Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Seven - Verse Eight


Jnana Darsana verse 8


On going near the object to be ascertained

and recognizing, “this is the form of the animal

whose marks have been heard of” – that by which

such knowledge comes is analogy.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


On going near to an object to be ascertained

What, in the form of "this is the animal known by such marks,"

Is the functional basis for certitude,

Is (said to be) analogical awareness.


         In the lead-up to Gurupuja, three venerable friends joined a full contingent of the regulars. We were boosted by Peters M & O and Michael B. For the record, regulars these days (in order of length of service) are: Deb and Scott (began hosting the class in our home in summer 1978), Bill and Nancy (early 1980s), Andy (late 1980s), Moni (2000), Susan (2001), Jan and Paul (2005), Bushra and Karen (2015), Naguib (2016). Quite a family!

         Because the commentary is so short, and due to the surprising reference to the venerable Zen story “The Taming of the Bull,” I added a short chapter called The Wonder of the Guru from In the Stream of Consciousness, where Nitya mentions the story and then is asked about it and spins a somewhat extended version in the Reaction and Review of the chapter. In those days (and for most of the rest of his days) he was eagerly being asked questions great and small, so several of his books (in English notably Stream of Consciousness and his Gita) feature lots of disciple questions and preceptor responses. I have tacked the relevant section into Part II, and highly recommend reading the whole chapter, which is classic Nitya expounding on a few key points of his wise and loving philosophy.

         Briefly, in the Taming of the Bull, a person hears about a special creature—a wild bull—living in the deep forest. He goes in search, and soon finds some footprints, which he follows. They lead him to a creature, and he compares the marks he has been told about with what he has come upon. Eureka, it is the same! He captures the bull and rides it home. When he goes to show it to his fellow villagers, there is no bull there, nor is there any seeker. Nitya adds a few flourishes, but that’s the gist. He would certainly have been familiar with the famous version retold in Paul Reps’ Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. You can read it here:

         Deb recognized the analogical character of the bull story, saying that when we follow footprints, we go from what we know to an unknown place of greater knowledge. Going from a domestic bull to a wild one is having an idea or theory made alive, a concept vivified. It’s not simply learning more stuff, accumulating more knowledge. And then when it all disappears it erases the schism between what we know and have, and the new.

         Deb shared a nice example of what that kind of realization means in practice. Some years back, at the Center Family hippie commune that Nitya often visited, there were once two Swamis along with us, Swami Baskaranya from Singapore and another fellow from the Fiji Gurukula. The latter was utterly out of his comfort zone and quite miserable, while Baskaranya was wholly relaxed. Wherever he went it was like he was in his personal living room. In the identical situation, one man was very ill at ease and trying to hold on to the forms he knew, the other had confidence that whatever came along was just more of heaven, and he was eager to check it out. Both attitudes are of course equally available to us anytime, but there is a world of difference in their effect. Freedom and openness are attainments, by no means our default states, at least as adults.

         I noted that the bull is captured through a struggle, as it initially appears quite threatening, and in Nitya’s words we have to take it by the horns. Paul also noted a subtlety of Nitya’s version, where the bull is tied to a tree on the seeker’s return. Doesn’t this show how we denature the wild world and domesticate it, thus in a way killing it? It would certainly fit with Nitya’s attitude and the point of his commentary. The Zen version only has the bull led by a rope, not tied, but it is the same idea. If you read the Reps version you will also note the East Asian tone as compared to Nitya’s Indian one. There the wild bull is conquered and tamed—its freedom is not the issue. Chapter 5 reads:


The whip and rope are necessary,

Else he might stray off down some dusty road.

Being well trained, he becomes naturally gentle.

Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.


Very un-Indian, eh? At least in our interpretation. While there is something to be said for this domineering approach, most people in our part of the world are overly restrained already, so such strictness might be unduly inhibiting.

         While we often take analogies as reducing reality to a domesticated version of the wild, Bushra suggested that analogies can also lead us to be more open. She gave the example of the word household in Bedouin culture, where it means those who eat together. Whoever you are eating with is part of your household. So the analogy leads you to be more inclusive, at least when you are directed to invite the stranger in for your dinner. It could just as easily go the other way, if you excluded dinner guests so they didn’t become part of your household. But Bushra is right that how we frame these ideas makes a huge difference.

         In Part II you can read about a similar reframing program that Susan has lately undertaken, in her own words. It’s very encouraging, very important. This is not armchair philosophy. Deb also mentioned how Chinese poetry has many shades of meaning because each word or character (letter) conveys shades of meaning depending on its pronunciation. And Andy spoke in visual terms, how a geometrical image like a circle can have many meanings. We cannot say this or that is what a circle means, yet there are circles everywhere demonstrating certain truths of relationship. It is a reverberating image with many meanings. Analogies at their best don’t limit us in any way, they give us fresh opportunities.

         Peter O summed it up, talking about how in our spiritual search from the known to the unknown, analogies can erect contours and limitations on who we think we are. I agreed that our interpretations of our experience should not diminish the meaningfulness of what we are doing, rather they should enhance it. Vedanta is excellent at offering expansive readings of our actions, while taking due cognizance of the ideas that shut us down. We are aiming at feeling fully alive, and our exuberance is the very definition of meaning. Along with what Andy said, meaning isn’t definable, not something that should be canned for resale. It comes when we are able to experience the present and include past ideations only to the extent they enhance our aliveness.

         Nitya addresses the central role of analogy in everyone’s life, as it is the context from out of which we are to reconnect with direct experience. Direct experience is not an analogy. Afterwards, we draw our analogies to affix meaning and permanence to what otherwise would be a pure, unfettered flow. Both are crucial aspects of our lives, but all too often immediate experience is buried in limiting analogies that keep ananda at bay. Nitya first adroitly reminds us of our dependence on interpretations:


Comparison is the most familiar form of logic which we consciously or unconsciously adopt, as much in science as in poetry. As a matter of fact, the entire theme of our conscious life is a continuous deciphering of the immediate present with the aid of antecedent marks of an analogous previous experience. In other words one’s whole life is a continuing series of metaphors and similes.


         Spiritual frameworks are meant to replace constricting beliefs with liberating ones, and Vedanta is particularly astute in doing so. Nonetheless it is important to remember that we are all operating in the same way; we are all limited by the same needs and modes of thinking. Nitya always reined his students in from believing themselves superior to others. He could see how people in every walk of life thought that their way was the best, and looked down on those who did not share their style. The divisions this emphasized were unnecessary and could even become tragic. Narayana Guru does not take sides, but unites all factions by minimizing the differences and generalizing the ways we all think alike. Everyone uses analogies. Nitya writes:


To make a point clear even common folk give examples. All the elaborate performances of experiments in the scientists’ laboratories are nothing but the proof of a postulated hypothesis through the arrangement of an analogous experiment with which the hypothesis can be compared. The poet makes full use of the technique of comparison by devising many metaphors which are simple or intriguing, direct or suggested.


“Becoming spiritual” does not entail turning off our analyzing feature, but according it its rightful place in the total context. In case we imagine we are above analysis, Nitya simply avers, “Inference by analogy or comparison is of extreme importance to a seeker of Self-knowledge.”

         One really important point here is how an analogy is a kind of hypothesis that is confirmed by experimental (living) proof. This dichotomy delineates the continuum between the a priori supposition and the a posteriori confirmation. Most people grow to live primarily in a world of suppositions, with very little confirmation except by other people’s suppositions, making it a house of cards. In Darsanamala study we are aiming to move to another arena entirely, basing our decisions on a confirmed or realized basis. Nitya gently prods us in this direction, saying:


The marks to be ascertained, whether for recognizing the wild bull or one’s true Self, are held before one’s discerning eye and take the form of an a priori notion. An experiment conducted by a scientist is to experience the proof of the assumed hypothesis. In spiritual life also the proof stands squarely on experiment. Then alone does a priori knowledge become ascertained with a posteriori conviction.


We often take experiment to mean playing around with gizmos and trying to demonstrate an idea, but I’m quite sure that to Nitya the connection between experiment and experience was very important. The words even look alike. We experiment with ways of living and record how they work. So it is more direct than its Western version, which is more of an abstraction than a realization. Bill clarified it by saying we experiment with our ideas and analyze them, asking how does it feel? And that is our experience.

         The Stream of Consciousness has a reference to mirroring that will mainly be covered in Part II, and Deb read out a poem of William Stafford called Your Life, where the subject flows into a mirror at the end, but Peter M closed the class with a lovely thought stream of his own on the topic. He quietly put forth that flowing into the mirror occurs when he sinks into silence. Gurus use words, but they mainly use silence. Like a deep ocean, pure consciousness is mirrorlike. Around Guru Nitya he always felt a profound undercurrent of silence, even when he was conversing or working. Peter had to learn to admit that silence into himself. If we know at the beginning the guru principle of silence, even if words are used, we can see how those words emerge from silence. There is guru and disciple, seer and scene, and the coming to be at home in oneself. To return to the radiance of our own equanimity, we can use silence as a steadying force. Aum indeed.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


            A man who has not seen a certain rare animal on being told about it by another who has seen it or on reading about it in a book, when he keeps his mind on the specific characteristic (of the rare animal), i.e. keeping in his mind certain analogous traits between the unseen rare animal and some other familiar animal, if he should then go to the forest where such a rare animal has its habitat and then sees it, he gets a functional form of awareness as indicated by the sentence. “This is the animal having the marks I have heard about.” This kind of awareness resulting under such a circumstance is awareness by analogy.

The word meya means the object to which something is compared. It (i.e. meya) refers to the object which is the referent for the analogy. When we say, gavayam is what resembles a cow, the latter is the referent analogy while the former is a referring abstraction made from the actual cow. We have to understand here that in all cases where the mind operates from the object of analogy to that which it refers, is the awareness to be distinguished as awareness by analogy.


*         *         *


         Here’s the retelling of The Taming of the Bull from In the Stream of Consciousness, including the excerpt from the chapter The Wonder of the Guru that brought it up:


         Finding one’s guru should not be confused with the commonplace event of entering into a contract with a fellow member of your society. The only test and final proof that you have found your guru is life becoming meaningful to you, because what is happening is not at all outside you. The man or woman “out there” is only a mirror of the occasion of your birth.

         When a child is born, the placenta is thrown away. Nobody mounts it on a frame and says, “This is the most benign placenta from which I got the child.” What is important is the emergence of your true Self. You are That, and your Guru is also That. Everything else is to be treated as incidental. This idea is well expressed in the Zen story of “The Taming of the Bull.”



Reaction and Review - #  3


Question: Can you tell us the story of “The Taming of the Bull”?

Response: The idea of canceling out the seeker and the sought in the seen is typical of Zen philosophy. In “The Taming of the Bull” a man hears of a spectacular bull living deep in the jungle. He goes in search of it. After beating the bush for a long time he notices some footprints. Carefully examining the prints, he infers “There must be some animal around here that makes these kinds of marks.” He follows the footprints deeper and deeper into the jungle. Soon he sees some movement in the foliage, and knows that his quarry is getting closer. Creeping in that direction, he comes upon the rear end of the bull. He thinks, “At last, I have found it!” To have a better look he circles around to the front. To his horror, the bull suddenly charges at him. He realizes his search will cost him his life, so he takes the bull by horns. It’s a long and desperate fight, but the bull is ultimately conquered and the man climbs on its back. After another long journey, he finally succeeds in bringing the bull home and tying it to a tree. He is so proud to show off his prize to those in his village. Then he takes a good look at the bull. There’s nothing there. There is no bull, nor is there anyone who brought the bull.


*         *         *


         Susan has agreed to share the letter she wrote me just the other day, as it amplifies what she said in class about reframing her self-image. Self-image is after all just an analogy. Some analogies are liberating and some are constraining. Her idea is that she fears letting go of her familiar constraints because they once were very necessary, but now they are not. Letting go of our samskaras can certainly feel like dying, or in her case losing her mind, but it is in fact a very positive, freeing process, one that is aided and abetted by the simple reframing Susan has permitted herself with the encouragement of her doctor, functioning here as a kind of guru. She writes:


I’m in the midst of another breakthrough epiphany and this one seems significant. As you know, I keep worrying about myself as a bear of little brain and less and less brain. As a matter of fact, I’ve talked to Dr. Trafficante at length because I’m sure I need neurological testing, But he is quite insistent that I wouldn’t be so articulate about my problems if I were really declining. He says I wouldn’t come into his office and be able to give a detailed list of the reasons why I think I am losing my mind. He was very convincing but I still went away from my appointment last week (a followup to the first) with a feeling that something wasn’t being addressed. I felt more reassured but still concerned.


Then in the last few days, a thought has arisen. My brain has always worked in a way that is frustrating. I am not articulate like my brother or like you, I cannot hold the floor in any situation and talk about something with precision and nuance. I have always been more of a listener and encourager. I have always had trouble taking things in and I get confused about the facts in things I hear and read. This has always been true and it has always bothered me. I have also, for as long as I can remember, been hyper vigilant about everything going on around me — noticing all details, projecting wildly about possibilities, worrying, feeling the need to control situations.


So if you take all that past way of thinking — confused, deliberate, doubting, controlling, stressed — as my normal and then you start to realize that this is not normal. Then I am fighting against a change in my psyche, brain, stress that is meant to maintain all the ways my brain has worked for my whole life. Does that make sense? In other words, it is possible that the ways in which I find my brain different are actually something good happening. Perhaps I am letting go of some of the stress and hyper vigilance and it just seems as though I’m losing my mind. Perhaps losing the mind that I have always had is a better thing. I always thought that I wanted to get back to that very precise ability I had to remember details but maybe that was not serving me well after all. Maybe it was just making me more stressed.


The bottom line is maybe I don’t have to fight so hard to get back what is lost. In fighting for what is lost I lose sight of all I am gaining. What am I gaining? I’m not completely sure yet — it’s very hard to fathom what is happening. I do feel more at peace for sure and maybe that’s a good place to start.


This all goes back to the idea that there were ways of coping when I was a child that are no longer useful now. If those ways of coping are starting to fall away, how would I recognize a new way? What would it all look like? I would have a whole new orientation to myself in a way. I would feel different. I think I need to allow that possibility. I am fighting it I think instead of allowing it. I need to remember what we talk about all the time in class, that I am already there. I need to open to what is there. I am releasing the ropes that are binding me.


*         *         *


         Several ideas from In the Stream of Consciousness were discussed in class, but I’ll include them in Part II since they aren’t directly connected to the verse. Nitya gives away a lot of the game in two short sentences:


Realization may be the final end of life, but finding one’s own roots is an immediate necessity. This happens only when you are reborn.


Peter O added that the roots are buried deep in silence.

         Most intriguingly, Nitya distinguishes the guru-disciple relationship from the normal person-to-person version:


Finding one’s guru should not be confused with the commonplace event of entering into a contract with a fellow member of your society. The only test and final proof that you have found your guru is life becoming meaningful to you, because what is happening is not at all outside you. The man or woman “out there” is only a mirror of the occasion of your birth.


Jan wondered about the idea of the guru as mirror, which is a whole class subject in itself. She wanted to know how a guru works as a mirror to bring forth our true self. A worthy question! We talked about the neutrality of a guru, how they don’t bring their own agenda to a relationship, and in this way are able to reflect the agenda and idiosyncrasies of the disciple back to them. What you see in a guru is what you want and ideally need. That’s the basis of the idea of chastity for the guru: purity to allow for pure reflections. If two people have divergent agendas, it produces a spectrum of interactions, with varying degrees of success accorded to each. It may well spawn endless conflicts in the long run. And for that matter, two people with no agenda at all might as well not be in a relationship. But if one is neutral and the other has a program, with all it’s loose ends and half-baked notions, then much work can be accomplished. This sets the guru-disciple relationship apart from the typical one where both participants are striving to optimize their half of the pie. No matter what, Nitya describes the urge in each of us to evolve:


The need to know and the imperativeness to be arise from the very depth of man’s soul. They will go on tormenting him until he finds his roots, discovers his path, and is assured of his goal.


         Lastly (at last!) Vedanta makes much of the idea of sphota, the way words burst into meaning in our mind. When you think about it—which we normally don’t—it’s another everyday miracle. An idea is thrown to us, and we receive it with a blast of recognition. Wow. What could a species put together if that didn’t happen? While we have dealt with it before, in writing about the Wonder of the Guru, Nitya mentions it:


Every time a word is signaled by a script to the eye or articulated as a sound in the ear, it bursts into meaning like a bombshell in consciousness. In Sanskrit this explosion into meaning is called sphota. Nothing bursts in you with a more terrific blast than the word “guru.”


After class, Peter O. shared an epiphany he’d just had that the word epiphany was the English word that most closely matched sphota, to which there is no true English equivalent: both indicate the revelation (or explosion) of meaning. In sphota it comes from the impact of words; in epiphany the meaning is similar but more intuitive or contemplative. We might say the former comes from without and the latter from within. After a couple of religious references, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s third definition, part a, is what Peter was talking about: (1): a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking (3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.

         Happy epiphanies to all!


Part III


         The heart of an analogy is an a priori revelation through word-wisdom. When a Master or Guru opens up a great secret to a disciple, on his side is a belief that what he has attained is attainable by others. He sees the one Self in himself and in all which is the source of all knowledge and which lends its light in the form of reason in order for us to comprehend. He puts his trust in that Self. He sees his unity with others via the link of the Self, and thinks, “Because of this homogeneity, what I have experienced I can reveal to others, and they will understand it. They may also even get the same experience.” (That Alone, verse 75)


*         *         *


         Michael B sent a link to the bull story without Reps’ commentary, a nice, clean version:


Here's a link to the version of the 10 Bulls that I’ve typically resourced, from Paul Reps ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’


I thought it might worthwhile for belated follow-up to last week's class.



Scott Teitsworth