Nitya Teachings

Home | Overview | My First Book | My Second Book | Gurukula Books | Book Introductions | Bhagavad Gita | Hercules | Magazine Articles | Misc. Articles | Class Notes - 2004 to 2012 | Class Notes - That Alone | Class Notes 2015 to 2018 | Lynx
Darsana Six - Verse Eight

6/6/17

Karma Darsana verse 8

 

From the unmodulating Self,

and not another, the six aspects –

existence, birth, growth, change,

deterioration, and extinction – happen here.

 

Nataraja Guru’s translation:

 

Here (in this visible world) as what exists, is born,

Grows, transforms, decreases and attains its end,

Is subject to six forms of becoming,

Is no other than the actionless Self.

 

         Without Nitya’s pointed directives, it would be easy to miss the significance of this simple seeming verse, which sketches out the radical orientation basic to Vedanta as well as contemplatives everywhere. The commentary begins by reducing the proposition to the bare minimum:

 

When we look at our own life on earth we can easily recognize the six phases mentioned by the Guru: existence, birth, growth, change, decay and extinction. These changes are true of consciousness as well as the physical organism. Thus the worlds of the macrocosm, the microcosm, and of subjective phenomena all belong to the same order of change and transformation. However, these changes are of a relativistic order. All changes occur within the changeless substratum. When we examine the changes experienced within the range of consciousness, we find them all to be modulations of the same consciousness.

 

You could call the changeless substratum many things: God, the Absolute, Nature, the All, Reality, and so on, but consciousness serves quite well, as Narayana Guru has already amply demonstrated.

         It is certainly possible to live unaware of the interconnectedness of everything, as many people do, because ignoring it does not make it go away. It continues to support everything. Facing up to it would be irrelevant if such ignorance didn’t lead to endless misery and disasters. If we want to steer clear of those, however, the open secret is to discern how everything fits together as a whole.

         I’ve included excerpts from a conservative op-ed writer addressing this very issue in terms of current politics, in Part II. There is no great mystery in this, except the leap from speculative ideas into visceral realization is rarely made and brings the whole picture to life. Absent such a happy accident, we can learn much from listening to one who has accomplished it, as we are presently doing. Humans are very good at living by ideas, whether they are healthy ones or not. In fact most of us are much better at following the herd than discovering things for ourselves. Darsanamala does invite us to invest these salubrious ideas with an inner conviction based on direct experience, if we are willing to make the necessary effort. Nitya reminds us of the process:

 

Earlier we explained how a minute scrutiny of the material world leads us from the concrete to the subtle and from the subtle to the pure subjective notion that can vanish in the transcendental. In the present verse the Guru is preparing our minds to enter the pure realms of wisdom, doing so without ignoring the possibilities of action being experienced both within our minds and outside our bodies – in the mind as the clash and conflict of interests; outside the body as the movements of harmonious and discordant combinations resulting in union, congregation, or catastrophe.

 

Because of the potential for catastrophe, Nitya further reduces the outlines to a single sentence:

 

For those who seek the liberation of Self-realization, the verticalizing of their tendencies is an inevitable discipline they must undergo.

 

I asked those present how they understood “verticalizing their tendencies.” Most of the responses were predominantly negative, because humans have a heavy tendency to horizontalize, and obviously you have to alter your focus to stop being obsessed with horizontal demands, which are famous for absorbing your whole attention if given the chance. The immediacy of the horizontal is exactly why it takes effort to turn inward and release the teleological tendencies that are also innate to us. (One of the definitions of teleology in my Random House Dictionary: “the doctrine that phenomena are guided not only by mechanical forces but that they also move toward certain goals of self-realization.”)

         Because the goals we readily recognize are horizontal for the most part, we don’t dare admit the possibility that our unfolding over time is a coherent growth impetus. Where’s the beef? as the famous ad asks. Because of this, our efforts to “improve” may well undermine our natural growth process, being merely about improving our relationship with the horizontal. The point of studies like Darsanamala is to learn to support that vertical spiritual unfolding, instead of quashing it as polite or practical behavior requires. The point is, we are good at restraining the negative, but not so good at freely accentuating the positive.

         So there was a lot of talk about making ourselves disappear that I’m not going to report on. We should have gotten over it by now. Happily, some good examples did come out of our discussion.

         Paul brought up the dualistic attitude of religion, and the way the vertical idea of God is used to squelch the individual spirit and impose conformity, which turned out to be a perfect opening to our discussion. In that perspective, the person wants to “get right with God” or otherwise attain to an exalted state, but the framing is of a series of horizontal rules that they must live by. Do this and get this result. For most people it creates a permanent state of inferiority and cuts off the vertical aspect quite effectively. But it could be verticalized. The goal is the same: aligning with the divine or what God wants. How does that differ from learning unitive reasoning and unitive activity? It doesn’t. At least it doesn’t have to. First you need to realize that the rules laid down in a particular scripture are not in themselves perfect, which is already a blasphemy. Living by rules is the antithesis of living freely, and life does not have to be a game where we are constrained to follow orders. Buying into that is a successful deception perpetrated by powerful slave owners to maintain their perch. Anyway, religion is a prime field to verticalize our tendencies. We should always be moving from bondage to liberation, from subservience to independence, from enmity to community, suspicion to acceptance, and from defensiveness/offensiveness to unitivity. From fear to love.

         A thought of mine moved a small distance from religion to spiritual life. When we start out on a spiritual trajectory we are often motivated by horizontal concerns, like following a given program, doing what we’re told, leading to a successful rebirth or permanent bliss. Am I doing the right thing? As we mature in a spiritual sense—ripen—we will hopefully discover the value of our uniqueness and begin to foster that in a harmonious way. There aren’t many rules for that kind of living. There are a few, but the inhibitions of rules have to be thrown off. We might still follow a tradition, but we don’t have to study the manual all the time.

         I have written recently how we all accept that guiding forces build a child out of a zygote/dot, but once the baby pops out into the world we tend to presume the guidance is terminated. The verse tells us that an innate self-guiding system is present all the way through our lives, from beginning to end. And there may not even be a beginning or end. How would we feel if we acknowledged that kind of guiding presence inside our being? We’d feel verticalized. Part of something trustworthy yet unpredictable, and even incomprehensible.

         Jan caught the same spirit, mentioning the common thread running through all the parts of every life. Being aware of the thread not only diffuses our attachment to individual outcomes, it invites us to adopt a neutral position. And it’s not only neutral, being grounded in a more universal place allows for enhanced creativity. This is a crucial point. Narayana Guru didn’t just cultivate a group of passive followers, he inspired everyone to change the world in all the ways they could see were needed. He taught them successful strategies, and they worked. They were not inhibited by fears of doing it wrong, but carried along by their enthusiasm, which he stoked in word and the example of gentle deeds. In place of condemnation he gave encouragement.

         Deb talked about how a bird doesn’t plan its behavior when it gets up in the morning based on what others expect of it, it just sings its heart out and then goes off to find food. To her, the Guru is trying to take away our sense of identification with our actions, our personal grasp. At least he’s trying to wean us away from our excessive overidentification, but I don’t think he’s trying to turn us into instinctual actors like birds as we understand them. There is a definite role for our type of intelligence, and it is defined as a synthesis of trying and not trying; as Paul quoted the Gita: seeing action in inaction and inaction in action. Simultaneously of course.

         Deb and Nancy Y had just been talking about how when they were young they both thought they had some special calling they would rise to, and they were very anxious that failure was unacceptable. They agreed that Nitya was very clear in disabusing them of this perspective, how incompetent the whole idea of wanting something specific was. He wanted them to see themselves as floating in a river of beautiful manifestation and beautiful disappearance. For Deb, verticalization is simply a matter of letting go of wrong notions.

         Deb and Andy talked about something similar: the urge they felt in their younger years to validate themselves, to prove their worth. It’s something that mitigates with age: a natural verticalization, due to either accomplishing something or giving up trying. I remember on my thirtieth birthday feeling like I had finished climbing a high hill and scrambled out onto a plateau. My conscious thought was that I had arrived and I no longer had to try to prove myself. In Vedanta, everyone’s validity is affirmed by the saying that each of us is the Absolute in essence. Too bad this is not taught in the West, where you are stamped INVALID at birth and spend your whole life trying to make amends for God’s curse.

         Susan expressed it nicely as being fully where you are and loving who you’re with, instead of always longing for something “better.” Thinking we’re sinful and ungodly is the outcome of flawed religious instruction and/or parenting, and it’s terribly hard to shake off. Verticalization is a moving toward a goal of realization of our potential. When the goal is abandoning ourselves to fit into someone else’s tepid image, we have to be very, very careful not to judge ourselves too harshly.

         Susan wondered if verticalization was physical or mental, and I suggested they are not two things. Bill read out the last line of the commentary to show how both go together: “Knowledge or wisdom lies in knowing the secret of the impetus of action and the phantom-like manifestations of the phenomenal world.” It’s both what we do and what we think, and it would be hard for a yogi to draw a line where one ends and the other begins.

         Andy contributed a nice image of a famous Mexican architect whose papers were bought and sequestered after his death. His daughter wanted them released, and was resisted until she took his ashes and had them compressed into a diamond, which is after all only carbon. When she offered the owners of the material the diamond, they made them available. Andy thought it was a fabulous image of being verticalized after death: going from a pile of dust to a magnificent gem. The full story may be read here: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/what-happened-after-mexicos-greatest-architect-was-turned-into-a-diamond. It looks like you can do it too: my search terms produced an ad for a company who will “verticalize” your ashes.

         Paul wanted us to know that verticalization should never be at the expense of the horizontal, and that’s another very good point. We verticalize right in the heart of horizontal matters—they are our opportunity to do so. Realization is not about cutting off the present to live in the future, it’s about “making every moment real enough to love and adore it.” (L&B 422). Again, this is the essence of verticalizing our tendencies: loving them, adoring them even. There are so many horizontal objects and behaviors we despise, and they beckon us to slip into hostility and separation. If we know “the secret impetus of action,” we will be far more likely to treat bad behavior with compassion, if not approval.

         Susan recalled when she used to covet certain musical pieces and collect lots of CDs, which she never listened to. Piling up stuff is the essence of the horizontal. Now she is open to whatever music comes along, and is content with that. A nice example, especially for those like me whose very identity as a teenager was based on liking the right music and despising all others. I still have vestiges of that I’m not willing to surrender, but I allow that everyone has their perfectly valid likes and dislikes, and I certainly don’t feel my identity emerges from my preferences. Many people do, though. It’s well worth thinking about, because we are much more than our learned preferences.

         Bushra talked about the impermanence of everything, which is closely related. We often believe—subconsciously if not consciously—that there are solid, fixed aspects of life that we can count on. We will not sense the subtlety of the one self if we put energy into believing in the validity of a few of the things that come and go. This is another realization that comes easily later in life. For some it brings depression, but with a mystical framing it is more likely to induce exaltation. Impermanence doesn’t mean everything comes to a screeching halt. It keeps on forever, but it does not remain the same. Persistence over time is vertical, the temporary aspect belongs to the horizontal. Verticalizing then means discerning the lasting within the temporary.

         Verticalizing our tendencies does sound like an exotic behavior, but I assured everyone that they do it all the time, whenever they upgrade their attitude about what they are doing. Where the ordinary person is obsessed with horizontal demands, Wordsworth’s “getting and spending,” a yogi minimizes those needs in order to redirect their energies toward high values, however they may conceive them. With an artist it might be perfecting their skills in order to make fine art as an expression of their deepest yearnings, in place of mundane commercial considerations or impressing a client, for instance. In other fields like business, politics, education and so on, it might mean optimizing the benefit to all involved instead of scheming for selfish advantage or even simply guarding your turf. It means loving what you do in place of acting out of despair or hatred, among other horizontally excusable attitudes.

         Nitya suggests that this upgrade doesn’t occur naturally, especially in societies where it is severely downplayed, like ours. This is precisely why the popular idea that doing nothing solves everything is inadequate despite its appeal. It’s hard to believe that people taking on a heavy challenge like the present study, who plot and plan all their lives and have lived with plenty of guidance of all kind, insist that we are wrong to try to verticalize or otherwise spiritualize. I guess it’s one quirk I’ll never understand.

         Perceiving the invisible impulsion of action and being aware that what we see is an internally-generated interpretation of reality rather than reality itself are not default settings, they are intentionally obtained wisdom insights. Moreover, the avoidance of tragic mistakes would seem an ample reason to have faith in our ability to improve ourselves. Sure, we are already perfect, and we aren’t suggesting that being less developed is somehow bad or evil, but that perfection includes an amazing range of talents for making the present perfection even better. The only excuse to not want to verticalize our tendencies would be the belief that everything is just fine as is. To people, animals and ecosystems that are suffering mightily, that could be considered a very callous attitude. Cultivation is another word for verticalizing—crops don’t cultivate themselves, someone has to go out and do it. Nitya says:

 

Unlike the method of repression found in hatha yoga, Narayana Guru adopts here a method which is in agreement with the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita (II: 49-52), where Krishna teaches Arjuna how to transcend action through the cultivation of the unitive way of reasoning. Mere repression of action will produce only inner conflict, and as a consequence more action of the worst kind.

 

Nitya often railed about the repressed pseudo-yogis that abounded in India in his time, each trying to outdo the next in exotic self-repression. In America he would counterbalance this by taking on the overindulgent superficiality of a culture rich in possessions and poor in wisdom insights.

         For those who haven’t yet memorized the Gita, here are the four verses referred to, part of a longer section extolling the central importance of unitive reasoning, and including the first of its major definitions, “yoga is reason in action”:

 

49)         Far inferior is the way of action to the unitive way of reason, Arjuna, resort to reason for final refuge; pitiful indeed are they who are benefit motivated.

 

50)         Affiliated to reason one leaves behind here both meritorious and unmeritorious deeds. Therefore affiliate yourself to the unitive way; yoga is reason in action.

 

51)         By affiliation to unitive reason the wise, transcending birth bondage, renouncing benefit interest, go onward to a state beyond all pain.

 

52)         When your reason has transcended the dross of vagueness, then you attain to that neutral attitude, both in respect of what is to be learnt and what has already been heard.

 

         You may recall that “transcending birth bondage” isn’t about avoiding reincarnation. Rebirth can mean replaying our habitual responses, and a unitive or neutral attitude liberates us from doing the same mediocre things over and over again. Each iteration is then a fresh take. This is a fine time to reprise my favorite gem from Nataraja Guru’s Gita commentary, on VI. 46:

 

         The yogi is greater than men of austerity, and he is thought to          be greater than men of wisdom, and greater than men of          works; therefore become a yogi, O Arjuna.

 

Mere tapas (austerity) as it is known in the field of Indian spirituality, is a severe form of joyless self-discipline. The jnani is a wise man who might at best belong to the Samkhya (rationalist) or Nyaya (logical) philosophical schools, whose life is based on reasoning which generally ends up with sophistications and academic discussions, by themselves dry as dust. Likewise the ritualist tends to become ego-centered and harshly exclusive. Yoga generally understood is both a way of thinking and a way of life. The yogi is a dialectician who harmonizes old in terms of new and vice-versa, and is capable of giving fresh life to arguments which otherwise would be dead or stale. The breeze of a fresh life enlivens the ways of a yogi.

   Each of the types of spirituality referred to here, when they are taken according to a yogic method or theory of knowledge, become, as it were, transmuted. This verse states the superiority of such a yogic way in both practical and theoretical matters.

 

What a great motto to live by: The breeze of a fresh life enlivens the ways of a yogi. You can see how the very structure of the verse presents dialectic or yogic reasoning. Austerity and linear reasoning are the thesis and antithesis, and yoga is their synthesis. Krishna even makes the point clear enough for dummies: “So, Arjuna, you should be a yogi!”

 

Part II

         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:

 

All the things we see in the world are subject to six forms of becoming. All these things subject to transformation are also subject to destruction and, therefore, are unreal. It is only because of the existence of a changeless Self composed of pure existence, that there is a semblance of the reality of things and their transformations. It is by dependence on such a changeless Self that the six transformations are possible. If there is no Self there is no world. It is for this reason that it has been said, the world consists of the Self with its six transformations.

 

*         *         *

 

         Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks has begun to catch on to the horizontalizing tendency of the new American administration, what amounts to the opposite of the verticalizing tendency advocated by the gurus. This is the exaggerated state that sees only the six (or fewer) stages of manifestation and ignores their unifying basis, and it appears guaranteed to produce catastrophe. The following are excerpts from the June 2, 2017 article, titled Donald Trump Poisons the World:

 

This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”

         That sentence is the epitome of the Trump project. It asserts that selfishness is the sole driver of human affairs. It grows out of a worldview that life is a competitive struggle for gain. It implies that cooperative communities are hypocritical covers for the selfish jockeying underneath.

         The essay explains why the Trump people are suspicious of any cooperative global arrangement, like NATO and the various trade agreements. It helps explain why Trump pulled out of the Paris global-warming accord. This essay explains why Trump gravitates toward leaders like Vladimir Putin, the Saudi princes and various global strongmen: They share his core worldview that life is nakedly a selfish struggle for money and dominance.

         It explains why people in the Trump White House are so savage to one another. Far from being a band of brothers, their world is a vicious arena where staffers compete for advantage.

 

In the essay, McMaster and Cohn make explicit the great act of moral decoupling woven through this presidency. In this worldview, morality has nothing to do with anything. Altruism, trust, cooperation and virtue are unaffordable luxuries in the struggle of all against all. Everything is about self-interest.

         We’ve seen this philosophy before, of course. Powerful, selfish people have always adopted this dirty-minded realism to justify their own selfishness. The problem is that this philosophy is based on an error about human beings and it leads to self-destructive behavior in all cases. [He goes on to extol the value of cooperation as an inherent human trait.]

 

Realist leaders like Trump, McMaster and Cohn seek to dismiss this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them.

         By treating the world simply as an arena for competitive advantage, Trump, McMaster and Cohn sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need when times get tough.

 

Scott Teitsworth

rsteitsworth(at)yahoo.com