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Mandukya Upanishad - Mantra 5


Mantra 5


That (state) wherein, on falling asleep, one desires nothing at all,

that is the well dormant (sushuptam) (which), attaining to a unitive status,

filled even with a knowing-content, made of bliss,

nourishing himself on bliss, of a sentient mouth,

is the knower, the third limb.


         At long last we arrive at the base of the vertical axis, the ‘m’ of aum, the alpha, the seed state from which everything arises. The vertical represents the unfoldment of life over time, and here we celebrate its beginnings. After all, without a beginning, where would we be? Also, without a goal, represented by the vertical plus, the omega, our horizontal activities are likely to be purposeless. We meditate on this core reality to reinforce our willingness to participate in our own life’s drama.

         While the fetus is invoked here, Nitya more often used a plant analogy to demonstrate the scheme of correlation he employed. The seed is located at the very base of the vertical. At first there is almost no elaboration horizontally—it is just a speck. As time passes, the developing plant grows up toward the omega and also begins to move into the horizontal plus region as its potentials become actualized. In sentient beings there is a corresponding conceptualization that produces a mirror image on the negative side. In any case, the plant lives for a certain period, and expresses itself as much as it can, so the graph of it curves up and out to the right. At the proper stage the plant produces new seeds, and a new graph could be centered over them, right where the flower and subsequent fruit have marked the culmination of one round of existence. Multiple generations produce a series of graphs that epitomize evolution, with each seed taking off from where the previous generation attained its zenith.

         Applying this image to humans, the class talked at length about how each generation begins from a new starting point, so their perspective is bound to be significantly different than that of their parents. Our kids don’t even know the world we grew up in—can’t even conceive of it as we do—and we shouldn’t try too hard to force them to fit into our preferred world view. Immediately there was a lot of resistance to this idea, which is a perennial struggle for humans. It may be that the world has changed even faster lately, so we are even more acutely aware of the gap with our children’s generation, but it has ever been thus. I try to accept that the kids of today will not care about my world and certainly don’t understand it. In some ways it’s a good thing. I definitely refuse to be like the old fuddy-duddies who tsk-tsked my generation’s “aberrant behaviors” when I was young and stupid. To my mind, though we weren’t that bad, we didn’t change the world nearly enough. That’s surely the case with every new wave.

         Yet Paul and the others who worried about what is being lost have a point. It is not necessarily healthy to cut off all connection with the past, since much of it is very helpful. A mix of new and old is bound to be better. The truth is there have always been plenty of people who ignore everything beyond the end of their nose, and there are also plenty who don’t. Bill feels that the younger generation is strongly motivated by social concerns, and they want to have a meaningful mission, only not in traditional terms perhaps. And Deb noted how we all have our true home in a common core, no matter what. The recorded thoughts of many thousands of years ago still speak to us, so that is always available to us. Over all, the yea votes just about equaled the nays.

         Paul ended with a humorous story about when as a teenager he got fed up with his parents and stormed out of the house. His mother demanded, “Where are you going!” and thinking fast he shot back, “I’m going out to decide my future!” As he went through the door, he heard her call out, “Dress warm!”

         Sometimes it’s cold out there.

         In The Psychology of Darsanamala, Nitya touches on the traditional view of this unfolding process:


   There is an ever-changing panorama, and every item in the grand picture undergoes six stages of becoming. These are existence, attainment of individual beingness, growth, change, disintegration, and disappearance. The final disappearance then allows for the appearance of new forms. This kind of cosmic art is unique in that it produces itself. In it the artist is not separated from his art. (65)


In the present talk Nitya quotes Rumi to get across the same idea: “The worker is hidden in the workshop.” Bill being a builder as well as a devoted fan of Rumi, enthused over this version.

         A number of important insights are highlighted by this picture. The vertical parameter provides coherency, which is another word for meaning and value. Horizontal elements can seem random and chaotic without a unifying structure to hold them together. We can verify this in our own meditations, by examining our life as a whole, beginning with its inception. Seemingly from out of nowhere a meaningful direction has impelled us to develop in certain ways that optimized our ability to express several of our potentials, and our satisfaction with life is closely aligned with our good fortune in bringing these potentials to fruition. This is unquestionably going on even within the sassy young kids of today, whether or not it’s visible to outsiders.

         Jan mused how ironic it is that this realm of the unconscious is so powerful and yet so much of the transactional world is opposed to it. She added how valuable it is to be moving away from the omnipresent views of arid materialism, with its supposedly random patterns, to celebrate the intrinsic meaning of life’s unfoldment. It is perhaps better understood as a movement back: for most of our history we humans have unquestioningly felt a part of the larger context. Only with the scientific revolution of the last 300 or so years have we deliberately shut off our conscious connection with everything around us. For all its benefits, this has made us feel very lonely and empty, while doing a lot of damage to the environment. Happily the rigid blinders put in place at the outset of the badly misnamed Age of Reason—likely as an antidote to religious superstitions—are starting to be taken off. With Jan, we can all celebrate a renewed freedom grounded in honoring the breathtaking wonders of the full measure of our inner life.

         And too, we are fortunate that this exuberant tide of expression does not die when we stop believing in it. It continues whether we honor it or not. It is our parent, our source, and not the other way around. In Nitya’s words:


This is one of the greatest miracles of this world. A thick and slimy drop of vital fluid is transferred from the male generative organ to the female womb where it joins another drop, then duplicates and replicates in a strange manner. Without the conscious deliberation of anyone it becomes fully formed into a small person with perfect hands and legs and senses to perceive. It is paradoxical that the child is growing in the womb of the mother without being attended by either of its parents.


To me, one of Nitya’s greatest insights was that the intelligence that so fastidiously cares for the fetus continues to operate throughout its entire life. Its influence is often obscured by the horizontal concerns we are beset with, yet we can look back over the course of our life and detect its undiminishing guiding presence. Under the surface chaos is a meaningful growth of the new sprout to produce leaves, leading to the opening of the bud into a flower, culminating in the pregnant fruit, and that pattern holds for the totality as well as the humble part played by the individual. My audio “Coming Back to Ourselves” ( with a free sample) explores the value of remaining cognizant and appreciative of this hidden dynamism, this “unmoved mover” within each of us.

         So yes, this is not simply a scheme to academically conceive of the psyche in a clever way, it is an entrée into the thrumming heart of our existence. Each reader should convert these ideas into a living presence in their minds. It feels so great! I guess it’s like standing on the verge of a limpid pool under a plashing waterfall in the deep woods: so inviting, and yet something visceral holds us back from taking the plunge. All our learned cautions throw up an invisible barrier, and we hesitate. Possibly for our entire life. But the pool is always there, so we can gather courage as we may. Nitya is ever inviting us, in his subtle, unpressured way:


What a grand theme is this unconscious, this sushupti, which the Mandukya Upanishad speaks of as the third quarter, from which the dream of the second quarter and the transaction of the first quarter emerged. This well correlated, well coordinated, neat scheme of the rishi helps us to make a breakthrough into the dark abyss where our fateful lives are pre-discussed, pre-designed and pre-determined by the gods of destiny who alone are present for the selection and coordination of chromosomes, whenever innocent parents, drunk with orgiastic wine, copulate in madness.


         Since the rishis well knew that most humans would rather dither than soar, they cooked up a number of techniques to help us take wing. Chanting aum is one featured in our present study. Nitya tells us how to “shed our clothes” before we leap naked into the heavenly pool of our vertical essence:


When we chant the mantra Aum, this sonic vehicle transports us to the last terminus of the journey of rational intelligence and brings us to the very home from where the song of creation has emerged. No hungry mind lusting after desires enters this world, and no fool is allowed to have any mind games there. Dreams are barred. Hence this region is christened as the domain of ananda, pure and simple: anandamaya.


Ah yes! It’s the letting go that’s so hard. The surrender. We all learned to hold on for dear life, yet paradoxically it’s the holding on that takes the “dear” out of our dear life. All our mind games, including rational framing, keep us stranded up tight on the shore. Fortunately we have a loving lifeguard offering encouragement, and we have our brave companions nearby to set an example. So what are we waiting for?

         While science is purportedly the vehicle for accessing our deepest truths, it suffers from the same reluctance we all do. I’ll offer an excerpt of a new book of revised psychology in Part II, that puts the nail in the coffin of the narrow-minded brain science we have been laboring under for just over a hundred years now. All of it can get us to the edge of the pool, but taking the plunge is something else again. In Nitya’s words:


Take any branch of science and walk through the corridors of its research laboratories – sooner or later you will come to the house of ignorance, beyond which the physicist, the chemist and the biologist cannot move another step. This is the mysterium tremendum in which everything is fused into one, which the rishi describes as ekibhutam.


Despite our limitations, we unconsciously long for the peace of oneness and are blessed to be restored by it every night, no matter how far afield we stumble during our waking hours:


Perhaps this is the only period when man is not tormented by the problems of this world. So it is only natural that man seeks the security and warmth of the womb of the unconscious night after night and feels comforted and rejuvenated when he is blessed with deep sleep.


         I’m sure many of you noticed Nitya’s reference to the first verse of Narayana Guru’s Daiva Dasakam, which ends, “Oh Mighty Captain, Your Word is a steamship that takes us across the ocean of suffering.” In his commentary on that work, Nitya says, “When one boards a ship, it is an act of surrender to the Unknown Will of a chance occurrence that is chosen to sit in the seat of the Absolute.” Here he adds:


The captain’s room is out of bounds for passengers, but whenever he pleases, through his chosen channels, he can reach all passengers individually and collectively. The same is the privilege of the god of the unconscious. He can let loose his Ariels and Pucks to entertain individual minds with dreams, and he also knows how to keep animated beings on the leash of rationality so that they may behave according to the norms and conventions of a universally concrete world, which is repeatedly revealed at regular intervals.


Deb and Bill chuckled ruefully about the “short leash” our rationality permits us. As for the god of the unconscious, we are reminded that “The god who dwells in sushupti is eternally nourished with self-generated bliss.” We don’t have to make anything happen to produce the bliss, beyond perhaps allowing it to be.

         Jan summed up the message of the mantra very nicely, that it inspires us to spend more time in silent reflection. We should aim for receptivity in place of fearfulness, and create a more relaxed way of being. Not agitated. Moni told us that sushupti meant the space between two thoughts, which Deb characterized as a nonverbal seedbed of our potentials. Adding to her agricultural metaphor, Deb suggested we could cultivate silence as the ground under our thoughts. However we tend our gardens, we should take a moment to appreciate the wonder of what grows there, and to honor it for the miraculous produce it brings forth, regardless of our degree of obliviousness. Aum.


Part II


         I have collected a few references in Nitya’s other writings to sushupti. First, one of the most beautiful passages in all of The Psychology of Darsanamala:


         If a seed should be examined and the potential tree looked for in it, not even the most powerful microscope will reveal any hint of the details of the tree lying latent within. The most primary forms of life, in its various manifestations, are so indistinct that merely to examine an identified form will not reveal whether it is going to be a fly, a barley plant, a black cat, or a philosopher. This idea is very humorously presented by Schrödinger in his book What is Life?

         We have to postulate an indistinct cause as a point of departure on our journey toward some kind of certainty and understanding in this speculation. A static entity cannot be called a cause. If we visualize the dynamism involved in the cause-effect relationship, the cause would be placed at the negative pole or alpha point of an imaginary vertical axis. Millions of fertile sperm are contained in the semen of a male, and of that great number one may find its way into the appropriate ovum in a female womb. Now a cause is on its way to unfolding itself stage by stage. This simple event, which is physically concealed even from the couple engaged in the act of intercourse, becomes more and more complex. Even after objectifying itself in the external world as the birth of a living child, the cause may continue to assert itself for many more years, as the child is transformed through the stages of adulthood into old age.

         As a result of the conditioning of the faithful by the established religions, and of the skeptics by the categorical statements of science, man has become bifurcated in his sense of his true beingness. Having thus separated him from his true ground—that substratum that gives rise to all beings—those responsible for this have largely repressed in him the sense of wonder and delight in which one who knows his true being lives all the time. Looking in vain for some religious statement or scientific formula which will neatly encompass the whole mystery of being, so that we can file it away in our box of consumer goods and calendar maxims, we have forgotten that the mystery we seek to penetrate is our own mystery.

         Everywhere the surging power of the mysterious primal cause can be seen in its perennial program of transformation. It will not be denied. A tree may take root in a small patch of earth among huge granite rocks. Slowly its roots will spread in the search for nourishment. In time those roots will split the great rocks as they push outwards, blindly impelled by the primeval force. (DM 56-7)


*         *         *


         From That Alone:


         Look for the creeper within you which is blossoming as your wakeful life hour after hour. Watch for your fantasizing aspect that is blooming in another direction. Also examine the root, the seeds of all this in your transactions in the wakeful and in your fantasies. Decide how much total participation you should have in these two kinds of functioning. If you involve yourself too much, it will pinch you. That pinching is here called narakam, hell. (v.9)


*         *         *


         From Love and Devotion:


         Philosophers like John Locke think that our mind is a tabula rasa; all impressions come to it from the external world. There is no dispute about this if by impressions what he means is the perception of physical light illuminating shapes and colors and the receiving of chemical stimuli. But the mind is pre-equipped to distinguish ‘before’ from ‘after’, ‘one’ from ‘many’, ‘above’ from ‘below’, and the difference in shapes. Mind is not a passive mirror. It has its own way of making a meaningful perspective and gaining orientation by centralizing one or another value image at a time and by making a selective structuring of chosen stimuli and relevant conceptions. (26)


         All our treasures of inheritance, both from nature and family, and all the seeds of disaster are lying buried just beneath the present moment. The vertical negative can give us the pleasant surprises of a blooming creativity making its appearance either in the subjective consciousness or in the transactional world, or it can give us a jolt by the unexpected eruption of an irrational crisis. The greatest pity is that the eye cannot see its operator and that the heart is veiled away from the manipulator of its tidal waves.

         Everything arising from the vertical minus has the quality of a categorical imperative. We have to put up with it. Fortunately the benevolence that flows from this unknown depth is several times more intelligent and meaningful than the comparatively less frequent lapses and eruptions. (27)


*         *         *


         I have been enjoying an updated take on modern psychology in the book, Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, by Edward F. Kelly, et al., (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2007). I have the paperback edition of 2010. In class, Paul presented a scheme very similar to the section on The Evolution of Mind, which I had planned to read out. Here is the gist of it. I particularly like that the “speck of slime” echoes Nitya’s “thick and slimy drop of vital fluid.” Much of the book honors F.W.H. Myers, a contemporary of William James, whose scientific explorations at the end of the nineteenth century are beginning to be appreciated as far advanced over the materialist obsessions that elbowed this aside. Gurukula students can easily mark its connection with the wisdom of the Upanishads:


Myers’s model of the evolution of mind echoed certain further ideas of Spencer, from whom Jackson had derived his model of the evolution and dissolution of the nervous system. In Spencer’s evolutionary theories, the universe—like an embryo—began as a simple homogeneity, or formless unity, which began to divide and differentiate into parts, and then integrated to form new units that become increasingly complex in the ongoing process of adapting to their environment. Jackson had applied these general ideas about the evolutionary differentiation and increasing complexity of systems to physiology and the nervous system in particular….

         Implicit in these ideas about the evolution of the universe from a formless homogeneity to complex forms of life was the idea that all of the latter were somehow inherent in the former. An important aspect of Myers’s ideas about the evolution of mind or consciousness, therefore, was that, just as the forms of all living organisms were somehow latent in the original homogeneity, or “primal germ,” from which all life developed, all forms of consciousness were likewise inherent in the homogeneous primal germ. All life “starts from an X of some sort; and for my present argument it matters not whether you call X a carbon-atom or an immortal soul. Whatever it was, X had certain propensities, which must have dated in any case from some age anterior to its existence upon our recent planet…[and] on which earth’s forces began their play.” (79)


Just as importantly, other forms of perception may yet be emerging and evolving:


Whatever be the part which we assign to external influences in its evolution, the fact remains that the germ possessed the power of responding in an indefinite number of ways to an indefinite number of stimuli. It was only the accident of its exposure to certain stimuli and not to others which has made it what it now is. And having shown itself so far modifiable as to acquire these highly specialized senses which I possess, it is doubtless still modifiable in directions as unthinkable to me as my eyesight would have been unthinkable to the oyster….


         Myers also pointed out that, on both the individual and evolutionary levels, the process of evolution has involved not simply the adaptation of an organism to its environment, but also, with increasingly complex sensory processes, the widening perception of that environment, the “gradual discovery of an environment, always there, but unknown….” The implication for Myers was that, as physics was also revealing, there probably are “unseen” environments, imperceptible to our senses as they have so far evolved, but nonetheless “fundamentally continuous” and interrelated with what we do perceive.

         Human beings have “evoked in greatest multiplicity the unnumbered faculties latent in the irritability of a speck of slime….” Nevertheless, it does not thereby follow that our present sensory capacities and our normal waking consciousness mark the final point of the evolutionary process: “To anyone…who takes a broad view of human development, it must seem a very improbable thing that the development should at this particular moment have reached its final term….” Just as in the individual spectrum of potential consciousness some contents and capacities have become supraliminal and some remain subliminal, so in the evolutionary spectrum of consciousness, some faculties have been evoked and some remain latent;…but there is “no apparent reason why these latent powers should not from time to time receive sufficient stimulus” to appear sporadically, and even ultimately to develop more fully. (80)


[ellipses indicate citations deleted by me]


*         *         *


         Jean wrote:


After reading class notes for mantra 5:


What Poverty Does to the Young Brain

By Madeline Ostrander, The New Yorker

07 June 15


         The brain’s foundation, frame, and walls are built in the womb. As an embryo grows into a fetus, some of its dividing cells turn into neurons, arranging themselves into layers and forming the first synapses, the organ’s electrical wiring. Four or five months into gestation, the brain’s outermost layer, the cerebral cortex, begins to develop its characteristic wrinkles, which deepen further after birth. It isn’t until a child’s infant and toddler years that the structures underlying higher-level cognition—will power, emotional self-control, decision-making—begin to flourish; some of them continue to be fine-tuned throughout adolescence and into the first decade of adulthood.


Dear Scott,


I'm just trying to juggle the ideas of transactional materialism, poverty and dreams, and now even the unconscious, as described in your last two class notes.  From the article above, one also reads, "...wealth can't necessarily buy a better brain, but deprivation can result in a weakened one."  I cannot formulate either a question or an answer here.  I am just feeling my way.


By the way, it was fascinating the way Myers was a forerunner for Jung.




Scott Teitsworth