The body and all similar things
have no being one in another,
and become untrue for that
reason; another part,
remaining without setting from
day to day,
once again, as the true form,
The substance of one body is not
in another. This fact contradicts the rejection of individual formations. As
the verity of objects persists through time, their substantiality gains the
status of the real.
The body and other things all have no being one in another,
Thus the converse position becomes untenable;
As from day to day this remains without setting
It gains the status of verity emerging once again.
his own commentary, Nataraja Guru provides a helpful summary of verses 86-88, a
particularly wonderful section of Atmopadesa Satakam:
Already the epistemological
basis on which the statements of these three verses are to be understood has
been laid by the Guru himself in verse 36, and following. The ‘same’ and the ‘other’
referred to there are no other than the two ways of knowing open to man’s
intelligence. The ‘same’ implied in reality is the inclusive principle of
togetherness, and the ‘other’ is the exclusive principle of contradiction or
difference. The impenetrability of matter is the physical expression of ‘otherness’, strangeness,
exclusiveness, or the principle of contradiction. All things hang unitively
together in the sameness which yields the unitive way to happiness and right
understanding. These two principles give the horizontal or the vertical view of
reality. In the present verse the horizontal view is taken in the first two
lines, and in the last two lines the vertical verity is indicated.
on these principles, Nitya equates ritam and anritam, the positive and negative
dynamics of truth, with sama and anya, sameness and otherness, respectively. In
Neither This Nor That But… Aum
(henceforth NTNT) he adds: “All bodies have two aspects: the perishable, when
each object is taken by itself, and the imperishable, when it is taken
materially, conceptually or nominally. The perishable aspect is called anritam
and the imperishable aspect is called ritam.” (I suspect Nitya intended immaterially,
but that isn’t how the
book turned out.)
of the main thrusts of our study is to try to discern the imperishable within
the perishable, the eternal within the transient. Nitya goes on in NTNT: “A
person living a life without exaggerations can always overcome the disasters
caused by the perishing aspect of bodies, and can continue to be in harmony
with the rhythm of the world order by faithfully holding on to the
imperishable, the unified whole.” So when events shake us up, as they often do,
we have to recover our stability by infusing our comprehension with the sense
of unity, and then our decisions will be optimized. If we merely react, we
place ourselves at the mercy of chaotic events. By reclaiming our stable
ground, we can bring our whole being to bear optimally on the situation.
an example of recovering from trauma, this week I saw a mere couple of second
video clip of how pigs are raised for food in factories, and was blasted with
torment at the horrific brutality of it, on a par with Nazi death camps. For
more than a day I was utterly heartbroken, ready to quit the earth in despair.
Torturing animals is utterly unconscionable, one of many scourges that are
growing rather than receding in our badly misnamed age of reason. I knew full
well that suicide was not an intelligent response, but that was how I felt.
Hard as it was to let go of the imagery, I slowly knitted myself back together,
not by blocking out the new knowledge, but by reaffirming my commitment to
advocate for justice and sentience in humans, and of course to never, never eat
pork or anything like it. I consoled myself a bit with the “Happy Pig Farm” we
drove past in Sweden when we were visiting Jean a few years back. Their sign
read something like “Our animals live free and happy lives until the fateful
day.” It’s the least we can do for these almost human creatures.
place of despair, then, the shock energized me to once again renew my sincerely
felt commitment to be kind to every creature, and to teach kindness and
compassion as intelligent life choices. And I continue to accept that barbarism
is widespread and not likely to be cured by anything I do or don’t do. It’s a
tragic fact of life.
point (as always) is that we humans are all too often tossed about in a sea of
confusion and reactivity. The Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction are a deeply
compassionate offering by a great seer to familiarize us with a core of
equanimity from where we not only make good decisions but also are able to feel
terrific as we make headway through life.
can’t remember who specifically it was, but you can tell from the commentary
that someone who had been enthusiastic about the study gave up and left around
this stage. That happened occasionally; people would come and go. Nitya was
very generous about it, but when you have poured your best thoughts into making
a study meaningful to an interested friend, and it seems to be resonating with
them, and then they suddenly drop out with barely a parting word, it has to be
disappointing on some level.
is a strange thing. We want to change, to be cured of our ailments, but if the
comfort of our habitual mental nest begins to break down, it can be very
unsettling. Right when the teaching begins to have a positive effect, we get
nervous and look around for an escape. As a friend put it this week, “Sometimes
it can feel a bit scary and disorienting moving beyond the usual storylines of
yogi should admit that we all hold idiotic ideas dear. They vary from person to
person, but we all have our weaknesses. Often the more idiotic our beliefs, the
harder we hold to them, since they would dissolve if held up to scrutiny. That
Alone does not mollycoddle idiocy—far from it. When our cherished illusions
begin to fall away, we are pressed to decide between comfort and spiritual
growth. Without a measure of serious will power, comfort normally wins out.
fact is, the ego insists on ruling the roost, and it weaves a compelling story
to enshrine it as top dog. Idiocy at its best, really. A practical philosophy
like this includes deflating the ego from its bloated condition to regain its
proper size. Nothing is more insulting to an ego, more threatening, than being
constrained to an equal footing with other aspects of the Self, so the
deflation is a crucial aspect of spiritual development. Given its way, the ego
will usually opt for bowing out. There has to be a deep commitment already in
place to hanging in there.
rely on defensive walls for our sense of security, and everyone wants to feel
secure. Narayana Guru and Nitya’s instruction encourages us to expand those
walls to become increasingly more inclusive, through wisdom. Like air in a
balloon, the very process of expansion reduces the density. It can feel like a
decrease of security, unless the connection with our imperishable core is
process is akin to contemplatively moving from horizontal involvement to
identity with a vertical witness. Nitya spells out the details particularly
As a seeker, when you look at your
daily activities, at how you feel fulfilled or dissatisfied, at how you are
depressed one day and encouraged on another, you doubt the value of your life.
You need to remember this is at the level of modulations. If each day you can
find a deeper level, if you can get established in the firm ground of your
beingness, then you stop worrying about the modulations. You know there is a
pure being which goes on and on. Your status then is of a witness, not a doer.
You are a knower, but not in the sense of one who gathers information.
Sitting still as a witness
naturally quiets and calms the ego. Nitya continues:
Egoistic performance, egoistic
knowledge and egoistic enjoyment, which are all in the transient field of
modulations, are now considered as actions happening in nature, produced by
nature’s own laws. You do not take the responsibility of them on yourself and
worry about them. The wind blows; therefore leaves flutter. It is a gnawing
wind; the skin feels cold. As it feels cold, the body trembles and shivers. It’s
all part of nature. You do not have any responsibility for it because it
belongs to anritam.
is the ritam then? There has to be something that persists all through for the
cloud to rain, the fire to burn, the wind to blow, for you to breathe, your
food to be digested, your blood to circulate, and so on and so on. This
mainstream of life is where ritam is.
Paul reminded us that the ego
loves to take pride in our small accomplishments, such as keeping cool under
stress. We seldom realize how bound we are, how the creeping vines of verse 8
have already had us in their grasp for many long years. We have to be ready for
the next challenge, because life is always going to give us another opportunity
to screw up.
and the next couple of verses describe our relationship with the nature
modalities perfectly. For me it has always been a major aha! section.
Unburdening ourselves of the gunas works together with the transforming to
witnessing consciousness, which will soon be described as converting from
sattva, rajas and tamas to sat, chit and ananda. The more we spend time with
this, the more it becomes our operative state of being. Nitya knits this all
together with the thrust of the verse:
triple modalities, sattva, rajas and tamas, which cause special attention,
attraction and consequent binding between you and some thing, have their effect
at the surface. You are to leave them and become the single large eye rather
than the two small eyes. You become an observer of life’s daily chores taking
place in the outer world, and of the cyclic movement of your emotions, thoughts
and memories which unfold inside you like a cinematographic film. You watch
both the outer world game and the inner world game. You become the great
witness. The transience is allowed to be, but as you know it is ephemeral and
anyam, you begin to be more allied with what persists.
persisting thing, out of which day and night, silence and articulation, rest
and motion, and meaning and non-meaning come, is sama. The two main attributes,
knowing and being, persist. When knowing and being come together as the knowing
of all and the being of all, it brings perfection. You live in perfection all
the time, while you witness pervasive imperfection on the surface. The first is
ritam, the second, anritam. Anritam belongs to the ‘other’, to anya, while what
belongs to sama is ritam. What belongs to the ‘other’ is imperfect, what
belongs to the unitive way of knowing is perfect.
This teaching is in concert with the Bhagavad Gita, where
Krishna instructs Arjuna, “The Vedas treat of matters related to the three
gunas; you should be free from these three modalities, Arjuna, free from
(relative) pairs of opposites, established ever in pure being, without
alternately acquiring and enjoying, (unitively) Self-possessed.” (II.45) The
ordinary view is that we should try to be sattvic and turn away from rajas and
tamas, but sattva is the very thing that catches our attention and begins a new
rotation of the gunas. Once our interest is aroused, we put energy into
maintaining it. When the energy drains away and we are left with the tedious
remains, tamas holds sway. Often we resign ourselves to trying to hold onto any
vestigial memory of the original interest, even after it’s long gone. Because
of this, there is every possibility of staying stuck in tamas. Nitya alerts us
to sattva’s lure, at the edge of the slippery slope:
Moving away from the center means
becoming influenced by sattva, rajas and tamas. Even sattva as such is not very
helpful. It operates mechanically with rajas and tamas in a cyclic manner.
Nature, prakriti, always functions by rotating the three gunas. When sattva
comes you feel interest. When rajas comes the interest changes into an
emotional state. When tamas comes you forget what the interest was in the first
place. You ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”…. Your whole attempt is to wean
your consciousness as much as possible away from the direct impact of these
The modalities, being reflections, are mere shadows of the
light of our being. Again, I can’t do better than quote Nitya:
On one side is chit, the pure light of consciousness. On the other side is the
reflected world of consciousness. Most of the time you don’t see how pure
consciousness operates, because you live in the reflections, in the modalities,
away from the substance. You are caught in a shadowy existence, a shadowy
understanding, and a shadowy experience of values. Being shadowy and without
substance, they fail you again and again. One has to remain quiet for the
clouds to pass, and the sun of consciousness to shine again. Eventually it
comes back, but you have to be patient. You cannot push the clouds away any
more than you can push a river where it doesn’t want to go.
Of course, Nitya is implying a
dynamic quietude, not a tamasic, closed-off one. I always think of a gyroscope,
which owes its stability to its spinning motion. If it stops spinning, it falls
over. Likewise, being a witness requires alertness, combined with a restraint
of the wobbling affections of partisanship.
was such a rich class! Some of it may have to go into a later episode. After
the next session we have two weeks off for the holidays, so everyone will have
time to recover. It’s a great season to reflect and practice being a witness,
especially since this time of year features the highest stress levels, at least
for us far northerners. For now, I’ll close with a very important idea. Nitya
enunciates very clearly how realization is a slow growth process. People make a
big deal of the spectacular acid trip kind of realization, since it makes
exciting reading, but it’s by no means the whole story. If we take it to be the
only important aspect of spiritual life, then everything else gets shoved aside
as unimportant. In place of that, we are trying to infuse every moment of our
lives with meaningful intensity.
who loves to garden, was drawn to Nitya’s flower analogy. She is given
confidence by the idea of incremental growth, where the flash idea is daunting
for most of us. Basically, we’ve all experienced growth throughout our lives,
but only a few have had rare moments of major breakthroughs. Nitya puts the
idea this way:
In one sense we can say that
realization comes like ten thousand suns shining all at once. It is also true
that you gain ground little by little, more like the sprouting, growth and
unfolding of a flower. You can’t tell how much the flower grows in a day, but
it is nonetheless growing. Like that, you gain your ground in wisdom in
invisible increments. Some days you make mistakes and prakriti wins. The next
day you make amends for your shortcomings and go further. If nothing else you
have learned how nature can come and assail you when you are weak or
unprepared, and the next time you will be prepared.
game is continuous. The pursuit is continuous, growth is continuous.
Realization is also continuous.
Susan was enthusiastic for the snow analogy. It does seem
that problems pile up if we don’t deal with them. Nitya concludes his talk with
an appeal to keep up our energy and focus:
Both kinds of realization are happening.
There is a gradual maturing, and also the sudden flash. It seems the flash gets
most of the attention. The maturing part is also important, where you have to
fight against the constant clouding of your intellect by nature. It’s like the
road workers clearing the roads of snow while it is snowing. As soon as they
clear it the snow starts building up again, so they have to do it all over
again every half hour or so. Like that, sometimes winter sets in in your mind,
and the snow falls. What can you do? Just wait for spring to melt it for you?
No. If you turn away from the clearing of the snow, it will become more and
more heavily laid down. So get exposed to the discipline.
Neither This Nor That But . . . Aum:
appear as separate entities, such as a man or a dog, a pen or a book, a cup or
a saucer. The body of a thing has its own special qualities which makes it
unique and different from other bodies. When a body perishes, its existence
terminates and it does not continue in the existence of another body. For
example, grandfather is different from father and father is different from son,
and when one of them dies his existence is not transferred to his progeny.
Their essential difference and individuality belong to their bodily existence, and
however real they might look or however dynamically they might assert
themselves, all will die one by one in the course of time. Thus, their physical
existence proves to be a transient phenomenon.
when a chair or a cup breaks, the idea of the chair or the cup does not break,
and the names “chair” and “cup” will continue, unaffected by the physical
destruction of those items. Similarly, when a person such as the Buddha ceases
to exist physically, he does not vanish altogether from our memory. In fact, in
his case, his individual existence has changed into a universal existence. Two
complementary principles in physics are the conservation of matter and the
transformation of energy. The matter that has gone into the making of a man or
a chair or a cup cannot turn into nothingness, it simply undergoes a
transformation and continues as indestructible matter. Thus, materially,
conceptually and nominally, everything continues even after the empirical disintegration
of the perceptual body-content.
cups come under the same category: cups. Thus, the exclusiveness of a thing
ceases and it becomes participatory in a class that continues to function. A
truth that can function with an operational dynamic is called ritam. Thus, all
bodies have two aspects: the perishable, when each object is taken by itself,
and the imperishable, when it is taken materially, conceptually or nominally.
The perishable aspect is called anritam and the imperishable aspect is called ritam.
vexations are caused by the anritam to which we are exposed. When we rely on
something to function forever in an individual capacity, we receive an abrupt
shock at the sudden ceasing of that individual entity. This entity could be one’s
father or mother, husband or wife, automobile or refrigerator, one’s typist or
typewriter. The physical death of one’s parents or spouse can be overlooked if
one accepts the reality of their continuous presence in one’s loving heart. The
automobile can be towed to a service station for repairs or it can be replaced,
and one can hire a new typist and get a new typewriter. This does not mean that
there is no room for the delicate sentiments one might feel for one’s typist or
automobile. They are the poetic embellishments of one’s psyche.
person living a life without exaggerations can always overcome the disasters
caused by the perishing aspect of bodies, and can continue to be in harmony
with the rhythm of the world order by faithfully holding on to the
imperishable, the unified whole.
Guru’s commentary is particularly helpful this time:
IN the next three verses we come up against a problem of
great importance in philosophy. The knotty question as to the relation between
the one and the many, the generic and the specific, and of over-all existence,
essence or substance, immanently or transcendentally understood, with ontological
or teleological implications, is brought into the focal point of scrutiny as a
correct methodology would require in this verse. We know that scholasticism has
vainly tried to determine whether God created the species or the genus. The
individuality that distinguishes a Peter from a Paul, according to some, is not
the work of God, who only thought in terms of principles and generalities. Did
God think of the particular, and is He the author of evil in the actual sense?
No satisfactory philosophical answer has been found to this day. The hand of
God has been revealed to none, while philosophers dispute and the theologies of
different religious groups wage wars.
Already the epistemological basis on which the statements of
these three verses are to be understood has been laid by the Guru himself in
verse 36, and following. The ‘same’ and the ‘other’ referred to there are no
other than the two ways of knowing open to man’s intelligence. The ‘same’
implied in reality is the inclusive principle of togetherness, and the ‘other’
is the exclusive principle of contradiction or difference. The impenetrability
of matter is the physical
expression of ‘otherness’, strangeness, exclusiveness, or the principle of
contradiction. All things hang unitively together in the sameness which yields
the unitive way to happiness and right understanding. These two principles give
the horizontal or the vertical view of reality. In the present verse the horizontal
view is taken in the first two lines, and in the last two lines the vertical
verity is indicated.
The words ‘satyam’ and ‘rtam’ refer respectively to the
and the rational (chit) aspects of
reality. The former is rightness or conformity to world order or law in the
domain of existence, while the latter refers to the formal world of logic. This
distinction is recognized as ‘fact true’ and ‘logic true’ in modern logistic.
The world order continues in spite of the alternating
falsehood implied in it from
the logical standpoint. The two kinds of verity put together constitute the
paradox of life which is to be referred to as the unpredicable in the verse
The word ‘all’ in the first line of the verse is to indicate
that it is not merely the actual single instance of
impenetrability, but the law of impenetrability of matter generally which is
under reference here. In generalizing we discuss a philosophical truth or
verity and not mere actual experience.
discussed in class the time-honored meditation on a candle flame Nitya reprises
in this verse. In essence, the flame is an analogy for life or spirit. It looks
continuous, yet on analysis it is produced by transient particles. This is one
of the fascinating dialectical paradoxes that drew Prabhu to the Gurukula
philosophy. As Prabhu related, materialists, both Buddhist and scientific, use
this image as evidence of the meaninglessness of life. Life springs as an
epiphenomenon from inanimate bits, and without them it cannot exist. Its
seeming continuousness is an illusion, and the actuality is a series of
discontinuous events produced by insentient chemicals.
wants us to know that the Guru is offering a different interpretation: “All of
us are serial in that same sense. But Narayana Guru says that if we look at
things this way we are relegating them to anya, to the ‘other’, and then they
have no truth.”
is it hard to imagine that the universe includes all those inanimate bits so it
can produce the flame? Doesn’t sentience have any place in the picture? It
seems that the flame is an essential, meaningful part of the process, giving
off light and heat where there was none before. Why should we throw it away, or
better, blow it out? That’s the illogical shortcoming of materialism: you throw
out meaning and then insist there is none. You kick up dust and complain of
cloudy vision. Then when life degenerates in consequence, it is nothing more or
less than you expected all along. To quote the Gita again:
They say that the world is
without true existence, without a basis, without a presiding principle, not
resulting from reciprocal factors (lying beyond immediate vision), as if
asking, “What else is there other than that caused by lust?”
Willfully holding to this view,
these men of lost souls, of little understanding, of harsh deeds, emerge as
non-beneficial, effecting the world’s decline. (XVI.8 & 9)
resonated with the flame analogy in a unique way. He has felt like each of our
lives is a single moment of the burning candle, only vastly stretched out in
time. This paralleled something Deb read in Speak,
Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov. When he was four years old, Nabokov realized
that he and everyone else were joined together in a river of time. It’s so beautifully
written, let me type up a bit:
Thus, when the newly disclosed,
fresh and trim formula of my own age, four, was confronted with the parental
formulas, thirty-three and twenty-seven, something happened to me. I was given
a tremendously invigorating shock. As if subjected to a second baptism… I felt
myself plunged abruptly into a radiant and mobile medium that was none other
than the pure element of time. One shared it—just as excited bathers share
shining seawater—with creatures that were not oneself but that were joined to
one by time’s common flow, an environment quite different from the spatial
world, which not only man but apes and butterflies can perceive…. Indeed, from
my present ridge of remote, isolated, almost uninhabited time, I see my diminutive
self as celebrating, on that August day 1903, the birth of sentient life….
father, let it be noted, had served his term of military training long before I
was born, so I suppose he had that day put on the trappings of his old regiment
as a festive joke. To a joke, then, I owe my fist gleam of complete
consciousness—which again has recapitulatory implications, since the first
creatures on earth to become aware of time were also the first creatures to
me, Nabokov’s river of time is like the candle flame, and each of us is an
instant in it. Without our participation, would there even be a flame?
mentioned a nuanced view of tamas, of how we stay stuck, by Oregon’s poet
laureate. Here it is:
“An Archival Print” by William Stafford:
God snaps your picture—don’t
this room right now, your face tilted
exactly as it is before you can think
or control it. Go ahead, let it betray
all the secret emergencies and still hold
that partial disguise you call your character.
Even your lip, they say, the way
or doesn’t, or can’t decide, will deliver
bales of evidence. The camera, wide open,
stands ready; the exposure is thirty-five years
or so—after that you have become
whatever the veneer is, all the way through.
Now you want to explain. Your
was a certain—how to express it?—influence.
Yes. And your father, whatever he was,
you couldn’t change that. No. And your town
of course had its limits. Go on, keep talking—
Hold it. Don’t move. That’s you forever.
found a video of the nuclear fission demonstration I mentioned: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjqIJW_Qr3c
. We were talking about the linear models
used in science classes, like billiard balls striking each other. The demo
shows how a single event can have an explosively complex effect, even if all
the elements are supposedly “square” or “linear.”
verse 86, Nitya and the Guru continue the lesson of the previous one in
examining more closely the principle of establishing “the true being of the
items that are part of our experience” (p. 605). In his commentary, Nitya extends his reference he began in
verse 85 in which he briefly mentioned a friend who was part of the group
listening to Nitya as he explicated the verses day after day. This friend noted
his disinterest in
the discussions of the verses, his tendency to want to be elsewhere—his
creeping boredom with the whole process.
In this anecdote, Nitya illustrates our common lot in the world, our
natural tendency to get lost in the details, the minutia, and lose sight of
“the supreme Absolute value of all we experience. As our attention trails off subject to Maya’s gunas we take
our eyes off the prize and are swallowed in cyclical reality.
is not saying that this world is to be avoided or denigrated or, as some would
have it, transformed into a rigidly enforced policing of all behavior, a
position that denies one half of the dualities required for the world to
function as our senses/mind have so carefully trained themselves to
recognize. Denying the charging
rhinoceros because its behavior does not comport with our happiness may assuage
the moralist in us but will cost us our life regardless of our sentiments. And
we face this contradictory
situation daily—nature and the world operate according to cycles, gunas, and
mathematical precision and all of that activity, forms, names, ideas, etc. are
unstable, will dissolve sooner or later.
We are in the middle of it all.
But as Nitya writes of nature, “You do not have any responsibility for
it" (p. 608) and all of it will pass.
problem of attachment thereby emerges as the core subject of this verse and
Nitya’s commentary on it. The
triple modalities and their binding character, their power to seduce and
hypnotize “have their effect on the surface” and will continue to exercise that
control as long as we remain as we are.
Coming to understand and know
that fact presents us with a dilemma that can be remedied, he writes, by
leaving them [the gunas] and becom[ing] the single large eye rather than the
small two eyes” (p. 608). By
assuming this position as we examine the word each day, watching “both the outer
world game and the inner world game,” we “become the great witness.”
his concluding paragraphs, Nitya adds that becoming aware and living in that
space is not stable: “The game is continuous” (p. 610). Realization,
he goes on to point out,
comes as a “flash,” but that sudden insight occurs because of the groundwork
one steadily works on beforehand.
The daily education, meditation, and labor required in order to make us
ready for this instantaneous insight is as equally important as the waking up
itself. This process he likens to
working on a Chinese puzzle that we cannot perceive as we assemble but that
comes into view all of a sudden as we back away and view the whole after
toiling for so long. But even at
this point our work is not finished.
A new puzzle always presents itself at that point and off we go. It is
in the turning away from the
puzzle that we get de-railed, a detour, I think, now ever-available in our
Electronic Dark Age.