Nitya Teachings

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Mandukya Upanishad - Mantra 9


Mantra 9


The “A” stands for the waking state where the

Universal Man is the first substance because of obtaining

or being the first. He obtains all he wants and becomes

first, too, who understands thus.


         As has been affirmed before, the wakeful quadrant of our being is where we can bring our intentionality to bear most effectively to harmonize our life. Many spiritual programs aim to carry the conscious mind’s intent into other areas of the psyche, but Vedanta considers these as already harmonious—in fact, much more harmonious without the intrusion of the ego and its self-interested programs. Instead, by harmonizing the wakeful mind the ever-present harmony within us is invited to participate in our daily life, and this is as good as it gets. The inner guidance system that has assembled us from scratch, both body and mind, is still primed to operate in our current state of development, if we only afford it the opportunity.

         Here’s a relevant bit from my Gita commentary (XVIII, 26), on sattvic action:


The point is simply that we should love what we do. It’s not complicated. If we don’t love what we are doing, we should find a way to move on to something we do love. Life is lovable. There should be a natural affinity between every actor and their actions. Damaged people can love some terrible things, so there is more to it than just love, of course. The intelligence has a role of insuring that the action is justifiably lovable. If we love to hurt or covet, there is an underlying perversion of the system. Krishna’s course of instruction should have isolated and corrected all such deviations by now, so that we can safely graduate to a loving way of life we can honestly be enthusiastic about.
  It seems that enthusiasm has been crushed out of most people nowadays. Modern humans tend to be mere dabblers, lukewarm in their spirituality, but the ones who really get into it are of a different stripe. They are excited. They cook.


         Nitya seldom got so visibly excited he’d hop up and down and shout. He was very quiet about it. Yet his love of life and the part he played in it was palpably all-absorbing. He loved to teach and talk with interested people, preferably over a delicious, home-cooked meal. He welcomed intrusions, and was always willing to set aside his program to greet a visitor, picking up the thread again without missing a beat once they had left. While exuding an almost otherworldly intensity, he was rarely withdrawn. It is little wonder he was a champion of the first quarter, of wakeful life. And that makes him a proper commentator on the Mandukya Upanishad. Unlike some seers, he reveled in the joys of daily life, embracing every aspect of our being.

         Andy talked about how the ego—the I-sense—and the world arise together, and the I is essentially the locus where we register pain and pleasure. Deb added that this is what makes the world appear different to each person, because the registry of how we are affected is always going to be different. Paul reminded us that much of what we think of as the wakeful is nonetheless a kind of dream, because our interpretation of the present is based in our memories. Rather than direct perception we are having interpreted perception, hence a dream. Paul also made the important observation that since there are aspects of our understanding that facilitate our psyche as well as those that undermine it, we are meant to combine all four limbs. We should not rely on one small slice of the whole for our orientation. This accurately restated the quote from Love and Devotion posted last week: “The scheme is not to suggest the preference for any one quarter over another. It is only to help the student have a structural visualization of the complementarity of the four aspects of consciousness.”

         The problem with the transactional world is that its demands easily distract us from the impulses of our authentic self. The class pondered the implications, as this is the major challenge we face in trying to live a meaningful life. Nitya gets right to the point in his commentary:


Pain and pleasure are the dual principles by which a living organism is steered through the stream of life. Pleasure prompts acceptance and pain impels avoidance. Transaction is the continuous process of acceptance and avoidance with several degrees of compromise between them.


         What he didn’t come right out and say, because it is taken for granted, is that this kind of transactional attitude is an impediment to us being fully alive. It is by no means the whole story. As children we are more or less forced to attend to acceptance and rejection, to the degree that it may seem to include everything. If the transactional world was perfectly benign, this might not matter, but obviously there is a chaotic and accidental—not to mention hostile—quality to it that can lead us far afield. As an extreme example, think of abandoned children in places where the only friendship is proffered by teenage gang members, and their kindness is vouchsafed dependent on the crimes they commit. The lucky few wind up in a prison where there is some help available to reclaim their integrity, and even with help it is a long and strenuous process. Many are less fortunate. This could serve as a metaphor for all of us.

         The point is that acting only on the basis of accessing pleasure and avoiding pain produces a lifelong state of bondage, in or out of any actual prison. There are more valuable criteria available to the contemplative, and these are accessed by resisting the allures of the obvious. It takes effort, though, and effort can seem too much like work. Without some vision of what is possible, drudgery will be avoided whenever possible. Part II includes some observations of a psychologist on how difficult it is to overcome our natural resistance to change, even change for the better.

         “Going with the flow,” then, does not mean choosing the path of least resistance; it means attuning with our inner intelligence and aligning our actions with what it reveals. This is a very important distinction that many people fail to make. If we are able to listen in, though, our options multiply geometrically. In Nitya’s words:


Wakeful consciousness accompanied with attentiveness brings us to such a wide world of possibilities. Any person who knows this knows… he has a role to play there. His thoughts, his words and his actions are all of utmost importance, and he fulfills his role by making his functional presence most relevant and appropriate to the situation in which he is placed.


         Certainly, withdrawing for a period allows us to detach ourselves from the superficial attractions of the everyday world. Some people are content to remain in a detached state, but most of us are eager to also be participants in a world that calls out for our involvement. As Nitya puts it,


For a person who wishes to participate in the wakeful program of the gross world, there is a surrounding community of people and hundreds of programs of action to which one is led either by natural inclination or by social obligation.


Of course, we are advocating for natural inclination over social obligation, but these are not mutually exclusive. If they are intelligently blended together we can have perhaps more impact than if we insist on remaining at a distance from social demands.

         I think of Deb’s and my daughter, Emily, as exemplifying a happy admixture along those lines. Her natural inclinations, coupled with the invitations of “random” fate, have taken her all over the world to make significant contributions to the health and well-being of young women, and in consequence, the societies they inhabit. Without even being particularly aware of the philosophy we espouse, she practices what Nitya extols here:


The human family is like a single matrix with countless cooperative units endlessly working for the collective good of all. Except for some manmade restrictions such as national boundaries, there is nothing to stop a person from extending their interest to the farthest corners of this globe.


         I have talked in the past about what our bees have taught us about the higher dimension of consciousness they demonstrate, how it’s as if there is a single consciousness with thousands of independent individuals carrying out its requirements and fulfilling its needs. For humans it isn’t so easy to feel a part of the totality; it requires a contemplative penetration below the incredibly busy and random-seeming surface. Nitya recommends doing it:


The sociobiologist who studies the social behavior of species is sure to appreciate the general principles that govern all these beings in a similar way. It is as if one Universal Person is expressing itself through the group behavior of the species and the individual behavior of each member.


         Paul channeled Teilhard de Chardin in talking about the different levels of integration possible within a higher order of being, as with particles organized into atoms and molecules, and those into cells, that then make up complex life forms, which then comprise the larger matrices that we can barely even try to comprehend. Is the noosphere still intact? Is it a form of consciousness we benefit from and contribute to in some mysterious way? Stay tuned.

         Andy, who is deep into one of Nancy Y’s study groups on That Alone, brought Atmo into our discussion. There this same dichotomy is described as the generic and the specific. In other words, we are individuals, but we are also aspects of the human species, as also of all terrestrial life. The principle applies virtually everywhere. Who can imagine how far the expanding circles of interrelation extend?

         Having some sense of membership in a greater whole is a reassuring feeling that can help counteract the despair we might experience when we look at the titanic forces at play in the modern human-dominated world, especially since the destructive aspects are ascendant at the moment. To offer in its place our constructive contribution, communication is emphasized here in the first quarter:


In this mantra the act of communication is symbolized by the sound “A.” The first tool a human child has to call attention to its wants is making a vocal sound. In other words, an open mouth is the gateway of human transaction.


Moreover, “The impulse to avoid is often demonstrated by refusing to speak.”

         Ultimately, “The only requirement for a person to relate with another is the ability to communicate. The foremost means of communication is the tool of word power.” In the past we have explored in detail how much can be accomplished by simply talking about our differences of opinion, and if communication is permanently disabled, perhaps it is necessary to seek new outlets for our creative interactions. A couple of class members are poised on that node at the present moment, and we wish them the very best for unleashing their vast potential. One of them even sent me a favorite quote they just ran across from That Alone, page 99, in keeping with our theme: “Now it is glorious that you are given the opportunity to be with your own real being.”

         In sum, we honor the wakeful world as the field for our visible contribution to the world we live in. Our conscious mind is the thinnest sheet of neurons floating on top of the great mass of our unbelievably complex brains. We want it all to be healthy and harmoniously interactive. To do that we sometimes have to shut down the topmost layer, but only so it can assume its rightful place in the whole picture.

         Let’s defer to Nitya’s very apt closing words, in keeping with the sublime spirit of the Gurukula and Narayana Guru:


The seer of the Upanishad is not asking us to think of the wakeful world as an illusory appearance of no consequence. Instead, he wants us to live as fully as possible the wide range of values that are relevant to the wakeful world, which forms the first quarter of the Absolute to which we organically belong.


Part II


         From Let It Go, by Judith Sills, PhD, an article in Psychology Today magazine (July/August 2014):


         Getting past yesterday demands both thinking and doing. It’s things we do as well as things we think that hold us unwittingly in a painful place. Arguably, it’s easy to shift behaviors—that is, once you pause to consider them. More intricately, getting beyond yesterday is a psychological high-wire act of letting go, of reevaluating experience and relinquishing old perspectives, of discarding cherished but mistaken beliefs (often about what it takes to be happy), of delicately but deeply recalibrating thoughts and feelings.

         Letting go means something has to open in your head and your heart, but that shift, that easing, comes up against our own invisible, often implacable resistance. A great deal of that resistance comes from nothing more pedestrian than the great human reluctance to change. Even change for the better is still change, often initially dreaded and avoided. We are creatures of habit and of inertia.

         A great deal of psychological research attests to resistance even to positive change. It is one of the great marvels of clinical observation how much discomfort people can tolerate before they acknowledge the need for change. And change is always uncomfortable, at least at first.

         Letting go fights more than the powerful magnet of the status quo. It also comes into conflict with compelling, distorted thoughts that make holding on appear reasonable and right. (55-6)


*         *         *


         In the book How the Dog Became the Dog, author Michael Derr notes that an ethologist (specialist in animal behavior) friend of his, speaking of the human traits of recognizing others as equal or sometimes even greater than the self, coordinated group activities, and personal sacrifice, noted these are not primate activities. They are wolf activities. Early humans very likely learned them from their close partnership with wolves.


*         *         *


         Vladimir Nabokov, from his memoir Speak, Memory, he is musing on his young son playing: “Besides dreams of velocity, or in connection with them, there is in every child the essentially human urge to reshape the earth, to act upon a friable environment…. This explains a child’s delight in digging, in making roads and tunnels for his favorite toys.”

Scott Teitsworth