Verse 9 continued.
on both sides, in a blossoming state,
the one vine which has come, spread out and risen to the top of a tree;
that hell does not come
the man dwelling in contemplation beneath it.
second half of Verse 9 begins with a guided meditation that is one of the most
valuable moments in all of the study. If it is simply read, it is interesting
enough, but if it is practiced—really dived into—it establishes the witness as
an authentic grounding place of our mind. It is well worth taking a chunk of
time to really sink into this section, because we routinely mistake our ego for
the witness. Nitya takes us in several directions into the unconscious and
unknown, helping us to bring our awareness to a neutral position that is at
once dynamic and steady. He guides us through the horizontal and vertical
parameters of our individuality, converting them from abstract ideas into
vibrant realities, something we should have done already but probably haven’t.
He tells us that the main thrust of the study up till now has been to reveal
this place of witness, which tends to get lost in the chaos of life, so that we
can bring our full attention there as we go forward.
of its critical importance, I read out the material slowly and with some brief
pauses. At home you could take even more time with it.
we sank into the peace of being guided by Nitya’s words, an interesting thing
happened, almost as if it was a staged demonstration. He begins by saying, “Now
turn inward and watch the silent depth of the unconscious. See how from that
depth, into which we cannot penetrate, ideas spring up, concepts come as mental
pictures.” With the spreading quiet, I heard the faint whirring of the fan
upstairs. I excused myself to go turn it off. Everyone present experienced some
sort of mental image of me getting up, mounting the stairs, flipping the
switch, a fan slowing down and stopping, and me returning to my seat. All very
plausible. The only problem was that it was all supplied by their mind making a
sequence of educated guesses. No one could watch me, and most people had their
eyes closed anyway.
life is like that all day long. We register a tiny amount of information and
create a world out of it. For the most part it works well enough. But if we’re
not careful, the falsity of our speculation can lead us to base our existence
on all sorts of hazardous fictions. These are the clinging vines of Verse 9,
that are reaching out to hold us fast and squeeze the life out of us. Only with
a rigorous questioning and regular self-examination can we avoid being tightly
bound by our mental outlook.
production is merely the first of a long list of binding factors that Nitya
leads us to observe. Despite a fascinating and penetrating class, we barely
touched on the full import of the chapter. Anyone serious about this project of
heightened self-awareness should spend some time reviewing these ideas. As we
proceeded it became clear that the reverse of Narayana Guru’s proposition is
also true: while a committed contemplative can steer clear of the vines, hell
does indeed come to those who, willfully or not, ignore them, or prefer to
pretend they don’t matter. The Guru knew well the pain and suffering that we
humans inflict on each other, and his motive was to keep us from being caught
up in it and destroyed. His imagery is much more than a pretty fairytale. I
want to quote Nitya at length about this, because it recapitulates the whole
point of what we are about:
is an element of fakery and deception when a preconceived, prefabricated
version of life is presented to us. It disguises the essential true nature
behind it. Freud and people like him did great service to humanity by pointing
out that both situations and the people who are confronted by situations wear
masks, and we should tear them away in order to be fully alive. When you are
centered in the witnessing consciousness you can clearly see the painted masks
worn by people and events. Very few people, however, know the nature of the
reality hidden behind them.
We are here in a search to see what
is behind the masks. What is immediately behind them are the very many urges
which we call incipient memories, or vasanas. For these forces defense is
absolutely necessary, and the mask itself is the defense mechanism.
Unfortunately, while these masks protect society, they also blindfold the
individual from seeing his own reality.
In the present verse, Narayana Guru
implores us to come out of this deluding situation, to sit outside it and then
watch the game. Once your mask is gone, it is easy for the witnessing
consciousness to establish itself on the ground of an absolutist norm, such as
universal truth, universal goodness, universal beauty. That's why he said the
person sitting under that terrible tree can do tapas. The need to be austere was already suggested in verse 8;
here that austerity is made a permanent feature and not just a single action.
The act of bringing down the birds progresses to a habitual performance of tapas.
opening idea was that by turning toward the nebulous unknown of our
unconscious, it’s a kind of invitation for it to communicate with us, marooned
as we are in our conscious mind. Ideas and images start to speak to us, and
they can teach us a new way of looking. She of course has been blessed to have
acres of beneficial seeds planted in her good soil, and they have had many,
many years to grow. She’s a walking advertisement for the value of starting
your garden early in life: eventually we can come to trust our inner voice,
because we have confirmed its authenticity by a process of trial and error.
added that we tend to think of the flow as a one way stream from the vast
unconscious into our severely limited conscious, and for the most part that’s
how it works, but the reason spiritual effort matters is that our own conscious
thoughts are also like seeds planted in the depths. The more intensely we hold
them, the deeper they are inserted. Buried in fertile loam, they sprout and
grow leaves and branches, making their way back into awareness or shaping the
topography just beneath the surface. Our task as conscious beings is to
distinguish between the valuable ones and the toxic regurgitation of negative
input, but the least we can do is take care to only plant good seeds. In a
world where good and bad are casually intermixed and often outright inverted,
that in itself is a challenge.
was very conscious of planting beneficial seeds in the hearts of all who
listened to him, hoping they would fall on well prepared soil so they would
take root and grow strong. It seems the more we attend, the more we will get
out of it. I want to clip in the closing paragraphs of Verse 65, which I
excerpted for the front flap of the book, to show how this works. Nitya was summing
up what we had done so far, because he was preparing to go on a short trip:
This was certainly a wonderful
experience for all of us to gather in the mornings and sit together and
commune. Not all the days were alike, and everything you heard might not have
been so inspiring, but here and there something must have gone deep into you.
That little bit which strikes home, that makes a flicker of recognition and
continues to shimmer in us, is enough to give us some direction in life. There
is no need to learn each verse and then rationally apply it in everyday life.
You can even hear it and forget it. Forgetting means it only goes deeper into
you. Once you have heard it, it will go and work its way by itself.
effect will be very subtle. It comes almost without you knowing that it is
something which you heard that is enabling you to see things in a new light or
make resolutions in a certain more helpful way. Nothing is ever lost. Even this
very peace that comes to our mind during these verses is so penetrating that we
feel the depth of the soul, the Self. It is indescribable. The indistinct part
of it is as beautiful as the distinct. In a Chinese painting most of it is
indistinct, but this does not make it in any way less valuable than a realistic
Along with the good seeds, we have also been the recipients
of many seeds guaranteed to grow poisonous plants and noxious weeds. Some were
inculcated in us with the best intentions; others were delivered with
hostility. The sad fact is that their voices sound nearly identical in our
mind, so we can’t be sure which is which. We have to have what Nataraja Guru
called a normative notion, a solid basis for distinguishing what is valuable
and what isn’t. Social norms are seriously flawed nowadays, as I’m sure
everyone realizes. We have been weaned away from our commons sense and fed on a
diet of official policy: what is useful to someone else instead of what is
true. Our natural intuition is smacked out of us as kids — there is an
authentic voice but we substitute the voice of authority and then eventually we
don't know if we are hearing the true voice or the fake voice.
reminded us that if we take our study seriously, it means we will understand
and forgive everyone their trespasses. They have all become bound to harsh
attitudes because of their environmental influences. We should get over our
deep-seated urge to blame others. It's true. I have often wondered where we
draw the line between innocent children as victims and when they become guilty
perpetrators. Where is the conversion point? Abused children grow up to be
abusers, but they don’t choose it, it is foisted on them. The real question is
how do we interrupt the continuum of misery and despair we—often with honorable
intent—uphold? That is one thing we as yogis are resolved to do. But having
even the slightest impact seems impossible. We wonder how does a Narayana Guru
somehow manage to transform an entire region of the world, when we share his
ideals but accomplish nothing or very nearly nothing?
may be that the unconscious is in fact a collective proposition, as Jung
theorized, and all our yearning finds an outlet in a single exemplary person
who fortune favors at the right time and place. Then the collective unconscious
is like the manifested Absolute: a total conglomeration of all potentials, and
each individual is a unique “face” or facet, peering out of the mass from its
class talked about some of the implications, how we are all then related to
each other, and what that means for how we treat our family. Guy Murchie, in The Seven
Mysteries of Life, calculated
that the most disparate two people on earth are no farther apart than 50th
cousins. Most of us are in the 4-10th cousin range. (Indians know
they are all cousins, and manage to stay in contact with many of them.) Murchie
also pointed out that sexual reproduction has been around for about 2/3 of a
billion years, and each living being is a product of 100% successful
reproduction over that time! It makes it seem like each of us is impossibly
miraculous. Which we are, we are.
the miracle of existence and our close kinship in it, how is it we are so awful
to each other? Mick told his tale of narakam, hell, and it is indeed epic. I
think I’ll skip the lengthy details. Suffice to say his world nearly totally collapsed,
due to societal standards that few of us agree with. The legal system is a
polite mask on a gaping maw of greed and exploitation that is devouring hapless
souls at a shocking rate. Mick was fortunate to emerge relatively intact—he
acknowledged that many suffer much more than he has, especially people of
universal side of Mick’s story is that most of us have touched hell in some
form, and avoiding it is a prime mover in our lives. Many strategies are
faulty; Narayana Guru is offering us a method that actually works. It’s not so
much a method as a heightened awareness of the context. Staying awake in a
soporific world. What has galled Mick ever since the incident twenty-one years
ago is that he intuited that trouble was brewing and ignored his own inner
voice. Like most of us, he had learned to override his intuition with conscious
deliberation. Those clinging vines are invisible, unfortunately: we only become
aware of them when they have encircled us and hold us fast. So Mick knows
beyond a shadow of a doubt that we should pay attention to our inner voice, and
regrets that he didn’t. The problem is sorting the true voice from the lying,
deceptive tracks laid down by selfish and deranged fellow beings. This is not a
job for the faint of heart or mind. We have all caught a deadly serious
disease, whether we realize it or not.
Guru’s compassion is woven into the very fabric of the hundred verses of
Self-instruction. Discriminating between our true and false instincts is a
perennial challenge, and this is some of the best help to be found anywhere.
There are several more obvious impediments we can remove fairly easily. Then
there are the advanced levels of challenges that we will get some indication
about, but it’s a tossup whether we can break free of them or not. In any case
we are being offered a helping hand where few are qualified to reach out. There
is every chance of a significant upgrade to our capabilities. If we can
disentangle ourselves from the vines that have already gotten hold of us, we
can begin to heal the wounds they have imparted.
people recalled Jill Bolte’s Taylor’s advice from My Stroke of Insight. Anger is a normal chemical reaction to
threat, but after 90 seconds the chemicals have been metabolized. After that it
is our choice whether to hold the anger or let it go. If we are wounded, we
tend to hold on tight to the anger, as if it will protect us from future harm.
In fact, it makes us more prone to injury. Like attracts like: anger attracts
anger, misery attracts misery. We need to let it all go.
people acknowledged the veiled blessing of traumas in their lives. If we don’t
get a whiff of brimstone (the scent of hell) we may remain blissful unaware of
the twists and kinks that oppress our system. We need a wakeup call. Only when
our masks fail us do we begin to look for something better. It was gratifying
to see that so many in the class have gained enough strength to appreciate the
value of their hard lessons, because many people spend a lifetime in avoidance
mode—medicating themselves or otherwise distracting themselves. Needless to
say, that is not the way of the yogi.
invoked a metaphor of a bit of yarn from a sweater that you pull on, and as you
keep pulling the whole garment unravels. He remembered that his father died far
away when he was 9, and there was no closure, no acknowledgment, no chance to
deal with it. He was unable to grieve until his first acid trip at 18. That
pointed him toward the wisdom traditions, and he began moving forward instead
of remaining frozen at the edge of an abyss.
lamented that unfortunately we have been taught not to trust our inner voice.
Adults didn’t want to listen to us. We made mistakes and were smacked for them,
or humiliated some other way. We learned early on to bottle up our impulses, to
hold ourselves back. That has become a chronic, crippling posture. We are
beginning to try to straighten up.
Susan is doing bodywork that links actual posture with mental posture, and she
feels significantly liberated by it. It’s called the Alexander Technique.
Here’s what she told us last night:
My teacher and I work on
different movements of the body in order to allow the most natural way of moving
to happen. My teacher was having me turn my head and she said my eyes needed to
lead the movement; I needed to be looking for something over my shoulder in
order to turn my head. She demonstrated this kind of movement and then asked me
to try it. I got the image of her movement and imitated it because that is what
I am used to doing when I learn. She redirected me to use my eyes and not think
about how she had done it. So I really put myself in my eyes and I imagined something over my shoulder and I tried to
see it and Voila! I turned my head in a way that was naturally good for me,
rather than harmful. I see how much this is related to our Vedanta study —
again I am learning to start in my core. Instead of first seeing what others
are doing or what the rules are, I am inhibiting and restraining the
conditioned voices and images, which allows the truth of the body and the mind
to surface, flourish, emerge.
As Nitya concluded, there are many ways to reclaim our
authenticity, or as he puts it, “to achieve detachment from the ensnaring
creepers of the world tree, and to cultivate an absolutist vision which can
turn individuation into a tool to serve the purpose of higher truth, goodness
and beauty.” It all depends on what appeals to us, but then we have to give our
choice a decent try. What we prefer most of the time, unless we are discontent,
is to just have fun and forget about it. That works fine, until it doesn’t. But
a little progress also makes us feel pretty darn good. So it’s worth retaining
some dedication to keep up the tapas, because there is much more freedom we can
attain if we keep at it. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of redefining fun as
something more serious than the trivial and escapist entertainment commonly and
commercially associated with it.
my apologies for all the shared wisdom I couldn’t fit into these notes. Several
wonderful contributions have had to be left out. When Jan paints her recent
vision, we will speak of it again. And any of you who feels slighted can send
me a prompt or write something yourself. Thanks to everyone for a most
delightful evening, and Happy Valentine’s Day to all you lovable souls around
A new friend from New Delhi, Rajen, has been looking into
That Alone and sent a Basic Doubt about the effectiveness of working on
oneself, which I think is widely held. John H also wanted to know more about
tapas, or austerity. Certainly, if one doesn’t see the point of
self-correction, one will never make the necessary effort it requires. In an
attempt to clear this question up, I sent them fragments of my Gita XVII
commentary dealing with austerity. If the issue bothers you too, you may want
to dip into the long selection below, otherwise Party On! Rajen wrote:
The entity that goes with the name of Rajen has been
studying the Class-material as also the book, ‘That Alone’. This entity, as
would appear, consists of a conglomerate of the mind and the body. The
mind-body mechanism transacts with the outside, as also the inside, world
through the five senses. All formulations are constructed and concepts
conceived by the mind with the help of the senses employing the inner faculty.
It would imply that the mind-body mechanism cannot know the Truth of both the
Knower as also the Known.
No effort of any kind –
tapas or mediation of one kind or the other, ‘witnessing’ included -
whether undertaken by the individual himself or under guidance of a Guru, can,
seemingly, lead to knowing the Knower. Realization cannot be made to happen. It
would seem, whatever happens just happens.
In short, there appears to be no path that can be charted to
the core of Being. One knows not, if the the conclusion has been rightly drawn.
One needs to understand, then, the need for study of ‘That Alone’ through the
class or through the book.
Prey, please share your enlightened response.
That is indeed
a basic and even essential doubt. Let's see if I can say anything pertinent. My
commentary on Gita Chapter XVII covers the subject in depth. You can read the
whole thing here: http://scottteitsworth.tripod.com/id50.html
. I take on many of the popular notions of spirituality in it.
charting a course is a distracting idea, a typically human mania. A study such
as That Alone is to correct a number of false assumptions that we carry, often
without realizing it. If we don't take a close look at ourselves, we retain
some prejudices and distortions that spoil the joy of life. I'm sure you're
familiar with Gita chapter V, which expresses this idea thus:
all-pervading One takes cognizance neither of the sinful nor the meritorious
actions of anyone; wisdom is veiled by unwisdom; beings are deluded thereby.
those, however, in whom that unwisdom in the Self has been destroyed, wisdom
shines sunlike as the Ultimate.
unwisdom by turning to the Absolute (That Alone) and shedding the veil. There's
no course involved.
From Ch. XVII:
the food which is dear to everyone is of three kinds, as also the sacrifices,
austerities and gifts. Hear you of the distinction between them.
there was any doubt before, this verse makes it clear that the rainbow arch of
the Gita is coming back down to address the basics once again, as practical matters
begin to predominate over the theoretical. The Gita is like a sonata-form work
where we return at the end to the original ideas, but they have been subtly
transformed by the profundity of the development that has been going on since
their introduction. Or like the famous Zen saying “Before enlightenment, chop
wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” Nothing
is different, and yet everything is different.
four categories listed here (food, sacrifices, austerities and gifts) comprise
the bulk of this chapter, and each will be closely examined in turn. Taken
together in the broadest sense they cover the full range of life values.
Krishna wants to demonstrate how the spiritual experience we have undergone
percolates into every aspect of existence, infusing it with new energy and
speaking, food is what you take in; gifts are what you dispense outward. There
should be a balance in these two factors. That's why a disciple is expected to
do something tangible in return for a guru's instruction, to give something
back for the feast they have been served. At the very least they should ask a
cogent question to show they have been paying attention. Those who merely show
up for classes and slip away into the night are a kind of spiritual voyeur.
Reciprocation provides opportunities to practice what has been heard. The
Computer Age slogan “Garbage in, garbage out” reflects this idea. Systems,
whether living or mechanical, respond in kind to their input. Therefore we are
enjoined by the very structure of Reality to be wise and kind and thoughtful,
and keep things circulating. The aim is “high quality in, high quality out.”
and austerities form another pair of twin concepts. Here in the chapter about
religion they can be thought of as outwardly and inwardly directed efforts
toward union with the Absolute, respectively. Tapas is the word used here for
austerity; later I have converted it to discipline, which is a more suitably
up-to-date term. Nowadays spiritual efforts are less austere than in the old
days, but hopefully, guided by intelligence, good discipline can be just as
efficacious in bringing about a state of dynamic equipoise.
it is important for us to recall verse VIII, 28:
Whatever meritorious result is found implied in the Vedas,
in sacrifices, austerities and in gifts, the contemplative who is unitively
established, having understood this (teaching), transcends all these and
attains to the supreme primal state.
also tells Arjuna in XI, 53, after he comes down from his trip:
Not by worship, nor by austerity, nor by gifts, nor by
sacrifice, can I be seen in this form as you have seen Me.
The Gita does not consider religious performances in
themselves as being conducive to or productive of realization. They are to be
performed without reference to any merit, according to the scale of values that
is about to be enunciated. Sattvic practices naturally lead to positive
outcomes, rajasic ones to mixed benefits, and tamasic activities to negative
results. Therefore, for a scripture that advocates relinquishment of benefits,
the gunas have to be transcended.
Verses 16-19 are also on the subject (see website). For
instance, in 16:
very major idea here is that the proper restraint for the ego is to keep it
from spinning its own self-serving tales to justify its absurdities, so that we
can pay attention instead to the flow of genuine inspiration from the center of
the universe inside our being. The cheesy story we are telling the world to
justify ourselves sells our soul short, very short. Disciplining the mind to be
honest with itself promotes psychic expansion.
I later added:
to run out for an errand. I thought that verse 9, which we have just completed,
was all the rationale anyone needed for study. We live in a world of
entanglements, equipped with brains that when they aren't functioning optimally
are inclined to become addicted and attached to those entanglements. That Alone
is a textbook for keeping free of them, so we can enjoy our personal integrity
and remain able to pursue our best instincts. Of course, if you don't feel it
serves that purpose for you, you are perfectly free to discard it. It's up to
As to your
specific question, the Knower is not limited to what is known (fortunately for
us, since we know so little!). It is not to be sought as an aspect of the
known. It is already complete in itself. But you have supplied an axiom: the
knower is not knowable, and then drawn the logical conclusion that then there
is no point in trying to know. It's another instance of a false (or arbitrary)
premise leading to a false (or arbitrary) conclusion. I agree that your
conclusion is "rightly drawn," only from a wrong basis, and that can
be corrected if you wish. That Alone study can reveal this type of distorting
premise hidden in our habitual modes of thinking.
All the best,
From my Chapter XVII Gita commentary, the long version:
offered to the gods, to wisdom-initiates, to spiritual teachers, and the wise
generally, cleanliness, straightforwardness, the chaste ways of a wisdom
novice, and non-hurting, are said to constitute discipline of the body.
next elucidates the practice of discipline, broken down into three categories
of efforts related to the body, speech and mind. Later he will assess them in
terms of sattva, rajas and tamas. I have used the less intense word discipline here.
Nataraja Guru uses the
term austerity, which is most common; Radhakrishnan has it as penance; and
Mitchell says control (again more of a Buddhistic take). All these words tend
to have negative connotations that strike me as alien to Krishna's teaching.
Gita is gracious enough to define austerity or discipline in detail for us, as
it covers a lot of territory. The Gita was composed when people did grotesque
and bizarre things in hopes of achieving a higher state of mind, or simply to
attract attention. Self-torture and mutilation were not uncommon. Still, the
three categories are relevant even regarding the comfortable “austerities” of
discipline of the body listed here includes worship, cleanliness, honesty or
uprightness, brahmacharya, and ahimsa or non-hurting. Worship is discussed here
and in Chapter IX; the rest are covered in depth in XIII, 7, except for
brahmacharya in VI, 14. While they are all primarily mental, here they are
related to the body, in other words, to active behaviors. Earlier they were
discussed in general terms, but here we need to examine them as modes of
then, is not only one-pointed attention to gods, gurus and fellow disciples,
active interaction has to take place with them. All three are to be treated
with respect, and also intelligently responded to. The Gita never advocates
lying on the floor and trembling, but a certain amount of deference is
important. We need to remember we are learning and not swagger around as
know-it-alls. For those of us who don't care for gods as they appear in the
popular imagination, they can stand for ideals, archetypes, essentials. As an
example, if music is one of your gods, you don't just listen when fate bring
music to you, you go to concerts, support your friends who are musicians,
perhaps even learn an instrument. You actively meditate on pieces that move
you, going deeper into their meaning by careful listening. Worshipping music in
this way sets you apart from the casual listeners who don't know much, but they
know what they like.
has written a sweet line about worship of the dualistic stripe: “God waits to
win back his own flowers as gifts from man's hands.” The universe is pouring
wonders down upon us all the time. What is it that you will do to reciprocate?
Whatever you decide, if done with sincere dedication, is your worship.
Saucha, purity or cleanliness,
especially in relation to this chapter, means not holding on to fixed ideas
which impede the natural flow of life. We have to scrub ourselves free of the
clinging dirt of ignorance. Cherished beliefs direct us according to the ego's preferences,
with consequent disasters great and small, but spiritual life is only free when
this type of habitual behavior is abandoned in favor of direct inspiration of
the Absolute. Call it a deeper level of the mind than the ego if you wish. In a
sense we must become transparent to the impetus of the Absolute. This does not
mean just being a puppet on the divine hand, but it should energize a creative
interaction between our highest abilities and the perceived inspiration from
“within” or “beyond.” Above all, we must be free from our own prejudices in
order to respond appropriately to every new situation. This is the antidote to
the problem of verse 3, where we learned we are what we believe, and what we
believe makes us who we are. Self-description is stultifying, constricting.
Give it up, and leave room for “an imagination of creative transparency” which
will be put forward in verse 16 as a discipline of the mind.
Arjavam means not only
“straightforwardness” but honesty and sincerity. Even if we pretend to inner
honesty, we often assume a pose to convince other people that we are something
other than what we are. That's because we have learned to not accept ourselves
as good enough, and that needs to be rectified. Aligning our inner and outer
self-images is arjavam. It's a tricky business. Being honest with ourselves is
famously difficult, so a trusted advisor can be a big help in weaning us from
our meticulously selected deceptions, and even some of our unconscious ones.
chaste ways of a wisdom novice” is a poetic description of brahmacharya, more
literally “walking in the path of the Absolute.” If our spiritual
transformation only takes place in our mind, it isn't “real.” It has to be
real-ized. Our relation to the Absolute should have an impact on how we act,
such as by being more environmentally conscious and more loving toward our
fellow creatures. Awareness of the feelings of other people and the coherence
of their preferred systems enlarges our spiritual capacity, and what we do for
them enlarges the space we inhabit, in a positive feedback loop.
far as chastity goes, Guru Nitya has written that purity of intent is
chasteness. Prostitution, then, occurs when we trade our innocent motivations
for temporal gains. Life continually forces us to decide between staying true
to our ideals or compromising them for convenience. If our ideals are valid, we
should wear them without shame. This is the most central vow a brahmachari
there is a path of the Absolute for us to walk it implies there are other paths
that lead away from it. If we are insecure or poorly informed, we may walk into
bondage instead of freedom. Many binding factors masquerade as tools of
liberation, convincingly praised by ardent proponents. A yogi has to examine
them carefully to see how they might catch you. Careful examination means
listening with the heart as well as applying the intelligence.
ahimsa, ranges from the simplest physical restraint from causing harm to the
subtleties of optimal interpersonal interaction. One overlooked aspect of
ahimsa is that we should include ourselves in those who we refuse to hurt. Many
people, because of the way they were raised, believe it is their duty to suffer
so that others can have their way. Learning to love and respect ourselves means
both being kind toward our own feelings and resistance to the abuses some
people feel justified in heaping on us.
number of the categories here overlap Patanjali's Yoga, in his section on
restraints and observances (yamas and niyamas).
speech, which is truthful, pleasant and beneficial, and contemplative
self-study, are named the discipline of speech.
casual reading of instructions like this may inspire us to carefully craft our
words, but that type of over-management is egoistic rather than spiritual, even
if it is done with the best of intentions. That's not what is meant here. Truly
inspiring speech comes as evidence of our inner state of union. Brain
observations have shown that thoughts coalesce in secret for a long time before
they burst into conscious awareness. Sure, we can do some last minute editing,
biting our tongue to avoid uttering some “zinger,” but the yogic way is to
harmonize our psyche first, so that what comes out of our mouths is like a
flower fragrance from our well-tended garden and not the stench of an
uncomposted manure pile.
help insure we fully understand, Krishna qualifies inoffensive speech with
three important adjectives: it must be truthful, pleasant and beneficial.
Non-contemplatives stop at pleasant and call it good, but it is even more
important that what we say is truthful and beneficial. If there is no benefit,
we might as well keep our mouths shut.
speech isn't quite what it sounds like, that we are not supposed to say
anything controversial or confrontational. For those who cherish wisdom, merely
pleasant chatter itself is highly offensive, as they don't want to waste time
on meaningless conversation. What is implied here is that since what we say has
an impact, often a surprisingly large one, we need to take care not only that
our communication doesn't inadvertently cause harm, but that it is a positive
force, an essential part of the wisdom sacrifice.
we mature we begin to realize just how powerful words are, so we restrain
ourselves from flinging them around as wantonly as we did in our younger days.
An ill-begotten sentence can send someone into a tailspin, while a well-chosen
one can lift another out of the dumps. Pretty much everyone attains that much
wisdom. But there is another dimension here which is often overlooked, that
words are a key to explore the inner kingdom.
Self-study, svadhyaya, is the flip side of
well-chosen speech, and they very much go together. What we say is incisive
thought directed outwards, self-study is incisive thought directed inward. In
both cases it is a flexible vehicle for exploring the terrain, not a bulldozer
to level it.
are some shocking translations of svadhyaya, taking it to mean chanting the
Vedas, which is utterly alien to the spirit of the Gita. Svadhyaya is also one
of Patanjali's observances, forming part of the second of his eight limbs of
yoga. It is a critical enquiry into the nature of the self. Many ritualistic
practices have been introduced over the centuries that purport to further
self-awareness but actually divert attention from it. George Thompson even
changes 'beneficial' to 'kind', further sapping the pungency of Krishna's
instruction. We wind up with kindly and pleasant cheeriness interspersed with bouts
of chanting, in place of a dedicated and intense search for truth. In the
Sixties we called that selling out.
tempted to change the translation of priya from 'pleasant' to 'endearing',
which is a better indicator of the piquancy intended. The words we hear or say
should make us passionately fall in love, not just smile and nod and go about
than repress our negativity with pleasantries we should look at it directly. On
the other hand, saying nasty things to people isn't only harmful to them, it's
an indicator of our own problems, like a Freudian slip. Speech is paired with
self-study for this reason: we can trace back who we are through what we say.
Once we have mastered our inner malformations, our upgraded state will be reflected
in the way we talk.
far as consciously editing our speech goes, we have to know ourself even better
than we know the person we are addressing, to be certain what we say is
appropriate. The more we know about our inner mechanisms, the better decisions
we will make in our communications.
being difficult to monitor ourselves when we are speaking, the feedback of
others is very valuable in letting us know when we have said something hurtful
or idiotic. You've probably noticed how people who say mean things are in the
grip of some powerful emotion and are hardly aware of what they are doing. Our
ability to communicate will be normalized only if the underlying trauma is
healed. If we try to pretend to normalcy while still suffering, our slips will surely
ourselves through what we say means that we have to sit in meditation and
recall our conversations, taking critical comments especially to heart. In
ordinary interactions, we hardly give a second thought to what we've said. But
when we suffer the misery of a cleavage between a friend and us, it makes us
ponder what went wrong. It's a real opportunity to dig deep into our souls.
Non-yogis search for clever ways to make excuses and defend their faults, but
yogis are brave enough to accept their shortcomings. Doing so heals the rift as
it reveals hidden areas of the psyche.
master guru who has achieved self-realization utters words of such enchanting
beauty that they bring healing. Gurus address the listener's situation
intimately, because there is no extra weight attached to their own interests.
They are like a conduit for the Absolute to shower its grace into the world.
That's the kind of beneficial inoffensiveness Krishna is speaking of here.
happiness, gentleness, silence, self-restraint, and an imagination of creative
transparency, are named the discipline of the mind.
three pronged discipline given in verses 14-16 expresses the baseline attitude
of the realized seer that Arjuna is learning to be. Disciplining the mind means
wrestling it into the shape described, as always from the inside out, by
changing our beliefs, our sraddha. We have gone through the entire Gita with
the conviction that attunement with the Absolute brings about all beneficial
states in direct consequence, and that is the sure way. Still, there are times
when we have to work at it, when our attention slips. If we are to fall back on
mechanical corrections, it doesn't hurt to have a blueprint of what an
enlightened state of mind looks like.
gives a classic description of a peaceable wise person here, gentle, quiet and
happy. When aggressive types assert that the Gita is the scripture that
advocates and legitimizes war, they are missing almost the whole point of
Krishna's teaching. It's hard to see where belligerence might fit into this
verse. Yes, there are rare instances where fighting is called for in life, but
they are very much the exception, and they are to be met with the unitive
attitude presented here, not with anger and hostility.
verse is perfectly straightforward, except Nataraja Guru has a unique take on bhava
samshuddhi, rendering it as “an
imagination of creative transparency.”
The dictionary gives it as “purity of mind.” Since the Guru does not explain in
his commentary, we have to bring what we've learned so far to bear.
of creative transparency” means first of all that you have cleared the garbage
out of the way in your life so that your innate creativity can come to the
fore. Transparency does not impede or distort what passes through it.
Distortions occur when we overlay our personal quirks onto the situation; when
selfish interests are dispensed with we see things for what they are rather
than what we can make from them. This brings great freedom to the mind, which
then infuses every aspect of life.
creative aspect is an important inclusion. All too often, purity is equated
with emptiness. Here, the purity constitutes a liberation from obstacles,
allowing enhanced freedom in contemplation and thought in general. You are not
simply a ghost through which the winds of life blow, you are a participating
co-creator who brings an optimized state of mind to whatever is taking place.
While not distorting, you are meeting the situation with an open heart and an open
is a very interesting topic. To many people, “effacing the ego” means
suppressing the capacity and inclination to make judgments. But judging is one
of the most essential contributions of the frontal cortex, the most “human”
part of the brain, so suppressing it is a serious mistake. It's true that
wrestling your judging capacity down will give you a heavy workout, as your
natural good sense repeatedly tries to stand up and be counted and you struggle
to squelch it, but this is an excellent example of how effort alone is not the
measure of spiritual worth. Even more importantly, allowing our impulses to run
wild, free of judicious restraints, is not the same as being harmonized with
the Absolute, the yearnings of youthful folly notwithstanding.
really needs to be minimized if not effaced by self-restraint is our egoistic
talent for making excuses and rationalizing what we do, and this is something
we seldom feel guilty about. We are more likely to hotly defend it, in fact.
Here's how it works. An action propensity is activated deep in the unconscious,
in what we collectively refer to as the seedbed of vasanas, and various parts
of the brain begin to arrange the local environment to make the propensity's
expression not only possible but fruitful. The action gestalt becomes seasoned
with samskaras-the neurological “shape” the brain has been trained into-as it
moves toward consciousness. When it is as fully prepared as possible, it begins
to actually unfold, and as it does our conscious mind witnesses it and at the
same time invents a plausible explanation for it. If the action itself is
called into question by someone, the ego defends it tooth and claw, employing
various strategies to depose the challenge, even changing its cover story at
will to oppose the challenge. We defend most sanctimoniously the aspects of
ourself we least want anyone else to be aware of. If we are comfortable with
something, we have no need to defend it. Knowing this, we can overcome our
inner traumas if we are brave enough to stand up to them.
Adams had a lot of fun with this propensity of the ego in his masterful novel, Dirk
Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.
To demonstrate how the mind excels at making excuses for the most inexcusable
actions, which is a major subtheme of the book, Dirk makes a post-hypnotic
suggestion to a client to jump into a filthy canal and then find himself unable
to swim, when he hears a certain code word when they go out walking later on.
When Dirk fishes him out, the client has perfectly rational explanations for
all of his actions, only we as readers know they have nothing at all to do with
the real motivation, which was the hypnotic suggestion. And as Steven Heller
maintains in Monsters and Magical Sticks,
we are all hypnotizing others and being hypnotized pretty much all the time.
That means we are also defending ourselves with invented rationalizations
pretty much all the time.
very major idea here is that the proper restraint for the ego is to keep it
from spinning its own self-serving tales to justify its absurdities, so that we
can pay attention instead to the flow of genuine inspiration from the center of
the universe inside our being. The cheesy story we are telling the world to
justify ourselves sells our soul short, very short. Disciplining the mind to be
honest with itself promotes psychic expansion.
threefold discipline, practiced with transcendent faith by unitively balanced
yogis, without desire of gain, is named sattvic.
sattvic mentality minimizes selfish motivation. Things are done because they
are beautiful in themselves. The disciplines of body, speech and mind are a
most fulfilling way to live, because they go a long way in freeing us from our
a curious paradox that by seeking rewards, life becomes less and less
rewarding. Honing in on the essence of every act, free from the anxiety of
hoping for a payback, opens the door to blissful existence at every moment.
only addition this verse adds to the previous three is that they are to be
practiced with transcendent faith, paraya
sraddha. This is not the simple one-to-one faith that doing certain actions
brings predictable results, automatically turning us into realized beings.
Conversion remains mysterious and unpredictable. It's the faith of the seers in
XI, 21, where “bands of great rishis and Perfected Ones hail You [the Absolute]
with the cry 'May it be well!' and praise You with resounding hymns.”
Transcendent faith means we acquiesce in the unfolding magical mystery tour of
the Absolute, and don't feel like we have to make anything happen. It's already
happening; all we have to do is join in.
discipline which is practiced for gaining respect, honor, reverence, and for
the sake of show, is named rajasic, changeful and insecure.
we do what we do with others' opinions in mind we lose the sense of security
that comes from being grounded in our deepest Self. There is always some doubt
as to how other people are reacting to us. Are they buying our act, or do we
need to lay it on more thickly? Is their reaction sincere or are they merely
feigning interest? Can I do more to win them over? And so on. When we rely on
others to ratify and guide our existence, our life is always “changeful and
insecure” no matter how good the performance.
afraid what we have here is an incisive description of the human mentality,
pretty much summing up the baseline angst of the isolated individuals we have
all become. So sad!
aside the legitimate worries of those inhabiting the world of political
intrigue, who quite rightly fear for their bartered lives, very few of us have
established a sense of ultimate security based on the beneficence of the
Absolute. Yogis are directed to cultivate confidence based on the continuous
support that comes to them, but this is hard to learn. In its place we scheme
and calculate, measure and compare, and always imagine we come up short in the
deals we negotiate. Krishna has been doing his best to convince Arjuna that he
can go forth in full assurance of his support, that if he stops flailing in the
river of life he will float quite naturally. This is the great mental leap that
sannyasa, subject of the next and final chapter, requires us to make.
have examined the root causes of insecurity in depth already: how when children
are not taken seriously and treated with respect they decide they must invent
substitutes that will command the admiration and cooperation of those around
them. Regardless of whether these artificial personas work well or poorly, we
who wield them always feel anxious, because we well know that they are false
even as we insist on their veracity. Unlike the Absolute, our creations are
bound to be less then perfect, tailored as they are to limited circumstances,
and when conditions change they no longer fit as well as they once did. We are
eternally struggling to readjust our persona to fit new situations, or else
bluffing harder and harder to convince our associates that nothing is the
matter, that there is no disconnect between appearance and reality. The only
way to slide out from under the cloud of anxiety this generates is to become
ourselves again, jettisoning the persona and accepting ourselves with all our
flaws, bravely prepared to accept the inevitable criticism we will get for
doesn't mean we have to become uncivilized to be ourselves. That popular
sraddha has caused oceans of barbaric behavior in hopes that rebellion itself
brings liberation. But while rejection of conformity has some value, it is only
a first step, because it's still tied to the original deadness. After breaking
free of it we still have to turn to our own truth, and any posturing we adopt
will be just as false as the contortions society demands. The yogic ideal is to
strip away all affectations.
can maintain a decent persona to placate the world's blissful ignorance, just
so long as we give up the ego's attachment to it. It's our identity with a fake image that causes us harm, not so much the
image itself. A great many people are afraid of honesty, and will hurt you if
you are honest with them. At the same time they are easy to satisfy if you
simply keep quiet and smile. You can be yourself while those around you are
sure you are someone else, and you can even be amused by how far off the mark
commercial world of cutthroat competitiveness is another perfect breeding
ground for the rajasic charade described in this verse. If you are not securely
grounded in your self, you can easily be swayed to the advantage of others.
Overwhelmed by too much disparate information, everyday worries become
magnified. Advertisers reinforce those anxieties and then prey on them,
providing expensive and even harmful “solutions” to an ever-expanding array of
invented problems. Where rishis of the past faced their challenges directly,
modern day lemmings are more likely to think of themselves as helpless victims,
and seek “expert” help. The syndrome is elucidated in the article What's
Normal? by Jerome Groopman, (The
New Yorker, April 9, 2007):
Phillip Blumberg, a psychotherapist in Manhattan, told me,
“Psychological diagnosis is, in essence, a story. If you have a mood disorder,
there is the fear, the shame, and the confusion-the stigma-associated with it,
so you want to grab on to the most concrete and clear story you can. There is
something about the clarity of bipolar disease, particularly its biological
basis, which is incredibly soothing and seductive.”
believes that advertising by pharmaceutical companies has influenced the
public's view of bipolar disorder…. [He] described recent ads, for drugs like
Zyprexa, that include a list of symptoms characteristic of the disorder. “But,
of course, we all have these symptoms,” he said. “Sometimes we're irritable.
Sometimes we're excited and elated, and we don't know why. With every form of
advertising, the first goal is to make people feel insecure. Usually, they are
made to feel insecure about their smell or their looks. Now we are beginning to
see this in psychiatric advertising. The advertisements make frenetic, driven
parents feel insecure about the behavior of their children.”
noted that he had seen instances of the disorder in some children, and that it
was a real and serious diagnosis. But he also cited the mounting pressure on
children, particularly in the middle and upper classes, to succeed, first at
private or selective public schools, and then at exclusive colleges and
universities. “These kids become very well turned-out products,” he said. “They
live to have resumes. They don't have resumes because they live.” Parents may
fear that children who behave in an eccentric way are at a disadvantage, and in
turn pressure the pediatrician or the psychiatrist to come up with a diagnosis
and offer a treatment. “Then an industry grows up around it. This, then, enters
as truth in the popular imagination.”
is a hall of broken funhouse mirrors, home to endless wandering in confusion
and doubt. The only escape is to turn away from the mirrors and into your self,
where you can reconnect with the solid values of the Absolute. And we should
offer our kids that option, instead of simply medicating them to conform.
discipline which is practiced out of foolish obstinacy, with self-torture, or
for the detriment of another, is named tamasic.
to the ancient Laws of Manu, the interpretation of austerity for brahmins was
teaching and studying. For kshatriyas it was protecting the people and avoiding
sensual indulgence. The bizarre austerities like those later practiced by
Christian hermits and Hindu ascetics are nowhere mentioned.
least we don't hang ourselves upside down from trees for twenty years too often
these days, though India still has a smattering of gory practitioners. What are
the austerities or disciplines of the present? Whatever one does in the faith
that they will lead to happiness may be called austerities. People work out at
the gym to become healthy and attractive. Going to school is a very long term
austerity. Food obsessions, including anorexia, were already mentioned. Having
a job is both a sacrifice and an austerity for many people. Going to church can
be an austerity designed to prise you into heaven.
all these you are paying dues now for gain later. When your focus is more on
the actual activity, you are in sattva. If you love being in church, it's a
wonderful thing. When your focus is displaced to far in the future it is more
rajasic. You don't really enjoy church, but it's your ticket to eternal
salvation. And when there is no connection between what you're doing and what
will come of it, it is tamasic. You've sneaked into the back pew to avoid the
Gita offers these categories with the idea that each person will be making up
their own mind in their own way. Indeed, as in the example above, what is
tamasic for me may well be sattvic for you, and vice versa. None of this is
fixed or obligatory; it is for us to find our own freedom, and that is
guaranteed to be an individual proposition.
obstinacy! Who hasn't known something important and yet been unable to get it
across to a stubborn opponent? You can recall your own examples to illustrate
this verse. It seems the more warped the belief, the more tenaciously it is
clung to. We can use the stubbornness itself as a diagnostic tool.
remember talking to a highly intelligent friend who exercised daily for an
hour, about a recent study that the optimum amount of exercise was twenty
minutes, three times a week, and that the benefits tailed off beyond that
amount. He just kept saying no, no, no and shaking his head. In the US, we are
saturated in a society that puts physical culture ahead of the life of the
mind. This should have been great news, freeing up more time for other
interests, but my friend took it as a threat to his ongoing program and
rejected it out of hand.
yoga has come to mean calisthenics and stretching exercises, and people look at
you as if you're crazy if you suggest that it is anything else.
are relatively trivial instances of unnecessary mule-headedness. Delving into
more serious matters, how about the unshakable prejudices that draw nations
into war, or that tempt politicians to dismantle their country's infrastructure
based on dogmatic beliefs? Once upon a time the US built itself up into an
economic and cultural powerhouse with community projects described as
democratic. Then some clever ideologues started describing the same projects as
socialist (a dirty word in the US) and those programs were dismantled with
are a thousand “spiritual” techniques guaranteed to bring enlightenment or
levitation or wealth, and partisans spend countless hours chanting or gazing at
this or that. Most of it is self-hypnosis or delirium, but they cling to it
with full conviction.
have talked at length elsewhere about child-rearing techniques that are
punitive and crushing to the child, but which parents, often inspired by
scriptural injunctions, inflict with a vengeance. The damaged children then
grow up to similarly abuse their own offspring, keeping the vicious cycle in
motion. There is plenty of good information available that would help, but
until foolish obstinacy is given up, such tragic scenarios will persist.
these tamasic sraddhas call to mind Schiller's proclamation that “Against
stupidity even the gods struggle in vain.”
Lehrer, introduced earlier, describes how one of the brain's most debilitating
faults is that an attitude of certainty causes it to block out alternative
possibilities. This type of tamasic thinking is common to everyone, and needs
to be consciously countermanded or we will find ourselves trapped in a
behavioral sink, a mental black hole.
only does the frontal cortex overlay its prejudices on the conflicting opinions
of different parts of the brain, once it has done so the reward circuits kick
in, flooding the brain with pleasurable sensations. This kind of tamas is
“sticky” precisely because it feels so good! And doubt and uncertainty make us
feel anxious, as a stimulus for resolving them. Our neural circuitry can easily
tempt us to jump to foolish conclusions and doggedly hold onto them.
Psychopaths are especially prone to this, because they don't even have many of
the circuits that present contradictory information. They are literally wired
to be tamasic, and yet they are far from stupid. Non-psychopaths have the
neurologic option to at least consider alternatives, and they most definitely
interesting that Krishna includes discipline practiced “for the detriment of
another” here. Much of tamasic behavior is self-defeating, but some of it
eagerly cultivates hatred and enmity, with elaborate plans for causing harm to
others. There is black magic here and there, but that's something few Gita
readers are guilty of. More common to the average person is something akin to
the gleeful sabotage of enlightened values that motivates the sociopathic
personality. The lust with which public figures are torn apart when their
personal shortcomings are held up to view is a perfect example. Often the rending
is done by those who have piously read the parable of Jesus and the woman
caught in adultery, where he tells the angry crowd, ready to stone her to
death, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
(John 8.7) Tamasic people seek to hide their own faults by becoming enraged at
the transgressions of others, and they often find themselves with plenty of
subconscious urge for vengeance may very well color the ego. It is frequently
seen in love relationships, where the surface is all sweetness and light, but
behind the scenes there is backstabbing and undermining of the other's
happiness. In a perverse way the ego is begging for appreciation, opening a
wound and then longing for the partner to soothe it. It can work either
direction. The wound has to be kept open, so it is always being worried, and
this keeps sucking the partner back into an unhealthy dependency.
know we all read these verses on the gunas as: sattva is me, rajas is about the
average person, and tamas is totally about other people. If that's true, these
late chapters are a waste of time. This is exactly the kind of certitude we
have to avoid. With a little insight, we can see how we are caught in all the
gunas. Then the true value of these verses will shine for us.
has supplied an alternate interpretation of the ninth verse. We welcome a
variety of ideas, and don’t insist on any being the only right one.
nice to have a report of the eminent Professor Nair’s take on this work. I would
maintain, however, that the Gurukula interpretation is not something other than
yoga; rather it is the essence of yoga as a psychospiritual practice. There are
many techniques lumped under the blanket term yoga. Per Nataraja Guru and
Nitya, harmonizing opposites and avoiding entanglements is yoga at its best,
opening the door for all other experiences.
Guru did write a poem called The Song of the Kundalini Snake, though kundalini
is not especially prominent in his philosophy. I would add that this
interpretation, while plausible, is somewhat at odds with the second half of
the verse, where the contemplative sits separate from the tree and thus avoids
hell. Perhaps others will weigh in on this subject. Sujit writes:
Over the last 3 weeks I was caught up in some deadline based
work, and so have not been able to catch up fully with the verses discussed.
Two days ago I jumped to Verse 9, but realized the interpretations varied
significantly between authors.
Since you have an interest in Yoga, an interpretation of
Verse 9 from a yoga perspective might be of interest. It is particularly the
interpretation of the first part:
That Alone - the Gurukula's book interpretation being:
Growing on both sides,
in a blossoming state,
is the one vine which
has come, spread out and risen to the
top of a tree;
Prof. G. Balakrishnan Nair, the well known interpreter of
all of Narayana Guru's works, however explains the vine climbing on both sides,
as a figurative expression of the experience of Kundalini-prana-prasara.
The Malayalam words in the verse could be taken
with differing literary meanings, as some of the words have multiple
meanings anyway. So if I restate the Malayalam (in this sense) it would be
both sides of the back, experiencing 'the six states',
like a vine that
spreads and rises to the top of the tree;
is read differently, as varum ar avasta,
i.e. 6 avastas that come. The
experience of 6 avasthas or six
states, as the prana energy
passes upward via the two nadis (ida and pingala)
on either side of the back (iru-puram could also mean the two
backs). The vine here is climbing either side is of the Sushumna nadi (symbolized
the tree) that links the Kundalini via
both sides of the back upwards to the Broomadhyam (centre
of eyebrows) and Sahasrara.
In short, Balakrishnan Nair explains this as the experience
upward movement (entry, resting and transit) via each of the 6 adharams or Sad-adhara chakras.
An other view
of the verse.
Sujit kindly added more of Professor Nair’s interpretation.
This sounds more like Narayana Guru’s intent, that a kundalini experience is a
diversion from truth rather than something to be sought. I still prefer to take
the verse in the more general context, but this now coheres. Narayana Guru
intended his instruction for all types of seekers. Sujit’s letter:
As a rejoinder, maybe I should
have also mentioned how the first half flows into the second half of Verse 9
(in G. Balakrishnan Nair's version). You are right, both versions fall under
the broader definition of yoga.
The second half of 9 is also
explained by GBN as the sadhana based
on (i.e. 'under') the figurative taru (tree).
The base of the taru being the muladhara
(seat of Kundalini), the tree itself being the Sushumna nadi going upward along the vertebral line (including
branches) toward the Broomadhyam (centre
of eyebrows) and crowning at the Sahasrara.
GBN says that the word 'tapas' is
the keyword or pointer
from Narayana Guru, who forewarns that even if the seeker experiences Kundalini-prana-prasara* he/she
should continue tapas (focused
meditation towards seeking Paramasatyam -
Truth) without being prematurely carried away - or turning egoistic - by
experiences. That, tapas is the
continued control of the senses and the mind in ekagratha or concentration on one - the Paramasatyam.
Tapas effectively should end with the final realisation of
Truth, after which no tapas is
needed. So until then, the way forward for the seeker is continuing with tapas,
in order to be unaffected by
misfortunes or failures (again figuratively naragam or hell) - it should be borne in mind.
I hope the above connects
backward to complete GBN's viewpoint on 9.
P.S. [* typo fixed in previous message] The word prasara means flow
Michael sent a very nice excerpt from the Atmo short version, more about the
From Nitya's NTNTBA commentary on Atmo 9, page 20, last 2
The cosmic play of the sportive Absolute is compared to
a tree which is entirely covered by a creeper that has branched into two and
has entwined the tree all over, covering the original form with its own flowers
and leaves. The creeper referred to is the world of phenomenality. What is
enshrouded by the vine is the numinous. The changeless witness of eternity is
analogically referred to as a contemplative sitting in the shade of this tree,
passively witnessing both the art and the science of phenomenality. There is a
spark of the all-witnessing Self in us as well. Sometimes it alternates
with our existential ego. The self-luminous and transcendent witness is fully
aware of the changeless reality that appears to be changing into the birth,
growth, old age and death of a nebula or a sperm in the biological stream.
If our personal and existential ego is allowed to merge with the transcendental
witness through a process of osmosis, it can also attain the transparency
of vision that unveils all the secrets of life. Guru refers to this process as
doing tapas. The realization that comes through such a vision will save a
person from all the snares of the temptation of the phenomenal.
Thanks to everyone for helping sear Verse 9 into our
consciousness, as it’s a most liberating image. These two responses should
about wrap it up. From Dipika:
brilliant class notes...am catching up
one thing that stuck in my head is your note on Jill Bolte
Taylors note...learnt something new...and it will forever stick now
now i will make it a point to pull myself out of
anything negative which lasts more than 90seconds...
and also know that anything positive too gives the same
amount of pleasure....therefore in the long run how hard are you going to run
after that new dress or new car or maybe even the new boyfriend
;) the actual spark
for which finishes in a little more than a minute
no wonder people get so addictive with substances....as the
body needs that constant stimuli ..cokeheads in particular n alcoholics
i suppose this would be a way to start 'tapas' to be aware n
conscious n make sure one is constantly eradicating the negative
have to come back to re-read this slowly again
[She ended with]:
staying in the now at all times is the answer....easier said
then done with this constant flickering mind
Yesterday was history
Tomorrows a mystery
But Today is a gift
Thats why its called
I sent her my commentary on Gita II, 57, with some fine
tuning of the idea of living in the now, including “The popular catchword is
“live in the now.” That's fine, so long as the now contains the past and the
future. The now taken in isolation, detached from memories, is a kind of living
death.” She responded beautifully:
this is really sweet....
helping me not be a zombie
i do know that not feeling makes me a robot
and youre right my dilemma...after all these endless
readings is to not long for anything too much
but hell...i do have my times when loneliness comes a
-creeping...and i do acknowledge that fully and wish that i do find a
soulmate...however twerpy that sounds
the thing is that am no longer...ummm...unhappy...i really
reached rock bottom during that very stressful job with that Production House
and before that i was heading downhill with depression (a
lot to do with my thyroid misbehaving)
but after that and for the last year...ive suddenly become
really positive n resilient again
im amazed at myself...cause nothing has really changed...but
i decided (when i found out that the thyroid was to blame)
to stop the anxiety... that im going to do everything possible in my
pysche to never let myself go that low again
so sometimes its good to know abt the 90 second charge...for
when ur being foolish u can pull yourself out..
yet somewhere am pushing myself to be a yogin
Susan sent a long meditation on the witness that exemplifies
how questioning and doubting leads to understanding:
Thanks for sending out the quotes that Michael sent from
NTNTBA. They are wonderful but also confusing for me. I think it was one or two
classes ago that you said that we sometimes confuse the ego with the witness
and that the witness is not the ego but Nitya says, "There is a spark of the
all-witnessing Self in us as well. Sometimes it alternates with our
existential ego." Then he goes on to say:
If our personal and existential
ego is allowed to merge with the
transcendental witness through
process of osmosis, it can also
attain the transparency of vision
that unveils all the secrets of
life. Guru refers to this process
as doing tapas. The realization
that comes through such a vision
will save a person from all the
snares of the temptation of the
From this, I gather that the ego can meld into the witness
which makes more sense to me. Otherwise, I imagine the kind of good angel/bad
angel thing with the two of them sitting on my shoulders and arguing about what
I should do, though I know that the witness is NOT the good angel. However, it
is odd to think of two entities inside me — the witness and the manifested self
with the small "s." I suppose the witness, as represented by the
person sitting under the tree, is not to really be thought of as an entity at
all but rather like the ocean — vast, connecting all, detached from the
manifested form. The ego is the conglomeration of the self — our conditionings,
What is the difference between the personal and the
existential ego? I think I have been thinking that it is through Tapas
that we become the witness — wouldn't that be enlightenment? But now I'm
thinking that we aren't trying to become the witness but only be more aware of
it and this is done through Tapas. If the person under the tree is the witness,
then why does he/she need to be doing Tapas? Gosh, this symbolism confusion is
starting to feel like the creeper closing in on me. Now that I've gotten all
tangled up, I think I'll just see it all as meaning that the witness is the
absolute — it is not some entity inside my consciousness, as my ego is inside
my consciousness. Instead, it is the eternal Absolute that is also me but not a
manifesting me, though it is the cause of the manifestation. I can become the
witness in a sense by doing tapas so that the conditioning of my ego is not
allowed to take me on the roller coaster that can be the drama of life.
I like Nataraja's perspective:
contemplative has to participate thus in
the attitude of
the poet before he can establish
himself and be
initiated into the reality
viewed in this manner. Like the man
in the famous
statue of Augusts Rodin (1840-1917)
Thinker' (Le Penseur), the man
the tree in the Guru's verse should
not as living in a vacuum of
as having for his content of
all the other possible grades of
truth or reality
implied. Tree, creeper and the
two orders of
blossoms must be viewed globally
with that degree
of detachment which belongs to
real living man
in truly human contemplation. (Nataraja 53)
The witness doesn't live in a vacuum. All the parts of
creation are legitimate and real. The work is in getting things into the right
perspective. We don't live on a mountaintop with the angels and enlightened
beings. We live here is this beautiful (and sometimes ugly and violent) world
and the task is to figure out how to live the best life — not getting bowled
over by the drama, finding a deep connection to the divine, making the most of
our dharma, appreciating all the gifts of this life especially by seeing their
connection to the Absolute, feeling and sharing the love from deep within.