self encased in a body, in his eidetic consciousness,
all such as, “That is mine” and “This is mine”
of body identity; on considering this
is evident that everyone has truly experienced.
spite of being identified with their own body, people do think of other people
and things as their own and say, “This is mine,” or “That is mine.” On
considering this, it is evident that everyone has some experience of the
oneness of the Self.
The dweller within the body from its existential body view
In respect of all things treats ‘that’ or ‘this’ as ‘mine’
Transcending physical limitations; when we consider this
We should concede that any man immediate realisation has.
the class even began,
Paul wondered about the statement Nitya makes at the end of his comments: “After
the next verse there is a major change. If the whole one hundred verses is
viewed as a garland, the first forty-nine present a kind of descending dialectics.
From verse fifty onwards, an ascending dialectics is used. It is easy to go
down, difficult to go up.” What the heck does he mean by this?
Nataraja Guru throws
some light on this in his Verse 50 comments, including:
In both the
halves of the work we notice
that the topics discussed are around factors of subjective import, as the
subject matter of the whole composition would warrant. Introspection, however,
becomes affirmed deeper in the second half as deeper recesses of the Self are
brought up into view and scrutinized more carefully, where again the reader
would profit by noting the inward approach to the subject matter.
There is a loose but elusive
structure to Atmo, but for our purposes, we can limit ourselves to the
overarching aspect Nitya is pointing out. The work opens with the karu, the
absolute core of existence, and it ends with us gently merging back into
sat-aum, which is essentially the same thing but by then consciously realized.
Here in the middle we are focused on very practical, exteriorized implications
of our essential nature, such as how to get along with others. So the descent
is more an exteriorization, and now we will be progressively interiorizing. If
we take the study seriously enough, this grand dialectic permits the factor of
the Absolute or karu to permeate every aspect of our life, from the most subtle
to the most gross, and back again.
What this midpoint
boils down to is that we have been learning a well-developed theory and now we
are going to put it into practice. While we have been stressing the importance
of doing this all along, the intensity will be ratcheted up so that our ideas
have every chance to become our living reality, our default setting if you
will. I still remember a day many years ago when these ideas began bubbling up
in my mind as “my” thoughts instead of as learned abstractions the gurus were
teaching me. I couldn’t believe it! It was not only amazing, it made me feel
giddy. Ecstatic. Uplifted. I mean, the flow was recognizably their ideas, but they
were being shaped by my individual personality. In a social milieu where we are
eternally constrained to convert our life into a dehydrated abstraction, it was
a welcome relief. There was no sense of possession, only a relinquishment of my
small persona. My “I” was no longer in the driver’s seat, it was along for the
ride. The joy ride.
Clearly, this is not
the One Minute Manager or the Three Minutes
to a Pain-Free Life. Only
by pondering these ideas many times over and in many different and relevant contexts
will they finally come alive in our hearts. The content is sublime enough
without that, but even more delicious with it.
So, on to the class.
There are two main
concepts of substantial import here. First, realization is not a remote and
rare accomplishment, it is available to every one of us all the time. Second,
our realization is to be expressed in everyday activity. Nitya presents them so
well I want to let him describe them:
A big myth is now
exploded with this verse. You have now come so close to the experience of the
Absolute. It is within your reach, in the palm of your hand, so to speak…. All
the religious words have frightened and confused us. Narayana Guru wants to
give us courage, telling us, “Don’t be afraid. You are as good as anyone. The
essence of realization is in your own daily experience.”
And this perennial reminder:
realization is to be lived here and now in society where you touch and are
touched by other people. Let us bring our realization to the marketplace. But
you think realization is so holy and sacred that it must be kept separate, kept
apart. That means you cannot live it. If you want to live it, it should be
lived everywhere, at all times. Your perfection is a perfection for all time,
not just for the church on Sunday. If you are perfect now you should be perfect
in everyday life, too.
first sentence should
resonate in your life, day after day. “Your realization is to be lived
here and now in society where you touch and are touched by other people.” Make
Narayana Guru has suggested is to consciously notice how we incorporate other
aspects of existence into our own. Start with what you know is yours, like “my
house” or “my friend,” and then extend that just a bit more, and then a bit
more. Pretty soon the whole universe is yours, and what that implies continues
Sure, this is
primarily an attitude. Nobody
actually knows or owns the whole universe. But there is a huge difference
between a life of openness and acceptance of everything and one truncated by
exclusivity. This distinction comprised the majority of the class discussion,
and made for an inspiring session.
By now we should be
fully convinced that the way we frame things is a critically important factor
in how they affect us. Nitya puts it this way here:
Your existence becomes
a meaningful factor by the incorporation of values that you want to live by.
When you say “I am,” you are a living entity. In this there is a
well-integrated, compact idea of beingness encapsulated as your existence. So
your existence is your identity with values for which you live, for which you
stand. Your freedom, your understanding, your validations of things—a number of
these factors put together become your existential beingness.
This means we really are
what we think we are. Not so much with our surface consciousness or our wishful
thinking, but as a deep down conviction, the way we structure our thoughts.
That’s also why transformation is a slow, repetitive process: we are changing
over our neural connections and not simply switching ideas. We can consciously
select better values and improve our understanding, but unless we can free
ourselves from the submerged anchor of conventional beliefs we are unlikely to
sail anywhere. We don’t even realize how much we cling to them and depend on
We may not be aware
of it, but one thing our society has utterly convinced us of is that we are not
worthy of realization. Other people matter; we don’t. Narayana Guru is trying
to restore us to our true selves in a healthy way. Much of people’s blather and
bluster of aggressive confidence is to compensate for those feelings of
insufficiency, but they are mainly window dressing. Underneath them the doubts
remain. The guru wants us to gently and kindly give ourselves the kind of
support that brings us back to who we truly are, which is much more valuable
than we could ever hope for from outer acclaim.
A lot of doubt
springs from the conviction that we don’t fit in to the world we live in. I was
just at a spiritual gathering in California with a highly regarded teacher. One
of the participants voiced a common belief: “The one thing I know for sure is
I’m not all this. None of this is me.” Everyone nodded in agreement, and the
teacher gave a discourse on neti neti. But I was shocked. It was clearly an ego
ploy to avoid responsibility, because the person obviously believed in reality
as he routinely perceived it. He just didn't want to be blamed for it. You
anything constructive by pretending the connections you have are not there.
Paradoxically, you loosen the bonds by first accepting that you have them and
befriending them. Then they no longer oppress you, they inspire you or afford
you opportunities for liberating interaction. Then you welcome them rather than
push them away.
I suggested adding
asti asti as a counterpoint to neti neti, that they go together. After the
meeting ended, a woman was very grateful that I had said that. She had just
lost her mother, and was not able to simply dismiss her from her mind. She was
so relieved to not have to think of herself as “unspiritual” because she had
strong feelings for her mother. I have noted how many teachers are callous
about the effects of their poorly-understood teachings, thereby reinforcing the
doubts people hold about themselves.
Even in the Gurukula
we often hear a preamble of self-abnegation before someone says something. They
always assume their thoughts are outside the mainstream, or not as important as
someone else’s. Deep in our soul we feel we have to excuse ourself for
intruding into everyone else’s peace of mind. It’s a form of mental crippling,
and it won’t go away until we shine the healing light of understanding on it.
overturned the chronic malaise of South Indian society by convincing
downtrodden people that they were as valuable as anyone, that they truly
mattered. As soon as they started to believe it and live it, their world began
to change dramatically for the better.
Jan gave a great
physical example of how this philosophy plays out. She takes a hatha yoga
class, and has been struggling with a muscle that is very tight and painful.
Every class she has tried to force it to relax, but it has remained a problem
for her. Last week she decided to switch from being upset at the tightness to
letting go of her negative thoughts and concentrating on the expansive sense of
stretching. Lo and behold, along with her thoughts the strained muscle also
eased up, and she found her body relaxing and feeling much better.
We could think of
our mind as a muscle, and Jan’s metaphor would work with it too. Incidentally,
the latest issue of Scientific American Mind (March/April 2014) has an article
on the enlargement of certain important areas of the brain by hatha yoga
practitioners. Good going! The article also noted that the typical regiment in
the West was 70% physical postures, 20% meditation and 10% breath work. Pretty
close to my personal regimen of mostly shaking my fist, making faces and
jumping up and down, combined with quietly steaming in fury (20%) and shouting
(10%). Guess I’m a hatha yogi after all….
Susan and I had
talked earlier about a friend who is chronically depressed and incredibly
negative, the product of a history of abuse. Because of how she has been
treated, in one sense it is “right” for her to feel this way. And yet it makes
her life even more miserable. Everything goes wrong for her. Susan plays bridge
with her, and is astonished that she always, always draws a terrible hand to
play. Somehow it fulfills her expectations that nothing will ever go right for
her. This poor friend has gotten so wrapped up in her negativity that nothing
can break through it. Bad results confirm her mental state, and she deftly
parries all positive offerings to convert them to a negative cast. It reminded
me of how certain animals will abuse an injured family member rather than offer
support. It’s as though the injury invites further abuse. Anyway, Susan
observed that there was a definite connection between her friend’s attitude and
what happened to her, on many levels, not just cards. Could it be true for all
of us, in our own ways?
I used to have
hostile feelings toward authority figures, so whenever I encountered one a
surge of anger would erupt inside me. Again, it was all based on legitimate
reasons: people like them were inflicting horrors all over the globe. But with
that attitude I wasn’t having any effect on them, and I was experiencing the
negativity myself. I was including myself as yet another victim of their
abusive authority, and they weren’t even aware of it. Once I adopted Narayana
Guru’s attitude, I first of all discounted my prejudices and tried to remain
open. That had the effect of drawing the other person in to a less defensive
exchange where communication was at least possible. In addition, my anger was
replaced by compassion and a search for understanding. I could see that a
history of abuse was at the root of cruelty wherever it arose, and I resolved
to redirect my efforts to the causes rather than the effects.
If we keep ourselves
sequestered in a vacuum, everything we encounter must come from our own mind,
so there is really no chance for us to change anything. Each time we meet
someone or something outside our personal boundary, however, we have an
opportunity to make it a new part of us. In other words, we learn and grow.
Paul summed this central idea up by saying that unity depends on duality to
expand its parameters. Nitya expressed it as we are transcendental and immanent
at once. Our work in this study will be to bring poles like these together as
This Nor That But . . . Aum:
one sense we are this body; when the breath is gone, it will be cremated or
buried. Thereafter nobody would consider the person identified with it to be
existing. When a person is physically alive we speak of him as black or white,
or fat or thin, but all transactions come to an end when the body perishes.
However, we know that we are more than a body, and further, we think of our
body and mind only as instruments of some unknown entity which is working out
its course using these tools in a mysterious way so as to achieve some
when we make sharp distinctions between one person and another we are aware of
some unifying factor which pervades the life of all beings. This view is held
even by ordinary people. A person speaks of “my body” or “his body.” He might
point at a certain woman's body and say, “She is my wife.” Those who say that
and those who hear it know that this reference is not to the mere physical body
of a woman. In all relationships such as husband and wife, parent and child,
friend and enemy, it is a non-physical entity which establishes a relationship
with its counterpart in other embodied persons. People even refer to impersonal
things or non-living entities as theirs, as for instance “my house,” “my book,”
“my honour,” or “my religion.” At St. Peter's Basilica, the Ramadan at the
Kaabah in Mecca, or the Kumbha Mela at the Prayag in India, millions of
strangers come together and feel united as though only one spirit was animating
all bodies, and pulsate with spiritual fervour. These are not necessarily the
wise men of the highest kind of spiritual enlightenment. However, it is a fact
that they do transcend all their physical limitations to experience the one
which has no special name or form and which is truer than the truth of the
existence of any one of them in particular.
a person says “I exist,” he thinks of his body as proof of his existence. He
knows that the animation of his life is confined within the limits of that
body. When the same man says “my wife,” “my country,” “my religion,” and “my
world,” he is referring to a series of mental horizons that cover areas of
interest which are not only outside his body, but can also be of such a wide
range that they can be qualified as infinite. To have such an experience one
need not be a great philosopher or a great saint. A man who fondly pats his cow
or cuddles his dog and considers them as his belongings is consciously or
unconsciously recognizing the homogeneity of his essence and that of his pets.
When we consider that people all over the world have this universal experience,
we can confidently say that, at least to some degree, every person experiences
the Self and thereby he also transcends his physical limitations.
man is too low or too mean to be admitted into the unifying experience of the
IT is usual to speak of immediate realisation as a rare thing
among men. Here the Guru
asserts the converse of this verity when viewed from the context proper to
contemplative thought. All men have self-realisation already implicit in
their relational life.
When a man says that a certain thing belongs to him he is in
reality establishing a relation between two entities, one of
which is physical and the
other that has only a psychic status.
His body, which is physical, cannot establish any direct
(logical) relationship with another discrete body because of the property of
matter known in the textbooks of physics as impenetrability.
A chair is not able to consider another chair as its own. We
have therefore to postulate a subtler substratum of the physical body so that
the bipolar interest-relation involved between the Self and the non-Self units
of the situation may become understandable.
The only reasonable postulate that can admit the possibility
of this inter-physical and trans-subjective or trans-physical or
inter-subjective basis of interest or participation as between inert and living
entities can be that the medium in which the interest thrives or can function
is a neutral psychophysical stuff. This neutral psychophysical stuff can be
neither totally material nor totally mental in status. It has, in fact, to
as it were, with the very stuff of the reality of the Absolute itself on
It is in this sense that we have to understand the Guru to
assert that when we come to analyse the situation we lay
here the very basis of all
interest-relationships. This basis implies in principle Self-realisation, which from the
standpoint of the common man is often thought to be a very rare or precious
possibility in human life. We associate Self-realisation only with people like
Socrates. The Guru here asserts it to be every man’s prerogative.
The ‘existential body’ that is referred to above calls for
some explanation. Since inter-physical interest of body with body is easily
seen to be impossible and, as we know, on the other hand, that in common
experience the relation referred to does exist as a reality, we have to say
that the relation is between the existential aspects common to the physical and
the mental. This neutral ground has to have a homogeneous or transparent basis
at the level of existence so as to be real at all. The other possibilities are
for both the factors to be considered essential or at least subsistential.
Public reality has to insert itself in the existential and not in the
subsistential or the essential, which tend both to be lost in the domain of
idealism rather than realism. The ontological ‘sat’ in Sanskrit which has been
used by the Guru in the original verse, further refers to existence rather than
to subsistence or essence. The delicate distinction that we are trying to make
explicit here can only be adequately treated in a fuller chapter, as we have
Man’s life is regulated and understood with reference to his
natural or normal life interests. If we should take an overall view of the
interests of man in human life, we shall find that one general factor dominates
their whole range, whether we take daily interests or the higher interests,
here or hereafter. The everyday interests may be said to begin with
satisfactions such as hunger. When thirst is quenched man
is satisfied and may be said
to be happy. When moral, aesthetic or religious consolations or satisfactions
are included within the scope of our scrutiny, in a similar way, we find that
even they, as they range from the more common to the most rare and specialized
interests of man, present the same underlying law, which is that man seeks
happiness at all times and in all ways. After exposing the basic structure of
bipolar interests in the previous verse, the Guru next goes on to a bolder generalization
on the same lines, arriving here, at the centre of the work, at a very
important statement about the fundamental unity of all faiths, applicable to
humanity as a whole.
usually chagrined about all of what I leave out of the notes from our very rich
classes. Here’s a bit more. Jake talked about an issue this verse brings up for
many people, that if you credit everyone as being the Absolute in essence and
realized to a degree, shouldn’t you give them your full attention and consideration
no matter how screwed up they are? What does it mean, then, when people take
advantage of you, or go on endlessly trying to drag you into their spiral of
despair? Does that disprove the theory?
at all. It proves the theory that we are sensitive beings easily corrupted by
the input we experience, especially in early childhood. The depth of the misery
for some is unbelievable, like a psychological version of the atomic bomb.
Sometimes we can defuse it, but once the bomb is detonated, all we can do is
run for cover.
is a place where our discriminative intelligence is put to the test. We start
with “innocent until proven guilty,” but gradually come to understand just what
we can and cannot accomplish. Eventually we may have to give up and put our
energies where they can do more good. I always think of the wonderful letter
(in L&B, 9/24/71) Nitya wrote to Debbie, which I recently reprinted in the
Verse 46 notes. Here’s a bit longer version:
[someone] says high things and does not live up to them, you should underline
the value of his vision and should ask why he always fails. The answer is that
he sees the vertical possibility, but he does not know how to cross over the
hurdles of the gross brutality of the horizontal. There is no easy correction
for this, other than going all the way through the process of destructuring the
wrong mold and re-integrating the very Self that has to see its own integrated
vision of itself.
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.
A yogi is not simply an unquestioning giver, they use their intelligence to
probe to the root of the situation, which is almost always hidden from sight.
We have to know we live in a world filled with desperate people who are out of
touch with themselves, and we have to protect our integrity. For me, if there
is the least hint of change or even the intention to change I will hang in with
a person, but lacking that a dignified withdrawal is warranted.
while not a class participant in person, somehow intuited this thread and
covers a lot of my rockier roads on my journey. I just had a hard
experience that has lasted ten years. A retired professor with rage
problems insisted on my company at least once a week at Monday breakfast.
The conversation - all his. - centered on himself, his angers and
experiences. I went with this for ten years , even giving him major
breaks in his book buying from me.
tried to have him understand my path which is to understand others and work on
changing me so he might get the notion of accepting.
he had gotten so used to being enraged that he began to find fault in me.
I would cop to it and then lead him to the realization that I
wasn't deserving of his rage. And that his rage would vanish if he could just
accept himself and others. But last week I could take no more of this
enraged energy and told him we would have no further interaction as I plainly
pushed his buttons by merely existing.
feel badly but also feel that I need to quit sticking my finger in the light
socket. Again I am reminded
that I am a part and that my part isn't necessarily to try to improve the other
parts. Maybe like Jan, by letting go, the change will come of its own and
in the way it should or maybe was meant to be.
again: I’m sure this is something we’ve all experienced, possibly often. The
key is to not become callous or depressed about the dire state of humanity.
Discerning the faint glow of the Absolute beneath the pall helps us to keep
heart. We are privy to just a small piece of every story, so we are free to
believe, along with Dr. King, that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but
it bends towards justice.”
also sent a fine response to this series of verses awhile back:
When I studied Principia Mathematica - and mind you, this
was a long time ago - one of the things that struck me is that one had to
accept four Axioms at the outset in order for all of the other volumes of
logical formulae work. These
axioms could not be proven, but rather, accepted. This bothered me and more and more, I ran into
scientific and logical masterpieces that brought into question how certain any
thing really could be.
Gödel's proof -
Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle - the list goes on. I studied W.V.O. Quine
- father of
computer logic - who had some mathematical insight as to how to solve some of
the seeming contradictions - and so I tried to figure out, using Quine's own
tool of bracketing - and so I would come out with things like this:
The following would be a contradiction:
is not the universal truth.
Because it states basically that I do not know any truth.
So Quine suggested to me, via his books, that if I bracket
(My) Truth is (not universal) truth.
Which is to say, that Me and the Universal are different.
Now that uncomplicates the issue to me because now it isn't
truth that's a seeming contradiction, but the fact that Me and the Universal
Since I am part of the universal equation- I'm here, am I
not - this is plainly not true.
What is true is that I am a part and my comprehension of the whole MIGHT
be limited so long as I put up the distinction that I am apart from the
When I saw myself as part of the universe, I got the deeper
meanings of "We are stardust" and "We are children of God"
and I could see larger pictures.
However, the universal seems to want me to be special and unique,
too. So, I will take my
rhubarb pie without ice cream, my friend - and it doesn't bother me a bit that
everybody else wants ice cream.
So sometimes, logic helps. But the trick is this about logic, one must accept
some axioms as true at the outset.
Then, well, it's like trying to play monopoly using another
game board's rules. Imagine
trying to play checkers using chess rules. Which piece would be the knight, the queen, the castle? Oy. Though, like life, it might be an interesting game to
What we accept in some ways defines that individual part of
us, I guess.
With this verse and
the next, writes Nitya in his commentary, the Guru completes the first half of
his work that up to verse 50 he has aimed at our “everyday experience” as much
as possible (p. 323). Once he
pivots in following this descending trajectory with that mid-point verse, he
will be constructing an “ascending” dialectic. Concluding his commentary, Nitya writes, “It is easy to go
down, difficult to go up” (p. 328).
As Nitya unpacks
verse 48, he begins by explaining the place of ethics, laws, and the like as
existing entirely on the phenomenal plane in which we are aware of our body and
its limitations, a boundary not experienced when we are in the dream or deep
dreamless states. The existence of
the body separation in the wakeful state presents us with an opportunity, says
Nitya, to exercise a power we possess only when dealing with others—to
purposefully direct our Self to experience an awareness beyond the two body
limitations while still encased in it.
The first boundary is circumscribed by our physical limitations while
the second is an ego boundary that he is careful to differentiate from a social
ego. This “center of
consciousness” constitutes our capacity to include others in our awareness
(rather than automatically exclude them) as we expand our affection for the
world and all beings in it.
In his previous
commentary on verse 31, Nitya approached this procedure for inclusiveness in
his discussion of the two methods adopted by the rishis of the Upanishads for arriving
at the truth of
an Absolute unchangeable One: either affirming or denying everything. It is the
former, the “argument of
affirmation,” in which anything coming within the range of awareness is deemed
to be true that we come finally to realize the oneness of all, and it is that
practice that Nitya again proposes in his commentary on the present verse. The
exercise is based on an intuition
of that oneness that leads eventually to its revelation in awareness because it
cannot be contradicted if it is continuously and relentlessly applied. In other
words, the awareness of the
truth of a constant Absolute emerges as axiomatic and requires no “logical” or
self-evident truth is available to any one at any time and arises out of common
experiential awareness, it is not the property of any group, organized or
not. By expanding our circle of
inclusion we reach far beyond our body limitations and become all those
“others,” a phenomenon Nitya illustrates through his reference to the
mother/child connection and the pet owner’s sympathy for his or her pet. It
is our individual efforts that bring
to conscious fruition the oneness of all manifestation, but barriers to this
choice continue to present themselves.
As Nitya writes, “You have now come so close to the experience of the
Absolute. . . . It is within your reach. . . . When Jesus says, ‘The Kingdom of
God is at hand, close to you, within your own heart,’ people still doubt it.”
They do so, writes Nitya, because they
fear and have been taught to doubt their own perceptions. The power of organized
(secular or otherwise) rests firmly on its capacity to control what is
acceptable to conscious awareness and in locating the power to do so outside
the individual, a condition written about long ago in Antebellum Massachusetts:
thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you,
the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have
always done so, and
confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their
perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working
through their hands, predominating in all their being.
“Self Reliance,” 3rd paragraph)