Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Five - Verse Three


Bhana Darsana, verse 3


         See here: “I am the body;

         this is a pot.” Thus, based on the gross,

         the awareness which is experienced,

         that is considered to be the gross.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


Lo, here, `I am the body, this is the pot'

Depending on the concrete

What looms as consciousness

That is known as the concrete.


         After last week’s complex commentary, we are bequeathed a relatively easy one. As Deb reminded us, Narayana Guru is going to mention the four states of mind in sequence, starting with the concrete, wakeful state. After having merely listed them in verse 2, they will now be framed in terms of generic and specific qualities, or what we more commonly call subjective and objective aspects.

         Thanks to Nataraja Guru, we think of the four states in terms of the Cartesian coordinates, with a vertical axis running from total ignorance at the negative or alpha end, known as the causal, growing over time to the positive omega pole, representing turiya or total awareness, and known as the transcendental. The point we occupy on this continuum of evolution in the present moment is pictured as a horizontal axis, which is bifurcated into external factors on the right and internal factors on the left, commonly described as wakeful and dream or objective and subjective.

         Everyone interested in the Gurukula version of Vedanta should have this image emblazoned in their minds as a key to understanding consciousness. Nataraja Guru’s mathematical symbol is very helpful, but we should also remember that consciousness does not actually conform to any rigid pattern. This is a two-dimensional image of a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted ability. We are merely graphing the ungraspable, to help us get a handle on it.

         Narayana Guru will use the next verse to address both poles of the horizontal, the first half referring to verse 3 (gross, specific) and the second half to verse 5 (subtle, generic):


4.         Here, such awareness as “body” and “pot,”

         that is the specific;

         similarly, “I,” “this,” and such

         are to be remembered as the generic.


Verse 5 brings in the subjective side of transactional horizontal consciousness, and then the vertical parameter makes its appearance in 6 and 7:


5.         The senses, mind, intellect,

         items of interest, and the five vital breaths—

         the awareness which constitutes

         the subtle nature of its basis is the subtle.


6.         “I am ignorant”—such awareness

         exemplifies the causal;

         here, what is revealed as “I am” is the generic,

         “ignorant” is the specific.


7.         “I am the Absolute”—such awareness

         is praised as the fourth;

         here, the element “I am” is the generic,

         and “Absolute” is the specific.


The mysterious relationship between the transactions of horizontal, everyday reality and the unfolding development of the vertical is where we can discover and exalt the spiritual meaning or the authentic expression of our life.

         The obvious difference between materialism and a spiritual attitude is the former posits a universe built of inconscient building blocks, while the latter see the universe as an extrapolation of consciousness. It isn’t that a Vedantin disbelieves in the reality of the world, but only how that reality is understood, as Nitya affirms:


To both the materialist and the Vedantin a star is a star, the sun is the sun, and a physical body is a physical body. Both recognize objectively perceivable entities as being the outcome of the action of consciousness. But there the similarity of belief ceases.


Nitya is granting that materialists comprehend the importance of consciousness in bringing awareness to bear. Without it, what would be the point? The class discussed this idea as an excellent basis for meditation. It is famously touched on in the tree-falling-in-the-forest koan and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as well, where the observer is known to have an impact on the observed. Almost everything lies outside our awareness. We are more or less in touch with a very small purview and ignorant of all the rest, but we fill in our ignorance with suppositions and convince ourselves we actually know quite a bit. This is like ignorance squared: we’re not only ignorant, but we’re ignorant of our ignorance, because we cover it over with unprovable beliefs.

         Nitya laments that because of our generic ignorance we glory in trivialities that are of a manageable size, in what is in my opinion one of his finest sentences ever:


The greatest paradox in physical science is that the scientist questions every little detail of the obvious, and takes for granted what is absolutely mysterious and much more than a miracle.


It’s well and good to examine the details of the physical world, but it’s not so good to leave out the mechanism of the one doing to examining, because the effect is far greater than Heisenberg’s miniscule quantum fuzziness. There is nothing remotely trivial about how we overlay a putative world with all sorts of cockamamie ideas. If you don’t believe me, just look at the current worldwide political meltdown, all of it ferociously based in ideology. This is a fine time to reprise what Nitya said in the first darsana, verse 8:


The world presented to us as individuals is not the entire universe. It is a very limited environment of a relatively few square miles in area, and which belongs entirely to the present moment. We can perhaps give it a time-span of a few hours. The problems arising from it are likely to be few and simple, but we complicate matters which should only arise from, and relate to, our individual environment, by hooking on to them the structuring of a vast and complex world. The world with which we complicate our responses to sensory input is the conditioning passed on to us from generation after generation. This conditioning arises from the store of information chronicled as the history of human endeavor and discovery—the story of man’s encounters with nature and his fellow humans. Thus, the world we think to be real has in fact very little objective reality. It is padded out in all directions with half-baked conceptual notions and hidebound prejudices.


In any case there is no dispute that—even though we have almost no idea of what it is—there is something that makes an external world. The class struggled with the duality of external versus internal aspects, but we are trying to allow ourselves to sink into the realization that the duality is something we overlay on a nondual reality. This is the essential truth of the Bhana Darsana: there is one unitive consciousness operating in us, as us. Within that we separate out an objective world and an internal world that is out of joint with it. Often waaaaay out of joint. The gurus’ invitation is to make contemplative efforts to more closely align our ideology with the actual environment. Nataraja Guru called the disagreement of thinking with actuality, madness. We are engaged in a quest to reduce our madness. When the subjective and objective realms are in accord, life becomes more harmonious. Instead of seeking something far away and hard to reach, the beauty and grandeur of life turns out to be all around us, all within us. We will at least have intimations of what is “much more than a miracle” in our predicament.

         Susan talked about her recent visit to her brother and his partner, who have a new baby. It really brought home to her how the baby, amazing as it is, was not doing very much, but each of the adults was furiously projecting all sorts of their own feelings, needs, hopes and fears onto them. Deb offered that it’s not necessarily bad, so long as you realize how much you are projecting and that it isn’t reality as such. The class had a fruitful discussion of ways we project onto all sorts of things.

         Paul mused that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to convert the concrete world into our expectations. Yet, sadly, when life lives up to our expectations it gets boring. As he put it, beauty has a problem revealing itself, and that problem is our own predisposed expectations.

         This resonated with our young visitor Emma, who has noticed how she loves to walk in nature, but when she sees something especially beautiful she immediately frames it as a picture she will excitedly share on social media. She knows she is rapidly reducing the vision to a small square representation. My observation is that we don’t allow the world to affect us as much as it could, but we are eager to try to get others to have the experience we are blocking for ourself. We have all learned that we don’t deserve to have ecstatic experiences, so we project them onto others. Unfortunately they are likely doing the same, so very few of us are bothering to sip the wine of life as deliciously as we might. We are all just hoping someone else will get high. Hmmm.

         It was interesting that Emma talked about seeing beauty through the camera lens, because Vedanta teaches that we are seeing everything through the distorting and exaggerating lens of our mind. Part of the work is to clean and focus the lens, but the main effort is to draw back from all limiting exposures to live life more directly, as primary experience. As we expand our lens we obtain a more inclusive vision.

         All of us have been well trained to disdain the makeup of the universe and cling to tall tales instead. Paul talked about how he was raised to think of many simple, pleasant activities as leading him straight to hell. He remembered one time sneaking out to go to a movie 30 miles away, and all the way home he kept looking up into the sky, expecting at any moment the promised lightning bolt coming to zap him and take him to the fiery pit. Guilt like that isn’t ameliorated in a day. Pretty much all of us have something like that going on even many miles from childhood: waiting for the axe to fall, the hand to spank, the word to insult.

         In the present madhouse of the United States, billboards have sprung up all over our city threatening passing motorists with going to hell. It’s a surefire technique (sorry about that!) for driving a wedge between the subjective and objective worlds, creating vestigial, dependent human beings. Diabolical indeed. The commercial benefit is to take personal salvation out of our hands and lodge it in the greedy fists of religious officials and even political leaders. No wonder we’re in such a mess!

         Deb talked about the latest section of our Brihadaranyaka Upanishad study, which includes an important hint about how to relate to the “concrete” world. The mantra is about music:


The examples given here of the drum, the lyre and the conch shell make a heart-touching experiential illustration for us to go into the deeper strata of consciousness to which music can take us. It shows us that an arbitrary renunciation and denial of this world is neither a healthy attitude nor a feasible one. Phenomenal aspects can be taken advantage of to arrive at the unity of things, especially in the sphere of ecstatic and blissful rejoicings in the unifying power of music. (487)


Leaving aside that this kind of music will surely lead us straight to hell, Nitya is affirming that we are not meant to block out the world, any more than to treat it as the whole story, as rational materialists do. He is telling us we can use details of the environment to work back into our innate bliss. By fully appreciating our surroundings we are given entrée into the depths of our being. Deb noted what Andy (now in Mexico) told us about his vipassana meditation, how as he consistently sank into the silence and screened out irrelevancies, the sights and sounds around him became profoundly meaningful.

         I may as well include another lovely Nitya quote from the Brihadaranyaka, beckoning us to emerge from our illusions:


These are some of the implications of the present mantra we should be aware of so that in the name of Self-realization we will not reduce ourselves to ignoramus persons devoid of all insight and incapable of charting our own personal futures to make life the most successful adventure of spirit. (483)


Turning from being victims of external forces to being wise yogis capable of seeing through illusions is a most liberating practice. Our very nature is the blissful state known as ananda. The present verse is telling us that everything we experience is an integral part of who we are. It is not something “out there” to be rejected. Being trained to imagine happiness as a remote goal instead of our true nature leaves us at the mercy of unfriendly interests. Nitya contrasts Indian philosophy with the common form of materialism that instigates so much bondage:


The Vedantin thinks differently. For him the cosmos of each person is an extensive expansion of their own consciousness. Nature, as he understands it, is a product of the objectivization of the conceptual configuration of what he thinks he perceives and reacts to. This does not mean that there is no objectivity in experience.


Surprise! It’s up to us. A fulfilling life is one where we express (bring forth) our inner talents and wisdom and contribute them (discretely) to the matrix. This should remind us all of a true religious idea, from The Gospel According to Thomas, translated by Elaine Pagels: Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

         Emma added a welcome perspective of a young person (which we’re chronically short of), that anxiety is the outcome of egocentricity. If you believe you are the center of everyone else’s attention, you automatically worry, and contort yourself to try to meet their (mostly imaginary) expectations. This is a common malaise that is hard to get over. It adds so much complication to our lives, and for no reason at all. It’s mainly baggage from childhood, and yet we cling to it. Our habitual fears do not disappear on their own: they have to be rooted out. In her early twenties, Emma is now becoming mature enough to realize that hardly anybody is thinking of her or anyone else: they are centered in their own egos, wondering what everyone else is judging about them. It’s a very important realization many adults never get to.

         Contemplation and meditation are techniques we can use to ease out of the bondage of our inadequate mental framing. Nitya gives one example of how to convert a seemingly solid externality into accord with our consciousness:


Both Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras and Vyasa in the Bhagavad Gita insist on a sameness of attitude toward heat and cold. These are used as examples of the concrete. In the empirical world heat and cold are indeed concrete factors. But if these factors are seen as being entirely external to ourselves we cannot mitigate the effects of their action, and thus fashion, change, adapt to, and ultimately transcend their impact. For all this to happen we must accept them as being part of our consciousness.


In my Gita commentary I go perhaps a step farther and treat heat and cold as referring to our attitudes, and not temperature at all. I’ll clip in a passage or two in the second part of the notes.

         Nitya’s conclusion is an invitation to make this supremely rewarding philosophy a reality in our lives:


What we should remember again and again is the purpose of this study. The Guru has especially given the Bhana Darsana so that we may arrive at that state of certitude that alone is valid. Instead of taking this verse as mere theorization about the brute forces of actuality, it should be used as a mantra for meditation. Then the annoying externality of consciousness can be truthfully incorporated into one’s all-embracing awareness, and the separation of individual and cosmic consciousness can be finally erased.


When we bring our subjective viewpoint in line with the reality represented by the concrete would we perceive, we restore our native balance, opening the door for reintegrating individual and cosmic consciousness. Seems like this should be all the incentive we need….


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         That which is called concrete consciousness is in the form of ‘I am the body, this is the pot’, because both derive their reality from visible concrete objects. In other words, that which looms in the form of concrete objects is concrete consciousness. This concrete consciousness is experienced by everyone in the wakeful state.


*         *         *


         My Gita commentary takes its seemingly concrete images and treats them as symbolic of inner states, which makes a lot of sense, I think. The Gita usually pairs opposites, to show that balance is attained by bringing polarities into harmonious relationship, and not by exaggerating one side over the other. Heat and cold are mentioned a couple of places, and here’s what I’ve written about them, first from chapter XII:


18)          He who is the same to foe and friend, and also in honor and dishonor, who is the same in cold and heat, in pleasure and pain, and who is free from attachment, [is dear to Me].


         Yogis, like everyone, experience natural urges to judge and interfere with the people they encounter. Like the startle reflex when you nearly step on a snake, it’s virtually impossible to do away with the immediate reaction. The difference is that a yogi doesn’t simply act on the urge, but lets it dissipate so they can examine the problem dispassionately. The ego would have us believe that our knee jerk responses are divinely or at least intelligently inspired, which places them above reproach. The wise yogi anticipates that snap judgments are likely to be tainted with a lot of personal baggage, and introduces intellect into the mix. It’s nearly always true that first impressions are a far cry from settled understanding. In fact, it’s a good meditation to recall some instances where your initial impression turned out to be radically different from your feelings after becoming better acquainted with the person or situation.

         Cold and heat do not refer to actual temperatures, though again literalists sit in the snow or walk on coals and call it yoga practice. People have cold or warm attitudes, and we should not be deflected from our neutral ground by how they feel about us. If they are cold, let them walk away without trying to hold onto them. If they are too warm, gently push them back a couple of feet, so you have a little breathing room. And coming as it does right after honor and dishonor, this pair also refers to our feelings about others. We should not either snub anyone or come on too strong, based on our preexisting feelings. A yogi does not nurse a grudge or secretly cherish anyone, either. When the extremes are brought to the mean through yoga practice, it becomes easy to maintain a kindly and open attitude to all, and so to treat people as they are instead of how we wish they were.


And then this, from chapter VI:


7)         To one of conquered Self, who rests in peace, the Supreme is in a state of neutral balance in heat-cold, happiness-suffering, honor-disgrace.


         The result of taking Krishna’s suggestions in the preceding couple of verses is to allow your natural balance to reassert itself. When you speak kindly to yourself and stop holding onto trivial events like a drowning man clutching at straws, you are not tossed here and there, up and down, by events, and you can become calm and steadfast. This is the attainment that allows you to finally begin your real life, which previously had been obscured by a shadowy existence of reactivity and conditioning. Your dharma will naturally emerge as the junk is swept away.


         Heat and cold are usually taken literally as physical sensations, but the Gita is seldom so trivial. This is not about attaining room temperature in your mind. A/C specialists are not perforce the yogis of today. Heat-cold is a poetic way of saying like-dislike or attraction-repulsion or even love-hate. When we are ardently fond of something we are “hot” for it, and when we turn our back on it we coldly reject it. Each of these attitudes represents a polarized extreme. A yogi learns to be open to whatever comes along. Everything is loved and admired in its turn, but nothing is clung to or lusted after. Nor is it despised out of hand. Knowing that justice permeates this innately reciprocal universe, everything will arrive at its just desserts without any additional demonstration of personal ratification or opprobrium. Need it be added that the neutral attitude allows for a much greater appreciation of life than being thermally attached to one’s own opinion?


Scott Teitsworth