fighting it is impossible to win;
fighting one another no faith is destroyed;
who argues against another’s faith, not recognizing this,
in vain and perishes; this should be understood.
It is not possible to vanquish any religion by fighting it.
By becoming competitive and fighting each other’s religion, the zeal of the
members of the persecuted religion only increases. By promoting religious feuds
one is only destroying one’s own integrity and succumbing to the evils of
hatred. This should never be forgotten.
To vanquish (a religion) by fighting is not possible; no religion
Can be abolished by mutual attack; the opponent of another faith
Not remembering this and persisting in his fight,
His own doom shall he in vain fight for, beware!
class did an admirable job of homing in on the practical implications of this
crucial verse, one that turns the arrow of intentionality back 180 degrees to
focus on ourselves as the source of our relationship to the world. In a way
it’s a kind of final exam on sama and anya: can they be more than abstractions?
Can we put the principle into practice in our everyday life? How?
recounts two primary threads of Indian philosophy, Jaimini’s study of dharma
and Badarayana’s study of brahman, the Absolute. In essence, the first
differentiates while the second unites, and the clash between these positions
goes to the heart of our class focus on how to optimally live our lives.
is a subtle distinction about this issue made at the beginning of Nitya’s
Those who see only
difference and do not see unity cannot agree with one another. Those who see
only unity do not see another to agree or disagree with. The Dharma Sutras of Jaimini
development of the ritualistic aspect of life, while Badarayana’s darsana gave
rise to the doctrine of renunciation. Thus, these schools have two totally
different outlooks on life. The householder stood by one and the sannyasi or renunciate
stood by the
other. In India they have been arguing over these ideas since the beginning,
and their implications are pondered by people all over the world.
If these are treated as countervailing sides of an argument,
then both are dualistic. A unitive position doesn’t conflict with a non-unitive
one, but a dualistic take on it does. If you really see unity, there is no
other, no anya, to fight with. But I think Nitya meant to draw another
distinction, one that Paul perceived, that ritualists are dualists who must
endlessly argue their position, whereas renunciates (ideally at least) do not
stand in opposition to anything. By embracing everything, they have no need to
come into conflict with anything.
often quoted the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, about how in the beginning the first
man was afraid of the unknown. Then he realized that fear is about some other
causing you harm, and so if there is no other, there is nothing to fear. Since
he was first, there wasn’t any other. When he realized that, he was no longer
afraid. That is the essential principle here, the path we are trying to make
out in the dimness. Our first learning in life is about otherness, which
provides a sound basis for living safely in a dangerous world. Taken in
isolation, though, we can become paranoiac and miserable about all the threats
to our well-being and the uncertainty of our position. So we can take a further
step, to reenter the primary state of unity, which assuages all the misery
based on partial understandings. It isn’t simply a theoretical change, it’s an
supreme achievement of expanding our consciousness far beyond its accustomed
boundaries. Unless that happens it remains a conceit, nice but perhaps vaguely
highly recommend rereading Verse 44, which presents the unified aspect so
beautifully. I’ll recall the heart of it here: “When we fight, the
discord is about religion and not any spiritual vision. In two people who have
a spiritual vision there is no difference of opinion: they melt into each
other. But when you have only heard something and then you or a priest
interpret it for yourself, you take a stand. Your position is rigid to
precisely the extent that your vision is limited.” Religion, as Nitya means it,
is the total matrix of our world view, the belief system that both structures
and truncates our vision into narrow channels.
of the Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad, while looking for those verses on the first man in Nitya’s
commentary, I uncovered this tidbit bearing on the subject:
As we are used to accomplishing
things and obtaining desirable ends by our actions, we entertain the false
impression that for the self to become brahman
there has to be some kind of process by which the part can evolve into the
whole. Mantras seventeen and eighteen [of IV.4] remind us this is not so. We
are always the whole. All that we need to do is forget the false notion that we
are anything other than brahman.
Realization is not accomplished by a forward march but by a regressive
dissolution. Up to the last moment you have a choice to skip the whole process
of samsara merely by accepting the fact that you are the Absolute. (II.583)
The bottom line is if you are arguing, it is about anya, or
from the perspective of anya. Deb put it well: by arguing and attacking you
aren’t allowing the other person space to be who they are. We all want to
convince people that we are right, but in doing so we actually defeat
ourselves. We need to develop a bigger vision. She recalled Nitya’s advice that
if you are afraid or jealous of someone, the cure is to make them your friend.
a culture thoroughly grounded in contentiousness and hostility, this is a rare,
even revolutionary attitude. It always amazes me how marginalized peacemakers
are in our society, how all the attention is always drawn to conflict. Humans
love fighting, and we are compelled to breathlessly join—or at least
watch—battles. The kind of balm the gurus offer remains even now almost like a
non-lunatic fringe, something few consider taking seriously. Can it be that
just being alive isn’t exciting enough, so getting into hot water is
figured that almost 100% of people take the point of view that they are right
and they don’t want to listen. They set the boundaries of their world, and
meaningful interaction is excluded. He felt it was pointless to try to
participate and listen to them. He may be right, yet Vedanta is based on the
belief that that position is a psychological defense, and it can be overcome by
anyone sincere enough to try. Yet getting up the resolve to make the effort is
not something that can be vouchsafed by another: it is the onus of the
sure most of us have occasionally been able to bring a spiritual attitude to
conflicts in our lives. We need to share these stories so that we are
encouraged to remain available as inspirational guides, and not abandon the
field to the loudest louts. I solicited stories of people’s success (or lack of
it) in replacing anya with sama in interpersonal relations. All of you
experienced seekers of truth have been peacemakers, nurses, healers, emergency
responders, and all that. Please share a story or two of your successes. Susan
has a terrific one appearing in my upcoming book, The Path to the Guru, and I think I can safely reprint it below.
Some of you may remember it. She’s referred to anonymously as Z. I’ll add a
couple of my classic adventures there too.
our Circle of Truth facilitator, who I expected to have plenty of success
stories, led off with a notable (and familiar) failure. I’m sure we’ve all had
her experience: she offered her time and effort to a woman who really needed a
friend, but found herself being used and manipulated and taken for granted.
When she made an awkward effort to bring up the injustice of the situation, the
woman became furious, and Joan realized she should just get away from her. Some
people just can’t be helped. They are “spring loaded in the pissed off
position,” as a friend of hers put it.
There was a lot of enthusiasm in the class for getting
away from impossible people, and sometimes that is the only option. Only we
shouldn’t be premature in abandoning the field. I always think of one of
Nitya’s letters to Debbie (L&B, p. 379): “You should not be saddened
about anyone unless your sadness has a positive or negative impact on him to
jolt him out of the impasse and set him right. I may observe a fast, or cry,
scream, slap myself and roll on the floor like a mad dog if only I see the
ghost of a chance to pull the other to the right track. If that is not
possible, I prefer to walk away with a prayer in my heart.”
thought of Arjuna, how he wanted to slip away from the battle but Krishna urged
him to stay and fight. This is a great point, and as you know I consider the
Gita to be the last word on the subject. When we are offended, insulted, or our
feelings are hurt, our first impulse is to get away. But if we are grounded in
unity, we won’t be offended, and the impulse to run won’t even arise. Then we
can hang in there and offer our best responses. Fighting in this context
doesn’t mean punching back, it means engaging intelligently with the other
person; more like a battle of wits. Dealing with the situation constructively.
Krishna identifies the enemies in the battle as desire and anger. If we desire
a certain outcome, we will be offended when the interplay goes in an unexpected
direction. Our response then is anger, the bluster of ego defense. Those twin
addictions, desire and anger, spoil the game every time.
himself was a fine example of someone who didn’t have an agenda and so didn’t
get ruffled when people unloaded on him. Not being upset, he was wide awake to
respond appropriately, and even trenchantly. He could say a single sentence
that would utterly collapse the other person’s hostility, or divert them into a
pacifying fog. Bill mentioned how Nitya believed in righteous indignation, and
he certainly was no pushover, politically as savvy as anyone. If it was called
for, he would blast hypocrites with a fury. But he wasn’t furious: he remained
grounded in a clear vision of the entire situation, and his words had all the
more impact because of it.
of the oldest military tactics in the book is provoking the other side to
respond, and then using the response as a pretext to legitimize an assault. It
allows an offensive thrust to be portrayed as defensive, and then no holds are
barred. It works like
a charm every time, sadly. A yogi learns to take in the whole picture before
responding, and so does not take the bait of provocation. Yet they remain on
alert to act appropriately. This is not about escaping fate, but meeting it
with our full awareness.
are left with two crucial and closely related issues to sum up our first half
of Atmopadesa Satakam. One is how to bring unity into the fractured house of
mirrors of embodied life without getting sucked into taking a fixed defensive
position. The other is how to distinguish a universal norm from a personal
predilection. I’ll be holding my essay on the second problem for awhile longer,
until one or two more responses trickle in.
This Nor That But . . . Aum:
religion cannot be brushed away as just somebody’s mere opinion. When we look
at the followers, we see that major religions are giving them the inspiration
to live meaningful lives. Religion consoles many aching hearts. It encourages
people to organize themselves into becoming productive corporations. It
promotes art and culture. Over centuries it grows into a tradition that shapes
the destiny of millions of people. All this is possible only because religion
has within it the fountain source of perennial values. We do not know how deep
the roots of our personal beliefs are. We are only vaguely aware of the goal to
which we are moving, and our potentials are not fully assessed or estimated. In
short, what we know about ourselves is only very little.
religion of a people is certainly greater than the wishes, convictions and
dreams of a single individual. To estimate the magnitude of religion in
general, let us turn our attention to two major religions which have been going
strongly through millennia in spite of many adverse forces that tried to crush
them; these are Judaism and Vedic Hinduism. The inner structure of the
Kabbalah, which contains the mystical essence of Judaism, is represented by the
sacred tree of Sephiroth. Judaism rests on the ever adorable values of wisdom,
reason, knowledge, greatness, strength, beauty, eternity, majesty, principle
and sovereignty (Chokmah, Binah, Daath, Gedulah, Geburah, Tiphereth, Netzach,
Hod, Yesod, Malkuth).
can be compared to the Vedic tree described in chapter 15 of the Bhagavad Gita.
Its roots are above and the branches grow
downward and sideways. The leaves sprouting on these
branches are the meters of the Vedic chants. Its branches are the
proliferations of the three modalities of nature. The lower branches produce
roots which go down into the ground and keep the tree steadfast. The
intertwining of these roots is the karma of the collective masses which makes
mankind an interrelated matrix. This tree has no form, no beginning or end, and
no one knows its real formations. This tree can be transcended only with
values glorified in Judaism and the symbolic picture presented of Hinduism
appear in every major religion in one form or other. If someone fancies that
these religions could be blotched away by sheer force, he would be attempting
the impossible. Marx, Freud and Nietzsche dreamt of the possibility of the
withering away of religion, but instead of bringing about the death of the
present religions, they only added three new offshoots. The more you fight
religion, the more virile and invigorated it becomes.
In India religion is called dharma because it sustains all
the traditionally preserved essential values of life. Motivation to act comes
from the embedded seeds of value aspirations. An individual, who is on his
march from his cradle to his grave, has within his biologic, psychologic and
moral ingenuity several long-tried devices implanted by Mother Nature to
protect him from all possible dangers through which he has to wend his way.
When several such individuals become a closely knit social organism they
develop a culture and tradition that becomes unassailable. For this reason
religion can never be annihilated, though it has been overpowered for short
periods in history.
way of the Absolute is all-encompassing. By accepting the validity of another
person’s faith, we can avoid the exaggeration of its emotional impact and any
defensive reactions. By appreciating and imbibing the essentials of another
religion we will only discover the greater hidden truths of our own religion,
hence it is foolish to promote exclusiveness in religious attitudes. Unitive
understanding enables one to appreciate that the essence of all religions is
THE roots of any religious growth are not in its outer
expressions. Just as the
partial pruning of a tree only helps the tree to grow all the more strong, a mere
attack fails when directed against established religious
growths. There are
deep-seated value-factors that make any religion flourish in any country. These are like
the roots or
the invisible stem of a great tree. Religion has its subtle raison d’Ítre which
is not overtly evident to the view or even subject to the attack of wordy
polemics. If this were so, many old religions would have been exterminated by
this time. All religions satisfy the needs or console the spiritual hankerings
of those who seek refuge under them. When the benefit is spent out and a
religion has no succour or consolation to offer to its adherents, it might
shrink or even die a natural death. Overt fighting only strengthens all the
more the root aspects of a religious growth by a strange law of opposites.
Religions have two sides which might be distinguished
broadly as the hierophantic
and the hypostatic. These have been alluded to in the Bhagavad Gita through the
the great banyan tree with roots up and branches down.
The branches, while tending
downwards, have two opposing ambivalent directions in which they are described as
spreading (XV.2). Whatever may be the way that we adopt to distinguish the two
aspects, these positive and negative aspects are found in all religious expressions
or growths. The positive note in the attack of an outsider is meant to
discredit the same pole in the other religious growth. The two positives tend
to cancel each other out, just as the like poles of a magnet tend to repel
rather than attract. To make magnetism grow stronger one has to match the
positive and negative sides in a manner so that they do not repel, but help the
normal circulation of magnetic forces.
Some similar subtle law may be said to be implied when a
religion claims superiority over another religion in certain matters,
forgetting that in the items on the other pole of the same religion there are
compensatory factors for the apparent drawbacks that one might point out on the
overt side. The evils of idolatry could thus be balanced by greater toleration
in respect of overt doctrines of faith.
While each religion can have its proper raison d’Ítre, the
raison d’Ítre of another
religion has only absurdity with reference to the first. A mango tree or a coconut palm
good by their
own inner standards, and by the fruit that men like. One cannot legitimately condemn one tree by
extraneous standards that
have no relevance to it. If one should ask which is the better game, cricket or
football, we are
obliged to say that each has to be judged from its own
inner standards. They are
both good, each in its particular way. The man who actively engages himself in attacking
other peoples’ religions
finds that, to the extent that he stresses extraneous matters in such an attack, he is
cause of his own religion. If, for example, he should say that his religion is
more empirical than the other which tends to be idealistic, he will be by that
very token discrediting the idealistic elements which must necessarily be
present in his own, though in a different form. In any case, the
attacker, by a strange law,
tends to get discredited.
That no amount of religious teaching finally succeeds in
eliminating rival elements is proved by the historical fact that even to this
day in the in the very core or heart of Christendom, say in Belgium, there are
still people who say they are not Christians, and use the Church only for the
indispensable utilitarian needs of daily life, and pride
themselves in being pagan,
or at least ranged against the Church, under such labels as ‘Socialist’ or
‘Rationalist’. Even to-day Jews, Christians and Arabs thrive side-by-side. The
Egyptian Coptic religion persists in spite of the rise of Islam. There are said
to be Buddhists to this day in Swedish Lapland. Idolatry persists in India in
spite of the Christian missionaries and Muslims who have tried in vain to
eliminate it. The outward pattern might change but the essential content
One who pins his faith on the externals comes up against
people who do the same in
the name of some other camp. The two factors cancel each other out. The
original pattern objected
to continues to persist in its essential aspects. Sometimes it so happens that those who oppose a
from outer standards get converted inwardly to the stranger religion that they unjustly revile.
take place in this manner. In any case it is certain that overt attack is not the successful or
The subtle dialectical interdependence and independence of religious growths is a matter that
should be respected if the vain self-destruction of humans is to be
avoided. A complex
phenomenon of double loss and double gain is involved here, and since no one religious
claim the sole prerogative of being totally right for all
time, the attack must recoil
on the attacker himself. The difference of collective opinion and individual
opposition is also
a factor that goes against the attacker of another’s
religion. Protestants have
not killed off Catholicism to the present day and are unlikely to succeed in the future.
Changes may, however, come about by inner deficiency in either or in both.
Christianity still survives in spite of the persecution of the early Christians
by the Roman emperors. Some advertised products sell better when rivals decry
them. Religions have an inner two-sided personality which make many of the
living ones invulnerable. Unilateral attack only makes them stronger, to the
dismay of the attacker who often only spells his own utter failure.
gurus don’t have exclusive claims on wisdom, as John’s offering demonstrates:
My Great Aunt Lummy, from Shreveport, Louisiana, used to
say: “You become what you fight.”
So, in short, in order not to become
what you fight, don’t fight, but accept.
She was a “Southern Belle” in the Gilded Age and lived into her 110th
year, clear as can be. She
died in 1975 - and I just loved her phone calls. (I was
just a kid) One of her observations about what the white class that ruled her
society was: “All the effort they
have put in to keeping the black man down - what a waste. We don’t
gain a thing - the
blacks can’t contribute the wonderful things here like they do up North,
and the whites don’t get anything constructive done because they are too busy
holding the black man back.”
Granted - her message is not stated so sublimely as our gurus speak
it here, but it is spoken with the wisdom that can come with extreme old
age, a good mind, and perspective.
Lummy was full of perspective.
now for a few success stories of replacing anya with sama in actual situations.
This first one is taken from my Chapter II Gita commentary as it appears in The Path
to the Guru, soon to be
released. It recounts Susan’s story from 2009, originally in the class notes:
friend who has been studying yoga for some time related an opportunity to put “reason
in action” into practice. Let’s call her Z. Briefly, an old friend pulled her
aside one day and accused her of betraying their friendship. She was furious
with Z. Like Arjuna, Z’s initial impulse was to recoil in horror and prepare to
flee. She first assumed she was guilty as charged, and she began to give
herself a lecture about what a horrible person she was. Then she thought, wait
a minute, I don’t think I betrayed anyone. She mastered her reaction and stood
her ground. First she asked if their friendship could be salvaged. Her friend
said she didn’t think so. Then Z asked her to explain what was the matter. All
the time she was struggling to calm herself down. As she became calmer, she
began to be able to respond in helpful ways and to present her side of the
story more clearly, not to mention to see her friend’s point of view
dispassionately. Her friend has some personality quirks that were exaggerating
the problem, and Z didn’t feel she needed to take responsibility for those. But
she did take cognizance of them and worked with and around them. After a
difficult half hour, Z was able to restore peace and her friend’s trust.
is exactly how to put the Gita’s teaching into daily practice. An uninstructed
person might have started a war by hurling back defensive accusations, or else
retreated with hurt feelings. The friendship might well have been broken. Z had
what she described as a rare opportunity to make peace by uniting their two
sides of the story. Right in the midst of “ordinary” life, such an opportunity
had unexpectedly appeared. Those who become skilled in yoga will find their
talents at resolving problematic situations called upon more and more, and in
the bargain they can turn an initially miserable encounter into a beneficial
told the class about a boss she had in her department who was a real bully, a
huge man who lorded it over her. One time he even got her in a headlock, the
kind of physical intimidation that is illegal but apparently still acceptable
day she was at the hospital and saw her boss coming toward her. She tensed up,
but he was there because his daughter was being born. He was so excited he was
miles away from his boss role, and telling her about it birthed a feeling of
connectedness that was afterwards always in the background of their
I’ll retell my two most salient stories. The first took place early in
adulthood and was based more on instinct than philosophy, and the second was
after I had intentionally adopted a change of attitude some fifteen years
was driving my battered little Volkswagen at a good clip out of New York City
heading north on one of the highways, when a huge Oldsmobile roared up behind
me about five feet from my bumper and revved its engine. There was a clear lane
next to me, so it was obviously harassment. Since I was young and unafraid, I
flipped off the driver, who then whipped around next to me and started lurching
toward me, swerving back and forth and threatening to run me off the road into
the forest. The driver, a classic tough guy hoodlum, furiously gave me the
finger back and shouted, “How would you like me to make you eat that!” I began
to dawn on me that I was in serious danger.
no time to consider any sane course of action, I smiled back and yelled over
the road noise, “Why can’t we just be friends?” The hood gave me an astonished
look, and it was clear his utter surprise overrode his anger for a second.
Possibly no one had ever said anything like that to him in his life. His mind
was blown. He floored the accelerator and sped off, disappearing from view in
it was my turn to be amazed. And relieved.
I first worked in the fire department, we took our job seriously but also
enjoyed relaxing whenever possible. Being on duty for 24 hours at a time, and
often 48 on extra shifts, resting, watching TV, and playing games were part of
the routine. An easygoing camaraderie pervaded the atmosphere.
halfway through my career, we got a new chief who was a holy terror. He didn’t
believe in anything other than working every minute, and he put the fear of
retribution in everyone. Right at the outset he made appointments to interview
every one of the sixty-some-odd officers, where he grilled them on obedience
and his new no-nonsense policy. Each one came back from their session white as
a sheet and chastened, prepared for an inevitable reign of terror that was
supposed to include absolute subservience to the new headman. The crucial
lesson was that he was in charge and everyone else in the “chain of command”
had better act accordingly, or else.
whole thing struck me as ridiculous. Though I was not an officer, having stayed
on the bottom of the totem pole my whole career, I announced to my crew I was
going to request an interview myself. I still remember the looks I got—everyone
was sure I had gone insane. Why would anyone subject themselves to torture
voluntarily? I was asking for trouble.
thinking was, the chief is just a man, an ordinary man exactly like the rest of
us, and I would meet him on that basis. I did not acknowledge any superiority
or inferiority for either of us.
everyone’s surprise I was granted an “audience.” It turned out to be quite
enjoyable. Because I rejected any pretence about rank, we met as equals, and
the chief accorded me a fair measure of respect. I could see he was trying to
manipulate me and convince me of his position, but I didn’t allow myself to be
sucked in, and I stated my case openly and without fear. It was a long and
frank exchange. Although we were worlds apart in our views, he remained on
friendly terms with me, and on a few occasions he did my crew favors I asked
him for, bypassing routine channels, something that was considered impossible
by everyone else. It showed me that while people learn to crave and demand
authority to compensate for their feelings of inadequacy, they don’t
necessarily lose their core of humanity. If you relate to that rather than the
trumped up martinet they have dressed themselves up as, it feels good to them.
Their lost humanity is still begging to be set free. Since then I have used the
approach with police and other petty authoritarians, and have been generally
rewarded with reasonable responses and even implicit gratitude.
The question before us is how to distinguish a universal truth from a personal
preference, and in practice, how do we express that wisdom in our everyday
few kindly souls have responded to the challenge—thank you! I think Deb’s sets
us off on the right footing:
When I first thought of this question, and found myself
without any ready answer, I thought: all these years, all this study and I
don’t really have an answer to this?!
Yes, that’s true, no ready answer. It’s a very difficult
question and when you start to think of an answer it cleverly slips away into
contradiction or nothingness. So, first, I’ll acknowledge what a difficult problem
it is to separate our own personal experiences and prejudices from a universal
norm, to use Nataraja Guru’s favorite term. A universal norm. The Catholic
Church, among so many other religious institutions, has always been sure that
their norm is universal. Which is exactly the problem we all (individuals and
institutions) run into when we accept our personal norm as universal, taking it
to pertain to everyone everywhere. How do we get out of this?
And to further complicate this, any real knowledge has to
have a deep basis in personal experience, it has to be part of the weave of
one’s life to be true. How do we keep from finding ourselves on that strange,
confusing ground where we proclaim our delusions as truth? For a beginning I
think that the aspects that have to make up a real universal norm have to
incorporate each and all of these:
1. We find it true to our own experience. And what we
believe accords with our reason.
2. It also has to find a resonance in others’ experiences.
This is not to say this is crowd sourced or crowd approved but that we are not
simply standing in a psychological closet repeating words to ourselves.
3. When those criteria of #1 and #2 are put together, you
find an understanding, a norm, which arises out of one’s own experience and
contemplation AND does not exclude any one else or other visions. This is what
I understand from Narayana Guru’s works that state if a truth is truly good and
universal, it has to be good for all people. So there is both a grounding and
4. And, strangely, if it is a universal norm, it still has
an inherent flexibility in it. It is like the river...always water, always
different and adapting. So this norm both has a solidity to it and it isn’t
afraid of making changes to it’s outer configurations.
So, does this make any sense? Or ring true?
sent this, including an amazingly apt poem:
In answer to your question about the “universal
From the time I was a young girl, I have been fascinated with things
spiritual. Remember those nuns who were kneeling and singing the Latin music in
the chapel in one of the opening scenes of The Sound of Music? I was completely
smitten with the idea of the divine when I saw those nuns. There was something
in that scene – the music and the reverence and joy of the nuns – that I wanted
in my life. I was five at the time. Since then, I have found the divine in
my life at various times. I grew up Episcopalian, dabbled in Christian
Science, and even became Catholic for a spell. In all those instances, there
were spiritual moments. I enjoyed the opportunities for prayer and community
and stillness. But these forays into the beyond never were fully satisfying. In
these organized religions, God has definite characteristics and an adherent's
conduct has very specific rules and expectations. One is not encouraged to
start from inside oneself to understand the divine. In each case, I was left
feeling empty. There was a God I imagined and I prayed to but my spirituality
felt mechanical, not authentic. There were of course many glimmers of light but
I have felt such glimmers of light from just walking outside into nature or
spending time with those I love. Organized religion felt like an imposed
template and it had no roots in my soul. What a balm it was then to read Atmo 3
and to understand about “the treasury of the watery deep,” and how we are like
waves coming out of that treasury. I just happened to be at the ocean when I
read that verse so it really made an impression on me. It was so different. The
divine was no longer something separate but rather something intertwined with
my being. I was part of the divinity. The divine was in me. I was no longer the
sinner who needed to lean on Jesus for forgiveness, guidance, and
legitimacy, but rather a spark of the divine connected to all the other sparks
and the great ocean itself. My study of Nitya and my work with Scott
have been going along for almost 13 years now. It took me awhile to let go of
the idea of praying to a bearded man in the sky. He was a great comfort for
many years. There was some guilt involved in letting that go. There was some
trepidation. But now I am very comfortable with a whole new way of thinking and
feeling about the divine. It doesn't feel contrived (as the religions felt)
because I have made it my own. Yes, I use the word Absolute and I refer to the
Gunas and many other Hindu words and concepts but these do not feel confining
to me. The words help my understanding but they do not hinder it because I
start with my own experience and impressions and feelings. Then I am relating
these to what I am learning, about not meeting anger with anger and about
how we are connected to one another, and about trying to do away with our
habitual ways of reacting to people and situations. I can learn these things
but to really take them in and have them become part of me, there has to be an
understanding that there is divinity in me and that there is divinity all
around me, in everyone and everything. It is when I let go of myself (my self with
a small “s” – the self that is skin and bones and ego) that I understand and
feel creativity and serenity and understanding. If it were all a matter of just
my own little mind, I could never have learned or changed the way I
have. Instead of being inside my habit-infested brain, I am letting go of
some well worn instincts. I am opening and I have come to think of it as the “Absolute,”
not because I am trying to take on a new pattern or belief system but just for
lack of another word. It could be God or the Divine or the Great Spirit or the
All but I don't mind calling it the Absolute. I don't mind because for me, this
just means something divine and something that cannot be pinned down. Once
pinned down, such a divinity is no longer divine. It is elusive and meant to be
so. Incidentally, I still go occasionally to hear the Latin mass on Saturday
nights because of the singing that is like angels (and like those nuns!). I
even go through the motions of the service and for me, it feels very
divine and very spiritual but not because of any dogma or any particular words.
Very satisfying and Life and Self affirming for me.
From The Hut Beneath
by Daniel Skach-Mills
There's no convincing water in a bucket
that there really is an ocean.
There's no illuminating sunlight
to a stone hidden in a cave.
The terms fall, winter, spring
hold no meaning for an insect
that lives and dies in summer.
Its life is bound to a single season.
What words can capture
the joy I feel sweeping the front stairs?
slicing celery? brewing a pot of tea?
How do you talk
about the Great Oneness
to a mind that's like a broom
always raising a cloud of dust?
a knife slicing everything in two?
a mesh screen straining life
through a thousand thoughts?
took my assignment seriously, at least after I caught him on the way out and
begged…. The Jail experience he refers to is a verbal altercation he had with
authorities, which has come up often in class, but I don’t think has been
retold in the notes. It has become a symbol of how we exaggerate out of fear
and ignorance, making them much more problematic that they should be. It is
appropriately called making a mountain out of a molehill:
Differentiation & the Singularity of Consciousness
How does one differentiate a transcendence established within a ‘Unified
Vision of the Absolute’ from the ‘isolated transience of the sheer phenomenal’?
Other than Susan thwarting my attempt at a final chocolate
chip cookie, it was an amazing class last night! Thank you everyone, you are friends of great worth. Your
value has shown me the meaning of the concept, “…to get to know yourself, you must first get to know others…for
within others, is the Knowledge of the One-Self…”. The following
is my response to Scott’s
assignment: How does one differentiate a transcendence established by a ‘Unified
Vision of the Absolute’ from the ‘isolated transience of the sheer phenomenal’?
As Guru Nitya’s succinctly instructs, “Your position is rigid to precisely the extent that your vision is
limited”. When our understandings are incomplete, un-whole, or
partial in nature, we utilize an illusion of separation (maya) in defining our
relative realities. The part of
our individual realities residing in this ‘illusion of separation’ does not
have a firm foundation to stand independently; it needs us (as separated
individuals) to defend it. Since
that ‘illusion of separation’ is a fundamental part of my identity, I become
both rigid and defensive in my relationship to everyday experience. My
everyday experience becomes a formation march in ‘other-ness’. A
belief in the concept of ‘other-ness’
gives birth to the principle of self-individualized separateness. The difference
between ‘my other-ness’
and ‘your other-ness’ creates a division between you and me. From
the perspective of this
self-divisive separation, life becomes an experience of either the ‘me’ or ‘not-me’. It is the concept of ‘otherness’ that
provides both the birth, and the illusion, of the existence of the ‘small self’.
Identification with the
small self subjects one’s ego to terrifying illusions. May I suggest that
I host a class field
trip to the Washington County Jail: there I will show you specifically how I
frequent my identity with the illusion of ‘otherness’…it should be fun (but
probably not). A conceptual
understanding remains just a concept until actually applied as an
experience. Maybe it’s wise to
postpone the field trip until I can stabilize my identity a bit more.
Disagreement is separation…if there is no separation…there
is no disagreement. Love is a
Unifying factor…fears are a separating factor. Love is the unconditioned displacement of fear’s
self-appointed lordship of a severed ego.
In Guru’s example, “This is a pot”,
of transient experience differentiates the Whole-ness of the Transcendent ‘This-ness’
differentiates) the One into the Many. ’This-ness’ is a Grand Re-Association of the fragments as being
a manifested Potential of the Absolute Whole. ‘This-ness” is the Brahman concept of
All-Inclusiveness…there is no ‘other’.
As Guru Nitya understood, “Those
who see only unity do not see another to agree or disagree with”. That
alone is a Unified Vision. That alone is Love.
That Alone is the vision of an
Absolutist experiencing Transcendence.
Wait a second…what was the assignment again…oh yah: How
does one differentiate a transcendence established by a ‘Unified Vision of the
Absolute’ from the ‘isolated transience of the sheer phenomenal’?
Well…by an awakening from the illusion of separation and applying the Truth of
That Oneness as our sole (or soul’s) experience of Reality.
∑ Otherness is Nature
∑ Oneness is Spirit
∑ Separation is a Nature of
∑ Unification is the Spirit of Nature
∑ Spirit actualizes as Nature
∑ Nature is Self-Realized in
∑ There is Spirit’s Nature
∑ There is Nature’s Spirit
∑ Spirit and Nature are not two
commentary cites one of my all-time favorite films:
the mid-1950s, the science fiction film Forbidden
Planet was a hit, and the US occupied a uniquely powerful position in the
world. The Second World War
victory had been absolute and the revealed atrocities of Hitler’s Nazis had
left no doubt in the popular American imagination about just how righteous our
cause had been. Treblinka, Dachau,
and the rest of the death camps testified to the Reich’s innate evil, our
justification for hating that evil, and our determination to overcome it. Unfortunately—or
as Nitya and the guru
might have pointed out—inevitably, the seeds of our own ruin lie in that total
victory we had sent so many to die for.
This contradictory condition is at the heart of verse 46 and in the
theme of that now caricatured mid-20th century film. In the long run,
fighting and warring
simply beget more of the same and all parties lose. At the same time, in our transactional world people exist who
intend to do harm to others and will do so if they are not met with
resistance—in the short run. In
verse 46 and in the comment on it, the Guru and Nitya take the long view in
parsing this dilemma, a point of view shared (on a much more limited scale) by
the producers of that science fiction classic, a film which was essentially a
warning to a population then caught up in a post-war short view so limited that
it guaranteed more of the same and has done so for the last 65 years.
the Guru’s verse appears fairly straightforward, says Nitya, it is not. On
the surface, the simple message is
one common to the Wisdom Traditions: fighting leads to both parties
losing. As Nitya adds in his
commentary, in struggles of belief one cannot win. One can, however, overcome the opposition but even in such
cases the other’s faith remains as strong as ever. The homely adage “a man convinced against his will is of the
same opinion still” is here phrased differently, but in his discussion of it
Nitya drills down into the truism, locating the fundamentals at work in it, the
most essential of which is his notion of religion:
the “total value matrix (most of which is out of awareness) that rules one’s
life. Much more than opinion,
one’s religion consists of those values one holds as a result of the vasanas
and samskaras one has carved out of life experience, in the present or
otherwise. This bedrock on which a
person directs his or her life is the most carefully defended of all
conceptions and when it is attacked those “dormant underlying traits become
vigorous” (p. 310) and will narrow one’s energies into a laser-like weapon;
arguing with or continuing to attack a person perceiving such an assault
intensifies his or her efforts that can be overcome but never defeated, a point
he illustrates by reference to ethology: “a dog, a cat, a rat, anything will
become an absolute, total whole if you try to strike at the very centre or
keynote of its life” (p. 311).
Nitya continues his discussion of the foregoing point, he applies it to human
history by citing the Jewish experience of persecution during the ascendency of
the Roman Empire, the Crusades, and the more recent US aggression in Viet
Nam. In all three cases, the
stronger party used military force to settle abstract political/ideological
issues that were, for the weaker party, concerns at the very center of their
identity: faith systems, attachment to homeland, and ancient social customs
reaching back through the generations.
In all three cases, military violence did little more than to kill
people and break things.
the Viet Nam example, Adds Nitya, those soldiers sent to do the killing were
conscripts and largely unenthusiastic about the enterprise (as any history of
the practice will bear out is universally the case). That dimension, when combined with the over-all
misunderstanding of the conditions on the ground pretty much guaranteed US
military failure—short of completely overcoming the Vietnamese through
could say it is to the credit of the American war machine that it did not
follow through on that dark alternative, but our history since the early 70s
suggests that the lessons we’ve learned aren’t all that encouraging. The
conscript “problem” has been
addressed by our creating a standing mercenary army in our midst (a mortal
danger to the republic clearly perceived and warned against by the Founders)
that we continue to use as a weapon in combating an endless parade of what are
at base religious foes. The Roman
model was never far from the view of those who wrote the documents founding the
American experiment, but the wisdom that study generated seems to have been
lost since the last true citizen-soldiers of the mid-twentieth century (of WW
II) defended the homeland from forces actively striking at the “keynote” of our
collective life, a fact borne out by the national voluntary effort it took to
be successful—as was true for the Vietnamese decades later.
the last section of his commentary, Nitya considers what he calls “the inner
structure” of religion, a complex that helps explain its enduring, irresistible
attraction and its indestructible nature.
He uses the Jewish and Vedic traditions as examples and begins by
describing the symbolic tree metaphor common to both. The knower of the tree is the true knower regardless of
tradition. This tree of Jewish
life—with Wisdom, Reason, and Knowledge at the top, Greatness, Strength,
Eternity, and Majesty on the sides, Sovereignty at the bottom, and Beauty at
its center—says, ‘When you come to us, understand that we care for wisdom, we
have reason and know-how’” (p. 313).
Moreover, this great tradition belongs to no one person but to the
Absolute; its power is beauty rather than brute force and stands outside
history in eternity.
same principles, writes Nitya, are common to all wisdom traditions. In the Vedic
presentation, an eternal
symbolic tree once again appears with the roots in the karmic Absolute and
branches in the world endlessly responding to the guna’s triple influences
coming into constant contact with those extending through time and space: “Our
karmas bind us” (p. 314). It is in
the unfathomable depth that these infinite connections are unbreakable and
constitute, says Nitya, the dharma.
In realizing and practicing the principle of non-attachment we overcome
all these connections and put ourselves in a position to accept all of them and
everyone, to accept and include thereby dissolving all boundaries and
eliminating the possibility of conflict.
1954, the French military disaster at Dien Bien Phu marked the end of French
hegemony in Viet Nam, a role then assumed by the US at roughly the same time
the French agreed to the establishment of NATO bases on its soil. Two years
after this quid pro quo
Forbidden Planet opened, a film that
re-worked an old Indian myth that Nitya uses to close his commentary. In the
Indian tale, Krishna’s brother,
Balarama, is challenged by a demon, accepts the dare, and then begins to do
battle with it more and more ferociously.
As Balarama escalates his energies, the demon’s power grows and when Balarama
is no longer a match for the now monstrous-sized spirit he enlists Krishna’s
help. Krishna immediately reverses
course, meets the demon’s enmity with kindness and in the process reduces it to
a hand-held pet.
filmmakers of Forbidden Planet refashion
this same plot on an other-worldly setting. These space travellers encounter a similar force still at
work on a planet now absent its original inhabitants who had presumably fallen
prey to the demon (never shown on the screen). In the final scenes as the spacemen are at each other’s
throats about how to do battle with the monster (indicated by sound effects and
its invisible influence on material objects) they realize that their fear and
hate is feeding its energy and size, manage to realize that connection, and
change their behavior (and all is well).
The timing of this film-lesson for
our newly empowered mid-twentieth century world empire could not have been more
appropriate—or less understood.
question I have once again posed on the nature of reality is a perennial
challenge, not something with a ready answer, unless you are contentedly
deluded. The essay on the Absolute I’ve included in the introduction to my next
book is a pretty good summary of the subject, but I’m not going to post it
here. You can check it out in June when the book is released. I’ll just add
some recent thoughts I’ve had to the nice work of the three earlier offerings
from Deb, Susan and Paul.
never hurts to reiterate that the Absolute is not a thing; it is more of a
principle. However, it is an active
principle, one that spews out all this without becoming modified in the least
by what it has created. Nataraja Guru further refined the term Absolute to normative
notion, which is almost
impossible to anthropomorphize. So the question boils down to how do we access
something that isn't really anything... and yet it is?
norm is the hub on which every coherent philosophy turns, in the case of
Vedanta it is called brahman, the
Absolute. In Atmo, Narayana Guru calls it the karu, the core. Nataraja Guru analyzes norms in depth in Part III
of his Unitive Philosophy, titled The
Search for a Norm in Western Thought. Don’t miss the chapters on The Absolute
as the Normative Reference for Philosophy and A Normative Methodology for All
Philosophy. Deborah Buchanan begins her introduction to it in a notable
As it emerged from the
theological dogma of the Middle Ages, Western philosophy inherited the
unresolved paradox that lay at the core of Greek tragedy, where the twin worlds
of immanence and transcendence find themselves tantalizingly close yet never
meshed. Greek drama gave voice to the problem: the alternately dynamic and
faltering footsteps of humankind are out of synchronicity with the divine
rhythm that gives them sustenance. Plato and his rebellious student Aristotle
spoke of this conflict most clearly in the world of philosophical discourse.
And though their voices were muffled for many centuries by the Church, the
argument was re-awakened by the European Renaissance. The dialogue then was no
longer phrased by choruses or defined by the ethos of tragedy. Rationality took
the lead and the paradox was seen in the pull between a priori and a
this stage of conflict, Nataraja Guru begins to trace the search for certitude
that has underlain the various philosophical schools. (321)
norms deviate to a greater or lesser extent from universal norms, depending on
the relative importance of self-interest against the general good. Narayana
Guru makes this explicit in verses 23 and 24 of Atmopadesa Satakam. While he
understands that self interest is one essential aspect of the general good, his
philosophy is pretty much the exact opposite of the dominating modern corporate
philosophies (such as Ayn Rand’s) that define self interest as the highest good
and even as the source of the general good. What they crucially leave out is
the transcendental unity and interconnectedness of the biosphere. They amount
to fancified excuses for ruthless exploitation. Narayana Guru’s revolutionary
idea (or better, his realization) is that since we are all one, the other is
equally a part of our self-interest, and by injuring it we injure ourselves.
is a numinous core or hub of life so hard to accept? What we loosely call
“union with the Absolute” is an experience that as an adult you have either had
or you haven’t. If you haven’t, it is unimaginable. If you have, you know it to
be the most familiar place, your psychic home. It is exactly where you belong.
It is the self you have known all along, because it is you. Moreover, it is so intense and delightful as to be
undeniable. The problem for those who have not had the experience is that
they’ve learned to operate as if it does not exist.
once you’ve had the experience, you can’t help but think that everyone on earth
would love to have it too. They deserve
it. You know it would make people happier, kinder, more creative, full of the
zest for living. And you can only laugh in frustration that so very few are even
interested in such a possibility. It should be a universally accepted rite of
passage to adulthood.
however, this state of being is almost impossible to communicate. It can only
be experienced; words must fall short. Intense bodily stresses seldom come
close, but occasionally offer hints. Only psychedelic medicines reliably
produce a short-term dip in the oasis. For most people, psychedelics have been
successfully demonized, so they’re out, and it’s hard for them not to be
utterly skeptical about the seemingly utopian claims made about the state of
union they highlight. It’s not just hard to believe, it’s impossible to
few of those who have had the experience are charismatic enough to convince
some people to poke around and see if there’s anything to the claims. They
radiate good will and peace, so they impart a sense that there just might be
something real in this business after all. Unfortunately this pose can be
faked, too, and often is. False assurances abound. So the doubts mount. The
whole thing is just a waste of time and effort. Poof. Forget about it.
kind-hearted people like Narayana Guru, Nataraja Guru, and Nitya see
communicating the value of self-realization as the most noble enterprise, the
best thing they have to offer a troubled species. In the present study, the
gurus literally try a hundred different ways to get through to us, and it’s a
valiant and exceptional effort. It’s so good we may be drawn along even though
we can’t quite accept the premise. We can still benefit from it, and it doesn’t
insult our intelligence too often.
wish I knew how to communicate the mystery easily. I’ve guided a few trippers,
and had a high rate of success, say 50%, but that was mostly ages ago. Those
medicines are hard to come by, and I certainly have no access at all to them
any more. I think we get faint whiffs of the mystery from our combined class
efforts, but I don’t suppose those are carried very far through the internet.
But I can’t give up either, so I keep trying to explain it just right,
amplifying what the gurus have laid down. I have been in that place that feels
utterly authentic, my true self. I know how curative it is, how paradisiacal. I
also am well aware that it’s not believable, that this oceanic world of hubbub
and glamour easily takes precedence. I guess it can’t be helped. That’s life.
fact is, no one can find this for anyone else—recovering your self is a
personal struggle. Most of the advice given is only to remove impediments and
give encouragement. In a culture disabled by the belief in saviors like Christ,
Krishna, Buddha and Mohammad, we naturally expect someone else to carry the
load for us. But it doesn’t work that way. I’m not being critical: this is a
subtle factor, barely noticed, but we really have lost our initiative in regard
to self discovery. And there are plenty of vested interests dedicated to
keeping us in the dark.
question is more than does unity exist, it broadens out into how do we
recognize the social mask we wear, and how does it differ from our authentic
nature? Shouldn’t we just accept that the mask is our best effort and leave it
at that? What is lost, after all, when we trade in our soul for an image? In a
world where everyone plays up to the image and rejects the spirit, what is the
advantage of going the other way? It is decidedly the case that, lacking that
rush of self-reunification, playing out our designated role is much more
immediately rewarding than seeking for our true nature.
Pretty much everyone agrees
there’s something mysterious afoot, and if left at that there’s no problem.
When we define that something, we necessarily limit it and transform it into
something less than what it must be. That’s when the battles begin over which
partial definition is the right one—a sure losing proposition. We are
instructed to retain the openness that transcends our ability to comprehend or
define ultimate reality, which is always going to be a process rather than a
finished product. Only then do we have a ghost of a chance of regaining our
I’m going to add a few excerpts from Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature
is Almost Certainly False, by respected professor of philosophy Thomas
Nagel, which the universe was kind enough to direct my attention to this week.
While taking a little while to get started, Nagel eventually hones his
dialectical argument, seeking a unifying or synthesizing element midway between
materialism and theology:
own existence presents us with the fact that somehow the world generates
conscious beings capable of recognizing reasons for action and belief,
distinguishing some necessary truths, and evaluating the evidence for
alternative hypotheses about the natural order. We don’t know how this happens,
but it is hard not to believe that there is some explanation of a systematic
kind—an expanded account of the order of the world.
we find it undeniable, as we should, that our clearest moral and logical
reasonings are objectively valid, we are on the first rung of the ladder. It
does not commit us to any particular interpretation of the normative, but I
believe it demands something more. We cannot maintain the kind of resistance to
any further explanation that is sometimes called quietism. The confidence we
feel within our own point of view demands completion by a more comprehensive
view of our containment in the world….
existence of conscious minds and their access to the evident truths of ethics
and mathematics are among the data that a theory of the world and our place in
it has yet to explain. They are clearly part of what is the case, just as much
as the data about the physical world provided by perception and the conclusions
of scientific reasoning about what would best explain those data. We cannot
just assume that the latter category of thought has priority over the others,
so that what it cannot explain is not real. (31)
inescapable fact that has to be accommodated in any complete conception of the
universe is that the appearance of living organisms has eventually given rise
to consciousness, perception, desire, action, and the formation of both beliefs
and intentions on the basis of reasons. If all this has a natural explanation,
the possibilities were inherent in the universe long before there was life, and
inherent in early life long before the appearance of animals. A satisfying
explanation would show that the realization of these possibilities was not
vanishingly improbable but a significant likelihood given the laws of nature and
the composition of the universe. It would reveal mind and reason as basic
aspects of a nonmaterialistic natural order….
much we come to understand, as we are in the process of doing, the chemical
basis of life and of its evolution, the phenomenon still calls for a greatly
expanded basis for intelligibility.
sum up: the respective inadequacies of materialism and theism as transcendent
conceptions, and the impossibility of abandoning the search for a transcendent
view of our place in the universe, leads us to hope for an expanded but still
naturalistic understanding that avoids psychophysical reductionism. The
essential character of such an understanding would be to explain the appearance
of life, consciousness, reason, and knowledge neither as accidental side
effects of the physical laws of nature nor as the result of intentional
intervention in nature from without but as an unsurprising if not inevitable
consequence of the order that governs the natural world from within. That order
would have to include physical law, but if life is not just a physical
phenomenon, the origin and evolution of life and mind will not be explainable
by physics and chemistry alone. An expanded, but still unified, form of
explanation will be needed, and I suspect it will have to include teleological
is the most conspicuous obstacle to a comprehensive naturalism that relies only
on the resources of physical science. The existence of consciousness seems to
imply that the physical description of the universe, in spite of its richness
and explanatory power, is only part of the truth, and that the natural order is
far less austere than it would be if physics and chemistry accounted for
everything. If we take this problem seriously, and follow out its implications,
it threatens to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture. Yet it is very
difficult to imagine viable alternatives. (35)
After reviewing the main materialist theories, Nagel
have given only a brief sketch of the territory. A voluminous and intricate
literature has grown up around these problems, but it serves mainly to confirm
how intractable they are. The multiple dead ends in the forward march of
materialism suggest that the… dualism introduced at the birth of modern science
may be harder to get out of than many people have imagined. It has even led
some philosophers to eliminative materialism—the suggestion that mental events,
like ghosts and Santa Claus, don’t exist at all. But if we don’t regard that as
an option, and still want to pursue a unified world picture, I believe we will
have to leave materialism behind. Conscious subjects and their mental lives are
inescapable components of reality not describable by the physical sciences.
suspect that the appearance of contingency in the relation between mind and
brain is probably an illusion, and that it is in fact a necessary but
nonconceptual connection, concealed from us by the inadequacy of our present
concepts. Major scientific advances often require the creation of new concepts,
postulating unobservable elements of reality that are needed to explain how
natural regularities that initially appear accidental are in fact necessary.
The evidence for the existence of such things is precisely that if they
existed, they would explain what was otherwise incomprehensible.
the mind-body problem is difficult enough that we should be suspicious of
attempts to solve it with the concepts and methods developed to account for
very different kinds of things. Instead, we should expect theoretical progress
in this area to require a major conceptual revolution at least as radical as
relativity theory, and the introduction of electromagnetic fields into
physics—or the original scientific revolution itself, which, because of its
built-in restrictions, can’t result in a “theory of everything,” but must be
seen as a stage on the way to a more general form of understanding. We
ourselves are large-scale, complex instances of something both objectively
physical from outside and subjectively mental from inside. Perhaps the basis
for this identity pervades the world. (41-2)