Nitya Teachings

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Mandukya Upanishad - Mantra 2


Mantra 2


All here is the Absolute (Brahman) indeed;

this Self (Atma) is the Absolute;

this same Self (he) is four-limbed.


         The second mantra features Nitya at his best, leading a meditation that expands consciousness dramatically. As Bill put it, as you experience the All, you enjoy a more and more blissful state. You can be part of the bliss that is the nature of the Absolute. Truer words were never spoken!

         The implicit dialectic of the guided meditation counterpoises “All” and “this,” initiating a pulsation between the most open conception we can muster and a point source right in the center of our being. By keeping both in the mind simultaneously, our identity is drawn out of the point where it normally incubates to adopt a more universal self-identification. To put it mildly, the class was profoundly moved by the technique, even without the personal presence of the guru, which always energized the best meditations, as if he was sitting inside his listeners and lending his light to what they experienced. We found we didn’t need a living human guru: together we could have a fine meditation by simply paying attention and going slowly through the text. The guru principle is after all a permanent part of existence.

         Indeed, during the reading Scotty found himself floating away into different levels of consciousness, and he had to keep bringing himself down so he could stay in the room with us. It may be that Michael actually did leave, because he was unable to speak until practically the end of the session. I think all of us felt powerfully stirred by the beauty of the deliberately paced presentation.

         You may also have noticed that Nitya began the first mantra with a focus on “this” and then expanded it to “All.” Here we began with the All and brought it back to this. Thus there is a dialectic resonance between the two verses as well as within each by itself.

         Deb started us off by underlining these two aspects of the whole context, first knowing from direct perception and then speculating on the Absolute beyond, which no one can encounter directly. In other words, the world is where we first experience the Absolute, but then we expand and come to it as a reality that you can’t have a one-to-one encounter with. Where we all too often think of ourselves as outside the mainstream, this approach moves us right into the center.

         Scotty found the meditation reminded him of aikido, where you are the center, and as you sink more into your center you are able to manipulate the energy it releases. As he led us into our centers, Nitya touched on a Sufi saint he felt great kinship with, who knew this secret:


As we sink more and more into it, ecstasy grows on all sides, and the only reaction that you are capable of by way of self-expression is to say: “All this is Brahman.” It is something quite similar to what the Sufi mystic Mansur al Hallaj said: “anal haq, anal haq...


Anal haq means I am Allah, or I am the Absolute. Al Hallaj was brutally executed for admitting this basic truth in the presence of ignorant believers. Nitya recounted more of the story in That Alone, Verse 46, which I will clip in in Part II. Nitya reminds us in no uncertain terms that while it is true in principle that we are the Absolute, we should keep in mind we are also very much limited:


At this point the rishi wants to give us a caution. Although we now think we have seen all, our kind mentor wants us to know that there are other worlds, seen only from the periphery, which we have not incorporated. There are depths to gauge.


I related a surprising vignette from a book I recently checked into, Proof of Heaven, that I will reference in Part II also, where the author notices the simultaneous closeness and remoteness of God. I include it because of the mention of om by someone with no prior knowledge of it, yet it overlaps our study in some other fascinating ways as well.

         I realize that I’ve been taking for granted that everybody already knows much of the basic information about aum, and will rectify this as we go along. Joseph Campbell’s explanation is very good, and you’ll find the link to it in Part II. Prabu has offered to scan a few of our helpful diagrams, which I will share when they are done. At the moment he is caught up preparing for his final exams, so stay tuned. It’s funny how such a seemingly small subject keeps expanding, with innumerable implications. It’s hardly an exaggeration that aum is the whole universe….

         Nataraja Guru deserves all credit for using the Cartesian coordinates to graph consciousness, and notably incorporating the scheme of aum from the Mandukya Upanishad. It was one of his most salient strokes of genius. Anyone who has spent time with Gurukula classes must have gotten that much already, but we’ll be reprising its key points beginning with the next mantra.

         Nitya often described consciousness as following a figure-eight pattern as graphed on the coordinate axes, but he never spelled out what he meant, at least in his English-language books. Realizing this, I added some of it into the Introduction to Nataraja Guru’s Saundarya Lahari. You can read it here, but I don’t actually have the diagrams that appeared in the book, so if you can find a copy, check it out. Much of what I wrote there is helpful, even without the diagrams.

         The most memorable version of the figure eight for me was in Nitya’s first class in Portland, in 1970. He first drew the Cartesian coordinates on the board. Visualizing this is a big help, and I’ll try to describe it adequately so you can. The X or horizontal axis represents actuality, while the Y or vertical axis represents virtual or theoretical values. The point of intersection, 0,0 is the fulcrum of perfect balance, the starting and finishing point of the cycles. Nitya’s example, in tune with the tenor of the times, was a person wanting to save the world. They come up with a great idea. Since it is just an idea, it moves into the horizontal negative, while its creative aspect takes it to the vertical positive, so together they are curving through the upper left quadrant. Then the person calls some friends to help with the world-saving program. They all make excuses or otherwise throw cold water on it, so as the curve bends around to the side of actuality, the enthusiasm dissipates, and it moves through the upper right quadrant back down to the zero point. Then the person is sad or even depressed that nobody will help them actualize their vision, and the psyche circles down through the lower left quadrant. When the psyche hits rock bottom, its natural optimism returns. Perhaps an actual experience of beauty or the hand of a friend lifts it back toward balance, so it cycles up through the lower right quadrant.

         Nitya advised us that such cycling was natural and inevitable in the psyche, but we can minimize the low, depressive end and amplify the high, optimistic end, and make life much more enjoyable. Needless to say, the tendency is often to do the opposite: emphasize the hopelessness and minimize the positive contributions. This should definitely be corrected.

         The labels for the four quadrants in the Saundarya Lahari diagrams may help, as you can picture the figure eights easily enough. For the vertical figure, these are: optimism based on subjective fantasies; deflation due to conflict with reality; depression over shortfalls of the program; and reestablishment of balance and neutrality through appreciating the measure of success.

         While writing the Introduction, I realized you could also visualize a horizontal figure eight, like the symbol for infinity. Starting with the upper right quadrant, the figure moves to the lower right, upper left, and lower left. The labels these have are: optimism due to purposeful integration with reality; dissipation of enthusiasm due to problems encountered; elation stemming from detachment from material goals; and reassessment and regeneration of a meaningful program. Rather nice, I think.

         We will be seeing how the fourfold structure of Aum corresponds to this cycling of the psyche as we go along. Susan noticed how the three gunas also fit into this, with the optimistic end sattvic and the pessimistic end tamasic, and rajasic energy providing the drive to oscillate between them.

         Once Susan brought up the gunas, Prabu was reminded of Nitya’s movie theater analogy that appears in his Patanjali commentary (and elsewhere). I’m sure you remember. We are all sitting in the seats watching the play of life on the screen. The gunas supply only the tinting of the movie film, yet we are so wrapped up in watching the play that we aren’t aware of the pure light that is causing the projection. Bill was also excited about the “illuminating factor” of the Self, quoting Nitya calling it a “spark coming out of a hidden world of consciousness.” I wanted to remind them that while this is true, Nitya is not ruling out the projected movie. He loved movies! The point of his talk includes the value of the projection, which is the outcome of the projector: the light entering the world, the “this.” We can interpolate the Absolute from its effects here, as well as disregard the effects to ponder the pure light alone. Ultimately both go together. No one wants to sit and watch a blank white screen—we would die of boredom before very long.

         What we are trying to do is enlarge the ambit of our experience from the tried and true to include more of our potential, like knowing how the whole thing is projected and what the light is like before it passes through the film of the gunas. Nitya brings back the analogy of the frog escaping from the pond that spawned it, from the first mantra meditation:


For a tadpole, its world is a frog pond, but for a frog who can come out of the water, can hop around and see a much wider world, the horizon is far larger. The world of perceptual experience, although physically immense, is a prison house of the soul. There are fixed patterns such as sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, by which we know this world. It is a poor man’s menu. Those who stop at the empirical level do not realize what they miss.


You probably noticed how the characters of his plays hopped out of Shakespeare’s mind, extending the analogy. The whole point is to become intelligently and coherently creative, and not to shut off the flow.

         We were all charmed by the “poor man’s menu” of limiting oneself to empirical data alone. There is so much more going on! Rather than bring it down like Procrustes to fit our limited conceptualization, we want to expand our perspective to allow it the freest possible rein. Speaking of movies, it calls to my mind the opening of Fellini’s 8 , where he is a young man floating in the sky. Suddenly he feels a tug downward, and we discover he is tied like a kite to a rope, and down on the ground two Catholic priests are reeling him in. In our terms, though they have a fixed scheme they are content with to describe the world, it drags the spirit down into the dust. Like Fellini we want to cast off the rope and fly free, soaring into the empyrean. If we thought we knew where we were going, we wouldn’t be able to get there.

         Though Nitya guided us to fantastic heights of insight, he knew that we shouldn’t obsess over him as the source but simply keep diving as deep as we can. It would have mitigated our experience if we were thinking “Nitya is showing me this,” or some such. So he would say things like:


What a magnificent meditation we get in this mantra! The expansion of the Self has happened without any effort. The union of the world and the Self was effected without even giving a thought to it.


Putting it that way kept everyone’s attention where it belonged, and saved him from at least some of the worship many were poised to slather him with.

         Our closing mediation and chant of aum was dedicated to a dear friend who is seriously ill. Hopefully our focused thoughts and love made a difference for our friend, but it definitely made a difference right where we sat. Aum.


Part II


         Thanks to Michael’s sleuthing, here’s a brief (4 minutes) explanation by Joseph Campbell of Aum on Youtube:


*         *         *


         I read out the following surprising excerpt of the book Proof of Heaven, since it talks about aum. While the author personifies the Source of the universe(s) as God, it’s easy to translate the terms to the Gurukula’s more philosophical attitude. The Gita’s Chapter XII deals with the personified versus philosophical interpretations of the All, first commending the personal as easier—which it certainly is—and then concluding that both achieve the same realization when expanded to their full implications.

         NDEs (near death experiences) include a remarkably similar set of experiences, and Alexander’s contains some very familiar imagery to me from my own of five years ago. The extensive literature on NDEs repeats consistent, extremely uplifting results from whatever state is accessed by leaving the body. As with everything outside of “normal” experience, many people are skeptical of these accounts, revealing an unscientific closed-mindedness. The image that came to me the other day is of a roomful of people with a door in the far wall that many are going through. There is no indication of what’s beyond the door, but occasionally someone comes back out. A majority of them tell of a wonderful place they found themselves in, where they realized their unity with all of existence and reconnected with their deceased relatives and friends. They feel a profound sense of relief at knowing there is so much more than they imagined at play in the world. Skeptics are those who are cocksure they are all hallucinating—in fact, all having quite similar hallucinations—and that there’s nothing beyond the door. They imagine they know for sure there is nothing out there. While I respect and encourage skepticism, I also believe we should be honest about what we actually know and distinguish it from what we believe. Anyone sure of what lies beyond death’s door, whether it’s something or nothing, is basing what they think they know on religious belief rather than scientific proof. That’s another kind of poor man’s menu. It’s much more delicious to keep an open mind.

         The book is Proof of Heaven – A Neuroscientist’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Eben Alexander, M.D. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012).

         After his recovery, the author wrote down everything he remembered, and this is the relevant part of it. During a lengthy NDE, he has burst through a “gateway” into another world, a kind of shining void he termed the Core (Karu?). Keep in mind that this medical doctor was utterly unaware of Eastern thought, and for that matter had only a nodding acquaintance with Christianity:


         I continued moving forward and found myself entering an immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting. Pitch black as it was, it was also brimming over with light: a light that seemed to come from a brilliant orb that I now sensed near me….

         My situation was, strangely enough, something akin to a fetus in a womb. The fetus floats in the womb with the silent partner of the placenta, which nourishes it and mediates its relationship to the everywhere present yet at the same time invisible mother. In this case, the “mother” was God, the Creator, the Source who is responsible for making the universe and all in it. This Being was so close that there seemed to be no distance at all between God and myself. Yet at the same time, I could sense the infinite vastness of the Creator, could see how completely miniscule I was by comparison. I will occasionally use Om as the pronoun for God because I originally used that name in my writings after my coma. “Om” was the sound I remembered hearing associated with that omniscient, omnipotent, and unconditionally loving God, but any descriptive words fall short.

         The pure vastness separating Om and me was, I realized, why I had the Orb as my companion. In some manner I couldn’t completely comprehend but was sure of nonetheless, the Orb was a kind of “interpreter” between me and this extraordinary presence surrounding me.

         It was as if I were being born into a larger world, and the universe itself was like a giant cosmic womb, and the Orb… was guiding me through this process.

         Later, when I was back here in the world, I found a quotation by the seventeenth-century Christian poet Henry Vaughan that came close to describing this place—this vast, inky-black core that was the home of the divine itself.

         “There is, some say, in God a deep but dazzling darkness…”

         That was it, exactly: an inky darkness that was also full to brimming with light….

         Through the Orb, Om told me that there is not one universe but many—in fact, more than I could conceive—but that love lay at the center of them all. Evil was present in all the other universes as well, but only in the tiniest trace amounts. Evil was necessary because without it free will was impossible, and without free will there can be no growth—no forward movement, no chance to become what God longed for us to be. Horrible and all-powerful as evil sometimes seemed to be in a world like ours, in the larger picture love was overwhelmingly dominant, and it would ultimately be triumphant. (from Chapter 9)


*         *         *


         Here’s the reference to Mansur al Hallaj from That Alone:


         There is a story that when Mansur Hallaj was beaten, he became all the more convinced of his oneness with Allah. His hands and legs were chopped off, but he thought that it was only his hands and legs that were cut and not his love for Allah. Then he was hanged, beheaded and cut into pieces, and still every little piece chanted “an al Haq! I am Allah!” When he was burned, the flames said “an al Haq,” and every particle of his ashes said “an al Haq.” Finally his ashes were thrown in the ocean. Each wave came crashing back, murmuring “an al Haq, an al Haq.” So by fighting you don’t win. (311)


Scott Teitsworth