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Mandukya Upanishad - Mantra 3


Mantra 3


In the waking state, (he is) overtly conscious,

having seven parts and nineteen faces,

nourishing himself on the concrete,

the Universal Man, the first limb.


         What a wonderful world, where we can sit together in a comfortable room with a beautiful view, quietly pondering words of sublime wisdom and letting the joy of it sink deep into our souls! Our community consciousness underscored the truth of the words Nitya closes his meditation with:


Man is privileged to enjoy to the maximum. Why call this world a world of thorns and thistles and pestilence and fury? For the discerning person, it is a world of figs and grapes, a carnival of colors and music, a world to love and be loved in. This is the picture we get of the conscious experiencing of psychophysical enjoyment.


         The first “quarter” or limb, the domain of waking consciousness, is often belittled in spiritual circles as the most limiting and limited of the states of mind. One of the distinguishing features of the Gurukula philosophy is its according full value to conscious experience, even as it recognizes its limits. As with the I Ching image of The Lake, limits make forms possible: without boundaries, water flows over the land and dries up. While we are alive we have to have delineations. So waking consciousness is at once limited and our doorway to the infinite.

         Deb started us off thinking about the importance of waking consciousness as the arena where spiritual values can be actualized, and how it’s the prana that activates and infuses the beauty within it. The five types of prana are included in the nineteen “faces,” along with the five major senses, five organs of action, and four aspects of mind (antakarana). The five pranas are prānā, apāna, samāna, udāna, and vyāna, and if you are interested, there is a long excerpt describing them from Nitya’s Pranayama notes included in the Isa Upanishad class notes for verses 16-18 (

         Seven of anything most often refers to the chakras. The organs of action vary, but are more or less speech, digestion, reproduction, hands and legs. Everyone must remember the antakarana: questioning (manas), memory recall (citta), judgment (buddhi) and relation to self (ahamkara). All the faces might be more properly called “interfaces” in modern lingo, as they are the way we interface with the environment. Susan caught the importance of this in Nitya’s assertion:


The universe is like a person with complementary limbs and several faces to enjoy itself with. I am a finite being, and yet I am privileged to act in unison with the world and be its interpreter and commentator.


         I’ll include a quote from the Gita in Part II, reinforcing the concept of the faces as being how the universe or the “cosmic person” views itself: we are its actual eyes, arms, smile, and so on. Our relation to the world is primary and essential, except that we have learned to rely only on secondary sources and discount primary experience. It’s a shame, really. Where we are meant to be fully and ecstatically alive, we wrap ourselves in a cocoon of protective concepts that dulls the spirit, the zest for living that is innate in all beings. Speaking of which, Nitya elaborates:


The program of the cosmic person is to enjoy. He is like a voracious caterpillar gobbling up everything on all sides until he is ready to go to sleep in his cocoon and dream of transforming into a butterfly that can emerge from the pupa with widespread wings and fly into the sublime heights of heaven. The cosmic person’s head touches the world of the luminaries and his feet are planted firmly on earth. He is like a vertical parameter spanning the earth and the heavens. Between the earthly alpha and the heavenly omega he has many worlds to enjoy. With his cosmic eye, the sun, he fashions forms and colors…. By breathing in and breathing out, man receives into every cell of his being the cosmic promise of life.


In case there is any doubt, Nitya adds:


The world would be a meaningless place shorn of beauty and wonder if there were not the consciousness of man to be the enjoyer of the whole of which he is a part.


Reviving our capacity as the enjoyer of the world is the task of the first quarter of consciousness, the wakeful.

         Jan recognized that the part of the lesson on refining our abilities encourages us to be reflective and nuanced in our enjoyment of the world. She found this very heartening. The more we know and understand, the more enjoyable the world becomes, so if we want to be joyous we have almost a responsibility to develop our skills. I gave the example of musical appreciation, where on first hearing a lot of music makes no sense or has little appeal, yet once we come to know it, it may carry us to the heights of rapture. This is true of any art form, of course. Jan is a gem specialist, and what might be a pretty rock of passing interest to me is a fascinating and thrilling stimulus to her psyche. Given proper stimulation, our brain rewires itself to appreciate new areas of interest, making our life richer and more rewarding. I’m pretty sure this is what Nitya was getting at in using the word “esthete.” While often taken to describe someone who is detached from the thrum of life and merely pretending to sensitivity, it also means someone who is more alive to the meaning and value of sensory input.

         Nitya is perfectly clear about his intent:


For conscious enjoyment the senses are to be disciplined and well attuned to every shade of meaning and nuance so that the individual person may perfect himself as an aesthete.


         So often Nitya demonstrated exactly what he meant with this. He would stop and appreciate some flower or scenario, talk with a man on the street, or revel in artistic performances. Those of us who were walking with him, wrapped up in heady thoughts and paying scant heed to our environment, would be brought up short, stirred out of our fog, and brought to a heightened state of aliveness by his very gesture. What would it gain us if we reached the end of our lives with a well-constructed philosophy but no actual experience of what the Earth—that ideal place for love—was all about? What if we passed on armloads of opportunities to love and be loved, because we were too busy gathering wool? What a waste!

         Again, this is a central tenet of Gurukula philosophy: it is totally life affirming. Deb recognized that many spiritual practices push this first quadrant of life aside. It’s as if life is getting in the way of our attunement with something otherworldly and more important. How sad! God, Paramesvara, or whatever you like to call it, is flinging bliss and beauty at us all day long, and we imagine it is just junk getting in the way of our having a good time. We could miss our whole life with an attitude like that—and often do.

         In this context it is appropriate that Nitya references the famous honey section of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. “The world is honey to man and man is honey to the world,” is a paraphrase from the fifth Brahmana of the second Adhyaya of the Madhu Kanda, where many aspects of the world are treated dialectically as honey, as in “The earth is honey for all creatures, and all creatures are honey for the earth.” There is nothing sweeter than honey, and nothing sweeter than being alive and functioning as one of the myriad faces of the Absolute. The philosophy should be honey for our daily life, just as our daily life is the honey to sweeten our philosophy. I’ve added a humorous story from Love and Blessings about the honey section in Part II.

         Deb shared a nice example of one of our friends who has spent a lot of time in Borneo. On a recent visit he contracted a dire form of malaria, and was taken to the local hospital, where the doctor told him that the form of the disease he had was nearly always fatal. He would administer the only drug that might help, but he had only four days left, after which he would either recover or not. At first our friend was hysterical, crying and feeling very sorry for himself, dying all alone far from his loved ones. He began praying to God to save him. But then he thought: wait a minute! I don’t believe in God—I believe in love! If I have only four days left, I don’t want to waste them feeling miserable. It means I have only four days left to love. I’d better get busy. He started loving everyone, the nurses, visitors, others in the ward, strangers, and his spirits improved greatly. By loving them, they also felt better. Obviously our friend recovered, or we wouldn’t know the story. I wonder what role the placebo effect had on his recovery, since it appears to be about the most powerful force for healing available to us. Surely his positive attitude must have helped. The real lesson, though, is that we shouldn’t wait for death to jumpstart our cute little love motors, we should crank them up starting today. Any one of us could die in four days, so what are we waiting for?

         Bill mused about the self-generating and transforming aspect of the cosmic person, the Paramesvara. Here Nitya treats it as a given, but by curious coincidence just before the class I was proofing the first verse of Darsanamala, where Nitya explains what he meant quite perfectly:


As an alternative to the hypothesis of an independent creator creating the world with whatever means he has at his disposal, let us look at the very stuff called “world,” which includes us also in it. Think of it unitively as one primeval substance. It should not be difficult to see how a substratum can remain the same in its essence, without any fundamental change, and yet transform itself into a variety of individuated forms. When physicists speak of the conservation of energy and the transformation of matter, they refer to the same truth. The unchanging substratum, which is willing its own transformation into the manifested world, in the present context is called paramesvara.


         Another friend called this morning to say that she felt Nitya very strongly with her at the moment. That does seem to happen occasionally. When what I’m doing so closely accords with the class content, I feel something along the same lines. There is a mysterious coherency to life that implies much more than waking consciousness is in play. We’ll explore some of that terrain in the upcoming classes. Aum.


Part II


         Part II has a lot of great quotes for your delectation. Before I get to that, I wonder if anyone can help me with something. I’d be willing to swear that Nitya was misheard when he said prana was like a “cute little motor.” Here’s the full sentence: “The prana installed in a living organism is like a cute little motor that sets into motion a million movements, even in an organism as small as an ant.” The word cute is all wrong—say what you will, there is nothing cute about the dynamism of prana. But I can’t come up with a homophone that it might have been misheard as. I’d be willing to change cute to a better suggestion. Any ideas?


*         *         *


         Prabu was just reading of Nitya time with Dr. Mees in Love and Blessings, and cited this passage:


In contrast to the many sterile and withdrawn spiritual programs peddled in the modern world, Dr. Mees turned my attention to the joy of the senses in order to discover the blissful center of the soul. I soon became familiar with the rhapsody and rhyme of poetry, the many moods of musical harmony, the rhythms and patterns of dance, and the individual’s capacity to be transformed into any other type of character via the theatrical arts.

Every day at the feet of my loving master Sadhu Ekarasa was a day of spiritual feasting and divine jubilation. I have no words to properly express my gratitude to this great master of infinite compassion and dedicated zeal, who helped me to transform my several fickle interests into an intense discipline of unending joy. He led me by the hand step by step down the grand avenue of living spirituality, which has time and again been frequented by prophets, poets, visionaries, artists, and seekers of all sorts. Each day big chunks of misunderstanding were thrown out of my mind, and I marveled at my growth in both reasoning and understanding.

Ultimately when all three volumes of The Revelation in the Wilderness had been neatly typed and readied for publication, Dr. Mees was ready to go to see his parents in Holland, where his father was a banker. When he left he put me in charge of the Kanva Ashram with the freedom to wander as before.

The day before he left he gave me his final revelation. Although Dr. Mees spent many hours in prayer and meditation, he had never called me to sit with him. That evening he took me to the Varkala beach. We both sat on the cliff facing the western sky. Soon the clouds changed colors, first into a golden yellow and afterwards into a perfect magenta. The setting sun looked very beautiful, as its golden disc was slowly immersed in the Arabian Sea. The waves became crested with gold. Then Dr. Mees asked, “Isn’t this beautiful?”

After that he didn’t say anything. He was absorbed in the crimson jubilation of the sunset. When we returned to the ashram he was deep in a contemplative silence. We took our evening meal as usual, although he remained silent. I was feeling a little sentimental, as he was to depart the next morning. After the meal he put two chairs in the open where we could sit and look at the full moon in the eastern sky. Then also he repeated the question, “Isn’t it beautiful?”

He got up as if remembering something. He walked to the garden, returned and beckoned me to go with him. We stood before a potted plant, the Queen of Night. One flower was slowly opening, as big as a white lotus. Unlike the other flowers, we could see each petal trembling as it opened. He moved the pot to where the moonlight fell straight on the flower. It was an unforgettable scene of the moon above and the flower below. The sheen of the moon and the milk white color of the petals seemed to blend into each other. Now for the third and last time Dr. Mees remarked “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Once again we went and sat on our chairs. He looked into my eyes inquiringly and asked, “What is the Sanskrit word for beauty?”

I replied, “Saundarya.”

He again asked, “What is the Sanskrit word for truth?”


Then he asked “Isn’t it peaceful now?”

I said, “Yes.”

What do you call it in Sanskrit?


“Are not shantih and shivam the same?”


“So you accept satyam, shivam, and saundaryam—truth, peace and beauty. Then what is your objection to God? If you don’t want to say “God,” you can still go deep into the significance of satyam, shivam, and saundaryam.”

At that very moment God came into my consciousness with a bang. That was the last lesson Dr. Mees gave me. Afterwards I found out it was also his formula for God. (103-5)


*         *         *


         That Alone brims with references to the four quarters. Verse 63 has some relevant information about the wakeful state:


         There is just one knowledge, and in that knowledge we have the assurance that at this moment this exists. We should also have the assurance that this is very delightful. It is the quality of our knowledge that it has an existential verity and at the same time is happiness through and through. The specific occasion that makes it a happy thing—such as good food, the touch of a dear friend, the word of someone loved, or the subtle nuances of music or poetry—can come only here and now in our present, actual life.

         So if you want to look for the Absolute, this is the right place to do it, where you and I sit together and have a happy time. It is right in that happiness that you see the happiness which is called the Absolute. It is a very simple thing. It is not some blinding light which is going to knock you down. It is the happiness of right now.

         Whether your joy is that of a yogi, one conjoined with the Absolute, or a bhogi, one conjoined to the light of the senses, you do not have any separate or different kind of experience from this here. You should see the blissful beatitude of the Absolute in sensual joy, and the joy of the senses in the Absolute. To the wise man the eternal present is this here and now. What prevails in the state of supreme absorption, in the quietude of deep sleep, in the phantom shows of the dream, and in actuality, are all modulations of total knowledge. And never do you become so clearly aware of that knowledge as in the transactional, because here you can examine things and look for their deeper dimensions and significance. It is here you can reflect.

         A thing sits solidly here before you. It is gross, concrete. But you can convert it into just your knowledge, because only your knowledge is there for sure. Then the concrete thing becomes very subtle. It is identified with your own consciousness, is part and parcel of your awareness.

         It is up to you to make your consciousness bright or dull. If you decide, “Oh, this is the time to mourn, to sit and become boorish,” you can. Or you can realize it’s nonsense, just nonsense, to get into depressions. Instead you could think, “My Self is a treasure, and each passing moment is to be enriched with the treasure of my own Self. Every possible relationship I may get into here with the things that are presented to me in the wakeful, I will also enrich. If the Absolute is all joy, all bliss, there is no reason why this moment also should not be like that.”

         However there is one impediment, something called vipati vijnana, seeing everything as its opposite. The Self is seen as the non-Self, and the non-Self is seen as the Self. It is not just because you are in the wakeful and the world is presented there and you can do anything that it becomes a happy occasion. No. From your side you have to do one thing. Certain kinds of understanding are to be reversed. For instance, what you experience as concrete you have to reverse and see how it is not concrete. It is only your idea of concreteness that seems to be so solid. Only your prejudicial view of a certain situation as inimical makes it so. You should be able to work on it to reverse the whole process.

         The wise man inwardly sees the oneness, and that very cognition changes the external world for him. The problem arises when a person has to share the same with another person. Even if I see only the Absolute right here and now and I am delighted, you may look at me and see only a pot belly and a beard. So I also have to carry you with me. I have to somehow help you change your view so that even though you are seeing the pot belly and beard, you know those are only formal things which are impressed upon you by your senses and shaped by your ideas. The differences in the ideas are not in the substance of consciousness out of which the ideas are formulated. Give primacy to the substance of consciousness. It is ever there. Treat the modulations of it as a passing show. That will make it more comfortable.

         The purport of this verse is not to take you away from the pragmatic utility or the transactional richness of life. It merely adds another dimension to them, the dimension of the Absolute. And in so doing they become infinitely more valuable.



*         *         *


         From Love and Devotion:


         Wakeful experience is characterized by the clear demarcation of the subject interacting with its object of interest. This is also marking that part of our experience which can be called the transactional world. In the transactional world, objects are constants. The changing consciousness of the subject can return again and again to these constants and can relate the past to the present through an act of recall. It can also relate the present to the future by anticipating the constant to be where it was left by the subject’s consciousness on a previous occasion. (23)


         As objective validation is the most firm ground of transactions, the world of wakeful consciousness gives primacy to what is “out there.” For the same reason, experimentation and proof are given a very high place in the world of wakeful consciousness.

         Another important aspect of the transactional world, represented by the sound ‘a’ in the mantra Aum, is the emphasis on the efficiency of action and the dependability of the unchanging qualities of things in themselves, which are described as physical and chemical properties of matter. It is in this world of transaction that we employ various instruments for the pursuit of our search, the accomplishment of external goals, and the production of things. This explains our preoccupation with material objects, interactions with people, engagement in action roles, experimentation on the basis of trial and error, and the ever-growing world of technocracy. (24)


*         *         *


         From Love and Blessings, during Nitya’s time at the first Portland Gurukula:


October 8, 1971

         This morning for the relaxation I gave the passage from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad well known as the “Honey Section.” It is a passage that is universally acclaimed for its profundity and beauty. When I was halfway through it, I could see that it was causing some disturbance to some of the inmates. Two or three are staunch macrobiotic adherents and some others are midway between yin-yang dialectics and the worship of ice cream.

         After the session Jane came to my room, visibly agitated and said, “You’re a rascal! I’m allergic to honey. You’ve been purposefully making me sick by repeating those verses. It’s made me ill.”

          I told her that exaggerations are signs of madness. She told me that not only she but others also were having weird experiences. In fact, Anne’s sister advised her to see a psychiatrist.

         Young women who are very refined can get hysterical even at the sound of a word that has some far-fetched association in their mind with things they like or dislike. This is even more pronounced when they aren’t married and don’t have children. I could foresee a series of tragedies that could easily ensue from such a train of thought, so I decided I’d better explain all this before I conducted any more classes.

         It is not my desire that anyone should learn anything from me. If they come to me, it is at their own responsibility and risk. I don’t believe in magic or miracles or witchcraft or spiritism. My main ground is mathematics and cold logic, pure reasoning and experimental science, not hypnosis or charlatanism. All this was presented in the evening class, and I think I explained myself sufficiently to all concerned.


*         *         *


         The Gita’s Chapter XI elaborates on the idea of limbs and faces:


5)         Krishna said:

         Behold, Arjuna, My forms, by hundreds and thousands, various in kind, divine, and of varied colors and shapes.


6)         Behold the Adityas, the Vasus, the Rudras, the two Asvins, and also the Maruts; behold many marvels never seen before.


7)         Now behold here in My body the whole world, including the static and the dynamic, unitively established, and whatever else you desire to see.


8)         But if you are unable to see Me with this your (human) eye, I give you a divine eye; behold My sovereign Yoga.


9)         Sanjaya said:

         Having thus spoken then O King the great Master of Yoga showed Arjuna the supreme Godly Form.


10)         With many faces and eyes, with many marvelous aspects, with many divine ornaments, with many divine weapons held aloft,


11)         wearing divine garlands and vestures, anointed with divine perfumes and unguents, a God representing sheer marvel, without end, universally facing.


12)         If the splendor of a thousand suns were to rise together in the sky, that might resemble the splendor of that great Soul.


13)         There Arjuna then beheld the whole world, divided into many kinds, unitively established in the body of the God of gods.


14)         Then Arjuna, struck with amazement, with his hair standing on end, reverently bowing his head to the God, and with joined palms, spoke.


15)         Arjuna said:

         I see the gods, O God, in Your body, and all specific groups of beings, Brahma, the Lord, established on his lotus seat, and all seers and divine serpents.


16)         I see You on every side, of boundless form, with multitudinous arms, stomachs, faces and eyes; neither Your end nor Your middle nor Your beginning do I see, O Lord of the Universe, O Universal Form!


17)         I behold You with diadem, mace and discus, glowing everywhere as a mass of light, hard to look at, everywhere blazing like fire and sun, immeasurable.


18)         You are the Imperishable, the Supreme that is to be known; You are the ultimate Basis of this universe; You are the unexpended and everlasting Custodian of (natural) law; You are the immemorial Person, I believe.


19)         I see You without beginning, middle or end, of never ending force, of numberless arms, having moon and sun for eyes, Your face like a lit fire of sacrifice burning this universe with Your own radiance.


20)         The space between heaven, earth, and the intermediate realm is pervaded by You alone, as also the quarters; having seen this wonderful, terrible form of Yours, the three worlds are in distress, O Great Self.


21)         Into You enter those hosts of the Suras, some in fear of You mutter with joined palms, bands of great rishis and Perfected Ones hail You with the cry “May it be well!” and praise You with resounding hymns.


Scott Teitsworth