Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Five - Verse Four


Bhana Darsana, verse 4


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

         that is the specific;

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

         are to be remembered as the generic.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


Here what is the consciousness of the body

And the pot, that is the specific;

Likewise too, what is (the consciousness) of `I' or `this'

Is known as the generic.


         Narayana Guru inserts an explanatory verse in the sequence of the four broad states of consciousness, in between the wakeful and the dream, otherwise known as the objective and subjective. He comes close to revealing the metaphoric meaning of the pot analogy by comparing it to the body, and the “this” with our sense of self. As in ayam atma brahma: this Self is the Absolute. In other words, this is about us: all beings are pots fashioned out of the clay of the Absolute.

         The analogy is repeated rather often because we continually forget our true nature. When we identify ourself as a specific form, we align with similar forms and reject dissimilar ones. Conflict and disappointment become almost inevitable. Nitya also gives broad hints as to the significance of the image, without coming right out and making it explicit:


At the very outset of the Guru’s teaching we were shown how man erroneously and habitually engages in the superimposition of the quality of one thing onto another. The most fundamental quality that makes a thing what it is, that is to say, makes it unique among all other classes of things, has been previously noted as its differentia. The “clayness” of clay can never be taken away from it, even when the clay is fashioned into a pot or some other artifact. As far as the clay is concerned, being fashioned into a pot is incidental – it could just as easily have been a jug, a vase or a plate. Of course, when clay is fashioned into a pot the incidence of the pot is promoted into a class of differentia to identify it in relation to jugs or jars. At the same time it becomes classified with all other pots.

   This turning of clay into a pot has only a transactional acceptance. The fundamental truth of a pot is the clay, or, rather, the “clayness.” This truth is veiled from the observer by the transactional emphasis on the artifact, on the “potness” so to speak, of the transformed clay. This happens to us in every field of experience.


At the present time, the distinguishing potness of the various racial variants of humanity is being emphasized, and the familial resemblance ignored. As a species we got along fine when there was no other version than our own tribe present, but as soon as a more global awareness dawned, the fighting began. All other humans than Homo sapiens have already been eradicated, probably by our species. The acceptance of our common heritage has been much more difficult than any philosopher could have imagined. Even after many centuries it seems that progress has been quite modest, though nontrivial. Nitya puts his finger on the intelligence required to make the requisite breakthrough:


To speak from a spiritual viewpoint, it is very advisable that a man should see his own self as being everything. It is obvious that this is not usually the case. Such a perception comes only when the fundamental differentia of the one universal Self is positively apprehended throughout the entire field of manifestation, and when specifically modulated incidents are not taken in confusion for the true nature of the Self.


It is very human to be so freaked out by “specifically modulated incidents” that they are superimposed as truth on the neutral ground of being. Unfortunately and inescapably, neutrality is not immediately as attention-getting as everyday occurrences tend to be. It has to be accessed through an intelligent effort, commonly known as meditation or contemplation. The reward for seeing through the obvious to the subtle is an oceanic sense of belongingness that is deeply satisfying, something I think we all crave, at least subconsciously. We fight because we believe specific things will take away our happiness, but it’s actually the resistance we put up that turns us away from our true nature, described as ananda. That means we have the ability to restore our well-being as well as to throw it away.

         This verse reactivated my memory of the pundits conference I attended a few years back as a spokesperson for Narayana Guru. At the concluding round table it was asserted that Narayana Guru was just another sectarian thinker, because he advocated one religion for all. (The essence of Narayana Guru’s philosophy is famously stated in his dictum One Kind or Caste, One Religion and One God for Man.) Somehow those brilliant thinkers assumed that this meant everyone should become an orthodox Hindu, or some such. In other words, that Narayana Guru was advocating one specific type of pot. I had to grab the microphone to proclaim to the deaf ears present that his one religion was the universal search for happiness. What the Guru meant was that beneath all the varieties of religious behavior lies a single motivation, and if we discern it we will be tolerant and even supportive of the differences. If we don’t we will be suspicious at the very least. Yet even in that gathering of the best and brightest, the concept was so foreign as to not register at all. Likewise one caste means there can be no caste, no hierarchy; and one God means that all the ways people delineate their God are variations on whatever the underlying principle is. Meaning we are all fighting over things we actually agree about. A guru has to be infinitely patient, as their liberating insights are trampled into the dust over and over. Yet even the best have had their moments of despair. Who can blame them?

         Nitya uses this interim verse to do one of his periodic injunctions, exhorting us to make a more sincere effort to realize the teaching, to make it real. Humans are pretty good at academic understanding, and we have learned to be content with it. Unfortunately, being nothing more than mental abstractions, it can fail us at any time. Going beyond it to something more substantial takes a level of intensity we don’t always have at our fingertips—one that most usually arises under pressure. At least it would be better to pressure ourselves instead of waiting for a tragedy to impose our motivation from outside.

         It doesn’t help us that there are so many glib fakers who are experts at diverting our attention. This is likely the specific impetus for Nitya’s rant:


In one regard the spiritual is like any other aspect of life: it can be imitated. Many people do enact a passable imitation of spirituality – passable, that is, to others as deluded as themselves. It is even possible to imitate the aspect of universalized sameness which can be seen in its true expression in a Self-realized man. We can fool ourselves for a while, and fool others, but very soon we shall discover that we can go all the way only with the realized man. What he is on the surface he is all the way through. To claim realization is one thing; to be realized is very much another.


This is also why we must not go around proclaiming “I found it,” or “ours is the way,” or anything like that. The minute we describe what we’ve found, it is transformed from raw clay to being fixed as a pot. It becomes “My way or the high way,” meaning the low road. The boasters get the glamour and the big attendance in their tents, but what kind of wisdom transmission takes place in such a venue? From the outside it looks more like brainwashing than liberation. Nitya draws a distinction between sincere contemplation and the rush of being part of a mass movement of mass hysteria:


Using the statement “this is a pot,” a true contemplative can extend the undiscerned “thisness” to obviate all its “potness.” In the same manner, when we say “I am the body,” all the variegated moods, tendencies, sensations, and impressions can be sublimated by a contemplative if he turns himself into a blazing fire of pure I-consciousness. However, most of us are not contemplative at all, and we pay only lip service to the hope of Self-realization. We limit ourselves, in both the above cases, to the accidental and partial knowledge of what seems to be concretely manifested, or to the conception of the limits of our own bodies.


In plain terms, we should meditate on the universal values that unite us all, and apply them to every specific instance as it appears before us. Deb expressed this nicely, that when we find ourselves in position of being recipients of argument or distain, if we can see the commonality with the other person then we won’t get so hurt. By remaining in a position of common cause the other is defanged. I added that we practice this by careful self-examination, and what we learn can then be applied to others to get an inkling of how they may have arrived at their own (wrong!) conclusions. Some of them may have a point after all. Regardless, we understand the other by first understanding ourselves. As Deb put it, the practice is to see where we’re going off course and come back to clarity and openness. Unless we do that, we aren’t going to be helpful to others, either.

         As several in the class noted, we are at the post-graduate level of yoga at the moment, learning to cope with a tide of aggressive mentally ill hordes that have seized power across the globe, while not getting caught up in the lunacy. Lip service is not going to serve us in such a climate. Nitya concludes his diatribe by pointing this out:


In this verse the Guru shows how what is presented to our awareness fluctuates between the generic and the specific. But mere cognition without substantiation of the experience with a meaningful awareness is no experience at all.


This is a great example of real-ization: we all think we know what he means and so we might imagine we’ve learned something. Therefore we don’t have to sit down and internally visualize the generic and specific aspects, we can just go back to sleep. It’s a shame if we don’t go all the way with him! Nitya stretches his personal comfort zone as a renunciate to offer the analogy that we are asleep in bed while the divine lies next to us eager to make mad passionate love, but we don’t even notice:


In a dream one may be weeping inside himself because he is separated from his beloved. Deeply asleep, he may be quite unaware of external events. At the same moment he weeps for his loss in the dream, his beloved may be with him in bed, fondling and kissing him, but she is awake in the external world and he is asleep in the internal. No matter what her actions, if he is not aware of them it is for him as though nothing has happened.


         Jan wondered if there was anything new in the pot analogy this time. I suggested that since we routinely forget that we are the Absolute and think of ourselves as a certain self in a certain body with certain challenges confronting us, the teaching has to be repeated. Hopefully we won’t become inured to it and tune it out, but that is a risk. Narayana Guru does suggest a slight upgrade here: he is conjoining the pot with “this” instead of with clay. Clay as we normally conceive it is actually another specific form distinct from other specific forms. “This” is truly non-specific. If you think about it, his alteration is a stroke of genius. If we meditate on clay, we will have certain images come to mind, but if we meditate on This, it doesn’t call up any images until we predicate it with some specific form. Bill agreed, and reminded us of Nitya’s concluding sentence:


In the Atmopadesa Satakam, Narayana Guru explicitly instructs his votaries to meditate on the full implications of “thisness” in order to be freed from the easy slide of consciousness into the pitfalls of relativity.


The “pitfalls of relativity” would be thinking that the non-formed Absolute looked like clay. Don’t laugh. That’s what every religion does when it specifies what God is. That’s why my God is better than your God. Too bad the partisans aren’t usually aware that this is a slide into relativity or duality, and that by doing so they are selling their God short. It helps to have your gurus reminding you over and over to not make that mistake, but it’s no guarantee you won’t. Vigilance is required.

         Toward the end of the class we addressed the opening paragraph:


The two examples given in the previous verse, “this is a pot” and “I am the body” are not examples chosen at random. Each has been selected to represent a sphere of concreteness. To recognize a pot as a concrete reality is a different matter from recognizing one’s own body as a concrete fact. When someone says “I am the body,” the conceptualized body content is construed out of a partial perception of the external form. This arises from their awareness of the response of the external boundary of the body to sensation. Wherever the surface of the skin is in contact with anything which can exert pressure on it, there awareness flows in the “I am” context. Very seldom do we experience the totality of our body boundary.


I recalled how early on Nitya would have us do a meditation where we lay on the floor and he would help us energize our chakras, lightly touching us starting at the toes and working to the crown and back. He would supply the Sanskrit name for each, and at the end of every cycle have us chant “I am not this body” several times. It got me floating in a state of blissful neutrality that lasted a long time. Here, though, we are invited to meditate on the opposite: “I am this body.” For those of us who have lost touch with our bodies by converting them to abstractions, regaining contact is good for us in any number of ways. That’s how yoga works: you involve yourself with each side of a polarity and then unite them in acceptance. Both add something essential.

         Scotty told us about how his confusing childhood of mixed messages drove him to lie under the covers in bed every night, going into a black void of nothingness. Later in counseling he first accepted his void as a containment vessel, which led him to become aware of his body once again. Really aware, as in getting in tune with it. Doing so released his pent up artistic talents, his love of colors and forms, and a kind of synesthesia. This in turn gave him insight into the Zen idea of the space in between the specific details of the object, like a pot for instance.

         Emma also noted the paradoxical nature of body awareness. Becoming fully aware of her body as a reality and not simply a concept taken for granted released her from the oppressive identities that young women especially are subjected to. She described it as being dissociated, but I think she meant free-flowing, unrestrained. Unoppressed. It was the regained association with her bodily being that freed her to let go and expand. She recalled music concerts where she felt at one with everyone present. This led to a sharing of communal musical experiences that all of us in the class have enjoyed, honoring the liberating power of music of all stripes.

         The appreciation of so many different musical forms is an apt analogy for how we could be equally thrilled by the intriguing varieties of humanness that have evolved in geologically short order on our beautiful planet. Should we be thrilled or recoil in horror? Those of us who have adopted the former option thank our lucky stars that we have avoided the negative emotions bound up with the other. “If music be the food of love, play on!”


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         Because the body, pot, cloth, house, etc., each have a discrete specific status qualified by specificity in reference to each other, such items of consciousness are called specific. The body is specified by the differences implied in such ideas as pot, cloth, house, etc. The cloth is specified by the differences implied in such ideas as body, pot, house, etc. Thus, each object has a discrete status of its own. Therefore, the consciousness of such is called specific. Such items as I, this, that, etc., are called generic because they do not specifically distinguish such items as, body, pot, cloth, house etc., so, they do not refer to their discrete individuality. For each of the four such as gross, subtle, etc., there are the generic and specific aspects to be considered.


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in case anyone feels like sharing their thoughts.

Scott Teitsworth