Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Five - Verse Seven


Bhana Darsana, verse 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.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


`I am the Absolute’ - Thus what consciousness attains

Is praised as the (consciousness) of the Absolute

Here the element `I’ is the generic

(And) Absolute is its specific attribute.


         I’m sure you’re all thinking: “turiya—at last!” We have taken a year and a half and over half of the book to finally arrive where we have always wanted to be. What was that all about?

         Getting to this point is a mystery that is generally left out of popular spiritual explorations. We want to think we’re already there, that it’s all taken care of by our betters. Unfortunately the default setting this dumps us back into is the well-constructed neurology of our brain, and in order to rewire it to permit greater openness we have to first deconstruct its fixity and then rebuild it as a universal, less-impeded operating system. As noted in previous classes, we are wrapping up the deconstruction half of Darsanamala to regain the freedom that we have unwittingly surrendered in order to be well-oiled cogs in the wheel of society. We can revel in our deconstructed freedoms for a bit, but then in the second half we will be rewiring a brain designed to better suit our adult needs: instead of playing defense as vulnerable, unsure grown-up children, we can go on offense as dynamic, empowered citizens of the world we live in.

         It’s better to not take our damaged psyches with us into adulthood, because those traumas produce the exact kinds of hostile dementia currently running wild in the public spheres of many nations. The gurus want to cure us first, so we may run wild with peace, love, joy and compassion instead. It’s worth a try, anyway.

         Since the fourth category of consciousness, the transcendental, is the witness of the other three, we minimized wrestling with it and took the opportunity to give our minds a rest, on the assumption that if we can be mentally equipoised, only the turiya will be operating. Nitya gives us an excellent summary of the mysteries of the fourth:


The fourth state is called the witness of the other three states. If a state is to be witnessed, then the witnessing consciousness should also be present in that state. The consciousness that is present in the wakeful, dream and deep sleep states cannot be treated as a consciousness separate from those states. It cannot be classified as the fourth in the sense in which the wakeful can be differentiated from the dream state. Even so, the nature of what is termed in this verse as the fourth is at variance with the functional qualities of the other three states. The fourth state is treated therefore as a part and as the whole. It is the whole because it is present in all experiences. It can be termed as a part only for the methodological purpose of contrasting its positive, vertical character with the negativity of deep sleep, and with the horizontality of the dream and wakeful experiences.


Nitya reinforces the neutrality needed to allow the turiya to prevail:


What we are discussing here is not what people arrive at with the aid of techniques. The prop in the previous verse was described as shouting to the unknown for a response, and the response coming from the mysterious depths of the unknown. In the present verse any such kind of bipolarity is given up.


In order to counteract the partisan approach where the transactional world is considered inimical to the freedom of turiya, which is quite common in spiritual circles, Nitya reminds us that our freedom must be integrated with the inevitable demands of managing our lives effectively:


Philosophers attempt to establish the verity of this elusive truth by piling hypothesis upon hypothesis. Yet the experience given to us here is not amenable to the conclusiveness of logic. Here we have to shift our camp from the well-systematized and neatly structured world of the logician to the awesome, silent, and mysterious world of the mystic. And we must do this without losing touch with the plain world of natural common sense.


         Speaking of losing touch with common sense, Nitya starts his talk off reminding us that mathematical (and other) representations of reality, while useful, are also not the same as what they represent. While it should be obvious that the map is not the territory, it is common sense that is being drained from modern perception, and Nitya is calling on us to not lose touch with the source of our similes and metaphors. He continues:


Arithmetical integers are only artificially created semantic symbols to be applied in the transactional world for the purpose of categorization and classification. A thing-in-itself is what it is: it is not a mathematical entity. Either there is only a nondifferentiated reality, or every unit is unique – so unique that it cannot be treated as a substitute if all the aspects of its uniqueness are compared and contrasted with those of another. Therefore there are not two and two anywhere, to equal four. Such a statement may seem absurd to those who are familiar with mathematical tools – a familiarity, by the way, which helps to make our everyday life coherent. Without the means to translate the visibles into terms of the calculables, we cannot communicate to one another even the simplest of things and events which enter our lives.


I read out another quote from Harari’s book Sapiens (op. cit. Harper, 2015) where he exalts the trend to substitute mathematical approximations for what were once considered actual entities:


More and more students are motivated—or forced—to study mathematics. There is an irresistible drift towards the exact sciences—defined as ‘exact’ by their use of mathematical tools. Even fields of study that were traditionally part of the humanities, such as the study of human language (linguistics) and the human psyche (psychology), rely increasingly on mathematics and seek to present themselves as exact sciences. Statistics courses are now part of the basic requirements not just in physics and biology, but also in psychology, sociology, economics and political science.

   In the course catalogue of the psychology department at my own university, the first required course in the curriculum is ‘Introduction in Statistics and Methodology in Psychological Research’. Second year psychology students must take ‘Statistical Methods in Psychological Research’. Confucius, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad would have been bewildered if you told them that in order to understand the human mind and cure its illnesses you must first study statistics. (258-9)


This is part of a paean to “progress” though science in Harari’s book, and there is no indication of what might be missing in such an approach. That balancing factor is precisely what we attempt to offer in the Gurukula classes. As Nitya indicates, such transactional-level studies do have definite value, but they are by no means the whole story. So we do not decry the employment of mathematically assessed studies, but we do decry that truly humanistic attitudes—which are essential to the creation of responsible and independent-minded citizens—are no longer seen as of measurable value and are therefore unimportant.

         Nitya opens his exegesis with mathematical heresy: “To say that two plus two equals four could be as incorrect as saying that two plus two equals three: yet it would be correct to say that the sum can be seven, or fifteen, or any other number.” One of E.E. Cummings’ poetry books is titled Is Five for the same reason.

         Nitya and E.E. are perfectly right: there are not any two things anywhere that are identical. Yet it is a useful presumption to imagine we can lump things together, and without doing so we are fairly helpless in a transactional sense. Certain shaky assumptions are necessary to enable communication. What is seldom grasped is how much is left out in such thinking. We want to always remember the sovereign individuality of what those endless ciphers stand for, of the magnificence of the living beings that are reduced to scribbles on a screen in order to manipulate them. We are much more than pawns on a chessboard.

         I asked the class to explain why Nitya describes vasanas—incipient memories—as negative. In the West, negative is a pejorative term, but not in Vedanta. It is just as likely to be high praise. Deb correctly affirmed that vasanas are negative because they limit the totality of the Absolute. Susan cleverly compared their negativity to the idea that 2 + 2 = 4, since the numbers and their functions are constrained out of their infinite potential to one very simple formula. In this perspective both addition and subtraction are negative—take that, mathematicians! Paul connected this up with purnam, the fullness we chant about at the end of every class. If we remove an armload of substance from the fullness, it remains full, and likewise if we add extra fullness back in, it is similarly unchanged. How could fullness mean anything else?

         So we humans arbitrarily set up norms and standards that don’t precisely match anything. We assume our definitions and rules actually correspond with reality, because they align nicely with our simplistic reasoning. Yet we don’t have to look very far to see that this dehumanizing objectivization is having a corrosive effect on many people’s attitudes. We expect people to measure up to our abstractions, and at the same time something in us rebels at being treated as a machine, or in any case as a predetermined set of variables.

         I felt that Narayana Guru reverses my expectations with his wording of the verse:


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

         and “Absolute” is the specific.


Shouldn’t the Absolute be the generic, and ‘I’ the specific? In a sense that’s true, but in the Bhana Darsana Narayana Guru has posited the ‘I’ as the generic element in all four states. Since consciousness is the ground of existence, the ‘I’ in its ultimate sense is the Absolute. Then in each state, the ‘I’ focuses on certain specifics. Listed in order from wakeful to turiya, they are: body, mind, ignorance, and the Absolute. This is a subtle teaching in its own right. We readily identify with our body, mind and ignorance, so why do we separate ourselves from the Absolute? Why do we leave that out? It’s just as much who we are as the other three states. Yet we have been trained to regard it as “not us,” and so it becomes foreign. The primary hub of all of Vedantic teaching is aimed at restoring this core awareness to those of us who have been conned into believing we either never had it or lost it long ago.

         Paul summed it up quite nicely: We don’t have to learn how to think—we just need to let the game play out. It’s much easier said than done, however, due to our conditioning.

         Nitya was terrific at describing the various types of realized or spiritualized people, and the turiya verse is the perfect place to include more of it. I’ll reprint the two main ones from his commentary, as they underscore the essential aspect of existence that is not amenable to mathematical modeling in any meaningful way. As Nitya maintains, we aren’t presenting these as arguments in favor, they are natural states that we actualize by living intelligently and keeping in yogic balance. We aren’t advocating them, we are letting them happen of their own accord:


Another model is that of one whose actions are not motivated by any personal gain whatsoever. The good of all is recognized as the collective goal of all sentient beings. When all one’s thoughts and activities are directed to the actualization of the general good, such a person is freed from the dictates of the social ego. In such a case he attains the status of a man of unitive action, which makes him a karma yogi.

   There is also the model of one who is overawed by the beauty of this wonderful universe, and overawed, too, by the cosmic phenomena of systems complementing systems and laws regulating laws. In every atom of the universe and in all the coordination of the world order, such a person sees the one supreme God and is overjoyed that he is also a part of that creation. Such a notion restores him to his divine heritage. The result is that he feels in his very being the magnanimous benevolence of his Lord. In every impulse he experiences a divine passion to glorify his Lord through the offering of his personal contribution, however small it might be, in the form of sharing his love with and caring for everyone, and in making himself a divine tool. This makes him a true devotee, or bhakta.

   In all such models the supreme consciousness is certainly present. As a result, the transactions of the wakeful life and the visions of the dream life become permeated with the beauty, sweetness, fragrance, and inexpressible bliss that truly belong to the Absolute.


Paul often praises the mind of infants, with their purity and openness, as excellent models of freshness of mind. Along the same lines, Susan is currently regaling us with brief videos of her deuce of a nephew, Ace, giggling, chattering and just on the verge of his first word. His good cheer is contagious! It doesn’t have to be explained, as we instantly understand it without any words. For Jan, another model of excellence is the poet W.S. Merwin, who writes so beautifully of the wonder of merging with nature. He currently exemplifies the process at the end of a long life where we gradually shed our sophistication and return to a childlike state. Framing senescence that way might take some of the fear out of it.

         One of the corollaries of this line of thought is that we should forgive ourselves our own trespasses, along with those of others. Our societies, particularly those under the influence of the Semitic religions, employ fear as the primary incentive. We act as we do because we are threatened with various excruciating types of perdition. Vedanta realizes that we are always partial beings embodying a mixture of ignorance and wisdom, and it asks us to accept both. We should not crave wisdom and reject our shortcomings. Being lopsided won’t save us from anything. We should laugh at our blunders as being good theater, and be reminded by them of other people’s vulnerabilities. It’s all okay. We aren’t going to hell. Our doom is not sealed. Life will continue to amaze and befuddle us as long as the last synapse fires.

         Paul recalled Nitya saying there are essentially only two things to fear: death and public humiliation. Death is a hard one to practice for, but we can reduce our status anxiety by accepting ourselves for what we are rather than for what we think other people expect us to be. They probably don’t anyway, but even if they do they aren’t likely to be mean-spirited about it. So relax!

         One of the free bonuses of working as a firefighter is the opportunities it affords to practice facing death. Paul told us of a time when he was in the dive rescue team searching for a drowned high school student in the Willamette River. At one point his lifeline got tangled in a submerged coil of wire, and it looked like he might not be able to get back to the surface before his air supply ran out. Of course he felt a jolt of fear, but he recalls also going into a witnessing state that was detached from that poor fellow facing his immanent demise underwater. That’s precisely where we need to be when the end rushes up to us—not identifying with the soon-to-be corpse, but with the eternal depth of our greater being, watching the drama with great calmness. Undoubtedly because he stayed calm, Paul was able to disentangle himself from the wire, return to the ocean of air we so take for granted, and eventually find his way to our supportive Gurukula studies.

         There was so much more in our sharing. Even a simple class like this brings out so much from everyone! I have to stop, though. I apologize. My head hurts, mainly from excess of your love—all that heartfelt beingness of everyone’s input makes my little walnut brain feel like it’s about to burst. Be well!


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary is much better than his average:


In the case of contemplative yogis or mystics in their state of perfect samadhi (contemplative calmness) which is still conditioned by mental activity, what is experienced in the form of identity with the Absolute as a further state beyond the state of causal ignorance is what is here referred to as Absolute consciousness. Although the Absolute cannot actively enter our conditioned consciousness, still in the case of those yogis who constantly engage themselves in the meditation of the Absolute, when they attain to a state of identification with the Absolute, they experience a consciousness in the form of ‘I am the Absolute’. The Absolute consciousness comes into evidence only when the natural dispositions (vasanas) of the senses and the consciousness of ‘I am ignorant’ belonging to the state of deep sleep have become weakened. The ‘praise’ alluded to here is used in connection with this state in order to extol its value as a desirable or significant spiritual goal. All varieties of consciousness are to be understood as comprised within the scope of the four states of consciousness beginning from the simple ones like that of the pot which is in the common experience of any person, and finally ending with the supreme experience given to the yogi in the form of consciousness of ‘I am the Absolute’. There is not anything higher than this last state even for the most advanced man of spirituality. In this last stage we have also to distinguish that the ‘I’ is common to all individuals while the specific attribute of the Absolute is of an individual character pertaining only to specially qualified yogis.


*       *       *


         I feel that at one point Nitya was repeating an old saw of Indian orthodoxy that he later revised more in the light of Narayana Guru’s wisdom, and I made a slight clarification. Here’s the part that made me uncomfortable:


In these models the ego center is not surrounded by any thick cloud of socially-colored relativistic attachment or hatred. The ego of such people is like a roasted seed which no longer has the potency to germinate. No ego boundary exists to separate the “I” or “me” from the “other”. For such people there is no other; the spirit center is functioning as the ego center. There is, however, the retention of memory for the purpose of orientation.


         The ego/roasted seed thing is a familiar cliché in Vedanta, but the revised version we are familiar with from Atmopadesa Satakam is that we are not trying to do away with the ego, but to make it just the right size, neither too big or too small. Too big and we get megalomaniacs; too small (which is much more common) and we get a laundry list of resentments and violent reactions. The ego as Nitya later understood it is a place-marker for us as individuals, with a meaningful role to play as the final arbiter of our behavior. In any case, trying to completely do away with it usually morphs into a perverse ego ploy that winds up actually enlarging it in unhealthy ways. If we balance our mind with yoga, the ego can assume its rightful place easily enough. This is not really different from the ego center becoming spiritualized as a spirit center, and Nitya’s commentary goes on with a true and beautiful description of the result of normalization of the ego. Jan loved this enough to read it out again for our delectation:


The great love of the Self for itself, or to be more precise, the natural abundance of bliss generated by the union of the existentiality of the persona with the all-pervading awareness of bliss, finds the spirit center to be like a floodgate through which the unlimited joy of the Self can be channeled towards all sentient beings. This naturally assigns to such blessed souls the role of guiding, spiritually nourishing, and ultimately saving whomsoever comes under the influence of their attention.


Part III


         Dipika sent something about a holiday I never heard about before. This year it was on Monday, March 13. One of the great things about India is that there are so many cultures participating that pretty much every day is a holiday for some group or other. Party on! Dips writes:

To many Hindus, Holi festivities mark the beginning of the new year as well as an occasion to reset and renew ruptured relationships, end conflicts and rid themselves of accumulated emotional impurities from the past.

  It is the festive day to end and rid oneself of past errors, to end conflicts by meeting others, a day to forget and forgive. People pay or forgive debts, as well as deal anew with those in their lives.

May you all join us & feel the lightness of being this festival imparts.


*       *       *


         And Susan drew connections between her new piano studies and her old Gurukula studies:


While reading over your notes, I couldn’t help but think about my new piano teacher and what she is helping me to discover. She has an unusual approach to the piano that I have never experienced before and it seems to have much less to do with logic than other methods I have experienced in my life. The result of working with her even for such a short time (just one month now) is that I feel that I am swimming and bathing in the music instead of just watching it pass by at a distance. Huge difference. She asked me to demonstrate how I practiced a piece. I started looking at the notes on the page and working hard to make my fingers find them. She stopped me after an excruciating few moments and asked if I ever approach a piece from a place of feeling the music — playing the notes and thinking about the sound that is produced and how it feels. I had never considered that! Once I work through a piece and maybe memorize it, only then do I get to the emotional part. It can be so wonderful! But this was a whole new idea — finding sound and emotion at the very beginning. My teacher is also giving me new ways to move that make it so my elbows and shoulders aren’t in pain. I almost stopped playing completely because of injuries. But now I am discovering ways to play that help to get to the beautiful flow of the music and don’t make me hurt along the way. One such idea is to make sure that I play each note all the way to the key bed (the solid board that lies under the span of the 88 keys of every piano). This is not only great for the piano but it is a helpful metaphor for my life. I didn’t realize that pressing each key down to the bed was necessary or desirable or that it made any difference. I was just trying to get through a piece and so if pushing the key part way down seemed to do the trick then all the better because I could make my way to the next note that much more quickly. Boy was I surprised and pleased to discover right away that when I played a piece with the key bed in mind, everything sounded better and fuller. I was aware of sound and not just mechanics. I also now delight in taking the time with each note. In life I go from one thing to the next as quickly as possible sometimes, trying to get through the items on my never ending to do list, never touching down. With this idea of the key bed I can see how it is important to be present in each experience, something we have often discussed in class. Something I apparently need to learn over and over again!

Scott Teitsworth