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Mandukya Upanishad - Mantra 12

8/11/15

Mantra 12

 

Free from substantiality, the Fourth is outside discussion,

calmer of the manifested, numinous is the nondual one,

which is even the AUM, the Self itself. He enters the

Self by the Self who knows thus.

 

         Our brief sojourn into the Mandukya Upanishad has turned out to be especially rewarding. The profound meditations that bracketed our last evening together were as intense as anything I’ve ever experienced in similar circumstances. It isn’t often that you find yourself in a dedicated group where everyone is willing to listen respectfully to each other, to say little more than the most essential well-considered kernels of what they are thinking, and willing to allow the intervening silence to ring out without needing to obscure it with verbiage. Usually in study groups there are myriad irritations, diversions and inattentions. So while we may think of what we do as rather trivial, it is in fact a significant accomplishment, providing deep nourishment for the soul in the bargain.

         As Deb affirmed, the turiya is everywhere, all the time. But we live in it like fish in water: so familiar with its presence that we hardly notice. The Upanishadic rishis invite us to be aware of the tremendous blessing we all share, merely because we exist in a magical, mystical universe. This is in contrast to those self-important pundits who assert there is nothing, no inner coherence, no overarching goal or point to life. It is just an embarrassing accident. Well, it can surely be embarrassing, but it is never an accident. The same people who insist life is random and accidental also insist on rigid laws that govern every aspect of universal behavior. How can you reconcile those diametrically opposed positions? It must satisfy some perverse impulse of the ego. Duality can also be like water to fish, never noticed or acknowledged.

         The Fourth is the infinite toward which we are journeying. Guy Murchie, in The Seven Mysteries of Life, traces the rapid growth of the human mind from its very limited beginnings, where a minute seems like eternity and the perceptible world fuzzes out beyond a foot or so; up to adulthood, where we easily perceive vast distances and conceive of “galaxies like grains of sand,” while time whizzes by at an incredible speed. To Murchie this is the measure of our expansion as evolving beings. The sky, then, is not the limit; it is only the beginning.

         Happily for all of us, it is not necessary to be aware of this aspect—call it the inner spiritual meaning of existence. The whole thing works just fine no matter how profound our ignorance. Sometimes I wonder if there is actually any point to knowing about it, since we sometimes muck it up with our partial knoweldge. But then I remember the consolation, the excitement and inspiration, and yes, the joy, that I derive from a semi-intuitive sense of evolving in a meaningful way. To me, it adds an ineffable dimension to life that I would sorely miss if it were absent.

         The vertical parameter represents time, our progression from conception to realization. Realization is not some static, fixed accomplishment—we all are moving toward a personal version of what is possible. I asked the class to share (no one did) their deepest aspirations and goals. It is usually a very private matter, and one which tends to lose its luster and be demeaned when shared, so I was not surprised. But some sense of purpose in life seems an important building block for focused development. It does not have to be spelled out, but only felt. I often quote Rene Daumal, from Mount Analogue: “I suffer from an incurable need to understand. I don’t want to die without having understood why I lived.” Yet that apparently is a reasonably rare condition.

         A seed in a supportive environment sprouts and sends a stalk up vertically, reaching for the sun, the source of sustenance. After the complex groundwork is carefully laid, a gorgeous flower appears, which when pollinated produces a fruiting body containing more seeds. All along this continuum there is a reaching up toward fulfillment. We are just like the flower, and the shape and kind of the fruit we bear is simultaneously personal and universal. The core of the motivation for this unfoldment is bliss, the joy of the Absolute, custom shaped to fill each vessel it permeates:

 

The experiential horizon of any significance to the individual is limited to the measurable field within which an organism’s motor-sensory system can operate, and the orientation of each event is consequently strung to the antecedent and the consequent with a string of memory which has the special quality of being perennial and unceasing. This mysterious omnipresence that shines from within every bead of experience is ananda, the central locus of atman, the Self.

 

         The horizontal world of the present moment has a pulsation from the core to the periphery and back again to the core, which is a kind of analogue to the vertical expression of seed, stalk, flower, fruit, and back to seed. The horizontal is what gives the vertical expression its personal flavor. We experience many horizontal pulsations all day long, but our whole life is a single vertical one. The vertical continuum is what gives coherent orientation to our life, and its core in ananda.

         The ambit of our contribution to our own life, which as we have seen is constrained in so many ways, is to minimize the obscurations we add to the natural ones that cloak our being. We are filled to the brim with ananda, yet our psyche alternates between joy and despair, confidence and anxiety, optimism and pessimism. Yogic contemplation is aimed at freeing ourselves from the unnecessary weights that drag us down into negativity, or in other words, that blind us to our own true nature of ananda. Obscuration, or tamas, is a natural part of life. We just don’t want it to be our permanent state, our default setting. Here’s Nitya’s description of how this works:

 

Ananda is like light. No one can alter the speed of light, yet it can be intercepted and thus its saturation can be affected. From the invisible to the brightest light, there are several shades of obscurations. In the physical world of reflected and refracted light we are beset by many optical illusions. The same is also true of ananda when it is experienced within the altering states of consciousness already described as the wakeful, dream, and deep sleep.

 

         This is why for some of us there is work to do. Mental blocks seldom go away on their own. They tend to reinforce themselves and accumulate more and more garbage. Nitya reminds us that the point of all our studies is to compost the garbage, to turn it back into healthy soil. Garbage left on its own will rot and stink; but with a scientific treatment it can become sweet-smelling and fertile. The arena for this transformation is our samskaras, the “behavioral reactions” Nitya mentions in his overview of the human organism:

 

There are several factors that constitute the subject matter of our study. First of all there is subjective consciousness, which includes sensations, mentations and emotionality. Secondly there is a network of neural interconnectedness. Thirdly, there are many chemical and biochemical interactions which cannot be fully discerned. Finally there are a number of typical and atypical behavioral reactions which have socio-historical significance. All these aspects are governed by specific laws which are intrinsically connected with general laws that govern the universe as a whole.

 

“Socio-historical significance” refers to our lot of traumas and conditioning. The class discussed how each of our parents tried diligently to structure us correctly, to get us to “fit in” to the world as they knew it. It makes perfect sense! Many of those who did not have at least terrible active parenting are like lost souls, with no sense of themselves beyond a superficial accounting. We need something, no matter how imperfect, to bounce off of. So the fact that there was a model for us was critical. And yet, at least some measure of that partly-obscured love became over time binding chains to hold us in rigid postures.

         Normally it is the unspoken behaviors that are passed along most thoroughly. Children tend to reject the verbal instructions of their parents, and that’s often a very good thing, because it leads them to their own independent course. But the nonverbal patterning is more subtle and difficult to recognize.

         Grappling with these issues makes for deeper meditations once they are set aside. I read out the amazing excerpt from The Psychology of Darsanamala reprinted below, which includes the continuum between fear and hope. Hope became the major theme for the concluding moments of the class. It is a fitting theme to end on. I’ll reprint a couple of the quotations read out, in Part II.

         Prabu led us to an idea he gleaned from a short story by Raymond Carver, The Cathedral, which highlights the distinction between direct experience and mediated experience. In direct experience the turiya is maximally present, or we are maximally in tune with it, while mediated experience suffers from the many degrees of obscuration flesh is heir to. Carver’s point is closely related to Nitya’s favorite story about Henri Bergson and Notre Dame Cathedral, most readily accessed by us in That Alone, Verse 47:

 

Henri Bergson puts this idea very beautifully using several examples. He speaks of the Absolute as the gold coin which can never be equaled by any number of copper pennies. Again, he discusses how a verse written in another language, which comes straight from a poet’s inspiration and vision, can be translated many times, but the translations can only approximate the original and never communicate its full sense. Then he continues, suppose you go to Paris and walk around Notre Dame cathedral and take hundreds of pictures from inside, outside and above. Then you bring them home and juxtapose them all and show them to someone. No matter how the photographs are presented, they can never convey the overwhelming experience of actually walking into Notre Dame and being there, because each one is only a partial view.

 

         Karen knew the same idea from seeing postcards of the Grand Canyon. They are pretty enough, but none of them can prepare you for the astonishing rush of arriving in person at the rim. Being There. That Oh! of aesthetic arrest. The rishis want us to have that experience regularly, right in the thick of our lives. It is the best gift we can give ourselves as well as our fellow beings. To access it we have to let go of all the stuff—both good and bad—that we hold on to, that we cling to, whether we know it or not. It isn’t so hard, once you stop trying to avoid doing it. But because we are socially constrained to keep the chains on, getting started is definitely the most challenging part.

         Nitya’s concluding paragraph is a fitting close to our brief yet delightful study. In quiet words, long drawn out in our reading, Nitya accords us one last invitation:

 

The phenomenon does not make the whole story. There is also the noumenon, light in itself, which is ananda through and through. The fourth and last immeasurable silence that follows the articulation of AUM is suggestive of a final plunge into the noumenon, where there is nothing to quantify and nothing to measure. This is the merging of the dewdrop in the sea.

 

Letting go brings merger, naturally. The All is always present. We don’t have to go and find it. We just have to discard our objections and let go. It’s rather like how it must feel to jump out of an airplane: you trust your parachute and really want to experience the rush of free fall, but a feeling in your gut holds you back with a tremendous force of aversion. You are suddenly quite certain jumping is the wrong thing to do. It takes fierce determination to break through your resistance. And no one will notice if you pull back and tiptoe away. No one but you.

         So we cling to phenomena, to the things we can identify with our senses and rationalize in our mind. The problem is we cling to a superficial version of reality. Why not cleave to the thing in itself, the reality, the ananda?

         In closing, all of us half-merged dewdrops expressed our gratitude for what we have been blessed to be a part of. A fuller accounting of our appreciation is also relegated to Part II. I think you’ll find it worth reading.

         May your hearts be full and generous, and may your steps ahead be taken in confidence and inspired by hope. This is a spectacular universe we have chanced upon. What could possibly be a greater miracle?

         Aum tat sat – Aum, that alone is. Was I right, when we began the class? Can you ever think of it as om again? I sure can’t. It looks rather pathetic, all stripped down like that. I want all four letters, all four quarters!

 

Part II

 

         I often get the feeling that Nitya is handing me supplementary material to bring to the class. I was proofreading this verse as I was preparing for last night’s reading, and as you can see, it’s exactly to the point. From The Psychology of Darsanamala 2.8:

 

The goal of the present study is to release ourselves from the perennial chain of human misery, and to establish ourselves in a state of happiness which is not transient. Turning away, repudiating, or fleeing are methods adopted to escape pain. Drawing closer, and using techniques of sharing or communication are indications that pleasure is being experienced. Pain germinates fear; pleasure brings hope. Of these two major propensities, fear and hope, it is fear that dominates both the conscious and the subconscious mind. Hope arises from that stratum of existence which is truth itself—that is, the blissful Self. Hope asserts itself again and again as the will to live, the will to seek, and the will to actualize. Actualization of the highest possible values, or the realization of the Self, dispels fear.

 

The highest form of happiness is not any kind of excitement, as in the case of pleasure, but total fearlessness. Man is not afraid in the state of deep sleep, because at that time there is no ego nor any ideation giving rise to names and forms which may be experienced as threatening entities by him. But fear may return when he enters the dream state or awakens. To become established in fearlessness in all the four modified states of consciousness is another way of stating the main goal.

         Here we are not just engaged in theorizing. All self-realized people are fearless, and fearlessly accept what life brings to them.

 

It is an inner sense of identity, that is, the Self experiencing itself, which removes from the mind all forms of anxiety and fear.

 

*         *         *

 

         We have had an exceptional opportunity in our studies, and are perennially grateful. It’s time we acknowledged some of it.

         Our gratitude flows out to first Nitya, of course, with his lifetime of pondering the intricacies of the universe and his exceptional ability as a teacher of dunderheads, but then our gratitude extends on to include the recorder of his talks, very likely Nancy Y.; to Nancy, Sraddha and Bob Tyson, who wrestled the gigantic, temperamental machine to print the magazine in which it appeared; to the gaggle of us who converged on Bainbridge Island several times a year to cheerfully collate, staple, trim and distribute the result; right down to Michael Brumage, who diligently digitized the commentary into a form we could share on the internet with all class participants.

         So, even such a simple thing as this document has a long and colorful history. Since our study has terminated in the noumenon, it seems appropriate to recall the end of That Alone’s verse 19, indeed a fitting conclusion to our study:

 

Our human heritage is molded by the brilliant thoughts of all these wonderful people from all around the world: the poets, storytellers, those who made the myths and legends, the inventors, composers, scientists and discoverers. Whatever they have contributed is still present in our lives, guiding us, teaching us, and helping us every moment. But they are not here. Only the friend next to you is here, the friend who exemplifies and incorporates all those wonderful qualities and insights. And we can all share this tremendous inheritance and even more, with each other, to make life an ecstatic and joyful experience.

Even when you do something as simple as sip a cup of coffee or tea, think about what you are doing. Your morning tea begins in some far-off land, where very poor people get up at four o’clock. They crowd onto a battered bus, then walk to the plantation where ripe leaves are waiting to cut into their fingers. Leeches climb on them to drink their blood. All day long they fill their baskets, then they go home to a meager supper. The tea leaves are hauled to huge mills employing hundreds of people, where they are cleaned, dried, and made into the kind of blend you want. Then it is put in tins or boxes, and sent by truck down the mountains and out to the coast. The shipyard is filled with more poor laborers, who load the tea onboard ships. Then across the ocean it comes to your port. The distributors parcel and package it and send it to your local market, where you buy it and take it home. Thus the whole world participates in one cup of tea. If you like sugar with your tea, there is another world of production and distribution behind that spoonful of white grains you tip into the cup. So should you not look into the numinous aspect of just a cup of tea?

If you become sensitive to the numinous aspect of life, gratitude will naturally fill your whole being. Each time you put a morsel of food in your mouth or sip your tea or coffee, you will become so grateful to the corporate life of mankind for giving you so much for so little effort. You will see nothing but the unity underlying the many forms of the world. Great will be your joy to share, to give, to receive. Then you won’t fight. The belligerency comes in where you see only your own personal interests—“my home,” “my family,” or just “my self.” The superficial form of your self interest should be subsumed in the ocean of the general interest, and you should feel the world is your country, your home. That humanity is your family, filled with your brothers and sisters.

The Guru wants us to really feel this: to stand united, to find peace and become peacemakers. We have to first be peacemakers in our own lives. We bring peace to ourselves. By putting all the peaces together, we make peace with the world. If you fragment it, you lose it. So let us gather all the peaces together in one meaning, in one divine thread of love and compassion and understanding.

 

*         *         *

 

         Prabu’s heads up brought this section of Love and Blessings to our attention:

 

AN APPROACH TO POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

         Before beginning the class on political philosophy, I read a passage quoted by Cephalus from Pindar about hope: “Hope cherishes the soul of him who lives in justice and holiness, and is the nurse of his age and the companion of his journey—hope which is mightiest to sway the restless soul of man.” This one sentence became the nucleus of my expanding political philosophy. When I read it, what struck me immediately was the personification of hope, which could just as well be addressed as God.

         In my childhood I had always been optimistic about finding a light to guide me into the sunshine and gentle breezes of a new path leading on to the next goal. It was immaterial whether I knew the goal or not, or whether I even saw a clear path before me, because I was full of hope.

         When Prometheus went to the heavens and stole fire to benefit humanity, the gods decided to punish him. He was approached by Pandora with a sealed box containing the germs of all the tragedies man is now exposed to. Wisely he rejected her gift. But Pandora didn’t want to take the box back to the gods, so she gave it to Prometheus’ brother. After handing over the key to that foolish man, she asked him not to open it. Of course curiosity overwhelmed him. He opened it, and all kinds of plagues rushed out to infest mankind. Seeing this, he closed the box. Then he heard a silvery voice crying out from inside, “Why did you let out all the plagues and keep me alone imprisoned? I came to save you. I am Hope.”

This story was in the back of my mind when I read that the person worthy of being cherished by hope should live in justice and in holiness. Pindar uses holiness in the sense of living a clean and pure life, somewhat different than the holiness religious people speak of. In my mind it is the wholesomeness of life that matters. (135-6)

 

*         *         *

 

         Scotty read out Mary Oliver’s amazing poem Journey, as revealing the sense of forward movement despite obstacles, inspired by what we have been calling turiya, the fourth of this final mantra:

 

The Journey

 

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice—

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn't stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do—

determined to save

the only life you could save.

 

*         *         *

 

         No further class is planned as of now. We’ll see what arises, probably around the equinox. So far there are a couple of votes each for Darsanamala and the Gita, but no consensus. Have fun out there!

 

Part IV

 

         We got responses! First, from Amara, with the subject line “Just finished this for Satsang tonight. Similar to Debs turiya remark on the Mandukya notes”:

 

 

What is it that Lights you up?

 

What conversations leave you with an open luminous feeling?

 

What places bring you peace and a sense of sweet belonging?

 

Which friends relax you so that you can feel your essence in all its beauty?

 

These contemplations can be called spiritual, because these inquiries are movements of love.

Our everyday life contains infinite possibilities to Light us Up with truth, clarity and depth of understanding.

Such blessed experiences leave, in their wake, the sweet scent of gratitude.

 

Life's wholeness also has a pragmatic aspect, and this aspect calls for functional inquiry.

Our world culture favors this aspect, and most of us have been taught how to use our intellectual capacity to question and understand varied levels of our day to day reality.

We ask:

What does this mean?

What happened first?

What might happen next?

What should I do?

Why did they do that?

Where is it all going?

All these contemplations, and more, have a functional validity and offer a particular kind of satisfaction when resolved and understood.

 

But what Lights you up?

 

In our world, balance is rightly honored as sensible wisdom in our dance of duality.

The wisdom of balance is great, it serves by reducing many traps and potholes on our life journey.

But balance is a foundational piece, and so much More wants to rest upon it.

Balance supports our love and yearning for That which Lights us up.

 

Give yourself the great gift of questioning what in your life Lights you up.

Notice what gives you the thrill of being fully alive and open.

Bow to this alive openness.

You may see.... that the mystery of Life itself is what Lights you Up.

 

(Scott): I responded how funny and lovely it is that everything harmonizes, Amara added:

 

It is so funny how it all harmonizes...

For months now I prepare something for Wednesday Satsang before reading the Verse for Thursday Atmosphere class....and of course there is always a supportive coincidence.

This time a compliment with Thursday's Verse 35...with your Mandukya and on and on it goes.

My friends report the same thing, either with Verses or Satsangs....and it makes no difference if they are here or on vacation in Cape Cod.....it is so beautiful!

With Love, Amara

 

*         *         *

 

         Deb shared a poem, under the subject line “What we aspire to.” She introduced it first:

 

This poem describes how we imagine something defined and limiting...but then go towards that which is more open, leading into infinity.

I could say that is what I aspire to, always the larger and more vast space.

I used to aspire to know many things. Then one day I had a revelation: I knew many things and understood very little. Then my aspiration changed toward understanding and wisdom.

Over the last few years that has altered (expanded?) into wanting to be or live that understanding right here in this moment.

A long continuum.

 

 

I Chase Your Echo

 

Inside, as I breathe, movement, space.

I imagine a window

with sill and panes, birds outside.

Instead: the open air, the sky,

feathers inside my clavicle

trembling with each inhalation.

 

Part V

 

         The fifth chapter of Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence, has a great novelist’s most fitting take on the final question of our Mandukya Upanishad study: what is your aim in life? While presented as a conversation between two men, it should be easy enough to convert this to a female perspective. You can read it here, with access to several formats and all the chapters:

 

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4240/4240-h/4240-h.htm

 

The main gist comes before they talk about going up to London, but the whole chapter is quite stimulating. I’m finding bursts of amazing insight interspersed with rather wordy stretches to set the mood throughout the book. I also found the last half of chapter 3 to be especially relevant to a spiritual life, say starting from “Hermione took no notice.” It’s a real guru blast, a challenge to our conceits, those false spiritual ideas that effortlessly kill the spirit. Read it at your own risk.

         Three cheers for aliveness!

Scott Teitsworth

rsteitsworth(at)yahoo.com