Nitya Teachings

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Mandukya Upanishad - Invocation

5/5/15

Mandukya Upanishad class notes—Invocation

 

AUM         

Oh Gods, may we hear with our ears what is auspicious.

May we, who are engaged in sacrifice, with our eyes see what is auspicious.

May we, singing praises, live with healthy bodies

and with perfect limbs our allotted days.

 

        

May Indra of great fame, most ancient of wisdom listeners, be gracious unto us.

May the all-knowing, all-illumining Nourisher (sun) be gracious unto us.

May Aruna and Garuda be gracious unto us.

May Brihaspati, the Lord of the Word, be gracious unto us.

 

AUM          Peace, Peace, Peace

 

         Our new class got off to an auspicious start, with a deep meditation both during the reading and after it in silence. Our discussion emerged gently and respectfully out of the swirl of the infinite we found ourselves basking in. Contributions from a variety of angles enhanced the general understanding in an inspiring fashion. Nitya’s meditative presentation promises to be a unique and thrilling excursion for us to embark on together.

         The invocation appears to be a later addition. Of the major Upanishads, only the Taittiriya has an invocation in conjunction with the original. Regardless, it is a lovely and appropriate opening that ushers us into a receptive state of mind to begin our study.

         The crucial thing about the invocation from the Gurukula perspective is that the gods are aspects of the psyche. In cultural settings where external deities are taken for granted, it requires a conscious effort to redirect our attention inward, subtracting the garish imagery conjured up by artistic representations of deities.

         The invocation is definitely in the form of a prayer to the gods, but it is intended to prime our focus to be as alert as possible. The Mandukya is short and intense, so with an unprepared mind it might go right by in a flash. The invocation is a brief waking up exercise, a poetic version of: “Listen carefully; look carefully; get yourself in a sublime mood.”

         Of course, if we’re busy praying, we might not listen and look as carefully as we might. That means that we should use the prayer as a prod to listen more intently, and then be still. It reminds me of early in the Gita when Arjuna asks Krishna for instruction and then lapses into silence, ready to hear what he has to say. To amplify this, Nitya brings in an allegory from the Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads:

 

The Indian rishis think of a perennial struggle going on between the devas and the asuras [gods and demons]. According to the story, the shining ones thought of overpowering the demons by consecrating the ear with the divine vibrations of AUM. When the demons came to know of this intention they filled the ear with inauspicious sounds. From that day, man hears with his ear both the auspicious and the inauspicious.

 

         The prayer of the invocation urges us to tune out the inauspicious thoughts, sights, and words that clutter our mind so we can fully attend to the mystical teaching of the Mandukya. Curiously, Aum is the auspicious sound that is both the subject of the Upanishad and the means to approach it alertly.

         Bill finds that prayer is a good way to access the inner divine state. It is an acknowledgement that our normal awareness is confined to a small room, so to speak, and we are reaching out to a galactically vast holistic perspective. Whether we pray outwardly or inwardly, it humbles our ego and invites more of our capacity to participate in the whole of life.

         It seems to me that whether we pray to our inner resources or a pictorial image of a deity, the result is the same: tuning in to a greater reality of which our conscious awareness is only a small appendage. The only caveat is that we are not supposed to relinquish our efforts to an external force and then sit back and wait for it to perform for us. We are the performer. We are the participant. The whole point is to draw us in, all of what we are, in. In a way, imagining it as being “just us” can seem more constrictive than if we picture a vast god spread across the sky. We have to keep in mind we are infinite beings with finite awareness. Our meditations are the exploration and gradual annexation of the unknown territory. No matter how far we have already come, we have barely begun.

         Our contribution may be very small, but it should be as bright as possible while it lasts. Nitya often made this point, and refers to it here also:

 

We are not static dumb pieces sitting here and mirroring the play of light and shade outside us. We are active participants in the game of life that is going on. We are burning out like the sacrificial fire; the candle that burns radiates its golden beams and the incense stick that burns gives away itself in fragrance. We burn out and become this civilization: humankind. Such is its history, art and literature, science and technology and everything that goes to posterity. It is in this sense that the rishi calls himself a man of sacrifice. He is not praying to a god outside. The prayer is addressed to the best in him to give him both direction and encouragement.

 

         Of course, you all remember the beautiful finale of That Alone, verse 20, where Nitya puts the same idea impeccably:

 

You belong to the same overmind of beauty. Not with your ego but with your spirit. Participation in it will reveal to you the divine artist in you, the divine musician in you, the divine intelligence, the divine creator, the divine lover, the divine unifier, the divine peacemaker within you. It’s such a blessing to be in this world, to be born here and to live here. This body of ours will fall away just like a candle burning out. But before it burns out the candle gives off a lot of light. What does it matter that it is eventually extinguished? It has lived its moment of light. We live surrounded by smoke and darkness. Make up your mind that you will live this day, each coming moment, in all its worth and beauty, and that you will share it with all. This is the great teaching the Guru offers us.

 

         Jan added how much she loved the idea of receptivity implied in the invocation. This is a lovely refinement of the idea of prayer. Where prayer reaches out, even if it reaches in, receptivity does not have to go anywhere. It is a stilling of psychological impediments in order to invite in whatever auspicious factors impend. In a way it is the flip side of prayer, its negative counterpart. As Jan realized, it takes courage and wise grounding to be receptive. Much of our conscious mind is set up to block out receptivity, but if we can open up in trust and confidence the blocks will melt away. And, as they melt away, we naturally open up more. There is a positive feedback loop involved.

         Bushra loved the word auspicious, one that is not common outside spiritual writings, and inspired by her enthusiasm we adopted it as a symbol of our joint undertaking. Andy knew the word derives from the ancient practice of foretelling the future by observing the flights of birds. There is a positive oracular aspect to auspiciousness. It means propitious, favorable, promising success. The word implies something good is coming along, which is perfect for an invocation. Viewed in the right light, almost everything is auspicious.

         Andy further pondered the phrase “we who are engaged in sacrifice.” What does that mean? Obviously we aren’t performing any external displays, rites or rituals. Andy thought of sacrifice as an ecological gesture, meaning that it was something performed for the benefit of the whole environment. That could well be the outcome of focusing on the Mandukya Upanishad, but for now we are performing the wisdom sacrifice, what Krishna in the Gita stated unequivocally was the best type. Of course it is equally global in character. Andy was also ruminating on the Gita’s rich take on sacrifice, so I’ll include this summing up from Chapter IV, Jnana Yoga:

 

32)         Thus, many and varied are the sacrifices spread in front of the Absolute. Know them all as originating in action. Thus understanding them, you shall gain release.

 

33)         Superior to any sacrifice with (valuable) objects is the wisdom sacrifice; all actions have their culmination in wisdom, Arjuna.

 

34)         Learn this by prostration, by searching questioning, and by service; they will instruct you (duly) in wisdom—those wise ones who can see the basic principles.

 

35)         Having known this, Arjuna, you will not give way to delusion thus any more; by this all beings without exception will be seen by you in the Self and thus in Me.

 

         New friend Jaya made a beautiful contribution, in addition to chanting the Sanskrit for us: even from a scientific point of view life is miraculous. Take a tree. It breathes in carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen, exactly what we humans need in order to breathe ourselves. Just looking at a tree you would never know this, but invisibly it is freely supplying us with an essential element for our own life. How many more beneficial aspects like this abound in the world?

         Nitya slyly adds an adumbration of the meaning of Aum in his last sentence:

 

In conclusion, we want to have peace from the world of our transactions, the world of our subjective ideation, and the deep-rooted urges and incentives of life. The prayer, therefore, closes with:

 

AUM   śāntih śāntih śāntih

AUM    Peace Peace Peace

 

         As we will soon see, ‘A’ symbolizes the world of transactions, ‘U’ the world of subjective ideation, and ‘M’ the deep-rooted urges and incentives of life (vasana). The silence following the chanting of Aum implies the peace that pervades these three states. May the peace of Aum reverberate in your life from this day forward!

 

Part II

 

         As always, thoughts and questions are welcome from anyone, though I reserve the right to select appropriate passages for sharing. Let me know if what you submit is personal and not for public circulation.

 

*         *         *

 

This is from the commentary on the invocation in an alternate version being prepared by Michael Brumage, which I will share in its entirety when it’s done:

To experience the visible there should be proper eyes to see, proper ears to hear, and a sturdy system so structured that has the strength to uphold its attention fully focused on the truth, however strenuous it is, nonflagging at any time. Here the student is commissioned by the divine gods who are eager to disgorge ill health, weakness, darkness and doubts, and shape the student into a perfect model with receptivity and strength. The student will hereafter have a goal, a path to go to that goal, and a light which continuously shows the path to walk. Therefore it is said, sthirair anagair tustuvamsas tanubhih vyasema devahita yadayuh.

A person is not alone. Sri Aurobindo says, “The divine is interested to make a person a perfect receptacle to fill with wisdom.” The purpose of all gurus is the same – to make the world a better world, to make people better people, with better minds, better receptivity. Hence the motive is only to light another candle like the candle which burns within one person so that two people share knowledge, wisdom, and light.

 

*         *         *

 

         Wondering where Aruna (daughter Emily’s middle name) and Garuda came from the text, I looked into it. Aruna and Garuda respectively emerge from tarksyo and arishtanemih in a somewhat obscure reference, yet this is in fact correct. The root arishta means unhurt, safe from injury or damage. Tarkshya was originally a horse, then morphed into a bird and thence to Garuda. Garuda did, in fact, bring the divine soma or amrita to earth, in a parallel myth to Prometheus, as related in The Golden Apples of Immortality, my interpretation of Hercules’ eleventh labor, set in the Edenic Garden of the Hesperides (http://scottteitsworth.tripod.com/id226.html). Here’s an excerpt from it:

 

         Just like Prometheus, the divine eagle Garuda brought the nectar of the gods, soma, from heaven to earth. In the Indian context, our true birthright is the amrita, the immortal nectar of pure existence. Mrita is death, a-mrita is the opposite of death. Interestingly, amrita is associated with the soma plant, which is a “food of the gods,” that allows you to truly see. Ambrosia, the nectar that waters and nourishes the Garden of the Hesperides, is a closely related word that means exactly the same thing as amrita. It is quite possible that amanita of the amanita muscaria mushroom is also a related word, though that’s purely speculative—the kind of musing that munching a magic mushroom motivates.

         Both myths feature an eagle and depict the transmission of something special from the gods to humans. In the Western version it engenders terrible consequences, but in the Indian version it is an event to celebrate. Their gods of old loved soma dearly, and drank it whenever they could, but they didn’t want to share it with humans any more than their Western counterparts did. Yet after Garuda delivered the goods, no one was punished. In the West, no good deed goes unpunished.

 

 

 

Scott Teitsworth

rsteitsworth(at)yahoo.com