Everything is real in itself;
who grasps the basic truth
will understand all this as one;
if not known introspectively,
maya's great enmity certainly creates much confusion.
In fact, all that we encounter is real as such. The
philosopher in his contemplation sees everything as belonging to one unitive
principle. If this inner truth is not understood, tribulations multiply like
the snares of a revengeful maya.
All things are real enough; the philosopher, however
Grasps all things here as One; when not viewed
Through the inward eye, that great tribulation
Which is Maya, yields much puzzlement, indeed!
new year started off with a roar, with our largest gathering since the
beginning of the study more than two years ago. And not just in volume—the
benignant effect of our common contemplation has made for a maturation of the
conversation. Visitor Colleen, who last came by in 2008, expressed appreciation
for the degree of careful listening we evidenced. It reminded me that once upon
a time there was a tendency for each person to have their own agenda and just
be waiting for a chance to express it, without much bothering to listen to
others, which caused the discussion to leap around from place to place. Now
there is a more coherent flow, with due consideration for each one’s ideas,
followed by a gradual metamorphosis into new areas. It’s a significant
achievement for any group.
visitor who last attended in the 1990s, John, was appreciative of the practical
focus of the subject matter. That Alone
is not just abstruse philosophy; the content is routinely referred to people’s
current problems. One hallmark of the Gurukula is the conviction that
philosophy is meaningless if it doesn’t pertain to how we live, making it
uniquely down to earth. In many places, “practical” means practicing this or
that meditation technique until you miraculously change. Here helpful ideas are
intentionally related to everyday life. They may be enhanced by contemplation
and meditation, but they are perfectly straightforward and realistic. Nitya
expresses this right out: “This is not just a verse for philosophers. Anyone
who wishes for peace, joy and harmony in their daily life should know it.”
some time we have been closely examining the degree of reality in what we
perceive and know, so it’s gratifying to have our doubts removed at last, as
this verse does. Lots of people are undone by the degree of unreality they
experience, or are told they experience, and some even go mad. Narayana Guru
must have anticipated the stress induced by this, so he takes a moment to bring
us to our senses. Nitya puts it this way:
After such a minute study of all
aspects of the Self and its indivisible aloneness, even when we come to the
eighty-eighth verse of Atmopadesa Satakam
the world has not disappeared. It persists, through all the reevaluations we
have had. And we are the same people. We are engaged in the same kinds of
activities, and we still react to each other the same way.
the world persists must it be real? Is it real or not? Does it exist or not
exist? Narayana Guru says have no quarrel—just take it for granted the world
exists. Not only this world. Whatever there is. It’s all okay. Sakalavum ullatu,
everything is real.
After all, nailing down exactly what reality is is an
endless task. We have better places to put our energies.
can tell from the commentary that Nitya was addressing a much younger crowd of
admiring students, sizzling with intense emotions. It’s gratifying to note how
the current class members ruefully recognized those chaotic states, but more as
memories than as immanent predicaments. Most of us have had many years to
inculcate the teachings in our lives, and it shows.
doesn’t mean problems no longer arise. The drift of the class was initiated by
Nancy, who is a paragon of steadiness under fire. She wondered exactly what the
verse is telling us in terms of coping with hostile situations. We are asked to
see the oneness within the world’s diversity, but what exactly does that mean?
What do we do when we don’t understand why people are unhappy with us? The
subject is often treated overly simplistically, holding that we should just
tune out or walk away from conflicts. Yet if we are engaged with the world, as
in business or family matters especially, walking away is a lose-lose
proposition. We are not being directed by the gurus to sit in oneness and
ignore multiplicity, but to embrace both at once. Since we already know
otherness so well, our task is to reintroduce unity as the saving factor. Doing
so brings about the win-win of mitigating our own suffering and simultaneously
making us more competent to resolve other people’s complaints about us.
asks, “What is wrong with seeing everything as many? Nothing. Then why this
insistence on seeing everything as one?”
He offers a reprise of sama and anya, sameness and
otherness, which is a key element of the whole teaching. I feel that his
explanation of this verse is a triumph of exegesis, about as close as words can
get to lifting us out of the mire. After detailing how we are repeatedly caught
by the three gunas, he elaborates:
That’s why the Guru says if you are
always seeing things as distinct and separate, you are in a world called anya.
Sattva, with its attraction; rajas, with its infatuation; tamas, with its
binding and darkness—this pattern will repeat again and again. So why don’t you
turn to the other possibility, to sama? Sama is seeing everything as one.
this mean that everyone will blend into one common material? Not at all. You
are only asked to see things differently. When you see things outside you
experience confusion, and this leads you to maya’s revenge. But just as you
have eyes turned outward to see things and facts, you can cultivate an inward
eye to see how one consciousness is transforming itself to become the knowledge
of things and facts.
dilemma resonated with everyone. We all feel the sting when things go wrong,
and struggle to find a sensible way to cope. Don made an excellent
contribution, suggesting that if we treat conflicts not as evidence of
hostility but as aspects of an overarching context we are mutually
participating in, we can deal with them much more successfully. It means
holding ourselves open when our initial feelings urge us to close down and
leave the scene or worse, bite back. The hurt feelings are especially acute
when our integrity is challenged, which is not uncommon. Several people
asserted that at that point you have to realize the other person is caught in
anya and rejecting sama, which means their position is off kilter. We don’t
have to credit them as being all-wise and ourselves as culpable. The legitimacy
of everyone should be beyond question, but we live in a society that makes hay
by denigrating the opposition, where you don't have to propound a valid
argument if you can just run the other person down.
we can accurately discern the true motivation behind the other person’s
posture, we may be relieved of shouldering the blame and also be able to see
how we can best respond to the real, rather than the often bizarrely
exaggerated, issues. The other person may well be unaware of how they are
distorting the situation. For instance, in business matters holding the money
makes people feel like the masters, and so they might treat those they employ
as mere servants. They may believe this allows them a wide latitude for
delivering insults and making capricious demands. But of course a highly
skilled person would naturally take this as a demeaning insult, and their
talents would be bottled up, unless they can see through the flimflam and hold
to the essentials of the task. Nitya touches on this when he says:
You need to have an inside knowledge
of the forms of transformation. This doesn’t take you away from any external
reality. Instead of seeing the external world as many disjunct, separate
entities, you see it as organically related to the one common reality or
beingness to which everything belongs.
So the oft-derided perspective that there is an underlying
unity to existence is what saves the day. Absent it, life is a series of
pitched battles, with every man and woman in it for themselves.
was perplexed by Nitya’s exposition of different types of thinking:
This is a good time to remember that
our thinking processes can be circular, linear or deep. When you worry, your
thoughts go in vicious circles, which is why you can’t easily get away from
them. This is called cinta in
Sanskrit, and is the worst kind of mental operation. In linear thinking you
start with a statement, and then see what is connected or associated with it
and where it leads to, before proceeding logically to the next item. You direct
your thoughts with reason, called vicara.
It’s a better way of thinking, but often is somewhat limited.
the third way of thinking, you don’t allow your mind to run away. First you
decide what your standpoint is. Next you look at the field and decide what its
scope is. You have to decide not to be carried away by anything you have
previously heard, not allowing any kind of memories to come and distract you.
You just repeat what you hear and penetrate into the heart of it, so that you
can have an intuitive grasp of its meaning. This is manana.
Colleen correctly recognized that the deep or dialectical
pattern of thought is not useful to someone who is mentally unbalanced. It’s
true, and that’s why I sometimes refer to this type of study as psychotherapy
for the sane. There is a developmental progression implied in these three major
thought patterns. The circular mode actually stems from something more like a
focal point, and is the beginning of coherent mentation. We begin our mental
development by drawing a one-to-one correspondence between what we perceive and
our conceptual image of it. In mental illness there is an inability to
establish a steady relationship between percepts and concepts, for a variety of
reasons. Circular thinking is evidence of this inability, as the mind
haphazardly orbits around but cannot reliably access the point of focus.
the mind is well grounded, a linear mode of thought becomes possible. Induction
and deduction are linear, and form the basis of the academic orientation. They
are like going from one dimension to two, a point to a line. Dialectical
thinking is the way the mind can attain three dimensional or holistic stature,
and that is where we are making our efforts in the class. More on this can be
found in Nataraja Guru’s Unitive
Philosophy, from page 376 on, and I have excerpted the kernel from it in The Path
to the Guru, on pages 232-3. In
his Gita commentary, Nataraja Guru clarifies the relationship:
to Krishna, who is an absolutist, he is going to show how Arjuna can surmount
his duality by the right use of dialectics, by applying this method only to
unitive values which come within the scope of contemplation, and not merely for
decisions between alternative advantages here in the world of multiplicity and
action. Dialectics is conducive to unitive understanding only, and spoils the
case when applied to ordinary situations in life where usual ratiocinative
methods or logic would be the proper instrument to employ. (112)
verse 88 commentary is the most excellent explication of how the gunas—sattva,
rajas and tamas—affect our life, and also the intent and significance of the
four great dictums of Vedanta. Nitya’s elucidations need no amplification, and
should be reread just as they are. But let me highlight two points about the
first dictum, tat tvam asi,
meaning “That you are,” or “That
of all, That, or the Absolute, is the mystery of mysteries. It remains elusive
no matter how we try to latch onto it. The fact that we can never pin it down
is actually a very good thing. Meditation on tat tvam asi keeps drawing the mind deeper and deeper into the
mystery. To believe you’ve got it figured out would only interrupt the process.
Nitya assures us, “Every Guru whispers this great secret in the ear of his
disciple, but you can shout it out loud, and still nobody will hear. The
secrecy won’t be lost even in a million tellings.”
there is another point seldom mentioned, that the order of the words is
The teacher did not say “You
That.” If you first think ‘you’, you only think of your body and the rest of
your individuation. To avoid that mistake you are first instructed to meditate
on tat, and then place yourself in That.
how do we boil all this down so that we can have something useful to take away?
All our churning comes from desire, and this is based on anya, the otherness
that must be attained. In sama, everything is already ours. We are That in
essence, and That is All. So we are not being asked to stop enjoying life, as
some would imagine, but to enjoy it all the more, knowing everything is ours
and we belong to it. Nitya offers a very convincing explanation:
Otherness is the beginning of trouble
in the world of the many. Any number of things we don’t think are ours haunt
our minds. The mind keeps on saying “How to get, how to get.” We want to get
things, people, and put them in our pocket. Then alone will we be happy. We
want to be able to pull them out and say “You are mine. Jump around.” Or walk
around or sit around. “See. This is mine.”
Then we put them back in our pocket. It is so very comforting.
want to possess. Then you want to dominate. You want to master. There is a
powerful joy in all of this.
to your dismay the other person wriggles away. It causes you great upset,
heartburn even. You want to capture and hold on to that fellow, but they won’t
play along. It is just like when some silly cat almost comes to you, and then
suddenly it turns and runs away. It’s so soft and cuddly, but it never allows
you to quite catch it.
desire things only as long as we know they are not ours. Once something is in
our possession there is no more desire for it. Does anyone desire that their
father should be their father? No. They take it for granted that he belongs to
them. Why should they desire their father to be their father?
with sattva, we are attracted to things that are really beautiful, really worth
admiring. But we have been trained all our lives to believe that everything is
foreign to us, anya, and we have to take drastic steps to annex it. If we
simply realized that everything we experience is already a part of us, a
profound contentedness would spread through our very bones. Nothing would
change, and yet everything would change. We might even be able to treat our
detractors as friends in disguise.
bottom line is: love but don’t crave. Don’t feel needy. As Prabu reminded us,
the resolution of all conflict is to arrive at love. Love is unitive, and in
the final analysis it is the only thing we can honestly contribute.
Possessiveness, and its shadow side, self-abnegation, block the free flow of
love. They are learned behaviors we can and should counteract, to let the light
in once again.
Neither This Nor That But . . . Aum:
the preceding eighty-seven verses many aspects of the Self and the world have
been dealt with. After considering all these expositions, if one has a calling
to fulfill his obligations in the workaday world, insisting on the reality of
transactions, no one can tell him that the world does not exist. In this verse
Narayana Guru agrees with such a person by saying that in a transactional sense
everything has existence. In the transactional world the polarization is
between “I” and “this”; the cognizing consciousness of the individual is on one
side and on the other are the countless entities that can be treated as the “other.”
As it has been pointed out already, there are two kinds of visions, anya and
sama. Seeing each thing separately is called anya, which fixes the status of a
separate object, and seeing everything as one is called sama.
person who sees everything as one is referred to in this verse as a tattvacintagrahan,
meaning a philosopher. This Sanskrit term is very suggestive, as it can be
split into tat + tvam + cinta + grahan. Tat means “that all-inclusive reality
which transcends the scope of being treated discursively”; tvam means “you and
whatever is experienced by you,” or, in other words, the content of your
consciousness which is the world that you transact with or relate to; cinta, in
the present context, means “contemplative reasoning”; and grahan means “a
person who grasps the conclusions of his ponderings.” Such being the
qualifications of a philosopher, it is no wonder that he sees everything in
this world as belonging to the one reality.
the Upanishads there are four well-known dictums, which are called mahavakyas.
One of these is tat tvam asi, “that thou art.” This is also called the dictum
of instruction. As a novice in philosophy is expected to meditate on this
dictum, he can justifiably be called tattvacintagrahan, one who has properly
discerned the relationship between the Absolute and the relative world.
in the external world are varied and separate, or at least that is how we treat
them. One might ask what is wrong with that natural disposition. The answer is
somewhat complex. Unity is the essential nature of everything and somehow
everything is held together by a force of attraction. This is true of the
galactic system and of the molecular universe. What is true of matter in this
respect is also true of consciousness. One person is attracted to another
because of their essential unity, but, as they outwardly seem to have separate
bodies, the idea of the “other” comes to both of them and they desire the
other, or at least one desires the other. Desire is a great source of trouble.
A person is not tormented by a desire for his own legs or his hands: as they
are already his he treats them all as organically one. Similarly, a person does
not desire his parents to be his because that factor is to him an undisputed
reality. One can, however, feel great attachment for one's parents and great
pain may be experienced on the eve of a separation from them, caused by death
or otherwise. This attachment is born of the idea of the “other,” and besides
desire and attachment, the idea of the “other” can also cause hatred, greed,
lust, anger and fear. In this verse, Narayana Guru calls these the revengeful
acts of maya.
is another name for prakriti. Prakriti is constituted of sattva, rajas and
tamas. The nature of sattva is to spotlight a value; rajas makes the mind
fascinated with the value highlighted by sattva and it infatuates the mind with
a relativistic coloration; and tamas binds the mind to the object of
infatuation and causes an inertial opacity which blunts the vision of value,
and, as the light goes, the desired object becomes a meaningless burden. Nature
repeats this series by turning the mind to yet another object of desire. A
wisdom seeker desires to free himself from the fetters of nature.
laws cannot be violated. Seeking the Absolute while living in the relativistic
situations of nature is as hard a task as navigating a boat upstream against
the current of a river. To attempt such a hazardous enterprise, one should know
all the intricacies of nature, as nature favors those who know all her secrets,
but does not pardon any mistakes whatsoever. The gravitational pull to earth is
a law of nature and wing lift is another law of nature. If, by firing jet fuel,
one can create enough lift on a heavy body to surpass the gravitational pull,
that heavy body can rise into the sky. Thus, by using two laws of nature we can
control the flight of aircraft; however, the slightest mistake can make the
plane crash or blow up. This kind of insight is applicable to all the
transactions in which nature is involved.
Guru does not stop a person from his mundane pursuits or from carrying out his
transactions, but, in his infinite compassion, he cautions people to be aware
of the harsh laws of nature so that they can be used for their own advantage,
mundane as well as spiritual.
HERE the Guru makes a concession to the standpoint of the
common man in everyday life,
who is not motivated by any desire to seek ultimate philosophical truth. In the
very first verse
of the work the Guru took the precaution of hinting that those who are not keen
about higher knowledge may not find the work interesting. Realism is not a
position that requires philosophical support. Persons who are content with
appearances are welcome to lead a life which might be full of errors due to
lack of deeper understanding. To avoid error at the gross as well as the subtle
levels of human life, one has to take an inward contemplative view of reality.
Such a view is what philosophical vision implies. After 87 verses, in which
life-problems have been examined in a certain order, the Guru arrives at the
notion of Maya, which is the inclusive name given to all the possibilities of philosophical
error to which
the human mind is prone.
It is true that even in India this appeal to the negative
principle of error has been questioned by philosophical schools rival to that
of Sankara, who is known as the ‘Maya-vadin’ (one who put forward the theory of
Maya or formulated it as a part of his doctrine). Ramanuja puts forward seven
main objections (anupapattis) to this ‘theory’ or ‘doctrine’ of Maya, as it is
sometimes alluded to. In fact Maya is neither a doctrine nor a theory. It is
only a term which stands for a negative principle of incertitude such as we
have examined the nature of in commenting on the two previous verses. Hegel has
the concept of ‘negativitšt’ with which he supports his dialectical
absolutist standpoint. The term is an epistemological and methodological
necessity to signify and name all possible philosophical errors under one
over-all heading. Idealism and realism cannot have the same accent placed on
life-values, although they could have a common frame of reference. Ramanuja
gave importance to devotion to God while Sankara gave primacy to wisdom. The
difference between them is therefore negligible, as belonging to their
particular method of developing the notion of the Absolute. When we remember
that the word Maya is known to the Upanishads, the use of the term by the Guru
is to be taken as but normal and natural. Maya is not a reality but merely an
expression to signify the category of all possible errors in philosophy before
it can arrive correctly and methodically at the notion of the neutral normative
Absolute. The Guru, in the second half of this verse, recommends an
interiorized view that will save the philosopher from getting lost in
extraneous details. Bergson’s metaphysics recommends the same inner rather than
outer view of reality (20)
(20). Cf. p. 1424 ‘Oeuvres’, Paris 1959.
the most persuasive reason not to bother waking up is the persistence of the
world. As Nitya indicates in his
opening comments on this verse, “The world has not disappeared. It persists”
in spite of our best
efforts to understand or evaluate it (p. 619). In our contemporary world, it would seem that the solution
to all the madness lies in stamping it out once and for all. Having corrected
necessary for it, human nature will conform to its new surroundings and heaven
on earth established. Unexamined,
in this paradigm is the essential character of that human nature and its
fundamental correspondence to the world.
If conditions designed through human mental concepts dictate or mold
human character, then what is produced must be of that same character. By following
this cause-effect chain we
arrive where we started, a condition that demands more of the same as long as the
illusion holds sway, as long as the world remains in place. And in spite of our
best efforts, the world remains as it always has been. Our technological advances
natural laws that always existed and their discovery does alter our relationship to the world but does not alter the
world itself. It is this eternal
consistency that the Guru and Nitya address directly in verse 88 and its
commentary. By turning inward
rather than outward, we can “get a grip,” so to speak: “Anyone who wishes for
peace, joy, and harmony in their daily life should know it” (p. 626).
the oneness of the Absolute, our world of necessity contains all manner of
forms, names and concepts. The
irony in all this variety, Nitya observes, is that they, too, are
manifestations of oneness and as such contain a dynamic tension among
them—repulsion and attraction.
Desire constitutes this fundamental element of prakriti or maya. We desire
this and/or are repelled by
that as long as we are wholly embedded in the world our senses/mind present and
thereby forget or deny the Absolute oneness of the cosmos.
we have “signed on” to our materialist world, we’ve replaced the
Sat-Cit-Ananda principle for
Maya’s alternatives: Sattva, Rajas,and Tamas. These three moods—the gunas—writes Nitya, operate in
manifestation as a continuous cycle out of awareness (as long as we stay
asleep). Maya first offers us a
glimpse of truth, Sattva, that we perceive in some thing, idea, person, etc.
that naturally attracts us. We
desire to possess that item of attraction. This powerful draw to own is then amplified by the
appearance of Rajas, or energy, which, in turn, replaces the original glimpse
of the Absolute. Infatuation
replaces desire, but the absence of Sattva introduces the third element of
Tamas or darkness, inertia and attachment. Where once stood that mote you so blindly “loved” is
now a shrew or over-bearing husband whose faults are now clearly
delineated. Once this cycle plays
out, the “solution” is to cast about for the next glimpse of Sattva to which
you can be attracted. And so it
Western religionist groups this “human nature” is taken for granted, and for
Western psychiatry it’s indispensible.
As Nitya observes, this cycle is more than individual; “the pattern
repeats throughout the whole world.
It doesn’t end until the body wears out” (p. 624). (And commences
with each new birth.)
long as we remain asleep, we are inevitably contained in Maya’s play. But
even the realized among us deal
with it because it endures and exists just as much as the Absolute. The difference
between the asleep and
the awake is in the recognizing Maya for what she is: “If you know it is the
nature of modulations to be transient, you don’t expect them to be
permanent. Then you can accept all
modulations” (p. 625).
we can assume an awake position, the laws of nature, those physically and
mathematically precise movements that inhere in nature can be used or avoided
when necessary. On the one hand is
this nature, Prakriti, and on the other Oneness, Brahman. Being
grounded in the latter while living in the former places us on that firm
un-changing foundation while observing, living in, Maya’s cycles, however
fleeting they might be.