The “U” stands for the dreaming state, which is the luminous
one, the second substance, because of superiority or from
intermediate. He leads wisdom generations and becomes one
of sameness too. None ignorant of the Absolute could be born
in the family of him who understands this.
perfect evening in summery Portland enveloped a congenial gathering of newish
and oldish friends. It was once again clearly evident how balm-like and at the
same time empowering is a group session dedicated to the science of the
last few mantra commentaries are quite brief, so I have supplemented them with
excerpts from That Alone, reprinted in Part II. Here we get a mere sketch of
the structure, where there Nitya laid out some of the crucial practical
most basic idea is that while we use the term “dream” for the second quarter,
it is the domain of subjectivity, of interpretation, as the counterpart of the
objectivity of the “wakeful.” This isn’t only about what happens when we are
asleep. Our days are like a living dream, overlaying the world with our
memories and fantasies, and part of the work of the yogi is to bring these into
alignment ever more closely. While some spiritual practices aspire to make the
world conform to wishful thinking, here we are confident that the world does
not lack anything, and all we need is to attune ourselves with it. Paul put
this rather eloquently, saying that he now realized that transcendence wasn’t
about trying to separate one state from another, but rather seeing the
transcendental in everything around us. Precisely. If there is a single theme
to the Gurukula version of Vedanta, that might well be it.
experience an objective world arising simultaneously with our subjective appreciation
of it. We could say “in tandem,” but it isn’t even two things: it is one thing
viewed from two angles. In a sense, this is how the world comes to be a
transforming reality, since we are continuously striving to understand it
perfectly. The progress we have made, through billions of years, simultaneously
makes the world go round.
is by no means a linear unfolding, because our misinterpretations stick with us
and color what we perceive, or in any case how we perceive it. We progress to
the extent we can detach ourself from our previous flawed attempts to grasp
reality. As Nitya puts it:
Recorded memories are like
countless millions of tragedies and comedies hiding in ambush on library
shelves, popping into the minds of people again and again.
This can be both good and bad, of course. Several of us have
seen the recent animated movie Inside
Out, which puts this concept in an impressive visual format, and elaborates
it rather nicely. Highly recommended for yogis on an evening out. Be prepared
fires off an impressive, gold-plated sentence in his compact presentation that
highlights the importance of the present quadrant, the U of aum:
Between the objective world of
facts and the deep unconscious is placed the grand theme of transmuting the
harsh and unwieldy matter of physicality into the delicate petals of a blooming
mind that can waft its fragrance through millennia of human history.
bad, eh? Implicit in this is struggle: not only the struggle for survival, but
the struggle for enlightened comprehension. A few of those who historically
attained a degree of success in this have had their words preserved for
posterity, and can throw light on our own conflicts. This is reflected in a
concept that Karen particularly liked in the commentary: “The spirits of human
dreams wander around with their subtle bodies and act upon human consciousness
like wisdom bacteria.” We all welcomed the idea of being inoculated with wisdom
bacteria! And in a way, that’s what our study is doing—providing a tiny, almost
invisible key to interpret our environment in a healthier way. The key can
replicate and penetrate more and more of our whole being, bringing improved
health. Yet we live in a society (no matter where we are) that inoculates us against wisdom, as if it were a mortal
enemy. It certainly does make us less servile.
is feeling this discrepancy especially acutely right now. There are several
class members who are finding themselves in the middle of a crisis these days,
but his is the dilemma of a young person on the verge of adulthood. The society
demands that he surrender his independence and yoke himself to the plow, while
his free spirit would just as soon evade all necessity and cast him
unreservedly into the arms of Providence.
concert with Paul’s comment earlier, this is a great place to bring unitive
understanding to bear. Then it is no longer a question of avoiding life’s
demands to live in perfect liberty, but of finding that very liberty within the
demands our life. We don’t ultimately escape necessity if we are ferocious
enough in resisting it. It will always be there. We defang it by seeing it as
the course we must naturally follow in our liberated condition. Though we have
often underscored this point in the past, accepting it is a perennial
challenge, with each new situation eliciting some admixture of acceptance and
rejection. Part of our work is to overcome our resistance to look for the truth
in the heart of the very challenge we are facing.
theory of vasanas, the seeds of our predilections, includes the realization
that these predilections are busily arranging our corner of the world to
promote our abilities. We should then view our challenges as opportunities to
develop our finest endowments, and not as barriers to freedom. It is a falsely
oversimplified attitude to treat freedom and necessity as monolithic entities
in eternal opposition. There is a continuum between them, and we almost surely
will find ourselves somewhere in the middle, blessed with a healthy measure of
each. The tension between the poles is where the passion play of our lives is
talked about my last acid trip, at just about Prabu’s age, when I had been
reveling in pure abstractions for several years, not to mention fantasizing
about living permanently in higher states of consciousness. On that trip the
realization hit me that my life was empty in a sense, that I needed to have
actual outward things to do. Physical things. The message was: “You have
learned who you are and where your life is headed, now it is time to live it.
Sitting here gazing at the mountain stream is wasting your precious time. There
is much to be done.” And I soon felt the truth of this: bringing what I had
learned into daily life made for an exciting and at times harrowing adventure
that engaged my thoroughly earnest participation. I eventually became the
world’s most active lazy bum.
sure, sometimes we need to sit quiet and still our minds, especially when they
are overactive or overly superficial. Yet—and especially in a crisis—there are
times when this is exactly the wrong thing to be doing. Our vasanas are
pressing us to let them out, to give them play in the fields of the Lord, so to
speak. If we force ourselves to sit and meditate or sit and read a book, they
will increase the din, like the pressure building up in a steam boiler. They
have given us an opportunity and we are ignoring it! Arrrrrrggggghhhh! If we
insist on being peaceful we wind up fighting against our own best interests in
hopes of achieving some abstract state of mind, when we should be figuring out
what to do about those impulses, sorting out which are our best qualities and
which are just biological conditioning in need of palliation.
explored this absorbing subject at length, because it is so empowering and
pretty much contrary to prevailing spiritual beliefs. Sorry folks, the Gurukula
does not advocate escapism. Quite the reverse! But it is for sale all over the
place, if that’s what you really want.
noted how often Nitya talked about all of us being co-creators with the
Absolute, or the divine impulse. He concludes his talk with yet another paean
to the joys of a life well lived:
Even the simplest among human
beings has a treasury of the finest memories. Those who are aware of the gift
of this and several other talents should not dismiss their threshold of
consciousness as the rashes of an itching brain. Instead, we should recognize
our co-creatorship with Isvara, the untiring creator of the stars and flowers
and birds and galaxies. Such is the inspiration we gain from this wonderful
Upanishad, which shows us the riches of a life that can be whole and
overwhelmed with wonder.
should never doubt that we are filled with amazing capacities and
predilections, and that the universe, however we frame it, has an abiding
interest in our participation and expression of our unique gifts. With the
right attitude we can be overwhelmed or at least infused with wonder all the
time. If we aren’t, we should wonder why not!
had talked with a friend in crisis earlier in the day, who because of the
stress he was experiencing thought he should meditate more. I suggested he
should instead take an active approach: he was on the cusp of a new stage of
life, and his suppressed inner capacities were roaring to be let loose. There
was a lot that needed attending to. Sitting still and trying to rein himself in
would be to wage a pointless battle. Dealing with the present demands would
bring him more freedom in the long run. Most critically, it was time to try out
those new wings!
we’ve said before: life’s challenges can be seen as oppression or opportunity,
and how we frame them makes a huge difference in what we make of them. Are we a
victim or a matador? Will we be crushed or rise to the occasion? All of us are
so capable, so miraculous, and yet the belief systems we have had to swallow
have made us impotent. Sometimes meditation is little more than a tool of
oppression, a way to digest those unpalatable doses of ersatz reality.
is an appropriate moment to reprise the famous quote from The Gospel According
to Thomas, as translated by Elaine Pagels:
Jesus said, “If
you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you
do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy
This strikes me as just about the most important single
sentence of spiritual advice there is, even if it’s actually two sentences. The
world already abounds with dried up renunciates who fled from life’s demands
and squelched their inner fires, moved by some alluring but misplaced love of
higher truth. Live your higher truth right where you are! Warm your fellow
beings with your inner fires, and let them warm you with theirs. We live in a
world where so many souls shiver in the cold. Lend them a hand.
issue is also the hidden meaning of the Gita’s twelfth chapter, that addresses
whether to worship higher truth in an embodied or disembodied form. Krishna
advises that it is much easier to embrace a manifestation rather than an
abstraction, though in the ultimate analysis they are not different. I’ll
append a brief excerpt from my own commentary on that chapter in Part II.
again, we are not being asked to dream in the “dream” quadrant of our psyches.
We are asked to rectify our understanding so that we can be effective and more
fully alive, drenched in wonder at the endless opportunities afforded us by the
world we live in. Let’s close with the immortal words of William Blake:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sun rise.
couple of excerpts from That Alone, underscoring the value of actual
circumstances participating in our experience:
Atmo, v. 9:
space of our everyday living is filled either with wakeful experience or dream
experience. Our wakeful experience cannot make any sense if the external items
are not meaningfully related to an inner consideration of their worth or value.
A glorious sunrise comes. You turn to it and say “how wonderful!” Outside is
the sun, inside is the wonder. The love for the beautiful is embedded in us.
Even when no beautiful thing is being presented, the capacity to appreciate
beauty is still within us.
effect of this in your daily experience is that you come to use a new kind of
criticism. While there is a retention of the content of the past, there is also
a criticism of the qualitative validity of that particular experience. If you
are angry, or in a state of grief, or in pain, you can look at it critically.
How much of this is my real anger? How much of it is real pain? Or in a
positive experience, how much of this is my real achievement? Then there comes
a pause. The psychological inflow of an overpowering dynamic, which makes the
whole thing very real to you, gets suspended. It’s as if you suddenly become
ashamed of your enthusiasm, ashamed of your exaggeration. A lot of the fervor
with which you had been accomplishing an act, appreciating an incident, or
making a claim on something, drops away.
we thus critically examine an experience, it proves itself to have the same
kind of content which dreams have. If you continue to experience the mediocrity
of a thing once it is shorn of all exaggeration, it takes on the status of a
mere dream. If such a critical assessment of the past holds good for what is
now entering your consciousness, you cannot get excited about it. You still
make yourself as efficient as possible, as you did on a previous occasion, with
all vigor and enthusiasm; you still perform the pertinent actions with great
consciousness; but at the same time you know this is just a passing phenomenon.
You do what is necessary because you belong to this system of embodied beings
who are operated upon by natural impulses.
is a little like a robot, a machine operating. Someone has switched it on, so
it has to function, it has to perform its programs. You did not begin this
machinery, it is just functioning by some natural propulsion. So you go on
functioning, but personally you are disinterested in the whole business. When
you lived it with interest and became very excited about everything, it did not
persist as a matter of excitement. It proved to be of the same stuff as dreams.
to this instruction, you come to a place where you are no longer excited about
experiences. You do not treat them as good or bad even though previously that
may have been very important to you. You no longer attach a moral tag that
makes you feel guilty or benevolent. You don’t treat things as bright or dull,
or true or untrue in the relative sense. You just treat them as phases flowing
past. And because you are no longer excited you are no longer terrified. There
is no threat in anything. Insecurity could only be about the things that are
passing away, so that ceases to eat at you. There is no gain you can retain. It
is all just passing phenomena, to which you have a feeling of “Let it be.”
attitude brings you to live in the present, in this very moment, because that
is all that is possible. There comes a kind of sameness. What once seemed very
painful as well as what seemed very sweet become mere relative factors. The
retention of the painful and the sweet are only two models. By themselves they
are no longer sweet or painful when they are recalled to mind. The sameness
that is in the recall of the retention is also experienced as it is taking
place. That is how it should be. Narayana Guru says you fumble at the
termination and do not realize it is all happening within the total oneness.
You are still confused. He will examine it further in the next verse.
meditation of this verse requires a very deep introspective analysis of one’s
personal experience, at a time when you are passing through a crisis. At the
same time, the crisis can be seen as a phantom even while you are living it.
This can be accomplished only when you can detach your mind in the thick of
actual situations and can see how the exciting elements are passing into a
retentive world even as you are living them in the here and now.
certain occasions in my life when I had a physical or mental affliction, I took
the opportunity for the meditative purpose of evaluating the actual pain, the
actual agony to which the body or mind was subjected. I quietly watched the
body’s pain and wrote descriptions of exactly how I felt it to be painful.
Immediately there came a psychological turnover of my interest from the pain
itself to the norms of pain, intellectually conceived. That made the pain
already a phantom.
pain became less painful because my interest was of a critic making a critique
of it. When you become a critic of your own pain, half of it goes away. Then
you question whether the other half is real, because the first half already
left. This is even more poignant when you are in an angry state and you make a
journal of your anger. The bulk of the anger immediately dies down and becomes
even humorous. You pose as the angry person and make a caricature of your
anger. It becomes so satirical of your own state of mind that you see yourself
as a big fool to get angry like that. There is so little content in it. It is
blown all out of proportion. Once you see this, the whole thing leaves you and
you wonder, “What is this thing called my anger? What is this thing called my
pain? What are these things called my excitement, my sense of fame, my sense of
importance?” All of it is reduced to an evenness. Somehow, up to now you have
not cultivated that acumen. You can try it and see what kind of difference it
my Gita commentary, XII, 1:
is asking Krishna whether he should he imagine the Absolute as a deity and
worship it, or should he visualize the Absolute as devoid of all attributes,
intangible, like pure light or love. In either case, after the very real
intensity of his experience it would be difficult to characterize it as
emptiness or nothingness. Something is definitely there, but is it a god or
merely the way things are by themselves?
This question is very much on the
front burner in our day. Science considers the miracle of existence to be
intrinsic to the nature of things, while religion posits it as brought about by
an outside agency that can be invoked. As Krishna has often affirmed, whatever
way you view it has a commensurate value. Moreover, if you take any perspective
to its logical limit, it converges with all the rest.
two main approaches to Whatever It Is may be generalized as the positive and
negative paths. The positive is affirmed by the mantra asti asti, “and this and this.” You know that the
Absolute is the
essence of everything, so you relate lovingly to everything you encounter.
“Love thine enemies,” “The guest is God,” “My house is your house,” and “We are
One,” are some of the related mantras from other traditions. The scientific
version is to see how everything affects everything else in measurable ways.
Neti neti, “not this not
expresses the way of negation. You are striving to go beyond all forms and
names to contemplate the transcendental reality in its raw unmanifested state.
You accept all the stuff that exists, but you pry your mind away from it by
reminding yourself that it is not, in itself, the Whole Shebang. Everything
created is inevitably limited. Early Christian hermits exemplified neti neti
when they went deep into the desert to escape social oppression and forcibly
suppressed even their bodily needs. Scientists use complicated and expensive
tools to peer farther and farther below the surface. As Krishna notes below,
this is the hard way. Asti asti is easier and gentler. More of the nuances of
these two paths will be discussed throughout the chapter, and again in Chapter
first blush, asti appears to be the more unitive approach, because it treats
the light as being within everything. Neti runs the risk of presuming that the
light is somehow separate, setting up a more dualistic viewpoint. Yet, as with
all philosophical paradoxes, it is not quite so simple. Asti can ensnare you
more easily, as when you mistake the form for the substance, and neti avoids
that trap. Luckily, they are not mutually exclusive. A seeker can and should look
at the world from both perspectives, though not always at the same time. Dialectically
uniting them opens the mind to the full mystery of the Absolute.
God part of or separate from creation? Is everything God, or is nothing God? Is
the world real or unreal? Arjuna’s uncertainty is one of the ultimate
philosophical conundrums, and as with all profound paradoxical propositions it
doesn’t have a pat answer. A yogi aims to integrate these conflicting possibilities
into a single vision, finding a way to treat them inclusively.