primal energy implied in this
the seed from which everything here proliferates;
understood that, without forgetting
clear the mind deluded by maya,
meditation should continue.
primordial potency inherent in this is the seed which gives birth to all we see
here. Bearing this in mind, and never forgetting it, one should meditate on its
secret to dispel the thrall of maya.
That primordial potency that herein resides
Is the seed that gives birth to all here we see;
Merging the mind in that, never forgetting,
Maya-mind to end, ever do contemplation pursue.
gathering of fools on April Fool’s Day—this year a once-in-a-century
palindrome—made the most of this amazing commentary, which presents the secret
of aum and maya in a most accessible and sensible manner. It’s hard to imagine
that anyone could fail to see the value of a unifying effort after reading it.
is often viewed as if it was an oppressing force that is to be dismissed with a
disdainful flick of the head, as if by denying it, it will just disappear. No
way Ho Zay! As Nitya averred in the last verse, our very existence is a part of
maya. It is a wholesale condition; the way the universe is constructed. The way
we are constructed. So maya cannot be ignored, except by ignore-ance. What
Nitya teaches us is how to understand it and cope with it intelligently. First
he alerts us to how maya may be recognized:
Maya… is both real and unreal.
Maya is not a thing, it is a situation. Whenever there is an event, an
experience or a context that shows within it an enigmatic pull towards two
opposites, it is an instance of maya.
we find ourselves clinging to one side of a dual situation—which we all agreed
was often—we are dealing with maya. Instead of fighting harder for our personal
preference to prevail, if we open ourself to what else there is and take a
close look at the total context, it changes from a conflict situation to a
revelation of the mystery and wonder of life. We become agents of healing
rather than partisans in warfare.
is the “glowing radiant sound” of the last verse, which is the “this” in the
present verse: “The primal energy implied in this is the seed from which
everything here proliferates.” In other words, the life impulse begins as a
point source or seed, expands through the stages of consciousness to become
fully actualized in the transactional world, and then recedes back to a point.
The seed contains all the potentials of manifestation in a compressed form, but
these are only perceived when they become actualized. A continuous pulsation
unites the source and its elaboration in the here and now. The gurus recommend
we consciously tie the confusing flux of manifestation with its core value as a
seed-source in order to maintain our stability. Only when we become stabilized
in the wisdom of the total context can we become pillars of strength for our
description of a typical predicament is well worth revisiting:
you bracket all this intrigue together it is a single situation with two sides,
one of grace and beauty, warmth and joy, and the other full of darkness.
Whenever an experience has such a duality you can say it is subject to maya. In
your life you can find hundreds of such situations where with great love you
move toward a certain value, and when you are about to possess it you see a
hundred other possibilities drowning you in unanticipated problems. You cling
to it; you cannot have it and yet you cannot let it go. When such a duality
comes, you become like a person possessed by an evil spirit. You don’t know
what you are saying or how to behave. You are at a crossroads, where turning
one way is wrong and turning the other way is also wrong. We come to such
crossroads in life again and again, and they are all situations of maya.
We all readily agreed that the “hundreds of such situations”
is perhaps a lowball figure, and in fact even in the midst of this teaching,
right in the class, we could notice the tendency to slip back into partisan
positions of “this is right and that is wrong.” There is a lot of work ahead
regarding maya, and Nitya is going to point out that Maya (as a quasi-humorous
personification) really knows her business. She knows exactly how to catch us,
and she is amazingly good at it. In Verse 88 (a worthwhile verse to read ahead
on, one of the very best), we learn “If you understand maya, it will lead you
to brahman. If you don't understand—crash! It's a good game and a terrible
game. If you enter the game, be sure you know all the rules. If you don't, it
will beat you.” And of course, we’ve already entered the game, ages ago. We
never had a choice. So should we just allow ourselves to continue to be
battered and fried, or should we learn how to deal with her?
we have been helped by experts to see through the fog to some degree, though we
all secretly cherish our favorite opinions, and we cling to them with undue
ferocity. But progress has definitely been made.
an example of healing, Deb told of an important dream she had recently. She has
been very angry with someone in her family, and has been struggling hard to
figure out how to show him the error of his ways and get him to change. It has
made her miserable for a long time. In the dream she was watching herself. She
approached the man and gave him an unreserved hug. She was no longer trying to
correct him; she was merged with him and felt only love. Deb the observer knew
this was the cure, and it was a tremendous relief as all the pain and anguish
drained out of her. Then she went around hugging many other friends. These were
not like ordinary hugs with two separate people involved, they were total
mergers into a blissful unity. She awoke in a state of ecstasy, which persisted
for a long time. Not only that, but her specific upset was mitigated in waking
life, even though she still is aware of persistent problems.
read out the last line of the commentary as being wonderfully appropriate to
all our travails: “Seeing unity in and through all the diversities, always,
through a process of meditation and not of analysis, not one of fragmentary
observation but instead always living it as a whole, is the message of this
meditation.” Deb’s dream was meditation in action at its best. And undoubtedly
the healing impulse started much deeper than the dream state, called forth by
pondering and wrestling with her dilemma. It arose in the turiya, the glowing
silence in which everything resides, and pressed up through the deep sleep
state until it was perceivable to her in the dream. The gushing fountain of
reconciliation and forgiveness she experienced then suffused her life in the
wakeful state as well. And now her conscious acceptance of the process sends
positive pulsations of gratitude and transformation back toward her core. It
will produce a positive feedback loop, unless it is undermined by bad habits of
thought. Supported by the wisdom of the teachings she returns to frequently, it
should easily become established as a new paradigm in her life.
is precisely why Nitya always said that meditation was a 24 hour a day
business, not something to practice now and then. Every situation we are in is
a challenge to “rise to the occasion.” With such an attitude, meditation is
never drudgery, it is an active doorway to love and delight, an ongoing
opportunity to move from misery to bliss.
Deb’s amazing dream, Paul later mentioned how if you think of a question just
before you fall asleep, you sometimes will dream of a solution or get an
insight about it. Possibly this is a way to “send a message” down into the
depths of your being, which then pulses back to throw light on the matter. Deb
had been putting a lot of energy into her problem all through the day, of
course, but Paul’s is a really good idea: consciously send a focused request
into your karu, your core, at the verge of sleep, and it will easily go very
resonated with the idea of aum leading us back into the center of our being,
and that the inevitable duality of life is grounded in the unity. She feels
that the idea has had a major impact in her life, that when she has a tendency
to feel sorry for herself and become passive, she now taps into her conviction
that she is an unlimited being and it restores her self-confidence. This is
reason enough to pursue a study like this one, and Jan’s inner radiance that
shines forth more and more is evidence of its efficacy.
has been watching a movie about Chogyam Trungpa, who she studied with for a
year or so. One of his disciples, Pema Chodron, said something that resonated
with her, that what we are really afraid of is sanity, of actually becoming the
vast, amazing beings we are. We keep some favorite neuroses handy in our
pockets, ready to pull out whenever our wholeness threatens to reclaim us. I
would add that the study of the ways we repress the inner fountain of sakti is
vast, and includes far more than a handful of neuroses. But that’s for another
was also moved by the last line of this paragraph:
original sound ‘aum’, including the entire continuum from the silence where you
merge through the ‘a’ where you transact, are all seen as one organic whole.
Then you are not surprised by the eventualities in life, as you are when you
see only one side. When you stand on one side of a hill it is physically
impossible to place yourself at the other side also. But the knowledge that
there is another side and that the vision from another angle could be different
takes away from you the big fear, the big hatred, and the big confusion.
Susan admitted that fear, hatred and confusion were states
she knew well. She has made significant strides in laying them to rest by
bringing new perspectives from That Alone into her life. She used to feel that
she needed to appear all-knowing so that people would admire her and not see
her faults, which loomed large in her self-image. Now she accepts that all of
us are only privy to partial knowledge, and admitting it is not just okay, it
is liberating. Accepting ourselves as flawed and yet still loveable is a major
breakthrough for our anxious egos, allowing them to let go of their defenses
and pretenses and become normalized. She harked back to the epochal sentence in
Verse 44: “Your position is rigid to precisely the extent that your vision is
limited.” Fear and hatred are supremely rigid positions, and their disjunction
with our desire for peace and joy throw us into confusion. We could just as
easily posit the contrary: our vision is limited precisely to the extent that
our position is rigid. So we can work on this from both sides together.
added an important insight about confusion, that when he gets caught up in
situations he forgets the unity. He feels called upon to fix situations or
protect people from the negative consequences of their behavior, but then he
gets drawn in to the chaos. Thinking about unity helps restore his equanimity,
and to let go of his impulse to protect. I’d add that being a protective,
supportive person is a wonderful thing, not something to be given up, but
becoming embroiled in the turmoil is not helpful. As long as Eugene remains
grounded in a unitive vision, his urge to care for others is a valuable force
for healing. And life is kind to show us where we need to work on ourself. The
very thing that pulls us out of our groundedness to become upset is where we
should look to uncover the roots of our own malaise.
thoughts prompted Deb to recall another classic bit from the text:
other person may be quite mad. Usually the immediate impact of this is you also
go mad. But you can remain sane and save the situation, rather than
proliferating madness by reacting to it. There is enough madness there already.
Why should you add your own to it? Usually we are drawn towards it; there is every
temptation to join in the confusion. This is called maya.
agreed that maya was valuable, that it helps us to get going in life. It
pressures us to grow and change, to be more engaged. In spiritual life we try
to see conflicts as opportunities rather than oppressions. Oppression means we
run away, but opportunities are to be welcomed.
noted that the one-point of his martial arts training sounded exactly like the adi bijam,
the unitive seed of Vedanta.
Acting from the one-point keeps practitioners in balance. It contains all the
dimensions, while having no dimensions itself. His operating premise and
acknowledged challenge is to welcome all with a glad and open heart. That
doesn’t mean you necessarily approve of everything, only that you remain open
against the tendency to close down. Our likes and dislikes create tension in
the mind, which is the source of fear, anger, confusion and all the rest.
was also struck by Nitya’s point that “The history of ideas is within you. It’s
a continuous flow of great force, of which you are now a passing effect.” It
humbles and calms us to know we are just a small part of an unfolding drama,
and don’t have to worry about directing the whole show. Forced directorship
pits us against the flow of the mystical wave of life, while merely playing our
part encourages us to open our hearts to it.
recalled in school how her fellow students would be partial to various “isms,”
and fight about them all the time. But she liked all the isms, as far as they
went, and didn’t feel she had to choose any particular one and defend it. It
made her able to laugh where others became bitter. She described her attitude
as relativism, but it is something else. Relativism would be to grade all the
isms hierarchically and compare them. Though she would probably never admit it,
she is actually bringing a unitive viewpoint to bear.
told us of his “operating theory” that since everyone has come forth from the
same unitive ground that contains every possibility, they have infinite
potential. But not everyone is able to express their potential qualities: they
often are diverted away from them by circumstances. The theory gives him space
for compassion and to become less judgmental about people’s failings.
conclusion, please, please don’t imagine anything is resolved if you dismiss
something with the truism, “It’s all just maya.” No one reading That Alone
should ever be prompted to make such a blunder. It’s a way of turning our back
on a problem, but it doesn’t solve anything. As author Philip K. Dick defined
reality, it is “that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” He
might have added, it often comes back with renewed power to instigate mayhem.
Our closing meditation reprised this critical truth, so eloquently expressed by
how can you say it is all maya? You cannot just brush it aside like that. At
the transactional level it is a reality…. Narayana Guru here recommends the
continuous contemplation of the primal seed of all this. If the cause is real,
as the effect has come from the cause it also belongs to the real. You dismiss
the effect as unreal because you see one part of it and another part is hidden
from you. This falsifies its unity. But if you look to the unity, it cannot be
false. Seeing unity in and through all the diversities, always, through a
process of meditation and not of analysis, not one of fragmentary observation
but instead always living it as a whole, is the message of this meditation.
Neither This Nor That But . . . Aum:
Maya is a context, a situation, an appraisal or judgement
which tends to be torn between the duality of acceptance and rejection,
admiration and aversion. It appears to be truth and falsehood simultaneously or
alternatively. Casually, two people are attracted to each other. A strong
sentiment of love arises between them. They are surprised at their total
acceptance and their endless capacity to surrender and do sacrifices to honour
this noble sentiment that makes their hearts pulsate in unison. A spark of
doubt arises, it smoulders and creates a thick fog of misunderstanding.
Everything said and done in good faith and love reappears as evidence of
selfishness and conceit. Cherishable memories become loathsome symbols of
treachery and deceit. Thus, love begets hatred. This kind of dual situation is
man thinks that by obtaining riches and amassing wealth he can resolve all
problems. When wealth comes it solves many problems of poverty, but, in turn,
it also brings a thousand and one unanticipated evils. Then the same man wants
to renounce all wealth to get a grain of peace. Thus, any number of examples
characteristic of maya are to be seen in everyday life.
one moment, let us return to the source of our awareness and watch how it expands.
Awareness expands at the recognition of names, forms, meanings of things and
situations, apprehension of fear, doubt, curiosity and hundreds of other
reactions, desires, associated memories, designs of action and the consequent
plunge into an irresistible and compulsive action. The stream of consciousness
and its accompanying behavioural activity are gushing out of a mysterious
like a powerful fountain. We cannot dismiss the whole thing as a fictitious
the previous verse we took notice of the still voice of aum which brings the
mind to its culminating silence. When the process is regressively understood,
the stage before that silence is the effect returning to the seed state of its
cause. The stage before that is the withdrawal of all active forces to the subjective
level of dreaming. Out-and-out manifoldness and the dual interplay of the
subject and the object are only experienced in the transactional world of
wakefulness. If the original cause is true, what comes out of it as effect is
also true. There is only one difference: when one is transmuted into many, it
assumes many kinds of dualities, such as above and below, left and right,
inside and outside, big and small. The proliferation of duality is staggering.
It is hard for a feeble mind to retain its sense of oneness when the manifold
aspects are so intensely or acutely expressive, as pain and pleasure, elation
and depression, or profound and profane. We are subjected to the tyranny of
maya only when the secret link with the unitive principle of the oneness of all
in the only existence of the subsistent value of the Absolute is not cognized
as the abiding factor in all instances of experience. This can be done only by
cultivating a contemplative awareness of the one reality which is the core of
HAVING in the previous verses brought all reality to the
concept of an all-pervading
self-luminous entity, into the vastness of whose glory all sense of individuality or
self-identity is lost, as it were, in a neutral notion of the Absolute, the
Guru here passes on to examine the same in terms of a living purpose, taking a teleological
rather than an ontological perspective.
The ‘atman’ of the Advaita Vedanta has been compared to a
lamp that lights a theatre; while it sheds its light as a witness (‘sakshin’),
the players who represent the living beings or jivas come or go in the world of
phenomena. It is usual to refer the phenomenal world to Maya, as its source.
Maya is only a philosophical term applied to the possibility of all kinds of
errors, actual or conceptual, in the human mind. From simple optical illusions
to the grandest of errors of mistaking the Self for the non-Self or vice-versa,
man lives in error, and within the alternating range of certitude and doubt, he
finds himself alternately in fear or wonder, eternally caught by lack of clear insight, within the
living limits of a smile or a tear. Maya, it is true, is the source of the
world of appearances, but behind and implied in Maya itself is the
deeper-seated seed, which is also the source of the visible universe and which
is independent of even the errors with which Maya is capable of inflicting the
human kind. Maya as used here holds within its scope both its negative and positive
implications before all duality’s taint is abolished.
The ‘potency’ referred to in the first line refers to the ‘sakti’
or power that is said to belong to Maya in Vedantic
literature. This power
should ultimately be traced to the Absolute itself, because without the light that the
no errors would be possible at all. They would not
arise. Although Maya is the
immediate source of error, the final seed of error resides in the heart of the
great neutrality of the Absolute described in the previous verse. Maya as a
concept has validity as long as any vestige of duality in the Absolute persists
due to its dominant negativity, as Hegel would put it.
Maya gives birth to the phenomenal (or the visible), while
the noumenal and neutral Absolute is the source of all, or the ultimate cause.
In itself, the Absolute viewed as Maya is causeless, and remains as an abstract
principle tending to be negative in its import.
Assuming names and forms, Maya has the power of creating a
world of plurality or multiplicity of percept-concept entities with which the
actual world becomes filled at any given waking or dreaming moment. The common
seed of both Maya and ‘jiva’ (a living unit) is to be traced still further
backwards to the Absolute at the negative levels of this notion, whose best
expression, as we have seen in the previous verse, is in a glory, filling all
space. Maya may be said to live and express itself negatively and horizontally,
while the glory of the Absolute may be said to have a vertical range, retaining
still a common point of
contact between the two. The positive and negative aspects of the Absolute,
with a neutral central
aspect best expressed by silence, are all implicit in
Vedantic writings of the different ‘acharyas’ (teachers) of
India by names such as ‘para’ (ultimate), ‘sakshin’ (witness), ‘kutastha’
(positive or well-established), etc., into whose intricacies we shall not, at
present, enter. Neither definitions nor examples can help the seeker here if he
does not also have that imaginative and intuitive gift of vision which Sankara
has called ‘uha apoha’ (an inductive-deductive insight. See our later work).
The second half of the verse refers to what one should do to
advance in self-instruction. The pursuit of contemplation is here recommended,
not as an obligation but as a free choice by a wisdom seeker. The word ‘manana’,
used in the original Malayalam text for ‘contemplation’ here, refers to a discipline
mentioned in the Upanishads and in the Gita which distinguishes between mere
intellectual appreciation of a verity which is called ‘sravana’ (coming from
hearing the words of a Guru), and rumination over the truth as ‘marking’
in the familiar phrase of ‘read, mark and inwardly digest’ found in the context
of Christian liturgy. The same distinction as between mere reading and marking,
which refers to a further intensification of attention, is greater in the third
term ‘nididhyasana’ - going with ‘manana’ and ‘sravana’ in Vedanta - (which
would correspond to the third degree of attention implied in the term ‘inwardly
digest’ of the Christian context). In the Bhagavad Gita this same distinction
is under reference when in chapter XVIII. 55 we read:
‘By devotion he (the aspirant) knows me, to what
extent and which I am; and
thereafter, having known me, philosophically, he enters into me.’
The knowing process, in the intellectual, academic or
philosophical sense, has
only a weak degree of attention or faith involved in it. This has to be made more
complete or perfect
by the act of entering into the Absolute itself as meant in the philosophy of
Bergson. The Absolute is within the consciousness of man and conversely man lives
consciousness of the Absolute, The third degree of contemplation in the series
of ‘sravana’ (hearing) and ‘manana’ (mental identification of what one has
heard, or knowing it by heart as schoolboys say) is ‘nididhyasana’ (knowing the
Absolute as if from inside it or as the Absolute within you). In the present
verse this last stage of self-realization is not yet under reference, but we
have to know the whole context if we are to have a precise notion here of what
is implied by ‘manana’ which we have rendered in English, as the pursuit of ‘contemplation’.
The result of such active contemplation would be to cut at
the root or the source of
error, where it branches out horizontally into the visible world of names and
forms, without denying the real seed which is lodged in the heart of the
neutral glory of the Absolute itself.
commentary includes a fresh (and vegetarian) take on the square circle:
is not analysis, however effective the latter is in solving our engineering or
other physical puzzles. We might
reason our way to a moon landing or the latest computer application, but the
rational method fails magnificently when we apply it to knowing who we are, why
we are here—our nature and purpose. In this verse, the Guru presents a route
for the latter quest, one that directs inward our attention and whole Self
rather than outward. In that reversing
of direction is the shifting from analysis to self-aware meditation, a project,
Nitya says in his commentary, that “must become the main current of life” as we
cycle daily through the awake, dream, and deep dream states (p. 363).
his claim that the route to enlightenment follows the highway of meditation,
Nitya is in common cause with the mystic traditions generally and the core of
the religious ones. But for the
sake of our rational understanding he walks us through what is obvious for
those awake and so difficult to perceive for those of us caught in the thick of
opens his commentary with a discussion of our daily and very real condition, a
situation captured in the term Maya. It
defines our position in wakeful
experience, the defining character of which is its “enigmatic pull toward two
opposites.” To illustrate the
point, Nitya uses the example of the common romance that begins with youthful
bliss and then turns negative as each party comes to see those details about
the other that had formerly passed undetected. Originally attracted to the One, each party is eventually
surprised by its inevitable details that make it manifest in the world of the
many. Surprised, that is, by that
which comprises manifest reality—the physical details that come together to
make up the whole—each partner forgets the Absolute transcendent force
attraction that compelled the process in the first place, having replaced the
vague perception of that rationally unknowable state with the physical one for
which the details constitute the whole.
In the minutia are the
surprises. As Nitya points out, if
you are in a continuous conundrum in which any choice you make represents an
opportunity missed, you are squarely in the realm of Maya. One could say that
this dance of Maya
is the stuff of every situation we face whenever we make any decision. We can
choose only one course at a
time, but by so doing we deny others, the consequences of which offer advantages
not contained in the chosen course.
Any choice, in other words, represents the wrong one if we dwell on the
missed opportunities in not taking it.
Regret and/or paralysis or any number or any number of psychological
maladies can easily come to dominate one’s conscious/dream states as a
result. Our lives, writes Nitya,
can be a continuous series of “crossroad” events in which” turning one way is
wrong and turning the other way is also wrong” (p. 359).
Maya is the natural condition of
the world of necessity, constantly arising and receding out of the
transcendent. As such, Maya is
very real to our awake state and is the space where our consciousness comes to
participate in its tangible form.
As Nitya writes concerning the particular, in our awake state we must
deal with those to whom we owe money, but in our dream state we need not, and
in our deep dreamless state, debtors—indeed all manifestation—merges into the
Absolute for which the many cease existence.
Sensing the Absolute in the
immanent in which we spend a good deal of our physical lives and return to
periodically, we enter and exit Maya.
In so doing, we are constantly blind-sided by the many details that the
Absolute proliferates into when it presents itself to our senses. Those contradictions
and ironies pile
up all around us as the intellect-ego takes over the job of dealing with them,
a task the mind is not well equipped to perform. Having lost direct contact with that which is, the mind goes
boundaries and frantically attempts to reason through that which—unlike the issues
attended to in physics and engineering, for example—transcends reason. Maya
is what it is, and our
intellectual demands that it be otherwise deny reality altogether. It’s
as if we were to require the
planets orbiting the sun to become cubes of asparagus-like tofu.
The fault in all this, says Nitya,
lies in our own point of view—not in the stars. Our conscious world is very much with us and demands our
attention. We ignore it at our own
peril. By the same token, its dual
nature is also real and defines itself in the manifold dimensions in which it
fractures the transcendent. It is
in our capacity to hold both of these perspectives at the same time that, says
Nitya, we are in a position not to be continuously surprised, bouncing from one
misery to the next. Maintaining
this contemplative attitude “must become the main current of life” (p. 363) in
order for us to hold this “dialectical method of looking,” of “critically
seeing a thing with a unitive understanding, the one and the many at the same
time” (p. 362).
This process Nitya is describing
cannot be approached by way of the intellect but requires a meditative posture
in which we live life as a whole rather than attempt to reason through its
fragments as we encounter them.
The pieces are always of a larger picture; circumstances surround and
precede all events. And those
events, in turn arise out of a state for which the mind has no
explanation. On the other hand are
the practical choices one must always make in a world or ever-present arising where
the material demands have very real consequences. This giant contradiction, the very fabric of maya, operates
beyond our feeble attempts to control it, and in this verse and its commentary,
the Guru and Nitya counsel us to avoid that fundamental error by asking us to
deal with Maya as it is and on its own terms. To do otherwise, to follow the demands of our ego-self, is
to guarantee more of the same—a condition Einstein once noted as the very
definition of insanity.