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Mandukya Upanishad - Mantra 6


Mantra 6


This the lord of all, the all-knower;

this the inner negation factor;

This is the source of everything,

and the beginning and end of beings.


         The third quarter, sushupti, gets a second mantra, due to its vast importance. In case we are inclined to accord it less value than the fourth, the turiya, we are reminded it is “the source of everything, and the beginning and end of beings.” Well, okaaaaay!

         Here in Oregon we have a curious insect called a spittlebug or spit bug, a tiny speck that wraps itself in a cocoon of saliva-like foam to deter predators. It looks very unappetizing! At a certain time of year the grass is covered with their spit wads. Nitya, in his typical fashion, drew some cosmic analogies from their oddball lifestyle. Sometimes it seemed he could draw a spiritual inspiration from just about anything.

         Because of this passage it may be that the Mandukya commentary was earlier than we thought: likely from the late 1970s, since that was a peak spit bug period here. I’ll reprint Nitya’s description, as it’s possible that God has never been compared to a spit bug by anyone else in the history of the universe, and since Nitya was not struck by lightning, it proves She has a sense of humor too:


On a certain morning when you go for a walk, you may see along the footpath a large amount of white froth with innumerable bubbles all shining in the sun with a pearly luster. From where does this froth come? Certainly not from the grass. If you have the inquisitiveness of a child you may sit and touch the froth, to look for the source of it. To find out its cause, you need a lot of patience. If you seek relentlessly you will ultimately come to a small bug not bigger than a head louse. This amazing creature is called the spittlebug or spit-bug. The enormous quantity of froth has come from the tiny mouth of that smallest of all creatures.

   Compared to this spittlebug, there is another being which is infinitesimally smaller because it is not even visible with the most powerful microscope. Indians call it srishta, the projector of the universe. In a clumsier way, Westerners call it ‘the creator’. Functionally, the srishta is a super-super spit-bug who spits out nebula after nebula from which the galactic systems are continuously emerging. What baffles us when we look at the quantity of froth produced by a spit-bug is the incomprehensible power of the bug; the quantity of the liquid emerging from it cannot be adequately accounted for when we consider its source. The spitting out, the projection and the creation of the world, also offers a similar paradox. What is its material cause? Is it the substance out of which the universe evolves or the Word with which God creates?


I’ve also included the humorous spit bug shtick from That Alone in Part II.

         In his commentary Nitya talks about several types of causes, and I had always figured that this came from his Marxist period. Marx and Engels used the various causes extensively in their philosophy. But when I searched the subject, it turned out that Aristotle was the source. A good, brief explanation can be found here: . For the record, they are the material, formal, efficient and final causes.

         The vertical negative pole or alpha is the source from which creation springs, growing upward toward the omega or goal. The point where they come together is the individual in the present moment. I’ve added Nitya’s very helpful description of this structural image in Part II.

         The purpose of our study is to foster a healthy impulsion toward one or more sublime goals, making for a more satisfying and beneficial life. Knowing who you are and where you are going, if only in a general sense, gives direction to your quest. We defer to an inner guiding principle, confident that it is “us” is the larger sense, and restrain the ego, full as it is of obfuscating desires and misunderstandings.

         Nitya was often very careful in using the much abused term God for the source from which the universe keeps arising. Occasionally he would boldly flaunt it, as he does here, because it is still a perfect word to cover the territory. He didn’t let the grievous misuse of God prevent him from using it in an unsullied manner. The key is that God is an inner principle as well as an outer one. If you push God away, you separate yourself from your own wellsprings of knowledge and direction. Both believers and nonbelievers do this. Wise yogis do not. And they don’t get tangled up in conundrums about terminology. They look for a way to accept.

         Of course, you are free to use other terms than God for the source, but it might be more reasonable than you think. I guess I should reprint the definitive chapter from Love and Blessings on The Meaning of God, in case you don’t have it memorized. I’ll make that Part III.

         So yes, God is the Grand Spit Bug at the center of this universe, spewing galaxies like grains of sand. Karen—an old and dear friend who finally has the time to join us occasionally—had just viewed images of the relative size of the planets, the sun and other stars in our galaxy, and reported how mindblowing it is. Our galaxy features a star that’s a billion times bigger than our sun. We can hardly begin to grasp how stupendous even the local universe is. I did a quick search and found a couple of examples, though you can probably do better. The science guy in this is a dope, but the images are unbelievable: I guess all these are aimed at kids, but it’s still fun. This one is just pictures, more my speed: Be sure to blow your mind at least once every day! As Deb said, we have an incredible gift of being aware of the universe and we can appreciate whatever passes before our awareness. It’s a bit of a shame that we don’t always bother.

         Nancy waxed rhapsodic about how she sees her life as a breathtaking eruption of scintillating foam all around her, seemingly wafting out of nowhere. As a highly creative person she has struck a balance between intentionality and witnessing, so that her inner spit bug is exuberantly active. She talked about being conscious of what the “spittle” is doing: you aren’t forcefully making it happen, but you are intensely experiencing what is going on. It’s by no means about ignoring life or turning it off. We are invited to enjoy the show, and it’s a good one. Way more than five stars. Scotty put it that his effort is just to be available, and that’s just right. There is something extraordinary and profound happening, and we participate to the extent we make ourselves available to it. It recalls the Bergson quote we used to have on our fridge, “The true mystic just opens his heart to the onrushing wave.” Scotty added an African proverb: let your life be like the misty rain, falling softly yet flooding the river. Sweet.

         In his commentary Nitya expressed “life is but a dream” in an especially holistic fashion:


The Indian God does not create with the Word; he only dreams. It is not that the dream is there because it is dreamt, but the dreamer derived his status from the dream that is dreamt.


         Deb loved the commentary and was poetic in drawing us in to the joy of it with her. She extolled the beautiful deep sleep state of sushupti, that vibrant non-delineated source that’s constantly nurturing us. We are non-self-conscious, resting in dynamic quiet. That we derive our status from the overarching dream itself takes away all sense of agency, of “I made this happen.” Michael added that in the dream we don’t feel like we are making it happen, we are just part of its functioning. Susan, an expert dreamer, loves that the dream doesn’t begin and end with “me,” it simply is.

         We humans, too, derive our status from the dreams we dream, along with the occasional actualizations we happen to manifest. We come alive in the act of living, the act of being. Actualizing this is an essential thrust of the Upanishad. Where we often learn to accept a marginal status and so fail to develop our potentials properly, this philosophy locates the crux of the matter right where we are, right in our heart. We matter. The universe is busy expressing its infinite potentials through each living being, and everything without exception is alive. There can be no substitute for any one of us. The Upanishadic rishis are trying their best to energize our finest abilities through realizing our vast—even divine—nature. It isn’t so much about what we do, but how we conceive of the whole. We should easily be filled with blissful excitement and optimism.

         Here we are speaking of the vertical dream of life’s expression, more than the nighttime play of mental imagery of the second quadrant. Within our dream, we do many things, and in that it is not always easy to strike a balance between intention and openness. We looked closely at this back in That Alone, verse 66:


All our living moments are crowded with the intentionality of our consciousness. If we are always attached to intentionality, the peace, serenity and joy we look for are constantly being pushed away. In a sense, then, meaning is being transferred from the present to the future. We often speak of living here and now, but we don’t realize the almost impossible pressure on us to not live in the present. We are always being made to wait, to look for, to expect, to anticipate. Half the time of our life is wasted in looking for and waiting for something to happen. If we can only establish a firm stand on the constant ground the Guru speaks of—the arivu or knowledge—our attachment and intentionality regarding the phenomenal world becomes a secondary interest. Our primary interest then becomes witnessing the game of life in the present moment.

To enjoy the game of life we don’t just have to act out plans. I can ask my friend to give a performance and I’ll just sit and watch. I am myself, but I am also watching what he is doing. This doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying every shade of emotion he is creating through his words, gestures and expressions. I fully relish and enjoy every bit of it. I can even become tearful. But I’m not the performer, I’m the witness. And while I’m enjoying whatever he’s performing, I’m also living the performance with him.

This is a very subtle thing. If you understand it, it makes a real difference in your life. You do and you do not do. You perform everything you are doing now and yet, at the same time, you do not do anything. The Gita expresses it as seeing action in inaction and inaction in action, but this can become a cliché. The whole meditation of this verse centers around not making it a cliché, but living it. Then you see the vativa, the form aspect, the wave, and fully appreciate it while at the same time remaining as water.


What matters in the Mandukya is attuning ourselves with the creative potential of our source, so that we can meet the beckoning promise of the turiya halfway, in a manner of speaking. To promote this wisdom, Nitya reprises the Vedantic image of the cloth and thread, which is a variation of the more familiar pot and clay dichotomy:


It is the weaver’s intention to make a cloth, so he warps the thread around the woof. Both the warp and the woof are yarn. The monist sees only the primary oneness of the first cause. He thinks the cloth conceals the reality of the thread, by presenting the homogenous look of the final product. So he is right in saying the reality is hidden behind the superimposed idea of the cloth. In commenting on the Isavasya Upanishad, Sankara ingeniously applies a converse understanding of the theory of superimposition. Those who see the world do not see its hidden cause, God, because the reality of God is covered by the appearance of the world. Sankara expects the wise man to see the reality as much on the surface as beneath, and reverse the order of superimposition, so that God, instead of being hidden, can be seen as the all-pervading principle.


A beautiful moment Nitya recounted in That Alone came to mind on reading this. Perhaps you remember it:


When they were together in Colombo, Narayana Guru suddenly picked up an ochre-colored robe and gave it to Nataraja Guru. Nataraja Guru had one moment of hesitation before taking it, because it meant a great deal. He was young. He had not decided whether he should live the life of a householder or that of a renunciate, or whether he should get his doctorate and take a good job or not. He had not decided anything. So he had one moment of hesitation. Then Narayana Guru said: “The color is only on the surface of the cotton fabric. The cotton itself has not changed.”

  Do you get it? This meant everything for Nataraja Guru. Narayana Guru had called his attention to a very subtle difference. The color was what appeared important, but the material was actually made of cotton. All the implications of the color are only in the phenomenality of life. At no time does your real Self change, now or hereafter, whatever kind of life you live. You can be a sinner or you can be a saint; wearing holy robes will not alter who you are.

  The day you go one step further to realize your becoming a great saint or a great sinner is not going to change your Self in any way, a great calmness will grow inside you. At least you will have gotten over the agony of your guilt. (v. 66)


         So okay, sure. The universe is so much bigger than we are that we don’t matter in the slightest. And yet, it is our awareness that brings it to life. No awareness, no universe. So we matter a great deal, no matter how small we are. Sentience is still the most mysterious, and the most crucial, aspect of the whole shebang. And each of us is in charge of one drop of sentience, which is by far the most precious substance in the universe. The elixir of life.  Like the infinitesimal germs we are, we fling our sentience open to the cosmos, and weave a world of endless beauty around us. We can nudge it to be like Nancy’s scintillating foam or else let it foment into an unwholesome excrescence (see Part II). Done well, what a fun game it is! Let’s play.


Part II


         From Love and Devotion. The first entry is really about turiya, but it is so germane to the whole vertical axis that I include it now:


         Aum is a mantra for chanting. The psychological effect of it is like consciousness being poured into a funnel. The spatial dimension of consciousness narrows as it proceeds from ‘a’ to ‘u’, and it comes to a point of non-articulation at ‘m’. Thereafter the person chanting Aum feels within them the effect proceeding to a deeper silence. The silence that is experienced after the termination at ‘m’ is the fourth quarter of consciousness.

         The plus side of the vertical axis represents this point of culmination. If the vertical minus suggests the alpha point from which manifestation mounts, the vertical plus marks the omega point where it attains its highest peak and consequently also the last post beyond which nothing happens.

         In the vegetative world, the vertical plus is where the flower gets its kiss from the descending sunlight. In the animal world it’s a point where a bitch fondly licks the pups that are sucking her breasts. In the human world this is where the fulfillment of one’s life interest fills them with the joy of utmost satisfaction and thankfulness. And in a truly spiritual person, it’s a point of their greatest wonder from where they cool down to the neutral center and become equipoised in relation to all the four quarters of consciousness. (27-8)


         The course of a ship is regulated and maneuvered by the turn of the rudder. That is a device from behind. The destiny of our life is guided by the goal that is beckoning us from the future. It is like a guiding star which is showing our path from above. When one does not hear the whispering of the call and does not see the shimmering light of this guiding star of life, they become like the navigator of a ship stranded in mid-ocean who does not know in what direction they should go.

         Every activity of the transactional world and every conscious thought, appreciation, decision, and volition should be contributory to make an advancement towards the goal suggested by the vertical plus. When it falls short of that requirement, the transactional action turns into an act of indebtedness, or even the deliberation of that action can be foul enough to merit the penalty of degrading one’s personal worth. When the subjective function is not aimed at the fostering of our interest to make life more verticalized, then like a rat in the experiment’s maze, the mind will run into shocking-giving blind alleys of despair, grief, guilt-feeling, remorse or frustration. (28)


*         *         *


         From Darsanamala:


There is the possibility in some for consciousness to free itself from specific transactional events and the fantasizing ideations of dreams, to remain poised in a state of unconditioned awareness without falling into the state of deep sleep. This is called the fourth state of consciousness—a state of pure transcendence. As this state is without finite limitations, it is called the pure state of the Self. In fact, the other three states occur within the state of pure consciousness, as modifications of consciousness, producing item after item of what is generally called knowledge or experience. We modify the state of pure consciousness, which is absolute truth, to produce the illusions which we mistakenly call reality. So habitually and continuously do we vary our focus of awareness, that few of us come to know that the pure state even exists. This is one of the tragic aspects of individuation. (74-5)


*         *         *


         The part from That Alone  (v. 28) regarding the spit bug, has a slightly different take on these fascinating creatures. The connection with the present version is made afterwards:


   I like to compare the individual to a common insect, the spit bug. The spit bug is very tiny, smaller than a coriander seed. All the time it spits out a kind of foam all around itself. When you go for a walk in the morning, you can see its spittle all over the leaves and grass. It looks just like spit, but if you examine it you will find this tiny bug concealed in it.

   Like that, individuation goes on spitting out constructs all around it. The tiny, fearful ego continually spews forth clouds of obfuscation in order to conceal its sense of insignificance, but its delusory images of glory appear to be no more than unwholesome excrescences to passersby. This is also what the single cell of the fertilized ovum is doing. It goes on spitting out more and more cells until it becomes a fetus. Then the fetus becomes a child, and the child a grown-up. We are still creating spittle all around. We spit out potentials; those potentials in us can be actualized at any time. Our daily wakeful experiences are expressions of motivations which lie buried in what is spewed out of an original program. (197)


Part III


   Here’s the chapter from L&B about God. Nitya was in Australia in around 1969:



         In the evening, Ken’s middle-aged Uncle Harold came with his girlfriend. Seeing us all in the silent mood of recluses, they joined us in looking into the beautiful garden, with its strange combination of effects of autumn, winter and untimely spring. Red leaves were falling and fluttering; the skeletons of the apple trees stood by as mere pencil sketches. Bellbirds made rhythmic chimes as if a worship was going on in the surrounding bush. The garden stretched far down into the valley, beyond which we could have a glimpse of the city fading out into what must have been the sky and the sea meeting at the smoky beaches of Melbourne.

         Harold wanted to sit next to me in a huge chair, which was occupied by Socrates, a weird-looking cat belonging to Sheila. Harold tried to push it aside, but the cat resisted with not a little resentment and I had to pull up another chair for him. Everybody knew of the big pussy’s claim on me, and nobody sat in that chair even when it was out on a sparrow hunt.

         Harold succeeded in drawing me into an animated dialogue. He asked, “Do you believe in God?”

         “Do you believe in chuchi?” I returned.

         “What did you say?”

         “Do you believe in chuchi?”

         “I don’t get it. What’s chuchi?”

         “When I say ‘chuchi’ you don’t understand, and so you can’t say whether you believe in it or not,” I told him. “Similarly, ‘God’ is a sound that can be meaningful or meaningless according to the connotation one attributes to it. Moreover, the word ‘belief’ has some very bad associations with it. In the name of belief, thousands of people were tortured and killed in medieval Europe. Jesus himself was crucified for what he believed. Galileo was persecuted for not believing in the assumed stationary nature of earth. So I have to be a little wary of the term belief. If by belief you mean understanding and accepting something, then of course I understand the term God in a very acceptable sense.

         “At the same time, we must also note that the word is not connoted in everybody’s mind the same way. Some think of God in terms of an anthropomorphically conceived autocrat. Bearing such a notion in mind, Lucrates said that if lions and asses could hold brushes and write poems, they’d have described and painted their gods either with manes or long ears. Hence, God exists by definition. Only if you tell me clearly what you understand by God can I tell you whether I believe in it or not.”

         Harold answered, “I’m not much of a believer. I think people refer to God as a supernatural power that controls the destiny of the world.”

         “If you’re interested in the semantic meaning of God’s existence, I should ask you to refer to the Encyclopedia of Ethics and Religion,” I continued. “In the actual employment of the term God in our daily life, it is not always a noun. Sometimes it’s a verb, sometimes a conjunction, and sometimes it’s an interjection. Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, speaks of God as a conjunction.”

         Harold looked a little confused. “You’re making it difficult for me. Could you explain that a little more clearly?”

         “In the train at every window there’s a ledge on which is written ‘lock’. Lock in such an instance could be a noun until ten o’clock. After that it’s time for sleep, and then the same word becomes a verb. You lock the lock. Like that, the part of speech to which God belongs and what the word signifies can only be decided by looking at the context in which it is found.

         “When a child asks his father where the earth has come from, the father may say ‘God’. Here, God is a blanket phrase meaning the generic source of all unknown causes.

         “When a man is in the grip of a great fear and he cries out, ‘God!’ his appeal is not to the primary cause. He may see no possibility of getting out of the dreadful situation in which he is caught, and in his state of utter helplessness he hopes for a miracle to save him. In such a situation only a factor that is outside the span of cause and effect can be expected to help, so he cries out ‘God!’

         “A woman struck by the beauty of a rainbow or a sunset may say ‘God,’ but she does not mean a primal cause or a miraculous benefactor with her exclamation. Her mind, exaggerating the glory of beauty, is suggesting the experience to be as divine as seeing God.

         “So in our everyday life God is the word with the widest semantic range, covering vast areas of feeling, reasoning and willing. It would be foolish to reject such a useful term from our vocabulary. One would have to coin a number of new words supported by long and complicated definitions if one chose to avoid it.

“I’m not particularly charmed by the much used and abused word God. However we need something to indicate our belongingness to the whole, from the microcosm to the macrocosm and from the feeblest flicker of a smile to the all-embracing benevolence that keeps our soul cheerful and our thoughts bound to the integrity of Truth. That purpose is served by the most collective of collective terms, God.

         “One last point. We know how much we depend on others as well as other existential factors. This is also true of our knowledge of consciousness, which is equally dependent on the miraculous core of existence which enables sentient beings to consciously and efficiently communicate with each other. The value that makes life happy and meaningful is an integral part of the complex structure where each being is interrelated with others. A little imagination is enough for us to realize how much we depend upon and participate in the total existence, subsistence and value, which, as an omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent Absolute, is called God.

         “When a man recognizes this stable ground under his feet as his true existence, this omniscient consciousness as the fountain-source of his own thoughts and feelings, and this supreme value lending meaning to all that is desired and desirable, his communion with God becomes a true encounter that takes him far beyond the frontiers of logic. To him, God becomes an irresistible intimation. Until one has such a mystical experience, all that he says of God can at best be only a theoretical possibility, and has very little reference to what, with an overwhelming sense of fulfillment, the mystic calls God.”

         I saw Harold sitting somewhat dazed, as if he was seeing an inner vision of exquisite beauty. All were silent, and our hearts were filled with a joy beyond words. I felt like a moonstone melting away in the moonlight. After a very long pause, Harold got up like a child coming out of Alice’s Wonderland and took my hands with great love. After Harold and his friend left, we all slipped back into our usual meditation, which we always experienced as our natural state. Perhaps it was a little after midnight when we unwillingly got up to say goodnight.


Scott Teitsworth