Mantra 16 (old)
(Nourisher), seer who traverses
alone, controller, Surya
disperse your rays, gather
this light, let me see that, most auspicious,
that form of yours; that Purusa,
who is there,
he is myself.
starts us off with possibly the most crucial idea in all of Vedanta: “Self-realization
does not come as a cumulative effect of action. It comes only with the clear
comprehension of Truth.”
birth we encounter programs that build on previously established platforms, so
much so that it becomes a core assumption that that’s all there is to life. But
it isn’t so hard to realize by contemplation that an unknown mystery cannot be
led up to in steps. All our searching takes place within the known, no matter
how passionately we wish it were otherwise. We can easily build towers to reach
imaginary heavens, but if we do not know the destination they are certain to be
built in the wrong direction. When they crumble, the construction crew is
scattered to the winds. What we need is an entirely different, non-cumulative
Olympic games, currently taking place in London, are a perfect example of
accumulated effects. To become expert in performance requires a long and
arduous dedication to a goal. Each hour’s hard work allows for a slightly
better performance the next day, and a vacation is often a setback in the
improvement chart. At the end of the continuum, only the world’s best in each
event is honored, and all the rest are losers and also rans. Obviously some
fields are more generous. There are armloads of master musicians plying the
world’s stages. Nonetheless, one significant slip and you’re out of the game.
type of system fosters competition, and not always with gentlemanly behavior. Vying
for an edge can easily lead to unfair tactics, even including criminality.
class noted how as children we first recognize squiggles on paper, which
gradually take shape as letters. Later we combine the letters to make words,
and still later, words to make sentences and stories. Eventually we may even
become philosophers who play with ideas. Each stage is dependent on substantial
completion of the previous challenge. All our academic learning, especially
math and science, unfolds in this way as well. Even history is taught as a
sequence of dates, with rarely a meaningful vision of what they represent.
not that this mentality is bad, just limited. It is essential to life as we
know it. And we don’t have to give it up to add in the holistic appreciation of
life—only just adjust to make room for it.
realization is a far cry from what we have come to expect in our world of cumulative
effects. You either get it or you don’t. You are either awake or you aren’t.
Yet it isn’t all or nothing: we always get only a part, but the part is
terrific enough. There is no gold medal (or disc) to be won. It’s all in the
joy of playing the game.
often imply that realization is some large, fixed item to be achieved, rather
than a process. Very often it is to be accomplished by our being swept aside
and replaced by something else. As a consequence, nearly everyone learns to be
dissatisfied with who they are. We are not okay, and are only tolerable if we
are moving toward an accepted version of what okay means. Basically, we have
learned to hate ourselves. A great many of our actions are meant as
compensation for our perceived inadequacies. Because we’re not okay, we
construct a persona that looks like it might be acceptable to the rest of us. Since
everyone is doing it, we have come to live in a vast constructed stage set that
squelches us rather than allows us the freedom to express ourselves.
noted the Semitic God is a remote entity looking down on humans as a source of
shame. Honored visitor Aaron generalized it to a worldwide dilemma. When we
think of God as wholly other, we are bound to seem like born sinners who are an
embarrassment to Him. By contrast, the beauty of the Upanishads is that we are
all the Absolute’s attempt to express itself. Despite our imperfections, which
are legion, we are the way the Absolute brings itself into existence. This is
180 degrees different from the lost sinners of the popular imagination. We are
the very expression of the Absolute, so it is our innate calling to be as
excellent as we can be. We are carrying the torch for an Absolute that uses us
for its implementation. Anyone who sincerely comes to understand this has found
the essence of their dharma. It’s such a tremendous realization we become
ecstatic with joy at the mere blessing of being alive. It was so moving that
the entire class came to this realization together, sparked by Jan and Aaron.
You could feel a surge in the group consciousness as it dawned on us.
talked about how he doesn’t have a study group to work through these issues
with. He often reads about oneness and all that, but it remains a cold
abstraction. I think he really noticed how the class feedback and interaction
helps bring the ideas to life, helps take them beyond isolated intellection
into a much deeper emotional and intuitive appreciation. We all face the
challenge of making the abstract ideas real, of real-izing them. Sometimes we
succeed. In one sense we can’t lead up to this type of success, and in another
sense everything we do leads up to it. The one certainty is that it remains
independent of any formula.
commentary is an example of how a teacher imparts a unitive realization. As you
sit at the feet of a great teacher and listen closely, they lead your mind into
a state of openness and wonder, into which insights pour. Reading about it in a
book isn’t quite so effortlessly uplifting, but it can have a similar impact given
a bit more concentration. When the teacher is not around, it’s an excellent
the preceptor progresses from one idea to the next, we are along for the ride.
His darsana—vision—becomes ours too. Nitya’s comparison of the size of the sun
and the eyes that witness it is not a mere chronicle of physical facts, it is a
mindblowing vision we are invited to imbibe along with him.
Nitya says, “In the creation of the world, man and sun are collaborators. The
sun reveals the form, and man gives the names. Even the sun received his name
from man.” This can be little more than meaningless words, even as we nod our
heads in agreement. But when animated by a group mind or an intense individual
contemplation, we can feel an inkling of the power of our role in the scheme of
things. We aren’t here to teach others, we’re here to learn how to live with
expertise. The arrow has to turn back toward us. When it does, teaching may
happen, almost by accident. But setting out to be a teacher diverts the arrow
away from its target, which is the heart of our own soul. We have to set our
course on being a lifetime learner, continuously opening up to new
relayed a quote from Carl Jung, “Until we make the unconscious conscious, it
will continue to direct our lives and we will call it Fate.” He was speaking of
the part of the unconscious that contains our memories of traumas and other
experiences, what Vedantins call samskaras. Jung was a leading advocate of
probing into this territory in order to mitigate its influence on behavior. Our
memories regularly undermine our effectiveness. We can certainly read this part
of the Isa Upanishad as a prayer to lead us into this veiled territory. We have
to press past our concepts and percepts to see the true structure of our being.
It is more than a point source in the Absolute, it has developed into a
skeletal system on which all our thinking is strung, like organs, muscles and
tracts. We are to become physicians to heal ourselves, based on our actual
viscera rather than an imaginary idealized model. Our mental health flourishes
in concert with our physical well-being, and vice versa.
feel utterly inadequate to communicate the blazing realization the rishis wrote
into their Upanishads and which the class touched on: we are the Absolute in
our core. We are not some unwelcome scourge in the Garden of Eden, but the very
essence of it, the part that can see, and know, and enjoy. Living in fear of
the presiding God has withered our hearts and embittered our minds, but that is
not the intent of Creation. If God is ashamed of us it is only because we have failed
to thrive, failed to love, failed to care, because that’s what we were put here
to do. God is not ashamed because we dare to be ourselves, but because we
best part of who we are is the Absolute itself. That’s the unconscious we are
to make conscious. We can muck around with the rest too, in order to free
ourselves from the evil Fate which is nothing more than our injured soul
flailing about, but best of all we need to reach for that auspicious Light,
that true form, which we are the very expression of. When we come to it, we
know instinctively we are That.
There is a great lesson to be learned by watching the ocean
waves interact with the shore: unitive action is how Nature works. Without any
thought, objects follow the exact course that is the sum of all the forces
acting on them, every microsecond or even out of time, producing a smooth and
and outflowing surges near a beach mingle and interpenetrate each other in a
dazzlingly complex dance, further shaped by the wind and rain, the contours of
the sand, and the detritus strewn about. The result is effortless perfection at
all times, which we can easily observe but not accurately model. To
mathematically calculate how to represent all the interactions, even in a
miniscule area, would be staggeringly complicated. Fortunately we don’t have
to: nature does it by itself, and all we have to do is look. Any interpretation
we impose just interferes with the original flow, though we can console
ourselves that even our disruptions are a kind of added perfection too.
we call instinct in animals is a kind of liquid flow that carries them through
a lifetime of complicated situations without conscious deliberation, as far as
we know. Humans also have valuable instincts, but they are subsumed in
rationality and ignored. Unitive action is a way of opening back up to the
instinctive side of life while retaining conscious monitoring. It can be argued
that the reason we “miss the mark” is that we have suppressed our creative
instincts in favor of a deliberately conceived strategy of self-protection.
While safety provides a welcome sense of relief from the storms of life, the
joy of integrated action is of another magnitude entirely.
young people, we used to “go with the flow,” meaning we allowed nature to take
its course without inhibiting or deflecting it. Over time most of us have lost
the knack, substituting a faint echo cobbled together out of hope, habit and
human behavior is mediated by thought. Thought attempts to create a seamless
flow out of many separate and distinct points, and has a greater or lesser
degree of success. True joy only revives if we can relinquish control and cast
ourselves into the ecstasy of the moment.
aim for such expertise in action, but there are two distinct types we need to
be clear about.
first level of expertise is to be able to visualize a goal and act to achieve
it. We have to learn how to marshal our abilities and focus them on tasks. This
is the level of ordinary skill development that achieves prowess in a chosen
field, like art, sports, business and science. Despite its importance to a
rewarding life, in the modern world with its many “conveniences” many people
have lost the ability to carry out simple tasks effectively. It requires a
complex combination of positive energy and negative avoidance of impediments to
second level of expertise is to achieve a neutral balance between the positive
and negative impulses, which brings the interference of the mind to a halt and
allows the instinctual flow we attribute to the Absolute to carry us forward.
This is the so-called spiritual level. Even in the vaunted Information Age, few
know this secret of yoga.
types of expertise are valuable. When the first type is employed to substitute
for the second, as it often is, the spiritual flow is misdirected into dead
ends and eddies in the current. The various isms the human race is so prone to
adopt mark the intrusion of the first, linear type of expertise into the arena
of the second, global or holistic type. In other words, the kind of thought we
call spiritual is often just conceptualization rather than realization, a
golden disc hiding the sun behind it.
to say, when Krishna speaks of excelling in action in the Bhagavad Gita, he is
referring to the second type untainted by the first. Much of the work of a
disciple is to distinguish between the two and to maintain the proper
orientation where the spiritual flows into the rational and not the other way
Mantra 16 (new)
O Nourisher of this world,
who gives a meaningful pause between events,
the supreme magnetic center of the heavens,
born of the primal father of all beings,
restrain thy beams.
Gather this brilliant effulgence.
Let me see that, your most auspicious form.
That Person (purusha)
who shines in the sun,
let me assure myself that I am that.
was lovely to reassemble our study group to turn our concerted thoughts to the
ineffable once again, and to send “good vibes” out to our greater community
around the globe. Rest assured that those of you who live far away are with us
in spirit, and you make a very valuable contribution.
is often the case after a vacation, the group consciousness was somewhat
unfocused, and only gradually began to come together again. It was a little
like having laid in the hot sun on the beach after a good lunch. It took us
awhile to ease back into the ocean to go for a swim and prepare to catch some
the spirit of sharing in amity we have come to know so well persisted
is a spiritual value, by the way. We make our substantial efforts, but it is
usually only when we vacate them to sit in emptiness that the quantum leaps
noted in the previous class, the Isa Upanishad has moved from a yogic intensity
of dialectic endeavor to a supplication of the Beyond here at the end. It’s as
if we do all we can to improve ourselves, but it’s never quite enough. Some
mysterious additional factor has to come into play, and a little beseeching is
worth a try. Somehow we have to invite it in. Asking for outside help is a
great way to reduce the ego’s importance, if nothing else, and that alone makes
for some more room in our consciousness.
Guru expressed this beseeching tone beautifully in his Svanubhavagiti, for instance, verses 62 and 68:
If that is You, I am the
existing in the precious plenum.
I have no way to liberate myself,
Oh Dissolver of all beings.
Ultimately you will give me
Alas, you envelop my untrue
inside and outside.
I have come to you seeking
from the feverishness of life.
Holding your hand, let me live
the arena of this world.
Narayana Guru’s philosophical attitude is also well expressed
in this lesser-known work, as here in verses 14-16:
If identification is with sense
the day sensation terminates it
will all be darkness.
The one who balances on a
crashes to the ground when the
rope is snapped.
If the rope snaps, distress can
by counting the invisible in the
as one’s own protector.
Darkness cannot shroud
a radiant effulgence that spreads
its beams everywhere.
If one wrongly considers himself
inertia will creep into him.
He rejoices when convinced he has
other than that of the Supreme.
No one is expected to address the Unknown according to any
dogmatic formula. Visitor Christine, who knew Nataraja Guru, has a guru who
tells his disciples, “You may follow me, but you may not imitate me.”
Everything we offer here is a suggestion, not a command.
class discussed belief systems all across the globe, all more or less coherent
and edifying. To me the charm of Vedanta—at least the Gurukula’s version—is
that it is not a system so much as a process of undoing systems to find a
greater freedom. (As Bill pointed out, this is not unique, only uncommon.) One
reason for the Gurukula’s relative obscurity is that most people are seeking a
replacement system for their current beliefs that they find inadequate, and
they are frustrated that we don’t offer one. That’s all well and good, but the
truth they may not realize is that any system will be inadequate, after the
mystery presented by its newness wears off. You could easily spend a dozen
lifetimes trying to sort out the details of Hinduism, for instance, but it
wouldn’t necessarily get you anywhere, except maybe a good post in an ashram.
It’s a very heavy, fascinatingly woven veil. Yet each of its threads contains
hints to lead us out of the veil of which they form a part. We don’t
necessarily need to know every detail of the veil in order to transcend it.
with this key moment in the Upanishad study, I’ve just obtained an interesting
book on cosmology by a reputed scientist, which expresses a very similar idea
in up-to-date terms. It’s called Masks of
the Universe, by Edward R. Harrison, (Macmillan 1985, 2nd ed.
2003). From the introduction:
The theme of this book is that
the universe in which we live, or think we live, is mostly a thing of our own
making. The underlying idea is the distinction between Universe and universes.
It is a simple idea with many consequences.
Universe is everything. What it is, in its own right, independent of our
changing opinions, we never fully know. It is all-inclusive and includes us as
conscious beings. We are a part or an aspect of the Universe experiencing and
thinking about itself.
is the Universe? Seeking an answer is the endless quest….
universes are our models of the Universe. They are great schemes of intricate
thought—grand belief systems—that rationalize the human experience. They
harmonize and invest with meaning the rising and setting Sun, the waxing and
waning Moon, the jeweled lights of the night sky, the landscapes of rocks and
trees, and the tumult of everyday life. Each determines what is perceived and
what constitutes valid knowledge, and the members of a society believe what
they perceive and perceive what they believe. A universe is a mask fitted on the face of the unknown Universe.
Elsewhere, Harrison describes his ideas as “a
little-explored realm of thought.” But, like all too many scientists, the
universe he knows is limited to the West. We’ve been exploring this realm of
thought in depth for a long time, and India, among other places, has a history
of doing so for many thousands of years. I suppose it doesn’t sound so
impressive to admit these are old ideas we are just beginning to notice because
we’ve been so preoccupied with a much smaller universe. Better PR to say, “Look
what I just discovered!”
is the intelligent neutralization of our familiar universes in order to admit
the light of the Universe, which in the Gurukula we call the Absolute, into our
dark caves. We can’t contain it all, of course, but the opening process
engenders a broader outlook. We can see more, and have more room to move. And
so, in Harrison’s term, we come to inhabit a vaster universe. That’s the
exciting prospect of why we come together to collectively share the fruits of
our individual efforts.
husband, Bailey, another Nataraja Guru, friend, brought down the house reading
pages 295-6 of Love and Blessings,
the very end of Part A. It hilariously depicts the clash of cultural belief
systems when Nitya first came to America, which was then at a peak of chaos due
to shifting belief systems. It’s good to remember that humor is a valuable part
of life that should never be abandoned, especially when our beliefs are being
challenged and the temptation is to close up and grow tough. Humor keeps our
hearts open and unafraid. It was a perfect way to ring down the curtain and
move off into the night.
loved the image of the sun as a being who reaches out and gently caresses and
nourishes all the creatures on the Earth. He described for us the ancient
Egyptian image of Akhenaten’s reign, of a solar disc with manifold arms. On the
end of each arm was a hand with an eye in the palm. The eye indicates that each
appendage is conscious, aware, filled with intention. This means that
nourishing is not a blind process but a highly intelligent one. Just because it
follows fixed universal laws does not mean it is unintelligent.
felt that Nitya must have had this symbol in mind when he gave his commentary.
other things, it’s a perfect image of the one and the many. We encounter each
caressing arm or solar ray as an individual experience, but they are all
connected back with their universal source in the sun. Without the arms, the
sun does not affect us, and without the sun there are no arms in the first
some reason this is a challenging concept for many people, since the oneness is
not obvious. Surveying our world, all we see is multiplicity. Accessing oneness
requires contemplative introspection. Akhenaten (1380-1334 BCE, husband of
Nefertiti) himself was ignored by his successors, and his monotheistic ideas
withered away. At least he wasn’t executed, like many of his fellow apostles of
unity. In the long run, ignoring someone is a better way to eradicate evidence
of their philosophy than assassination.
Mantra 17 (old)
Let breath enter into the immortal
air. Thereafter, let this body be
consumed to ashes. Aum, O Kratu,
remember what is done, remember,
O Kratu, remember what is done,
a simple seeming mantra, there is a lot of complexity here, and we discovered
many ways to interpret it. It’s not that only one interpretation is right; the
many nuances we explored all contributed to the total meaning we drew from it.
are three primary elements here: the life-giving air taken in with breath, the
all-consuming fire, and the remembrance of something significant. Then too,
there is an unmistakable air of finality. As the Upanishad comes to a close, it
is as if our life is also coming to its termination, and as we noted earlier,
the prevailing tone of intense yogic concentration evanesces into a prayerful
supplication to the nourishing principle of the universe to reveal its secrets.
agreed that anticipating our demise is a powerful stimulus to creative
thinking, and one which non-yogis for the most part are content to evade. As my
house painter friend just told me, “I guess we’re all going to die some day.
But I try not to think about it.” Yet it seems eminently prudent to not enter
the final stage unprepared. The class favored acceptance rather than avoidance,
touching on the Tibetan Book of the Dead and some personal thoughts and
familiar anecdotes. In the past we have acknowledged that a fairytale version
of death, as with the religious heavens, is more likely to leave us even less
prepared for death than willful avoidance. If there is no needle in the
haystack, searching for it would be a colossal waste of time! But Yoga intends
to hold to a clear-eyed approach that does not depend on fantasy, so that our
death (as our life) will be as conscious as we can make it.
who has been preparing a digital version of Nitya’s Pranayama book, got us
underway with some general ideas about prana and breath he has learned from his
investigations. The subject prompted a lot of discussion and cross-pollination.
You had to be there, because I’ll only be able to recount a small amount of it.
In fact, I’m feeling more than usually overwhelmed by the vast amount of
excellent ideas we shared, most of which are assuredly not going to make it
onto the page….
Upanishadic conception is that the vital force, the force of life, is like a
wave in a vast reservoir of potential manifestation. The wave enters a body
with its first breath, energizes the experiences of the person it becomes, and
leaves with the last breath. While the body seems to dwindle with advanced age,
the prana itself is not diminished in the process, nor is it increased; rather
it is enriched. The Bhagavad Gita depicts this in a lovely section of Chapter
XV, which I’ll tack on as Part IV for those interested. Part II will be mainly
Brenda’s highly poetic offering on the wind of spirit.
who lives only a few miles from here, has been reading the class notes with
some regularity. Last night he decided to join us in person. He has a lot of
experience with various practices, and has studied the teachings of Papaji,
Koichi Tohei (founder of the Ki Society) and others. He was like an old hand,
boldly sharing his ideas and citing those of his gurus.
supplied me with Koichi Tohei’s motto, clearly in resonance with Gurukula
Vedanta: “Let us have a universal mind that loves and protects all creation and
helps all things grow and develop. To unify mind and body and become one with
the Universe is the ultimate purpose of our study.”
memorable for me was when Mick talked about Koichi Tohei leading an exercise
where the group alternately exhaled to the infinitely far reaches of the
universe, and then inhaled into the inner infinity of their centers, with a
pause between each breath. Mick’s attention was drawn to a vibrating point in
the exact middle between the outgoing and ingoing breaths. It was a stable
point that stayed constant even as the breath alternated. Recently Mick had a
kind of revelation that this was exactly what dialectics was all about. He has
been struggling with the concept, but in the practical example of breathing it
finally made convincing sense to him. When we equalize our breath, it doesn’t stop,
of course, but it calms down enough to allow greater and greater periods of
stillness in between. The breath is then a kind of thesis-antithesis, and the
intensely vibrating focal point is the synthesis, which entices us to a higher
level of awareness. This is what Indians call prana, or vital energy.
really exciting to see when a difficult but constructive idea finally hits home
after wrestling with it long and hard. All the very valuable doubts and
rejections are finally assimilated in an aha! moment in which all the elements
fall into place. In this case Mick will be able to apply his insights in many
other areas now that he has grasped the synthetic potential of yoga in relation
our lungs, our mind is a kind of living breathing thing that expands and
contracts, seesawing back and forth across all its ideas, like light and dark,
high and low, acceptance and rejection, kindness and hostility, and all the
rest. It’s a tough roller coaster ride going back and forth, sometimes. Yoga
brings us to a steady place below the waves, so to speak. This is what the Isa
Upanishad strives to teach us, and it is gratifying that we are in fact
learning from it.
expansiveness of yoga dialectics stands in contrast with simple concentration.
If we focus on a single point in isolation, it excludes everything else,
whereas with a dialectic mindset everything else is included. There are times
for exclusion as well as inclusion, of course. To everything there is a season.
But inclusiveness seems to be “the road less traveled,” by and large, and very
much a tragic omission. Magnifying the spirit of inclusion is an essential part
of the work we do in the point source that is the Portland Gurukula.
was a rare and dynamic realization about yoga. Of course, it was supported by a
lot of deep preparation in which he related himself to many sources of wisdom.
We are so fortunate in our day to have access to multiple opportunities to leap
beyond our ordinary consciousness and embrace the extraordinary cosmos we live
going to have to leave the purifying fire for later, so this bundle of notes
doesn’t get too far out of hand. Part II will have some of our ideas about
death that were prompted by the supplication that our body be consumed and reduced
call to remember is an unusual and powerful element of the Isa Upanishad here
at the end, and we gave it close scrutiny. Nitya presents it as us recollecting
every aspect of our life, because it is worthy of being cherished. I also feel
that we are being called on to remember our source as the Absolute, which is
what we routinely forget in the continual press of events.
supplication to remember is made to Krato or Kratu, a mysterious and not well
understood figure. It is most often taken as the deity addressed in the prayer.
But it also refers to the actor or enjoyer: we, as the actor, are being called
to awaken to the total reality of who we are, which is a kind of remembering.
The idea that there is some random deity who we want to remember us as
individual beings so it can reward or punish us according to our merits is the
kind of dualistic claptrap that this noble Upanishad has been reduced to
through centuries of degeneration. Let’s please help restore it to its former
Monier-Williams dictionary defines Krato in part as: “Intelligence personified
(as one of the principal Praja-patis or Rishis); also purpose, power, ability;
intelligence, understanding; inspiration, enlightenment; a sacrificial rite or
ceremony, offering, worship.” We should just boil it down to “intelligence
personified,” which is the gist. Kritam is what is done, accomplished,
performed; it is closely related to karma, action. In the midst of all the
remembering, then, is the cosmic duo of intelligence and action that is to be
united in wisdom.
already noted, Nitya treats the exhortation to remember as meaning the
recollection of our life and all its events. Sacrifice should be made with
clear intent. We have to know what we are sacrificing (making sacred) and we
can’t sacrifice what we don’t have or know. Cherishing our life as a whole is
inspiring and beautiful, and allows us to be conscious of what we can offer our
simple reading is that we are resolved to be as present as possible. “Remember
what is done, remember!” is like an intense version of “Be here now!” Don’t
slide through life only half aware of what’s going on and what your
participation is. Really know it.
Somewhat like Kurt Vonnegut’s uncle’s advice that when something good is
happening, you stop and say to yourself, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what
is.” In other words, really appreciate what’s going on in your life. And make
it worthy of appreciation.
I feel that the plea to remember is for us to recall our Source, to recall that
our true being is something much more than this body and its adventures. In the
Indian outlook, the vital (life) principle takes a body, lives in it, and then
at the moment of death discards it to return to the pool of energy from which
it separated itself earlier. During its time of embodiment, the prana that
becomes outwardly consciousness forgets who it is and believes it is only the
body/mind complex. The Upanishadic rishis tell us we can trace many of our
problems to this misguided perception. The remembrance that sets us free is to
stop identifying with the perishable object we are temporarily wedded to and
reclaim our identity with the imperishable prana, vital energy.
very beautiful part of Nitya’s commentary is nestled in the last paragraph, and
it links this mantra with the two previous ones in which the nourishing Sun
played a crucial role. Each of the chakras is described as a miniature sun, or
perhaps a reflection of the supernal Sun, within our bodies. We now know there
are nerve ganglions—little miniature brains—at each chakra. The ajna houses the
one we regularly think of as our brain. Our intelligences are like reflections
of the vast intelligence that lights our cosmos and nourishes us, and the
nourishment is flooding into every aspect of our being, symbolized by the
chakras: we are nourished physically (base of the spine), emotionally
(genital), mentally (solar plexus), spiritually (heart), in communication
(throat), and in coordinating all of it (brain). The seventh chakra is the
release hatch, where the prana escapes at death en route to points unknown.
Bill reminded us that in some traditions the thoughts you have at death are
considered to direct you (or your vital energy) to your next venue. Thus they
are of supreme importance. At the moment of death we should be celebrating and
remembering, rather than crying and fearful about our imaginary losses. And
that is very important to remember!
We talked quite
a bit about the moment of death, and people shared memories of being present
when a loved one passed away. Bill knows a hospice worker in Hawaii who has
attended many deaths. He told Bill that usually the family is too upset to
notice, but he is able to closely observe what happens. He was always aware of
an amazing spiritual glow or energy that was central to the moment. It was a
tangible force that came out of the body.
mentioned the recent MRI study of people dying, in which it appears that all
the neurons fire at once as death ensues. Usually the brain is quite
circumspect about how many neurons can be active at any time without
overwhelming it, but at death the whole brain wakes up. Psychedelics do
something similar, too, by the way. Anyway, that would explain the feeling of
our whole life passing before our eyes—all the memories stored in our brain
bursting forth at once. It’s impossible to imagine how intense that would be!
Those of us who have had powerful trips or other revelatory experiences have at
least caught a glimpse, perhaps.
was very moved by the class, so full of breath and spirit, birth and death. She
is someone who does not shrink from the beginning and ending of temporal
existence, she meets it with open arms. The discussion reminded her of a poem
that inspired her as a child to imagine the wind as the invisible carrier of
spirits. She has kindly sent a paraphrase for me to pass on to you. Since she
and Charles are leaving town for a time, I hope they will weigh in via email as
the muse prompts them—and the same goes for you, quiet readers!
Who Has Seen the
By CHRISTINA ROSSETTI
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
Golden Book of Poetry (1947)
I was so moved by this poem in 2nd grade. I practiced my
script by writing out this poem. I also drew descriptive images of the wind
bending the branches to the earth, and women, whose bonnets they would have to
hang onto, and skirts that were billowing in the wind! which I would draw on
the paper that had a space for artwork above the lined part.
As I grew up and experienced the spiritual blessings of
having children and at the same time, attending my precious dying relatives, I
would (and still do) stand outside when it is very windy and feel the spiritus,
as I would call it aloud, wrapping around my being. I would feel the breath and
spirit of all beings who have lived before in that invigorating wind. I sense
the whisper, the very breath of the ancients, as I did this evening, as the
window was open during class behind the sofa, I felt all beings past and
present in that gentle caress of the wind.
Having attended my elders in their transition, I have
experienced the profound palpable release of spirit from the body, that
luminous moment of letting this life of the body go! So much so, that when my
Grandmother died, I had to open the window to let her spirit unite with the
breeze, which I call spiritus, which is the spirit of us all. The same
experience occurred when my mother left her body. It was an ecstatic event! I
could elaborate but perhaps another time.
The breath of the wind speaks to me as their breath. But it
is not as personal as that, it goes beyond personality, and time, it is all
life in the spirit of the wind that whips up on this earthy plane. It allows me
to never feel alone. Like right now, I am sleeping outside, in this late
September night. I smell the damp mown hay, the perfume of ripe grapes, the
enchantment of the pulsation of the crickets last song before the chill of
autumn silences them. I am blessed to feel the connectivity of all life,
through the breath that unites us.
submitted some bonus information just now:
One important thing I forgot to mention in class, and I’ll
let Nitya say it best:
Prānāyama is not a breathing exercise.
It is a discipline to prepare a person for self-realization
The purpose of yogic discipline is to evolve a yogic body
from the physical body.
------and furthermore from the preface to Nitya’s Prānāyama
In Pata˝jali’s Yoga Sutra eight items are given as a
progressive discipline to realize the truth of the Self and to actualize the
equipoise of the three modalities of nature. The ultimate goal is the
attainment of aloneness. There can be degrees of perfection in the final
attainment. This can be determined by making a close study of the state of
absorption/samādhi one gets. Samādhi can be considered as the end of the
Science of Union – Yoga. Excluding samādhi, there are seven steps. Of these,
prānāyāma has the central position. Prānāyāma is the preceded by restraints–
yāma, observations– niyāma, and posture – āsana. It is followed by withdrawal– pratyāhāra,
value retention – dhārana, and meditation –dhyāna. This shows how important
prānāyāma is in the discipline of yoga.
In prānāyāma there is a coming together of the
the object, and the breath and the mind. There is a subtle polarization between
the vital circulation of one’s bodily forces and the circulation of mental
energy. The equalization of these two forces is actualized only by a
contemplative who knows how to place himself in the neutral zero of his
consciousness. Very often, one goes eccentric and makes the discipline a
lopsided torture. Shankara refers to such an incident as prānāpidana –
torturing of vital energy. The present book is written with the intention of
giving both the philosophy and psychology of the positive and negative effects
of prānā – vital energy. This is not a handbook with which the reader can
immediately commence the practice of yoga. It does not substitute for a wise
teacher. It will help one to understand the direct teaching of a master. With
this warning, we have great pleasure in placing this booklet in the hands of
readers. It is our hope that they will find it useful to register a deep-seated
interest in yoga.
Gita’s Chapter XV bears a striking similarity to mantra 17 of the Isavasya.
Here are verses 7-15 for your delectation, plus a few highlights from my
qualitative unit of Mine, which is eternal, having become life in the world of
life, attracts to itself the senses—of which mind is the sixth—which abide in
the Lord takes a body, and when He leaves it, He takes these (mind and senses)
and goes, even as the wind gathering scents from their retreats.
over the ear, the eye, touch, taste, smell, and also the mind, this One avails
himself of the values relating to the senses.
departing, staying, or experiencing, conditioned as they are by the modalities
of nature, the foolish cannot see; the wisdom-eyed can see.
yogis, striving, also perceive this One established in the Self; though
striving, those yogis of imperfected Self, lacking wisdom, do not see this One.
brilliance which reaches the sun and brightens the whole world, that which is
in the moon and the fire too—that brilliance know to be of Me.
the earth, I sustain all elemental existences by My vitalizing heat principle,
and become soma, identical with sap (or taste); I also nourish all herbs.
become the fire of life and resorting to the body of living creatures, uniting
with the ingoing and outgoing vital energies, I digest the four kinds of food.
I am seated in the heart of all; from Me are memory and positive wisdom and its
negative process; I am that which is to be known by all the Vedas; I am indeed
the Vedanta maker and the Veda knower too.
Through the magic of computers here are a few paragraphs
from my commentary that strike me as relevant. If you want more than this,
please refer to my website. This is a very interesting section of the Gita:
the Gita revises the traditional view of reincarnation with the idea that it is
the Absolute itself that incarnates over and over. This counterbalances the
more commonplace orientation of an evolving self which over the course of
millions of lifetimes develops into an enlightened, Godlike being. Our true
nature is already perfect. Each stage of development is perfect. All that is
evolving is the Absolute’s ability to act and interact with itself in rich and
interesting ways. In the words of the text, the Absolute enters the body and
employs it to imbibe the essence of the values that are experienced by it. This
attitude minimizes the ego aspect of reincarnation, while simultaneously
allowing the beauty and wonder of life to expand exponentially. A nice trick of
the contemplative’s art!
that we identify with our mind as a matter of course, the Gita warns us here
that that part of us is doomed to destruction, while only the core of the
Absolute is eternal. To achieve eternal life (however long that might last) we
must turn away from the transient aspects and reestablish our identity with
what persists. This is one place to do serious work. We delude ourselves if we
believe that a few simple words of faith will accomplish the transformation, or
some saint can rewire us simply because we are willing to let them. As Easwaran
puts it: “There is no
reference here to any external or supernatural power. My growth is entirely in
my hands; your growth is entirely in yours. The continuous improvement we are
able to make in the quality of our thinking is what decides our lives.” (186)
We are called to discover who we really are, which is the definitive method to
improve the quality of our thinking.
8 and 9 touch on the pole of immanence, in contradistinction to the
transcendental aspect of verse 6. They employ a highly poetic image of the
Creator as a kind of invisible force or wind scented with the perfume of
wind here symbolizes prana, the vital or life force that is known to animate
everything. The notion has been covered in a number of places, most notably IV,
29; V, 27; and VIII, 10. The easiest way to visualize it is in the difference
between a corpse and a living body. Barring any damage they might have
suffered, both possess all the material attributes necessary for life. While
invisible and intangible, what sets them apart is at the same time undeniable
and obvious. Our state of health is thought to be dependent on how much prana
is invigorating the system, and there are exercises and activities that can
increase it, including such things as physical exertion and living at high
altitudes. It is closely associated with breathing, so air purity is also
Gita is not a treatise on pranayama, the science of increasing the prana in the
body, in part because it is not something that should be learned from a book.
It must be studied with a competent teacher. All we have here is a beautiful
image of how prana links our physical aspect to the Absolute, which can help us
to transfer our identity from its fixation on the senses to something more
central and profound.
scents that we gather as we go through life are the meanings, the loving
contacts, the learning and growing. A life lacking these is barren, fragrance
free in the sense here. A life not worth living. When we offer our friends the
subtle perfume distilled out of our contemplative insight, in the shape of
loving communion, they are free to offer us the same, and the interchange is
mutually uplifting. Everyone benefits. Remember, the “Lord” in the Gita’s sense
is all of us, not just some single remote creature having experiences
unilaterally. There is a geometric expansion of meaning through the interaction
of everything. For instance, the universe contains perfect reciprocity, in that
every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
wording of this verse might lead us to imagine that a godlike Lord travels
around with a little gizmo consisting of mind, nerves and senses, plugging it
in whenever he enters a body and yanking it out and taking it along when he
moves on to another. By no means! The last verse was clear that the Lord—the
sentient wind or energy—comes to preside in a body already equipped with this
spectacular arrangement of aptitudes. When the Lord, which is us, is present,
sensory input is registered, and when absent it is not. In other words, the
mind and senses are just as dead as the rest of the body without the animating
principle of conscious life, which is much greater than their sum total. That
which knows and experiences is not an epiphenomenon of matter, but a spirit
that can interact with nature via this circuitry, and presumably it can
appreciate the more complex abilities afforded by wide awake beings with well
developed nervous systems over the dull repetitions of rudimentary creatures.
must remember not to anthropomorphize this Lord, particularly by claiming the
title ourselves; it remains the Absolute: formless, nameless, incomprehensible.
If we conceptualize it, we make it less than what it is, and so in a sense we
would be killing it. Whenever we formalize our conception of the Lord, we
simultaneously truncate who we are.
fire of life is the most perceptible aspect of the Absolute, as that which
differentiates animate from inanimate objects. As the next chapter will
emphasize, life itself should be worshipped as the Absolute. It should be treated
as sacred and worthy of great care and love. Callous or unfeeling people
identify life with inanimate matter, thus subtracting the meaningful part and
leaving an insensate remainder they can comfortably manipulate, free of the
constraints of conscience.
My Patanjali study with Nancy Y. continues to cross
pollinate with our Portland Gurukula class. Here’s an exercise from the current
lesson, taken from Living the Science of
Harmonious Union, page 233. The added element is keeping the mind focused
in the throat chakra:
Consciousness is to be neutralized so that it does not oscillate
between the subject and the object. Then both object-consciousness and
subject-consciousness leave. To bring about that neutralization, the distance
between the knower and the known is reduced by focusing on the neutral zero
between the incoming and outgoing breath. Physically the mind is kept at the
throat plex (visuddhi), the purificatory center.
Mantra 17 (new)
Breath enters into the atmospheric wind.
This body will end in ashes.
Aum, remember the
purpose of my doing actions,
remember what I have done.
never ceases to amaze me how a simple mantra or verse can expand into a world
of insights when several people pool their intelligence and sit respectfully
together to tease out the possibilities. This was another fine example. The
class was able to explore dialectics in all manner of permutations, keeping in
mind Nataraja Guru’s assertion that yoga dialectics reveals the Absolute. In
other words, the inclusive place of neutrality between the horns of every
dilemma allows us an expansive understanding, while partisanship to one side or
the other ties us in knots and keeps us bound.
started us right off with a teaching he is familiar with, that to be present in
the now we have to let go of what comes and what goes, in other words the
situations we meet in life and our responses to them. He had the impression
that this means we should negate both what comes to us and what goes from us to
attain the liberated state, and this is a commonly held belief. The Gurukula,
however, has a very different take. The discussion that ensued led us into
subtle and fascinating terrain.
what I take to be the Gurukula outlook—remembering perfectly well that there is
no fixed doctrine anywhere, just helpful ideas to share—transcending both
sensory impressions and our reactions to them allows us to be more engaged rather
than less. Shutting
out the world through head on opposition polarizes us, producing the opposite
of its intended effect. Rejection is a partial attitude, stemming more from the
ego’s sense of vulnerability and need to defend itself than any high-minded
goal. And it is a quintessentially human trait, nearly universal. Yoga includes
keeping up a very wakeful observation of events and our reaction to them, while
not favoring either aspect. It neither endorses or rejects. In fact, seeing how
our ideas match up with events, and then achieving a neutral state that is the
detached observer in us, is one of the delights of existence. Moreover, it is
the evolutionary path humans need to take to rise above many of our entrenched
give an example, a well-worn spiritual clichÚ is that life is suffering, but
that is only half the story, and the half that fuels escapist desires. It is a
ready excuse to turn one’s back on the world, which we may suppose was the
opposite of Buddha’s intent when he popularized the idea. Life is also filled
with amazing beauty and triumphs, endless opportunities to express fantastic
potentials in ever more absorbing ways, and these should be given at the very
least equal attention. In the final analysis, both tragedy and comedy should be
taken into account. Of course, most of us are quite naturally prejudiced in
favor of joy over sorrow, and are subtly imbalanced by the pursuit of one and
rejection of the other. Ananda, bliss, is the neutrally balanced state that
includes suffering and joy in an all-inclusive awareness. It is not attained by
the pursuit of pleasure but by a contemplative philosophic centering.
is a real sense of finality in this mantra, and we decided that the remembering
referred to was to return to our true nature at the moment of death. While this
can include mentally conjuring up our actual life, it means so much more as
well. Was it Moni who said there is only one moment, ever: the now. It is the
moment of truth. Paul added that who we are is an evolving point, like the
hologram we discussed in an earlier class, that includes the entire universe in
it. It is not something to be rejected, but a monad of the universe’s ongoing
expression. I’ll add more on this in Part IV.
Absolute is not just a point source, it is everything that comes from the
source as well. We do not have to negate creation to return to the Absolute,
divinity (or reality) is all around us, and we are it. We just have to clear
away the fictions we have bought into during our development that tell us we
are separate and an insult to universal integrity. Then we can optimize our
embodiment as a spark of the Absolute. It’s an all-inclusive philosophy, one
that promotes evolution by overcoming stagnation. The Gita’s V, 15 puts it this
The all-pervading One takes
cognizance neither of the sinful nor the meritorious actions of anyone; wisdom
is veiled by unwisdom; beings are deluded thereby.
gave a lovely take on what we are to remember at death: that good and bad are
meaningless, mere distractions from the essential entity we are. Humans get
totally caught up in hair splitting arguments about what’s okay and what isn’t.
Moni knows it’s all okay—more than okay, it’s the most beautiful expression of
the divine. Even our flaws are part of the beauty. Such an open and accepting
attitude is not just the proper way to die, it is the proper way to live.
Gurukula is in favor of acceptance, not rejection. Acceptance is accepted,
rejection is rejected. Seems only fair! To each its own. But again, the aim is
not to polarize around these issues, but to let go of our rigid positions so we
can be as flexible as the now, which flows like water, or flies like wind.
we go off course is that the conscious part of our mind known as the ego is
just a tiny speck on the fringe of our whole being, but it is cut off from the
rest and becomes convinced that it is all of us that matters. It does have a
valuable role in goal orientation and discrimination, but it gets closed off
and begins to listen to the more or less toxic outside influences of society,
the religious, political and commercial voices that lure us away from our best
interests. In the face of the babble that pulls us out of ourself, we must
remember who we are, and serve that. Doing so is not selfish: it is universally
generous. And it helps restore sanity, at home and abroad.
David Eagleman provides a nice analogy, (close kin to Narayana Guru’s Daiva Dashakam,
where the Lord is
addressed as a mighty steamship, though Eagleman doesn’t know of it), that
wigged out the class. He compared the ego with a stowaway on an ocean liner
imagining they were running the ship. We are that out of touch with reality!
But we don’t have to be. I’ll reprint some choice tidbits from Eagleman’s
recent book in Part II, because it throws a lot of light on our study. Science
is beginning to catch up to the rishis at long last. It has a long way to go,
but it is now advanced enough to be very helpful to a spiritual seeker.
stowaway analogy throws light on one problem in particular that came up last
night. The religious framing of our society has convinced nearly everyone that
we are born sinners, guilty from the start, and in spiritual life we are
supposed to wrestle our beasts into submission, or better yet, kill them off.
The self-hatred can be quite extreme here, though it is usually well disguised.
Goaded into action, the ego sets out like a white knight to discipline the
whole person and set it straight. Unfortunately, the ego is the very part of us
that regularly misses the mark and goes off course. It is the beast, and it
believes it’s in charge. Because it is easily swayed by the fickle winds of
surface life, it winds up injecting its own poisons into the part of us that is
our best and healthiest aspect. The result is nearly always disastrous.
spirituality at its best points the arrow the other direction, allowing our
native inner coherence to discipline the ego by entraining it in its grand
schemes. A humble ego makes an excellent servant, but all too often the
pipsqueak stowaway tries to sabotage the ship and guide it toward ersatz goals
it has been taught to believe in. The rampant wackiness of some strongly
disciplined communities is evidence of this “backwards” attitude. As conscious
egos we should “sit at the feet” of our greater Self, and listen hard to its
messages. Better yet, as Eagleman makes clear, if we just get out of the way in
most cases, we already have the expertise we need in operation. Our meddling
from the outside just inhibits the smooth functioning that is intrinsic to us.
We have another razor’s edge to walk to incorporate the right amount of
conscious ego into the mix: not too much and not too little. But first we have
to know where our true strengths lie, and climb down off our high horse so we
can meet them.
common misconception is that all conditioning is bad, and we hashed this over
too. When a universe comes into existence, each bit of it is necessarily
conditioned. How else could it be? But this is a good thing, a wonderful thing,
allowing everything to exist. The conditioning we need to overcome is another
matter entirely. We become estranged from ourselves through indoctrination and
our inevitable limitations. Mantra 17 includes a call to burn away all this
surface conditioning and recall who we are, to reclaim ourselves. We are still
conditioned in a sense as long as we exist, but that’s okay. It’s what ancient
Christians were getting at by distinguishing original and personal sin.
Original sin is how we are built. It’s not really sinful, just limited.
Personal sin is the damage that happens to the edifice from various causes; it
is correctable and at least partly under our control.
sent an overall delineation of the Isa Upanishad in more traditional
religious-sounding terms he found in Wikipedia (I have no idea what that first
phrase means, other than the Isa. The numbers refer to the mantras):
Swami Chinmayananda notes in his
commentary that the VS Kanva recession proceeds over 7 “waves of thought” with
the first 3 representing 3 distinct paths of life, 4-8 pointing out the Vision
of Truth, 9-14 revealing the path of worship leading to purification, 15-17
revealing the call of the Rishis for man to awaken to his own Immortal state,
and V. 18 the prayer to the Lord to bless all seekers with strength to live up
to the teachings of the Upanishad.
you all know, I prefer to extract the gist from the highly embroidered language
of long ago, which does have its charm but can also distract us significantly
from the meaning. Here’s my synopsis:
The Isa Upanishad first postulates the Absolute as an
all-pervasive reality, and describes the value of our relationship to it. This
is followed by examples of rigorous dialectical (yogic) effort to realize the
truth of the Absolute, which comprises the bulk of the Upanishad. Then there are
two mantras envisioning the sun as the source of all nourishment and truth,
covered over by our conditioning. The way conditioning disrupts our ability to
grasp reality is being carefully studied in neuroscience also, with
commensurate conclusions. The last two mantras are a kind of surrender, when
after all the intense efforts, the seeker gives up and calls upon the Beyond to
grant full understanding. For a stowaway on a giant steamship, it is only right
to relinquish command, since we never had it anyway.
works best when it follows a period of striving, just as the Upanishad is
structured. When we work hard until we are stumped and then take a break, very
often insights come unbidden. This is by no means strictly a spiritual matter.
The hardcore materialist Isaac Asimov has written of the same process in his
amusing essay called The Eureka Phenomenon, available online. He lists a number
of scientific discoveries made this way, and proposes that most of them are,
although scientists are loath to admit it. Regardless, the surrender can only
come after striving. If you surrender first, nothing happens. So surrender
should never be a goal in itself, just something that happens when the time is
are the quotes from the neuroscience book I referred to earlier. The last is
especially relevant to our Patanjali study, where we mulled over the cessation
of mental modifications. It sounds like we should simply stop the mind, but
this is not possible and not healthy. What we really should do is stop the
interference of the conscious mind with the flow of our life generated in our
core. The conscious aspect has an important role to play, but it tends to
become a dictator rather than a community participant, and it needs to be
deposed and restored to its rightful role. We have met Eagleman before, in our
discussions on time.
David Eagleman, Incognito,
(Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2011):
There are as many connections in a single cubic centimeter
of brain tissue as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy. [Roughly 100
If you ever feel lazy or dull, take heart: you’re the
busiest, brightest thing on the planet. (2)
The first thing we learn from studying our own circuitry is
a simple lesson: most of what we do and think and feel is not under our
conscious control. The vast jungles of neurons operate their own programs. The
conscious you—the I that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning—is
the smallest bit of what’s transpiring in your brain. Although we are dependent
on the functioning of the brain for our inner lives, it runs its own show. Most
of its operations are above the security clearance of the conscious mind. The I
simply has no right of entry.
consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking
credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot.
not perceiving what’s out there. You’re perceiving whatever your brain tells
In the traditionally taught view of perception, data from the
sensorium pours into the brain, works its way up the sensory hierarchy, and
makes itself seen, heard, smelled, tasted, felt—”perceived.” But a closer
examination of the data suggests this is incorrect. The brain is properly
thought of as a mostly closed system that runs on its own internally generated
activity. We already have many examples of this sort of activity: for example,
breathing, digestion, and walking are controlled by autonomously running
activity generators in your brain stem and spinal cord. During dream sleep the
brain is isolated from its normal input, so internal activation is the only
source of cortical stimulation. In the awake state, internal activity is the
basis for imagination and hallucinations.
more surprising aspect of this framework is that the internal data is not generated
by the external sensory data
but merely modulated by it….
deep secret of the brain is that not only the spinal cord but the entire
central nervous system works this way: internally generated activity is
modulated by sensory input. (44-5)
sent us the excerpt about the five pranas from the Pranayama book of Nitya’s he
has digitalized, for those interested. It’s not essential to the study, only
From pages 20-23 of the Pranayama booklet:
The animating prānā
of the body is a corporation of five vital energies called vayus. These are prānā,
apāna, samāna, udāna, and
vyāna. All animated bodies have six
aspects: existence, birth, growth, evolution, involution, and termination of a
cycle which leads to another transformation. In all these stages there are
different kinds of movements or actions. These several functions are carried
out by differently oriented energies, which we here call vayus. When man eats corn, wheat and tubers, or meat, the same
food is to be split into different components and is to be sorted and
re-assembled to build various tissues, such as bones, muscles, nerves, skin and
brain cells. This implies different kinds of analysis and synthesis. These
body-building functions are also attributed to vayu. In an ultimate sense, nothing perishes. There is only
transformation. So, in one sense, can say, everything floats in a cosmic ocean
of vayu. This vayu has no synonymous English term, and hence, the commonly accepted
translation as air is very misleading. Many enzymes and chemicals are produced
in the body by directing emotions or thoughts in a certain way. From this it is
evident that vayu is not a mere
physical principle but is causally related to psychosomatics. One out of three
major physical disorders comes from the disorganized functioning of vayu. Skin diseases,
muscular aches, nervous breakdowns, rheumatic pains, tuberculosis, mental
derangement and hypertensions are all caused by the malfunctioning of the vayu.
is to be
treated both as a science of understanding
vayus and as an art of regulating them. The normal functions of vayu in the
body are circulation of
blood, respiration of lungs, beating of the heart, digestion of food,
regeneration of cells, rejection of impaired cells and all foreign matter, all
variety of sensations and the supply of fuel for all mental activities. We can
say, in another sense, that prānā is
the container of jiva. Or that the jiva
is riding on the prānā, as it were. Even when life goes
from one body to another, such as the case of the sperm, the egg, and the seed,
the jiva of these takes with it the prānā
until these get their own fresh
supply. In tantric philosophy jiva is
called Shiva and prānā is called Shakti.
All the five vayus
are the same prānā and are separately
named only to indicate the five different functions.
The five elements are in their pure state before quintuplication.
In that pure state each has the three aspects of sattva, rajas, and tamas
latent in it. The material out of
which the five prānās are created is
the three rajas of all the five elements, first added together and then with
three-fourths of it taken apart. These are subtle elements, and so the prānā
is to be treated as subtle and
not as gross air. The vayu that
always goes up is called prānā; the
vayu that is drawn downward is called apāna. The vayu that takes the nourishment of food to all parts of the body
is called samāna. The vayu that regulates
the movements of
the alimentary canal and intestine is called
udāna. The vayu that regulates
and harmonizes and maintains an even temperature and general harmony in the
body is vyāna.
What is most characteristic of prānā is its throb. These throbs are of different kinds. Some are
of uniform beats, some others are like vibrating waves, and some are spiral
movements. There are very rapid beatings and very slow. On account of the
differences in the throb or vibration, the
vayus become colored. Prānā is
the color of padmarāga, ruby. Apāna
is of the color indranila, sapphire, the color deeper
than the sky. And samāna is the color
of milk. Udāna is of the color of
fire opal, yellow. Vyāna is the color
of fire. The color of the prānā
causes the pigments of the blood corpuscles and the various colors seen in the
muscular, neural and glandular tissues. The five prānās, the mind, the intellect, the five organs of perception and
the five organs of action are the instruments of the jiva to enjoy life. All the sensations and conscious awareness are
in the subtle body. The gross body itself has no sensation or consciousness.
Though this subtle body is clothed with the gross body, prānā does not belong to the gross body. To control the physical
body prānā uses the physical air, and
for that reason many people misunderstand the air that is inhaled and exhaled
The primary seat of
prānā is in the heart. The other main centers are those between the nose
and the mouth, the navel, and the big toes.
Apāna’s primary seat is the anus. It also has control over the genitals,
thighs and the kneecaps. Samāna
centers around the navel but pervades throughout the body as well. Udāna is
centered mainly in the throat,
as well as in all the joints. Vyāna
is also all over the body, particularly the inner ear, the groin, the back of
the head and the tarsis. Apart from the five main prānās, there are five minor
ones: naga, which is in the heart and
causes belching; kurma, which is in
the anus and controls the movement of the pupils; krkara, which is in the navel and causes sneezing; devadatta, which
is in the throat and
causes sleep; dhana˝jaya, which is
all over the body and functions only after death to disintegrate all the cells
and deteriorate the body. For further information on the function and placement
of the different prānās please read:
Yoga Cudamani Upanishad- Verses 23-24, Trisikha Brahmana Upanishad- Verses
energy which is restless and is constantly pulling all energies upward. It is
not only inside the body but also envelops the body. Apāna is equally restless.
Its pull is downward. Between the prānā
in the heart and the apāna in the
anus, vayu operates like a piston.
These energies can be compared to the neutralizing operations of entropy and
negentropy. They function alternately.
Prānā is a subtle force that takes hold of gross air to move up and down.
Everyone has a field of prānā and
apāna enveloping the body. Some people
call it the aura. It is active up to six inches from the surface of the body.
If a body is six feet, its prānā is
seven feet. Prānā operates within a
span of about three feet from the heart, partially from the heart to the
nostril, and the rest outside the body. That which is outside the body gathers
life-giving energies from the atmosphere and directs them to the organism. The
respiration that we feel in the lungs and the abdomen is only a partial
function. With each inhalation there takes place the throbbing of the prānā
all over the body. The physical
respiration is therefore called a protracted throb or dirgha-spanda, and is a subtle energizing force over the body. It
is also called hrasva-spanda. When a
child is inside the womb of its mother, it does not have an atmosphere of prānā
outside the body. That is why it
has no breathing function. Its heartbeats, nourishment and blood circulation
are all taken care of by the atmosphere of
prānā around the mother’s body. As soon as the child emerges into the
outside atmosphere, the external prānā
rushes through its nostrils and begins its own autonomous functioning. To
receive the prānā from outside, the
child must empty itself of the prānā
that is received through the mother. This is done by the first primal cry of
the child. When once the prānā begins
to function in the child, it has no cessation until the death of the body. Each prānā
has its own duration. When the
full quantity is used, the prānā
leaves the body and, consequently, death comes. That is why in the Sanskrit language
both death and time
plan to read the following excerpt from my Gita commentary in my book talk next
week, and it seems germane to the class discussion as well. From Chapter V:
blazing realization the rishis wrote into their Upanishads is that we are the
Absolute in our core. We are not some unwelcome scourge polluting the Garden of
Eden, but the very essence of paradise, the part that can see, and know, and
enjoy. Living in fear of the presiding deity has withered our hearts and
embittered our minds, but that is not the intent of Creation. If God is ashamed
of us, it is only because we have failed to thrive, failed to love, failed to
care, because that’s what we were put here to do. God is not ashamed because we
dare to be ourselves, but because we don’t.
best part of who we are is the Absolute itself. That’s the unconscious we are
striving to make conscious. We can muck around with the rest too, in order to
free ourselves from the evil Fate which is nothing more than the flailing of
our injured soul, but in our best moments we need to be reaching for that
auspicious Light, that true form, which we are the very expression of. When we
rediscover it, we know instinctively we are That.
And this is from V, 12, regarding detachment:
one of unitive discipline, discarding benefit-motive, attains to ultimate
peace; the one of non-unitive discipline, being desire-motivated, attached to
results, is bound.
again Krishna attempts to teach us the subtleties of detachment. Sometimes a
negative example serves better than a positive one. Here’s what detachment is
often thought to mean: The universe sprang into being (present cycle) 13
billion years ago. It spent 8 billion years laying the groundwork for our own
solar system, followed by five billion years of painstaking evolution under our
sun, during which time life arose and slowly developed into more and more
complex forms. None of them were particularly conscious, but step by step
various organs came into play, including brains. These ran on something called
instinct until an unspeakably vast level of complexity was achieved, with more
potential synaptic connections than there are particles in the known universe
by some estimates. A critical mass of interactions set off a kind of chain
reaction, and sentience was born. As waves of electrical impulses danced and
interacted on this amazing product of “blind” evolution, beings for the first
time became capable of pondering their place in creation. But they were
dull-witted still. It took several hundred thousand to several million more
years to achieve writing and advanced language skills. And music and poetry,
certainly the highest expressions of evolution to date. True self-awareness
with manifold capabilities for expression was finally achieved only quite
recently. And what does this highly advanced being think? What is the most
profound idea it can come up with? That it should stop interacting with its
environment and shut down all mental processes. Rather than maintaining full
participation in this wondrous continuum of evolutionary development, it should
become “detached” and quit the game. Stop everything, in the name of The Lord.
Sounds more like the evolution of depression to me. As Douglas Adams
facetiously put it on page one of The
Restaurant at the End of the Universe, “In the beginning the Universe was
created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a
important to realize that the Gita is recommending withdrawal from certain
attachments to help us reacquaint ourselves with the vertical essence of life,
but is not by any means ruling out all horizontal activities, only the ones
that likely would cause us grief. An exact “right” attitude can’t be pinned
down, but there is nothing wrong with having fun, even sensory fun, as noted in
the previous verse. Many seers are acutely alive to the world around them,
while others are withdrawn and introverted. This is merely a personal
predilection; with nothing right or wrong about either choice. When in doubt,
please err on the side of enjoying yourself, as long as it does little or no harm
to others. Pondering the actual meaning of ideas like these is the very wisdom
sacrifice recommended by the Gita as the highest form of activity.
Mantra 18 (old)
O Agni (fire), knower of all action and
knowledge, guide us in the right path
of happiness. From me, remove
crooked sinfulness. To you, (we) offer
many words of salutation!
a slightly prolonged gestation, we are coming to the finale of the Isa
Upanishad study after a little more than nine months. No one can accuse us of
favoring speed over depth! It feels like we have incubated something really
special, and I hope it grows to adulthood in grace and self-confidence.
back to our first session of January 3, 2012, the notes include a quote from
Nitya’s Preface to Isa I, well worth recalling. We are not trying to learn an
abstract system of beliefs or ideas but to penetrate into the heart of the
subject, which is life, the universe, and everything. Like a musician playing a
composition, we are taking the dots on the page and infusing them with the
transcendent meaning and gorgeousness they enshrine, adding a whiff of our
personal interpretation to something timeless and collectively shared by all:
things from within] is a secret that upanishads convey. For that reason
upanishad is defined as “the secret science.” The charlatan calls his esoterics
also a “secret science.” That is a secret invented by man’s conceit. In the
present case the secret means only that the subject dealt with by the upanishad
demands the maturization of knowledge. Such a maturization is not denied to
anyone unless they are sorrowfully retarded in the development of their
faculties or else wontonly forfeiting their chance. (8)
Our study is offered in a context where we as seekers
approach a source of wisdom with the dedicated intent of learning its secrets
by enlarging our understanding. The meaning will be perfectly clear just as
soon as we have an unclouded enough perspective to take it all in. Nitya also
says in that same Preface, “Instantaneous occurrence of a polarization between
[the seeker and the seer] is inevitable. Through a process of harmonization,
the initial polarity becomes a bipolarity.” In other words, what was at first
separate and incomprehensible is eventually seen to be twin aspects of a
unitive state of being that feels like our true home.
theme that has characterized our study is sitting close to the wisdom source—in
this case an excellent book—and allowing it to percolate into our psyches, both
actively and passively. Since together we have dared to take it seriously, a
profound sense of harmony has grown and ripened to surround us like a cosmic
embrace. We have been most fortunate to have had this imperiential experience,
which required letting go of our hampering prejudices combined with a welcoming
in of new shades of meaning.
class reiterated that the “letting go” involved is not the same as holding
back. It’s more of an opening up. In a sense, then, letting go is the opposite
of restraint, yet all our conventional training favors restraint. This is due
to the caution we adopted because of being punished as children for our
spontaneous behaviors. Humiliation can be as inhibiting as physical punishment,
as far as that goes. Both accomplish the suppression of individuality. Either
way, we lose contact with the wellspring of inspiration bubbling up inside us.
Then, like the charlatan mentioned above, we are left to egocentrically
manipulate the desiccated remains of our inspiration to garner temporary
shelter from the storm, but it comes at the expense of the eternal equanimity
abiding in our core.
described how our rush to judge everything truncates our experience and yanks
us out of our center. Deb pointed out that this is exactly how our brains work:
they evolved to discriminate very subtle differences in the outer world that
might indicate danger. Our brains are forever on guard. But we are now trying
to evolve to a new condition where we feel secure enough to drop our guard and
readmit our dharma back into our life. We no longer want to mount a charade to
hide behind; we want to be ourselves. The charade often includes
holier-than-thou attitudes and the harsh judgments of others. Turn on any TV or
radio and you can listen to endless strident howls of self-righteous
accusations hurled pitilessly at the less fortunate of our fellow beings. Then
turn it off and restore your sanity.
of the tricks of the ego to maintain its precarious perch as the tail in charge
of wagging the dog is to fix blame on others. It is such a relief to point the
finger away from us! The problem is that it is just a diversion, like the
displacement activity of a cat who blithely licks her paws as if it was someone
else who ate your goldfish. “It wasn’t my
fault” is the ego’s favorite chant.
the vow we took at the door of this study was to turn the arrow of intent back
toward ourselves. There is only one person we can honestly and successfully
teach, and that is ourself. To do that we have to unashamedly accept blame at
the same time as we realize its ultimate irrelevance in spirituality. Since no
one is perfect, it is unfair to demand perfection of anyone, ourselves
included. That is not even the goal. As flawed human beings we have as much
access to the total reality as even the most exemplary person who ever lived. That’s
the goal; not fitting in socially
so smoothly that no one notices our faults or blames us for anything. The
perfection of the Absolute is a totally different paradigm then personal
refinement. When Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father
which is in heaven is perfect,” he didn’t mean we should be well behaved. He
meant we should be complete.
all felt a potpourri of strong emotions over the recent tragic death of Anne,
who has attended classes for several years, but who never was able to extricate
herself from the psychic prison she had lived in all her life. We wondered what
we could have said or done to really make a difference for her. But that also
points the arrow the wrong way. What we gave to Anne, and she deeply
appreciated, was our friendship and example of dedication, of providing a safe
arena to relax and feel loved. In a world of isolated, lonely souls, that is
already a helpful offering. Any specific advice we gave would likely have
stirred an unforeseen negative backlash. Change doesn’t happen very often
through advice, which calls up our defenses, but comes much more easily when we
just take an example to heart and make it our own. Meaningful transformation is
never easy, however, as we are all well aware of.
we work on ourselves, and that is the best thing we can offer the world, as
also for our own benefit. It’s hard work. Among other things, we agree to not
simply withhold judgment, but to put it in its rightful place as a minor but
essential adjunct of the path we walk. And we resolve to try mightily not to be
pulled off center by its powerful gravity.
there is a giant hand in the back of our minds ready to smack, or a traumatic
event walled off with intense fear, or in most cases plentiful amounts of both,
our steps may be guided by the least competent part of us, the vulnerable,
worried adult child of our persona. We no longer need to fear those blows that
fell so long ago, but they are very hard to shake, because our brain is
dedicated to not letting them befall us again. It’s as if they are still
present and just about to happen. Hopefully by now we can see what doesn’t work
in freeing up our psyche: Giving instructions—fail. Blaming others—fail.
Ignoring it so it will go away—fail. These are the familiar choices. But there
is one that works: open acceptance combined with close, intelligent scrutiny.
Acceptance can include things like the prayerful supplication of a higher power
of this eighteenth mantra. Anything to draw us out of being stuck in our tiny
and timid conscious mind and invite in the rest of our capacity.
brains are made to learn from mistakes as much as traumas. This means we should
welcome our blunders, not try to cover them up and deny them. When we blame
others, we are in denial. Nitya reiterated many times that what bothered us
about other people was invariably a fault of ours that was projected outward.
If we didn’t share the fault, it wouldn’t prick us. So we need to look exactly
where our own mistakes are, and admit them.
was one of several who were inspired by Dr. Ramesh Bijlani’s essay on Maya,
sent out last week (I’ll add it in again later in case you missed it). Paul
recalled that the excerpt from Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri also directed us not away from tragedy and error, but right
into the heart of it. Our faults can be a door for truth to enter:
His knowledge he disguised as Ignorance,
His Good he sowed in Evil’s monstrous bed,
Made error a door by which Truth could enter in,
His plant of bliss watered with Sorrow’s tears.
– SRI AUROBINDO
(In: Savitri, Book 10, Canto 3, p. 625.)
And, as we know, goodness by itself can be more like a
locked door to truth, incapable of opening to the unknown it seals off in its
righteousness. The class correctly likened this binding tactic of the ego to
the golden disc of mantra 15.
of the best ways to ease our fears is to laugh. Laughter sweeps away our mental
blocks, but true laughter is rare. Narayana Guru brings it in only as verse 95
of his hundred verses of Self-instruction. That same verse includes Nitya’s
hilarious account of the value of making mistakes, found on pages 680 and 681
of That Alone, which I’ll include as Part II. Read the whole chapter if you
have the time; it’s awesome.
had a laughter-as-cure experience this week that was a perfect example. A
friend accused me of a minor transgression. My usual reaction to being accused
is to get a jolt of adrenaline and prepare to protect myself, casting about for
an excuse. My conditioning makes me get ready to be hurt, and to make a speech
in my defense. But I also knew that the incident was trivial enough to not
worry about, and even more important, that it was the other person’s habitual
attitude that brought up the accusation in the first place. So it was easy to
take the blame, and I did. Seeing the ridiculousness of the complaint and
having a measure of distance between my feelings and my reactions, I burst out
laughing instead of getting uptight. It was a really cleansing laugh that felt
like bubbles scrubbing me clean all the way to the pit of my stomach. And it
was infectious: my friend also started giggling, and the whole thing was
quickly forgotten. But the laugh continued to float around in my middle for a
long time afterwards. It was one of the best I’ve had in many years. Yes, it
helped that the matter was relatively minor; it’s much harder to shrug off
really angry accusations. But the easy ones give us a chance to practice for
the big time. If we humans could laugh about our quotidian foibles and forgive
the 90 percent that are just plain silly, we would have a far easier time
coping with the 10 percent that truly pose a challenge.
again the class was a time of rich sharing that I’m only passing on a poor
intimation of. The magic is in sitting down with the seemingly simple mantra
and really pondering it, preferably with a dedicated group. Then the insights
start working their way into consciousness. One flash leads to another, and it
builds into a quietly moving experience, almost like secrets being revealed,
with the attendant soulful relief.
Part II – That Alone excerpt
part about the value of making mistakes, in That Alone: The Core of Wisdom.
Verse 95 is a great read, throwing light on maya as well as mistakes and humor:
verse is for all people to become light-hearted. We should see the light side
of life rather than becoming so grumpy about everything. If you make a mistake
it’s because Mother Nature wants you to make it. So don’t have any sense of
guilt, make your mistakes gladly. If you don’t make little mistakes, God will
call out to you: “Fool! I gave you a chance. I sent you to the world, and you
didn’t make any mistake. Stupid! Get out!” If you are here in this world, make
some mistakes. Maya is sitting there and asking us to do all these things.
Nataraja Guru used to tell us in the Gurukula that we should make interesting
mistakes, not stupid or clumsy ones. Whatever mistakes you make should be very
clever and interesting.
Peters tells a great story about Gurdjieff. At his school one time he had to be
away for a few days, so he put a trustworthy woman in charge in his absence. On
his return she showed him a little black book in which she had kept track of
all the offenses the students had committed. It was quite a long list. To
everyone’s surprise, Gurdjieff took out his wallet and started giving each one
money, paying so much per offense. Fritz had been at the top of the list so he
got the most money, but he was ashamed to spend it, feeling the old woman had
been let down. She had carefully chronicled all the crimes, and now Gurdjieff
was giving everyone presents for their mistakes. But Gurdjieff said life was
like that, and if you didn’t make mistakes life would never be interesting.
here you are being given an invitation to make mistakes. And what kind of
mistakes is maya causing you to make? Her mistakes are not freaks of nature.
She has a system. We can see how comedy and tragedy come in such a way that
over time they balance each other out.
Part III – on Maya
I sent this out last week, I hadn’t realized maya was mentioned in the
commentary. No matter how often we talk of the miracle of maya and the delight
of existence, there is a fixed notion in many people’s minds that maya means
negative illusion, something to be avoided. Beliefs like that are heavily
binding in their own right! Pradeep shared this fine article clearing up some
of the persistent myths about maya. It has already received a lot of positive
THE MIRACLE CALLED MAYA
By Dr. Ramesh Bijlani, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, New Delhi
His knowledge he
disguised as Ignorance,
His Good he sowed in
Evil’s monstrous bed,
Made error a door by
which Truth could enter in,
His plant of bliss
watered with Sorrow’s tears.
– SRI AUROBINDO
(In: Savitri, Book
10, Canto 3, p. 625.)
Maya literally means an illusion, or the phenomenon whereby
something appears different from what it really is. The classical example of an
illusion is that of a rope looking like a snake, or the other way round. In the
Indian spiritual literature, the word maya is used for the grand illusion
created by the Divine in the process of creating the universe. The Infinite
limited itself to the finite, the Everlasting manifested through the perishable,
the One became many, the Constant became ever-changing. Further, in spite of
its all-pervasive presence, the Divine hid itself so well that even man is
hardly aware of It. The word maya has the same root as measure, and refers to
the self-limitation of the Immeasurable to a measurable entity. The Vedic seers
looked upon maya as a power, the power of the Divine to limit and hide itself.
But with the passage of time, maya acquired a negative connotation. It was
argued that since the reality is different from the appearance, the appearance
is false, the appearance is not worthy of interest, and the appearance may be
renounced in favour of the Reality behind it. This point of view creates a
division of people into the ordinary majority who, due to their ignorance,
waste their life by getting engrossed with the fleeting, fragile and futile
world; and the select few who can see through the illusion, and therefore
reject the world and worldly life in pursuit of the one Reality that matters.
However, since the world is a manifestation of the Divine, those who reject the
world also reject an aspect of the very same Reality that they are seeking. Sri
Aurobindo points out that mistaking the visible world for the total reality is
a distortion created by the divided consciousness. Multiplicity is an
inevitable part of material manifestation, and when the multiple forms acquire
a limited consciousness, it is difficult for them to see the unity underlying
the multiplicity. However, rejecting the multiplicity as unreal or false is at
least as erroneous as denying its underlying unity. For example, the deeper
reality of a set of pots might be clay, but while the pots exist, the pots are
also real. Not only are they not unreal, it is only individual forms that are ephemeral.
Forms, according to Sri Aurobindo, “have an eternal recurrence, if not eternal
persistence”. The world may be a partial reality, or a distorted reality, but
it is not unreal. Therefore the world, and worldly life, should not be
rejected. What we need to do is to transform the distorted reality so that it
befits the One that it manifests.
Thus, maya is not cheating. Maya is not a fraud played by
the Divine on man. Maya is an expression of the great capacity of the Divine.
It is the capacity of the One to be simultaneously also the many. It is the
capacity to take on an astronomical variety of forms. If an actor has multiple
roles in a movie, it is considered a great feat. Why can’t we take a similar
view of the greatest of all actors, who plays innumerable roles? Its capacity
to appear different from what It is, and to create in man the aspiration to
know what It is, should inspire awe, wonder and reverence, not rejection. This
view of maya leads to the life-affirming version of spiritual practice, the
practice that gives meaning to life, the practice that makes the world a better
place to live in.
Part IV – Nitya letter
of Nitya’s greatest letters ever was left out of Love and Blessings, but I have
it here with me, in case that book should some day require a second printing.
Here’s a bit of it, relating to when the Oregon author Don Berry was
complaining that Nitya’s students were all low grade dummies, and that he
should be teaching only those who could truly appreciate his wisdom. Nitya never
turned anyone away because they were “inferior”; he remained neutral in most
every occasion toward those who sat at his feet. His letter is a masterpiece of
understatement, but one of his most endearing qualities was seeing the beauty
in every person, the worst along with the best:
It was good you had lively discussions with our friends
Berry and Harvey. I have nothing but praise for Don Berry’s candid
observations. He is perfectly right that the people who support me are not very
productive, and they are not great lovers. It took many years for me to find
out how I could enter the big world without seriously damaging my veil of
obscurity. Two great maxims that I prize very much and still hold in high
esteem are of Jalaluddin Rumi. They are “poverty is my pride” and “obscurity is
my refuge.” I could have become very rich in India. At least five times big
fortunes came unsought to my doorstep, and it was by God’s grace that I was not
caught in the trap of the glittering devil.
I had the
privilege of facing ten to twenty thousand people and on a few occasions even
fifty thousand people to talk to and play on their sentiments whatever games I
liked. I also rejoiced seeing my name appear on posters and in daily papers.
Again it was by God’s grace that I could turn away from the world of public
media to the cloister of spiritual obscurity. I certainly do not want to return
to the world of money and publicity. My friends are not rich. Some of them are
extremely poor. But they have no poverty in their hearts. They are not the
emotionally charged followers of Christ consciousness. I have seen how
dangerous cults can become. My friends may be shallow; I like that. They will
not keep any dangerous secrets hidden in any inaccessible depths.
people sent by God with definite missions and purposes. I am not sent by God. I
came with a flock which he is grazing on his hills and in his meadows. I am not
a savior but one on whom great saviors are lavishing their grace. I am telling
you this so you don’t have to fight my good friend Berry to defend me and my
appear to be wise. I happen to be listening to a wise man who sat at the feet
of another wise man. All wisdom really belongs to them. My contribution is to
water down their wisdom and sometimes make it muddy because my pigs do not like
wrote his Ramayana and Vyasa wrote his Mahabharata, they did not print a
thousand copies, let alone bring in a mass production of paperbacks. My poor
shallow nonproductive friends at least help me in neatly typing and making five
xeroxed copies for me and twenty or thirty for others. I don’t think I deserve
more than that during my lifetime. If these words have the worth and dynamics
of the eternal words of the Buddha or Christ, they will rise up from the
typescript and immortalize themselves without anybody’s aid.
I am not
suggesting by this that I do not prize the help of a wise and sincere friend
like Don Berry. If the muddy waters which I turn to my pigs who drink with
relish is also to be given to noble men and ladies who would appreciate pure
and distilled water, I need someone who can filter and remove the dirt from
what I cater to people. I wouldn’t stop anyone from doing that. I am not good
The simile I
have adopted here is not my own. About ten or fifteen years ago when I was
enthusiastic in giving wide publicity to Guru’s philosophy, I used all sorts of
devices to make it look popular. Then Nataraja Guru told me that the clear
water of Narayana Guru and the muddy water of my relativism were both coming
through the same hose. I learned to filter it as much as possible. I can do a
pretty good job of it when I present my understanding in my own language.
English is a foreign language to me, and everybody knows how clumsy my
expressions are when I speak or write in English. I am not ashamed of it. Every
man has his limitations, and I admit mine. It is my wish and prayer that good
friends like Don Berry will see through my wrong idioms and erroneous grammar
the right meaning of my intention and re-articulate my words in a worthy
Scott again—I suppose it’s only fair for me to offer
whole letter to anyone interested. Write me and you can have it. I also append
here part of the introduction that I wrote to this letter for Gurukulam
Magazine, (which declined to print it):
Guru Nitya excelled at interpreting the highest wisdom of
the ancients in easily understandable contemporary terms. He felt one of his
most important roles was to offer advice on specific conundrums to those who
asked for his help. Meeting disciples exactly where they found themselves in
difficulties was his special talent; in the following letter he refers to this
as muddying the clear waters of truth. In actuality it would be better
described as bearing precious water to the thirsty, wherever they might be.
Where some gurus might open a glittering Water Emporium at an exclusive oasis,
this guru had a cherished perennial spring from which he could draw cool, fresh
water, which it was his delight to deliver to his dehydrated friends. If it
sometimes tasted like strong medicine, when imbibed it would invariably restore
a tired psyche to vital functioning.
Mantra 18 (new)
O fire, by a bright path lead us to prosperity,
shining one who knowest all the ways.
Keep far from us the sin that accrues as action.
Most ample expression of adoration
to you we render.
Isa study has turned out to be astonishingly rich. Some ideas, when you poke
into them, turn out to be lightweight or flimflam. The Isa is so tiny and
innocent looking! But once we started digging, there was no end to the insights
plan to have one final class next week to examine the work as a whole. Up till
now we have peered at it closely, atomizing it, and now, in Michael’s analogy,
we want to knit the separate pieces of cloth back into the whole quilt. That
promises to add another dimension.
are two main ideas here, both of them balancing ideas from the previous mantra.
The Isa remains a masterpiece of dialectical yoga to the end!
first is the fire as a guiding light. In mantra 17, fire, in its role of
destroying to pave the way for renewal, burns away the tangible aspect of life.
Here it throws light to guide us forward. It is a nurturing and supportive element.
In the last analysis, destruction is also nurturing and supportive, but
creation and dissolution remain two sides of a single coin.
second pair invokes the arrow of interest. In mantra 17, the intelligence of
the universe was asked to pay attention to the supplicant. In this final
mantra, the supplicant’s gratitude is directed to that wondrous principle of
coherence and enlightenment that everywhere energizes life.
class noted that it isn’t that mantra 18 is better or more advanced than 17—both
these aspects have an equal stature in a harmonized spirit. Life grinds us to
nothing at the same time as it raises us up toward an all-encompassing
understanding. And the Absolute and individual consciousness are equally
essential to a functional universe. You can’t have one without the other. These
are the kinds of additional insights we can derive from considering the
Upanishad as a whole, rather than verse by verse, and it provides a kind of
forward momentum that we have internalized as we proceeded.
class talked a lot about the Isa’s final concept, gratitude. When you really
look at life, you can’t help but be filled with admiration and thankfulness. So
much comes to us unbidden! It is as if there is a program of learning devised
by a transcendent genius unfolding with a hidden agenda, and our job is to stay
awake and responsive to it. We don’t have to create a life from scratch, which
would be so time consuming we wouldn’t have a moment to stop and think, and we
probably wouldn’t get very far. Instead, there is an expansive potential
conveyed to us that is like a glimpse of immortality. Gratitude is the logical
don’t have to have a specific recipient for our gratitude, like a god or
anything. There isn’t anything out there we are in contact with that awaits our
blessings. The effect is on us. Everyone noted that gratitude is a humbling
force that reduces the ego to its proper size. In our struggles to attain
maturity we learned to swell the ego like a pufferfish so that nearby predators
would be rebuffed, or else shrink it down to nothing so we wouldn’t be noticed.
Gratitude diminishes any excessive pride, but it also raises up a crushed ego.
It is restorative of a healthy norm in consciousness. So it turns out to be
another concept that seems trivial at first, but becomes profound upon
is much easier to love the light of the fire once we see how it has led us
forward. All too often, we take for granted the light we see by. Our yoga
explorations reveal the stupendous profundity of what we have been
thoughtlessly accepting up to now. I’ll add a nice prose poem about that as
commentary refers to a common belief in India about two paths: a path of
rebirth and a path of no return, where the seeker dissolves in the Absolute.
While these are irrelevant in Advaita, there is some value in contemplating
them. The unitive path can be divided into ancestor worship and worship of the
immediate present. The first is dark and smoky, the second brilliantly alight.
They are as central to philosophy now as they were in the Gita’s day.
minds are a confection of memories and habits in dynamic tension with
creativity and freedom. Exclusive reliance on one or the other is severely
limiting if not dangerous. They need to be integrated together. As usual, the
yogi is not directed to choose between them, but to unite them in a global
awareness. It may sound difficult, but it is essentially the way our minds work
when they are healthy. (Of course, mental health may be more rare than is
commonly supposed.) The usual course of life is to start out free and gradually
become more and more bound. We regularly need fresh infusions of newness to
stave off permanent ossification. So a yogi is likely to lean more toward the
present than the past, more toward the devayana than the pitriyana.
there is plenty of momentum and social pressure behind becoming frozen in life,
yoga aims to provide the antidote. Our next study, Narayana Guru’s Hundred
Verses of Self-Instruction (Atmopadesa
Satakam), presents an ideal pictogram of our position in verse 9. The Guru
imagines a seeker sitting at the base of a forest tree, symbolizing perhaps the
course of our life. Growing up the tree are clinging jungle vines, which try to
reach out and ensnare the yogi meditating so tantalizingly near. They represent
the habits and fixed beliefs our brain is always attempting to
institutionalize. But the yogi, though absorbed in contemplation, does not
ignore them—a safe distance is always maintained. Narayana Guru implies that
being caught in the vines is what hell really is, and one of the most important
acts of a contemplative is to safeguard their freedom. This seemingly simple
proposition is the most challenging task we will ever face. Thankfully, the more
we overcome the natural tendency to drift into the past, the easier it is to
remain flexibly in the present.
I’m not very good at saying something, I like to bring in those who are. I used
a wonderful quote from the thirteenth century seer, Dnyeshwar Maharaj, in my
book on the eleventh chapter of the Gita (Krishna
in the Sky with Diamonds), where Arjuna has a similar realization of his
ignorance in respect to Krishna. There is an uncanny resemblance in it to the
Isa’s intent in its final mantra. Maharaj’s soliloquy perfectly expresses the
humbling, even humiliating, feelings that realign our psyches upon having a
realistic vision of our place in space:
I bow to everything whether it
has form or not, because You dwell in it. Again and again, O Lord of the world,
I bow to you. . . . Dwelling in the heart of every one, you pervade everything.
. . . Therefore, You are near every one at all times. You are All. I have been
stupid, and, not knowing this greatness of Yours, have treated You with familiarity.
I have used nectar for washing the floor. . . . I found a mountain of precious
stones, but broke them up, to prepare a parapet, and I used the wood of the
most valuable tree to make a fencing round my farm. I have wasted my intimacy
with You, O Krishna, for worthless objects. Even to-day in this mundane
warfare, I have made You, Who are the embodiment of Para Brahma, my charioteer.
. . . O Lord of the world, we have used you for our petty purposes. You are the
final goal of the Samadhi, which Yogis are trying to reach, and yet I have
behaved badly. You are the origin of the universe, and yet I crack jokes with
You. When I came to Your palace and You omitted the usual formalities, I was
upset. I have taken liberties with You. I have turned my back on You. I have
challenged You to a wrestling bout. I have fallen out with You over a game of
chess. I have asked You to give me valuable things. I even tried to instruct
You, though You are all-knowing. The extent of my faults knows no bounds. With
my hands on Your feet . . . I now declare that I did all this through
ignorance. To Your invitations I demurred through pride. . . . The rivers
collect dirty water and move toward the ocean, but the ocean receives them all
the same. . . .
Save me from my errors, O Lord. I
did not realize that You were the benefactor of the world. I even resented such
respect being paid to You. You have allowed me to be praised in assemblies,
when all the praises should go to You. I have spoken of You carelessly in the
past. I have done this through ignorance and error, and now I turn to You for
-- Maharaj, Dnyaneshwar. Gita
Explained. translated into English by Manu Subedar. 3rd ed.
Bombay: Kodak House, 1945.
little group of voyagers circled around a toasty fire to ponder and appreciate
our mutual excursion into the depths of the Isa Upanishad. We began by
listening to Brenda’s lovely recording of the girl in Varkala chanting the
whole. Even this was a masterpiece of dialectics. Her high and sweet voice
evoked the thousands of years it has been chanted in small groups of dedicated
seekers scattered about the wilderness, often around an open fire. Being
indoors, our fire was closed in, but its presence was tangible. In the
background of the recording, the traffic rumbled and bleated in a low tone, a
contrasting growl to the celestial mantras. Its modern vintage and outwardly
directed hastiness were a kind of negative polarity to the words, offering us a
chance to thoughtfully integrate the inward-homing yearning for oneness with
the sea of samsara which surrounds us.
Michael and Bill took turns reading out the two English translations we have
been using. Although our understanding of the Isa has grown immeasurably, it
still registers as an impossible compilation of mysterious paradoxes. My
surface mind was perplexed to a state of wonder, while my greater being
provided a background hum of confident sensations that we had plumbed these
depths, and only recently. I could trust that there was a great grasp of the
subject somewhere within me, and the more I opened myself to it and stilled my
conscious analysis, the more it seeped into my very bones. It produced a
meditative state that was hard to relinquish, in order to begin our discussion.
of the eighteen mantras had an advocate in the class, so we talked about all of
them, randomly. Nitya himself was brought in for mantra 2. He used to
frequently cite the first and second especially. He would urge us to think of
our lives as vast and full of meaningful potential, as if we would live a
hundred years doing important things, growing and sharing. He also loved the
opening realization, “Whose is wealth? Relax and enjoy.” Only if we can
surrender our anxiety about the future can we be fully present in our lives. In
a social milieu that volcanically generates worries and fears for manipulative
purposes, being calm is already a radical act of liberation.
spoke for the demonic mantra 3. The Isa establishes and reaffirms oneness as
the ground of a coherent existence, and gives this one mantra as a glimpse of
the alternative. “Slayers of the Self” are those who deny oneness, who only
accept what they perceive with their senses and logic. As we have seen, this is
the tiniest bit of the whole, though admittedly very impressive—impressive
enough to confound us for a lifetime, easily. Therefore it’s important to be
reminded that looking beneath the surface has preeminent value and should not
made the important point that yoga is not a call to reject falsehood, but to
place it in context. Doing so eliminates the urge to despise the other as an
abstraction. She mentioned the US Presidential debates, where she was
struggling to not hate the more devious candidate. We all agreed it is
impossible to determine anything like truth in a staged show carefully designed
to capture your allegiance. Surfaces can be very persuasive. Humans evolved to
believe in them out of necessity, during millions of years of close-knit tribal
life. Now our trusting natures are callously exploited by slayers of the Self
backed up by highly refined behavioral science.
just reread the section of Nitya’s Patanjali commentary that includes an
eloquent exhortation to not accept or reject what we perceive, but try to
comprehend it, and will let him weigh in:
Even a mathematical truth can
become falsified…. To compensate for this, the yogi is not expected to learn
the intricacies of physics and mathematical logic. You are simply advised not
to distort the truth for convenience. Throughout the religious world of belief
and dogma, uncouth lies are precipitated and perpetuated by people for vested
interests. Hence this warning that, even unintentionally, out of sheer
ignorance, you may lead another to wrong consequences by distorting truth. The
yogi makes every effort not to be a howler telling untruth or a simpleton
believing in something because somebody said it or it is written somewhere.
In the last days of Lord Buddha, he told his disciples: “Do
not believe in a statement because it came from an ancient tradition. Do not
believe because many believe. Do not believe because it is said by someone far
more aged than you. Do not believe because somebody is threatening to kill you
unless you believe. Diligently inquire, deeply ponder, and, if after careful
examination, you are convinced of the irrefutability of the truth before you,
accept it and stand by it.” This is probably what Pata˝jali also means: that
you should adhere to truth at all costs. (242-3)
Distortion is a hallmark of the political and economic
worlds as well as the religious, of course. The yogi does not need to separate
these out. That was merely the context of the quote we’ve imported.
night’s class turned out to be a miniature version of the Upanishad, beginning
with the affirmation of unity, striving to really grasp the subtleties implied,
and ending in gratitude. This also epitomizes what Isaac Assimov named “The
Eureka Phenomenon,” in an essay well worth reading on the internet, describing
the way we can open ourselves to the intelligence of our greater being. First
we study and strive and try everything, and then we give up and take a break,
and only then does the answer come to us. There are several famous stories of
scientific breakthroughs that came through dreams and reveries. Assimov
suspects that most if not all of our breakthroughs come from what he calls our
involuntary thinking, as opposed to the voluntary thinking we readily identify
we have been assured many times, and Michael reminded us, it doesn’t work to
just do the surrender and give up. Then nothing happens. You have to make the
effort first. Really investigate, wonder, challenge yourself, dare to doubt.
Then when you give up and sit quietly, a tide will sweep in to fill the void
you have created for it.
that, the Isa starts out with a kind of postulate—how do we find the
all-important unity in a sea of multiplicity, thereby conserving the life of
the Self and minimizing our destructiveness? The Upanishad gives several
analogies and demonstrates dialectical yogic thinking about as well as it can
be demonstrated, in mantras 9-11 and the nearly identical 12-14. And it’s
taught with a clever trick.
9 says that those who worship ignorance dwell in darkness. Well of course, we
agree, and we sure aren’t one of those! But then it says, if you reject
ignorance and are content with your knowledge, you live in even greater
darkness. Who? Me? What! It’s a gottcha, because that’s exactly what everyone
believes, that we are escaping from ignorance by accumulating knowledge. But
knowledge and ignorance are two sides of the same coin. Their relative value
(one better than the other) is meaningless from an absolute perspective. We
call being a little less ignorant “knowledge,” but it’s still ignorance. The
history of thought shows us how knowledge is continually being supplanted by
new information that converts it into yesterday’s ignorance, and yet we
continue to cling to the latest version of ignorance as if it were knowledge.
Adding hubris to ignorance makes it even more oppressive than innocent
leads to the insights of mantras 15 and 16, that there is a mental mask
covering truth that we mask-wearing beings can never quite overcome from just
our side. It’s a generic defect. Comprehending truth has to be a mutual
enterprise of us opening up to the greater universe and actually letting it in.
Thanks to Nitya and the Upanishadic rishis coupled with intense contemplation,
we have been able to peek behind the mask at least in some modest measure.
Isa ends in gratitude, and our class came to a close on the same note.
Thousands of years ago, people who we know very little of put together a “care
package” of their best insights, and through continuous care it found its
way to us. Deb
wondered if the composers could imagine anything like the world we live in now.
And yet, we are similar enough that their wisdom has come down to us, and
touched us in a way that makes our life more valuable. We are incredibly
fortunate that not just the Indian rishis, but sages and artists and lovers
from all over the world and all of history have offered us uplifting
entertainment and solace to take along on our journeys. We are doubly fortunate
that of old only the cream of the crop was preserved. Now there is so much junk
being created that future seekers may never be able to find the jewels buried
in the detritus. But the legacy of our species abounds with treasure that is
not even buried. It is right in front of us, only obscured by the golden disk
of busyness and distraction. In our closing meditation, we were all deeply
thankful that we took the time to properly appreciate this one gem in all its
Oak from SW England is one of my friends who share their online responses from
Nancy Y’s Yoga Sutra class with me. Her latest is by no means limited to that
particular subject, and she agreed I could pass it along. Steppingstones are
like quanta writ large. Although realization is not dependent on steppingstones,
our life exhibits a progression of insights, and it seems only fair to include
a poetic nod to that aspect of life. Plus Wendy exudes gratitude deeply felt:
Responses sutra 42. Lesson 70
happiness comes from contentment.’ Such a delicious sutra! After reading the
commentary I can see myself in a hall of magical mirrors where each one
reflects me in a different image. And how all of life is a dance of light and
And of the
verse from the old lady on the train:
Shadow and sun, so too our lives are made.
But see how great the sun, how small the shade.
I see froth
on the shoreline- fleeting desires. So many images arising from the vaults of
my mind, teasing my memory, bringing some sadness, some smiles. So many moments
come and gone.
I’m forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in
They fly so high, nearly reach the sky
Then like a dream they fade and die………….
important these bubbles feel at the time.
desire that is fulfilled is only a stepping
stone to another desire, so each fulfilment seems meagre – a trifle’
as Guru put it. I am seeing the
pattern of these stepping stones through my long life: through vales of
contentment with my husband and children in the Scilly Islands; to marshes of despair
during the time I lost everything of value in my bid to find a mythical
freedom. Then climbing upwards to the wisdom of Guru Nitya and my healing, high
in the Nilgiris Blue Mountains. Returning to make my life worthwhile: making
loving connections with my children and being of service in the wider
community. Finding love again, with my dearest Karel, only this time aspiring
to higher values, of compassion, kindness and courage.
stepping stone leading on to the next and there is never any turning back for
once a course is set, life takes us forever onwards. Now my stepping stone is
crossing quieter pastures once more. Each day is precious and I am happy and
content. But who knows what tomorrow will bring?
This is why
‘we make every passing moment, the
highest and the grandest.’
And this is
why I now appreciate higher values, know where I stand, and give thanks for the
most magnificent gift of life, as my dearest friend Wiggy has shown me.
is to become attuned to the core of all wisdom and be contented in situations I
might not choose. Not be blown off course by the winds of necessity.
learn to be a tortoise, content in my own shell, counting my daily blessings.
with all life.
fine essay on gratitude, this one from Susan:
over the last few mantras and reading the class notes, what struck me most was
have to have a specific recipient for our gratitude, like a god or anything.
There isn’t anything out there we are in contact with that awaits our
blessings. The effect is on us. Everyone noted that gratitude is a humbling
force that reduces the ego to its proper size. In our struggles to attain
maturity we learned to swell the ego like a pufferfish so that nearby predators
would be rebuffed, or else shrink it down to nothing so we wouldn’t be noticed.
Gratitude diminishes any excessive pride, but it also raises up a crushed ego.
It is restorative of a healthy norm in consciousness. So it turns out to be
another concept that seems trivial at first, but becomes profound upon
When I feel
gratitude, I still feel that there is a recipient somehow. It is no longer my
childhood concept of God (a universe-filling presence with male attributes) but
the undefinable Absolute. Of course, now that I am thinking about all this
again, I realize that the latter concept still feels awkward to me. This is
partly because my earlier concept of God is so engrained and conditioned in my
brain and such a different paradigm is very hard to grasp and put in a nice
package with ribbon. I think when I first encountered Vedanta, about 10 years
ago, I looked for the similarities and links to Christianity. Of course there
are many. But there are big differences and this idea of the divine is one of
them. Christian mystics might say that the two are similar but I’m thinking of
my own concept -- the kind of standard Western idea, as painted so beautifully
by Michaelangelo. In my Vedantic awakening, I kept trying to find bridges to
get from one idea to another. The idea of prayer, much like the conception of
God, has been difficult. When I was young, I would say my prayers before I went
to sleep, first asking God to bless all my family and friends (named in the
same sequence each night) and then I would give thanks for various aspects of
my life and then I would go into a bit of a wish list. Somewhere in the process
I would fall asleep — it was a very comforting ritual. But over the years, I
have had more and more doubts about the truth of this way of finding comfort —
who is this guy I’m talking to anyway?
back to reading the first Verse of Atmopadesa Satakam and again I was thinking
of a “recipient”:
Permeating the knowledge which
at once within and without the
is the karu; to that, with the five senses withheld,
prostrate again and again with
devotion and chant.
over that one for a long time. Maybe I still do. It’s a beautiful verse. I love
the idea of giving thanks because there is so much to be grateful for, as you
talked about in the class notes. It feels wonderful to feel that gratitude but
somehow even in this verse I envisioned actually prostrating to something. But as
I understood the
Absolute more and more (that is to say less and less) I just felt puzzled and
then I felt less anxious about being puzzled and now I feel as though I
understand better just by withholding my attempts to muscle my brain through
I was just
looking back through the class notes from our Patanjali study and I found this
I was accompanying Nataraja Guru on the train from Delhi to Amritsar. Among our
fellow passengers were two gentlemen who were workers of the Indian Communist
Party in the Punjab area. Seeing our saffron robes and our beards they took us
for religious people, and wanted to discuss some of the fundamentals affecting
older one asked the guru, “Sir, do you believe in God?”
Guru replied, “I cannot answer that question unless you tell me what you
understand by the term ‘God’. The existence or nonexistence of God is to be
determined by its definition.”
elderly gentleman pursued his point, “And what is Guruji’s definition of God?”
Guru gave him a slight smile and a look and answered, “That which is right when
you are wrong is God.”
wonderful because it throws off my conditioned ideas and in that throwing off,
a new understanding is allowed to open for me. This is the way I feel about
what you said in the class notes, about there not being a recipient for the
gratitude. When there is a recipient, I think we run the risk of being thankful
just to do the “right” thing, as though someone is keeping score, definitely an
ego related activity. But of course we are so used to sending the thanks
outward, as we thank all sorts of people for this and that in our daily lives.
I enjoy pondering this new way of thinking about gratitude and I like what you
said about it.
What a nice day to
hold the last satsang for the Isa Upanishad on...its Dassera today (or
yesterday) when Ram vanquished
the10 headed demon Ravan...and Dashimi...the 10th day of the Ma
Durga Puja..when she vanquished the demon Mahishasura
a day that celebrates
the victory of good over evil
and in these 18
mantras we are taught to seek understand and overcome our inner demons
....Comprehending truth has to be a mutual enterprise of us
opening up to the greater universe and actually letting it in......
Thankyou it felt like
i was there in the warm glow of the seekers ...hoping the teaching seeps
into my bones and becomes an understanding to be lived
Part V –
Merton weighs in
how I wish we could have this fellow in our class! Thomas Merton was a true
yogi, although ostensibly a Catholic. His late book Faith and Violence published in the year of his death, 1968, is my
favorite of many great ones, and this is my favorite section. Simulacrum is exactly
what the Isa
Upanishad means by a mask hiding truth, and Merton’s passionate analysis
highlights its relevance and urgency:
the Vulgate I run across the Latin word simulacrum
which has implications of a mask-like deceptiveness, of intellectual cheating,
of an ideological shell-game. The word simulacrum,
it seems to me, presents itself as a very suggestive one to describe an
advertisement, or an over-inflated political presence, or that face on the TV
screen. The word shimmers, grins, cajoles. It is a fine word for something
monumentally phony. It occurs for instance in the last line of the First
Epistle of John. But there it is usually translated as “idols”… “Little
Children, watch out for the simulacra!”—watch out for the national, the
regional, the institutional images!
it occur to us that if, in fact, we live in society which is par excellence
that of the simulacrum, we are the
champion idolaters of all history? No, it does not occur to us, because for us
an idol is nothing more than a harmless Greek statue, complete with a figleaf,
in the corner of the museum. We have given up worrying about idols—as well as
devils. And we are living in the age of science. How could we, the most
emancipated of men, be guilty of superstition? Could science itself be our
number one superstition?
see where my rambling has brought me. To this: we are under judgment. And what
for? For the primal sin. We are idolaters. We make simulacra and we hypnotize
ourselves with our skill in creating these mental movies that do not appear as
idols because they are so alive! Because we are idolaters, because we have
“exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the semblance of the likeness of
mortal man, of birds, of quadrupeds, of reptiles…” we fulfill all the other
requirements of those who are under God’s wrath, as catalogued by Paul in
Romans 1: 24-32.
idols are by no means dumb and powerless. The sardonic diatribes of the
prophets against images of wood and stone do not apply to our images that live,
and speak, and smile, and dance, and allure us and lead us off to kill. Not
only are we idolaters, but we are likely to carry out point by point the
harlotries of the Apocalypse. And if we do, we will do so innocently, decently,
with clean hands, for the blood is always shed somewhere else! The smoke of the
victims is always justified by some clean sociological explanation, and of
course it is not superstition because we are by definition the most enlightened
people that ever happened.
things that we do, the things that make our news, the things that are
contemporary, are abominations of superstition, of idolatry, proceeding from
minds that are full of myths, distortions, half-truths, prejudices, evasions,
illusions, lies: in a word—simulacra.
Ideas and conceptions that look good but aren’t. Ideals that claim to be humane
but prove themselves, in their effects, to be callous, cruel, cynical,
sometimes even criminal.
have no trouble at all detecting all this in the ideologies of other nations, other
social groups. That
is at least something! But it is not enough. We cannot begin to face our real
problems until we admit that these evils are universal. We see them in others
because they are in ourselves. Until we admit that we are subject to the same
risks and the same follies, the same evils and the same fanaticisms, only in
different forms, under different appearances (simulacra) we will continue to propose solutions that make our
problems insoluble. We will continue to be deadlocked with adversaries who
happen to be our own mirror image.
thesis is now clear: in my opinion the root of our trouble is that our habits
of thought and the drives that proceed from them are basically idolatrous and
mythical. We are all the more inclined to idolatry because we imagine that we
are of all generations the most enlightened, the most objective, the most
scientific, the most progressive and the most humane. This, in fact, is an
“image” of ourselves—an image which is false and is also the object of a cult.
We worship ourselves in this image. The nature of our acts is determined in
large measure by the demands of our worship. Because we have an image (simulacrum)
of ourselves as fair,
objective, practical and humane, we actually make it more difficult for
ourselves to be what we think we are. Since our “objectivity” for instance is
in fact an image of ourselves as “objective” we soon take our objectivity for
granted, and instead of checking the facts, we simply manipulate the facts to
fit our pious conviction. In other words, instead of taking care to examine the
realities of our political or social problems, we simply bring out the idols in
solemn procession. “We are the ones who are right, they are the ones who are wrong. We are the good guys, they are the
bad guys. We are honest, they are crooks.” In this confrontation
of images, “objectivity” ceases to be a consistent attention to fact and
becomes a devout and blind fidelity to myth. If the adversary is by definition
wicked, then objectivity consists simply in refusing to believe that he can
possibly be honest in any circumstances whatever. If facts seem to conflict
with images, then we feel that we are being tempted by the devil, and we
determine that we will be all the more blindly loyal to our images. To debate
with the devil would be to yield! Thus in support of realism and objectivity we
simply determine beforehand that we will be swayed by no fact whatever that
does not accord perfectly with our own preconceived judgment. Objectivity
becomes simple dogmatism.
I say, we can see this mechanism at work in the Communists. We cannot see it in
ourselves. True, of course, our dogmatism is not as blatant, as rigid, as
bureaucratically dense, as monolithic. It is nonetheless real. That is to say,
it is based on refusals that are just
as categorical and just as absolute.
refusals are made necessary by a primary commitment to a false image which is
the object of superstitious worship. The fact that the image is not made of
stone or metal, but of ideas, slogans and pseudo-events only makes it all the
more dangerous. (pp. 152-155)
Part VI –
felt it was incumbent on me to improve the summary of the Upanishad I gave
earlier, for the final note:
The Isa Upanishad first postulates the Absolute or Isa as an
all-pervasive reality, and describes its impact on us. The third mantra warns
of the dire consequences of remaining ignorant of this core of existence. The
fourth and fifth mantras describe the paradoxical nature of the Absolute, and
the next two its value, the first in securing justice to the outer world and the
second in bringing stability to the psyche. The eighth mantra is a list of apt
descriptions of the Isa or Absolute, meant to pare away misunderstandings about
is followed by two examples of three mantras each (9-11 and 12-14) of rigorous
dialectical (yogic) effort to realize the truth of the Absolute. Then there are
two mantras envisioning the sun as the source of all nourishment and truth,
covered over by our conditioning. The way conditioning disrupts our ability to
grasp reality is being carefully studied in neuroscience also, with
commensurate conclusions. The last two mantras are a kind of surrender, when
after all the intense efforts the seeker sits quietly and calls upon the Beyond
to grant full understanding. For a stowaway on a giant steamship—one
neuroscientist’s analogy of the conscious mind—it is only right to relinquish
command, since we never had it anyway. The final note is of gratitude, sincere
appreciation of the greater reality’s enrichment of our lives. Gratitude is a
harmonizing state, capable of deflating a swelled ego or inflating a withered
one, bringing us to perfect equipoise.