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Isa Upanishad 16-18


Mantra 16 (old)


O Pusan (Nourisher), seer who traverses

alone, controller, Surya (Sun), offspring

of Prajapati, disperse your rays, gather

this light, let me see that, most auspicious,

that form of yours; that Purusa, who is there,

he is myself.


         Nitya 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.”

         From 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 methodology.

         The 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.

         This type of system fosters competition, and not always with gentlemanly behavior. Vying for an edge can easily lead to unfair tactics, even including criminality.

         The 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.

         It’s 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.

         Nonetheless, 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.

         Religions 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.

         Jan 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.

         Aaron 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.

         Nitya’s 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 substitute.

         As 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.

         When 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 possibilities.

         Deb 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.

         I 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 don’t.

         The 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.


Part II

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 harmonious flow.

         Incoming 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.

         What 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.

         As 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 training.

         Normal 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.

         Yogis aim for such expertise in action, but there are two distinct types we need to be clear about.

         The 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 work well.

         The 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.

         Both 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.

         Needless 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 around.



Mantra 16 (new)

O Nourisher of this world,

lone wanderer,

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.


         It 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.

         As 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 waves.

         Happily, the spirit of sharing in amity we have come to know so well persisted throughout.

         Vacation 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 occur.

         As 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.

         Narayana Guru expressed this beseeching tone beautifully in his Svanubhavagiti, for instance, verses 62 and 68:


If that is You, I am the worthless

existing in the precious plenum.

I have no way to liberate myself, Oh Dissolver of all beings.

Ultimately you will give me emancipation.


Alas, you envelop my untrue inside and outside.

I have come to you seeking redress

from the feverishness of life.

Holding your hand, let me live in 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 organs,

the day sensation terminates it will all be darkness.

The one who balances on a tightrope

crashes to the ground when the rope is snapped.


If the rope snaps, distress can be avoided

by counting the invisible in the dark

as one’s own protector.

Darkness cannot shroud

a radiant effulgence that spreads its beams everywhere.


If one wrongly considers himself the doer,

inertia will creep into him.

He rejoices when convinced he has no basis

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.

         The 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.

         Synchronously 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.

  The 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.

  What is the Universe? Seeking an answer is the endless quest….

  The 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. (1)


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!”

         Yoga 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.

         Christine’s 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.


Part II

         Charles 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.

         Charles felt that Nitya must have had this symbol in mind when he gave his commentary.

         Among 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 place.

         For 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,



         For 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.

         There 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.

         Everyone 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.


         Michael, 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….

         One 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.


         Mick, 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.

         Mick 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.”

         Most 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.

         It’s 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 to breath.

         Like 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.

         The 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.

         Mick’s 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 in!


         We’re 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 to ashes.


         The 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.

         The 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 glory.

         The 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.

         As 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 surroundings.

         A 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.

         Lastly, 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.


         A 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!


Part II

 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.

         I 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.

         Brenda 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 Wind?




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.


Source: The 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.


Part III

  Michael 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 through yoga.

The purpose of yogic discipline is to evolve a yogic body from the physical body.


------and furthermore from the preface to Nitya’s Prānāyama book:


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 subject and 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.


Part IV

         The 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 commentary:


7)         A 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 nature.


8)         When 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.


9)         Presiding over the ear, the eye, touch, taste, smell, and also the mind, this One avails himself of the values relating to the senses.


10)         Whether departing, staying, or experiencing, conditioned as they are by the modalities of nature, the foolish cannot see; the wisdom-eyed can see.


11)         The yogis, striving, also perceive this One established in the Self; though striving, those yogis of imperfected Self, lacking wisdom, do not see this One.


12)         That 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.


13)         Permeating 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.


14)         Having 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.


15)         And 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:


         Next 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!


         Knowing 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.


         Verses 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 sensual experiences.

         The 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 important.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         We 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.


         The 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.


Part V

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.


         It 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.

         Mick 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.

         In 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 problems.

         To 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.

         There 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.

         The 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 way:


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.


         Moni 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.

         The 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.

         Where 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.

         Neuroscientist 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.

         The 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.

         Harmonious 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.

         Another 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.

         Michael 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.


         As 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.


         Surrender 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 ripe.


Part II

         Here 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.

         From 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 billion] (2)


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.

         Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot. (4)


         You’re not perceiving what’s out there. You’re perceiving whatever your brain tells you. (33)


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.

         The more surprising aspect of this framework is that the internal data is not generated by the external sensory data but merely modulated by it….

         The 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)


Part III

         Michael 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 complementary.


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, neurasthenia, muscular aches, nervous breakdowns, rheumatic pains, tuberculosis, mental derangement and hypertensions are all caused by the malfunctioning of the vayu.


Prānāyāma 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 as prānā.


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 78-81.


Prānā is a vital 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 are kāla.


Part IV

         I 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:


  The 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.

  The 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:


12)         The 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.


         Once 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 bad move.”

         It’s 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!


         Like 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.

         Looking 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:


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


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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         Mick 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.

         One 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.

         But 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.


         We 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.

         So 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.

         Because 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.

         Our 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.

         Paul 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.



(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.


         One 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.

         I 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.

         Once 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

         The 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:


         This 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.

         Fritz 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.

         So 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


         When 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 responses:



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.




(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


         One 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.

  There are 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 friends.

  My words 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 clear water.

  When Valmiki 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 at it.

  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 manner.


Scott again—I suppose it’s only fair for me to offer the 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.


         The 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 we uncovered.

         We 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.

         There 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!

         The 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         The 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 response.

         We 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 examination.

         It 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 Part II.

         Nitya’s 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.

         Our 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.

         Since 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.


Part II

         When 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 being saved.


-- Maharaj, Dnyaneshwar. Gita Explained. translated into English by Manu Subedar. 3rd ed. Bombay: Kodak House, 1945.



         Last Isa class


         Our 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.

         Next, 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.

         Each 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.

         Moni 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 be ignored.

         Jan 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.

         I’ve 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.

         Last 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 with.

         As 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.

         Like 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.

         Mantra 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 ignorance.

         Which 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.

         The 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 glory. Aum.


Part II

         Wendy 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



‘Unsurpassed 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 dark.

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 the air.

They fly so high, nearly reach the sky

Then like a dream they fade and die………….

Yet how important these bubbles feel at the time.


‘Every 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.

Each 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.

My purpose 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.

I will learn to be a tortoise, content in my own shell, counting my daily blessings.

Being one with all life.




Part III

         Another fine essay on gratitude, this one from Susan:


In going over the last few mantras and reading the class notes, what struck me most was this paragraph:


“We 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 examination.”


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?


I think back to reading the first Verse of Atmopadesa Satakam and again I was thinking of a “recipient”:


Permeating the knowledge which brilliantly shines

at once within and without the knower

is the karu; to that, with the five senses withheld,

prostrate again and again with devotion and chant.


I puzzled 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 it.


I was just looking back through the class notes from our Patanjali study and I found this from Nitya:


  Once 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 human life.

  The older one asked the guru, “Sir, do you believe in God?”

  Nataraja 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.”

  The elderly gentleman pursued his point, “And what is Guruji’s definition of God?”

  Nataraja Guru gave him a slight smile and a look and answered, “That which is right when you are wrong is God.”


This is 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.


Happy Wednesday,



Part IV

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


Warm regards




Part V – Merton weighs in

         Oh 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:


         Reading 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!

         Does 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?

         You 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.

         Our 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.

         The 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.

         We 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.


                                             *         *         *


         My 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.

         As 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.

         These 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 – Isa summary

         I 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 it.

         This 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.

Scott Teitsworth