Verses 96 & 97
The atom and the indivisible, both as being and non-being
shine from either side;
thereafter, being fades away
and the experience of non-being, having no foundation, will
The atom will disappear in the vastness of knowledge,
leaving no trace of its parts; on that day the indivisible will
without experiencing, one does not know this unbroken
it is the silence-filled ocean of immortal bliss.
The finitude of the atom and the infinitude of the
indivisible whole shine side by side as if they exist and also as if they do
not exist, so it is not possible to determine with any certainty which of these
two experiences is true.
On the day when the finite is fully absorbed in the glory of
the infinite, that knowledge will attain the perfection of the Plenum. One
cannot even imagine the totality of the all-filling consciousness without
experiencing its immeasurable magnitude. It is like an ocean of silence in
which everything is submerged.
The atom and the infinite thus, as being and non-being
Do both from either side shine forth; this experience too
Of being as well as non-being shall thereafter be extinct
And devoid of foundation, forever, both shall cease to be!
Within the glory of wisdom, the atom, bereft of parts shall
And the infinite too, shall that day its perfection attain;
Without directly experiencing this cannot be known, this
Stuff of pure intelligence, this silence-filled ocean of
paired these two complementary verses at the climax of the study because they
belong together. After this, the curtain comes down and a wise comedian steps
out to offer us a few parting words, but this is what we have been building up
to all along. All the threads of our understanding have been gathered up and
put in their proper places, to provide a firm basis for settling back down into
the core of existence. We are no longer pretenders; we know what we are doing.
Or do we? Even the thought that there is someone who knows something and that
there is something to be known has to be relinquished before we can sit quietly
in this state. The next verse will remind us of this in no uncertain terms: “We
have not known anything here so far.” Yikes!
Guru’s being and non-being are addressed by Nitya as the particular and the
general, and the class discussion began around the excellent way he treats them
in the commentary. Our brains are only capable of comprehending one or the
other perspective at any instant, and this often leads to a disconnect between
our beliefs and our everyday behavior. Some folks adhering to hate-filled ideas
can be perfectly civilized in personal interactions, without the least sense of
the more specific we are about our beliefs, the more likely we will be marked
out as someone’s enemy. Seers, by being open to the general context, accept all
specifics and are harder to pigeonhole as an enemy. This is as true with your
neighbor as much as with a far-off foreigner. By being open and non-threatening
we invite amity and accord. If we judge the other harshly, enmity is almost
certain to be the outcome, unless they happen to be a wise yogi.
of our study has been to work to integrate the general into the particular,
since so much of human tragedy stems from these aspects being out of joint. The
universal is a balm for the particular. Nitya doesn’t quite come out and say
it, because we should all know it by now: if the general is left as a pure
abstraction, it has no impact on our lives. For a healthy life, the general
needs to be real-ized by aligning it with the particular. Instead, if we turn
the general (God, etc.) into something particular (this is what God is), we
will endlessly have to struggle with the internal contradictions it generates.
We are not speaking here of some
abstract philosophy, remote from our normal concerns. This is something we deal
with every day. When we think of the particular the general naturally becomes
dimmed down, and vice versa. You can sit and argue for days whether the world
is constituted of atoms or whether it all comes as the manifestation of the
word of God, and it won’t change much in your personal life. The general and
the particular interweave all the time without having much effect on each
mused on how we are in tune with the general as infants, but we are required to
distinguish the particular for our own safety, and later for the expression of
all the higher functions we enjoy as sentient beings. It has always frightened
him how easily we substitute the small self for the vastness of truth. The
faith in imaginary realities that most are forced to accept to fit in as a
small self is highly destructive, both inwardly and outwardly. Moreover, we
don’t realize how addicted we are to the small-self realities. Letting them go
is no simple task.
agreed with Paul that taking things on faith is a cop-out. Our experience of
the particular is a limited understanding of the situation, and here we are
being asked to take in the wider world. It’s an expansive view.
often used the analogy of the triangle to clarify the relationship of the
general with the particular, and never better than here. The ideal, or say the
absolute triangle, does not exist anywhere, and yet it forms the basis for all
the particular triangles, every one of which gives an example of what
“triangle-ness” means. He explains this in the light of our chant of purnam:
It’s an exercise in mathematics,
but the rishis believe it will bring peace. Aum
purnamadah, that is perfect. You can think “that triangle is perfect,” or “triangularity
is perfect.” Purnamidam, the triangle
which you have now drawn here is also perfect. You cannot say it is an
imperfect triangle. Purnat purnam
udacyate, it is from the conceptual general triangle that the present
manifestation of the triangle is effected. That’s clear enough. Then purnasya purnamadaya purnameva avasisyate,
by deducting this particular triangle from the general—that is, by focusing on
the particular and forgetting the general—it doesn’t affect the truth of either
part. If you take them together, as all the particular triangles constituting
the general triangle, it will also be perfect. By taking them together or
subtracting one from the other you do not affect the truth. If you know this
you become peaceful.
considered a few of the more important implications of this superb elucidation.
First of all, it utterly eradicates the hierarchical view that is the
foundation of most human belief systems. Each triangle is perfect in itself,
and demonstrates a unique aspect of the general principle, no matter if it is a
commonplace triangle or an exceptional one. Moreover there is no need for a triangle
to aspire to triangle-ness, because it already is one. Ultimately, then, no
triangle is better or worse than any other. All are perfect.
amount of triangles piled on top of each other will ever equal to or be able to
serve as the general triangle. They are simultaneously the same and yet not the
same. One reveals the general triangle as much as 500,000 together do. All that
the big pile shows is the diversity of possibilities inherent in the general
concept. That means that the wisdom we seek is not a cumulative quantity, like
an extreme educational achievement or record-setting performance. We don’t have
to build anything up; it is epitomized right here in the way things are. The
Absolute is not something that is closer to brahmins than to shudras, it is the
innate template of all of us.
make sure we don’t unintentionally create another kind of limit, we have to
extend the triangle metaphor to include all forms, geometric and otherwise.
Moni and Prabu used the example of the Buddha, where billions of statues have
been crafted to try to reproduce his enigmatic essence, yet none has ever been
able to. Just as an infinite number of triangles still do not equal the general
triangle, and an infinite number of statutes do not reproduce the reality of their
subject, an infinite number of created entities do not add up to the Absolute.
An infinite number of beads counted or pranams rendered does not put us in
touch with it. Yet nothing is outside of it, either, so in a sense we are
always in touch.
the uniting concept of the general triangle, the three lines on the blackboard
would be meaningless marks, mere chalk dust on flat slate. This leads us
naturally to saccidananda, sat-chit-ananda. The triangle has three limbs, like
the holy trinity or the Absolute described as existence-subsistence-value. The
one thing has three aspects, but that does not break it up into three parts:
When you say sat-cit-ananda, do not think
three things sitting in the Absolute. There is only one thing, not three. You
can either look at the one thing as existence or look at it as knowledge or
look at it as value. The purpose of the present two verses is to synchronize
our idea of existence and our idea of value as one idea of consciousness. The
main thing is how exactly that consciousness operates.
Ah, yes. The main thing is how
consciousness operates. Nitya elaborates on the all-pervasiveness of
In the light of this
understanding, existence and value, which we have examined separately in the previous
verses, are now to be brought together. There is no separate existence as such,
and no separate value as such. There is only consciousness. The fact that
consciousness glows is existence. The fact that the glow has a certain
brilliance is itself the value.
Prabu just received a scholarship for his
graduate studies program. One of the questions he had to discuss with the
judges of the award was what his goals were as a student. I wondered how he had
handled it, since he’s more interested in philosophy as a goal than electrical
engineering. He laughed and said, “I told them the truth: I am interested in
consciousness and how it functions.” A perfect answer that could apply to any
discipline—and they bought it! Nitya ratifies his strategy here: there is only
consciousness. So what else could be a goal?
the beginning of Atmo we emerged from the karu, the core, and took a close look
at every level of existence. By doing so we have healed our misunderstandings
and dispelled our ignorance. Now we are settling back into the karu. Touching
our core is what gives meaning to our life and puts it all in perspective.
Without that element life becomes eccentric, develops wobbles. We feel cut off
from something important. It’s as if we are wandering in a desert searching for
water, yet there is a vast aquifer just under the burning sands. All we have to
do is dig a bit. As Nitya describes it:
We have now come to the last few
verses, and Narayana Guru wants us to finally retire from this endless process
of intellectualization. We cannot go on discussing forever. We have to retire
from where all these operations are taking place, and go into the very core,
the very depth, to the place particularity emerges out of and remerges into,
and the place where generality comes into focus and disappears out of focus
again. We are to turn to that source.
A lot of people wonder why we just can’t
stay in the core and call it good. From my observation, it is easy to mistake
an egotistically padded nest for the core, and the many spiritually deluded
people who make that mistake enter a kind of self-imposed fortification,
shutting out the world and its problems, and imagining they have reached
nirvana by doing so. The study we have undertaken is a kind of summary of the
process by which a guru helps a disciple to overcome the inclination to merely
screen out unwanted aspects of the total and become encysted in their
imagination. The core being the template of everything, re-entering it should
put us in tune with all the rest. It’s a place of infinite potential. Simply
shutting out input is not spiritual per se. Later in his talk Nitya offers some
more advice to keep our perspective on track in this subtle business:
To come to this you have to
retire from all discursive reasoning, from applying any and all gimmicks and
techniques, and from putting forth efforts, thinking that at the end of the
effort you will get it. You retire from your role as an actor. You retire from
your role of enjoyer and from your role as knower. You just allow yourself to
be enveloped by whatever is. In fact, the ‘is’ and the ‘is not’ are both
canceled out there. You no longer even look for what is or what is not. They
are not relevant. It’s only a question of giving up.
the Guru says there is no point in
repeating this ad nauseum, either you know it or you don’t. Either you are at
one with this beingness or you are not. It is not consciousness of anything. It
is not knowing anything. It’s just knowledge, pure and simple. It is a deep,
deep silence, where there is no question of change or transformation.
The main implication of this is that the
popular belief that we have to do something to attain the Absolute is itself an
impediment to attaining the Absolute. It is time to sit still and stop
projecting our learned concepts, which may sound simple, but often is not. The
concepts both pro and con are still only concepts until we let them go, and
this is where unintelligent quietism can fail: it’s as likely to be tamasic as
transcendent. Nitya is leading us into a penetrating awareness with his words,
which are best read through slowly. In the original class there were long
pauses between each phrase, where a dynamic silence really could prevail. You
can watch how the words evoke an image or an emotion in your mind, but then
watch as these evocations subside, leaving an undefined mass of knowledge or
“This.” “Mine.” “My child.”
the mother.” “I am the father.” “I.” “Humanity.” After making a statement, if
you allow silence to prevail and envelop you, the idea that comes with all its
brightness becomes more spread out. The sharpness of its edges goes. It becomes
vague. It fills the silence. Or the silence is interpenetrating into your
thought. The next thought dissipates into silence, and at last the silence
overcomes you. ‘This’ becomes a new pulsation of idea...no idea...idea...no
idea...yes...no...yes...no.... Then comes a ‘yes’ that has no form, because it
swallows up both the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’.
universality of things and the particularity of things, your personal
preference and the preference of all, the love you give and the love you
receive—all these ultimately subside.
observer and the observed both blend into the observation.... The knower and
knowledge, the doer and the action, the enjoyer and the enjoyment, all merge
into this one silence.... The inner and outer...before and after...the one and
the many.... All these differences are now effaced.
In a way this requires becoming lost to our
ordinary framing and expectations. Nitya counterbalances our normal assumptions
with this sense of releasing control:
The best of all the meditations I
know is not thinking or chanting or following some practice. It’s allowing
yourself to be lost, not directing your thoughts with any kind of motivated
mind, not taking interest, not picking anything up, not feeding yourself on
memories or paying heed to inner suggestions. It’s not very difficult. It
happens by itself, and then it affects others also. It’s contagious. The
silence envelops you and becomes very strong. You cannot say what kind of
experience it is, unless you are caught in it. This is something we are
carrying with us all the time.
So in a way all we have to do is stop our
discursive thinking and nurture the glow that supports it from within. We are
so much bigger than we imagine. This is from the February 2015 issue of
Scientific American, in an article linking the future of computers to the
structure of our brains:
average human brain, according to many estimates, can perform about 10 million
billion operations per second and uses only 10 to 25 watts to do so. A
supercomputer would require more than 10 million times that power to so the
same amount of work. And a computer does not even come close to performing such
complicated tasks as pattern recognition. (59)
So, as David Eagleman says, in his 2011
book Incognito: “If you ever
feel lazy or dull, take heart: you’re the busiest, brightest thing on the
you are only consciously aware of a few billion operations per second or so.
Quieting down our “bombastic inner narrator” allows the other 9.99 million
billion to percolate into our awareness more. Some of these are frayed,
traumatized neuronal connections that can and should be repaired, but we have
done what we could about that by now. We can also recognize their nefarious
influence and not pay them heed. For the rest of the operation, who knows? We
are not going to make any claims. Bathing in them is perhaps the consummation
we have been seeking. Let me quote Nitya yet again:
It is a little like
being drunk, without normal orientation. There is no purpose, no questions or
answers, no ‘I’ and no ‘other’, nothing to do. You have in a sense done
everything, so there is nothing more to do.
I guess that’s part of the key: if you
haven’t yet lived your life to the full, there is so much potential brimming up
that it would be a shame to stifle it. Once we have “done everything,” or
expressed at least a good measure of what we came to earth to accomplish, it is
much easier to “rest on our laurels.” As I recall, Nitya realized this
disparity, or realized it in a new way, right in this talk. I saw his eyes
light up as if he’d had a new revelation, just before he added, “I’m not
suggesting you get totally into this while you are still young, but short
spells of it can be very refreshing and very reassuring. It will take you home,
whatever that means.”
were a mostly young, energetic crowd, and an instruction to “stop acting” must
have seemed seriously out of place, despite its time-honored status. “Short
spells” is just right for most of us. Life is arid without a connection to our
core being, but just as in watering your garden, you don’t keep pouring water
on it all day long. You give it just enough and it thrives. Too much and it
drowns. When you aren’t watering, you can be taking delight in its endless
variegations and unanticipated intrigues. You might even slip out of the garden
unobtrusively and go buy a bottle of wine to share with a dear friend. You
never can be quite sure what the right thing will be.
couple of class members shared some of what they have learned from the time
we've spent on the Hundred Verses, and I’ll add those in Part III. Hopefully
there will be more of this later…. If the class has meant something to you,
please share it if you can.
Neither This Nor That But . . . Aum:
daily life is based on experiences coming from two sources; one set of
experiences comes from our sensory perception and the other comes from our
mind. The senses perceive particular objects and the mind places the
particulars under categories and classifications which are formulated by
general ideas. Consciousness oscillates between what is perceived and the
general idea of a previous concept which enables the mind to identify what is
perceived. Scientists, who are engaged in formulating general laws by resorting
to the logical method of induction, go into the minute details of the
particular by employing the technique of analysis and thus arrive at notions of
atoms and their constituents such as subatomic particles. As all observations
in science are to be referred to one unified principle, abstractions and
generalizations are employed to give an integrated view of the total field of
search. Thus, the world stands divided as the atomic and the universal, which
the Guru terms here as añu (atomic) and akhaond́am (the indivisible).
analytical and synthetical observations of the scientist are not different from
the experiences of the common man who, in his day-to-day life, also relates
himself to a number of particular interests and then goes to bold
generalizations which, at least every now and then, release him from the
bondage of objects, names and interests that are locally fixed. In this alternating
shift of emphasis, the idea of the particular weakens the vision of the general
and the vision of the general obviates the idea of the particular. The
alternating interests of the particular and the universal seem to operate in
turn in the mind in such a way that one pertains to the empirical world of
things and the other to the conceptual world of subjective consciousness. The
reality of a thing is not decided merely by its appearance, but by the
interest, value, or meaning it registers in an individual’s mind. To a hungry
man the presence of food is intensely real, but to a fully satiated man it is
something to be ignored. To a person who is in love with his wife or child
nothing is more real than his wife or his child, but when he resents them they
seem to become unreal to him. The main source of reality in one’s empirical
life is the need to satisfy desire and to avert fear.
the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.5.1) Kahola asks Yajnavalkya to explain to him
the Brahman that is immediate and direct, the Self that is within all. To this
Yajnavalkya replies, “This is your Self, that is within all.” Kahola then asks,
“Which is with all, Yajnavalkya?” and Yajnavalkya answers, “That which
transcends hunger and thirst, grief, delusion, decay and death. Knowing this
very Self, wise men renounce the desire for sons, for wealth and for the
worlds, and resort to the mendicant’s life. That which is the desire for sons
is the desire for wealth, and that which is the desire for wealth is the desire
for the worlds, for both these are but desires. Therefore, the knower of the
Brahman becomes disgusted with scholarship and lives upon the strength which
comes from pure knowledge. He becomes meditative. He discards what originates
from ignorance and from scholarship and he enters into silence. By cancelling
out what arises out of silence and non-silence, he becomes a knower of Brahman.”
This is what the Guru describes in this verse when he says that even the
experience of being and non-being disappears.
should bear in mind the implication of the terms “being” and “non-being.” For a
materialist or an empiricist the being is that which has an objective
materiality, such as a cup of tea which he can directly perceive as well as sip
to quench his thirst. To such a person the general notion of cups of tea
appears to be a mere idea which belongs to the world of universals and thus, in
this context, beingness is of the particular and non-beingness is of the
universal. To a philosopher or to a quantum physicist the entire universe has
its beingness in an indivisible reality and all the particular phenomena are
only transient modes; in this context the particular is non-being and the
universal alone has beingness. Whichever way beingness and non-beingness are
understood, both lose their purport again and again according to the changing
moods of the perceiver’s mind.
can also be understood in another way. According to the Chandogya Upanishad and
also to the Bhagavad Gita, the individual lives in two perishable worlds. One
is the world where man produced gains by his efforts, but neither his tools,
such as his body and mind, nor what he can produce, such as wealth, can last
very long. The other world is the heaven he may merit by his good works, but
the merit of good work is relative and eventually runs out, and the heaven that
he might win is not everlasting. Thus the world of here and that of the
hereafter are equally transient. In the present verse Narayana Guru says that
both our empirical experience and our conceptual experience, having no
foundation, finally cease to be.
the Chandogya Upanishad it is said that a person might lavish his love on his
father, mother, brother, sister, or other relatives and friends, and he might
take delight in sensual pleasures like sexuality, or in music and other sublime
sources of ecstasy. At the physical level all these items are of a perishing
nature, yet, even when any of these items are physically removed from him, he
can still hold fast to these values as the treasures of his heart. Heart in
Sanskrit is called hridaya, which literally means “here it is.” To some
people their dead parents, wife, or children are insurmountable obsessions, thus
the beingness or the non-beingness of these relatives does not prevent a mind
from being affected by the sources of desire: hunger, fear and grief. These
objects of interest are treated by the Chandogya Upanishad as anritam,
a malfunction that belongs to the nescience or negativity of the Self.
the course of our daily life we are again and again relieved from the tyranny
of ignorance when we go into deep sleep. In that state, both our beingness and
non-beingness cease to be. Several passages in the Upanishads describe the
content of deep sleep as sat, which means “pure existence.” In the Mandukya
Upanishad the state of deep sleep is described as an undifferentiated mass of
pure consciousness, prajnana ghana. We do not remain in deep sleep for long, so
when we wake we come back to the world of being and non-being. The wise man,
however, goes into the deep silence of his heart. In the Bhagavad Gita (X, 38)
the greatest secret of the Self is described as a profound silence, and the
austerity leading to such a state (XVII, 16) consists of restraining the mind
from all its cravings and purifying one’s creative imagination, so as to attain
the cheerful disposition of serenity and gentleness with which one enters into
a deep silence.
This verse is to be bracketed with the following one, as
there we are given an elaboration of the final state to which a perfect
verse 26 Narayana Guru describes the Self as the limb-owner which imprisons
itself with a veil whose strands are none other than ignorance. In the present
verse he introduces us to the final release of the finite to become once again
identified with the infinite, the Absolute.
Aitareya Upanishad mentions the three successive births of the Self. At first
it is identified with a sperm that lies in the semen of a man and has the
vigour and brightness (tejas) derived from all the limbs of the man. The sperm
is an anu of microscopic stature. The archetype of the sperm is the Cosmic
Person, ever resting in the space of the symbolic heart of the divine song gayatri,
which has for its lower limbs the light (consciousness) that animates an
embodied self, the vital fluids that circulate in the body, the nourishment
that maintains the organism and the gross world that becomes the environment of
the individuated self. (See Chandogya Upanishad, 3.12.6). When the semen
containing the sperm is transferred from a man to the womb of his mate, the
Self has its first birth, at that point it is both finite and limbless. The
Self is not created by anyone, it is born of itself, atma-bhuyah. It becomes non-different from the organism of the
woman, just like one of her own limbs; it does not injure her and she nourishes
this Self that has entered into her. A question can be asked now, “Why does the
Self recreate itself again and again?” The answer given in the Upanishads is: esa lokana santayati, for the purpose
continuing these worlds. In taking a body the Self accepts two objectives: one
is to envision the welfare of the world and the other is the contentment that
can be derived from the fulfillment of this mission. These purposes, however,
are not conducive to the emancipation of the Self. The woman subsequently gives
birth to a baby with a well-structured body, which has in it all the vital
organs needed to live a full life on earth. This is the self’s second birth.
seemingly born, the Self is unborn, and in principle it is independent;
however, as a person fated to live on earth, its masculinity is vested with the
understanding of all worldly transactions. He is a potential builder, always
eager to engage in action. In his earthly life he is continuously exposed to
needs, but he can overcome his hurdles, and his life is even punctuated with
short or long periods of joy and peace. He reasons, wills, acts and plays the
forward flowing game of life as one who will never be vanquished. He is heroic
and he establishes his supremacy in the heavens, the atmosphere and on earth.
The Self’s femininity is intelligence, and it has the power to modulate. She is
aphrodisiac, steadfast, willful and a fulfiller of the ordained. She gets into
tortuous paths even though endowed with the quality of being elusive. She is
both earthy in her designs and powerful in her words, she is the mother of all,
an intoxicating wine of life, a provider of ecstasy-like honey and an initiator
into the secrets of psychic powers.
engaging in several actions of merit and demerit, facing both the prospects of
fulfillment and of frustration, the Self finally wishes to be relieved of its
bondages. Having reached his or her age, the person dies and the Self is born
again. This is the third birth. In the Aitareya Upanishad (2.4.5), the sage
Vamadeva speaks thus of these three births:
Being yet in embryo, I knew well
All the births of these gods!
A hundred iron citadels confined me,
And yet, a hawk with swiftness, forth I flew!
In embryo indeed thus lying,
Vamadeva spoke in this wise. So he, knowing this, having ascended aloft from
this separation from the body, obtained all desired in the heavenly world, and
became immortal – yea, became (immortal)!*
the Vedic poets cared very much for the hedonistic pleasures of heaven, the
later seers discredited this as of little value, and in the Bhagavad Gita
Krishna speaks derogatorily of those who desire the pleasures of the heavens.
The highest goal praised by Vedanta is the ultimate emancipation of the Self,
the release from the fear of death and the attainment of immortality.
The following prayer is given in the Brihadaranyaka
asato ma sadgamaya
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
mrityor ma amritamgamaya
From the unreal lead me to the
From darkness lead me to light!
From death lead me to
In this prayer the unreal (asat) is none other than death
and the real (sat) is the same as immortality, just as darkness (tamas) is the
same as death and the light (jyotis) is immortality.
final emancipation of the Self is described in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in
many striking verses of profound wisdom. In chapter 4, section 4, Yajnavalkya
But people say: “A person is made (not of acts,
but) of desires only.” [In reply to this I say:] As is his desire, such is his
resolve; as is his resolve, such is the action he performs; what action (karma)
he performs, that he procures for himself.
On this point there is this verse:
Where one’s mind is attached – the
Goes there to with action, being attached to it alone.
Obtaining the end of his action,
Whatever he does in this world, He comes again from that world To this world of
– So the man who desires.
Now the man who does not desire. –
He who is without desire, who is freed from desire, whose desire is satisfied,
whose desire is the Soul – his breaths do not depart. Being verily Brahma, he
goes to Brahma.
7. On this point there is this verse:
When are liberated all
The desires that lodge in one’s heart
Then a mortal becomes immortal!
Therein he reaches Brahma!
As the slough of a snake lies on an
ant-hill, dead, cast off, even so lies this body. But this incorporeal,
immortal Life (praña) is Brahma indeed, is light indeed.
This higher state is alluded to in this verse as bliss
through and through. The Chandogya Upanishad (3.5.4) describes the experiencing
of the supreme teaching as one which produces as its essence great splendour,
and it says: “Verily these are the essences of the essences, amritasya-amritam.”
closing of this verse reminds us of the closing of Narayana Guru’s Universal
In the ocean of Your Glory
Of great profundity,
Let us all, together, become sunk
To dwell therein everlastingly in Happiness!
* All Upanishad excerpts are from Robert Ernest Hume, The
Thirteen Principle Upanishads (London: Oxford University Press, 1968)
BESIDES the dialectics of the one and the many which was treated
in the previous verse, we have the last vestige of
individuation or ideation
which refers to the part and the whole or the big and the small. These
paradoxes were known to Zeno and other pre-Socratic philosophers and have been
resolved in various ways by philosophers. The Guru here and in the next verse
comes up against the same time-honoured problem with reference to the ultimate
unitive status of the Absolute in the Self as a high value.
The one and the many are dialectical counterparts. Both of
them, like the big and the small, motion and stop, have to be resolved into
oneness, just as size is to be resolved without its relative aspects that
contradict it, and pure motion as against stop. All these solutions could apply
under the same dialectical methodology to Being and non-Being, which were
resolved in this verse in terms of a central notion of the Absolute. Zeno of
Elea and his teacher Parmenides worked on the solution of this paradox presented
at the core of the notion of the Absolute; and Plato himself through Socrates
employed and developed dialectical thinking in later times. All of them
insisted that changeless Being or Self was the ultimate Reality or Truth.
Strict logic had to be abandoned here in favour of a higher and purer way of
reasoning called dialectics, about which much vagueness still persists to the
present day. Indian Yoga methodology is akin to dialectics, as also the
axiomatic thinking gaining vogue only at present in the scientific West. (See
our later work).
THE glory of knowledge and the perfection of the Absolute
have a common ground in the
experience of the Self. The existential and the subsistential sides – into which
thought the central reality was understood as belonging
in a polarized and dual
fashion – attain a neutral unity in which cognition, conation and emotion merge into a
The culmination of wisdom has to take place in the individual, and the mere thoughtful analysis or
synthesis to which it is prone will not bring it to the equilibrium or sameness
or unity which is here to be understood. We know that the maha-vakyas of the
Vedanta such as tat-tvam-asi (Thou art That) etc.,
have all of them two sides:
one immanent and the other transcendental, or one ontological and the other
teleological, which meet to produce the ultimate experience of the yogi or the
correct dialectically-trained philosopher. In verse 99 below, the Guru himself
will refer to this union of the self and non-self aspects of knowledge. In this
verse and the next we thus touch the finalized position of Advaita Vedanta
teaching. It should be noticed also that in the description of this rare
experience of the true philosopher or yogi, as understood in this series of
verses, as we see it in the last line of the present verse, there is a blending
of rational and emotional factors.
The Absolute, though finally one and one only, is cognised
under three final categories
of understanding, which are referred to as the sat (existent), chit (the rational
or intellectual) and the ananda (the value factor or element)
– under which the experience
gets its reality-content or character. A mere emptiness or absence of interest
as in something insipid is not the end or aim of Advaita Vedanta. Mere intellectually-biased
schools of philosophy like the Vijnana-vadins and the Sunya-vadins, although
their philosophies could be otherwise tenable and quite respectable, might err
in this direction of lack of value-content.
got the ball rolling on a new aspect of the verse, noting how the unconscious
part of us is hyper alert to cues from the environment, and it yanks our
attention hither and yon with the greatest of ease. I would add cues from our
inner self on top of that. Because of our predisposition to distractions,
finding and holding to our core reality is a challenging undertaking.
brought up philosopher Daniel Dennett, who talks about the mind’s obsession
with safety and survival. Dennett is what you might call a first chakra
philosopher: everything is about self-preservation. He does not acknowledge any
higher values or interests, but that’s not so much the point here. He’s right
that we do have a deeply entrenched layer of survival programming. John’s point
was you had to have a measure of trust in order to open yourself to the idea of
a universal consciousness, to something more than the dog-eat-dog, survival of
the meanest attitudes that remain popular even today. He remembered a game we
used to play back in the Sixties, where you would stand in a tight circle of
people with your eyes closed, and let yourself fall backwards. You had to trust
your friends would catch you, and they did. Be able to relax your guard for
just that fleeting moment was a huge relief, allowing you to instantly let go
of several deep-seated fears. If there were enough participants you could push
the person in a number of different directions around the circle, which added
to the sense of release. Being passed overhead around a crowd was another
transcendent experience that occasionally happened in those halcyon times. It
works against our inner urge to retain control, allowing us a welcome glimpse
over the viselike hold of your survival instincts gets you high in a great way.
Deb likened it to Nitya’s ideal meditation of getting lost—giving up your grip
on fixed notions of any kind.
talked about how we have moments where we are hanging on to the small self but
we have a greater awareness too. Along with the specific self-interests she is
called on to uphold, she always asks herself what’s the biggest picture I can
come up with here? She isn’t at peace until she can reconcile those positions.
may not sound like much, but this is a great leap forward in conscious
awareness. It’s what Narayana Guru and Nitya are asking us to do, and something
Daniel Dennett and his ilk will never accept. And yet, in the loose way general
beliefs and particular fixations are intertwined, everybody does this to some
degree. Even animals do it at times. Even Dennett, probably. It actually takes
a forceful effort to screen out other peoples’ interests and isolate your own
and stick to it. Fortunately our default settings are much more benign than
those ideologues would have us believe.
added that when she is at a concert, her mind sometimes wanders, but then she
notices it and pulls herself back to attending to the performance. If the truth
be told, this is another yogic practice. The trick is to not get upset with
yourself for wandering, which everyone does, but focus on the restoration of
centered attention, which is not so common.
and Susan’s burgeoning self-awareness is very significant. It takes plenty of
self-reflection before we can catch ourselves in the act, so to speak. Usually
we just go along with the distractions and tangents that are always pressuring
us. As Deb put it, each moment is an invitation to be right there.
never hurts to recall the beautiful description of meditation in Chapter VI of
the Gita. Note how closely this agrees with the present verse of That Alone as
well as Susan’s observation:
completely all desires originating in the will for particularized ends, curbing
the collection of sense-functionings on every side
slowly, activities should be brought to a standstill by reason steadily
applied, establishing the mind reflexively in the Self, without thinking of
causes the changeful, unsteady mind to go out (again and again), from each
such, restraining it (again and again), it should ever be led to the side of
a yogi, verily, of calmed mind, of pacified passion, who has become the
Absolute, free from all dross, comes to supreme happiness.
uniting thus the Self, that yogi, rid of dross, having contact with the
Absolute, enjoys easily happiness that is ultimate.
always love that line: the yogi enjoys easily happiness that is ultimate. Hard
Jan wondered about Nitya’s take on politics, which is perhaps more germane to
verses 21-25 and 43-49. It’s an important subject, though, and Nitya does
mention politics in this talk as an example of the interplay of the general and
particular. The short answer is that most political action is not based in the
karu, or grounded in a reconnected psyche. Very often we see a problem and want
to fix it, and we are impatient to get to it. Of course, we have to act that
way, much of the time. Problems do demand our attention, whatever our state of
mind at the moment. The weakness is that by responding immediately we tend to
act from an egotistic standpoint, and so miss what earlier Jan called “the
biggest picture I can come up with.” Our efforts fall short to the degree they
are disconnected from a universal awareness.
is why Gurukula folks always groan in despair when (as is very often the case)
Narayana Guru is described as a social reformer. Narayana Guru was a mystic who
happened to leave a wake of social reform trailing behind his boat as it sailed
the sea of consciousness. Everyone who knows about him wonders how this gentle,
quiet man could have transformed an entire region of the globe so superbly and
with almost no violence. He was so effective—among the most effective humans of
all our history—because he did not plot and plan a revolution, but first came
to know the Self and hold to it. Then he also made himself and his good sense
available everywhere he happened to be. It inspired good people to work hard to
change their circumstances, and it kept them from getting caught up in petty
quarrels or giving in to the urge for vengeance. The time was also ripe for a
new deal. So the Guru’s example is to become realized first. Really realized.
It doesn’t count if you think you are realized. Then act as the biggest picture
you can comprehend invites.
close with a reprise of that early “political” section of Atmopadesa Satakam,
in honor of a philosophy that is simultaneously active and inactive:
Endearment is one kind; this is dear to me;
your preference is for something else;
thus, many objects of endearment are differentiated and
what is dear to you is dear to another also; this should be
The happiness of another—that is my happiness;
one’s own joy is another’s joy—this is the guiding
that action which is good for one person
should bring happiness to another.
For the sake of another, day and night performing
having given up self-centered interests, the compassionate
the self-centered man is wholly immersed in necessity,
performing unsuccessful actions for himself alone.
“That man,” “this man”—thus, all that is known
in this world, if contemplated, is the being of the one
what each performs for the happiness of the self
should be conducive to the happiness of another.
What is good for one person and brings misery to another
such actions are opposed to the self, remember!
those who give great grief to another
will fall into the fiery sea of hell and burn.
these two verses, the Guru and Nitya descend into/transcend the core of what
they have been teaching throughout the preceding verses. Our consciousness holds all of what we
experience as existence and value.
It is that oceanic depth from which and in which everything takes
place. “The purpose of the present
two verses,” writes Nitya, “is to synchronize our idea of existence and our
idea of value as one idea of consciousness. The main thing is how exactly that consciousness operates”
this point, continues Nitya as he explains the Guru, it is time to “retire”
from all this intellectualizing and word manipulation. The endless flow of the particular out
of the general, the ever-present arising/subsiding of manifestation can be
dissected and discussed by minds, but that chatting does not effect the
reality/process of that which is and that which is not. As an example, in our contemporary
culture both factions of our culture war (and those in between) are so
thoroughly wedded to this “debate” that Nitya’s admonition here to “give it a
rest” falls, for the most part, on deaf ears. As he points out, those prizing the particular see it as
constructed of building blocks—from atoms to galaxies—the secrets of which can
be discovered through diligent mental work systematically applied. On the other hand are those defending a
“true” vision of a universe emanating out of the oneness of god particularized
through word. The possibility of
both views offering partial truth slips through the cracks, so to say.
the particular and the general continuously emerge and disappear is that
“location” the Guru and Nitya point to as the solution: “We are to turn to that
source,” writes Nitya, “where the observer and the observed both blend into the
observation.” In this profound
meditative state, we go to the source, the truth that is already at our core
and always has been.
in his commentary, Nitya used the example of a triangle as a way of
illustrating our source of all knowledge.
An instructor teaching about triangles, he writes, can speak only of
them in abstraction and illustrates them through his drawings of them. These pictures always remain
representations of the idea or maps of the territory. From the teacher’s drawing, students can generalize the
features common to the idea of a triangle but will never get to the thing in
itself, which preceded all the representations of it. This general
discussion is the part of knowledge we all originally own while we busily go
about constructing representations all over the place and, in the process, veil
from ourselves the legitimate source of the knowledge existing in the first
place. Learning thereby transforms from a journey of self-discovery to a
search for someone or something else to teach us what we don’t know we already
possess. In this upside down
education system and with our eyes firmly fixed outward, we take seriously the
direction pointed out to us by scientific experts and the culture’s high
priests. Ignorance rules.
this verse and commentary, Nitya and the Guru say it is time in our study to
drop all this nonsense and go to the Absolute source. By this time in our study of the 100 Verses, writes Nitya,
“either you know it or you don’t” (p.
692). Both the drawn triangle and
triangularity are true, and our mind’s ceaseless efforts to reconcile them must
be transcended in order for us to evolve.
Nitya tells a story of his experience of this “letting go” as he
describes “the best of all meditative “ states in which all thought, dualities,
and differences “are now effaced” and where “truth of both [the general and
specific] belong to a verity that axiologically exists with us. The Self approves of the truth. It’s not
a certitude which comes from
any outside authority; the connection comes from within, from one’s own Self”
Freeman Dyson, writing about Brilliant Blunders, by Mario Livio, in the New York
Review of Books
(March 6, 2014, p. 4) made an astute observation that fits the theme of
scientific hubris Daniel Dennett always calls to mind:
A theory that began as a wild
guess ends up as a firm belief. Humans need beliefs in order to live, and great
scientists are no exception. Great scientists produce right theories and wrong
theories, and believe them with equal conviction.