Adhyaropa Darsana Verse 9
the sun, by stages, was not at all
the world came to be; from the Self
appeared all at once
one’s vision comes in sleep.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
If from a Sun in graded
This world came, such was
not the case at all.
Presented as if out of
At one stroke, all came to
has been a wonder-filled year for our class, and the sense of psychic evolution
vibrated among us, gathered by a warm fire in fellowship. Once again everyone
present made substantial contributions, which is gratifying evidence of the
releasing of inhibitions and the relaxing of defenses. It makes me eager to
continue our mutual expedition in the new year.
set the tone by suggesting we are used to seeing our world as a
cause-and-effect, building block construction, but Narayana Guru is intensely
insisting that our world is a unified experience, a dynamic singularity that
can’t be broken into bits. This has a critical influence on how we participate
in the world and how we understand our place in it.
added that the study of the history of our universe, while fascinating, is a
horizontal activity detached from our core issues. Our lives are essentially a
vertical unfolding from an alpha seed state to an omega of realized
possibilities. Understanding the universe does not necessarily translate to
self-awareness. Our growth is a more direct, inner matter, and there is a
mysterious relationship between our knowledge of the external trappings and our
internal awareness. It is not one or the other: both go together as a single
whole with two primary aspects.
weighed in with what most any modern human must think of this verse: it is a
carryover of the old, entrenched ignorance that has been gradually alleviated
by the scientific study of the cosmos. He even said it “sounded like Genesis,”
meaning that arcane, outmoded, first book of the Bible. By curious coincidence,
I had brought Dr. Mees’s book on Genesis, which insists that it is by no means
an account of material creation. As Mees puts it regarding the Biblical
Genesis, “Its purpose is more profound.” It is not an accounting of physical
creation, but of the dawn of spiritual/psychological wisdom. We lose a great
deal by presuming the former.
addition to the commentary, I read out the first part of Dr. Mees’ introduction
to The Key to Genesis, which
propounds a similar idea to Narayana Guru’s bold assertion. As most of you
know, Mees was Nitya’s first substantial guru, and Nitya’s first task as disciple
was to type up his monumental three-volume unification of world religions and
mythologies, titled The Revelation in the
Wilderness. You can see Mees’ lasting impact on Nitya in his
near-paraphrase of the introductory remarks I’ve reprinted in Part II:
The book from which our mythological story comes is not a
cosmogony or astrophysics. Its subject is vedanta
sastra, the science of transcending the world of sensual knowledge to
attain imperishable peace and happiness.
It may be that our concept
of the term “world” is too abstract. The world with which we should concern
ourselves is that which presents itself when we wake from sleep or emerge from
an unconscious state. This world is composed not only of earth, water, fire,
and air; we are also continually confronted by situations which demand from us
crucial idea here is that our study of the outside world is inevitably a
horizontal exercise, which as Jan pointed out is nonetheless valuable and
important. Yet re-accessing our vertical essence is the thrust of the study,
and to do this we have to trace our trajectory from a dimensionless dot to an
ever-expanding psychological entity. From this perspective, the world is
presented to us only in the way our conscious awareness accesses it, and we
need to see how that works.
had offered the distinction between the horizontal and vertical aspects to try
and clarify the issue, but as Andy rightly pointed out, ideas like that have a
positive and a negative side. We don’t want to separate them as vertical=good
and horizontal=bad, which can easily happen. The spiritual is nestled right
inside all our physical, mental and emotional challenges, and imagining them to
be separate torpedoes our ability to cope in a healthy manner. Nitya explains
this beautifully in his commentary:
world we see, in
addition to its physical qualities, is also a complex structure of situations
and responses; projected by ourselves to the extent we are often unable to
separate our sense of self from it. To connote the world that is presented to
us as a ceaseless input of sense data, all relevant associations and concepts
that lie buried in the unconscious must instantaneously enter our conscious
awareness when required. If there is little or no aberration of consciousness,
we can very quickly recognize not only the relevant informational details of
the situation presented to us, but also how it will affect the preservation of
our life, the continuing quality of our integrity, and the progress and unfoldment
of the Self expressed as our own self. Our individual self and its interaction
with the world is assessed always in this manner.
The key here is “If
there is little or no aberration of consciousness.” We need to insure that our
aberrations of consciousness have been corrected and healed, and that is a
lifetime endeavor. It does get easier over time, though.
have just finished proofreading Nitya’s The
Psychodynamics of Pranava, and will be making it available on Nitya’s
website (http://aranya.me) very soon. It
includes a lovely, poetic version of the iconoclastic central idea of this
The mystical language of the
Aitareya Upanishad presents a creation myth which is worthy of being
contemplated upon with veneration. When the two slits beneath the eyebrows of
the newly born baby open, the sun is generated in the cosmic sky and light
enters the child’s visual system. They are initiated into the wonder of seeing
all illuminated objects. Similarly the soul of the baby frees itself to go in
all directions through the crevices of the ears. It is filled with the choir of
the spheres that is sung to greet the music-loving soul, which becomes so
infused with the symphony of the universe that the child becomes an equipoised
being dancing to the rhythm of the mysterious waltz that it hears from within.
All beings are singing to the child in continuous orchestration. It is as if
the physical world has been in eternal prayer for its lover to sprout as a
connoisseur of all the beauty it can present. (21)
of us readily agree that the world is existent as sat prior to our appearance on the scene. Yet without a
consciousness to perceive it, what is it? It is “as if non-existence,” which is
the very first line in Darsanamala. The universe has to be perceived before it
can be known to exist. Narayana Guru is adding the chit aspect, and our absolutely essential conscious awareness opens
up the domain of meaning, ananda, as
well. Here, however, we are primarily concerned with chit. We are redirecting our attention from manipulating external
items of interest to the core reality from which consciousness draws its
existence. As Dr. Mees puts it, the study of external details doesn’t
necessarily change us for the better. By contrast, our inner growth brings
clarity of knowledge and understanding, positively impacting every aspect of
gently protested that she spends most of her days attending to external
demands, and we definitely don’t want to consider these as “unspiritual.” The
unified attitude being taught by Narayana Guru means that everything we do is
spiritual, when seen in the right light. Going to the store can be an exciting
exercise in observing the complexities of the miraculous universe, or it can be
an unwelcome task we imagine is taking us away from what we really want to do.
Is it a joy or a curse? Jan admitted that things that she used to resist she
now enjoys doing much more, and that is an indication of her progress. Jan is
taking more joy in being alive, even in the mundane details, and it is evident
to those around her, too. I think it’s a very catching attitude, especially if
there is a philosophical predisposition for it in the catcher.
led to a discussion around fatalism, initiated by Nitya’s warning:
If we do not find within ourselves the source and the engineering
the situations to which we present ourselves, then there is danger that we
shall succumb to a fatalistic philosophy. Narayana Guru certainly does not
subscribe to such an attitude of fatalism. For him, man is capable of creating,
modifying, and resolving his own world. To be able to do this properly, man
should know where and how his microcosmic being finds its placement in the
macrocosmic world, which is conceived, sustained, and eventually dissolved by
Bill underlined the importance of this paragraph in inviting
us to be more involved. We have a role in creating our world, and an
opportunity to go deeper in our understanding. Andy added how modern science
has bequeathed us a “billiard ball universe,” where everything is
predetermined, though that is starting to open up, at least in theory. As I
have noted before, science began as a refutation of the inflexibility of
religion and the assertion of freedom, and it has now come full circle to
insist there can be no free will or unforced decision making. This shows
science is simply another “religion,” another of humanity’s periodic attempts
to understand reality that seem to always begin in freedom and end in bondage.
Perhaps we are ready for a new outburst of freedom, a new religion. At least
it’s something that individuals can undertake at any time. We don’t have to be
part of a movement to strive for liberation.
Moni first joined up with Nitya, she once happened to say to him: “That is my
fate.” He told her he didn’t believe in fate, that each of us is the source of
what happens to us. So Moni doesn’t use that word anymore. She realized that by
thinking in those terms, she was surrendering to her own ignorance instead of
the Absolute. We all loved that line. All too often our surrender is to our
ignorance rather than to our higher wisdom. It’s soooo much easier….
class I talked more about this with Moni. There is fate, of course, the tide of life over which we have no control.
Some things are fated, some are not. In his statement Nitya was, typically,
providing the missing half of the dialectic of fate/no fate. But there is fate;
it’s just that we shouldn’t surrender to it, to use it as an excuse to indulge
in our own ignorance. We should focus on whatever we can impact, and bring in
the kind of intelligent appraisal that the gurus have been teaching us, so that
we can optimize our actions.
think this is what Jan meant when she was talking about spending time in the
horizontal. That’s where we do create
our world. She said she looks at events to see how she is shaping them based on
how she thinks of herself. And that’s just right. For the most part we don’t
act in a vacuum, we embrace the world as it comes to us. The assessment she is
making of those horizontal activities is the vertical element itself. It isn’t
just a trip to the store or whatever, but an opportunity to learn how she is
put together, and how that might be played with to make life more joyful and
rewarding. It can easily include pure action with minimal doubt as well, once
the course is set.
offered a nice example. When he was young he used to hang out with his
grandmother most every Sunday. She would ask him if he believed in Jesus, and
he would say no. But then he would ask her to tell him about it, and they would
get into lengthy discussions that both found delightful. It was how they loved
each other. This showed him how being open might lead to insights in unexpected
places. They could have insisted on their positions and slammed the door
between them, and nothing would have happened, other than resentment and hurt
feelings. But they listened to each other, and life and love were allowed to
take their course. It’s really very beautiful how often and how easily that can
come about. Don’t we all wish we’d do it more?
summed up that each of these outer events is an occasion for creatively
understanding and bringing in our insights. How different is that from mere
acquiescence to our fate?
posed the question for each of us to examine how we are “fatalistic” in our
relation to life. Do we accept our lot with resignation? Have we adopted a
mediocre self-image? Do we feel that we are outside of what matters in life’s
mainstream? If instead we realize that each of us is the center of our own
universe, that we matter as much as anyone, we will feel empowered. There is
much of value we can accomplish.
Guru was the perfect example of what this means. He inspired an entire region
of the globe to stop accepting its given conditions and become courageous to
make meaningful changes. I asked the class how many, when they heard “there is danger that we shall succumb to a
fatalistic philosophy,” thought immediately that they didn’t believe in fatalism, they weren’t
fatalistic. We think of it as something only ignorant
people believe, but as Nitya implies, any time we find ourselves on the outside
of any situation, we are unintentionally falling into that kind of miasma. We
feel like we don’t matter, or can’t do anything about it. So we accept
mediocrity. We are being fatalistic. The attitude can make us mediocre
ourselves, and there are many gradations of this malaise.
we have all had our attention drawn out to far frontiers where we have little
or no impact. It breeds a feeling of helplessness. By focusing on our immediate
milieu, we have many more opportunities to share the wealth of our being with
our friends and family. So bring the focus home. Home to the heart. That’s what
Narayana Guru is insisting on.
discussed one of the more extreme effects of this displacement of the psyche: a
sense of victimization. We feel we are the victims of fate, or forces beyond
our control, and it makes us helpless. We surrender in advance, without even
knowing what the battle is about. We have to come to grips with the reality
behind the veneer of “fate,” of fatal mental states. Nitya describes how this
is done in precise language:
Narayana Guru assists the student
to simplify the complexity of the world by helping him to know the planet on
which he stands, and by giving him a new angle of vision which he can use,
together with a viewpoint he can adopt in every situation. Then he will have a
correct perspective and understanding of the problems presented to him as they
arise. This will change the world described as a “boundless ocean of misery”
into one of clear knowledge and precise laws. Then his understanding of the
world will be more correct and profound, and his ability to deal appropriately
with problems which confront him will be much improved.
Pinning down the details of the external world is an
exciting and never-ending prospect. Yet we shouldn’t make our self-image
dependent on exact knowledge, because there never has been and never will be a
full accounting. This is one of the unfortunate effects of our schooling, that
we feel like getting the right answer is the key to happiness. We talked about
how a true scientist admits to provisional knowledge about how the world works,
while the insecure ones insist that they are right. We all have varying levels
of understanding in every field, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. If we
don’t bring our provisional understandings to bear on our life, though, we are
missing the boat.
cautioned that we are constantly entrapping ourselves in our own metaphors. We
need to stay alert to the ways we substitute prior fixed ideas for clarity and
wakefulness. Nitya offers yet another hyper-cogent description of how this is
should recognize here
that there is really no difference between dreams and subjective mental images.
These mental images meet halfway, as it were, with the stimuli coming through
the sensory screen-and-response mechanism as the input to consciousness of data
relating to external objectivity. The interaction between a prestructured
mental image and newly presented sense-data restructures the conscious picture
into a finalized vision. This is described in this verse as the world presented
to the self through the operation of its own vision.
will ring down the close of the year for our class. My gratitude is boundless
for all the quality time we have spent together at the metaphorical feet of the
gurus. Don’t miss the great stuff in Parts II and III. And most of all, have
fun out there!
If it be said that this world came to be in
gradual steps out of a primordial Sun, we say it is not so at all. From the
Self, as if from sleep, all came into being at one stroke.
There is a traditional
belief that there was an original Sun and from that Sun, by successive steps
the universe was produced; the sky was produced, and from the sky the
atmosphere, from the atmosphere the fire, from the fire the water, and from the
water the earth.
This view is not correct.
This world with all its features that we experience in practical life came by
the willing of the Self out of the Self, coming out together all at once.
Before creation, the Self had the character of being itself or alone (kevalam). When one wakes from deep sleep
(sushupti), the whole world becomes
presented all together. In the same way, at the time of creation. by dint of
the will of the Self all is manifested together, and projected from out of the
Self. There is also the Upanishadic dictum which says, “The one Self thought
let me be many.” By this verse the theory of gradual creation (krama-srishti) is repudiated and that of
instantaneous creation (yugapat-srishti)
is upheld. What is implied herein is that the power of the Lord is so great
that it could create all this world at one stroke.
is the first part of the introduction to The Key to Genesis, by Dr. G.H.Mees. You may have the entire text
in your copy of Gurukulam Magazine, third-fourth quarters, 2001, and I will
also append it to the email. It remains one of the most powerful essays I have
ever read, and stands as a clear alternative explication of Narayana Guru’s
AND SYMBOLIC INTERPRETATION
first Chapter of Genesis has been generally assumed to present an account or
theory of the creation of the material universe and of the evolution of life.
For that reason it cannot be a source of wonder that modern man, with his
knowledge of material processes in the universe and of biology, has tended to
look down upon Genesis as a poor product of an ignorant mentality. No doubt the
people who knew the meaning of Genesis in past ages would have shaken their
heads if they had come to learn of the modern way which tends to take
everything at its face value alone and to interpret spiritual scriptures as if
they were textbooks of astronomy, physics or biology. For Genesis does not
describe cosmic and biological processes. Its purpose is more profound.
aim of religion is to make man happier and to help him find peace and bliss,
within himself and in his relation to the world without. It does not make
anyone happier to know how the material world is created (assuming that such
knowledge is possible at all) and how the physical processes take place and can
be controlled. In connection with many aspects of science the world has learned
to its cost to what extent control of matter can endanger and destroy peace and
happiness. Atomic bombs and clouds are now looming in the sky threatening to
shatter man’s peace altogether and to cloud his horizon for evermore.
man has largely lost interest in “established religion”, because its dogmas,
based almost wholly upon a literal interpretation of Scripture, offend his
intelligence. He has become convinced that the great astronomers and physicists
of these days have something to tell us that is more intelligent than the
superstitious and outworn traditions which are contained, according to his
belief, in Scripture. And who can blame him, as long as he does not know the
deeper meaning hidden in the fundamental teachings of “Genesis”?
against the literalism-that-kills have already been uttered in very early
times. Origen wrote in the beginning of the third century A.D. regarding the
Creation-tradition: “What intelligent person would fancy, for instance, that a
first, second and third day, evening and morning, took place without sun, moon
and stars; and the first, as we call it, without even a heaven? Who would be so
childish as to suppose that God after the manner of a human gardener planted a
garden in Eden towards the East, and made therein a tree, visible and sensible,
so that one could get the power of living by the bodily eating of its fruit
with the teeth or again, could partake of good and evil by feeding on what came
from that other tree?” And
yet many generations of Christians have been “so childish”! It is true that
quite a few people have intuitively felt that many statements contained in the
Bible should be explained symbolically, and some have attempted to do so.
Unfortunately the meaning of the basic symbols of the ancient traditions of
mankind has been long forgotten, even though some symbolic implications have
been preserved. But knowledge of a few words of a language does not give understanding
and command of that language. As words only serve a useful purpose when they
can be grouped together to form intelligent sentences, so symbols are only of
use and interest in their interrelation. A symbol by itself, that is, taken out
of its context, has only a very vague inspirational value, largely depending on
its connection with the unconscious. A symbol grouped intelligently with other
symbols in a myth, a ritual or some other tradition remaining over from more
enlightened times, contributes to a lesson in traditional psychology which may
contain, literally, a world of meaning.
I have shown at length that the symbolic meaning of the Commandment of Moses,
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness that is in heaven
above”, is that man should not interpret his sacred traditions in a literal
way. The warning against idolatry is a cautioning against mental idolatry. By an irony of circumstances even this symbolic
warning has itself been explained in a literal sense, already in early times.
Bible is full of warnings against literalism. I have shown at length elsewhere
that Jesus thundered at the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites”
for the same reason, accusing them of killing the prophets, that is, those who
reveal the inner or symbolic meaning of Scripture, which is often much the
opposite of the literal meaning. I have also shown that Jesus was killed by the
priests of Jerusalem, representing the literal interpretation of the Law or
Tradition, because he stood for the inner meaning. The Sin of Blasphemy against
the Holy Ghost, the only sin that “shall not be forgiven”, is
also intimately connected with literalism.
“prophecy” is, etymologically and traditionally, the “forth-speaking” of the
inner meaning of the Law or the Tradition, “blasphemy” is the “hurt-speaking”.
This is the wrong interpretation of the Law, based on the literal and the
rational view. Therefore Jesus said: “And when they bring you unto the
synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what
thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you
in the same hour what ye ought to say.” Thought always stands in the way of the
spiritual or inner functions of life. The Holy Ghost is the spirit of the Law
or the Tradition. Quite significantly Jesus, before he spoke the words just
quoted, said: “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it
shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it
shall not be forgiven.”
“Blasphemy” against the Holy Ghost, that is, the wrong interpretation along
literal and rational lines of the Spirit of the Tradition, is the unpardonable
sin, because it affects the world at large. It poisons the minds of others and
turns them away from the Tradition, which offers them the chance of Salvation.
Therefore Jesus said: “Woe unto you, lawyers, for you have taken away the key
of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering ye
The “key of knowledge” is the Key to the inner or symbolic meaning of the
Tradition. Its use allows a man “to enter into himself”. Preventing oneself
from entering into the Spirit of the Law is stupid, but hindering others is
hurtful and “unpardonable”.
Jesus speaks on this subject his indignation is violent and boundless, and it
is clear that the hurtful literal interpretation of the Law is a subject that
concerns him almost more than any other. This is the case because his very
mission was bound up with it. He came to “fulfill the Law” in its inner and
symbolic meaning, in a priest-ridden world which interpreted it in a
literalistic manner. He accused the professional upholders and teachers of the
Law of “blasphemy”, of killing the prophets and of building their sepulchers.
The killing of the prophets is the stopping of the mouths that “speak forth”
the Tradition from within. Jesus himself was killed by the priests of Jerusalem
because he had come and lived for that purpose. The building of a sepulcher of
a prophet means the establishment of a sect with a special creed. This
symbolism is still commonly understood in those parts of the East where the
inner meaning has prevailed over the literal meaning of religion at least among
a few. A son and disciple of Kabir Das, the Indian mystic, once said: “A sect
is the mausoleum of the Guru.”
is clear that the literal and rational, or rather, pseudo-rational,
interpretation of Scripture, makes for divisions among men and creates sects,
as at an earlier stage it was responsible for religions ceasing to be in
spiritual communion with one another.
Gayathri’s report that was sent out earlier, now blended into the class notes,
with some excellent responses from friends afterwards:
My ten-day silent retreat at Spirit Rock was so precious and
wonderful. I consider it a gift to have had the opportunity to unplug and dive
deep into the silence. It’s not too often that one can take ten days away from
family and home, especially when you have young kids. So it was a gift from
dear Joy and the kids and I’m so grateful to them for that.
The routine and setting at the retreat were familiar to me
this time and it took me less time to settle in. I recognized that familiar
feeling when the outer silence seeps in to become inner silence. It happened at
the end of day two this time. I think it was day three or four the last time.
Anyway, once that happened, the body and mind settled down to a nice hum,
moving in and out of deep states of silence and meditation. I had two significant
insights during the course of the ten days that I’d like to share and document.
In some ways, these responses are like a journal for me. So sharing it with you
all is a way for me to document it for later. Of course, that’s not the only
reason. It’s also because as fellow travellers on this path, you all know some
of my history and will understand what I’m trying to share.
I had the first insight at the end of day two of the
retreat. This is approximately how the process went. It was far more nebulous than
the way I’m about to express it, but you’ll get the idea.
So I was sitting in meditation, when I suddenly
got in touch with a really yucky, ugly, difficult-to-see part of myself. It was
an arrogant, full-of-myself, miss-know-it-all kind of energy and it had a
heavy, almost painful feeling to it. I may have mentioned this earlier that
when I was growing up, I used to get a lot of praise/approval/validation from
my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends of my parents, teachers and
friends for various “accomplishments” like winning prizes for singing or
badminton or chess or quiz or debating or for participating in plays or placing
first in class for academics and stuff like that. In my middle school and early
high school years, I began to believe all these people and started to think
that I must be special and knew better than my peers. I was popular among my
friends who reinforced this narrative that I was special.
As I sat with this feeling, I felt so horrible
thinking, “Oh my God! Was I really like this?! I wonder how people even liked
me.” I was thinking of my sister and how she was always shy and grew up feeling
“less than”. I felt so terrible for how insensitive I was to how she was
feeling in those days. I was so busy being full of myself that I barely paid
any attention to her. When we were younger, we played together and spent time
together, but as I got older, I just pretty much ignored her. I sat there,
shedding tears and feeling so much sadness and compassion for my sister and for
the loss of what could have been a much closer relationship. I asked for her
forgiveness for my complete cluelessness. It was just an awful, awful feeling
and I was filled with regret, remorse, guilt and a deep sadness.
Then, I suddenly touched another part of myself
that was sitting right behind this outwardly confident, accomplished,
miss-know-it-all. It was a scared little, vulnerable, mouse. I realized just
how scared I was in those days to fall short, to disappoint, to fail, to be
ashamed or embarrassed, to be outed as fake, knowing all along that I wasn’t
half of what people were saying I was. When I touched this part of myself, I
began to feel compassion for myself. “Oh you poor thing! You were so scared!!
You had to work so hard to keep up a fašade.” I sat with that for a while and
shed more tears.
Then a beautiful thing happened that I can’t
quite describe in so many words. I touched something at the core of my being
that I can only describe as a reservoir of LOVE. It was so pure, beautiful and
blissful. There was no story there. It was just pure love. When you strip all
the stories of yourself away, what you’re left with is love in the purest form.
Each of us has that same core of love. We’re not only lovable because of the very fact that we exist (and
because we can sing a good song or get good grades or win prizes or get
promotions or whatever), but in fact, we
are love itself!
Later when I thought about it, I put together my
experience from a few months ago (where I felt that everything was infused with
a divine intelligence, a divine perfection) with this one and came up with
people have been saying for ages - GOD IS LOVE. The
taste/flavor/quality/characteristic of this divine intelligence is love.
What was remarkable about this whole experience was that it
started out yucky and ended in bliss! It started out with life and the
messiness of conditioning and ended with a love that was beyond conditions. The
words of Guru Nitya ring so true (page 268) – “The word is more than a caricature. It has a spirit which is
intertwined with the spirit of the human self. The word is the world and it has
the power to put into our systems a series of behavioral dynamics from which we
cannot extricate ourselves. The more we give ourselves to the tyranny of name, form
and the alchemy of biophysical, biochemical and psychosociologic and
biopsychologic transformations, the more we forget the original Self. We forget
the nature of the energy with which we began and how it transfigured into many
new identities which we and others claim to be ours. When the whole history of
a person’s life in all its perspectives is considered, we get the highly
falsified phenomena of the non-Self.”
The second insight was a more direct one and happened on day
seven of the retreat. Jack Kornfield, one of the teachers at the retreat (and a
fabulous one at that), was leading us in a guided meditation on sound. He was
ringing several kinds of bells with different sounds and I was sitting there
listening to these sounds, aware of my breath, body, thoughts and various
sensations including these sounds. I could see how these sounds were rising and
disappearing in my awareness just like thoughts were rising and disappearing
and sensations were rising and disappearing and each breath was rising and
disappearing. Everything felt like a wisp of smoke with no real substance.
Suddenly, I had a flash of insight that this idea of Gayathri was also rising
and disappearing in my awareness just like the sounds of the bells. It seemed
to have the same ephemeral quality, with no real substance at all. It was just
a narrative, a story. It had the same wisp of smoke quality. It was arising
from my awareness and I was aware of it at the same time. I later thought of
this verse from Narayana Guru’s Daiva
Dasakam – “Are you not maya, the
wielder of maya and also the rejoicer in maya? Are you not the True One who
having removed maya, grants the supreme union?”
A couple of days later, another teacher at the retreat read
parts of an article by an American philosopher by the name of Daniel Dennett
titled, “The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity”. Dennett says that the
center of gravity of an object is not an actual physical set of atoms or
molecules and has no mass or any physical attributes. It is simply a location in
time and space. Similarly, the small self is the “center of narrative gravity”.
I really loved that phrase and it made a lot of sense to me in the light of
this second insight. When I go to sleep, this center and narrative around it
dissolves and there is no Gayathri anywhere. When I wake up, the Gayathri
narrative re-crystallizes around the center and continues to build on that
narrative. In fact, this whole response is a part of that same narrative - that
I went to such and such retreat and had such and such experience. It’s all part
of the same story!! It has no real substance.
here) I occasionally write responses to others in the study group, and here’s
what I tacked on about the above:
loved] Gayathri’s account of her 10-day retreat, which included another
stunning revelation. How beautifully she recounted her process of
self-examination, digging through some unpleasant memories and defenses to
regain her center as a being made of love! It reminded me of the Isa Upanishad,
where truth is hidden behind a false image of itself. Even more intractably,
how simple it is to hide truth behind the very thoughts that we instinctively
shy away from, so that we never even begin the effort to break through to it!
It’s an archetypal dilemma. And sincere thanks to Gayathri for reminding us how
worthwhile it is to own up to our foolishness, so we can shed it like an old
snakeskin and rediscover who we really are.
second story (actually an extension of the first) about seeing herself as a
construct with no real existence—a truly liberating insight—reminded me of an
oft-told tale of Richard Alpert, a.k.a. Ram Dass. On his first psychedelic
excursion, all of his personalities came and confronted him, and he initially
identified with them. But then they would dissolve away and vanish, and he let
them go. I found a version from The
Harvard Psychedelic Club, by Don Lattin (a very fun book, by the way). Tim
is of course his close friend Timothy Leary:
Alpert started really coming onto
the psilocybin. There was too much talking in the kitchen, so he walked into
the living room, a darker and more peaceful setting. He sat down on the sofa
and tried to collect himself. Looking up, he saw some people over in the
corner. Who were they? Were they real? Then
he started to see them as images of himself in his various roles. They were
hallucinations, but they seemed so real. There was the professor with a cap and
gown. There was a pilot with a pilot’s hat. There was the lover. At first, he
was a bit amused by the vision. Those are
just my roles. That role can go. That
role can go. I’ve had it with that
role. Then he saw himself as his father’s son. The feeling changed. Wait a
minute. This drug is giving me amnesia!
I’ll wake up and I won’t know who I
am! That was terrifying, but Alpert reminded himself that those roles
weren’t really important. Stop worrying.
It’s fine. At least I have a body. Then
Alpert looked down on the couch at his body. There’s no body! Where’s my body? There’s no-body. There’s
nobody. That was terrifying. He started
to call out for Tim. Wait a minute. How can I call out to Tim? Who was
going to call for Tim? The minder of
the store, me, would be calling for Tim. But who is me? It was terrifying at first, but all of a sudden Alpert
watching the whole show with a kind of calm compassion.
At that moment, Richard Alpert met his own soul, his
soul. He jumped off the couch, ran out the door, and rolled down a snow-covered
hill behind Leary’s house. It was bliss. Pure bliss.
or not you have snow to roll in, may your winter solstice being filled with
bliss. Love to all!
to Gayathri, Jan wrote:
I really enjoyed reading about Gayathri’s meditations and
two insights. Her finding the core of love that is the true Self reminded
of what I’ve talked about in class too. Of course knowing that and really
feeling that are two different things. She is inspiring me to open to
that part of myself now, especially during this dark heavy period when the
small self is so full of complaints. Thanks for sharing it!
Thank you so much for sending this! Incredible, wonderful,
mind-blowing stuff and very helpful to me.
Gayathri’s epiphanies remind me to have compassion for
myself and to be patient. I am going through a big transition in my life and
sometimes I really want it to be over. I do not like feeling so unmoored. I
look too much to the past, clinging to the vestiges of the familiar and safe,
thinking I somehow need to fashion my future out of the tatters of what I
pulled apart. But now I am realizing that this transition is a shedding
process. I need to look at those roles that Gayathri talked about and release
myself from them. I need also to not jump into a new role just for the sake of
having that identity security but to have my new life grow out of the seeds
deep within me. Out of the love that Gayathri described. How to do this? I’m
not entirely sure. But I think just letting go of my narrative more and more
(which is a rather awesome undertaking!) will get things flowing within.
I like the way James Hollis talks about this in his book, Finding Meaning in the Second
Half of Life:
"This is the essence of what Jung means by
individuation. It is a service not to ego, but to what wishes to live through
us. While the ego may fear this overthrow, our greatest freedom is found,
paradoxically, in surrender to that which seeks fuller expression through us.
Enlarged being is what we are called to bring into this world, contribute to
our society and our families, and share with others. It cuts a person off from
the herd, from collectivity, but it deepens the range in which more authentic
relationships can occur. It may be necessary for us from time to time to absent
ourselves from the world in order to reflect, regroup, or revision our journey,
but ultimately, we are to bring that larger person back to the world. Jung
describes the dialectic of isolation and community in this way: 'as the
individual is not just a single, separate being, but by his very existence presupposes
a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must
lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to
isolation.' (pp. 12-13)
"…virtually all of us lack a deep sense of permission
to lead our own lives. We learned very early that the world exacted conditions
that, if not met, could result in punishment or abandonment. That message,
overlearned and internalized remains a formidable block to the ego’s capacity
to elect its own path. Only when the ego has reached a certain measure of
strength, or perhaps more commonly, is driven by depression to make a different
choice, can we overthrow this tyranny of history. (p. 13)
"Rather than ask, what does my tribe demand of me, what
will win me collective approval, what will please my parents, we ask, what do
the gods intend through me?… Of each critical juncture of choice, one may
usefully ask: 'Does this path enlarge or diminish me?’" (pp. 14 to 15)
I think I’ve sent out that quote before but it seemed a
perfect time to repeat it.