to a posture where we realize we are all on the same side. The enemy can no longer be another group that is slightly different from us in race, creed or color—at least, if we want to solve our problems rather than perpetuate them. We have to move out of the tribal mindset of our team against the next one, because it’s a snare and a delusion, albeit a tempting and even a superficially logical one.

         According to the Gita, the enemies we have to fight are desire, greed and anger. That is our own desire, greed and anger. I’ll include that section, plus the promised part where wisdom is spelled out, as Part II.

         In summation, the Isavasya Upanishad recommends a serious and intentional program to extricate ourselves from ignorance and embrace wisdom. The deeply ingrained Western notion of some mother or father figure taking care of us, some messiah riding to our rescue, or a wise ruler who is informed by God making our decisions for us, is not shared by the core works of Vedanta. In them we are called to rise to every occasion ourselves, to offer our best, and most of all, to stop being fooled by the parlor tricks of our old friend, Maya.

 

Part II

 

Here’s the promised section of the Gita (XIII, 7-11) listing the qualities of wisdom. Though the bare list is helpful, I have written in detail about them in my comments at http://scottteitsworth.tripod.com/id49.html .

 

7)         Freedom from conventional pride, unpretentiousness, non-hurting, non-retaliating forbearance, straightforwardness, loyal support of the teacher, purity, steadfastness, state of self-withdrawal,

 

8)         detachment in respect of sense interests, absence of egoism, insight regarding the pain and evil of birth, death, old age, and disease,

 

9)         without clinging to, and without intensely involved attachment to (relations such as) sons, wives, (and property such as) houses, and having a constant neutral mental attitude in respect of desirable and undesirable happenings,

 

10)         devotion to Me to the exclusion of everything extraneous, and never straying from the direct path, preference to dwell in a place apart, distaste for crowded living,

 

11)         everlasting affiliation to the wisdom pertaining to the Self, insight into the content of philosophical wisdom—this is declared to be wisdom; whatever is other than this is ignorance.

 

*         *         *

 

         The end of chapter III lists the real enemies we face. So long as we pit ourselves against other people or groups, we will foster our enemies, instead of conquering them. Remember to think of “sin” as whatever leads us into dead ends:

 

36)         Arjuna said:

         Then impelled by what does man lead such a life of sin even against his will, as if forcibly enjoined?

 

37)         Krishna said:

         Such is desire, such is anger, born out of the modality called rajas, all-devouring, all-vitiating; know this to be the enemy here.

 

38)         As smoke shrouds fire, as a mirror (is beclouded) by dirt, as the fetus is enclosed in the amnion, likewise by such is This surrounded.

 

39)         Wisdom is enveloped by this which is the eternal enemy of the wise, remaining in the form of desire, Arjuna, which is a fire that is difficult to satiate.

 

40)         This is said to be lodged in the senses, mind and reason. By means of these, this (desire) bewilders the embodied one by veiling his wisdom.

 

41)         Therefore, mastering first the senses, slay this which is of sin, which can destroy both pure and practical wisdom.

 

42)         It is taught that the senses are great; beyond the senses is the mind, beyond the mind is reason, and beyond reason is That.

 

43)         Thus knowing That to be beyond reason, stabilizing the self by the Self, kill that enemy in the form of desire, so difficult to overcome.

 

Part III

         Wendy is in one of Nancy Y’s online Yoga Sutra groups, and she and a couple of other dear friends share their writing for it with me. Though it’s always great stuff, this time there was a response to the Isa class notes in it, so it seems appropriate to pass it along to you:

 

Greetings.

 

Being bound and being free………. Two sets of norms, and the combination of achieving unity consciousness.

When I am bound, or life is bound, there are so many threads, that like Gulliver, I am staked to the ground in a myriad of ways.

  Bound by my ego’s likes and dislikes, by the limitations of a dense physical world, by social constraints and obligations, by an unruly crowd of thoughts and feelings, by my senses and intellect. All of me is a tangle of threads, which I inhabit from my comfort zone of preferences and known routines, and refer to as ‘my life’, which really has its own agenda, and for the most part rules the roost.

  However, it has more competition now, as I turn more to the norm of freedom; to the realms of spirit. Here I am not bound, and within its quiet space, I can step back at times, when I remember, and become more conversant with both imminence and transcendence.

  This gives me the freedom of choices to see the world afresh, recognize this world of falsehoods, and try to live life in a more balanced and joyful way. We have to live from both sets of norms and it is through reflection, insights, and a magical intuitive knowing, that we are able to establish values and sometimes become one with unity consciousness.

 

As Gulliver I am bound in the world of maya. From this unconscious way of living I act from a cocktail of reason, emotion and habit and from outside pressures, with often no say in the matter. And there are all those ghosts! I was shocked in Isa 1 mantra 3, to read that as we grow older ‘we are ghost-infested’ [Isa 1. Mantra 3]

 

‘As we grow older, we become more and more ghost-infested. These ghosts of the past give content to one’s personal identity, with the pockmarks of the memory of past experiences. What we usually consider as ourselves is only a shadow of the Self. In Vedanta it is called a perverted or freak self-identity. Thus from childhood we learn to hug and endear ourselves to a false identity through a series of misunderstandings.’

 

I thought of all the many ghosts haunting my consciousness from all my many years of life. …..Yet also was aware that some of them are good [positive] ghosts and help me to see how I can do things better and differently. Whereas the bad [negative] ghosts are just hangers-on who give me a hard time. When I stop and am aware of all this, a new dimension of guidance opens up. Here I can untangle myself and live my horizontal life from a wider perspective, bringing in the vertical values of integrity, courage and kindness. Sometimes is so clear and close, like a calm blue sea, and yet many times I am tossed around in a horizontal storm with my navigation in pieces.

 

Later she added some advice:

 

When a ghost arrives from the past, welcome it and touch it lightly with your magic healing wand and wings will appear. Then say [whatever you need to say] and send it off to fly free and not bother you again, as it was only trapped negative energy anyway. This way you will feel so glad and a smile is guaranteed every time you watch it depart.

Also you will yourself become lighter and freer until you too sprout wings and fly away………..!!!!

 

With love from your ghost busting friend,

Wendy

 

PS. Sometimes they try to come back but they are just getting their navigational skills sorted and go the wrong way.

 

3/13/12

Mantra 4 (old)

 

That does not move—the One—swifter

than the mind. This is never attained

by the senses. It is gone before already.

That remains, while running past others.

In that, the vital breath assigns functions.

 

         The last mantra commentary concluded:

 

The third verse of the Isa Upanishad brings you to a table of choices. Love wisdom and you will gain it some day. Or, if you forgo your chance and indulge in darkness, you have to wander around in the labyrinth until you meet with a gentle and kind soul who may lead you back to the path of wisdom. The lesson given in this mantra is grim, but do not give up hope. From the next mantra you are going to be instructed on what the Self is, how you can recognize it, and how to get back on the right track. It is with such an optimistic note that we enter into the fourth mantra.  

 

Having been encouraged to seek wisdom, our attention is directed to the One, the Isa, the Core. By now we must have made our decision, and either cast our lot with unity or turned away toward something else. Presumably, anyone reading these words will have opted for the former.

         The Isavasya Upanishad is a masterpiece of dialectics, of wisdom yoga. In it, contrary ideas are thrust together, almost like the components of an atom bomb being slammed together to produce a critical mass. In the resulting explosion the paradox is annihilated, leaving us floating freely in a state of luminous indeterminacy. In the process we are not lost; by blasting away our familiar assumptions we clear away many obstacles to self discovery.

         This is not something that can be easily described, and it shouldn’t be. Everyone agreed that we are unable to explain to our friends what the class is about, what it means, or what we are supposed to do in response to it. When questioned, we become tongue-tied. As Bill laughingly said, it keeps us from becoming evangelists. The very idea of evangelism produced widespread mirth. How do you enthuse about something that makes you feel fantastic, but is indescribable? “Hey Buddy, have you heard about—I don’t know—this vague thing? It’s really cool. You’ll like it!” or “Join with us in trying to figure out what we’re doing!” or “We are the keepers of the way, except we don’t know the way,” or “We get together to forget what we’re supposed to be doing.” Not too enticing! If the class didn’t feel so uplifting and satisfying, we’d have to be nuts to be attending it. More successful programs than ours, of course, have a ready definition of what they are about.

         One thing we definitely (sort of) agreed on was that by defining what “it” or “That” is, you lose it. The definition is not the Absolute, or the Ishvara, it’s just an idea about it. So the point is not to come up with a superior definition, but to neutralize all static thinking through the application of yoga, in other words, through accepting both horns of every dilemma, and then using them to negate each other. This yoga is a process of deconstruction, so that after we clear away the rubble we can either upgrade our constructs or learn to live sparingly on a very meager diet of them.

         The first impossible paradox we are met with here is the unmoving Absolute that is faster than anything, including thought. How can something that doesn’t move outpace even the speed of light? Only by being everywhere simultaneously. Recall that in relativity as velocity increases time slows down; therefore at the speed of light (the infinite of our relativistic universe) time ceases to unfurl, and a trip from one end of the universe to the other is instantaneous. Amazing but true: anything that moves takes time to get where it’s going, so only something that’s already there can be said to be faster than it.

         The analogy that is often used is the ocean. It is an all-encompassing whole in which many currents, waves and creatures frolic, but no matter what happens it always remains the ocean. It is much more than the sum of all its parts, no matter how clever we might be to make a detailed list. This type of contemplation is the way to blow our minds, to expand them out of their comfortable explanations. As Nitya puts it, “Waves can at no time rush out of water, nor can be currents flow out of it.” Beings made of atoms can only exist within the particulate field, and since we are made of the Absolute, we can never extricate ourselves from that, either. We can convince ourselves that God is dead and life has no meaning, but our highly cogent lives continue to harmoniously evolve with minimal conscious input on our part, because no matter what our beliefs are we cannot absent ourselves from the matrix.

         To the Vedantin, the core field is consciousness. Not consciousness as opposed to unconsciousness; that’s something else entirely. Pure consciousness. We access this ground in small steps as our individuated consciousness expands. Try as we might, we are unable to break ourselves free of it, though the effort helps us to enlarge its ambit. If we claim something is not in our awareness, it is meaningless until we identify what we’ve postulated to be missing. So the nearly universal belief that there is existence outside our consciousness is absurd. It has to be all-inclusive.

         My meditations during class often brought me to an image of a stone dropped vertically into a pond, with ripples spreading out horizontally. John H, who participates from afar, just sent this on reading the mantra commentary:

 

I see, maybe, the image of a pond, that being the universe, and the self being the instant plunking of a pebble in the middle of the pond - and the outward ripples rippling as the immediate plunk of the stone vanishes - and the ripples suggesting that presence of a self but in a union with the water - that is the whole pond - and the senses only being able to pick up just a piece of that action, being limited, and so see only the ripples.

  Sort of like consciousness, generally - and oddly enough, similar to some concepts of time travel.

 

Perhaps he is unconsciously registering our gathering, or we his.

         Our thinking comes in waves (or tiny ripples) that are initiated by contact with the present reality, but then have to be processed and interpreted, after which they recede endlessly into memories, farther and farther removed from their initiation point. But the Absolute is always in the present, so in a sense we can never catch up to it. The Merry Pranksters tried with their youthful energies and vast amounts of stimulation to accelerate into the present, but they never could. Our fate as embodied beings with a brain is to always be one step, or more, behind the moment. F. Scott Fitzgerald expressed the poignancy of our condition perfectly in the last line of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” If we don’t constantly renew and refresh our perspective, we lose touch entirely with the present. We slip so far behind it that we have to make do with a substitute reality of our own making. Once that happens it is as if we are dead, spiritually speaking. Meditation is frequently our best chance to try to recapture the present moment, and to watch intently as our mind grasps one concept after another and is carried into the past.

         The One permeates each of us, and is modified by our mental apparatus—our curiosity, memory banks, intelligence and preferential choices—as it flows toward manifest expression. By the time it reaches our surface consciousness, it has become so individuated as to be almost unrecognizable. Especially by us. We tend to imagine we as an ego are the cause, the source of our direction in life. Unfortunately, that conviction leads us to suppress most of our unitive impulses, and instead (intentionally or unintentionally) follow the lures of the outer world, with all its vested interests and dissipating attractions. We are not enjoined to favor one or the other, but to integrate the two sides, the horizontal and the vertical, our inner guidance and the world’s demands. Doing so is what makes being alive so eternally delightful and challenging. Our ego’s best role is to monitor the integration process, while remaining humble about its place in the game.

         This is what is meant by “the vital breath assigns functions,” a phrase full of mystery that the class wrestled with. Breath is associated with energy, prana, so it isn’t so much the breath as the prana that provides the guidance. Again, this is only accessible thorough meditation, not through pat definitions. The word translated as vital breath, matarisva, is quite curious. It comes from a root meaning mother, whence to parenting, and thus bringing down the divine energies into existence. At the end we get the wind, the breath. It’s exactly the right word for what we have been discussing. It is deeper than prana. It is the inner guide—some would call it the divine Mother—that shapes our life from the moment of conception, literally assigning functions to every part of our being.

         As evidence that John H is either an astute contemplative or telepathic or both, he concluded his note this morning:

 

Hard to put my mind around and embrace, like a loving big mother is for a little boy.

 

This must be the way our inner mother feels, dearly wanting what’s best for her little child, but unable to directly intervene while we struggle to break away and become independent, suspecting what falls and hardships lie in wait, and yet certain that it’s all necessary and absolutely the way things have to be. So poignant!

         Bill made an excellent suggestion at the end. Many in the class feel they don’t consciously retain much of what they hear in it. Bill reads the commentary over again the next morning during his meditation time, and finds that as he does so, passages that were formerly mystifying make more sense. It’s a way for him to recognize the learning that has indeed taken place, and also to solidify some of the more valuable concepts. We pursue an intense focus in our study, and without some review a lot is bound to become fuzzy. And despite the ego’s assurances, forgetting what we’ve learned is not the same as opening ourselves to the present. It’s a popular road, but it doesn’t lead anywhere. It just goes around in circles. You will find, if you read the commentary before and after the class, that you will get something more than a vague sense of well being. It will help jog your memory and stimulate your intellect.

         Hopefully this brings us at least to a beginning of learning, as Nitya promised, “what the Self is, how you can recognize it, and how to get back on the right track.”

 

3/20/12

Mantra 4 (new)

 

Established forever,

although faster than the mind,

the One moves not.

The senses do not find this,

which has gone beyond.

Remaining steadfast, it transcends all.

In that, the energizing nourisher (matarisva)

apportions each one’s appropriate function.

 

         Another amazing gathering, greatly enhanced by the attendance of 96-year-old Katherine, a dear friend of Susan’s. Still clear and sharp, Katherine is getting very close to the Upanishadic ideal of living 100 years at the best of her ability.

         Nitya set the tone with a brief recap of Robert Frost’s Mending Wall, one of the world’s most profound utterances. We are called to confront the walls we have erected inside ourselves to defend our ego from the hostility—both real and imaginary—of its surroundings. Early in life we surrender our personal integrity for a compromise position that placates and serves the society, while allowing us to hide out. It may take many years for the poverty of the exchange to become evident, but seekers eventually come to realize that we have “laid waste our powers,” and that we may have “gained the world but lost our soul.” Once we become aware of this, we begin a program to reclaim our birthright.

         It is readily apparent that if we erect protective barricades around ourself we are cutting ourselves off from the full richness of life. What is less obvious is that we then are forced to substitute our own projections for whatever lies outside our walls. Having shut off our access to it, we are required to invent stories about what it is. As Brenda said, we can’t help but put either a positive or more often negative spin on the reality, neither of which is fair or accurate. Humanity as a whole is currently in a downward spiral of negative projections, which always lead to exploitation and violence. If you simply must project, project positively. But far better is a neutrality wise enough to know that all descriptions are like walled enclosures dividing reality into an inside and an outside, a known from an unknown.

         Because this, our first and greatest hurdle, is such an important issue with dramatic consequences, Nitya shocks us by comparing churches, synagogues, mosques and temples to prisons:

 

The most precious words have always come from the lips of poets. God is conceived as that which cannot be walled in or walled out. Yet we see all over the world different kinds of prison houses made to wall God in and wall people out. In contrast to this, the Upanishadic bard here presents the Self, which is One and cannot be enclosed because it is everywhere. It does not move, yet it is present everywhere without moving. It is this paradox which we have to resolve first.

 

         So we have to find ways to perceive the unity in the midst of multiplicity. Many of you have already watched the woman on LSD in the early days of testing it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=V5d4wWGK4Ig . After several hours of tripping the psychiatrist asks her, “How do you feel inside?” “Inside? I don’t have any inside.” “Is it all one?” “It would be all one if, if, if you weren’t here, and if everybody else…. [changing her mind] Yes, everything is one—you have nothing to do with it. I am one with what I am.” It’s beautiful and touching to watch her realize this truth right before our eyes.

         Moni related an intriguing story she saw on television, about a woman whose body was riddled with cancer and who went into a coma as her death neared. Her family was called to the hospital for the last rites. While unconscious the woman had a vision of meeting her deceased father, who told her that it was not her time to die; she had more work to do. He told her that all her life she had been a “people pleaser,” someone who always put her own needs aside to do what others wanted, and that that had to change. She realized she had to stop living solely at the whims of others so she could at last become her authentic self. She awoke from the coma burning with renewed determination to reclaim her life, and over the next month all her tumors shrank away and disappeared. Her doctors had never seen such a dramatic spontaneous cure at literally the last moment. Needless to say, she has become a motivational speaker, passionately communicating the importance of valuing ourselves equally with everyone else.

         The story resonated with Moni because she has followed a similar course of thinking of herself as a mere servant, or the child of her parents, and she added some important ideas of her own. Our ego, the erector of barricades, has its goals, and pursues them more or less doggedly, whether or not they are in accord with our inner guide, our matarisva. Often we have to be brought low by the failure of our efforts, sometimes even to “rock bottom,” before we give up these inauthentic programs, but in the act of finally surrendering we open the gates for our true abilities to come out. This is something Moni has personally confirmed.

         Our class of “wisdom sacrifice” is intended to produce the same result of converting us from creatures guided by outer forces to ones guided by our best inner impulses. We shouldn’t have to nearly die, or waste years of our life in futile pursuits, or spend thirty years in a cave, or starve ourself in the desert, to come to know this simple truth. We can use our intelligence to figure it out and put it into practice. We can penetrate into our minds in meditation and revisit the place in our child’s psyche where we renounced our Self-assurance in favor of social pressure, and give that neglected part of us reassurances that it is valuable and necessary. This requires sincere effort, not just a nod and a prayer, but Nitya assures us “the one Self whose presence is everywhere is already waiting in patience to bless the seeker with the wisdom they seek.” Our well-directed efforts to open ourselves to the Self are reciprocally met by an all-embracing welcome that is the very essence of our universe. But let’s not strain its patience overmuch: we should get on with our development right now!

 

         Several people noted that some walls are quite valuable, fences for farmers and so on, and mental walls to protect us from deranged people. That’s why Frost tells us to inquire into the need for the walls, because sometimes they are necessary, but we shouldn’t just throw them up willy-nilly. If they serve a purpose, fine. But we have run amok with our fencing, and in the process lost our freedom, our connection to the matarisva, or the Holy Spirit in the Western context. Like removing miles of barbed wire from a prospective wilderness area, it is going to take a concerted effort to rectify our plight. The very first step is to accept that living in isolation is unhealthy. This doesn’t mean we have to always be in the middle of a chaotic, noisy crowd. It’s an attitude we can have while enjoying our tranquility. The Gita gives one of the characteristics of a wise person as “preference to dwell in a place apart, distaste for crowded living.” We just have to accomplish this without recourse to barriers!

         Paul asked semi-rhetorically if society is a good or bad influence, or maybe both, on us. Both, of course, and the class offered several examples. Sharing of wisdom is a plus, but dividing and conquering is a decided minus. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote: “The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said ‘This is mine,’ and found people naive enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society.” He suggested if his neighbors had just pulled up the stakes and said “No it isn’t,” the aristocratic exploitation of the masses might have been headed off at its source. After all these years we aren’t going to be able to personally reverse that fateful collective decision, but we are free to unbind the pastures of our own hearts, and give ourselves more room to roam in them.

         It was apparent that the class as a whole has inculcated these ideas to the degree that they are bearing fruit most beautifully. Everyone spoke, and all contributions were germane and even eloquent. Everyone also listened, and by listening, learned. The group dynamic provided a tide that swept us ahead, or an onrushing wave to join our hearts with. It called to mind another bard, a poet with the gift to dazzle and thrill us, who, like the Vyasa of the Bhagavad Gita, used the metaphor of war to insert these immortal lines:

 

Brutus:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

 

(Julius Caesar, Act 4, scene 3)

 

Before the close I pointed out a beautiful reference to structuralism that Nitya unobtrusively added to his comments. Of the inspiration provided by the One, he says:

 

In spite of multitudinous functions, all the assignments have come from one source which is none other than the one energy that is both in the mind of the structural engineer who designs a dam, a bridge, a road, a tunnel, a cottage or a city, as well as in all the materials that go into the construction to fulfill the dream of the engineer.

 

The one source is of course the vertical impetus to unfoldment. Less obvious is that the engineer’s dream is on the horizontal negative, while the construction materials are represented on the horizontal positive. We often think of the subjective and objective horizontal in a static way, for instance, a bird and our idea of the bird. Here Nitya has made the analogy dynamic. We have creative inspiration we want to make specific, and the universe is so beneficent as to provide everything we need to actualize our visions. This is an underappreciated miracle! Plus it gives us the feedback that if our dreams don’t match the opportunities afforded by the concrete material world, we need to either refine them so that they do, or else look farther for our materials. We are treading in dangerous terrain when our fantasies are overly detached from actuality. But we should take Nitya’s hint and be as creative as possible, while trusting in the “kindness of strangers” to help us actualize our potentials, because it happens. It happens all the time.

 

3/27/12

Mantra 5 (old)

 

That moves, and That does not move.

That is far, and That is near.

That is inside all these.

That is outside all these.

 

         Every so often our class spins its wheels and makes minimal progress, and this was one of those. Nitya invites us in to the vast vision of this mantra with the idea that it is easy to take the world as objective, solid and obvious, and only if we decide to look beneath the surface will we discover that this is not the case, with our classic conceptions being vaporized as if in an atomic bomb blast. The infinite serendipity of our universe is cloaked by veils of habitual thinking, and lifting them requires an intensity of purpose that we just couldn’t muster last night. We’ll try harder next time. Maybe it was an oddball planetary alignment, or the delectable carrot cake.

         Society at large is in the same predicament. Taking the world on first impressions makes selfishness and greed seem plausible and even inevitable. It takes contemplative insight to discern how the whole is interwoven, and act accordingly. When met with popular scorn, the intuitive virtues retreat, leaving the field open to exploiters. Those who are moved by compassion and unitive understanding need to acquire the courage of their convictions, but that task is daunting because the public arena is given over to a mildly “civilized” equivalent of feeding Christians to wild beasts for entertainment. No one is rolling out the red carpet to invite yogic wisdom into the mainstream, even though it is no longer rare. But the motivation is missing, apparently.

         The class did talk about inspiring people in our midst, who exercise care for others in their daily lives. Moni is our poster child, always going the extra mile to help her clients because she cares. Others in similar positions try to prevent people from receiving helpful services, but Moni is an example of how a lot of suffering can be alleviated by a kindly attitude.

         There is a more or less natural impetus in humans to lend a helping hand, and it is in fact separateness that has to be learned. By adulthood we are well trained in it, however, so when greed produces massive destruction and misery, we cling to it all the harder. Like deranged demagogues we believe that ever-greater doses of our favorite bitter medicine will eventually turn the tide, when it is the medicine itself that is the poison.

         Yogic or dialectic reasoning is not likely to filter into everyday affairs in our current state of collective illusion. Nitya succinctly describes its value:

 

Dialectic in its purest form is not logical but mystical. It comes with the flash of an intuitive vision in which both the subject and object become harmoniously interlaced as belonging to a unitive vision, which carries with it the clarity and lucidity of a conviction. This conviction enthralls the self with a sense of wonder and a satisfaction of having solved a tormenting problem. (34)

 

We are indeed tormented by the nagging doubt that separation is beneficial, and realizing its falsity is a great relief. Reconnecting in unity is much more than an idea: it comes to us an overwhelming rush of bliss and joy.

         It could not be more obvious that the Isa Upanishad is based on dialectic reasoning than this mantra. A casual reading doesn’t unite the apparent opposites it presents, you have to dive deep into your imagination. Nitya gives us a terrific hint that time is related to movement, so the first line of the mantra describes time dialectically. When it moves it is called linear time, and when it does not move it is pure duration.

         The second line obviously refers to space, but also, as Nitya points out, to our relationship with knowledge. When we pile brick on brick to make a belief system, we will have to go on building forever before we can properly model the Absolute. If we accept our loving feelings, on the other hand, as equally valid, the Absolute is immediately present and accessible.

         The last two lines equalize the inside and outside. Consciousness is qualitatively different from a body with skin demarcating what belongs to it and what doesn’t. The very idea of a body is subsumed in consciousness. So all together mantra 5 presents us with a time-space-consciousness continuum. Scientists are on the verge of admitting the third term to our familiar time-space continuum, but most still stop short. They have to be cautious, because legitimizing consciousness radically changes everything. We learned in 1905 that classical physics was finished, but we still have to internalize the new paradigm.

         The class probably should have studied some of the complex ideas in the commentary, but we didn’t. How about this sentence:

 

If the anatomy of the structure is a horizontally correlated scheme, the logistics of the function is a causally geared hierarchy of verticalized reciprocity. (36)

 

One of the Gurukula’s primary dialectics is to unite the horizontal and vertical axes. The structure of anything has to be coherent horizontally, in that all the parts work together to make it meaningful. Our world abounds in such horizontal miracles, some manmade and most “accidental” or natural, in which complicated interactions are possible in various assemblies of parts. Without reflection, we tend to take these miracles for granted, but if we investigate we can see how marvelous they actually are.

         The horizontal aspect by itself only gives us a static item, a frozen snapshot. If it moves and changes, that implies time, or a cause and effect relationship, which is graphed on the vertical axis. The “verticalized reciprocity” Nitya speaks of is the coherent relationship of causes and effects, as well as their progressive expression over time. A flower passes through many stages, all of them connected, each leading to the next, and none possible without the full support of its predecessors. None of this simply comes into being on its own, out of nowhere. Therefore, both the horizontal and the vertical aspects are essential to a complete description. Humans captivated by the horizontal can be detoured very far off course if they neglect the vertical.

         Selfishness is horizontal and compassion is vertical. Blending them together in just the right proportion is ideal. The underpinnings of our civilization were laid down by careful thinkers who gave full weight to the vertical as they understood it. They intended to create structures that would persist and thrive through history. The acolytes of horizontality, the market-worshippers and proponents of callousness, are busily making fortunes while smashing those structures, blithely unaware of the suffering they leave in their wake. This is why the gurus, rishis, and kindhearted people of all places and ages are passionate about sharing and nurturing their vision of unity. It is not just abstract wishful thinking. It matters very much indeed.

 

4/4/12

Mantra 5 (new)

 

That does move,

that does not move.

That is very far,

that is very close.

That is inside of everything,

that is outside of everything also.

 

         Pat and Ralph, a couple who attended the Powell’s reading last week, came to check out the class and seemed to find it congenial, as we found them. It’s always a bit of a challenge to change gears to match the Gurukula rhythm, so different from most other venues, at least philosophically, but the two took it in stride.

         The value of pondering each mantra twice proved itself, as we went far deeper into the dialectical purport this time. We came up with some very practical examples of how yoga works in real life.

         Deb began by reminding us that the Chandogya Upanishad is a masterpiece of deconstructionist thinking, where several aspects of the world are broken down into increasingly finer levels, culminating in That, the Absolute, or the invisible essence. At the terminus of each of the Chandogya’s deconstructions is the central dictum of Vedanta: tat tvam asi, That thou art. Despite appearances, That is precisely what we are. Everything is That.

         The theme of Nitya’s commentary is the interplay between the general and the particular, That being the general, and the dialectical pairs of moving/unmoving, near/far, and inside/outside describing the domain of the particular. Last week we noted that these three pairs define a universe consisting of time, space and consciousness. Each specific instance is a “this”, while the generic is the That: the That Alone of Narayana Guru’s Hundred Verses of Self Instruction, among other references.

         Again, That and This can’t stand alone, they both occur together. Religious people favor That and scientists favor This, and get into heated arguments about it. Yogis know that both are simultaneously true. They are dual aspects of the same thing. Arguing is merely proof that you don’t quite get it yet.

         Pared down to the essence, we are shown by the mantra that the Absolute is neither far or near, it is both at once. It is neither moving or unmoving, it is both at once. And it is neither inside or outside, it is both at once. We have to renounce our partisanship, if we are to become liberated.

         The class was challenged to present the ways we think of That as something more than an utterly vague concept. Many people call it God, or Truth. When you do, though, there is a tendency for it to recede into the distance, to seem far away. Despite this, the Bhagavad Gita acknowledges it is easier to conceive of That as personified in some way, as opposed to the philosophical intensity of an impersonal Absolute, though both are the same at heart. Even those of us who prefer the impersonal often include personalized elements, like the things and people we love, and it can be very helpful to “put a face” on That in our meditations. That's the “near” side of the game.

         Resolving these dialectics in synthetic wisdom is important because people get attached to their beliefs. If you believe God is very far off, you will reject the kind souls who feel it is immanent. Likewise, if you believe truth is an outside factor to be discovered through practical experiments, you are likely to reject as crackpots those who insist it wells up from inside. The yogi is called to accept both aspects simultaneously, not as an act of faith but as a convincing outcome of intelligent thinking. From our perspective, faith is not an adequate substitute for contemplation, it is an impediment. It is a way of skipping out of the hard work of meeting the Absolute face to face.

         As Paul led us to see, our brains have evolved to focus on attractive, glittering externals, so we can assess their threat or reward value and then either accept or reject them. The aim is to move from a state of uncertainty to a state of ease, which can and does become static when all the uncertainty has been swept away. We like our habits and creature comforts, and would rather avoid the challenges that arise from penetrating new territory. So we have a thesis of “this” consisting of the things that fill our environment, and an antithesis of mentally identifying the “this” and absorbing it into our current paradigm. Paul lamented that this pair keeps us stuck in place. We reach out to specific things as if they are going to last, and then cry when they fade away. Instead of turning inward, we then look for another specific item that can replace the one that’s gone missing. Because we have so much stuff available these days, it’s possible to continue to believe that just getting the right stuff eventually will fix our problems. Of course it doesn’t, but the ideology of renouncing that vicious cycle is very much marginalized in the modern world.

         The cure the yogi envisions is to evolve beyond the historical mindset that has served us well for hundreds of millions of years. We don’t have to discard it, but we want to add—back in, I should say, because it has always been there since the beginning—the unifying concept of the Absolute. In a sense we are in a struggle with our own habitual and well-entrenched tendencies. With Paul, we find ourselves repeatedly slipping into stasis, and have to call up bursts of intense willpower to break the deadlock. If we don’t supply this from within, life is kind enough—and terrible enough—to provide the incentive from without.

         Susan gave a marvelous example of how the Upanishadic teaching can come home. She had been sitting on the beach and contemplating the ocean, absorbed in the unity of the generic ocean with its endlessly fascinating dance of specific waves on its surface. Then later she attended a play in a crowded theater (oddly, with an ocean-blue tint), and at one point the packed auditorium became a sea of people to her. She felt the mystical unity of the ocean of souls she was surrounded by, and could see how each person was like a wave in that ocean. Her vision was intensely convincing.

         Such an experience has been described repeatedly by the saints and sages of the human species, but everyone agreed that a visceral experience like Susan’s brought the idea home in an undeniable fashion. This is the task, if you will, of the yogi: to bring enough intensity to our contemplation that ideas become real-ized. Not so much that we delude ourselves, but just enough to see really clearly. Realization goes both ways: we perceive the essence in each particular example, and we appreciate the particular as a specific embodiment of the ocean of infinite possibilities. Paul is right though: most often we pay lip service to these ideas and are too lazy to bring our full attention to bear on them. It counts for a lot, however, if we do pull it off even on rare occasions.

         Susan implied that a certain openness allowed her to have that experience. With her admission the dam burst, and everyone spoke of their fears, of the things they overreact to, and how through bringing in rational factors and moving closer to the imagined enemy, they mitigated their need to reject. Anne told of her spider phobia, that she got over by knowing they were harmless in her area and keeping tarantulas as pets for awhile. By contrast, Deb has resolved to never get over her fear of praying mantises, and so she won’t.

         Michael offered the most unusual example, of having been teased by his coworkers and going along with it, only to realize finally that he had been made a fool of. It wasn’t so much fear-inducing as humiliating, but the normal response to pin the cause on an outside influence is similar. We can’t ameliorate our overblown responses until we accept that the exaggerations, at least, are our own predilection. Michael has come far enough in self-realization to not blame his coworkers but use the opportunity to investigate himself. He realized it was his ego’s embarrassment at being exposed rather than any maliciousness on the part of the other people involved that was the source of his upset. He corrected himself and avoided blaming his friends, which kept the peace, or allowed him to regain it quickly. We all could see that this is the first big step in spiritual progress: in place of blaming others, we take the problem as an opportunity to look into our own depths. Where the former reinforces the walls we have already constructed, the latter gives us the chance to see that they are largely unnecessary.

         Unlike last week, with our inhibitions sealing our tongues, this week we explored some of the many instances where we mount irrational self-defenses. It was a perfect demonstration of using the mantra of the day to make substantial spiritual progress. As Nitya concludes, “The rishi, by taking three classical contradictions, gives us one of the finest dialectical lessons of contemplation, which has immediate and practical benefit for us.” You can say that again!

 

4/10/12

Mantra 6 (old)

Whoever sees all beings in the Self

itself and the Self in all beings

by that he does not slight any.

 

         Another admirable class, with lots of participation from everyone, all respectfully listened to and supported.

         The mantra expresses a key idea of Vedanta, with a perfect definition of atman, which we in the Gurukula translate as the Self. Atman runs the entire gamut from the individual self to the cosmic, all-encompassing Self we refer to as the Absolute. The exact (or approximate) sense has to be derived from the context, but since the individual is the Absolute and vice versa, pondering it always turns into a meditation on tat tvam asi, That thou art. You are That. A simple yet impossible truth.

         Like many people, Katherine chafed at the word Self. For her it has connotations of the ego, and so is too limited. But it is easy to see that that doesn’t match the definition given here. “Whoever sees all beings in the ego and the ego in all beings” doesn’t quite do it. If we take self to mean a specific individual, we may see all beings in it, but we certainly won’t see it in all beings. In this way the mantra draws us into a holistic comprehension of the Self or atman. It is that which is simultaneously in all things, and all things are in it too.

         The Gurukula always aims for neutral terms with the least excess baggage attached. We asked Katherine which word she would prefer, and she offered a good one, spirit. To many of us, spirit is admirably neutral, but a staunch materialist will get hopping mad about it, calling up the Biblical “spirit of God.” Likewise soul carries a religious taint for many people. Self is very respectable, with science recently ratifying that the sense of self is yet another of our many senses, and likely the most important one at that. It’s hard for us to imagine, but having an idea of who we are, and even that we simply are something, is the key building block of our existence. The rare unfortunate few who have lost this sense bear eloquent testimony to its value. They have to artificially hold themselves together, and the minute they stop consciously doing it they collapse in a heap. Literally.

         Nitya’s main point in the commentary is a familiar one, yet familiarity in philosophy breeds, not contempt, but the blossoming of insights. The unifying mind radiates beauty into its world. We have become deluded that our experience of beauty and with it our very happiness are dependent on external factors, but it’s quite the other way round. As Nitya puts it:

 

Beauty is not coming and rocking the mind into rolling waves of excitement. Mind is transforming itself into beauty. Every mind is like a ripple, a wave, or a tidal wave in the infinitude of the Self. This irresistible onrush in awareness is caused by the gravitational pull of love. This is not the love of a hungry mind for an object of pleasure but a grand return of all to the same source, to the same nature to which all belong.

 

         So instead of cobbling together structures to create beauty, we should first find a way to see the unity of existence, and then all else will be added unto us. Two people can go to a performance and one will be uplifted and the other driven to distraction by the exact same outward appearances. The difference is in them, in what they are open to and sensitive about.

         This is not to say that we shouldn’t create beauty in our world, and foster it at every opportunity, just that we shouldn’t become dependent on specific forms we favor, while disdaining others. At all times we should be fully cognizant that the beauty originates in us and is splashed on the canvas of our world so it can be shared with others.

         Likewise, our state of mind should not be determined by other people. There is a lot of meanness, desperation, cruelty and stupidity in the human race, and we aren’t being asked to approve of it. Yet we tacitly give it our approval by allowing it to make us miserable. Negativity has at least as strong a gravitational attraction as love does, which accounts for its popularity. Our contribution to our own happiness and that of others is to resist being sucked in to the black hole of hatred, fear and greed, instead maintaining a shining beacon of understanding and compassion.

         John said it was well and good that we talk about universal acceptance, but we live in a world where there are so many barriers, circles of exclusion, many of them aggressively defended. It is very hard to live without having our own safe zone. This is true. We talked about the difficulty of staying centered in a hostile and chaotic environment, and the value of living apart from it. Only true saints can wade into the seething mess of unchecked misery and keep their wits about them.

         Narayana Guru, in his Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction, offers a technique for working on this problem in the section on sama and anya (verses 36-41). You begin by recognizing your own boundaries, including what you allow inside them and what is pushed outside. Then you can gradually expand your circle of inclusion to bring in more and more of your world, until ultimately everything is inside. An infinite boundary is no boundary at all. Again, this doesn’t mean we have to approve of everything, just understand it and give it its due. We certainly shouldn’t select the worst aspects of the world and permit them to determine our mental state from outside our circle, which is the perennially popular tendency.

         This is actually a normal process of maturation. Guy Murchie, in The Seven Mysteries of Life, chronicles the expansion we undergo in developing from infancy into adulthood. Our spatial perception can first be measured in inches, and expands rapidly toward infinity as our awareness grows. Minutes seem like eternity to young children, but time accelerates as we age also. An awake mind is an expanding universe of its own, so long as it retains the determination to continue the unfoldment. It takes great courage to incorporate other human beings into our personal expansion program.

         Ralph related an experiment he was involved in at Stanford University, which demonstrated the effect of our expectations on producing endorphins, the “bliss chemicals” manufactured in our own personal factory. He was surprised that his conscious expectations were exactly the opposite of how his body responded to the stimuli. Apparently our conscious mind is more dissociated from our body than we realize, and we have lost the knack of knowing our physical selves. There have been numerous clever experiments to designed explore the mind-body relationship and the impact on it of placebos and nocebos, or positive and negative expectations. The effect is dramatic. So we can program our own “placebo effect” simply by gestating love and beauty in our hearts. We are the prime beneficiaries, after all, but a few beings in the vicinity may also be positively impacted.

         Jan was surprised at the way the mantra ends. Something about “not slighting anything” seemed anticlimactic to her. She had big expectations that those who saw the Self in all and all in the Self should be explosively blissed out or something. As with the word Self itself, this led the class into another gratifying exploration.

         The way we slight aspects of the world is to exclude them from direct association with the Absolute. Slighting things is therefore no slight matter. It evolves into fixed notions of the chosen and the cursed, the elect and the damned. We are good and they are bad. Humans are maniacal about taking sides and commencing hostilities. The rishis want us to know that this is unnecessary. The minute we realize that everything is the Absolute, we can start building up instead of tearing apart, spreading beauty instead of ugliness.

         Moni talked about how this idea was behind the eradication of caste being attempted in India. She described how the original unity of the people gradually eroded into high and low castes, with consequent egregious injustices. Since independence, a major effort has been mounted to reverse that trend, so far with modest success.

         Narayana Guru turned South Indian society on its head by asking simply, if all are God, why are women considered inferior? Shouldn’t they have the same opportunities as men? Hmmm. When you put it that way…. Soon schools for girls were being created, and many other improvements seemed logically inevitable. Again, perfect equality remains elusive, but it is much closer than it was.

         Ralph wanted to know what psychedelics had to do with these ideas. Thanks to Krishna in the Sky with Diamonds, there has been some recent curiosity about the role psychedelics play in spiritual life. The sixth mantra is exactly the kind of insight that becomes undeniable on psychedelics. Unity leaps into the open from wherever it was hiding, and the smallest, most trivial substance becomes endlessly fascinating and beautiful. It is clear that the inner state of awe is being projected onto everything. Wherever you look, or think, is perfection, accompanied by ecstasy. The thought that your mental state was in any way dependent on external factors is seen to be patently absurd. So yes, there is little or no difference between a clearheaded psychedelic experience and the wisdom of the rishis. On the contrary, psychedelics illustrate the ideas with undeniable directness. I could go on and on, but I won’t! Suffice to say that the observations of the ancients are being ratified by modern scientific methods, and our grasp of truth is converging. It’s probably just as well that most scientists don’t realize they were preceded thousands of years ago by other geniuses, so that they aren’t prejudiced by prior knowledge.

         We talked about ways in which our expectations and prior experiences color our interface with the present, tempting us to erect barriers to exclude many types of people. We seldom can simply decide to open our hearts and stay open; we have to work at it. As Susan said, we can peel away our blocks one at a time. They may be there for a good reason, but after they serve their purpose they should be dismantled. Katherine was rightfully indignant that we would even hold such exclusive attitudes, but they are pervasive, and we are drawn into them before we know it. Our task is to intentionally grow out of them, and that is eminently within our power to accomplish. It’s very much a win/win strategy.

 

Part II

  John H. sent a lovely response—really a presponse—before the class notes even came out. He’s referring to Nitya’s commentary:

 

This one I get.   Totally.

 

When my son was a baby, and I myself was much younger than today - as I changed this precious boy I thought about people that I thought I hated, for whatever reason, and saw the loveable baby in them.   Now, I would have other issues to face, but this odd exercise got me way past judging others harshly very quickly.  Not that people can't tick me off even now - but I almost always and very soon come to my senses, which is a weird phrase now that I think about it - and see the beautiful child in us all.

 

4/24/12

Mantra 7 (old)

 

When all beings are known to have

become the Self, what delusion is there

or what sorrow to him

who beholds this unity? 

 

         The Isavasya Upanishad repeats the core realization of Vedanta from the opposite perspective of the previous mantra, underscoring its dialectical perfection. Mantra 6 asserts that if unity is seen, we don’t slight anything “out there.” Mantra 7 says that when unity is known, we ourselves are freed from delusion and sorrow. So perceiving the core unity of the universe brings peace and justice to both sides of the equation, the inner and the outer. Recall that mantra 5 stated that the Absolute is “inside all these and outside all these.” For such a brief work, the tight focus and carefully conceived methodology gives it an unmatched expansiveness.

         Nitya describes the world of samsara, of dualistic give and take, as resembling a giant semi-transparent hotel where each of us has our own room and peers through windows at our friends and neighbors. There is a great deal of yearning and judging going on as we peek out from behind our curtains. This is the world we are trained to believe in, and constrained by laws and customs to abide by. But Vedanta considers our isolation a tragic miscarriage, aiming instead to give birth to free individuals inclined to an optimal experience during our fleeting time on this planet.

         It’s quite mysterious how the way the world works is influenced by our mental constructs. By changing our attitudes, we really do change the world—at least our perception of it—and who knows how far that extends? Deb paraphrased Jack Flanders, “What appears to be coming at us is really coming from us.” Again, this is a blessing, although it sometimes bites like a curse. We are being shown a reflection of our psyche, “through a glass, darkly.” Do we dare to have a look?

         Jan talked about the shadow side of our personality, as noted by Carl Jung and others, something she’s currently studying. Keeping to the room analogy, we decorate our own habitation just the way we like, and all our negative tendencies we project beyond its walls onto all those unwitting souls in the other rooms. Before we know it, we are convinced that they are the ones responsible for all our problems, and not us. But this is a modeling trick of the brain. It has a conundrum, and it arranges the environment to model its complexities, so we can have a detailed examination of it. If we know what ails us we can cure it. All too often, though, we are content to just shrug it off as somebody else’s fault and drop the subject or run away from it. By doing so we throw away any opportunity for a successful resolution.

         Moni gave a wonderful example of actualizing a unifying impulse. At her work assisting needy families to access public benefits, she is having a lot of diversity training. Recently it was noticed that people from different backgrounds understood their counselors differently, and many of them missed out on some of their benefits because of this. Counselors are now being trained to better appreciate the mindset of various ethnic groups so they can meet them half way in communication. By learning to put themselves in other people’s mental frames, the counselors’ goal is accomplished much more successfully. This is truly yoga in action.

         The opposite attitude is the bigot’s insistence that “everybody should just speak English!” Or “My way or the highway!” meaning agree with me or go away. They think everyone understands words the same way: just like them. They have no idea that our mental orientation heavily tints the world around us. Intolerant people are intentionally erecting barricades to try to prevent others from getting what they need. Yoga is all about transcending our solitary and selfish I-sense to attain a “we-sense.”

         As Nitya puts it, when we hold to our favorite room and relegate others to theirs, we erect communication barriers between us, and “In such melodramas ambivalence is a constant recurrence. The mind dangles between love and hate.” Or, in Moni’s office, the dangle is between something like acceptance and frustration, depending on whether the benefits are delivered or not.

         There is a hidden flip side to our every ideation, and if we see it we can move more easily toward unity. Our love may harbor selfish desires that vitiate it, while our hatred is aroused by the things we secretly crave. If we can stop deluding ourselves, we can mitigate all such eccentricities. A neutral attitude is both more blissful and more beneficial to our neighbors.

         The question always comes up whether neutrality means not feeling anything. No, no, no! All too often, that is the presumption. But far from suppressing experience, true neutrality removes all the psychological inhibitions to our experience. It melts the walls of our room that has become our prison. That’s why yoga is a dynamic equipoise between opposites, and not simply the absence of opposites. There is a literal world of difference between an all-embracing attitude and an all-excluding one.

         Paul wondered if the sense of unity had to be an engulfing realization that instantly changes our mind, or if it could be assimilated piecemeal, one conquest at a time. We have noted before that, as the Gita phrases it, “Even the residual relish reverts on the One Beyond being sighted” (II, 59). Such a rare experience makes realization easy. In that light, we talked some about recent scientific studies of psychedelics, demonstrating that they have a high success rate at producing a convincing state of unity. But if we spend all our days striving to have a total realization, and not feeling we are adequate until we do, we may well miss out on so many opportunities. We may also miss out on our life. Vedanta offers us the chance to meet the Absolute in every encounter, and to rectify our attitude over and over again, as we observe the disjunction between our ideals and the way we implement them. More than anything, we should know we are already the Absolute in essence, and this awareness should make us happy, confident and open. It’s a very simple idea that is apparently quite challenging to assimilate.

         Paul tends to think there is something wrong with him because he keeps noticing new ways he is judgmental and dualistic. But this is not by any means a fault, it’s a virtue! The only fault is when we think poorly of ourselves for actually becoming aware of what we would prefer to keep hidden. We should give ourself a gold star every time we recognize and admit to a fault, pat ourself on the back, and forge ahead with confidence.

         We all have these unsavory attributes, but most of us seldom notice them, because they are so embedded in who we think we are. Because Paul has dedicated himself to reorienting his whole being to a vision that inspires him, he has begun to notice the normal but unhelpful quirks that he formerly took for granted. The Gurukula is most definitely supportive of the process, and would never, ever judge such an admirable trait harshly. Certain religions—and Paul may have been raised in one of them—do judge people severely, with the result that their votaries suppress anything that doesn’t meet with official approval, and instead put forth a smiling persona that is little more than a cardboard cutout. That’s the Express Check-in into their own private room in Hotel Hell. The Gurukula, on the other hand, encourages fearless self-examination, which may or may not be shared publicly. Its main thrust is for the benefit of the individual, and sometimes sharing is not beneficial. But be sure to share it with yourself.

         We would like to feel that once we noticed one or two of our faults, we would immediately become realized beings, perfect in every way, but sadly this is not the case. We have a large stash of less than perfect attributes to chip away at whenever we can bring our attention to the task. We should be mindful whenever we have the energy for it. As Mojo Sam reminds us, “It isn’t hard to be mindful. It’s remembering to be mindful that’s difficult!”

         Michael noticed Nitya’s pedagogical technique of speaking out our inner monologue, which he often did in his darsanas:

 

Sometimes I like you, I love you and feel very much drawn to you. There are other times when I am not very sure. There come distances, short or big.

  I want to know more of you. Also I want to tell you everything about me. Then comes this creeping fear that you may someday let me down. At times the fear grows into a real paranoia. Then you become a symbol of threat. It is like having a dangerous snake around.

 

Sitting in Nitya’s classes, we would be unaware that we think these kinds of thoughts. They are so engrained as to be more like the air we breathe than distinct, conscious ideas. As he voiced them, though, an uncomfortable recognition began to seep in, at least for those who were listening closely. In this way a guru brings subconscious murk up to the surface, where, by recognizing it and being shamed by it we can begin to purify it. This is truly shining light into our darkness, into our shadows. Believe me, once you recognize these thoughts, you want to immediately disown them and turn to something better! Michael astutely noticed that this is one of Nitya’s teaching styles, as if he is inside your head, speaking as your own narrator. It is particularly effective in person, but with a modicum of visualization we can get a similar benefit from words in a book.

 

Part II

         This weekend’s issue of The New York Times Magazine contained an article on the testing of psychedelic drugs to ease fears of impending death. It included an echo of Nitya’s commentary about how we live in separate rooms, struggling to communicate with each other, but we can overcome our isolation by acts of true compassion, in other words, putting ourself in the other’s state of mind.

         In the article, Lauri Reamer, “an anesthesiologist and a committed agnostic” was administered psilocybin (magic mushroom extract) in a test of its use with terminally ill patients at Johns Hopkins University. She was in remission from adult onset leukemia, but that’s when an intense fear of relapse and death overwhelmed her. Hearing of the study, she volunteered. Her first session made her cry for hours, and three weeks later she was given a second dose, wearing eye shades and listening to music on earphones:

 

Once the drug took effect, Reamer lay there and rode the music’s dips and peaks. Reamer said that her mind became like a series of rooms, and she could go in and out of these rooms with remarkable ease. In one room there was the grief her father experienced when Reamer got leukemia. In another, her mother’s grief, and in another, her children’s. In yet another room was her father’s perspective on raising her. “I was able to see things through his eyes and through my mother’s eyes and through my children’s eyes; I was able to see what it had been like for them when I was so sick.”

  Reamer took the psilocybin at about 9 a.m., and its effects lasted until about 4 p.m. That night at home, she slept better than she had in a long time. The darkness finally stopped scaring her, and she was willing to go under, not because she knew she would come back up but because “under” was not as frightening. Why she was less afraid to die is hard for her to explain. “I now have the distinct sense that there’s so much more,” she says, “so many different states of being. I have the sense that death is not the end but just part of a process, a way of moving into a different sphere, a different way of being.”

 

Although the testers are very cautious about drawing preliminary conclusions, Roland Griffiths offered this much: “After transcendent experiences, people often have much less fear of death.” While noting that such miracle drugs are not likely to be legalized because they don’t make enough money for drug companies, the article did cite a familiar statistic:

 

Fourteen months after participating in a psilocybin study that was published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology last year, 94 percent of subjects said that it was one of the five most meaningful experiences of their lives; 39 percent said that it was the most meaningful experience.

 

Lastly, one more echo from the Isa Upanishad:

 

“On psychedelics,” [Dr. John] Halpern says, “you have an experience in which you feel there is something you are a part of, something else is out there that’s bigger than you, that there is a dazzling unity you belong to, that love is possible and all these realizations are imbued with deep meaning. I’m telling you that you’re not going to forget that six months from now. The experience gives you, just when you’re on the edge of death, hope for something more.”

 

The entire article is recommended reading: (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-psychedelic-drugs-can-help-patients-face-death.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general)

 

5/1/12

Mantras 6 & 7 (new)

 

The one who continually sees

all beings in the atman (Self) alone,

like that, in all manifested factors the Self also,

that person, because of such a vision,

never becomes repulsed.

 

In whom all beings

are known as the Self alone,

what delusion is there

or what sorrow

to one who beholds this unity?

 

         The Isavasya Upanishad class continues to be most inspiring and elevating. As everyone in attendance focuses intensely on the subject, there is a joint excursion into exciting territory. Some of our earlier groups included people sitting back and thinking about what they wanted to say next, judging others and wondering about the judging being done about them. Not really listening. But when all that is set aside to concentrate on the subject, the class can go very far. We achieved an excellent group high last night. Several of us didn’t so much walk out the door as float out.

         The main theme was love, which is the living experience of unity. Unity reveals love, and sets it free. According to Nitya, love is “the alchemy that produces the most wonderful magic of transforming the repulsive into the beautiful.” Not necessarily out there, but most crucially, in us. The repulsion we feel toward aspects of our environment incidentally stifles our love, and overcoming it through unification reopens the floodgates.

         As we noticed last week, the two mantras sequentially address unity in the object and the subject, while presenting the results negatively, in other words, as dissipating feelings like repulsion, delusion and sorrow. Nitya, good dialectician that he is, offers a positive counterweight: “To live is to know and to know is to love.” The appreciation of oneness unleashes our latent ability to love and be loved, spiritually speaking.

         In its structural perfection, the Isa redirects our attention to the Absolute in the eighth mantra, so the sequence of 6-8 is to see first the Self in them, then the Self in us, and ultimately the Self itself. The Absolute is the fountain source of all we derive from our philosophical study. Without it, our thoughts are just idle speculation. Dry as dust. In the ultimate analysis, isolating. But with it, love reenters the picture. So that’s where we’re headed.

         This brings up the question, how do we move from ideas about unity to the experience of it? Several people agreed that a unitive attitude has changed their life significantly for the better, but how did it happen? How do we go about accessing the vision that reawakens our innate love and delight? We addressed this now in a preparatory way, since the Upanishad will be going there in mantras 9-11, and we want to be ready.

         First off, there is plenty of evidence that our intentions do have an effect on our state of mind. We are not helpless victims of our conditioning, but like a sophisticated parasite, our conditionings sometimes play the trick of making us feel resigned to our fate so we will leave them alone. Actually they have all sorts of successful strategies to remain lodged in place, and convincing us we are helpless is one of the best. The yogi has to intend very definitely to dislodge them. It takes work. Will power. Not only are our conditionings working against us, we have been trained in our education to be passive followers of rules, accepting of the burdens we are saddled with. We turn to sources of wisdom like the Upanishads for inspiration to help us overcome our stagnant mentality.

         Even rudimentary intentions can help us out. There have been psychological studies recently that if you simply say “I like you” to a stranger, your attitude will be more positive than before. By saying the word ‘like’, you believe it, and you feel it. Other tests were given to people who held pens sideways on their faces with either their upper or lower lips, which caused them to physically either smile or frown. The smiling ones filled out questionnaires more positively than the frowning ones, and even the same person would respond differently depending on their facial expression. Tests have noted that pleasurable chemicals are produced by smiling, and depressing ones by frowning. It all goes to show us that our body and mind are not as separate as traditional schismatic thinking has taught us to believe.

         Jake related a study he’d heard about where failing students were made to act like successful ones—sit in the front of the class, pay attention, be polite, ask questions—and their grades markedly improved. It called to mind a story someone (please remind me who) told last year in class, of a group of students who hated their awful teacher, but decided to pretend that he was great. They conspired to be really nice to him, paid close attention in class, and forced themselves to be upbeat. To their surprise, the teacher rapidly changed from a boring and withdrawn dullard into a bright, entertaining presenter, and they began to love the class.

         We traditionally make fun of “the power of positive thinking” because the book by that title seemed like it sugar-coated reality, substituting rose-colored glasses for cold reason, and that undermined the whole idea. Yoga doesn’t by any means direct us to live in a fantasy world. We constantly strive to be aware of the downside as well as the upside in every encounter. But we can also know we are participants rather than passive observers, and we can bring an enlightening or otherwise helpful perspective to the fray. Really, our lives can be lived just as easily being uplifting to everyone’s spirit as being degrading to it, so why not choose the one that fosters happiness and accord?

         Paul mentioned how being passive, far from being a spiritual technique, is very often an invitation to stagnation. There is a very thin line between sitting still and sliding backwards. Vedanta is an activist philosophy, for people who want to live at their best and are willing to put some effort into it.

         That our body and mind are intimately linked shouldn’t be all that surprising to us, because we know that the world we perceive is actually a play being staged in our brains based loosely on input from a presumed outer world. All those “others” are at least represented in our minds, and to some extent manufactured there. So if we hate them, we are hating ourself, literally. If we love them, we will experience love. It behooves us, then, to be as kind, loving and compassionate as possible. It not only reflects nicely on our environment, it affects us salubriously. It’s a win-win approach. Vedanta gives us a way to do this realistically. Self-delusion is not a requirement, but a positive intentionality is.

         Jan talked about how she tries to bring the perception of unity into her most challenging relationships, and it has been very helpful for her. But when you don’t feel well, it is much harder to think of unity, because your attention is always being brought back to your suffering. She has great sympathy for those who are ill or unhappy, because they don’t feel love the way a healthy person does. Jan added another dimension to the burning question of how we access the blissful state of unity. Sometimes we have to work our way through difficult terrain that others take for granted. We should never assume this is easy, but be compassionate and supportive in whatever way is most appropriate.

         Traditionally in India, there are two main routes to union with the Absolute, asti asti, “and this and this,” and neti neti, “not this and not this.” In the first case you remind yourself that everything is the Absolute, especially the very things that repulse and frighten you, and you try to bring understanding in to support your postulate. In the second case you remind yourself that the Absolute is beyond anything that you can conceive of. You never allow yourself to claim “Aha, I get it!” or “the Absolute is such and such.” When done with thoroughness, both practices consolidate the seeming many into the synthetic One.

         Of course, love often springs spontaneously from us, without any intentionality, because it is our original nature. Babies of all species exemplify a unpremeditated loving nature that charms everyone. Nitya’s commentary focuses on the open mind of the infant, and how it becomes divided into conscious and unconscious elements, with the resulting schism taking it farther and farther away from its natural sense of kinship with all. But love can be restored at any moment, if we are either lucky or skillful. Or pregnant.

         Susan told us how when she was carrying her first child, she had several weeks when she felt a powerful sense of unity and love with everyone. At the time she had no philosophical interpretation of her feelings, which allowed them to shine all the brighter. After all, if we have a label for our feelings, it sometimes bottles them up. But Susan was just along for the ride. Her oneness with her baby easily spilled over to the rest of the world around her. She reported it as a great feeling.

         The class speculated that this might account for women being so much more inclined to spirituality than men. Historical accounts may focus on men, not because they are the wise ones, but because they need more help to get where they’re going. After all, 99 percent of all psychopaths are male. That means it is rare for a woman to lose touch with her emotions.

         Deb complained that in so many spiritual accounts, like the one Nitya gives here of St. Francis or the famous moment of Buddha’s enlightenment, there is a woman who ignites the transformation, but then she is omitted from the final credits, so to speak. A quick check of both Clare and St. Francis of Assisi online, showed that the official story is that she was inspired by him, and not the other way around. Nitya is gently rectifying the myth in his retelling.

         We don’t want to lean toward either a male-evolent or a feminine spirit, because the spirit is one, and any splitting of it spoils the case. But since in recent times the male side has denigrated the female, there is justification for leaning a little the other way and underlining our appreciation for the feminine aspects of unity. The goal is to love every bit of our psyche with equal ardor; otherwise we continue to promote chaos under the guise of amity. Modern ape-descendents have yet to put this ancient wisdom into widespread practice, but we need it very badly. At least the blissful spirit of unitive amity radiated brightly from our little hillside last night.

 

Part II

John A sent in an example of neti neti, which is his chosen approach to truth (though he would certainly deny it!):

 

The paths to truth.

Charisma, power, miracles, proof, persuasion, overbearing, facts, group mentality, following the crowd, yearning, desire, guilt, conclusions, determinations, formulaic, mind manipulation, love-bombing, experiences, understandings, spiritual vibrations, visually witness, death experiences, education, admiration and respect for leaders, overwhelming evidence, biblical writings, Sanskrit, ancient discoveries, the universe of science, doctorate degrees, impressive accolades, men of honor, people with titles instead of names, guru, yogi, saint, prophet, meditations, listening at the feet of wise men and women, healing miracles, large organized churches, beliefs which have stood the test of time for millennia, written words from Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and others, secret writings, exclusive knowledge, following the enlightened, logic, intellect, those who are intellectually superior, confidence, calmness, intuit, instant awareness, longsuffering, heavenly manifestations, deserve, obviousness, Pollyannaish beliefs, lovely people with smiles, successful people, people who have large followings, holy places, ashrams, temples, Sangha, sacred rites, proud teachers, the egoless, those with the biggest egos, foretold prophets who now live, those who have died too, witchcraft and all forms of divinations, astrology, funny men, sincere and honest spiritualists, martyrs, clever geniuses, parents, clergy, nature, waiting for accidental awareness, struggling to find truth, renunciant, outlandish people, cool calm and collected people, cheerios in your milk, burnt toast, happy people, inspirational people, naivety in a belief that God will reveal the truth, sacrificing oneself to find truth, constant importuning, observation of signs, waiting, reading, final death, looking inside, realizing you have always known the truth, you are the truth, faith, hope, charity unto others, barking dogs and people with tinfoil hats.

These are the paths to truth that the world knows of, and they will die for their beliefs, thinking they have found the truth, which explains why truth is never found!

 

Part III

         As is often the case, my editing work this morning is closely related to what we’ve just been discussing, i.e. truth, so I thought I’d pass some of it along for anyone who’s interested. It’s from my commentary the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter II, verse 42, where Krishna is blasting established religion. Here he accuses us humans of “negating any other (transcendental) verity.” The adjective ‘foolish’ refers to an earlier clause in the verse:

 

         Negating any other verity. True believers value only what they believe, and everything else is wrong. Such foolish people divide the world into their side, which has an exclusive connection to truth, and all those poor souls who don’t get it. Once secured within this self-imposed barricade, truth is systematically excluded, along with the members of the other groups.

         Nataraja Guru added transcendental in parenthesis in front of verity to distinguish that this holds for important truths and is fairly irrelevant regarding everyday matters, which everybody has a different take on anyway. He notes the literal translation of this section would be “those who contend there is no second side to a given argument.” Since the Gita extols balance and inclusion, this is anathema to it.

         Most philosophical arguments about truth center around people’s beliefs and propositions in relation to facts about the world—horizontal facts—which are infinite in number. There is endless wrangling because, as has been decisively established by scientific and psychological investigations in the twentieth century, facts are a byproduct of consciousness, and not the other way around. The revolutionary notion of the rishis is that there is only one unarguable fact, called by them the Absolute, brahman. It is a transcendental fact because it cannot be pinned down. All thoughts, opinions, and religious and philosophical systems aim to describe this fact in the most perfect possible way, but they inevitably fall short. Clashes come about from the different styles of description chosen, not from any difference in the fact itself.

         This absolute fact is not fully comprehensible to any mind, and so only a partial grasp of it can be had by even the most brilliant observer. We are left with different descriptions of different aspects of a unitive truth, which produces the babelization responsible for the endless arguments humans are famous for. The badly misnamed absolutism of the Hitlerian stripe refers to those who insist their partial view covers everything. It should be called absolute insistence on partiality.

         Because of this, silence is highly regarded by the rishis. But silence can be static and empty, unless it reflects absorption in a dynamic awareness. It has to be a stillness that simultaneously crackles with energy.

         Thus truth is only grasped when the interpretive apparatus is completely transcended, to have direct, unmediated contact with reality as such. Relative interpretations are all false to the degree they add or subtract anything at all to the immediate experience. All religions and philosophies necessarily are interpretive and therefore partial and subject to conflicting conceptualizations. What they leave out is the measure of their falsity.

         The piecemeal or partial kind of truth lends itself perfectly to self-deception. Since no one can ever know the whole truth about anything, we have to be content with a select perspective on it. It’s a small step to ignoring unpleasant facts that don’t match our preferred perspective, and then we begin to engineer and even manufacture facts to support our position. While early on we may feel like a kid getting away with stealing a cookie, the habit is highly addictive, and we effortlessly move on to become chronic dissemblers. Part of the game is to insist we are in possession of the truth, that we know more than everybody else or have an inside track. Our home team, whether tribal, political or religious, is happy to reinforce the belief that we are right and others wrong. This is the common quicksand on which humans build their castles. The cure is to acknowledge our limitations and cultivate a globally inclusive perspective that considers all sides and is willing to listen to everyone’s claims. But beyond that is…what? What is the truth of which we all so glibly speak, as though it was a perfectly ordinary and obvious object instead of an infinite intangible mystery? We will be looking into that as we proceed.

 

5/15/12

The Sublimation of the Gross

(Appended to Mantra 7)

 

         This wonderful essay is an exegesis of the famous Brihadaranyaka Upanishad chant that the Portland Gurukula has adopted as one of its three invocations to start the class. To wit:

 

asato ma sat gamaya

tamaso ma jyotir gamaya

mrityor ma amritam gamaya

 

Lead us from nonexistence to existence

Lead us from darkness to light

Lead us from death to immortality

 

         There is a secret structure within the essay that we prized out in class, which helps to make sense of the commentary. We reserved identification to the end, though, because putting a name on something can reduce it to a cliché. I suggest you read the essay before these notes so you don’t start with the names either.

         The title itself conveys one of the main themes of Vedanta. Gross carries a range of associations: bulky, crude, unrefined, heavy, solid, and so on. Sublimation means to purify or exalt, make more subtle. The implication is that we aren’t wiping something out and replacing it with something better, we are gradually transforming it. The dualistic schism of materialist thought, where we have to abandon ourselves to become something else, leads us to hate ourselves and consequently our companions and our world, whereas the unitive vision of our being as the raw material of a beautiful sculpture under construction allows us to become compassionate and kind. Nitya describes how this unfolds:

 

The secret of sublimation is a gradual rising through a series of disciplines in which your acceptance of tension is followed by a release. You suffer an irritation to restructure yourself to be more and more sympathetic, until you come to the climax of compassion. Thus at the gross end is aversion and at the sublime height is compassion.

 

So sublimation doesn’t mean evading life and sequestering ourselves far from the madding crowd, it takes place right in the midst of the chaos. Every encounter offers us a choice: we can take it as an affliction and resist and sulk and pull back, or we can take it as an opportunity to understand and reach out. The former builds up a heavy load we have to pack around with us, while the latter leads us toward an unbearable lightness of being.

         As some people age, they become crushed under their burdens, becoming bitter and resentful of anyone outside their kraal. This is particularly poignant for those of us currently in our sixties, because our generation was the most liberal, flamboyant and carefree bunch in history. We’ve watched as so many of us have become just like the forebears they foreswore, conservative, selfish, closed minded. With a progressive self-image, of course, which makes it even more repellent. You can see these “falling swingers” as George Harrison called them, all over the place. The cure is to always choose openness and compassion. We live in a world of samsara flooded with irritations that tempt us to choose hate over love and rejection over acceptance. If we don’t take a firm resolve to retain our spiritual values, we may be swept into the abyss, onto the trash heap of lost souls.

         Michael shared a recent epiphany that perfectly illustrates the idea. Outside his apartment is an annual street fair, held to benefit needy children. It generates a lot of noise for a few days, including at night, so the neighborhood has its sleep cycle disrupted. For years Michael has grumbled about it with his neighbors. They all know it’s a worthy cause, but something about the crashing and banging while they are trying to sleep really gets under their skin. It grew to be anticipated with dread, endured with resentment, and it left an unpleasant cloud behind it after it went away.

         This year, Michael decided not to get into a snit, and he didn’t. Instead he just accepted it. He felt light of heart, slept through most of the ruckus, and felt great about it after it was over. You could feel his relief and something like surprise that he actually did it. The externals events were the same; only Michael’s attitude had changed. Sublimation in action.

         Susan spoke in a more general way about how she has sublimated her sometimes challenging relationship with her family. She now has two teenagers, who give her frequent opportunities to feel insulted, unappreciated, and just generally in the way. Those are the natural reactions we have to offensive remarks, and a person could rationalize staying hurt and resentful permanently over them. At one time Susan was under a lot of pressure from her parental anxiety. But now she reminds herself that while she has her faults they are relatively minor; that her kids are young and hormonally stressed, and by including their perspective she can laugh about it. She can tell herself that one day they will get over it and act more loving, so it's okay. Like Michael, Susan feels as if a huge weight is lifting as she practices her upgraded attitude.

         In chemistry, sublimation occurs when a solid evaporates directly into a gas, without passing through a liquid stage first. In psychological sublimation we can take the crude material we have to work with and convert it to a spiritual insight without passing through the ocean of tears stage that lurks nearby. Susan’s change of attitude has sublimated her feelings from despair and misery directly to humor and philosophy, without having to cry about them first. In other words, she has skipped the liquid stage.

         So now we can peek at the structure, hinted at here. Nitya writes:

 

We are already captives. Three heavy loads are sitting on us. The first load is a prejudicial rigidity that makes the true nature of our reality impenetrable and imponderable. It constantly afflicts our minds and makes us hateful persons. The second load is not as clumsy as our prejudicial irrationality. It is like a compulsive magnet which holds on to its counterparts with a blind, mortifying bondage. It sits in our hearts making life a difficult game to play, with many obligations and a bleeding heart which always pines for the imaginary beloved and laments over the recurring losses of life. The third load is like a heavy mass of black lead which keeps us anchored in the underworld of sorrow and confusion. This can veritably be called our immovable anchor in the sea of samsara.

  The Isavasya Upanishad is trying to release us from these three heavy loads by teaching us both the art and science of sublimation.

 

The three loads are our old friends sattva, rajas and tamas. Nitya emphasizes their negative aspect here, because he is relating them to Mantras 6 and 7, where seeing unity is said to take away our sorrow, delusion and revulsion.

         Sorrow, delusion and revulsion bear a resemblance to sat, chit and ananda in their gross aspects. Nitya describes their sublimation this way: “If you just know that you are the blissful spirit which is seen in pure existence, in the certitude of knowledge, and in the summum bonum of values, the paralysis of the soul can be gotten rid of.” Sorrow comes from separation from the spirit, which is our true existence; delusion occurs when our knowledge is faulty; and revulsion happens when our values are insulted. The cure is threefold: to look to our true being as spiritual essences, rectify our comprehension, and raise our value sense to a more universal stature. All this is well within our power, as the class demonstrated with its success stories, though it isn’t a matter of instant conversion. Bill likened it to learning a new language, like Japanese. You don’t just start speaking it, you have to study and practice and endure many setbacks before you become fluent.

         But the perplexing lesson we have often repeated, that challenges are how we grow and evolve, is really catching on. We may never welcome life’s irritations, but we are less likely these days to let them bring us down. More and more we are thinking, “Aha! A new opportunity.” Remember Jonah Lehrer’s summation of the new brain studies, in How We Decide: “When the mind is denied the emotional sting of losing, it never figures out how to win.” Nitya sublimates the idea in this way:

 

Bondage is like a program of evolution which can transform a wingless crawling larva into a flying butterfly of colorful wings. This is the magnificent theme of the Upanishad, the transformation of matter into spirit and the captivation of spirit in matter.

 

         Getting back to the structure, the last three paragraphs take on sattva, rajas and tamas, one in each. Recall that the Gita is unequivocal that we are to transcend all three gunas; the common fallacy that we are supposed to become more sattvic is not to be entertained. The three nature modalities, or gunas, operate in rotation, and have their rightful place in the scheme of things. But from a spiritual perspective they all crimp the psyche and are to be transcended.

         You can refer back to the three loads in the paragraph above. Nitya describes the sublimation of sattva as symbolized by the dancing Nataraja, who pulverizes the ego-fixations to allow the spirit to rise to the heights. We initially become fixated on an idealized image, the sattva we imagine we want to become more like. But this leads to a “prejudicial rigidity” that makes us “hateful persons.” We picture ourselves as the priest, the scholar, the wise person, the artist, the hero. While it starts as an inspiring ideal, it soon becomes a tawdry cliché, and goes downhill from there. Here is where we are called to choose freedom over bondage, over and over again. We must renounce our limited identity wherever it shows itself, not allowing ourselves to become rigid and stuck.

         Elsewhere in Vedanta our evolution is likened to a flower growing from a seed to a sprout to a bud, and so on. We humans, though, tend to get bound up at various stages. We identify ourselves with the stage we are in and resist further growth. That’s when life, symbolized by Nataraja, mounts a challenge to break us out of our self-imposed prison. If we are lucky, that is.As Nataraja Guru put it, “If Shiva doesn’t demolish, Brahma won’t get a chance to create again.”

         The second heavy load is rajas, which fills our life with obligations and needs, leading to sorrow over our failure to adequately meet them. We have to cure ourselves of the disease of craving, of neediness, by realizing we are fulfilled from within, not without.

         The third heavy load is tamas, where we take perverse delight in feeling miserable. There is an oddly attractive pleasure in smashing everything beautiful and hurting others, which is to be got over by diligent sublimation along the lines of what is recommended in the Isa Upanishad.

         We become accustomed to all three loads at various times, depending on our personality. The real danger is that we no longer see them as afflictions but as our duty, or worst of all our free choice. Once we abandon the quest for liberation, the three loads settle upon us like evil scavengers, and begin to tear us apart.

 

         One last insight that emerged from our study is that the chant under consideration is based on sat, chit and ananda. “Lead us from nonexistence to existence,” obviously relates to sat, existence or truth. “Lead us from darkness to light,” addresses the awakening of the chit or mind from ignorance en route to full awareness. “Lead us from death to immortality,” implies the value sense, the ananda, though this is less apparent.

         The meaning of an endeavor can either lift us up or press us down. Meaningless activities and beliefs are dead, spiritually speaking, because they don’t do anything positive for us. Immortality, on the other hand, stands for those values that have a lasting positive impact. The line, “Lead us from death to immortality,” refers to amrita, usually rendered as the nectar of immortality. Amrita is a-mrita, not-death.

         I just wrote a bit about the subject for an interview about Krishna in the Sky soon to appear in a Gnostic newsletter. We are discussing soma:

 

Soma is an unknown type of psychedelic, most commonly thought to have been pressed from some kind of mushroom. It was made into a nectar and drunk. It is identical with amrita, the divine nectar of immortality, and it may be more than a coincidence that the amanita mushroom sounds similar to amrita.

  Immortality, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean living forever, which is the materialistic interpretation. It indicates the global perspective of higher consciousness, as opposed to the limited, or mortal, outlook of ordinary consciousness. When we are raised up out of our tomb of ego fixations to a universal or absolute vision, we have become immortal in that sense. Most of us need a boost from outside, at least at the beginning, because we have become resigned to the tomb and don’t know what else is possible.

 

So now when we chant this wonderful and very compact mantra, we will enjoy a wealth of associations to enrich the sounds with meaning. We have sublimated a chain of barely understood words into an enchanting gestalt. It's been a very worthwhile diversion from strictly following the Upanishad.

 

Part II

         There are a couple of random additions I’d like to add as we end this second section of the Upanishad, for cautionary purposes.

         One of the chief dangers of spiritual pursuit is the messianic complex, an explosive expansion of the narcissism that is a more or less common element of life. It is a disease of the sattvic modality, afflicting people who imagine themselves to be holier than the rest of us. Once it sets in there is no hope of any outside influence bringing it under control, because it becomes fully self-referential, but it’s worth a try early on.

         Deb and I received the following from a self-anointed “guru” who has (fortunately) been kicked out of the Varkala Gurukula, but who continues to try to cull followers from the contacts he has acquired. I share it partly because many of you probably receive his mailings, but also because this kind of derangement is common both in India and the US:

 

The Editor,

Gurukulam,

Portland,U S A.

 

 

OBAMA IS GUILTY

 

By supporting same-sex marriage ( News May 11 ) U.S. President Barack Obama has become guilty of committing an axiological mistake.

He is poisoned by distorted values.

 

This will provoke religious people and will add more fuel to terror strikes in U.S. in order to evoke religious values.

 

Obama may learn more about axiology and get transformed to rule his country enlighteningely

 

In the divine Service of the Supreme Lord,

with my Love and His Blessings,

Swami Advaitananda(Founder,Guru and head),

Agrahya Gurukula,

 

I sent a very rude reply that Deb has asked me not to reproduce, but rest assured it expresses what most of your gut reactions would be. She did better, showing what the axiological mistake really is:

 

Love is the vertical pole. It is our understanding of unity and Oneness. That vertical pole is manifested in who and how we love. That is the horizontal. There is no value judgment on who we love, when there is no ego that tries to manipulate or possess, all love being an expression of vertical Oneness.

 

Your statement is only an expression of socially conditioned acceptance/rejection and is itself evidence not of verticality or Oneness but only parochial prejudice. And besides, people who use terror to establish religious principles are not religious but simply selfish and violent.

 

How dare you use Narayana Guru to justify your narrowness?

 

It’s worth repeating the two verses of the Isa Upanishad we have just studied, because the wise rishis saw through similar cases of bloated egos masquerading as holy seers thousands of years ago:

 

The one who continually sees

all beings in the atman (Self) alone,

like that, in all manifested factors the Self also,

that person, because of such a vision,

never becomes repulsed.

 

In whom all beings

are known as the Self alone,

what delusion is there

or what sorrow

to one who beholds this unity?

 

We can flip this around and say that revulsion, delusion and sorrow, not to mention hostility, are prima facie evidence of spiritual blindness. This is an important measuring device for gauging when we are going off course.

         Nitya’s writing from our most recent class goes right to the heart of this. The class wanted examples of how sattva binds, and this is a fine, widely experienced example. Recall:

 

We are already captives. Three heavy loads are sitting on us. The first load is a prejudicial rigidity that makes the true nature of our reality impenetrable and imponderable. It constantly afflicts our minds and makes us hateful persons.

 

Could you find a better example of “prejudicial rigidity” stemming from excessive self-esteem anywhere? The consequent hatefulness practically lunges off the page. Later he adds, of those who welcome their bondage to the gunas instead of working to free themselves:

 

These unfortunate people make themselves spiritually blind. However, if you just know that you are the blissful spirit which is seen in pure existence, in the certitude of knowledge, and in the summum bonum of values, the paralysis of the soul can be gotten rid of.

 

That’s enough for now. I’ll write about the other issue another day. We have a bright sun, gorgeous flowers in bloom, and cool breezes to waft their scents to us, so I want to turn back to that and away from the ugliness humans are so capable of generating.

 

Scott Teitsworth

rsteitsworth(at)yahoo.com