Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Four - Verse Ten


Maya Darsana verse 10


As by its very nature, it diversifies

the modalities marvelously; this,

which is of three-fold modality,

is well known here as prakriti.


Nataraja Guru’s commentary:


By its very nature, because, in a marvellous way

It diversifies, the three nature modalities,

This (aspect of maya) consisting of the three

modalities is well known as Nature.


         The final—at last!—verse of the Maya Darsana served as a review of the whole subject. The hope was for us to become lighthearted about our predicament, known in shorthand as maya, and Bill admitted that its humorous aspect did grow on him during our almost three months of investigation. Of course, there was a rueful touch to the humor, because our first response is more usually to get upset and wish we hadn’t, and only later to bring in the perspective that permits shaking it off with perhaps a chuckle. Maya definitely has a way of getting our attention, and this fall has been a struggle for many of us, for lots of different reasons. Nitya anticipated this, and closes his talk with:


It is somewhat frustrating that even after a critical examination of maya, we are not fully enlightened about this negative factor which is responsible for all the enigmatic riddles of life. Entering the world of maya is like being caught between the Oracle giving mystical pitia, and the cunning Sphinx who rejoices in causing misery.


By the way, I decided to investigate this mysterious pitia, which is not in any dictionary, and discovered that the oracular priestesses of Delphi were named the Pythia. Knowing this was surely what Nitya had in mind, the phrase should be reset to read “caught between the mystic oracles of the Pythia of Delphi.” Back in the 1980s when I was editing the book I could find no reference, due to the misspelling by the transcriber, and I probably bent the phrase to fit my best guess as to what it meant. Can’t remember. Today we have Wikipedia and computer surmises to the rescue. Go ahead and change your digital copy, as I have just done, or post a note in your book.

         Back to maya, we are not trying to erase our reactions to the ups and downs of life, as some puerile beliefs propose, but only to not be permanently barred from a hard won steady state of bliss or equanimity. Variations make life interesting, and non-reactivity easily becomes tamasic if it is treated as an end in itself. The peaceful engagement that meaningfully improves situations reflects the sattvic openness we can bring to bear with a modicum of effort.

         Nitya never tires of reminding us that Narayana Guru’s philosophy is not escapist, but alert and dynamic. As maya can function as an excuse to close the mind to challenges, he begins his talk affirming the importance of diligent self-examination:


Darsanamala is a textbook of the Science of the Absolute. The intention of the author, and what should be that of the student, is not the gathering of information for the sake of scholarship. The prime motives are to attain a lasting happiness and to free the mind from the dual conditionings of pain and pleasure. The overall idea of maya is here presented as an epistemological theme of intimate human experience to be critically scrutinized.


As Bill said, maya is not a monolithic thing but a process. It isn’t just the oppression we feel due to transactional complications, it is their entire context. Still, it is also presented to us as a series of quasi-distinct events.

         Nitya wants us to be clear on the full meaning of maya, so it isn’t just used as a shield to consign perceived threats to the subconscious. He says:


The opening definition of maya was given in the first verse of this darsana as “what is not known, that is maya.” Maya literally means, “what is not, that is (maya).”


I don’t think this is supposed to mean exactly that “what is not is maya,” but more “what is not—that is.” One of the many ways to interpret this is that everything we perceive and take to be the real is actually unreal, in the sense of being transitory. Constructs of nothingness. They do have impacts. Because of our ignorance, the unreal strikes us as real, and vice versa. If we knew that a non-transient reality underlies the transient, we could more easily maintain our equipoise.

         Nitya continues:


As we go from verse to verse we are asked to take full cognizance of every detail of the transactions of life. Between the concepts of maya and prakriti we are given every opportunity to trace the development of manifestation from what “is not” to what is irrefutably “out there.”


Again, we have to look at this very closely. Nitya is not saying that there is a fixed reality “out there” that we are trying to access, only that the totality of maya ranges from nonexistence to the existence that impinges on us with full force. If we can trace the link between them, we can break the thrall that appearance holds on us. The error of much science as it is presently constituted is to imagine that reality is only the functional structuring of matter, i.e. what is “out there,” so it is preoccupied with assessing material details. While this is well and good, it leaves out a vast amount, including the portion we are trying to reintroduce into our outlook in this study.

         Susan felt reassured by the idea that maya and its nature modalities continually elude our comprehension. They are ungraspable. Susan, like most of us, is deeply motivated by her scientific upbringing that if she can finally understand her environment, everything will miraculously fall into place. In this view, our problems all come from not having a proper comprehension of reality. Vedanta’s (very scientific) philosophy demonstrates that there is no fixed reality out there waiting to be grasped. So it is definitely reassuring that we can safely relinquish the impossible goal of stability within the eternal flux of becoming, and instead focus on the truth of being: that we are individual expressions of a radiant Self. In other words, we are already as close to truth as we can ever be, and if we stop looking for it in all the wrong places we will realize we already have it.

         Many in the class were familiar with being embroiled in an unsettling event and being miserable about it, but then regaining their good mental health by letting it go, by not clinging to it as an inescapable force. Full understanding brings amelioration, not necessarily right away, but at some point. It probably doesn’t do anything more than subtract the added misery we contribute with our self-doubts, but that is huge enough. Healing happens naturally if we stop reopening old wounds. Nitya reminds us of the key to accomplishing this:


In his search for happiness man is confronted by many objects which exist at the physical level externally to himself. But what exists as an external factor does nothing for him until he relates to it his subjective awareness of its meaning or significance. We are concerned with neither the phenomenality of inner awareness, nor the content of that awareness which is hypothesized as something belonging to the external world. The main concern of man is the potency of affectivity implied in the gestalt formation of each experience.


In other words, our attitude about an event gives it its meaning, its significance for us. The same occurrence will have a different impact on another person, because of their makeup being different than ours. So why shouldn’t we have a measure of choice about how we intend to feel? Somehow we have become convinced that we are helpless and doomed, but we are not. It’s a matter of framing, and we are playing with an excellent framing right now.

         In another study group, Gayathri recently shared a beautiful and simple exercise we can use to convince ourselves of how easily we are affected by words, and how we can alter our experience by merely knowing this in our bones. I have placed it in Part II. Give it a try—you’ll be surprised, not to mention empowered.

         Nitya epitomizes the thrust of the darsana for us, in case we’ve forgotten:


Thus, our awareness fluctuates from one experience to another: between joy and sorrow, hope and despair, threat and security, fulfillment and frustration, excitement and boredom. The whole area of this fluctuation is the arena in which we have to live and work out our development, so as to have a precise knowledge of what is happening. But most people go by their conditioning, and so suffer the natural consequences of the significance of each gestalt. Unfortunately for us, such a response pattern is considered to be normal and natural.


And he reminds us of what to look for:


A critical enquiry into our human state will quickly make it clear that a great chunk of our life experience is carved out of the stone of prejudice – partly those prejudices handed down in the course of history as racial, national, or tribal conditionings, and partly the prejudice arising from the innate tendencies or vasanas of the individuated self.


So, whenever we notice that we’re reacting, we have a choice. We can hold tight to the reaction as our reality and ride it where it leads us. (As amateur philosophers we are suspicious that this is likely to further our problems, based on historical evidence.) Or we can look to see if we can pick out why we are reacting as we are. Is there some ill-considered habit involved? Quite possibly. And does that make my reaction less than ideal? Almost certainly. Should I mitigate my stance, and will this make things better for others as well as me? Undoubtedly.

         Jan wanted to know more about the modalities, and how they are involved in this process. The word modalities is the Gurukula-preferred translation of guna, the three primary qualities or faces of nature as propounded by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, and based on the ancient Samkhya Yoga. As we have worked often with sattva, rajas and tamas in the past, I won’t put much in these notes about them. They appear here because they are aspects of prakriti, nature, and that is the maya-aspect of this verse. I will copy a few definitions of modality into Part II, as it is a fascinating word, as well as the right choice to mean guna. What we need to know for now is that “All people, at whatever level of development, are subjected to the play of the modalities.” Even though Krishna asks Arjuna to stand unmoved by the gunas, that doesn’t mean we can wriggle out of their grasp. They are present at all times. Jan suggested they are the flavor of the world as we perceive it—a nice way to put it, and in accord with the Gita, which also uses taste as a metaphor. If we know this and keep our eyes peeled for the flavorings of the gunas, we will be much more than automatons doing their bidding—we will be personally involved in how they play out in our lives.

         Deb gave a fine example of waking up that morning in a state of utter tamas: everything was wrong, dark, and oppressive, and all she wanted was to go back to bed. She could have amplified her condition and felt sorry for herself, but she immediately identified it as tamas, a temporary, exterior state that would pass as soon as she could shake it off. Just knowing that was the first step in extrication from the tar pit and back to a balanced state.

         Karen shared how she had thought for years that she was getting wiser with age, and that all her youthful travails were behind her. But this year has been full of events that have knocked her off her feet. At times she has been very upset, feeling like maya has caught her in its grasp, and once again she finds herself struggling to dig out of stressful conditions.

         Deb recalled some awful days as a young woman, crying in her room for hours in despair, and is so grateful they appear to be a thing of the past. She sympathized with Karen, citing an insight she had the other day. The Tibetan Book of the Dead talks about the demons you meet when you die, and how you have to overcome them to get to the light and become liberated. It struck her that all the demons are not outside forces lying wait for us in the future, but are already with us: they are the theories and prejudices we live by, and they have exquisitely sharp teeth and claws. Even the belief that you “get it” and are finally past suffering is one of the monsters: a barrier that we prefer not to challenge, so it’s exactly the kind of thing that’s keeping us trapped. We so earnestly want to “get it,” and can easily convince ourselves we have. Coming to grips(!) with the elusive, illusory nature of maya-reality means we can let go of those anxiety-producing theories we have been saddled with, that can never succeed because they are based on false (no matter how tempting) premises.

         Susan’s election night reactions gave her a front row seat for her own projected monster movie. She was up all night writhing in horror at the impending worldwide terrorism of the new President, who is in fact living up to some of her worst fears. But she came to see the difference between her fears and reality: how her mind was being battered by imagined future events, which she would have been much better off not to amplify. Holding back on our fears isn’t easy, by any means! But unreal fears sap the energy we are going to need for the real conflicts that we are sure to face sooner or later. Better to save our strength for actual problems, and laugh away our projections after we unearth their roots in past traumas.

         We talked a lot about how Nitya kept his cool. Was he always calm and serene? Later in life he was very steady, but he had his moments. I have seen him very angry, and on rare occasions, sad. We tend to believe that feelings are a mark of failure in spiritual life, but this is not so. I will clip in some terrific advice from one of his early books on attaining equanimity, in Part II, where he openly admits to harboring “indelicate” emotions. As a bonus, it has a superb demonstration of how to manage the modalities.

         I offered that Nitya’s admission of normalcy and how to deal with it helps us appreciate the meaning of “what is, is not.” We imagine the world is sustaining us, but it is the other way round. Our study is to empower us to accept the role we have been given without knowing it: what Nitya liked to call being co-creators with the Absolute.

         We shared several Nitya stories to show he was not opposed to having feelings. Deb recalled the time when Nitya was making such impassioned speeches against the orthodox followers of Narayana Guru that they actually hired an assassin to kill him, and he was only saved by a lucky intervention. There’s a bit about it showing Nitya’s pugnacious side on page 250 of Love and Blessings, at the end of the chapter A Sect is the Mausoleum of the Guru.

         Moni recalled Nitya’s concern and attentiveness when his mother was dying, yet how within a few hours of her death he was laughing gaily and telling stories to lift everyone’s mood. He truly felt that death was a great blessing that should be celebrated. I recalled how his concern and love for his mother, especially there at the end, was an affront to some of the orthodox members of the Gurukula, who insisted that such behavior proved he was not a real sannyasin. The orthodox rules say you are to abandon all family ties. Actually, all it proved was that he was not a false sannyasin who relied on predetermined rules of behavior to determine his actions, but felt and acted freely in ways some less dedicated souls refused to countenance. He was not tied to family, but was drawn to it as one more natural outlet for his deep love. The orthodox are always blind to such subtle distinctions, preferring the letter of the law to its spirit.

         In his comments Nitya once again reminds us of the Vedantic perspective, because it contrasts so starkly with the Western conviction that maya is all there is: “Truly it is the radiant Self which becomes individuated as man, though few of us experience this.” We are not going to be able to compress the mayavic panoply into a grand theory of everything. There is no end to its potential, and it never stops modulating. The normative notion we can hold to is the unitive source being our collective radiant Self, which is the very thing we are made of. Knowing this accords us a measure of detachment from relying on the vagaries of fate to secure our happiness.

         I’m sorry my write up sounds so arcane that most readers will have given up long before now. I don’t want to dumb the topic down to clichés. This is challenging material, but the liberating rewards are commensurate with the challenges. Many clichés are true, but we can only discover their meaning by digging beneath the surface.

         Nataraja Guru suggested that the first half of Darsanamala was a deconstructive process. It feels like we have already stripped our ideas down to their bare essence. The Bhana Darsana impends as an elaboration of our fully exteriorized state, possibly just an extension of this concluding verse of the Maya Darsana. Perseverance furthers! We will begin the reconstruction of a healed psyche in earnest with the Karma Darsana, the sixth, after we have freed ourselves as much as possible from the excess weights we have been carrying.

         Onward, and upward!


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


The three Nature modalities remain potentially united within maya before creation. At the time of creation Nature separates them out in a surprising manner. Because it was separated out in a surprising way it is called Nature. The varieties observed in Nature are all due to the three nature modalities. Nature is no other than what is the basis of the variety seen in the world.

In this darsana the same maya has been described under the eight items (including maya) which are: vidya (science), avidya (nescience), para (the transcendent), apara, (the immanent), tamas (darkness), pradhana (prime potent power) and prakriti (Nature). This is not the ultimate Reality but instead it is called maya: because it is the basis of the discrimination of the Self from the non-Self it is called vidya; because it is the basis of contrary knowledge it is called avidya: because it remains in the form of potentiality and creates the subtle limbs of the vital principle such as the indriyas it is called para; because it remains in a gross form and creates the sense data called the world, it is called apara; because it remains in the form of darkness forming the basis of wrong supposition it is called tamas; because it bears within itself the whole universe in a surprising manner it is called pradhana; (and) because it remains in the form of the three nature modalities and by its own nature it is able to separate them, it is called prakriti. These are only the main divisions, but if necessary we could elaborate them into further sub-divisions.

*         *         *


         In our Brihadaranyaka Upanishad online class with Nancy Y., Gayathri shared an excellent exercise she uses to demonstrate what might be called the effect maya has on our wellbeing. She has learned it from her various mindfulness teachers. Here’s some background she gave me:


The class I was teaching was a mindfulness and meditation class for teen girls. It was a group that formed organically starting with one of my friend’s daughters who suffers from anxiety and anorexia. She invited other friends who invited other friends and I would up with a group of six girls (13 – 16 year olds). It was a really nice experience getting to know these girls. They are so bright, kind and talented. It hurts me to see them suffer, and all because of some artificial criteria people set for achievement and success.


First Gayathri quotes what Nitya says about word power in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad lesson:


“This magical device of a word occupying the central focus of consciousness has the mighty power to transfigure an external entity into a remembered and articulated word. This is our greatest friend and our greatest enemy. There is a liberating light than enables consciousness to move and expand. But the restriction of the meaning of a word has an arresting frontier beyond which the connotation cannot go. Thus the word is a binding agent.” (page 456).


This past week, I was teaching a mindfulness class to a group of teen girls all of whom are dealing with some difficulties – anorexia, anxiety, depression. I was trying to show them the relationship between thoughts (words and pictures) and feelings and how thoughts can become the basis for many inherent beliefs we hold about our world and ourselves. I had them close their eyes and feel into their bodies, and then asked them to feel into the felt sense of a couple of words I kept repeating over and over. First I kept repeating “trouble, trouble, trouble” and then paused and repeated “kindness, kindness, kindness” over and over. Sure enough, they all reported how stressed and contracted they felt when they heard the word “trouble” and how they relaxed and remembered incidents of kindness when they heard the word “kindness”. So they understood how a simple word can alter their sense of reality and how thoughts are just that – words. By repeating thoughts in your mind, you can generate the corresponding feelings in your body even if there is nothing going on in your external world that is associated with “trouble” or “kindness”, for example. I also pointed out how when you become aware of your thoughts, you can create a healthy distance between your thoughts and actions. You can also reconfigure the false narratives you’ve come to believe about yourself and the world as a result of repeating thoughts that have no truth to them. I do a similar exercise with parents where I keep repeating “NO, NO, NO” and then “yes, yes, yes” to demonstrate how most of our kids feel all day long when they hear “no, no” from their parents, teachers and other adults in their lives!


*         *         *


         Gayathri also suggested a parallel article that should prep us for the upcoming Bhana Darsana:


I came across a fascinating article recently titled “The Case Against Reality”, an interview with Donald Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at UC Irvine. It’s worth a read -


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Meditations on the Self is a lesser-known gem of Nitya’s that I hope we will get to next. The first part of chapter 13 gives his method of processing negative emotions:






Bangalore                                                               August 26


         Today I had a talk with a gentleman with whom I did not want to relate myself in any way, although I’m now placed in a situation in which I’m expected to work with him. He is one of the very few people who’ve sometimes made me skeptical of the Buddha’s plea to love one’s enemy as oneself and the Christian ideal of pacifism. I remember many dark incidents of the past with which I associate this man’s name. A sense of negativity has always overtaken me every time I run into him or hear his name brought up in conversation.

         To feel negatively towards another person and to have a closed mind is evidence of a state of consciousness that can be described as tamasic, meaning dark or opaque. It’s as if there is a wall of darkness existing between us. Even the possibility of meaningful communication does not occur in such a state.

         Yesterday this man sent me a note which might have looked very innocent to anyone else. As I already had a built-in emotional state directed against him, I found his letter extremely provoking. I felt the blood running fast in my veins and my fists automatically clenching. A distasteful lump of emotion clogged my throat and I threw away the letter in contempt and hatred. Obviously there cannot be a more clear case of rajas. Rajas is a state of emotional turbulence which makes the mind very self-centered or egocentric.

         Realizing I was upset, I sat back in my chair and pacified my mind. Once I calmed down, another train of thought occurred to me. I started seeing my negative attitude as a state of tamas and my anger as a state of rajas. When my mind was once again calm and dispassionate, I retrieved the letter from the trash and reread it. I no longer found it provoking. The man was only trying to explain himself to avoid further straining our relationship. Mentally I changed places with him and tried to see things as he would see them. My mind was soon filled with sympathy and a sense of fraternal kinship. I decided to go and talk with him. That was nice. It was like meeting an old friend. My sympathy was reciprocated and it was easy for us to communicate. This clear state of mind of calm disposition indicates a sattvic state.

         It is not unnatural for us to become negative and angry, but it is not spiritual either. The path I have chosen is the way of a yogi, a contemplative who is also a man of unitive action. The model or pattern of life recommended to a yogi is that of a gunatita. A gunatita is a person who has tamed his natural urges and has successfully transcended the unilateral impact of any of the three functional dynamics of nature: sattva, rajas and tamas.


         Now I want to enter into a dialogue with myself:


         Do I sometimes feel elevated to sublime or ethereal heights? 

         Yes, I do.


         What is that state called? 

         It is sattvic.


         Do I want to always remain in that euphoric state?



         Should I push it away?



         What should I do then?

         Allow it to prevail for a while and then pass on like a beautiful cloud formation gently floating over the hills.


         At any time do I get agitated, distressed, disturbed, annoyed, aggrieved, or angered?

         Occasionally yes, but not often enough to complain about. I’m not totally free of getting disturbed or annoyed. I can remember a few occasions in the past five years when I became very angry.


         What are such states called?

         They are characterized as rajasic.


         Should I allow those states to prevail?

         Well, I cannot simply swallow my anger or annoyance. If I do, it may cause the malfunction or dysfunction of my psychosomatic system and make me sick. Nor do these emotions disappear by themselves without leaving karmic traces. So I prefer to express my annoyance and anger rather than repressing them.


         Doesn’t this cause social rupture and antagonism, thereby setting the stage for more annoyance and anger? 

          Yes, that’s a possible danger. It might even make my annoyance and anger become a chronic disposition. Mere letting off steam is not the answer. I confess, I’m not always completely charitable. If I see a degree of benefit to all concerned, or at least can foresee no harm in it, I prefer to vent my annoyance or wrath upon those who caused it. The opportunity for this happens only rarely. Failing that, if I can find a willing listener who is a stranger to the situation and who has an indifferent attitude towards the man or woman who caused the annoyance, I will choose to empty my mind on him. If I don’t find any such person—which is very often the case—I’ll write a letter conveying all my self-pitying anguish and wrath to a friend who lives in a far off country. When it is all out of my mind I just tear the letter up. I don’t have to mail that dirty laundry to anyone. Again though, if the annoyance is a simple one I can just go for a walk or turn to another subject that can serve as a distraction. My best friend in those cases is cool and sound logic, which will not become lopsided if I change places with my adversary and reason for him as well.


*         *         *


Pratibha has sent an article she has published, titled Consciousness, Free Will, Transformation Science, Ancient Samkhya Philosophy of Cause and Effect:


*         *         *


         Sree Kumar has shared a lengthy article on Garry Davis and the American electoral system, in Malayalam. Let me know if you’d like a copy.


Part III


         I’m reprinting the summary of Maya Darsana I shared at the outset, in hopes it will mean a bit more now than it did before we began:


IV. Maya Darsana – A Vision of Non-being Beingness


         Manifested things come and go, are born and die. When they are here they are as real as anything gets, but then they disappear, first leaving memory traces and then nothing. They become unreal. Maya is what is both real and unreal, in the sense of emerging from and remerging into the primal soup. If there was no underlying reality, life would truly be chaotic, but apparently there is something that holds it all together. There is a continuity to the whole that defies linear understanding.

         We are going to learn that instead of imagining that our happiness is dependent on the things that come and go, it is actually intrinsic to our nature, and those things derive their apparent radiance from us. If we turn to the source within instead of its reflection without, our happiness will become steady, instead of fluctuating with the availability of the things we cherish. We can and should still dance with the things we love, but our love will be vastly expanded to include everything.

         It is apparently against a basic law of the universe to compose a Vedantic work without at some point bringing in the metaphor of the pot and the clay. For many years I would nod off whenever it came up. But if we keep in mind the symbolism that clay represents the Absolute as substance and pot means a specific manifestation, particularly YOU, then it is more interesting and makes more sense. The world around us is like an amorphousness bending and twisting into a ceaseless series of morphs, forms, which are briefly stable and then transmute into something else. The pot and the clay analogy describes this process in more unitive terms than almost any other metaphor, accounting for its continual resurfacing.

         When the unfurling of our life goes well we picture a benign God or Providence, and when it gets ugly we bring in the Devil or pitiless Fate. We love to anthropomorphize. But basically it’s inscrutable: the possibilities are indeterminate. As the seed grows into a tree, good and bad things happen to give it its shape and dimensions. We can retrospect and notice a lot of coherence in our unfoldment, but we can only guess and hope as to its future course. In the present we have a severely limited but important role to play.

         A balanced yogic approach means we should stay poised midway between leading and following, open to the next possibility. We need to plan and strive and set up programs in order for anything to happen, but at the same time too much planning and programming makes serendipity impossible, makes new directions impossible. This is another arena in which to find the happy median. We don’t want to be bound by our previous decisions if they become outdated, yet we want to accomplish and fulfill what we find rewarding.

         There are major events in our lives that start as a point source and grow to have earthshaking consequences. It is valuable to take a look at them, if only to open up to the wonder of an invisible impetus directing the course of our life. Equally present are courses we once considered highly promising that came to nothing.

         Each of us has many innate tendencies, called vasanas in Sanskrit. They are like seeds buried in the manure of our psyches, waiting for opportunities to grow and actualize their potentials. There is a mysterious mating of opportunities and potentials that has made us what we are, and which makes the world what it is. It is done with such finesse that it looks accidental, haphazard even. Yet it is a seamless, flowing miracle. To participate in it is the greatest wonder. There is no blessing greater than this. Tat tvam asi—That is what you are.


*         *         *


         A few definitions of modality:


A tendency to conform to a general pattern or belong to a particular group or category. (


a particular mode in which something exists or is experienced or expressed. (


Modality shares its root with the word mode, meaning “the way in which something happens or is experienced.” A sensory modality is a way of sensing, like vision or hearing. Modality in someone's voice gives a sense of the person’s mood. In logic, modality has to do with whether a proposition is necessary, possible, or impossible. In general, a modality is a particular way in which something exists. (

Scott Teitsworth