Nitya Teachings

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Mandukya Upanishad - Mantra 10


Mantra 10


The “U” stands for the dreaming state, which is the luminous

one, the second substance, because of superiority or from being

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.


         Another 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 Absolute.

         These 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 implications.

         The 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.

         We 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.

         This 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 to laugh.

         Nitya 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.


         Not 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.

         Prabu 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.

         In 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.

         The 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 lived.

         I 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.

         Yes 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.

         We 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.

         Deb 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.


         We 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!

         I 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!

         As 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.

         This 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 you.”


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.

         This 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.

         Once 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.


Part II


         A couple of excerpts from That Alone, underscoring the value of actual circumstances participating in our experience:


Atmo, v. 9:


         The 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.


v. 55:


         The 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.

         When 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.

         It 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.

         According 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.”

         This 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.

         The 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.

         On 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.

         The 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 makes.


*         *         *


         From my Gita commentary, XII, 1:


         Arjuna 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.

         The 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 this,” 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 XV.

         At 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.

         Is 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.


Scott Teitsworth