“I” is not dark; if it were dark we would be in a state of blindness,
to know even “I,I”;
we do know, the “I” is not darkness;
for making this known, this should be told to anyone.
The Self is not darkness. If it were darkness, we would not
have known and identified ourselves as 'I', 'I'. As we do know, we should let
everyone realize that the Self can be known.
The ‘I’ is not darkness; were it so blind
And unaware of this ‘I’, ‘I’ we should have remained;
Because of such awareness, in order to know
Thus (as such) to one and all declare.
Alone is once again building to a peak, culminating in a universal favorite:
the end of Verse 20, where Nitya convinces us to make every minute lively and
rich. After that we’ll be taking a break for several weeks, so we can practice
what we’ve learned.
the text led us to a still point where meditation was effortless. Sitting
without discursive thoughts is a way of reducing the ‘I’ to its essence.
Instead of our many self-descriptions of I am this or that, we experienced the
core of awareness, freed of its habitual identities. When gurus like Ramana
Maharshi recommend meditating on “Who am I?” this is what they mean: seek out
the unitive I at the center of all the plurality. That alone is our true
existence; the rest is window dressing.
course, the window dressing gives us our personality, defining who we are in
this life to those around us. It’s not a bad thing. It’s beautiful. Each of us
is a unique product of what we have experienced. It’s something to be
cherished, and shared. The only problem is that most of us have forgotten the
core and become fully identified with the periphery. Narayana Guru wants to
help us reconnect with it. Our surface is subject to all sorts of insults and
injuries, and if we believe that is all we are, we suffer. That’s why the outer
world is considered dark, that our outward orientation is a kind of darkness.
Returning to our shining core is the antidote to suffering. It makes life worth
living. In his short version, Nitya puts it this way:
When people believe they are ignorant,
this negative knowledge brings with it both depression and inertia. They lose
the capacity to seek, to strive and to understand. Thus, when they perpetuate
their ignorance, life becomes truly dreadful and pathetic.
I’m sure we all know people who are paralyzed by their
negativity, convinced there is nothing in them of any value. It’s a
self-fulfilling belief, and nothing we say to them seems to be able to pass
through the paralysis. The Guru suggests a closer look at the core of awareness
to restore the inherent dynamism animating every one of us. Let’s again defer
have seen in the previous verses’ meditations that our experience can have
within it a bright spot and a dark spot. Between the range of these two
extremes there can be many gradations of consciousness. When we turn only to
the dark element, life appears full of crises. It may look negative, depressing,
bleak, meaningless. Even at such dark moments it is with the consciousness of
‘I’ that we say it is bleak and dark. Turn to the very self with which you say
this, and that brings you back to the brightest spot within yourself. Then you
won’t lose the stable footing of your life. You are reclaiming your own
self-awareness. If you habilitate yourself in the bright center of your own
self, then you can withdraw from that which frightens you, that which makes
Although the principle is simple, making it
real is not at all simple. We first have to take a resolve to not submit to the
temptations of negativity, which are highly addictive. In an inversion of the
idea, many religions rail against the “temptations of the flesh” and preach
asceticism. However, the idea is not to refrain from the joys of life, but to
share them and enhance them, which we can do best if we are not totally
enchanted by the play of external events. It’s a warning not to go only by
appearances, to see beyond surfaces.
Scotty and I remembered being semiconscious in the hospital in the past, which
was like our meditation in that all our personal associations were absent.
There was only a core awareness. It was as strong as ever, but didn’t have any
externals to cling to. In my case at least this was lucky, because I was in a
hellish realm. If I identified with “Scott” there would have been much to fear,
but there was no such person. Every once in awhile my persona would start to
reappear, and then I was filled with dread, but as long as I remained neutral
it was okay. Narayana Guru assures us that everyone has a neutral core like
that, and we should get to know it.
do so it’s very helpful to reduce our dependence on our external identity.
Scotty recalled Rumi’s advice that if someone asks you who you are, tell them
you are a soul within a soul within a soul. That’s better than saying you’re
the Absolute, which people always take as a megalomaniac fantasy, unless you
assure them that they are the Absolute too. It’s a good place to wax poetic. So
go with Rumi, or invent your own non-identity.
experience of being hospitalized for dehydration from pneumonia as a young
child brought up the idea of samskaras. When it happened it was a firsthand
experience, very mysterious and baffling. Afterwards it was explained to him,
which converted it into something like the memory he has now: a fixed story
about what had taken place. Direct experience is rapidly converted to a
description, which as Scotty put it “gets in the way of the timeless moment I
am.” Again, it does serve a useful purpose, but the downside is that as we age
we enjoy less and less direct experience and more and more experience mediated
by memory. It makes us feel less than alive. Narayana Guru is quite sure we can
break free of the dominance of samskaras and vasanas and come back to life. In
most of us they don’t actually disappear, but by deemphasizing them we can make
room for bursts of fresh adventures. All we have to do is replace the mania for
description that characterizes our species with a calm acceptance of it as
merely an adjunct tool.
is different at the level of samskaras and vasanas, but we are very similar if
not identical in our core. Thus the core is the center of amity, fellowship and
love, and our individuated surface is the source of conflict. Conflict based in
amity is very dynamic, but without the certitude that we are one… well, look
around. All those unnecessary tragedies are what motivated Narayana and the
other gurus to try to share the insight epitomized in this verse. They want us
to regain our joyful and compassionate center, and then share it with those
around us. There is a chance that it will be appreciated. It might even catch
took us on an interesting tack, probing the apparent intelligence of animals,
like sensing earthquakes and tsunamis, not to mention the innate harmony of
their existence. He felt they weren’t separating the one into many and then
reassembling the many into one, the way humans do. Perhaps there is something
in the universal core that knows more than we suspect.
can be teachers for us, because they are more in tune with their instinctive
intelligence than we are, and it’s very intelligent indeed. I recalled that our
conscious mind is located in a very thin and recently evolved veneer of cells
on the surface of the brain, while every cubic centimeter of the brain’s mass
has as many connections as there are stars in the galaxy. It’s like our
conscious awareness is the Earth, but the whole brain is the Milky Way. Hanging
out exclusively in the veneer is the height of folly. Consciousness is a
wonderful development, possibly the best development so far, locally speaking,
but separating it from the vast mass it rests on it is, well, kind of stupid.
We should be welcoming input from our depths, instead of ignoring it with all
our might. Ignoring and ignorance are close cousins. Because animals don’t have
all our inhibitions, they easily channel the wisdom of their whole brain into
what they do.
we humans only block some of the input that our brains so thoughtful prepare
for us. We are quite dependent on many of its arcane alchemies. And they are
finally being accorded respect by the neuroscientific community. Nowadays it’s
the more conscious part that is being trivialized, as in the claim that we have
no free will.
appreciated Narayana Guru’s call to share our light with each other. Not in a
preachy way, but just by being authentic and honest. She loves it when a friend
opens up to her, and finds that very often she learns something valuable about
herself just by listening. I’m sure that’s what the Guru has in mind here. He
was never preachy himself, but taught by example or very pithy comments that
went directly to the point. He was a keen observer. We may never be that
focused, but our openness is communicated in marvelous ways, nonetheless. It marks the joy of companionship.
reported on an experiment where patients were given contact lenses with a dark
spot on them. Very quickly the brain adjusts to compensate, and the dark spot
disappears from the visual field. He pointed out that our beliefs act in the
same way to blot out what we don’t want to see. Since we have learned to view
the world negatively, that is the interpretation we put on everything. It’s a
self-inflicted ignorance, though perhaps less intentional than we realize.
subtext here is that we can have a tremendous impact on our world, or our
interpretation of it at least. It’s a matter of not giving up the quest in
advance. The gurus are leading us to a more enlightened attitude that will
throw light where it is most needed, to either raise us out of our malaise or
else reinforce our balance. The problem is that realigning our attitudes
requires neural rewiring—we can’t just think it and it’s done. We have to
repeatedly reinforce the new intelligence, and only after some time will it
become second nature for us. It might take a hundred verses.
gave an excellent example of how that has played out for her. She used to have
a chronic belief that she was a very unworthy person, and she took all sorts of
criticism excruciatingly to heart. She was alternately in despair over her
failings or reacting angrily when her inner dignity could no longer bear the
oppression. After diligently studying Nitya’s teachings for several years, she
got some distance on her ego’s reactions. Instead of being hurt she would stop
and ask herself if the criticism was merited or not. Am I like that? Do I do
that? She began to see that at least sometimes the criticism was a window into
the other person’s unhappiness, and she was only the handy wall for them to
scrawl their graffiti on. She stopped taking everything so personally, while
still learning what she could from it. In fact, she began learning more,
because she was no longer clouding the issue with her jangled reactions. This
was a very large step toward healing for her, and has made a world of
had an epiphany that what Susan was talking about was the meaning of the
Biblical assertion that the meek shall inherit the earth: that by not defending
our egos but being open we take in so much more. Meek is often taken to mean
self-deprecating to the point of inviting slaps on both cheeks, but it’s
actually a kind of antidote to egoism. Instead of being aggressive or
defensive, we remain neutral, and then we are more fully available to the situation.
Inheriting the earth doesn’t mean that we become emperors or anything, only
that we partake in the true import of what’s going on. Paul received the
“Epiphany of the Evening” award for this, including the double entendre of
evening closed with a very profound meditation to tune out all the extraneous
noise of our psyches and dwell in the core of awareness. Reacquainting
ourselves with our core is the goal: when he talks about sharing Narayana Guru
does not want us to rush out and proselytize, only to radiate our authenticity,
as he did. He doesn't want us to keep it bottled up. Like the animals, humans
can sense our positive radiation and take heart, without having to have it
tediously explained or aggressively foisted on them. Gentle works best. The
next verse commentary will expand on the value of sharing in friendship in a
most inspiring fashion.
This Nor That But . . . Aum:
are moments of deep despair and darkness in our lives, yet even on such occasions
the consciousness of ‘I’ continues to shine as pure awareness; only what it is
aware of is darkness. Even when the most intense physical darkness blinds our
eyes, we do not lose sight of this inner awareness. It is true that people vary
as regards the amount of information they have about things. We can also see
that there is a difference in the quality of their comprehension: a wise man
can be differentiated from a dull-minded person. In spite of all these
differences, the mind of every person is animated by its own light within. So if
a person says “I am ignorant,” it is to be taken only in a relative sense.
the Kena Upanishad (II.2) it is said: “It is known to him to whom it is
unknown; he does not know to whom It is known. It is unknown to those who know
well, and known to those who do not know.” Thus, according to the seers of the
Upanishads, recognition of one's ignorance is considered the first step of
one's pilgrimage to wisdom. First of all, to say “I do not know,” there should
be a light of consciousness to know what is not known. Secondly, there should
be the discriminating function of consciousness, which alone can decide what is
known and what is not known. If these inner faculties operate soundly, then one
only needs to direct that consciousness toward its own ultimate realization.
Thus, potentially, every person has a capacity to know and to realize.
our social circles we recognize certain people as sages, seers or knowledgeable
ones. This brings to one's mind the doubt that he is probably of an inferior
nature and he does not have the capacity to know. Narayana Guru in this verse
makes the appeal that such fear should be removed from everybody's mind, so
that all can confidently move into the direction of right knowledge.
According to Buddhist legend, when Gautama became awakened
as the Buddha, he marvelled at the truth that became known to him and he
thought it was too much for an ordinary person to comprehend, so he decided to
keep his realization a secret. At this point Brahma Sampati appeared before him
and said, “Oh Blessed One, you have become the Buddha, the Awakened One. What
you have come to know can save the whole world; do not hold onto it as a
secret. The world is sleeping and only a thin layer of darkness veils their
eyes from right comprehension. If you share your noble truth, many will rise from
their stupor to accept it.” This admonishment was taken seriously by the Buddha
and he wandered far and wide around India for over 50 years to awaken people to
their own inner light.
people believe they are ignorant, this negative knowledge brings with it both
depression and inertia. They lose the capacity to seek, to strive and to
understand. Thus, when they perpetuate their ignorance, life becomes truly
dreadful and pathetic. Although we are not of the same stature as the Buddha or
the Christ, in our own simple way we can share the little joys of our lives and
bring at least a few people to their own centre so that they can realize the
worthwhileness of their own lives.
The ‘I’ is not darkness; were it so blind
And unaware of this ‘I’, ‘I’ we should have remained;
Because of such awareness, in order to know
Thus (as such) to one and all declare.
AFTER settling some preliminaries in connection with the
ego or the Self viewed
directly in the first person, rather than in the second or the third, following
the experimental way in which the existence of the Self was asserted (in verses
10 and 11), the
Guru here passes on to its closer examination as in itself or ‘as such’,
without reference to anything outside itself.
One transcends here the region of doubt and of probability.
We have here a way of reasoning which is one hundred percent
certain, without detracting, for that reason from the strictly methodological
and epistemological validity of the verity that has been asserted.
Although the form of the reasoning here might be thought
by empirical thinkers as
conforming to no sort of scientific reasoning, being open, according to them, to the
objections of verbalism, tautology or even solipsism, we have to remember that
different forms of reasoning must be considered as suitable to different
departments of knowledge or science. Pure and practical reasonings cannot each
have the same method. The Cartesian dictum ‘cogito ergo sum’ belongs to the
domain of what is called rationalism, while in the experimental sciences we
have observation and inference leading to certitude of judgements or
propositions. The Guru here adopts axiomatic thinking.
One way of reasoning is as valid as the other, although the
exigencies of the domain of reality to which the reasonings
apply may be different.
Formal logic and the proofs of mathematics have different grades of validity,
but the degree of certitude that they imply could be the same. That we are
aware of the presence of the Self in ourselves is here treated as equal to the
proof of the existence of the Self or the Soul in an absolute sense in each of
us. By asking us to declare this self-evident verity to all, the Guru brings to
the discussion an open, public, or scientific character. There is axiomatic
public validity for the negative awareness of the self as asserted in the last
two lines of this verse.
has not lost his enthusiasm, and highlights a couple of important subtleties:
this verse and in Nitya’s commentary on it, the point of view shifts once
again. In this case, the starting
point is our ontological certitude, our essential knowing that we tend to
overlook especially when negativity invades. In Nitya’s commentary, he opens with an exploration into
what we really know by following Descartes’ reasoning which led him to his cogito:
“I think, therefore I am.” In broad terms (continuously
mis-interpreted by western critics), writes Nitya, in order to reduce his
knowledge to this axiom, Descartes first de-bunked Biblical dogma and then his
own sense data. Both present
distortions that led him to conclude that his only certitude was that he doubted.
Guru, says Nitya, follows a similar route but goes several steps beyond
Descartes. That which doubts
endures and continues on. It must,
because in order to doubt, or in Narayana Guru’s vision in order to know you
are, say, depressed or in darkness at all you must know—have the knowledge
that—light or knowledge exists. If
you are completely in ignorant darkness without any knowledge at all, you would
not know you were in darkness and could have no discomfort in that position. You
could intuit no alternative and
would strive for nothing.
Improving one’s condition, the drive in and of itself to do so,
indicates some kind of alternative however far it is out of awareness, an
alternative perhaps best illustrated in the abstraction of perfection. As a
knowable quantity, the term is meaningless beyond its capacity to suggest some
kind of preferred option not apparent in the present.
distorted that drive to change might become in our transactional world, it is a
universal force indicating an echo of our Absolute Self. This gnosis or knowledge cannot be separated from our I.
The knower, the known, and the knowledge are one and precede any mental
or scientific rationalization.
This self-evident “’I am’ becomes the measuring rod of all knowledge . .
. . All other truths are derived
only by using this normative notion.”
fundamental awareness of our existence is that core to which we can withdraw in
order to stabilize our lives, and each of us shares in this awareness. In communicating
that commonality, we
connect with the world as it is and avoid the trap of constructing the illusion
that our withdrawal will lead us to a yet-to-be spiritual and rarified utopia
that the more benighted are simply not capable of “getting.” As Nitya
writes, Jesus said the Kingdom
of God is within you” and available to everyone. In other words, waking up is an individual project and all
of us are at different stages in the process. Forcing the issue—as history teaches so clearly in the
lessons of the Inquisition, Joseph Stalin, and Adolf Hitler—creates catastrophe
because it is an attempt to apply material immanent force on a process
originating in the individual transcendent and working its way into the
immanent. This kind of imposing is
characteristic of both religious and atheistic belief systems and reveals their
shared assumption that the physical precedes the psychic rather than vice
versa. (See Verse 17.) If one is
convinced that the immanent
world comes first, then it can easily and logically follow that employing
external force on and demanding conformity of those you see as less aware than
yourself (those displaying a false
consciousness to the Marxist believer or a denial of Divine Truth to the
keeper of the one true religion) can transform into a moral obligation. Horrors
notwithstanding, The Grand
Inquisitor and the doctrinaire Marxist and Nazi social engineer are all certain
of their sacred missions, a rationalized certitude that none of the three would
extend to the others.