Nitya Teachings

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Mandukya Upanishad - Mantra 11


Mantra 11


The “M” stands for the well-dormant state, the knower,

which is the third, because of ascent or from descent.

He verily ascends or descends into everything,

who understands this.


         The eleventh mantra depicts a mysterious structural element, indicated by ascent and descent, implying a vertical parameter. While only touched on here, elsewhere the idea has been expounded to reveal more of its implications; a couple of Nitya’s very helpful efforts in this regard are appended in Part II.

         Bill took this verticality in the best possible way. He told us how for his whole adult life he had been thinking of the vertical pole as having a fixed top and bottom, but this made him realize that they are directions diverging from a center point, with no limit. The M isn’t the bottom, it is a continuum. This is the kind of mind expansion that a close reading of the Upanishad can bring about, especially when there is a long history of dedicated contemplation.

         Normally we think of the turiya, the fourth, as fully transcendent and non-dimensional, while the sushupti begins with conception and so has a fixed starting point. Yet the seed at the inception of our present life is the culmination of a previous existence, and that of a previous one, and so on back to the very beginning of life. Because of this inversion, there is another kind of infinite expansion involved. We find ourselves at an eternal and dynamic midpoint between an infinite future and an infinite past.

         As far as our contemplation goes, it is not helpful to picture these quadrants as static or limited. They are composed of endless possibilities, and no matter how much we explore we will never do much more than scratch their surface.

         In the hubris of dimly-aware humans, we may imagine ourselves as consciously responsible for painstakingly and randomly making our way along the continuum staked out by the vertical pole. With a little reflection, it is evident that the area under our control is severely limited and the pole itself is imaginary. We are blessed by what are sometimes called autonomous features that operate more smoothly the less we tamper with them. It may be that regarding this inner system as divine accords the optimal state of worshipful appreciation to invite its free operation in our psyche, and even in our external life. Nitya had few qualms about expressing his gratitude in those terms:


When living beings mature, the uniqueness of each species is gathered into the seed or sperm or ovum, to wait as an incipient principle until nature gives it the green light to proliferate. The consciousness that functions at such a critical juncture is not a passive onlooker or a conditioned reflex. It is a secret lobby of life where the Omnipresent Omniscience exercises the divine power of a god to act with a well-designed and far-sighted ingenuity as the one executor without a second, to whom is entrusted the entire responsibility of programming life.


         One of Nitya’s most important philosophical contributions, in my mind anyway, is that the programmer that constructs the fetus continues its support throughout the whole of life, only more or less interfered with by misguided intentions once we obtain an individual personality and a functioning body. Harmonizing our intentions with the inner guiding principle is a prime challenge of a spiritual life. I have gathered several of the threads that Nitya scattered here and there about this in my audio talk, Coming Back to Ourselves: Finding Authentic Direction in the Chaos of Being ( ). It’s really quite fascinating.

         There is a line of thinking that plants are in some ways the forebears of creatures like us that can move around and help broadcast their progeny far and wide. Our spiritual essence does resemble a growing plant, with its roots out of sight in the nurturing earth and its stalk reaching up to the sunlight beaming down from the sky, eventually enabling it to burst into flower and even lay the groundwork for another generation in the form of a seed. The image of sushupti is of a seedbed from which the trunk of our existence, with its myriad tendrils of expressed and yet-to-be expressed potentials, pulsates upwards toward the very source of life.

         Earlier in the Mandukya, in mantras 5 and 6, the knowing genius of this seedbed was extolled:


Attaining to a unitive status,

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

nourishing itself on bliss, of a sentient mouth,

is the knower, the third limb.


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 radical element here, and the one that most scientists are unwilling to fathom, is that this vast region hidden from sight is all-knowing, or, more reasonably, much-knowing. Yet if you start by admitting that it knows how to make a human or other creature, and continue operating it efficiently like a vast factory, where the conscious mind is like a guard at the gate who has never been inside and moreover has not even left the grounds except on rare occasions, you begin to see how much intelligence is present everywhere. Such an insight should make us infinitely grateful and inexhaustibly humble, if not scientifically respectable.

         Deb recalled Nitya often likening sushupti to a black box to which we have no access. All we can do is sit quietly nearby in supplication. Yet we disappear into it at night, into that vibrant mystery that nourishes and replenishes us. It is where our intuitive knowledge comes from, but we can’t control it or make it into an object. It cannot be delineated. Ideally we are at its service, as it is at ours. We should be on the friendliest of terms with it.

         Fortunately for us, however, this all-knowing inner factor is not dependent on our conscious involvement; in fact, it thrives when we listen to it and foster it rather than trying to manipulate it. Our traumas and confusions tend to impede it, and this is where we can do some valuable work on ourselves. Instead of habituating to our pains—stoically making the best of them—we can unburden ourself of them and by doing so offer our proclivities freer rein. This can even happen on the physical plane, since traumas are retained in our bodies.

         Andy told us how he had suffered a repetitive motion injury to his shoulder, where it lost most of its range of motion and was very painful. He was fortunate to find a physical therapist who had a very different approach from the usual medical model. She believed that the fascia, the network of connective tissue that encases the muscles, is where trauma is retained, and they went to work on his. Her idea was that if you could allow the fascia to find their resting position and hold that position for a while, eventually it would dissipate the retained tension. He remembers a crucial moment when the tension was explosively released with an intense rhythmic pulsation, after which his shoulder rapidly recovered. Not only that, but the healing acted as a kind of shock wave to repair other areas of retained trauma, including from a previous abdominal surgery. Andy’s experience amplifies Nitya’s statement in the commentary: “In all alternating and cyclic functions there comes an inevitable pause. This pause is absolutely necessary for the rejuvenation and continuation of all pulsating energy systems.”

         The relation with mantra 11 is that Andy felt very much that he was in the presence of an inner healing intelligence. Though he had to diligently perform certain exercises, they basically allowed his inner healer to do its work. In fact this is what we’re aiming for on all levels: proper alignment regularly supported to permit optimal freedom of motion. The ambit includes not just our bodies, but our mind, employment, friendships… who knows what else? Andy later told me he felt that all of nature works this way. As Nitya puts it:


The same corporeality which is miraculously effected in each individual organism is further extrapolated into what may be called a universal mind of intrapersonal and interpersonal coordination of the highest order. Such an inconscient consciousness which is constantly engaged in the structuring of this universe should be called the supreme dharma.


         Nitya often proposed that our inner intelligence was busily arranging the environment to make it suitable for expressing our abilities, well in advance of any conscious intimation of where we are headed. The theory invites you listen to your inner whisperings, and wonder what they mean, instead of barging ahead with a preplanned program based on socialized impulses. I suppose this is why a spiritual life is not for everyone—it’s not nearly as practical as picking a well-paying occupation and putting all your energy into conforming to its demands. It’s transformative rather than regurgative. As author Ken Kesey put it, do you want to be a lightning rod or a seismograph? Regardless, it’s nice to know there is an intelligent actor inside us making major contributions to our unfoldment, no matter how severely we are constrained in the playing out of our days.

         You can get a clear picture of this intelligence if you watch a time-lapse video of a wound healing. The body doesn’t just fling random skin cells at the opening, they carefully grow in just the right way to knit the hole back together, a very complex process.

         Paul related something similar he learned from an osteopath he was attending on during his EMT medical training. The doctor had just reset a broken leg without an X ray, and Paul was surprised. The doctor told him that you just have to get the bones in close proximity, and then they’ll find each other. You might say they want to be together.

         We all admired Nitya’s dialectical phrase at the end of this sentence:


The living organism is like a colony of billions of autonomous living units which are held together, controlled, ruled and functionally coordinated by this unifying principle of a paradoxically inconscient consciousness.


         Meditating on an inconscient consciousness can carry you well into those mysterious depths that ever lie beyond our reach. Perhaps we only have access to the fringes of the total reality, but it feels like we invite its participation by tiptoeing a little ways into its terrain. Dialectic reasoning is a lot like meditating on koans, in that the superficial mind is suspended so that something more profound can ease into the picture.

         We contrasted the active involvement recommended by the Upanishadic model with the much more common salvation model, where some divine being from elsewhere appears and does your work for you. This is undoubtedly wishful thinking writ large, and unless it’s very intelligently managed, it’s a recipe for impotence. The divine principle is within us. This is not an abstraction. We aren’t just to stand back and let the universe work. It needs us as one of its manifested aspects. We are co-creators, co-participants with the inner impulse. Striking a balance between leading and following, between doing and not doing, is an eternal engagement demanding our best efforts. Rising to the call makes life even more interesting than it already is.

         We don’t have to make a breakthrough to be fully alive—we are already fully alive. We could just recognize that being alive is the greatest miracle and is fully satisfying, wherever it may lead us. We can be content to be stuck, as many of us are, or we can hearken to the liberating implication of Nitya’s closing words:


No individuated being can ever aspire to escape the magnetic domination of this perpetual dharma. The only exception is when transcendence happens in the white heat of the individual’s mystical merger with the inner freedom and spontaneity of the cosmic principle, which can be dharma and Brahman at the same time.


         This is the greatest mystery of all: how to achieve the unachievable; how to act in a realm that transcends action. If we listen in wonder, our inner guru is beckoning us to melt into the whole which we have temporarily abandoned. Our aspiration upward invites a commensurate descent of grace, and the two impulses commingle in the middle, right in the heart. The bliss of it rejuvenates our whole being, instilling the energy to actualize our value vision. More on the how and why of this is included in Part II.


Part II


         From That Alone:


v. 9:

Everything which happens in wakeful life has a corresponding urge, interest or value vision lying buried in the deep unconscious. This is the causal factor which produces the effect of what is experienced, called susupti, or suptam.

         Suptam is the state of the unconscious, but it is not by any means empty. Like a seed pod, it has many seeds embedded in it. These are called vasana. Some of them are cyclic in their manifestations. For instance, there are certain kinds of lilies which flower only in a particular season. You can bury the bulb in your garden anytime, but it will lie there dormant until its proper season comes. Then it will flower forth. There are other kinds which are not seasonal, they just go on blooming. Whether seasonal or unseasonal, the seeds of all our experiences lie buried in the garden of our unconscious.


         In the process of the realization of the Self we are always trying to attain the state of the transcendental. The transcendental, or the witness, is here separated from the tree. The Guru symbolizes it by a contemplative who sits under the tree of manifestation. About him many things are happening. He sees that all these things are going on, but he just sits there, seemingly unconcerned. He is not really a careless hobo, because the creepers are always growing in all directions and covering everything. If you are not alert as you sit there, if you don’t sit in the proper way, you will also be caught and covered. And yet, you do not run away from it. You sit right under it, doing tapas.

         What is tapas? In the Bhagavad Gita certain examples of tapas are given. For instance, I have these hands with which I can wreak a lot of destruction. I can also use them to create beneficial things or to help others. When my actions are withdrawn from anything negative, and my potentials are allowed to operate for the well-being of the world and to contribute to the perennial virtues of life, it is a tapas or ascetic discipline of the body.


         When the mind is withdrawn from all the horizontalities of life and is geared to a perception of higher truth and the manifestation of its beauty, we are doing tapas with our mind. The contemplative who is sitting quietly under the tree is not just wasting his time. Although he looks somewhat unconcerned, he is actively engaged, concerned with everyone and everything. He is full of love and full of consideration. If he wants to be able to save anyone, he has to keep from being entangled in the creeper, to keep himself detached.

         If three people are drowning and a fourth takes pity on them and swims into the middle of the three, they will catch hold of him from three sides and all four will drown. So he needs to do it intelligently, first taking one to safety and then going back for the next. Only chance determines whether he can save all three. At least he won’t be killed along with them.

         Your compassion should be such that you are not caught in a snare in the name of compassion. You have to detach yourself. Martin Luther King spoke of having a cause for which you are willing to die. We want to change that to a cause for which you are willing to live. Dying is not a great virtue. Living is the great virtue, and not only living now, but living forever.


*         *         *


         From The Psychology of Darsanamala:


         From a piece of cloth the threads can be pulled out, one after another, until no cloth remains. Now the thread itself can be untwisted and unwound until only a heap of cotton fiber is left. Every fiber can then be destructured until the heap of fiber is no more. In the laboratory the constituents of the fiber can be separated and revealed. When this is done the name “cotton” is no longer applicable. And when the limits of our instruments have been reached, still we can continue to analyze the subject in the subjective realm of ideation and speculation. In this case we have gone from the gross manifestation of cotton cloth to the subtle manifestations of mental entities. This process can be repeated in actuality or by analogy with anything manifested in the world of physical objectivity: it can all be reduced to its subtle beginnings in mentation.

         A serious penetration of the meaning and workings of the external world must inevitably take us step by step into the sources of our own subjective causes. What may at first appear to be infinite and immeasurable shrinks into a point of acute awareness, and it is located as the center of consciousness. Without knowing the pulsation of this consciousness, which can converge or contract to a point of awareness that is infinitesimally smaller than a conceivable mathematical point, and which can also expand with variegated forms, shapes, colors and names into an infinite universe, one will be unable to wipe off the misery of life in a wholesale manner. Piecemeal techniques or shortcuts are of little help, though they may give a momentary respite.

                  Narayana Guru did not begin his spiritual life as an evangelist of wisdom. First he withdrew himself from everyone and everything. For more than a decade he examined the lifestyle of his fellow men. Then he withdrew from the world. After that he withdrew from the physical body. Finally he withdrew from the tumult and feverishness of the mind. Eventually came the experience of the realization that his own being was none other than Being itself, which is the One manifested as the All. Only after the actualization of this experience had saturated and transformed his emotions, thought, volitions and specific identity did the Guru begin to reveal his gospel of love and unitive understanding. (140-1)


*         *         *


         During our conversation about the savior syndrome and how ubiquitous it is, Andy talked about Vyasa Prasad’s interpretation of an often-misunderstood affirmation of the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter IV, verses 7 and 8:


Whenever there comes to be laxity in regard to right life, O Arjuna, and wrong coming to assert itself, then I bring about the creation of myself.


To protect those who are good and to destroy evildoers, for establishing righteousness, I assume being, age by age.


Andy noted how this is often interpreted in the “savior” mode, yet Vyasa Prasad assured him that the original language does not imply any external intervention, but more of a rising up from within. It’s a grassroots movement. This is correct. The Gita is the last place where we would be asked to defer to some deity and abandon our responsibilities. I thought I’d clip in a couple of thoughts from my own commentary to expand on Vyasa’s important point:


         This idea is interesting on many levels. Basically we have the natural bliss of the Absolute breaking through the accretions of moribund beliefs and mental iron curtains that humans seem condemned to erect when they lose contact with their own nature as the Absolute.


         Traditionalists are thrilled by the prospect of God coming to Earth to straighten things out and punish their enemies, which seems to be implied here. We have to be very careful not to make that mistake. The emphasis is on renewal and regeneration rather than persecution.

         The Gita never uses the familiar term avatar, which implies a descent of some sort of deity from above into creation below. Instead it uses srijami, with the intimation of a seed sprouting at its appropriate season. A seed may lie dormant for a long time, but its potential is always present. This accords much better with the universality of divinity that the Gita espouses than any supernatural descent. The Absolute arises from within rather than without. It pulses, like a seed growing into a tree, then back into a seed, to become another tree, endlessly. It breaks through the stagnation of fixed notions—“laxity in regard to right life”—like a blade of grass pushing up through a cement sidewalk or a tree root cracking a boulder.

         Notions of the Divine becoming incarnate are found in many religions. In the Gita’s view, everything without exception is an incarnation of the Absolute. It is not a rare event but the whole ball of wax. Any difference between the divine and the ordinary, the unmanifest and the manifest, can only lie in our level of awareness, as Krishna noted back in verse 5.

         As to the idea of avatars or divine saviors, there may or may not be some strange sacrifice performed at intervals by the Absolute to save us from our collective tendency toward evil and stupidity, such as crucifying a beautiful soul in plain sight of everyone. Who knows? The Gita isn't talking about anything like that. If we believe it, such an act should make us infinitely grateful and our hearts should soar with love. We should be so thankful that we spontaneously forgive our enemies, realizing they are in the same predicament as us. Such an act should galvanize us into working for liberty and justice for all. If that doesn’t happen, then we’ve missed the point. If God’s love inspires us to hate rather than accept, we clearly aren’t getting the message.

         Avatars aside, when the Absolute reenters your heart and fills you once again with wisdom and compassion, it is the resurrection of the divine, a second coming if you will.


Scott Teitsworth