I-consciousness enters both knowledge and the body;
one occasion the understanding is true, on another untrue;
one who can discern should understand.
Like the presentiment of a snake evoked by a rope, the
reality of the ego sense shifts from the body to the Self and back again. On
one occasion it is experienced as profound, and when it alternates it is felt
as profane. Only one who can discern this knows the Truth.
As the ego sense enters into the double snake-rope-like
Now as knowledge and now as the limited body agent,
It becomes sacred at one time or profane again
Thus, should he understand, the intuitive man.
last session before a vacation period was once again held outside in the balmy
evening air, a rare opportunity. It is a good verse to wrap up with, as it
directly addresses some very common misunderstandings, which bedevilments have
spoiled millions of lives over thousands of years by convincing sincere seekers
of truth that they should reject the very paradise they dwell in.
we are convinced that where we live is not a divine state, anything goes:
cruelty, selfishness, violence, insanity; you name it. We are led to believe
the reckoning may or may not come later, but for now we can get away with
anything. Mainly we are convinced that, rather than being God’s greatest
achievement, we live in a purgatory we need to find a means to escape from. Any
way at all.
Guru’s politico-social success in transforming South India was grounded in the
awareness that this is it, there is no other world. Earth Day and the
environmental movement were born of a similar realization that sprang from
psychedelically-inspired insights about the preciousness of the world we live
in. Here in Atmopadesa Satakam, the wasteland of our psyche is being
painstakingly reconstructed into a Garden of Eden by reconnecting it back with
its ineffable surroundings.
having understood this intellectually, the schism between nature and spirit is
so thoroughly instilled in the culture that most of us have to struggle
valiantly to overcome it. The excellence of Atmo is in leading us to seriously
address the subterranean aspects that continue to subvert our noble efforts, so
that we can begin to heal for real.
mused that simply sitting outside together we were in the perfect middle point.
The scene was beautiful yet distracting, filled with ambient sounds and sights,
yet even as we acknowledge the distractions we are dedicated to remaining in
communion with the inner light. Her thoughts reflected the imagery of the verse
that Nitya presents as a linear diagram in which our ego is connected by mind
to the body and by intellect to the Absolute. In our minds I suggested we could
make the diagram three-dimensional, with the Absolute represented as a
dimensionless point, pulsing sequentially outward into the intellect, ego, mind
and body, and then ricocheting back into the central point. We imagine it
happening slowly, but in reality the pulsation is so fast as to be
unnoticeable. Or better: it is one thing that is being viewed as a sequence.
The viewing moves, but the subject does not. Our minds evolved to divide and
analyze everything. What we have yet to learn is an integrated vision that puts
it all back together. Deb agreed, describing reality more as a self-evident
intuition that needs no intellectual evaluation.
accords the intellect the highest value in the machinery of the psyche, as the
aspect that connects our sense of ‘I’ with the Absolute. An important corollary
is that if we denigrate the intellect, we are severing our avenue of contact
with the Absolute.
enter a period in the study where the intensity is being ramped up, with the
intention of bringing about a breakthrough. Nitya sets the stage by delineating
the dichotomy we face:
is a very crucial verse. It very correctly presents the kind of life most of us
In our life there is an ambivalent
pull. At one moment we conform to the requirements of this world, identifying
ourselves with our bodies, our bodily needs, and the world of necessity. In
this world we also look for pleasure, and get more or less satisfaction. Then a
shift comes and we swing to the other side. We start questioning the validity
of whatever we were just conforming to. The body seems to be unreal, and our
identity with it is now shifted to an identity with the Unknown, the Absolute,
the Ground, the Incomprehensible. If we look at what we have been doing with our
mind, it appears absolutely meaningless, a sheer waste of time. Then the only
meaningful value seems to be to turn to that unknown, secret beginning and try
to understand it more. But you don’t remain there long; you come back to the
world of ordinary events and again join the fray.
If we accept this as the common
lot, then all are schizophrenics. There is not one person who is not split in
this fashion. Schizophrenia is natural to all people.
psychologist R.D. Laing maintained that schizophrenia is the way the psyche
heals itself: that it is crucial to our recovery. What I think he meant was
that we have become “well adjusted” (as Jake put it) to our confinement in
ordinary transactional reality, what is called in this verse the side of the
body, or elsewhere the materialist perspective. We function adequately within
the severely limited parameters of definable actuality, but we long for the
freedom of the more than 99 percent of the universe that beckons from outside
those parameters. A schizophrenic is attuned to the whole as well as the part,
and creative genius springs from a natural integration of the two aspects.
Mental distress, often manifesting as insanity, occurs when the whole cannot be
squeezed back into the confines of the part.
a common feature of a psychedelic trip to pass through dimension after
dimension in the blink of an eye, and become anxious about how to ever get back
to “normal reality.” It can’t be accomplished by the conscious mind, but
naturally happens to a well-adjusted psyche as the medicine wears off. It makes
you supremely grateful that somehow our brains are capable of modeling such a
welter of input in a comprehensible form so that we can easily cope with it.
Our whole brain is not only a reducing valve, it is a highly intelligent reducing
only what is most essential for our well being. If we always had to process
everything anew, we would be so inundated that we couldn’t function.
very much admired the scientific attitude that is firmly grounded in
materialism, while knowing full well there is more to the story, and he gives
it a fair airing in his comments. All three gurus of his lineage strove to
unite the dual aspects of our consciousness. Because virtually every seeker of
truth disdains the material aspect, Nitya made its importance eminently clear
once again here:
attitude swings like the proverbial pendulum. For half the time you are with
what is called aryya. I equate that
with what the Isavasya Upanishad calls vidya.
It is the side of the Self. Is Narayana Guru asking us to be only on this side,
and to avoid the side of the body or anaryya?
No, not at all. It is here that his revaluation comes as a corrected form of
Vedanta. Everyone else, except the ancient rishis, say to leave the body, leave
the state of avidya.
But the Guru tells us we should know
this is the way the whole thing operates. When the body functions have
priority, we should see that as how nature operates. When the spiritual insight
predominates, we should see that is how the supreme ground of everything lends
its light, power, energy, sense of wonder, and truthfulness to infuse
everything. These come again and again as a kind of pulsation. Like the
alternation of light and dark, vidya and avidya always operate, but one who
knows the secret of both rises above them. One who holds a central position,
watching with an evenness of mind, can accept both.
and others asked for clarification about vidya and avidya. We often translate
them as science and nescience, or more prosaically, knowledge and ignorance.
Since knowledge and ignorance have become clichés, the former version is
preferable in a philosophic investigation. Knowledge as used here is the
greater knowledge, but the word is often used to indicate simply the
identification of separate items, and then it is contrasted with wisdom. So the
dual implications of the word ‘knowledge’ can be confusing. Brahma vidya
is the science of the
Absolute, or knowledge directed to understanding the whole.
the opposite of vidya, means taking everything in isolation, which is sometimes
necessary, but it often leads to misunderstanding, as in the classic analogy of
the snake seen in the rope employed by Narayana Guru here. He also takes us
farther than usual with the image: now it is a snake-rope form. A materialist
insists that there is only a rope, but that’s not quite true. Our perception of
it is also important, even though it is only more or less accurate. A rope is
inert and boring, though it might prove useful in certain cases. A snake is
very exciting, even if only a projection. It’s actually the snakeness of the
rope that gives that ordinary strand of twisted hemp fibers eternal life, at
least in Vedanta.
sounds like I’m making a joke, but it’s also an important idea. Life devoid of
our interpretation is as dead as a rope moldering on the ground. What we see in
it brings it to life. This is precisely where materialism fails: in working to
take the meaning out of life, it leaves us feeling empty and depressed. Perhaps
we can say that the gurus are giving us a new snake, a new way to relate to the
ropeness of material reality, one that doesn’t need gods and goddesses, but
that sees a more scientific form of divinity in every speck of dust. We don’t
have to worship an ancient analogue, though that’s okay for some. But why not
directly worship our friends, the animals and plants, the weather, the symmetry
of manifestation, the preservation and restoration of the natural world? So
many possibilities, right here in front of our noses. Displacing divinity far
outside ourselves is where we lose the thread.
question still floated on the evening air: isn’t the pure Absolute better than
this world? By no means. “Earth’s the right place for love. I don’t know where
it’s likely to go better.” (Robert Frost, Birches.)
it goes very deep in us. The remoteness of divinity is our baseline assumption.
An analogy I have used before is if we go to a music concert, should we sit
there and try to shut out the music, presuming there is something else that’s
better? No, of course not. The music is the absolute event of that moment. We
are there to absorb and be uplifted and enlightened and delighted: to have a
meaningful experience. It would be absurd to tune it out. And yet that’s how we
relate to the ongoing symphony of values of the universe: tune it out so we can
discover something better. Hey, this is
the something better! It’s already here. Just get into it!
sure, we tune out the bird sounds to concentrate on the sharing of ideas in the
class, but not because they are bad. We’re just attending to something else at
put it very nicely: once you gain equilibrium you can accept things for what
they are and enjoy what the world offers.
in to this perspective requires a transparency of vision, a neutrality in
respect to events that is not at all easy to accomplish. The class mulled over
how we are easily hurt by people’s negative opinions of us and lose our
balance. This very week I advised three or four people how critical this was.
They were confronting close friends and family members who were battling demons
of their past and lashing out in the present. It was fairly easy to see that
the attacks were not really about them, but still the words hurt very much.
They have the power to sever longstanding relationships. We have to let the
pain go through us and not hold onto it, and then we can regain our neutral
state. Only from a position of neutrality can we act wisely and possibly be of
help. Nitya’s advice on this is beautifully put, though from a slightly
should take this as an invitation to intuitively keep yourself at a neutral
zero in orientation. You are not asked to run away from home or commitments.
You have a body, and until it drops away everything pertaining to it is
relevant. The complaint here is about the lopsidedness that comes when you
exaggerate the value of one side and become blind to the other, as is often the
case. You should never be blind. When your bodily needs are to be met you
should still be aware of your spiritual side. And when you are experiencing
spiritual ecstasy or joy, don’t forget you have a body and that many important
laws pertain to it.
To have this fully balanced state is
true wisdom. In this you do not give an exaggerated importance to your bodily
comforts or your bodily pains. You don’t exaggerate spiritual gains, nor do you
negatively condemn the spirit as nonfactual or dreamy. This brings great peace
to your mind. It is a peace that makes you efficient on both sides.
We can be effective only as long as we aren’t busy defending
our position. We have to give up having a defensible position at all. Why do we
need it? It was built long ago, to protect us from pains we felt then. Our maturation
process has lifted us out of the need to defend ourself, but the ramparts are
still in place. An ancient, crumbling fortress. Unnecessary. Nitya wants us to
also wondered if we were supposed to find a single ideal place and stay there,
which is another popular fantasy. Nancy answered well, that things are always
in motion, and that we bring our state of harmony along everywhere we go. We
recalled some of Nitya’s instruction about the figure of eight movement of the
psyche, and I promised to add some of it in Part III. One thing I wrote in my
Gita XIV commentary seems especially germane:
It really does help to know that
the psyche is not static, it cycles through a figure eight pattern between high
and low, sattva and tamas, powered throughout by rajasic energy. Many people
become depressed when tamas holds sway. If they realized that this is not a
permanent condition but part of a continuum, they would be less inclined to
panic. The negative mental states associated with tamas can be easily enlarged,
causing the psyche to spend most of its time in that state. We are also capable
of minimizing them if we so choose. The “immortality” spoken of here is that
tremendous feeling of relief when all sufferings are at bay and our native
bliss surges to the fore. If we can manage to avoid getting caught up in the
ups and downs of daily life, it is much easier to remain in that enjoyable
mentioned how as we cycle through our experiences, many themes are repeated,
and these are areas we should pay close attention to. As you recognize them it
mitigates their hold on you. Moni agreed, and gave the example of mourning a
loved one. It is not healthy to stay stuck in the sadness. Eventually you have
to move on, and then you are no longer dying with the person.
and Jake also noted a number of the broader effects in society of the blindness
we have been taught to wear. Many of them we have touched on before, so I won’t
go into details. Suffice to say that by changing our own orientation we
influence the outer world in the most optimal fashion. We can observe social
evils, but then we should use that information to help us look for their
doppelgangers within our own habits of thought, where we can conveniently work
loved the Paul Reps story of the Zen master who exemplifies a neutral attitude
under great duress. A similar story from his own experience is appended in Part
III. The important thing is that just wanting
to be neutral doesn’t work very well, though it helps. We have to be established
in neutrality. If we feel
any twinge of guilt or culpability we won’t be able to remain balanced. The Zen
master knew perfectly well he was not the father of the child, so he didn’t
have any subterranean currents to suppress. This is where most of us have much
work to do. Our culture has treated us as guilty sinners from birth, and it is
a deep assumption we don’t even notice. So as a matter of course we parry every
innuendo with a plea of innocence or some other kind of diversion. We feel
guilty even if we’re not. We are busy protecting ourself, even if there is no
reason to. The rope of our innocence looks like a poisonous snake to our social
mind. Overcoming this conditioning takes a serious commitment, but the rewards
are astonishing. At least it is an arena that life places us in regularly, if
we are in contact with friends and family members. We learn to grow right in
the midst of everyday life.
you see how this is one of the tightest knots we are wrapped up in? Life could
be so simple and beautiful, but we are busy parrying and counterthrusting all
the currents, both real and imagined, that surround us. No wonder Narayana Guru
so often laments that there is no one who sees this unitive truth. Nitya urges
us to boldly commit to a true presumption of innocence:
is where you have to stand. No matter what happens, no matter what anyone
thinks, you can just say “Is that so? Fine.” To be able to do this you have to
be at a neutral zero, neither on the body side or the other side. This is the
most central teaching of the Isavasya Upanishad. When you know the secret of
avidya, you cross over death. When you know the secret of vidya, you enjoy
Now we have a one-month break in the class. We ended on an
excellent note, making deep inroads into areas of perennial confusion. I am
humbled at barely being able to convey the least part of it, but hopefully that
will be enough to justify your attention. Have fun out there!
Neither This Nor That But . . . Aum:
we look at our individuation from an analytical point of view, we find that it
is constituted of a body, a mind, an ego and an intellect. When the body is
animated, its sensations, its experiences of pain and pleasure, and the
plethora of thoughts and memories that arise commingled and that flow as a
stream of consciousness can be looked upon as mind. That mind is placed on the
side of the “possessor” of the body and in this verse is called angi.
This body/mind complex was
described in the previous verse as the “ordinary” and what was termed there as “beyond
all measure” is given here as knowledge, arivu. Although this supreme knowledge, which is identical to
the Self and the Absolute, is beyond the reach of mind and words, it is
accessible to the intellect. The Bhagavad Gita (VI, 21) calls it:
That in which one cognizes the
ultimate limit of happiness which can be grasped by reason and goes beyond the
senses, and established wherein there is no more swerving from the true
A yogi who identifies his self with the unalloyed bliss of
the transcendental being and whose intellect is freed from the taints of the
senses and mind remains stable in his inner happiness. The figure overleaf [not
reproduced here] shows the approximation of the scheme implied in this verse.
the body there cannot be an individual, and without the mind the body does not
function. According to the physiological psychologists and the
neurophysiologists, mind is an epiphenomenon produced by the complex effect of
highly organized bodily functions, such as the sensory system, the motor
functions and the intensive molecular activities of the brain. So it is hard to
say whether the mind monitors the body or the body monitors the mind.
body, with its animation called mind, will only vegetate if its individuation
is not consciously felt and directed by the personal identity of an ego. All
goal-oriented actions are motivated and carried out by the ego. Experiences
such as heat and cold, pain and pleasure, success and failure, and praise and
shame intensify the ego identity.
to the present verse, the primary interest of the ego can alternate and change
the sense of belongingness of the I-consciousness. For a while it can be one
with the body identity and can crave the pleasures of the senses or look for
the gratification of several latent desires. Sooner or later, however, it
reaches a saturation point and flings itself in the opposite direction where it
identifies itself with the unknown, the transcendent, which in this verse is
ego, the mind, the senses and the body have no light of their own. The only
conductor of the illuminating reason of the Self is the intellect. So the ego
must hire the services of the intellect to carry out the actualization of its
motives in the transactional world. When intellect operates as a tool of the
ego, the mind takes an upper hand and colours the intellect with all its
pre-conditionings of love and hate, pain and pleasure, and all
attraction/repulsion dualities. As reason truly belongs to the Self, it
occasionally jerks away from the clutch of ego to return to its own natural
habitat, described here as knowledge. This automatically also turns the ego to
ego is like a shadow. Sometimes it resembles the shadow of the Self, and at
other times of the embodied finite person. It is like a form which alternately
looks like a rope and then like a snake.
Guru's suggestion here is not to become fully identified with any one of these
alternatives. So long as the body persists, the alternation is inevitable. What
he teaches is how to raise one's consciousness above these alternations and
remain in a neutral zero witnessing the ceaseless sport.
Guru’s commentary is particularly excellent this week:
THERE is a subtle form of dichotomy or ambivalence to which
the ‘I’ sense which each man can feel in himself tends to be subjected
alternatingly, while still remaining basically the same. As a magnet could have
two poles while still belonging to the order of magnetism, this subtle polarity
has to be first fully visualised by the contemplative who aspires to
self-realization beyond its two-sided limitations. Duality in all its aspects,
gross or subtle, has to be taken into account before it can be correctly merged
in the notion of the non-dual Absolute. With the present verse the Guru enters
into a series of verses dealing with the inner structure of contemplative
consciousness, viewed both cosmologically and psychologically. Many subtle
problems and correlations are established so as to reveal the structure of the
Self in the context of the Absolute.
Here the Guru makes use of the classical Vedantic example of
the superimposition in consciousness of the illusion of the snake on the
reality of the pure thing-in-itself represented by the rope. This example has
been worked upon
by Vedantists over and over in their literature and it has become such a
favourite that Vedanta can no more do without it. The reason for this is to be
sought in the fact that this particular example has much proto-linguistic value
attached to it.
Our consciousness is really unitary or unitive in its content
and structure but where it participates with the relational world of
appearances it presents this elusive, ambivalent phenomenon when viewed from
the side of appearance rather than that of reality itself. The ego-sense may be
said to oscillate within the amplitude of the two poles characterised by the
snake-rope analogy which the Guru resorts to with great advantage for explaining
his own scientific philosophical standpoint.
In oscillating between the poles, the ego-sense gets filled
with two different contents: one of these has the status of a mental
presentation only, on an existent basis. This is the snake superimposed on the other simple reality of
the rope. When consciousness swings as it were to the other extreme negative
pole, the content is not a mental presentation but tends to be existent, and
touches, as it were, the ontological limits of the actual or the physical.
Knowledge helps presentiments, while fact tends to abolish
this tendency in favour of actuality. Knowledge is the pole of subsistence,
while the ego-sense conditioned by the physical body (here referred to as the ‘limbed-agent’,
a translation of the Sanskrit word ‘angi’) is the pole of existence. The
alternating states of consciousness refer to the psychic and the physical
aspects of reality. These two poles have their common ground in the same
Spirituality in the religious context is permeated by the
twin considerations of merit or demerit, saintly or sinful, sacred and profane.
In the context of Sanskritist religion the corresponding expressions are ‘arya’
(good or honourable) and ‘anarya’ (evil or dishonourable). The racial implications
may be said to have been completely effaced from these expressions as used at
present. An Aryan is known for gentlemanly qualities whatever his race. Thus ‘arya’
we could have translated as ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’, refer to twin ambivalent
aspects of personal spiritual life. One feels holy or sinful according as his
ego consciousness is coloured or conditioned by one or the other of these poles
that have been distinguished above. Sin and saintliness have both to be
transcended in favour of a unitive state which abolishes effectually the
duality that might persist as between either of them. This is the way of
absolutist self-realization or contemplation which is recommended here. To be
able to recognize the duality of the aspects is good, but it is better to go
further in the same direction to abolish it and merge it in the unitive vision
of the Absolute. Before one can deal with or work a machine it is necessary to
have a clear idea of its mechanism, at least in broad outline. Contemplation,
to be correctly practised or accomplished, must be fully informed of the way of transcending duality
understanding of the nature of the duality itself. It is for
this reason that the Guru
concludes with the suggestion that intuition, which is a higher form of reasoning than
the merely mechanistic one, must be applied here for one to be able to appraise
the dual aspects together as the underlying unity, without contradiction.
The awareness or wakefulness of the intuitive man should be such
that, while it is fully aware of the duality, it is able to see unity in it, in
the brighter light of a more focussed attention. Only a man gifted with this
kind of intuition is regarded by Sankara and others as fit for the study of
Vedanta or ‘Atma Vidya’ ( Cf. Viveka Chudamani verse 16). Bergsonian intuition
also belongs to the same Absolutist contemplative context.
was very fond of the Paul Reps story retold in this verse, in part because he
had a history with a similar concept. Here’s the story as it appeared in Love
and Blessings. Among other things, it shows that we don’t have to been some
heavyweight Zen master to act wisely. Fernandez is an ordinary screw-up, just
one section I had to deal with, the British were receiving new battalions into
the transit camp from overseas, arranging meals for them, posting them to war
fronts, and notifying their families in case they were injured or killed. One
day I received a message that a convoy of 160 soldiers was coming in that
night, and they should be given hot meals. I passed the message on to my good
friend Fernandez, the steward, and he promised to feed them.
the convoy arrived I received them, showed them their tents, and directed them
to the mess hall. When I called over, I was told that Fernandez had gone home
and there hadn’t been any instructions to make dinner for the new arrivals. The
hungry men in the convoy were furious. They had to make do with bread and
was no possibility of avoiding a court martial. It was painful for me to join
the proceedings against my friend, but I hid my conscience behind the
regulations. When the charge sheet was handed over to him and read before the
presiding officer, Fernandez smiled in his gentle way and said, “That’s okay.”
When the officer asked him why he neglected his duty he said, “I didn’t do it
on purpose. I just forgot and went home.” The officer told him that
forgetfulness was not a valid plea, and that he was liable to be punished with
a pay cut and a stint in the army prison. He answered, “It’s all right. I don’t
mind.” When the officer went on that it would adversely affect his ability to
be promoted, he said “What of it?” He was awarded a three week pay cut and five
days in prison. When I nervously took his hand and told him how sorry I was, he
consoled me with the reply, “I don’t care.”
years later when I was with Nataraja Guru, he took me aside and told me four
great dictums to live by. They were to say “It’s okay,” whenever you were in
trouble. If the situation persisted in bugging you, you should say “What of
that?” When you are convinced of the imperativeness of the situation, say
“Never mind.” If worst comes to worst, say “I don’t care.” I had already
learned this from Fernandez, but when the Guru endorsed it I finally realized
just how important it was. (81-2)
A section from my recent response in Nancy Yeilding’s
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad study group highlights how a unitive attitude affects
our experience, by turning grains of what could be thought of as desert sand
into pearls of great price, which then lend their luster to us:
second exercise highlights a key idea I like very much. The attitude of “me,
me, mine,” cuts us away from the rich totality of humanity. I used to feel very
small when I observed talented people doing what they do. It seems that envy
exaggerates the other at our expense, causing us to shrink commensurately.
Nitya subtly taught us how to realize those geniuses were also a part of us.
Now I am unrestrainedly joyful in admiring the wondrous talents of my fellow
beings. Because I am no longer envious, I am expanded by their performances,
rather than diminished.
abound. Last night we went to a chamber music concert with some friends,
sharing a delicious picnic in the sun beforehand. We sat in comfortable seats
in a magnificent hall with excellent acoustics and listened to people who have
dedicated their lives to making beautiful music. They played impeccably on
spectacular instruments that sounded like the voice of heaven itself, both
well-known and unknown pieces composed by some sublime geniuses. We had driven
in a well-designed car on decent roads to the setting on a college campus where
the highest aspirations of young minds are continuously nurtured. It’s possible
to take the whole thing for granted, but every bit of it was a rare miracle if
you stop to appreciate it.
like this happen all the time. On the drive home I pondered how here I am, a
mediocre intellect, a nobody, yet I had just imbibed a rich feast of the
highest expressions of humanity, and they were in me as surely as the awareness
of my own smallness. My identification with the greater world kept it vibrant
and simultaneously expanded who I was. Quite literally I was—I am—all this.
are enriched by more than the geniuses of history. Our dear friends are special
too, and afford us infinite delight and possibilities for learning and caring.
We have been invited to take the positive attitude Nitya spells out into every
corner of our life.
This could also be taken as a response to this snippet from
the text, when Nitya says:
You know that some day the body
will drop off, but until that time it is to be treated as an excellent
instrument. It is magnificently equipped with both senses and a sensory
interpretation system. When all is working harmoniously you have a healthy
mind, a wonderful gift through which the great joy of the Absolute can be lived
in a million ways and can be understood and appreciated in a million forms.
of Nitya’s thoughts on the figure eight movement of the psyche:
The end of Verse 33:
key characteristic of consciousness is that it alternates. At one moment it
goes back into the darkness; there is nothing, it just remains there. In the
very next moment it becomes many subjective fantasies in the world of dreams.
Then it wakes up and comes into the outer world of transactional awareness.
Here it interacts as if it is separate from everything else. It goes into
flights of imagination and thought, experiencing all sorts of moods. Then again
it enters the stillness.
Guru is here comparing the wonder of what we are to a person taking a burning
twig and swirling it around in the darkness, making a figure eight movement
representative of the movement of consciousness through its various states.
There is just the one burning point where it glows, luminous, but when it is
brandished about it looks like many fiery lines and shapes. It is like writing
with a pen: there is only one tiny point from which a little ink is coming, but
as you write the ink makes different formations, and each formation has a
meaning of its own.
is the difference between your writing and your thinking? Your own mind is a
point of consciousness which moves like the tip of a pen. If you turn inward in
your own mind, the point of your consciousness is just a glow. If that glow is
allowed to operate and unfold, it is like the pen writing. It is more than just
putting ink on paper, though. The ink can become a Ramayana, a Mahabharata, an
Odyssey, a Divine Comedy--the magnum opus of a great writer.
our philosophy, history, poetry and even art have passed through the tip of a
pen. Like that, this whole universe which we see, with all its vastness, is the
composition and organization coming from our own individual consciousness. No
one else sees for us or knows for us. Even what are considered to be the
experiences of other people have to be recycled and made our own before we can
truly know them. The vastness we see is what we have created out of something
so small: a tiny spark.
is one of the greatest miracles of life, that the very creator whom we praise
for having made all this universe is still sitting here and creating the very
nucleus of our own being. Your nucleus and the nucleus of the universe are not
two. When you attain that identity in every moment of your daily life, you
become the centerpiece of the universe; your actions, your ideas and your
thoughts become the very thoughts, ideas and variegations in the composition of
your universe. This brings you to an ultimate identity with the creating
faculty. You are at once the Absolute and the very many relatives within it.
You are the one unconditional Being who is also causing the many conditional
In the Introduction to Nataraja Guru’s Saundarya Lahari
presented Nitya’s ideas in their most complete form that I know of. Mostly they
weren’t written in any of his books. The diagrams in the book are very helpful,
but if you don’t have a copy, you can read the text here: http://scottteitsworth.tripod.com/id24.html
From Darsanamala 6 class notes of Scott:
We all have our infatuations, loves, desires, and we all get
carried away by them. Nancy and Deb talked about the figure eight cycling of
consciousness around the pivot of a neutral balance point. Nancy knows that
when she soars upward she better be prepared for a countervailing downturn. But
it’s okay because the center is always there no matter what. Deb talked about
what Nitya once taught us, that you can minimize the downside and gently boost
the upside without throwing things off kilter. Even just being aware that
consciousness cycles is helpful, offering solace during the inevitable down
the notes I gave Jan short shrift, and I was kind of hoping she wouldn’t read
them, and more importantly, if she did that I hadn’t hurt her feelings.
out she read the notes right away. But I’m glad of my poor reporting, because
it got Jan to clarify her own thinking and pass it along to all of us in
refined form. This is important stuff:
Thanks for the wonderful class notes. I did enjoy them
and the class so much. As Debbie said, it was the perfect setting to pull
into actuality much of the verse’s ideas.
I think my second question in class was more whether we should aim
to stay in a central place between the poles of body and vidya as I know we
cannot in reality stay there consistently (our bodies and egos pull us toward
the transactional too much). It still seems to me that the verse is
holding out a central place as the optimal place of wisdom and balance, for
example, with the ending quote, which says to strive to “be at a neutral zero,
neither on the body side or the other side.” It also says, “This is where
you have to stand.” Earlier in the notes Nitya is quoted as also inviting
us to “keep yourself at a neutral zero in orientation,” neither siding with the
body or the spiritual side. Thus, to me, a key issue is reconciling those
ideas with the oscillation we talked about in class.
Then your discussion of Paul Reps also raises the idea of
the difference between wanting to be in neutrality and actually being
established in neutrality.
Trying to grapple with these ideas this morning, I see the
central place might be more about our attachment, our attitude, and how we
process things inside us. Ideally, we could intuitively stay grounded in
both realms simultaneously, and thereby become as Nitya says, “one who holds a
central position, watching with an evenness of mind, [who] can accept both.”
Is the reconciliation simply that many of us cannot stay
there in this place of neutrality all the time? So, Nitya knows that
oscillating is what we do, and so long as we connect our situation again to the
Absolute, and living our transactional lives fully, we are doing the best we
can. Plus, since both realms have equal value (the neutrality discussed
above), so long as we keep contemplating this truth and knowledge, we can more
easily integrate the two realms within us. I almost see it as giant arms
(I know this is corny) but arms that reach out to connect with the physical
when we are filled with the unity, and that reach for the Absolute in all
directions, including deep within us, when we are too groundless, floating or
bouncing around in the transactional, or being a jerk. Is the oscillation
talking about interest more and the neutrality about how we value things.
What can you make of all of this?
One other idea I have been playing with lately in the
loveliness of summer is how these realms of body/the physical and spirit/unity
pass through us. I love this idea. I‘ve been seeing how we can be
vessels, or meeting places, for these two realms. When we are open and
receptive, the flow and conversation of both realms continues. When we
are quiet inside, a lot can happen that is beautiful and letting the flow speak
to us brings joy. In that place, it feels less like oscillating, and more
like being the sand on the beach under the wave, or the tree in the
When you are back from your trip or have time, please let me
know what I am missing or confused about, and what makes sense here.
Enjoy France and thanks for everything! Jan
is a large morning to be thoughtful of! (Carl Sandburg)
have clarified your confusion of the other night very well, which in a way
exemplifies what is going on here. You are looking closely at the horns of the
dilemma, and it makes you wonder. That’s meditation at its best. Wonder
grounded in real life breeds openness.
should hasten to assure you that pretty much the whole of Atmo is aimed to
helping us reconcile the factors you speak of, so I don’t feel I need to write
a tome about it. We’ll be thinking about the subject a lot in the time ahead.
trick is, vidya and avidya, spirit and body, are not really two separate
entities: we are simply viewing one thing from two different angles. It’s not
really a place, either—that’s just a word we promiscuously throw around—so it
isn’t exactly that we have to locate it and go there. We are already in the
midst of it.
fact, in rereading your note several times, I can see that you began by
analyzing the problem, made it real in terms of your life (realized it), and then came to a luscious sense of beauty in
resolution. So you have worked through it all on your own. The “answer” that is
not really an answer is to be like a tree in the breeze or beach sand gently
caressed by lapping waves. Paradoxically we get there by first splitting our
understanding in two and then bringing it back together, making it greater than
the sum of the parts: yoga dialectics in action.
is perfectly natural for the mind to oscillate, rove, bump up against other
minds, and so on. Yoga is not about making all this stop happening, it’s more
like enjoying the ride. The more we know, the less excess baggage we’ll add and
the more available we’ll be to resolve any confusion, both inner and outer. The
non-place of neutrality is where we have withdrawn from tipping the scales one
way or another. Until we are established
in neutrality—a rare and unusual state—we will react more or less abnormally,
but then we can nudge ourself back into the most neutral place we’ve come to
know. That’s the essence of the work we do.
we are getting down on ourself for reacting badly (a typical throb of the ego),
it reflects previous training that has instigated self-censorship. Why
shouldn’t we laugh about our follies instead? Or relax about them? The tensions
we feel are the areas to examine next. Tensions can be released and cured, if
we put our mind to it. They are clever enough to subvert our efforts first, so
they may stay on board forever if we don’t know how to deal with them. If we
view them as opportunities to become released, they are the teachings of the
Guru being handed to us.
summary, and I know this is all too brief, we are riding a natural oscillation
and getting upset about it, but we could convert to an attitude of enthusiastic
engagement. You are a wise woman who brings insight and compassion to your
encounters. That is a much better self-image than the bad girl who deserves a
spanking, or whatever other samskaras are lurking in the background. Many of us
are sensitive souls who are afraid something bad is about to happen to us. Yet
something very good is happening all the time: we are alive, having rare and
unrepeatable experiences. We are invited every day to play our best game. So
pick up your tennis racket and wade right in! You can hit the ball back to me
when you feel like it.
wrote an important caveat:
I'm "caught up" on everything, Scott, you'll be
happy to know. Have much enjoyed meeting Japanese fireflies, Ecclesiastes
the Preacher, Rumi poem, both/and
(instead of either/or), and numerous
other precious pearls in your notes. But in the very most recent ones, I
couldn't help hoping that prisoners at Guantanamo might have mastered the four
great dictums just to survive: It's okay,
What of that? Never mind, and I don't
care. A deep injustice is being perpetrated, and it's hard to be
nonchalant, easy to go insane.
all too brief reply:
There are billions of victims of injustice suffering
mightily on this planet, and we can never ask them to act like Zen masters and
just transcend. We can try it ourselves, but placed in a similar situation to
the Guantanamo detainees, for instance, we would likely go insane or otherwise
give up. Hell on earth. It reminds me how the thwarted psyche is so much like a
nuclear weapon, and when it detonates.... The collective psyche is like a whole
nuclear arsenal. So we keep advocating for the opposite of thwarting, in hopes
that someday the madness will stop. Recall Nitya's words from the previous
Everything in the ordinary world
is relative. It can change or be changed. If you want happiness in the ordinary
world, you should harmonize your life to its norms. If some of the norms are
spurious and made by people only for the purpose of exploitation, you should
question and correct them. Then the ordinary world will be improved.
again kept his thoughts to himself:
Still chipping away on a compact summary of the, again,
overwhelming flood of responses that N's treatment of verse 68 has generated
for me, in written form and otherwise.
commentary wraps it up until mid-August:
years ago I was having problems dealing with a younger relative who had decided
to become pregnant on her own without any visible means of support or
employment. The issues this
decision raised for me centered on individual responsibility, dependence, and
my obligations to “support” the position she had chosen. I took the
issue to my therapist. He suggested I assume a neutral posture
and let go of my egoic demands about responsibility and authority. I had neither
in this case, a condition
I suspect many face as they deal with adult children. He advised that I answer any comments about the situation I
might encounter with “oh.”
his commentary on this verse, Nitya uses the phrase “is that so?” in the same
vein and offers an anecdote in his conclusion that illustrates this kind of
“oh” therapy about as clearly as I’ve seen done. He borrows the story of the grain dealer’s daughter from
Paul Reps and his Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. The
tale concerns a single young girl
who becomes pregnant and is afraid to tell her father with whom she lives. Necessity
soon intercedes, and she is
then faced with his demand for the identity of the father. She lies in order
to protect a local
fisherman and tells her father that the young Zen master living next door was
the culprit. The irate father
confronts the young man, demanding he assume responsibility for his deed. The
Zen master answers with “Is
that so?” Throughout the girl’s
pregnancy, he works to provide the girl with food and shelter, caring for her
as if he were the father of her unborn child. When she delivers, she is overcome with guilt and confesses
to her father, who in turn is struck by his own. Apologizing to the young master, the father comes clean and
so does the Zen master:
you are not
the person who fathered that child.”
my daughter back home.”
“Fine.” (p. 470)
in his commentary, Nitya writes, “to have this fully balanced state is to have
true wisdom” (p. 469). And it is
in the pages leading up to that conclusion that Nitya articulates how that
insight—the last idea presented in the Guru’s verse—applies to each of us as we
oscillate between the immanent and the transcendent, between the rough and
tumble of our sensual lives and the peace and knowledge of our blending into
Nitya and the Guru have reinforced throughout That Alone, our common experience is essentially
schizophrenic. In this commentary,
Nitya moves even deeper into that condition “natural to all people” (p.
465). As we shift our attention
from the physical world to the transcendent and back again in our see-saw
lives, we follow our I-consciousness as it assumes the two dimensions. During
our waking lives, it attaches to
our mind, body, and ego, and our interests are focused on doing in the world of
necessity. On the other hand are
our I-consciousness and its connection with the Absolute. Visited during deep
sleep and on
occasion during our awake state, this perspective speaks to our innate
realization that our world of things and senses are all, in the final analysis,
meaningless and transitory. The
homely truism, “you can’t take it with you” captures that awareness as well as
any explanation I know of.
then spends several pages of commentary diving into the consequences of our
disqualifying the latter I-consciousness and in prizing the former. Along the
way, he clarifies for us the
dead-end of materialism and the circular misery this flatland philosophy
generates. Isolated in the I-ego,
atheist apologists do, however, make a valid point as a starting place by
posing the following question: “where is the individual without the body? (p.
465). Indeed, remarks, Nitya,
without the body we cannot be distinguished from anyone else. Our individuality
is a function of our
incarnation, so to speak.
The next logical issue has to do
with the source through which the body is animated. Evolutionary atheists claim the animation is the result of a
natural chemical process out of which mind evolves: “it is not that the body is
animated by the mind, but the body’s animation is called mind” (p. 466).
This arrangement, unfortunately (for
materialists) still begs the question of motivation. The body/mind has no purpose if the I is not present, a condition that becomes obvious in cases of
severe stroke or coma. In these
cases, the body continues on in spite of its purposelessness. (This situation,
constitutes a major ethical AMA conundrum today. In point of fact, “pulling the plug” is now the subject of
even casual American conversation.)
At this point, writes Nitya, our
scientific community remains silent.
In terms of the often used computer analogy as a description of the mind
(and humans generally), the place of the computer programmer is left vacant and
unexplored because it is beyond the physical and our mind’s capacity to
quantify. As Nitya writes,
something close to that source of truth, light, intelligence, and understanding
has come. We call it the
intellect” (p. 467).
This motivating intelligence,
continues Nitya, functions in both of our dimensions. The mind and ego, he points out, “in a sense . . . hires the
ego.” And as the ego goes on
endlessly desiring whatever comes along on the manifest plane, the intellect is
there to help as the samskaras and vasanas emerge in half light to be played
out again and again blinding us to the content of the forms we encounter and
becoming infatuated with their color or shape. But we don’t stay satisfied with the world. Even the
dullest of wits encounter
doubt as to the meaning of the samsaric life, and it is here that the intellect
again assists the ego-mind in turning its focus to the transcendent, however
fleeting. Nitya concludes, “your
attitude swings like the proverbial pendulum” (p. 468).
These two conditions, writes Nitya,
are termed in the Upanishads as Vidya,
knowledge of the Absolute, and Avidya, knowledge of ignorance. In Western religious orthodoxy,
embracing Vidya and avoiding Avidya (a condition stated in very different
terms) is generally accepted as desirable as far as one’s spiritual progress
goes. It is this error, writes
Nitya, that the Guru here observes in his “corrected form of Vedanta” (p.
468). Both kinds of knowledge
operate in the two dimensions we inhabit, and knowing that fact affords us the
opportunity to balance our lives in the world and the transcendent. To live otherwise
is to cling to our
fear of death and our fear of our egos being assaulted. The transitory world
of Avidya is real
and requires our participation. By
the same token, its ending can come as no surprise and is certainly not tragic. It
is every bit as much important as
the Absolute, which is always with us: “when you know the secret of Avidya, you
cross over death. When you know
the secret of Vidya, you enjoy immortality” (p. 471)’
If death is a tragedy, birth is