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.
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).
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.
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
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
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:
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,
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,
5, Scene 5,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
are wrong. Those who gloat that the rainbow is meaningless because there is no
pot of gold at the end, are even more wrong.
Dipika actually wrote this before reading the
but it fits perfectly:
had to share this piece of epiphany....
listening to a really nice track about missing
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
with drugs or alcohol
but understanding that the one who has composed
gone through the same emotions.
so you are not ALONE...the whole world and humanity
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
with day to day survival
every moment is new...as everything including
you in it are
Later she added:
just clarifying what i mean by defunct...dead
destructive emotions that hinder a positive approach
Mantra 3 (new)
There is a demonic world
enveloped by darkness, confused.
The marauders of the Self
go into it, dead in Spirit.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
does not make light of the drastic note struck in the third mantra:
Success or failure
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….
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
from conventional pride, unpretentiousness, non-hurting, non-retaliating
forbearance, straightforwardness, loyal support of the teacher, purity,
steadfastness, state of self-withdrawal,
in respect of sense interests, absence of egoism, insight regarding the pain
and evil of birth, death, old age, and disease,
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,
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,
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
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
impelled by what does man lead such a life of sin even against his will, as if
is desire, such is anger, born out of the modality called rajas, all-devouring,
all-vitiating; know this to be the enemy here.
smoke shrouds fire, as a mirror (is beclouded) by dirt, as the fetus is
enclosed in the amnion, likewise by such is This surrounded.
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.
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.
mastering first the senses, slay this which is of sin, which can destroy both
pure and practical wisdom.
is taught that the senses are great; beyond the senses is the mind, beyond the
mind is reason, and beyond reason is That.
knowing That to be beyond reason, stabilizing the self by the Self, kill that
enemy in the form of desire, so difficult to overcome.
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:
Being bound and being
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.
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.
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
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
Also you will yourself
lighter and freer until you too sprout wings and fly away………..!!!!
With love from your
PS. Sometimes they
try to come
back but they are just getting their navigational skills sorted and go the
Mantra 4 (old)
That does not move—the
than the mind. This
by the senses. It is
That remains, while
In that, the vital
last mantra commentary concluded:
The third verse of
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
Having been encouraged to seek wisdom, our attention
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
evidence that John H is either an astute contemplative or telepathic or both,
he concluded his note this morning:
Hard to put my mind
embrace, like a loving big mother is for a little boy.
This must be the way our inner mother feels,
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!
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.
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.”
Mantra 4 (new)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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:
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
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
The one source is of course the vertical impetus
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
That's the “near” side of the game.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Mantra 6 (old)
Whoever sees all beings in the Self
itself and the Self in all beings
by that he does not slight any.
admirable class, with lots of participation from everyone, all respectfully
listened to and supported.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
Although the testers are very cautious about
conclusions, Roland Griffiths offered this much: “After
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:
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:
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)
Mantras 6 & 7 (new)
The one who continually sees
all beings in the atman
like that, in all manifested factors the Self
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Sublimation of the Gross
(Appended to Mantra 7)
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
mrityor ma amritam
Lead us from nonexistence to existence
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from death to immortality
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.
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
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
So sublimation doesn’t mean evading life
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
now we can peek at the structure, hinted at here. Nitya writes:
We are already captives.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
just wrote a bit about the subject for an interview about Krishna
in the Sky soon to appear in a Gnostic newsletter. We
Soma is an unknown
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.
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
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.
are a couple of random additions I’d like to add as we end this second section
of the Upanishad, for cautionary purposes.
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.
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:
Portland,U S A.
OBAMA IS GUILTY
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
In the divine Service
with my Love and
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
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
all beings in the
atman (Self) alone,
like that, in all
factors the Self also,
that person, because
of such a
never becomes repulsed.
In whom all beings
are known as the
what delusion is
or what sorrow
to one who beholds
We can flip this around and say that revulsion,
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.
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
We are already captives.
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
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:
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.