As countless grains of sand ceaselessly blown onto
the surface of a pond generate ripple after ripple,
by untruths successively blown,
the inner self is transformed from within into various
As sand in a wasteland is ceaselessly blown by gusts of
wind, which disturbs the surface of a pond and makes it increasingly shallow,
the sands of untruth are continuously disfiguring consciousness, and the inner
self is cluttered with multifarious forms.
As with a well with measureless sand dropping ceaselessly,
Whereon wafting tier on tier, fitful gusts prevail,
So too, to the waftings of untruth’s hierarchy exposed
Inwardly does the Inner Self multitudinous forms attain.
of the reasons I’m so fond of this verse is that it is a totally original, very
complex metaphor. Many of the images in the Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction
are upgraded classics: familiar analogies with a piquant sprinkling of
additional insight added. This analogy stands out for its uniqueness, which is
why I used it in the introduction to describe the whole book, picturing
Narayana Guru sitting next to one of these ponds in deep meditation. Those who
have been to the tip of India can easily visualize the setting, the almost
otherworldly and untrammeled landscape where the Guru spent his years of
retreat. One of the marks of a true seer is the ability to perceive meaning in
everything they encounter. Here Narayana Guru charges a visible scene with
profound instruction, and invites us to enlighten ourselves. I’ll clip in the
first few pages of the Introduction for additional atmosphere in Part III, in
case you don’t have it handy.
the original class I suspect Nitya was sometimes saying “motes” when we
recorded “modes.” D and T are nearly reversed from us in Indian languages, as
are P and B. Modes can be considering general grouping of motes. It sounds to
me as if motes were what was meant here, much of the time, yet I wound up using
modes. I meditated long and hard on each instance during the editorial process,
and I’m convinced there is no ideal solution. We can conjure both ideas
throughout this section.
motes of dust in Verse 74 have here become the grains of sand having their
impact on our sequestered personal puddle, and the oceanic water element of
Verse 75 has morphed into that same personal pond. They are artfully brought
together in the present image. Sand is dirt, and it clouds the water that
begins in us as close to pristine as anything could be.
doesn’t do any good to pretend the grains of sand don’t exist, that they blow
into other people’s ponds but we are immune. Many of us in the original class
were proud of our invulnerability, and Nitya wanted to knock us out of our
smugness. He addressed us directly, with his patented gentle ferocity:
You have to consider this analogy
as representing the events in your daily life. You are at the mercy of the
world in which you are placed; extraneous things over which you have no control
are creeping into your mind from all sides. You are not any special being. You
can’t be a state within a state, you are just part of the whole. Your world is
full of horizontal winds that affect your equanimity: the actions of people and
what they say about you, natural events and disasters, good and bad news,
radios, television and all manner of public media. There is more than enough to
disturb you, wherever you are. This is all the sand blown in to bring chaos to
the serene surface of your personal pond.
it were only a surface phenomenon you could say it was essentially harmless,
but there is more to it than that. Whatever has caused the disturbance settles
in to clog up the water. After blowing horizontally, the sand falls vertically
down into the very depths of your life. First it affects your surface
consciousness, then the water where your thoughts, ideas and emotions are, and
then it sinks to the very bottom. The bottom is what has already been formed in
you as your samskaras or the reactions through which you have built up your
personality traits, innate dispositions and consolidated memory. Though it is
invisible, this terrain of the very bottom is affected from moment to moment by
the detritus that sifts down from our conscious experience. You can never
remain precisely the same. You are not totally changed, but something is
happening. Each day you are subtly different. You are still carrying all the
previous sediments of your life, but something has been added and the contour
of the terrain has changed. It changes day by day.
talked about how in high school and college you try to understand your place in
the world by coming into contact with lots of new ideas and a wide variety of
people. While admirable enough, it tends to become a habitual distraction, and our
ground gets obscured by all the busyness. We need to maintain a clear
connection with our inner being much more than we need a big fan to blow lots
of sand into ourselves.
right: in our society the more sand the better, and there’s a big fan for sale
down at the corner. Yet even if we downplay it we can’t just do away with sand,
it blows in regardless of our attitude. The trick is to learn how to cope with
it and not be undone by its impact.
intense verses like this one were always my favorites. We are normally well
defended if someone wants to offer a correction to us, but with a teacher or
guru we trust we can allow ourselves to open up and receive what they suggest.
The intensity of talks like this one drives the ideas beyond our ego defenses,
and instead of desperately resisting we can allow it to press into our watery
depths. It can serve like the radioactive trigger of a nuclear device, which is
driven into the core to set off the explosion. If it doesn’t go in just right,
even when we desire liberation as an idea, when the intensity builds we almost
can’t help resisting being liberated. I love Freud’s analogy of the patient who
pushes the dentist away when he approaches his mouth with his pliers. It’s an
instinctive reaction we have very little control over. That’s part of the value
of an extended study like this one: bit by bit we drop our guard, laying the
groundwork for a breakthrough. We know we are going to resist, so we learn to
hold back and quell our instinctive fears.
why should we bother to have our psychic teeth pulled? Why not try to feel good
all the time? We can see any number of sad souls for whom that didn’t work very
well at all. Nitya only hints at the extent of the tragedy:
If you take only this life and
look at what has happened from your birth to the present, there are a number of
memories you are not very happy with. Certain inner formations you are not very
willing to own. Some people even feel guilty and ashamed about this. They are
afraid they cannot hide their inner terrain from the public, and that society
might reject them if others saw the kinds of formations they have. There comes
a fear of rejection which can lead to pathological cases. This is a very sad
state at the end of the process the Guru is describing. Is it possible for us
to avoid it?
“Pathological cases” is putting it mildly.
have been taught to pay total attention to the sand grains swirling around in
our surface consciousness, and ignore the rest. They seem so important, so
immediate! The depth and the topography of the bottom are out of sight, so they
seem like products of mere metaphysical speculation. We can easily ignore them,
and are encouraged to do so by everyone around us. Instead we fixate on the
blowing, swirling sand, not realizing the damage it can cause our psyches.
Nitya ratchets up the intensity to try to bring us to our senses:
Like the word ‘fire’
represents fire but is not it, and the word ‘sugar’ which has nothing to do
with sugar, the so-called love, so-called compassion, and all the other
conceptual things we live in social life, are only false images. In themselves
they have no value, but as they are false images you can use them to exploit
each other. They become an accumulation of trash in which you live blindly.
commentary presents a passionate call to discriminate between the conceptual
version of spirituality and its real basis. I remember Nitya talking about how
when he was a new and enthusiastic advocate of Narayana Guru’s philosophy, lots
of people were coming to him with their problems. He took them very
seriously—took them to heart, as it’s called—and soon his health began to
decline. He became seriously, chronically ill. Then he realized that it was the
way he was relating to all the poison people were bringing to him for disposal.
He was taking it from them and holding onto it. He decided it should be “God’s
problem,” not his, and developed a technique for passing whatever was brought
to him right through his body to the divine. Of course it’s just a matter of
framing, but his health began to improve. He was still being compassionate, but
he was now also dispassionate. In place of intentionally being compassionate,
he was the embodiment of compassion. It made a world of difference. This is how
he means for us to step out of our egotistical programs, no matter how
admirable, and convert to an absolutist attitude.
the same vein, Deb related how our daughter Emily, who works to help uplift
young women in oppressive circumstances, is constantly hearing about
discouraging and depressing problems from her clients. She says, “What does it
help them or me to get negative about it?” She knows if she can stay in a happy
and grounded place, it is much better for everyone. She is not such a saint as
to reside unruffled by the agony around her, it takes hard work. But she does
it, because the alternative is too awful.
and Andy talked about their observations that trying to do good can go far
wrong, as with misguided compassion. Andy attributed this to the fixing of a
plan or program grounded in an ideology. Once your steps become inflexible,
disaster looms. The blowing sand is capable of turning to concrete if allowed
have recently been visiting prisons with some friends who help the inmates, and
Andy was asked by one of the prisoners, “When I say that I feel like I’m no
longer in prison, what does that mean to you?” Many of them feel gratefully
liberated from the oppression of prison when they are doing the programs
brought in by concerned citizens. The question got Andy pondering the roles we
all are stuck in. In prison, your role is screwed into you with the most
terrible finality. There is no chance of escape. Roles, then, are socially
devised imprisoning patterns. For those who have failed badly in society and
been caught, they are sometimes necessary. Possibly we all need them for a
while, to varying degrees, but then we need to learn to go beyond them too.
added that we all have an absolute core that is the source of our freedom—hell,
it is our freedom. If we base our
notions of freedom on outside factors they will always be in peril. In prison
there is no immediate lure in the outside world. Prisoners can have major
incentive to seek freedom in themselves if they know it is possible. On the
other hand, we on the outside can delude ourselves endlessly with new
diversions. I often think of Nitya’s opening line when he spoke at the infamous
San Quentin prison, that instantly got everyone’s attention: “We are all in
talks about the anrita parampara, the
endless procession of deceptive imagery that assaults us. The grains of sand
keep swirling, sometimes in beautiful patterns and sometimes in painfully sharp
bursts. Our water grows fairly clear at times and then silts up again. We
can falsely imagine that the
patterns are leading us to salvation, if we can only part ways with the past.
It’s just like the history of scientific research, where last year’s beliefs
are rejected while the new ones look like pure gold. This skewed perception is
called maya, and Nitya introduces it here in a most memorable paragraph:
You always think the last was
wrong but the next is right. When you are deceived, you make up your mind not
to be deceived again, but you do not know how you are caught. Maya knows her
business. It is not the first time she has done it. She has been doing it
We are caught by having mistaken images for what the images
purport to represent. The thing-in-itself is the absolute value of our world,
but we cannot know it through our interpretive mechanisms. The least we can do
is reject the falsehood of our images. By reflection we can break their hold,
and this allows us to sink naturally into our depths. Because we are the Absolute,
it isn’t that it is
barred from us, only that we bar ourselves. We bar it by being fascinated with
the superficial, the mediocre metaphors of previous speculators. These may
satisfy us as long as we believe they are the whole story, but now we know better.
Narayana Guru’s metaphor allowed Nitya to put the possibility of breakthrough
in such simple terms that we might even be able to take the advice:
What is in the other person that
is lovable? And what is in you that loves? If you see the ground of it, it is
the one Absolute. But that ground is now covered by sediments from the
continuous dropping of dirt, or anrita. You have to dive very deep and break
through the built up deposits to arrive at your original state. The surface of
the pond is your consciousness, just into the water is the subconscious state,
and the dark terrain you cannot see from the surface is where your incipient
memories are lying. Beneath those incipient memories is your real ground. If
you can reach that real ground you can see the higher values such as love,
justice, compassion and truth in their most pristine and pure form.
Susan reported just such a breakthrough. These last few
verses have convinced her that she has been driven by a pressing need to always
be right, and that was causing her no end of misery. If she was right no matter
what—if she was the Absolute through and through—what did she need to prove? I
think she will write about this, so I’ll leave it to her, but the class took it
to heart. It was an important step in the right direction.
agreed that being right is utterly captivating, and being sure you are right is
a characteristic of ideologies. You hold your position sacred, and don’t dare
to change, even when it is called for. It reminded me that instead of being
truthful, we often make up plausible stories to fit our preexisting ideology.
The belief precedes the perception. That’s exactly what keeps us bound.
me, a couple of important reasons we insist on being right are perfect examples
of how samskaric sand has altered the terrain of our pond bottom. As children,
many of us were spanked or otherwise humiliated for doing something “wrong,”
even if it was unintentional or beyond our youthful ken. The pain we felt
caused us to devise strategies to stop being considered wrong; in other words,
we developed an intense passion for being right. This is one of the deepest
samskaric stalagmites there is. Later, mainly in our schooling, we were told
repeatedly that getting answers right was the key to success in life, and that
wrong answers were tantamount to throwing our lives away. For some the pressure
was overwhelming, some less so, but in the modern world this pressure is
ubiquitous. And because these beliefs are so commonplace, we don’t even notice
them. Beyond that, we don’t notice how we twist our lives to appear to be
always right. We routinely make up stories to cover our tracks, dissimulate,
divert, and protest our innocence, all the while praising truth to the
rooftops. And we hardly notice the discomfort it causes us—it’s just the
“normal” state of a human being. Yet if we can give up that unnecessary drive
to defend ourself, we’ll notice a tremendous feeling of relief, accompanied by
a freeing up of our options.
not easy. I related a time about ten years ago when I went through an amazing
period of my life falling apart. I was barraged with accusations from all
sides, true, false and irrelevant, and was forced to accept them all. My urge
to resist was tempered by long apprenticeship with Nitya, but it still was very
strong. I never realized how deep my need to be seen as a decent human being
was. It was incredibly difficult to admit to everything, false and utterly
demeaning accusations most of all, and give up the urge to defend myself. But
doing so actually launched me into a new state of being. Still, I wonder if
anyone would ever take the leap if they weren’t forced to. It’s a very painful
transition, like being born again. Only much later can I be grateful for having
gone through it.
problems we meet in this verse only yield to a dialectical solution. They
cannot be resolved in a linear fashion, because truth and untruth are always
intermixed. If we lean on one side, the other rises in response. When we asked
Prabu when he first arrived what he liked about the Gurukula ideals, he said
right off that the dialectical approach drew him to it. It appeals to us
intuitively. We knew immediately he had come to an appropriate place.
we have downplayed any purification rites in this study, it is nonetheless part
and parcel of sane living. The trick is to not make it into an ego program, but
merely the natural outgrowth of a healthy attitude. I just got a note from
John, talking about the next verse, that is totally appropriate here: “It make
sense to me that by subtracting all the knowable that you get to the unknown
and get to know it. But even if I
label it Zero - or nothingness - am I not in danger of somehow putting more
knowable back into the unknowable than might belong there?” That’s just right.
Let it be. We can’t force it, nor can we sit idle. Defining it changes it into
something else. Finding the neutral ground in the midst of the swirling
dualities of life is a high art form, and a challenge we intend to rise to.
closing paragraphs made for a knitting together of all the tumultuous ideas of
the verse, so beautifully addressed in our dedicated communal search:
can meditate on your own self as a wayside pond. You should be a very sacred
reservoir of wisdom, but instead the way of the world is such that you are like
a neglected pond, and every gust of wind from the public media, school,
university, church or home is blowing into you and filling you up with garbage.
See all the rubbish that has accumulated so far!
it’s not quite all rubbish. Here and there you will also find some precious
stones amid the trash: a heap of rubbish, then a pearl; another heap of
rubbish, but then a diamond. There are some people who are successful in
burning away all the trash and gathering together their pearls and diamonds to
make an inside which is rich and beautiful. You can work that way on yourself.
Neither This Nor That But . . . Aum:
think that our inner self is a private possession secretly guarded in the
confinement of our heart. In fact, nothing is more exposed to the caprices of
the outside world than our sensitive inner self. In this verse the Guru
compares our inner self to a neglected pond in the middle of a wasteland where
sandstorms are common. The wind blows, continuously whipping up sand from all
sides to disturb the tranquil limpid water. Several patterns of ripples arise
on the water's surface and distort all the reflected images. Further, the same
sand, after polluting the water by making it murky, sinks to the bottom and
changes the formation of the terrain. Thus, continuous affection comes to the
terrain, to the water and to the surface; or in other words, to the ground, the
content and the mode.
sandstorms to which we are exposed are the many phenomenal items that come to
us as the perceptual images of what we see and the conceptual images of the
words we hear or read. Everything we see, touch, smell, taste and hear affects
our consciousness and causes reactions of love, hatred or indifference.
Consequently, we experience pulls of attraction or repulsion. These correspond
to the everchanging checkered patterns the ripples make on the surface of the
pond. The murkiness of the water corresponds to our changing moods and the mud
that settles on the bottom, altering the pattern of the terrain with deposits
of one layer upon another, is the conditioning. This in Sanskrit is called
samskara. The samskara of a previous life, or the innate disposition with which
we are born, is called vasana. Vasana itself is a superimposition of ignorance
on the Self.
says that when seeds germinate their shoots grow vertically. Later, horizontal
winds blow and bend their stems, making them grow into crooked trees, or force
creepers to entwine upon them. In our social life we are exposed to the
horizontal pressures of society, and that distorts our nature. We become
arrogant and assertive, or else submissive and dependent.
the phenomenal wind is false, why do we not refuse to be affected by what we
see and hear? Maya is not false altogether. It is both true and untrue. Love is
true and attachment is false. Truth is real and appearance is deceptive.
Compassion is valuable, but it can make a person vain or it can be used as a
cover to exploit another. Beauty is goodness, but sensual attraction can be a
trap. Thus, all higher values have their counterfeits. We realize our mistake
only after we experience the deception. It is hard to keep away from
THE process by which the transparent and pure factors that
originally made up what is called the ‘inner self’ or atma of man, as given to
contemplation, is transformed from its original purity and unity into
multiplicity, and its degradation to gross indigence in its spiritual status, is
here pictured by the Guru through the analogy of a neglected well such as one
sees on the coastal regions of Kerala. The horizontal gusts of wind prevail
eternally, and the process of sanding-up of the original water is to be thought
of as eternally happening from the bottom of the water from inside and upward.
On the other side the limpid transparency of the water that was once present is
perhaps to be treated as also far removed in time. Whether water is still
present or not in the well is not important to the analogy, whose purpose is to
reveal the operation of the factors that destroy the transparency of the
original waters and keep making it opaque or translucent.
The two factors involved are: one of truth that helps the
participation of mind with matter; and the other of falsehood which is a
contrary wind which counters the possibility of their participation. The
operation of these two factors, eternally and together, results in the
multiplicity that life presents to the non-philosophical mind.
‘Measureless sand’ is referred to here as against
installments of sand, so that the reader may not have the
impression that the process has a beginning and is to be visualized as a mere
phenomenal fact of the outer world. The purpose of the analogy would be best
served only when the picture and the process it portrays are fitted correctly
into the structural philosophical background where they are to be operative.
Similarly the hierarchy of untruth here referred to would suggest the
co-existence of truth with falsehood for all time, instead of coming into force
suddenly. Wisdom has always by its side its own enemy in the form of nescience.
If one is light the other is darkness or smoke. This second
negative factor has been compared to smoke in a flame, the dust on a mirror, or
to the amnion and the allantois that cover the foetus. In the Bhagavad Gita a
high absolutist status has been conferred on this negative factor, which is
there described as having the form of desire (‘kama-rupa’) and which is further
alluded to as nitya-vairi (eternal enemy) of the wise. (Gita, III. 39). This is
a clear recognition of the horizontal factor operative at the very core of the
The horizontal gust of ever-wafting winds here, blowing
untruth against the interests of the transparent waters of the well, is the
same factor. Both vertical and horizontal factors operate on the Self at one
and the same time. This is neither strictly an event nor a process, but has to
be understood philosophically as both, with all its subtle dynamic and static
implications. Human life touches here the philosophical paradox of the one and
the many, and the other possible paradoxes of the big and the small or the
material and the spiritual - all of which are implied in this transparency or
opacity through which matter and spirit participate.
The participation of mind and matter has been a metaphysical
problem that has uniformly agitated minds of all countries through the ages. In
India itself, Vedanta has its schools of Advaita, Visishta-advaita and Dvaita
(non-duality, qualified non-duality and duality), which have between them
contributed so many volumes of polemical literature of the most hair-splitting
order that the discussion itself is sometimes considered sterile and useless. The
Upanishads contain hints of this subtle participation, sometimes referring to
it as the bridge that gulfs immortality or as the double road that links and
permits the two-way traffic between two great cities.
There is an ambivalent osmosis of plus and minus involved
here which requires much insight to grasp. To help in such an understanding the
Guru here resorts to the analogy of the clear waters of the well that gradually
get sanded-up by adverse winds of falsehoods. Imagination and insight have to fill
in the gaps to make the picture living and complete.
distraction that can fill up our lives reminded me of a contemporary media
class I took in college. The teacher was talking about how we have access to so
much information that simply knowing about something makes us feel as if we are
doing something, though that is certainly not the case. In fact, it's as if
more information leads to less participation. And this was in 1968! Long before
that proliferation of constant news, always available information and screens,
screens everywhere. It is something to remember when we are given choices. What
will stabilize us, lead us to a deeper, personal understanding? And what will
be an endless tangent?
on the image from the beginning of the Introduction to That Alone:
thin, intense-looking man sat quietly next to a small pond near the southern
tip of India. The man's legs were crossed in lotus pose and his body remained
quiet, but his thoughts were intense and penetrating. A bright sun shone
brilliantly on the surface of the water, and each tiny wave carried a burning
image of the solar disk on its crest. The pond was alive with the dancing,
shimmering wavelets, undulating hypnotically in a way that would have mesmerized
anyone less wakeful.
soil in this region is sandy in all directions, to the south and west joining
the shore of the Arabian Sea with a barely noticeable break. Palms and scrub
undergrowth grow sparsely in the desert soil, twisted by heat and prevailing
winds. At the foot of the nearby mountains, increased nutrients allow the
jungle to grow more thickly, while the tropical climate favors an exuberant
outburst of life. Vines cover the trees, epiphites blossom on every branch, and
insects swarm in profusion. Snakes, many of them poisonous, lie camouflaged in
branches fallen to the ground.
the day wore on a light breeze sprang up, and sand and dust sifted onto the
pool's surface. The man watched carefully as the dirt slowly sank into the
crystalline water, swirling downwards as myriad speckles of light, until lost
in the darkness of the depths. He knew that in time the little lake would fill
totally with sand, becoming as dry and barren as much of the land around it,
but that the wind would also scour out a new hollow in a new location which the
monsoon rains could fill up in turn.
the young man critically studied the scene the depth of his contemplation
intensified. The wind sang through the vine laden trees nearby. The multiple
sun-images gradually merged together, increasing the light to a dazzling
degree. Suddenly, like a dam giving way, his awareness was flooded with insight
rushing upon insight, and he was enveloped in a gloriously all-embracing
happiness. In the face of such meaningful brilliance, the best he could imagine
doing was to incline in reverent adulation of the source of all this wonder.
in his state of blissful contemplation, the man's mind reeled with the
implications of the scene before him. Not a single insight, but a full flood of
them prevailed on all sides, filling his whole being with understanding. The
wayside pond became a perfect image of humanity's eternal situation. Whatever
elements were present in the surrounding world, the winds blew them into the
pond. This meant that if an individual self was likened to a neglected pond in
a waste land, the winds bringing in dust from the surroundings represented the
forces of nature or maya presenting perceptual and conceptual material. Each of
these sensory forces affects consciousness by producing some kind of reaction,
as an agitation of the surface. By its very presence the material affects the
clarity of the water, and as it sinks to the bottom its accumulation alters the
terrain in the same way that samskaras condition the individual, by slowly
changing its shape.
the blissful meditator the one sun above clearly represented the Absolute, the
giver of all light and life which remains unaffected by the rotation of the
earth, cloud activity, storms, or any other terrestrial phenomenon. This was
the Self with a capital 'S'. The multiple images reflected by each separate
wave, mirror, dewdrop, or other surface on the earth below were like the
endless parade of changing individuals, selves with a small 's'. Each of these
images reflected the true sun in a beautiful and uniquely distorted manner.
When the pond was still the images grew more and more perfect, though no one
would be so foolish as to mistake even the most perfect of them for the sun
itself. When wind rippled the surface the images became increasingly agitated,
until at their most extreme the image of the sun was entirely obscured. But no
amount of clouding or evaporation had even the most negligible effect on the
sun above. It was exactly like the individual self's relation to the Self:
close and harmonious in moments of peace, farther from sight as one became more
man, of course, was Narayana Guru, and just such a profound realization came to
him as he sat alone in the wilds of South India. Through him the fruits of his
revelation would begin to spread out in ripples of wisdom which would
eventually benefit the whole world. But first he had to allow the inner
principle that was instructing him to increase his understanding as much as
a grand book, the whole universe is a symbolic expression of higher truth, and
the guru principle is a name for the beautiful way in which this truth reveals
itself to the seeker. For Narayana Guru the world of nature around him was the
medium of this invisible wisdom transmission, so that everywhere he looked what
he saw was full of meaning. The vines climbing into the trees spoke of the
pattern of our lives where the accretions of memories slowly choke and submerge
our original form. The red hot ember of a stick from a cooking fire being
twirled around to produce virtual images became an analogy for the course of
our lives, with its bright, moving spark of the present leaving a virtual
aftereffect in shapes in memory. Spinning oil lamps hanging in the dark of a
simple place of worship spoke to him of the inner structure of the human body.
Waves rolling in to the shore whispered of individual existences sweeping
across the depths of the Real. Each grain of sand became for him a precious
jewel of value beyond price. He was overwhelmed by intense happiness and
gratitude for this oceanic awareness, and knew he must share it with anyone who
might also wish to embrace it. The time of teaching was not far in the future.
quietly in the midst of this flood of meaningful images, the Guru began to
formulate a new and revolutionary philosophy. While the prevailing belief of
most of humanity is that this world is either unreal or merely a practice
ground for a future life in another place, he knew from inner assurance that
this was the whole, and it was many times over more than enough. That Absolute,
which everyone spoke of in different ways, was itself manifesting as all This.
Everything was here, at this very moment. But when it was conceived of as
having a specific form, people tended to forget the original mold from which it
came—its Karu—and focus only on the form. This led to arguments and disputes.
But those who remembered the source had no need to quarrel, they were content
to know and share their knowledge.
the third paragraph of his commentary on verse 76, Nitya boils it down to one
sentence: “In this verse we are dealing with untruth in practice” (p.
531). And as he goes on to spell
out what he means in that claim he once again follows the Guru’s water metaphor
informing the verse itself. In
this case, the subject is a pond (our selves) which various winds assault
constantly. They blow all manner
of pollution onto its surface, clouding its purity in the process as sediment
eventually settles to the bottom where it acts to alter that which is already
there. Like the pond, we have
little control over whatever life throws at us, but if we can stay aware of our
position and of our continuous changing because of it we have an opportunity to
combine realization and our immanent lives. The untruth Nitya speaks of in his key sentence is the
out-of-awareness compounded effects of the world’s onslaughts—in terms of
vasanas and samskaras—that fool us into accepting chaos and cyclical darkness
Nitya continues his exploration, he moves away from the water image and into
the human condition by equating the pond’s impurities with our individual
constructions, words and concepts, that we accept as representing reality. As
Kant made so clear centuries ago, we
can never know the thing in itself, but that lack of certitude does not prevent
us from making up words about it.
Taken as a position generally, our never-ending use of language to
construct our worlds is so pervasive that by and large that reality goes
unnoticed, however much the fact remains that words are always metaphors of our
own design. What happens, writes
Nitya, is that the tail comes to wag the dog: “the words you speak, the words
you hear and even the words you think come to control your life from morning to
night. . . . So you are living in a world that is false through and
through” (p. 531).
certainly is useful for our getting along in the world of necessity, but when
that position completely blocks our vision and obscures truth, we end up
embracing words and concepts as the only reality, lost in maya’s dance (stirred
up water). Buddhists and
Vedantists, writes Nitya, have differences as to how one can avoid this trap,
but they like everyone else face this perennial condition. In any case, by designating
the Self as
real or by recognizing maya and by knowing yourself as not that, you may arrive
at that balance of awareness required for stability and non-attachment.
practical terms, dealing with the untruth of maya demands a clarity of mind
that can distinguish between what is
true from what ought to be true as it
is word-constructed. In this
distinction, the realized Self can and often does assume a position frowned
upon by word/phrase constructed societies embedded in samsara. But, as Nitya
repeats, maya is untrue
and unstable where we run up against its word-crafted demands to conform to its
expectations. And for this
condition Nitya counsels us to “let it be” (p 534).
illustrating his advice, Nitya offers examples that reveal how “maya goes about
her business” as concerns the core principle all of us live and on which we
construct much of what we call “relationships”: love. The seminal error, he writes, lies in our socially (word)
constructed definition of the term.
In the name of love, compassion, justice, goodness, and so on, we often
go about conducting ourselves according to maya’s relation-definition of the
phrases. Firmly tethered to the
notion of contract, love (and the
others) becomes a quid pro quo arrangement to be measured according to what we
will receive for whatever we provide.
Narrowed to specific people, for instance, love becomes the chain of
obligation that is so very popular on contemporary daytime television. Nitya
offers the example of a young man
who had written him about his losing his job and his obligation to provide
somehow for his aging parents, “three sisters and two brothers” (p. 534).
He “should,” that is, provide for them
and was asking Nitya for advice about how to do so. Nitya points out that the young man was never consulted in
the first place when any of these people were born and, as an adult, has
responsibility for himself only (and for any dependent children he may be
responsible for). At a certain
point of maturity, however, the child assumes a self-responsibility. Human culture,
endlessly creates “should” obligations where none exist in the first place.
A blizzard of words obscure is from ought, and, in Nitya’s illustration, results in the young man’s
constructing a ladder of obligations on a word-manufactured non-existent
contractual foundation. In fact,
says Nitya, “huge tomes full of words have been written to confuse people” who
after reading them suffer all the more because they can see how they don’t
measure up (p. 535).
Nitya continues, he presents a more specific discussion of the distinction
between love and attachment. As he
has pointed out in earlier commentaries, love “is your realization of oneness
with the Absolute” (p.536).
Attachment masquerades as love when the notion of all disappears and attention gets narrowed to one person or
thing. From there, the convention
that “one cannot live without the other” blooms full force along with its dark
sibling—one’s loss of control precisely because of the attachment: you made me
are the stuff of maya; the map replaces the territory as we spin in a world of should
only occasionally related to is. That condition, concludes Nitya, our cloudy pools of Self
constantly assaulted by wind gusts, does not suggest that truth values do not
exist hidden from view: “it’s not quite all rubbish” (p. 547). “There
are some people who are
successful in burning away all the trash and gathering together their pearls
and diamonds to make an inside which is rich and beautiful. You can work that
way on yourself” (p.
made good on her promise to elaborate, and demonstrates how we can grow from
playing a game as much as a session with a therapist, if we are alert. In fact,
we can grow everywhere in every situation:
Here is what I wrote about being right. It feels like a
beginning — very interesting to explore.
The root of needing to be right is possibly shame from early
years. Where does that start? We come into the world without shame or
self-consciousness but just like Eve and Adam in the garden, at a certain point
we hide our true selves because we are ashamed. If we don’t hide our true
selves they are left open to possible ridicule (and as time goes on, we have
taken that ridicule so much to heart that we ridicule ourselves as we imagine
or anticipate criticism). I can remember very clearly the underpinnings of my
compulsion to hide Susan. There were harsh words and punishments when I did
things wrong or made mistakes – – these included everything from grammatical
errors, bad manners, “back talking,” accidentally breaking things, accidentally
spilling things, interrupting, talking too much or at the wrong time. I got
this from my parents and from the grandparents on both sides. The message was
clearly be good, be positive, and smile. Don’t have or express anger or sadness
– – this is unacceptable. So I was ashamed of my anger, sadness, questions.
Somehow I still maintained a bit of exuberance – – my true self – – the pure,
flowing, crystal clear water of my ground. I know my family loved me and that
is huge. But they did not know how much their corrections were smothering my
confidence and equanimity. To reinforce my feelings of shame, my relatives were
complementary if I was good and kind and smiling and well mannered. I liked
that good feedback and I was a master at getting it. The more I was good, the
more I suppose extreme it was if I made a mistake or if some fault or failure
leaked through the veneer. Then I would be punished or reprimanded and I
remember the hot shame and the conversation I would have with myself in which I
would say, “Never again!” Never again will I expose myself to this shame. I
need to be right and do everything right. I need to be very careful. I need to
stop taking risks. But is that where it starts? The need to do everything for
oneself and not ask for help starts there. The need to not seem ignorant starts
there. I guess the need to not appear wrong starts there.
Through my work with you and our class I have whittled away
at this compulsion to be right. Mostly I have noticed it. I have noticed how I
tend to get defensive if I am exposed. My contrived walls are heavily defended.
As a Taurus, I am also very stubborn so that doesn’t help.
More recently, this need to be right has been thoroughly
shaken by playing the game of bridge. Three years ago some friends and I
started getting together on Sundays to teach ourselves how to play. We’re still
at it and much improved, thanks to some classes on the side and a few better
players joining our group. I love the game more and more and now play
Wednesdays too, with friends who have played much longer than I have. Despite
my enthusiasm, bridge is a real challenge for me. My brain is not naturally
suited to the logic and remembering and thinking many plays ahead that are
required. Only time and about 10,000 hands of Bridge will help me but I
persist. As a result, I open myself to critiques and analysis not only from others
but also for myself. Every time I start a hand, I'm taking a risk of sorts.
It’s amazing how realizing that I just played the wrong card sends me right
back into the skin of little Susan. I feel the shame. I am embarrassed. I don’t
want to be seen as stupid, wrong, unthinking. After each hand we analyze how it
went and that can be harsh. But vital. That’s the learning part. Some people
aren’t kind about their critiques but I’ve learned it isn’t meant to be
demeaning. It helps to have supportive friends to play with. I still hate to
look like an idiot when I play wrong card but I can let it go most of the time.
The advantage of Bridge is that you just have to keep going. I can’t get
defensive or mired in self-loathing too long because there’s always another