not think of the absolute truth overpowered by the sense of “mine”;
knowledge comes from merely saying “do not”?
will not come by mouthing a phrase;
absolute state is attained through relentless contemplation.
not despair that you cannot own the Absolute as your private experience. What
knowledge can come by mere negation? Nothing. Nor does knowledge come by merely
repeating the word “Absolute.” It comes only by continuous contemplation.
Mere orthodoxy, which keeps saying that one should not adopt
As one’s own a doctrine belonging to another side, how can it
True knowledge bring? Lip service does not avail –
One has earnestly to contemplate the state supreme.
problem with the perfect verse commentaries—this is certainly one—is not in
struggling to add something to them, but in being very careful not to take
anything away. By rights I should just reprint the original and take the day
off. Yet I am bound to make the attempt.
you ever want to know why the Gurukula philosophy will never be popular, this
is a good verse to read. Everyone’s beliefs and religious affiliations are
exposed as pale imitations of truth, or worse. Anyone who has an egotistical
attachment to a position—and that’s pretty much everybody—is going to be
offended, unless they have decided in advance that paring away their ignorance
is worth the effort involved. In a sane world such paring would be the central
rite of passage to adulthood, but we humans have by and large lost touch with
our sanity, and instead it’s all about whose attachments will prevail. With
Narayana Guru we can wonder aloud if anyone is going to take the trouble to
relinquish their attachments and reclaim their sanity.
Even the best of
teachers has better days, when they are really “hot,” as Nitya was with this
one. During the Atmo classes Nitya was normally at his best in a very quiet
way. If we weren’t near the front we had to strain mightily to hear him. In the
early morning sessions with his audience still half asleep, he ably
demonstrated how gentleness and quiet can be far more intense than loud and
declamatory. I well recall a couple of mind-blowing ideas I met that day for
the first time, like Nitya’s criticism of scripture: “The more suffering encountered on the path, the more
likely the book will be a classic.” Well of course! Many of us in those
turbulent and acid-inspired times were thinking in just such terms. We were
expecting the big blast, the transforming whirlwind, that all our efforts were
going to culminate in a volcanic eruption that would catapult us into a higher
state of being. Even explicit denials failed to deter us, as when Nitya said:
salvation, or the highest truth, or realization of the Self or the Absolute, or
God-realization, something you get by piling effort on top of effort? No. By
working very hard you can make money and riches, get a house, an automobile, a
position in society, and many academic degrees and other honors, but that kind
of amassing of your labor will not bring any realization. All those efforts are
only egotistic trips; they only serve to harden the ego when treated as steps
to salvation. That very ego will shield the truth you want to see away from
course, we took note, of a sort. I remember thinking, “Okay then, I will try
not to try. That must be the secret.” As I was musing on that, Nitya was
anticipating my logical reaction:
when somebody tells you, as I just have, not to indulge in all these various
trips, that they won’t bring realization, you might adopt a negative attitude.
You might think, “OK, then I won’t do anything. Let realization come whenever
it comes. I will just allow things to be.” If you take such an attitude, will
it bring realization? No, it won’t work either. If you leave yourself to the
mercy of natural events, your mind will be like a monkey, running from one
fantasy to another, one mood to another, one depression to another. There are
so many incipient memories in you wanting to find expression through the
gratification of desires that urge after urge will come, and you will run after
them. This will only take you to greater madness and greater darkness.
Happily, Nitya didn’t just leave us stranded in darkness. He gave several superlative
examples to help us reorient our thinking. It took a long time for them to sink
in, but they began to eventually. This is not due to any weakness in the
teaching, but the stiffness of the blockages we carry. It takes time for nectar
to percolate through concrete, and it never does if you tilt your block and let
it run off. That’s why we have yet another exhortation in this verse to stick
with it. And yet, sticking with it even sounds too dualistic. We are it. We stick
to it even when we
don’t remember anything about it. We are the light. When we pull off our veils,
it shines brightly; at other times, less brightly. Fortunately it is not
dependent on our conscious recognition of it. Here’s how Nitya describes it in
We have discarded all the egotistic trips. We have seen that mere negativity
won’t help, and that there is no use in just mouthing phrases. What, then, is
the way out? You should go back to the very first verse in the book, in which
it is said, “Turn your senses inward; calm down. Calm your mind. Just watch
what is going on. You see a world outside and a world inside. You can discern
one thing from that: a knower is knowing. There is a field which is known, and
there is a light which is illuminating that field. Behind your seeing, there is
that light. Behind your hearing, there is that light. Behind every thought it
is there. Every passing idea is illuminated by it.” What is that nucleus of
illumination which is in every experience? Invariably it is the self-luminous
light which is experienced as the seer. It has no break. It is continuous. It
takes no effort at all to know it.
wasn’t peddling formulas. As Deb aptly put it, “No prescription teaches us how
to be alive.” Prescriptions are deadening. Yet on account of our schooling
that’s what we’re all looking for. Who will give me the proper prescription?
What’s the right answer? Aren’t good grades the ticket to the next level? Where
is the squirrel cage I’m supposed to run in? All those beliefs create a gulf
between who we are and who we think we should be, which lays the groundwork for
unhappiness. As Nataraja Guru puts it in his commentary, we wind up either
accepting or rejecting the status quo, and “There is a subtle spiritual suffering implicit in
either case.” We have come to base our life on the false values of society
instead of our own light.
about this prescription: the point of life is to get as close as you can to
expressing the inexpressible? Just a thought.
told us about how he meditates on his breathing, how it can easily become
mechanical, but if he pays close attention each breath is an artistic event. I
think many “spiritual” practices are designed to be repetitive and produce a
hypnotic state rather than revealing the wonders of creation. They actually
take us away from creative involvement, though I should admit that even
hypnotic states can be moderately amusing. Many people swear by them, in
various forms. I remember as a beginner I signed up for the Self-Realization
Fellowship exercises of Paramahansa Yogananda. He claimed that performing
pranayama one million times brought enlightenment. Unfortunately (or not) I got
bored before I even got to 10,000, so I dropped out. But I did notice that
after enough repetitions I got into a tranquil state that lasted for a while.
Kind of pleasant, but the promise of a future payoff wasn’t exciting enough to
keep me interested. I wanted something that would also satisfy my intellect
too. Fortunately, I did.
class examined the idea of “relentless contemplation” for quite awhile.
Relentless has a somewhat negative sense in English, implying that perhaps we
should relent but we aren’t going to because of a pre-established intention. I
think Americans are relentlessly anti-effort in respect to spirituality, and
that’s the real reason for the anxiety this idea perennially generates. All
around us we see serious efforts to support egregious crimes and heartless
policies, and conclude that intentional efforts are necessarily misdirected.
It’s too bad, because we very much need well-directed efforts to make the most
of our predicament. Occasional sorties don’t have any effect, except to
possibly convince us that our efforts don’t work. Brain science agrees with the
gurus: rewiring our circuitry takes lots of time and focused effort.
any case, the more usual phrase employed is simply “continuous contemplation,”
as Bill reminded us. Nitya uses this again in the free translation, and
Nataraja Guru renders the Malayalam original this way: “One has earnestly to contemplate the state supreme.”
If being earnest still makes you nervous, Nataraja Guru says this in his very
worthwhile comments, referring to the ordinary tendencies to either accept or
reject premises that we are trying to go beyond, which he addresses as
orthodoxy and heterodoxy:
The cure for both these
tendencies or ‘doxies’ is the calm contemplation of the absolutist or finalized
in what is referred to here as the supreme state.
So we’re back to calm, and
you can relax. Nitya has been trying to quiet our horses all along, going
beyond calm to most gentle:
Guru is here suggesting to us the most gentle pressure in the search. At the
same time it is not lukewarm. It is an urjita,
an out-and-out search, but that search is not directed to just one isolated
area. Life itself is the search. It goes on until we come to what is called paramapadam,
an absolute state.
(Though it is not recognized
in any of my dictionaries, it seems readily apparent that the English word urge
comes from the Sanskrit urjita used here, meaning powerful,
mighty, excellent, great, important. Nothing negative about that!)
is the search.” Such a simple statement, and so radical. We have all been
convinced at some fundamental level that we are not okay, that something else
is what matters, where the action is. Will anyone dare to reenter their own
dharma with full acceptance of its supreme value, instead of timidly imagining
themselves to be imposters in somebody else's game? Narayana Guru laments that
we have cast off our life and don’t dare to pick it up again. Later Nitya
repeats this core idea for emphasis: “You need to be a participant in all this.
Live your natural life. But in and through this life, see the light which you
are.” Stop looking for the once-in-a-lifetime “big bang” and learn to
appreciate every moment. No more deferred gratification. That’s what being here
now really means, too. Not that if you are totally here some supernatural blast
will happen. No. The present moment is magical already. It’s all magical. What
you see here is the magic. Get into it. I’m sorry to keep quoting Nitya, but
since he said everything perfectly, why not? This is key: “You no longer try to
arrive at an event called realization. You are not looking for one single
experience of an overwhelming nature. In one sense you should always be
overwhelmed, because there cannot be anything more overwhelming than this.”
tried to speak about this idea, but she was overwhelmed and wound up
speechless. The intensity of her feelings came through, despite her words
failing. She has been reorienting her life very gradually in the direction
pointed to by the Guru, and has been doing it long enough that she is beginning
to really experience the difference. As a tender-hearted person it has touched
her deeply, and she has resolved (and begun) to express herself in a more
authentic fashion both verbally and artistically. It is overwhelming, in the
best possible way.
Another memory I had
from the original class was that I’m pretty sure this was where Nitya came up
with the idea which he used often afterwards, that we were driving our psychic
cars while pressing on both the accelerator and the brake at the same time. I
recall when he said it he stopped and chuckled, as though it had just popped
into his head. Here’s how it came out:
the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, “By just controlling from outside, inhibiting
everything, you only make yourself a hypocrite.” It’s like putting on the brake
and pressing the accelerator at the same time. First bring down the inner
pressure. Then the outer will naturally come to a close.
did not drive a car, so he found car analogies particularly amusing, as well as
appropriate to our rampant car culture. When you drive using both pedals the car
lurches and screeches, which I’m sure reminded him of the whining and
complaining he often heard in his private conversations with stressed out
talked a little in class about how we inhibit ourselves in this way, but
hopefully we can do more in the upcoming classes. It’s very important stuff,
especially since it’s normally invisible to us. We are so accustomed to reining
ourselves in that we take for granted that that’s how we should be. We have no
idea how to drive using only the accelerator. Inhibiting ourselves while
professing an uninhibited nature is the hypocrisy under reference.
concluded his sublime talk with an evocation of absolute wisdom, reminiscent of
the “aesthetic arrest” of James Joyce, in which “the mind is arrested and raised
above desire and loathing”:
state of being the Absolute is continuous and simple. It’s not a static
experience or event. When you think of it, don’t think of it as a great mass
with the whole world inside it. A little baby smiling is a simple thing, but
within that simplicity there is no shade of pretension. It doesn’t smile to
please anyone. It just smiles. A little flower tosses its head in the breeze—that’s
an absolute event. It is not a copy of a flower or an idea of a flower, it is
an absolute flower. It shines of itself. So when you think Absolute, don’t
think it should fill the whole universe. There is a timelessness in it and an
irrelevancy of the space occupied. It just is.
This is understood by the Japanese
poets when they write haiku. The quality of the haiku is the element of the
Absolute in it which comes as just a little shimmering—of its beauty, of its
plainness—in your heart. That’s it. You don’t have to explain it to anyone. You
should never read haiku to someone and then give a commentary on it. That’s the
worst thing you could do with it. Instead, silently read it and close the book.
Then just feel the serenity that pacifies you and makes you forget the world
for a little while, even if only for a fraction of a moment. A fluttering leaf
comes down and you gaze at it. Until it hits the ground you forget everything.
It’s an Absolute experience. You don’t have to be ponderously meditating, “Who
am I? Who is seeing this leaf which is fluttering in the autumn wind?” You
falsify the whole situation by thinking that way.
led naturally to our closing meditation on the poem Green Emblem, by Deborah Buchanan:
wavering in air
to fall and mix
as earth calls
as branch holds
against the pull
the gravity of desire
Neither This Nor That But . . . Aum:
want to achieve God-realization or salvation in this very life. What should I
do for that? Mortification of the body is an excellent means. Like the wayside
Indian yogi sitting on a seat of nails to meditate or like a Carmelite friar
wearing a coarse robe, you can fast and pray and subject yourself to flogging.
Have it the hard way, as they say. Another way is to beat a drum and cymbals
with hysterical devotion. Sing loud and dance or walk in procession shouting
the name of God. There is still another way, learn to contort your body and sit
in 108 postures every day, breathing in grunts, hisses or hiccups. If you are called
by God, you can distribute tracts and call on your neighbours to embarrass them
or choke them with your insistence on quoting from scriptures. Lead an army of
faithfuls shouting “Jihad” and kill those who refuse to accept your faith. If
that sounds too heavy, go from one sacred place to another and expiate your
sins by offering worship in every temple of God.
these egotistic trips to obtain truth only harden the ego, and truth will only
recede like a will-o’-the-wisp. The supreme truth of the Absolute is not a
thing or an entity which one can acquire by mere effort, as with riches or a
position of power. It is not something that comes by piling hours upon hours of
then, let us give up and wait for salvation to come as and when it pleases.
Will this attitude help? No, it will not. Left to itself, the mind will only go
from one fantasy to another, hungering for gratification of desires. Mere negativity
will not take anyone anywhere.
about reading the wisdom books of all the realized souls or repeating religious
maxims and formulae? One can become very scholarly by reading books. It may
help you become a pedagogue or help you to impress others, but it will not
assure your emancipation.
is left to be done now? Adopt the attitude given in the very first verse of
instruction in this series. Dim the light of the ego. Calm the mind by turning
the senses inward, and discern the seeing light from the seen. Notice with
reverence the same self-luminous light that shines as the nucleus of all
sights, all sounds and all experiences. Know this intimate inner truth to be
the same as that which is sought after and searched for as if it were a far-off
reality. Know also that it is the same light that appears as the entire world.
In the peace of your heart discard and recognize, constantly and without break,
until the all-embracing Absolute alone shines in and through and over and above
Guru’s commentary is particularly excellent here:
WHEN a man adopts a religious or spiritual life consisting of
articles of faith or patterns of behaviour, he can take one of two alternative
courses: that of the orthodox who tend to exaggerate the value of what is
already their own by previous conditioning or adoption; or else he could err on
the side of heterodoxy by saying that beliefs or modes of life outside of what
one has been conditioned or brought up to adopt for oneself are better than
what are already one’s own.
The general law that underlies the bipolar situation in which
each man may be caught is enunciated in verse 60. The two aspects, referring to
the self or the non-self, cling together and fuse into each other as a central
or neutral verity in any case. They form a value that is dear to the person
concerned, and as long as they are true from normative standards of spiritual
life they must all be considered equally good. In other words, as the next
(63rd) verse is going to enunciate more pointedly, the true dialectics as
between heterodoxy and orthodoxy is the rule of the golden mean of Aristotle.
The present verse speaks from the side of the conservative self or of
hide-bound orthodoxy; while the next will be seen to give primacy to heterodoxy
– and from both the sides it insists on the need for earnest research for the
correct middle path.
The conversion that takes place in certain people at certain
times – by which they disadopt gradually or suddenly
what was their own, or go
with particular insistence in the opposite direction, i.e., of vehemently adopting what
not their own –
is a familiar event in the world of religious life. There is a subtle spiritual
suffering implicit in either case.
In the present verse the Guru refers to the orthodox tendency
to disadopt what is not already accepted. Mere conservatism of this type is as
bad as its counterpart of heterodoxy.
The cure for both these tendencies or ‘doxies’ is the calm
contemplation of the absolutist or finalized standpoint
implied in what is referred
to here as the supreme state. What are understood as particular ‘isms’ or
creeds refer to partial aspects only of the absolute all-comprehensive Truth
that covers existence, subsistence and values at once. The
‘supreme state’ mentioned in
this verse is thus a neutral and normative standpoint with respect to the Absolute.
Most people who call themselves religious are only interested
in the outer forms of religious life. The doctrines
and patterns of behaviour
implied refer only to the world of outer values in some social or group life. These tend
to fan rivalries
and exclusive attitudes of mind. One has to seek for
deeper religious values
which belong to the spirit and not to the dead letter. The ‘Lord-lordism’ against which
Jesus himself complained belongs to this world of superficial or conventional
reactions of lip-service to spirituality. The munafiqun of Islam and the Pharisees
of the Bible are not truly spiritual. The Guru here points out that spiritual
progress in the direction of absolute wisdom cannot come by mere repetitions of
formulae, however correct they may be intellectually or valid by their meaning.
There must be a religion of the heart that goes with it, and such a
spirituality or contemplation has to be cultivated, not by allowing oneself to
be swayed by the sentiments of the people at its dull superficial level, but
more deliberately with reference to the finalized wisdom of the Absolute.
Verse 62 and Nitya’s commentary on it lies a clear explanation of the
cultural-political warfare that has engulfed America for the last 60
years. The larger point of this
verse/commentary is that this conflict is an old debate of universal
character. The names attached to
the players over the centuries and around the globe have come and gone—and will
continue to do so as long as Truth remains out of awareness. The current liberal/conservative
in an American culture unable to deal with itself is but the most recent
incarnation of an ancient human conflict that can be transcended but never won.
his opening paragraphs, Nitya comments on the all too human search to find
meaning and how it more often than not gets crafted into a story involving
great struggle in overcoming obstacles.
In general, he notes, the more spectacular the battles the more
attractive is the narrative.
Christ’s life, Buddha’s life, the story of St. John of the Cross, the
mortification of Yogis, Pilgrim’s
Progress, and so on, all present stories containing anxiety-producing
events that act to elevate the suffering and the miraculous character of them
while at the same time reducing the contemplative and ontological
dimensions. A crucifixion is
drama; a man contemplating in a garden is not.
spectacular elements, the painful disciplines, writes Nitya, are “all beside
the point” (p. 422). These mighty
efforts to attain a “god-realization” (or realization per se) as an obtainable
goal to be secured once and for all feeds an internal frenzy to get the job
done, to find truth by battling for it, and then enforcing it once it is at
hand. Our common experience in the
world of necessity validates this model because it works in the getting of
possessions, status, degrees, admiration, etc. Hard work and diligence directed at a specific goal very
often results in the attaining of it.
As our Wall Street investment gurus never tire of telling us, “no one
plans to fail, they just fail to plan.”
These kinds of successes, Nitya goes on to say, “only serve to harden
the ego when treated as steps to salvation” (p. 423).
is at this point that the material-atheist of the political Left breaks ranks
with those determined to find realization of the Absolute in the immanent by
way of the mind’s direct effort (the religionists’ grail). Several
pathways offer alternatives at
this point, three of which are the following: do nothing, devote one’s energies
to the study of great thinkers/seers, or simply declaring yourself the Absolute
and be done with the matter. In
these three routes can be found the way of the noble nihilist (in the Hemingway
tradition), those dedicated to the elevating of the scientist/medicalist to a
sacred caste (including the scienticians of the social sciences), and the game
of the outright charlatan/hypocrite peddling all manner of
self-improvement/”mastering” snake oils in a bewildering array of products and
stoic nihilist, at the mercy of natural events, has only his mind as a compass,
and it “will be like a monkey, running from one fantasy to another, one mood to
another, one depression to another” (p. 423). By the same token, writes Nitya, narrowing the quest to
study only may afford you the luxury of a large vocabulary, and “if you become
a great scholar someone may honor you, but that is not realization” (p.
424). And declaring your self to
be Brahman (or god), “you are Brahman only in your own fantasy.”
In this broad squabble among the
egoic efforts to explain the world, both of the major currents, the atheists on
the one hand and the religionists on the other, share a common bond in seeking
an answer outside the Self, in the external world. A belief system, great guru, world-renowned expert, the
universe generally, or an inflated ego per se all share a profound ignorance of
that which is. Firmly established on
the sand of that
which is not, the search for what
cannot be there gets continuous technological make-overs that create the
illusion that the same old battles are fresh and new. In short, the American
experience, in this regard, is novel only for those unacquainted with human
history and human nature.
And it is in the common human
reality that the key can be found for transcending the whole circus, writes
Nitya. “You should go back to the
very first verse in the book, in which it is said, ‘turn your senses inward;
calm down, calm your mind’. . . . you can discern one thing from that: a knower
is knowing. There is a field which
is known and there is a light which is illuminating that field” (p. 424). Our
self-luminous, constant, light that
is so close we do not recognize its presence illuminates all our sense input
and thoughts. This knowledge is
not attainable by pursuing it or by attempting to quantify it. It is that eternal
precedes any of our experiences in each moment. That awareness of who you are is not, then a quest for some
rarified elevated state but is that which functions continuously in natural
While maintaining this position,
councils Nitya, “you should remember two things” (p. 426). All forms
hide their Absolute reality
and whenever we partition “my experience” as exclusively your own, you create
artificial conceptual boundaries between yourself and others. “Knowing”
these two things as you move
through the world offers the possibility of transforming yourself from a
doctrinaire partisan attempting to argue and win into a a living exemplar of
one who “knows and lets know,” one who lives truth beyond words. As
the Friar Thomas A`Kempis noted in
the 15th century,
A pure, simple, and stable spirit
not distracted, though it be
in many works: for that it doeth
to the honour of God, and being at
rest within, seeketh not itself in
He to whom all things are one,
he who reduceth all things to one,
seeith all things in one; may
a quiet mind, and remain at peace
God. (Imitation of Christ,
Book I, Ch. 3)