Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Seven - Verse Two


Jnana Darsana verse 2


That knowledge modulated as I-consciousness inside,

likewise that which is modulated

as knowledge of thisness outside,

such knowledge is known as the conditioned.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


That which, accompanied by egoism, as if inside

And which again as qualified by thisness

Accompanied by conscious activity, such awareness

Is to be understood conditioned.

         Most people spend their lives trying to accommodate their conditioning, to adjust their orientation to line up with the demands of external reality. Spirituality is based on a different premise, a road less traveled: if we minimize our submission to external demands we may well discover an authentic self that is far less constrictive and much more fun to inhabit. How and why that decision is or is not made is one of the great mysteries of life.

         Nitya epitomizes this course succinctly: “The sole purpose of our present study is to release the mind from all painful conditioning and to lead it to its original state of pure unconditioned consciousness.” Normally this does not come about by accident. Nitya reminds us of what those who are content with their constraints never realize: “It is very important for us to know what these conditions are, how they arise, and how they constitute experiences of pain, pleasure, and indifference.” These three, by the way, are all lumped under the “painful conditioning” of the former sentence. We aren’t just conditioned by pain: indifference and pleasure also condition us, and conditioning is always painful on some level. It restricts our soul.

         Its not like being conditioned is some rare malaise afflicting only the malcontents, it is ubiquitous. Nitya says:


As a matter of fact, all our subjective and objective experiences are conditioned…. Every explicit statement that is made by man in the form of a judgment refers either to his own personal identity and its relation with other things or to the objects of his own experience.


There is cause for hope, however. While we humans are primarily focused on our limitations, both internal and external, this is only a small part of our total being:


It should not be thought that the whole of consciousness is involved in this subjective activity. Only a minute fraction of our unconditioned pure consciousness undergoes modification. Yet even from this fraction arises the infinitely large world of the time-space continuum. Such a world is constituted of millions of names and forms, together with a sequential train of emotionally charged thoughts and willfully deliberated actions.


Nitya steers us clear of any “holier than thou” attitude, which is not going to help. All it will do is make us complacent about our own level of ignorance. Nancy Y. said something about this to the latest Brihadaranyaka Upanishad study group, that Nitya had taught that too much preoccupation with one’s “right dharma” was an ego trip. The ego, of course, is always eager to co-opt every endeavor. Nitya’s assessment should disabuse us of any chance for that happening (don’t we wish!), since we are all in the same pickle:


The most brutishly ignorant man who, in addition to ignorance, suffers from the excruciating physical pain of some dreadful disease, and the philosopher-seer of the most sublime vision, meditating on the Absolute, are equally subject to the conditioning of consciousness. Whether a person is saying “this is a pot,” or “I am the Absolute,” there is no substantial difference in the conditional aspect of consciousness.


As Deb said, we are not just trying to upgrade the kind of conditioning we suffer from, but to do away with it entirely. I myself don’t see anything wrong with upgrading, so long as it doesn’t distract you from the hard work of critical self-examination. Upgrading our attitudes can come as a byproduct of letting go of flawed beliefs that support conditioning. But if we focus on it exclusively, the goal will recede from us forever.

         I repeat this every week in the class in one form or another, with minimal effect. Conditioning is comfortable, and change is uncomfortable. That’s why you have to really mean it to break out of a static mindset. Plus, the older we get the more fixed in our ways we become. Waiting until late in life to make a spiritual sortie is like waiting until the language center of the brain shuts down to begin learning a foreign language. But life is so busy we figure we’ll just take it up later, like after retirement. Hmmm.

         Working our way through the Jnana Darsana gives us an opportunity to make a serious dent in our voluntary conditioning. To aid our progress, Nitya offers another important insight into why we become attached to our experiences:


Even though the object in question is experienced as a factor external to the self, the joy or aversion generated by it is experienced internally. When we experience an external object, a number of subjective questions arise to keep the mind busy with modifications of consciousness, mainly of a conceptual nature. It is in this way that concepts and percepts become conditions (upadhi) capable of creating states of consciousness.


One rather baffling idea was never addressed, as we slipped into a deep meditation at the end of the hour instead. It follows this assertion that conditioning creates our states of consciousness:


In addition to concepts and percepts there arise in the mind factors of affectivity or value. Some of these value factors are conceptual qualities; others come in the form of relationships.


Concepts and percepts are horizontal interests, and value affectivity is a vertical negative quality. I wonder what Nitya means by the relationships these generate? Conceptual qualities are our deep-seated beliefs that undergird our thinking, but relationships tend to be secondary: we relate to people and aspects of the world like art and music in accordance with our development. Our conscious choices are horizontal, while the vertical impels us without our being especially aware of it. My best guess here at what is meant is that these unconscious impulses create and draw us into our relationships, which are the arenas where we have the most opportunity for challenges and growth.

         Our brains evolved for hundreds of millions of years to assess every aspect of our environment as to whether it was lethal or not. One false move and you were lunch. Now we are trying to progress to a level of existence where more than survival can be taken into account. The safer our lives are, the better our chances at turning our attention to more sublime interests than “Is it going to kill me?” But fear is very profitable for many people. In the words of cartoonist Dan O’Neill that always ride with me, “Politics is business as usual: making money out of fear.” War and conflict are the best ways to pick peoples’ pockets in a big way. No penny ante stuff there! The point is, our default setting is obsession with the external world, and even though we now have safe zones where we could let go of our fears, we seldom do. Now that our walls quite literally do have ears, paranoia about what might be going on at the NSA deftly replaces the Tyrannosaurus Rex outside the cave.

         It is little wonder that Karl Jaspers was beloved of both Nitya and Nataraja Guru. In Reason and Existenz, a collection of public lectures given in Holland in 1935, he gives a clear accounting of conditioning and its relation to his term for the Absolute, the Encompassing:


Our knowledge of objects in the world has the form of relating them to one another and deriving them from one another. What appears to us is understood by understanding its relation to something else. But where, in philosophizing, we are concerned with the Encompassing, it is clear that we are dealing with something which cannot be understood like some object in the world; more especially, we find that the modes of the Encompassing cannot be derived from some particular which appears in them. For example: if we call the Encompassing thought, we cannot derive thought itself from anything which can be thought of. Or if the Encompassing is our consciousness, it cannot be derived from anything which appears to this consciousness. Or if it is the Whole, it cannot be derived from any individual, be it ever so comprehensive. Or if it is empirical existence, then as such it can never be derived from any determinate, objectively known empirical thing. If it is reason, then we cannot derive it from the non-rational. Or if it is existence, it cannot be derived from any mode of the Encompassing, let alone one of its contents. In short, our being can never be derived from anything which appears to us; I myself can never be understood through anything which I encounter. (69-70)


This last phrase formed the basis of much of our class discussion. Susan was acutely aware of how her inner narrative and her reactions to the things that captured her attention all the livelong day were not really her. She knew she was much more than these things, much larger. And yet they are what others identify as “us”—even insist are us—and a kind of medium through which we are constrained to relate to the world. She feels painfully constricted by this. To a remarkable degree, even we ourselves have bought into the ersatz person we appear to others to be. I believe that recognizing the limiting nature of our inner narrative and self-identity is one of the most crucial steps in spiritual development. And as Jaspers says, we cannot discover our true selves through our conditioning. The best we can do is become aware of the vast emptiness that surrounds—encompasses—the ceaseless chatter of our everyday habits. To move into that we have to move out of our boxes.

         I suggested that for anyone caught in reactivity, meditation should take the form of interrupting their obsessions. Sit quietly without being impinged upon by any sensory stimuli, and as ideas pop into your head, set them aside. Tell them to wait. You can get to them later. It helps to know what Susan is realizing, that all that junk—even the high-quality junk—is not who we are in full. We are much more amazing than that. In guided meditations Nitya would often repeat, “I am not this body…. I am not this mind….” It helps you to sink to a quiescent depth that is most enthralling. Deep down we really do love peace and “surcease of sorrow,” especially if we don’t have to die to achieve it.

         Nancy agreed, saying that when you do meditate, it is an effort to bring in a less conditioned state. Calm yourself; don’t just react. As we become comfortable in that place, we can rejoin the flow of life and enjoy how splendid it is.

         Deb mentioned waking up and not knowing who or where she was for a brief time. It is a great place to linger in. Again, she has learned this gradually. Like everyone she used to wake up and “pull herself together.” Here’s who I am and what I have to do. But giving yourself a pause before rejoining the fray makes a world of difference. Nitya recommended this to many of us.

         Is it possible to look at something and not identify it? Ideally the artistic vision interrupts the urge to name and codify what is seen. Which is why I seldom use the audio recordings museums now offer to explain their displays. I want to look first without telling myself what the artifacts are supposed to be, and when I do that I often see something quite different and quite moving. Doing this in “real” life outside of museums allows you to see what the situation has to offer rather than what your fears about it are.

         Deb recalled Bushra coming to grips with a potentially life-threatening illness, realizing after some time that everything she had been anticipating never happened. The actual course of events was always different that she thought it would be. In my 2/3 of a century of life, nothing has ever turned out as I expected, rarely even close, so I have given up expecting also.

         This idea resonated with Nancy. She has learned that letting herself experience loss and embrace it, instead of trying to deny it, frees her to be less upset. The problem isn’t going to play out they way you think. Like Bushra, she accepts how to face it in order to walk through it. If we listen to what it is instead of what we are afraid it will be, the story is seldom so terrible. This brought to mind one of Nitya’s greatest moments in That Alone, which I have clipped into Part II to amplify Nancy’s insight.

         Susan knew just what this meant. Her beloved dog Sam is nearing the end of his life, and she woke up in the middle of the previous night worried and miserable. She got into a really desperate place, but then realized she was imagining all sorts of things that might never happen or at any rate would not happen in the way she imagined. Then she could relax and get back to sleep.

         I reminisced about the time when I stood outside a fundamentalist Christian church, trying to engage its members in a dialogue about the US’s use of torture, which last I checked was by no means a Christian virtue. Conditioned by hate radio and their vitriolic preachers, not one would speak with me. As a lifelong pacifist, I am kindly inclined, but the few who shouted at me refused my invitation, claiming they knew all about me. I was the devil incarnate, out to destroy them and everything they held dear. I was a mean, hateful person. Their conditioning did not allow them to learn the least bit about me or my ideas. When it gets to that level, conditioning is fatal. There is almost no chance of emerging from something you so passionately embrace. The few I met were no better than barking dogs. Their job was to bark, not to listen or allow themselves to be petted.

         Much of the class time was spent exuberantly recounting ways each person’s conditioning was dissipated by the unspooling of unanticipated events. It was our premise that if you set aside your preconceived notions and watched closely, you would experience things more as they really are. There would be Newness. Since the brain compares the present with past recollections, we routinely convert new experiences to old hats. That’s why we love surprises: they temporarily wrest us free from our habitual dullness. Then we explain them to ourselves and go back to sleep. Anyway, Moni especially told a long tale of unexpected happenstance, laughing gaily at the retelling. Newness can even give us a welcome jolt in memory form, it seems.

         I expect this all sounds like familiar territory, as it should. Yet we are good at nodding in agreement with nice ideas while never actually taking ourselves to task. We might well ask, Why am I acceding to my conditionings if doing so is spoiling my enjoyment of my life that is flying by so swiftly?

         Twice recently I tested whether the wise are as conditioned as the ignorant. At a dinner gathering the night before and at the pre-class conclave of tea and cookies, both of which were brimming with kind and loving thoughts and mutual support, I brought up the name of Trump. Very quickly the closeness was ruptured, and each person retreated into a set of well-hashed-over fears and projections. In the case of the dinner, it was soon time to go home. With the class, we could repair the damage by changing the focus and sitting again in amity. (This, by the way, is a fine example of an ungraded habit—time spent in group contemplation of high ideals becomes progressively easier to re-enter on the next occasion.)

         At no time in the Trump discussion was I able to say what I had planned, it was all swept aside by the tide of pre-existing ill feelings. There was precious little interchange, just grandstanding. So it looks like Nitya is right, we are all conditioned. Moreover, a guy like Trump loves, absolutely loves, to make millions of people miserable without having to soil his shoes walking over them. Liberals, women, minorities—fantastic! They are all suffering, and he and his buddies are revelling in it. So our conditioning is not only damaging us, it is pumping up the world’s most famous blowhard and his minions of marching morons. Seems like that by itself should be enough incentive to take Narayana Guru seriously.

         Our vertical impulses have brought us to the metaphorical feet of a great guru who can help us wriggle out from under our oppressions. Can we dare to give it a try? Susan’s awareness of being much greater than the sum of her parts is heartening evidence that we are learning, slowly yet surely, despite our woeful susceptibility to distractions.

         We closed with a lovely, long meditation, as practice for giving ourselves space all the time. A glorious evening, unlike any other in the history of the universe, embraced us outside the door.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         The conditioning of awareness consists of function and activity. This functioning has been already stated in chapter V, where it is present with its own specific and generic aspects, and with subtle and gross differences. Beginning from awareness of outside objects such as “this is a pot,” “this is a cloth,” and likewise to awareness of inner “objects” such as “I am the Absolute,” all functions are to be included within the scope of the varieties mentioned above. All functional activities are the conditionings of that one awareness, which treats them as objects of consciousness. This awareness, although in reality independent of conditionings when functionally referring to corresponding “objects,” is called conditioned awareness.


*         *         *


         That Alone’s verse 30 deals with pain beautifully, but this is my favorite, from the end of verse 55:


         On certain occasions in my life when I had a physical or mental affliction, I took the opportunity for the meditative purpose of evaluating the actual pain, the actual agony to which the body or mind was subjected. I quietly watched the body’s pain and wrote descriptions of exactly how I felt it to be painful. Immediately there came a psychological turnover of my interest from the pain itself to the norms of pain, intellectually conceived. That made the pain already a phantom.

         The pain became less painful because my interest was of a critic making a critique of it. When you become a critic of your own pain, half of it goes away. Then you question whether the other half is real, because the first half already left. This is even more poignant when you are in an angry state and you make a journal of your anger. The bulk of the anger immediately dies down and becomes even humorous. You pose as the angry person and make a caricature of your anger. It becomes so satirical of your own state of mind that you see yourself as a big fool to get angry like that. There is so little content in it. It is blown all out of proportion. Once you see this, the whole thing leaves you and you wonder, “What is this thing called my anger? What is this thing called my pain? What are these things called my excitement, my sense of fame, my sense of importance?” All of it is reduced to an evenness. Somehow, up to now you have not cultivated that acumen. You can try it and see what kind of difference it makes.

Scott Teitsworth