Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Ten - Verse Nine

5/15/18

Nirvana Darsana verse 9

 

Of this, there is nothing avoidable and acceptable.

As for the Self, it shines by itself.

Thus having become certain, liberate.

Thereafter modulation does not repeat.

 

Nataraja Guru’s translation:

 

Of this (world) there is certainly nothing to be rejected nor accepted,

As for the Self, it is self-luminous.

Having understood (thus), one should withdraw

     (from all functionings);

Thereafter function does not repeat (itself).

 

         My anticipation of a quiet meditation for the termination of Darsanamala study was, like most expectations, widely divergent from the actual course we took. Nitya’s trenchant commentary sparked an active and highly stimulating conversation. Despite that, there is so much supporting material that Parts II and III hold the bulk of the material. It’s truly amazing to me how rich the subject continues to be, even after so much has already been covered. I believe this is the longest class summary ever, and I’m quite sure you’ll find thrilling ideas all the way to the end. I hope so.

         The explosion of insights began immediately after the reading of the verse. It occurred to me that Nataraja Guru’s famous opening sentence for the Integrated Science of the Absolute, “Science seeks certitude,” draws on Narayana Guru’s exhortation here to become certain and then liberate. Liberation follows from certitude. It is a crucial point, but what exactly does it mean? I have collected several fascinating references in Part III below.

         It was gratifying how eager everyone was to contribute to the main points of Nitya’s brilliant elucidation. Because of this, I am tempted to imagine we have actually learned something from this study, which began on September 15, 2015, two and two thirds years ago. Sweet. Good job!

         It seems impossible that Narayana Guru could sum up the entire gamut of his monumental work in one verse, but it appears that he has. With Nitya’s help we can more clearly see what he’s saying:

 

Of this universe, what is or is not is not determined by the primary substance which constitutes it. The eidetic configurations conceived as vibrant energy, flying or clustering particles, stabilized atoms, and adhering molecules are not self-contained truths. These are the verdicts of human intelligence in the light of a self-luminous principle which functions through the envisioning of spatiotemporal configurations.

 

The class revolved around the notion of a self-luminous principle (light) projecting a universe made coherent by a series of framings suited to the people doing the projecting, but not in any way limited by or even tarnished by those attempts. As Nitya says, our very functioning is to envision configurations. It’s what makes everything happen, or appear to, anyway.

         This brought to Deb’s mind how children react to a story being told them: they demand to know what’s next, and then what comes after that. They have an insatiable curiosity. Paul wanted to know why we do that—what’s the matter with us? We’re never satisfied, always eager for excitement. I suggested it wasn’t a fault so much as a principle on which a universe can be erected. A static universe would contentedly abide in a state of permanent satisfaction, but that would be really dull for thinking beings. Read Mark Twain’s Letters from the Earth some time about the Christian heaven, which in reality would be a hell world of boredom. To have a dynamic, creative universe you need dissatisfaction, and that requires an illusion of separation. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad postulates hunger as the propitiating factor. For most lower animals, that means the hunger for food is what gets them going. For higher life forms, once food is obtained, an appetite for more subtle forms of nourishment takes over. It drives us to write grand dramas, paint masterpieces, make enchanting music, build cities, invent endless clever devices, experiment with novel social arrangements, and on and on. It makes residing in a body interesting and varied.

         Andy epitomized the hunger as the desire for happiness. We are in one state and presume that happiness is to be found in another, so we are always trying to go from A to B. It’s an eternal drive.

         Again, having a drive is not a bad thing, even though imagining we aren’t happy is bound to be a self-fulfilling proposition. Our problem is more that we are strapped into a drive that properly belongs to someone else. Nitya always emphasized tuning in to your inner motivations, your drive, as a beginning stage of yogic self-knowledge. Only when you and your predilections are in harmony can you make progress in releasing yourself from psychological bondage.

         All this does not have to be as dualistic as it is often made out to be. If we only realized that happiness was already the true nature of A, it could change everything. The flow of an ever-evolving universe is essentially unitive, a vertical unfolding. It’s only when we try to squeeze it into a fixed narrative that the mismatch is likely to occur. I always picture it as a harried shopper trying to carry too many packages. Arms full, they keep dropping some as they pick up others, so they are always stooping to collect what has escaped them. Our stories, all the ways we humans try to make sense of our world, are never completely “true,” but they are entertaining. As Bushra concluded, we are okay as long as we realize they are only partial representations. It’s when we take them too seriously, believing them to be the only correct version of reality, that we get into conflicts. Nitya touches on how this breaks down a unitive flow into a dualistic world based on causation:

 

By some strange compulsion, human intelligence is never tired of giving a running commentary on the changing patterns which go into the composition of both the presentative and representative awareness. The characteristic of this commentary is its implied logistics, which arranges events or observations in a precedent-subsequent sequence of cause and effect.

 

         In her opening monologue, Deb noted that the limitless Self is beyond cause and effect. The idea may sound cold and empty, yet those who know the Self are filled with warmth and love. The premise reminded me of a favorite quote I’m sure you all know:

 

Since everything is but an apparition

perfect in being what it is,

having nothing to do with good or bad,

acceptance or rejection,

one may well burst out in laughter.

 

   Long Chen Pa – The Natural Freedom of Mind

 

Nitya says the same thing in his more explanatory manner:

 

If the fascinating or threatening grand dramas of life are only read into the ‘folds and fringes’ of an apparent flux of phenomenality, the mind which creates the world can also resolve it. When this understanding becomes certain beyond a doubt, one wakes up to the reality of the Self. As a result of such a realization, the phantasmagoria of world-fascination and world wilderness cease. Thereafter there is not a second to be explained or evaluated.

 

…And you might well erupt in laughter.

         Nancy astutely related how having an excellent framework has helped her to achieve peace. She gets a good feeling from knowing in the way we are being instructed. It’s powerfully freeing to know that the mind which creates a problematic world can also resolve it. For her, Nitya’s geometric illustrations of the figure-eight movement of our awareness around a horizontal and vertical set of coordinate axes brings her the confident feeling of truly knowing. She admits to being a visual person, so the visual imagery especially speaks to her. I agree, Nataraja Guru’s repurposing of the Cartesian coordinates for spiritual psychology is tremendously liberating.

         Bill has been working with the fantastic Yoga Letters in the Appendix to Living the Science of Harmonious Union. The fourth one talks about how life manifests from the light of the Self. It invites meditating on a candle, letting your attention go to what it illuminates, and then bringing it back to the candle. Nitya says of this:

 

In this suggestive pondering you should be careful not to put the imagery before your mind and see it as an objective visualization. Instead you should become this light and experience the ever-expanding space originating from the center of your own beingness in all directions, like the ever-expanding dimension of a sphere. To make yourself familiar with the imagery, allow your consciousness to expand to a conceivably large dimension and then bring it back to the center. By repeatedly doing this the pulsation of consciousness will get into a rhythmic pattern of expansion and contraction. This is not your mind. It is designated as purusha, the spirit, the Self, soul, truth, and pure consciousness.

 

Andy emphasized how important it is to not think that what you see is outside. The light is the source of everything you are aware of. You are That. In your core there is a certainty of this. Therefore we don’t require adding anything to ourselves in order to be complete. Nitya quotes Sankara along the same lines:

 

No word can explain that boundless radiance of the one light that is without inside or outside. Sankara speaks of that as “the inner light which is also identical with the outer light. It is the first principle of luminosity. It is the twice transcendental. It is the light of lights. It is the self-luminous light of the Self, the light of Siva, which is the same as I am.”

 

One of the quotes from ISOA in Part II parallels this light image in a spectacular fashion.

         Another insight I had from the class was regarding the last line: after liberation, modulation does not repeat. This is an important idea. It does not mean that modulation ceases. A widespread misconception is that modulation ceases after liberation, but we are talking about becoming free before death, not after. As Nataraja Guru showed, the reference to ceasing modulation was referring specifically to horizontal modulations, distracted modulations. We always modulate while we are alive, and cease completely only when we aren’t any more. Nataraja Guru’s translation here as ‘functioning’ in place of modulation makes this readily graspable. Of course we continue to function. But it’s no longer a repetitive functioning, and we don’t want to bother with irrelevant functioning either. That means our modulations are fresh and directly in accord with the present. We are no longer working off our conditioning, struggling to repeat the past and apply it to our altered circumstances. It takes true bravery to let go of our habits, and let’s face it, very few people can muster the courage. You have to be a dedicated yogi to even try it out.

         Even if you are dedicated to living an unencumbered life, habits are always reaching out to grab you, like the creepers of Atmo verse 9. In any case, liberation is not finding a new set of vines to tangle yourself with, but remaining always free of the habitual dismissal of reality due to conditioning. This is the significance of modulation continuing but just not repeating.

         Avoidance and acceptance are the horns of our dilemma, the habits that bind us, according to the verse. Narayana Guru is abundantly clear that they have no place in nirvana.

         Paul talked about how we all have blind spots, implying they are configured from our repetitive modulations. Deb agreed with him that our blind spots are where our mind fills in whatever we don’t grasp with a familiar narrative, whether or not it’s appropriate. She met cultural blind spots close up when she was teaching Hmong immigrant children from Cambodia, after they came here as refugees after the Vietnam War. She tried to teach them using cartoonlike images, but the kids didn’t register them at all. They hadn’t been exposed to anything like them before, so they made no sense to them. It puzzled Deb because they were so obvious to her. How could anyone not see what was so plain to her? Yet these were perfectly healthy, very aware children. Deb easily understood because she knew they were children who hadn’t been exposed to some of the things that were familiar to her, that’s all. There was no need to think of them as inferior or messed up, but only not yet exposed. It’s what Vedanta means by ignorant: not yet instructed, but potentially fully capable.

         It invites the question, why couldn’t we apply this same broad tolerance to adults?

         We are likely to think of blind spots as yet another of our failings, but this is another place where the mind can solve a problem as well as create it. We have blind spots because we have limitations, yet it’s okay to have limitations. Everyone does—even gurus. If we look for them, blind spots can show us where we are missing something. At least we don’t need to criticize ourself for not being perfect, since nobody is. We should only criticize ourself for things we can do something about. And we could apply that to others just as readily.

         Because of the chafing over blind spots, I felt I should reprise a familiar yet elusive idea: that we seek certitude because as children we were frightened and even punished for being “wrong,” whatever that meant to our caregivers. The parameters were not clear to us innocent children, which bathed us in tons of anxiety: how do we avoid pain? We have to figure out what’s right and be it before we’ll be safe. Obviously we aren’t there now, because we’re being yelled at, or worse. So “rightness” becomes something foreign and unknowable yet highly covetable, and this is reinforced in our school education, which is also built around getting the right answer and humiliating those who don’t. How revolutionary it is to come back to our little candle and know it at the source of all our light—the truest, most right thing there could possibly be, lodged serenely in our core. And what a relief! When you visualize human life in this way, you see those millions of forlorn souls slogging through life with the unbearable burden of being judged wrong by their peers, even though their peers have their blind spots as well. If yoga is not a way to throw off the tyranny of such ignorance, it is nothing. To my mind the bound condition has never been better expressed than by T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land:

 

  Unreal City,

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

 

Paul asked what’s the point, and here is the answer. The point is to get out from under the imaginary burdens we voluntarily carry around with us all the time. Throw them down! They are worse than worthless. Stop honoring them, as though some cruel god cursed you with them. No god is involved, no matter what the good book says, only your neighbors who suffer from the same delusions you do. Start a movement to get over it.

         Bushra put this positively and beautifully: don’t take your stories so seriously! If you cling to them they make you unhappy, they breed conflict. So let go! Reality is much bigger than you realize. The mind wants to play in just the way the body dances!

         Nancy blessed us with another positive reframing. Although we have conflicts with our friends and family, this isn’t about avoiding them. It’s not about living in isolation. Interaction is stimulating. We are entwined with everyone, interdependent. Learning from everything and everyone is another of our blessings.

         And happily, like Long Chen Pa we concluded with a paean to humor and forgiveness. As Deb and Paul put it, everyone is a little kid inside. We don’t get upset if a 5-year-old says something ridiculous, we think it’s cute. Why can’t we do that for those with any number of years behind them? We are all, mean or kind, really children at heart. Let’s go with kindness as the Prime Directive.

         We batted around what the Gita quote in the commentary meant: “establishing the mind reflexively in the Self.” What is this reflexively? I have added quite a bit about it in Part II, as it’s definitely important. I have also clipped in the two marvelous sections of Love and Blessings I read out for the closing meditation, Nitya’s account of his life before conception. I was surprised that these weren’t totally familiar to the class members, as they are foundational stories of the Gurukula, among those many you can never read without being profoundly moved and gratified.

         We have after much thoughtful wandering arrived at the completion of another amazing journey in the kind hands of our gurus. How lucky we are! Nitya’s simple words incline before this grand moment:

 

In the next verse the non-dual reality of brahma is established, and with that both Nirvana Darsana and Darsanamala are concluded.

 

Be there or be square!

 

Part II

 

         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:

 

Because the world is not real there is nothing to be rejected nor accepted. It is the Self that is real. Therefore, it is the Self that we should attain to. One should know in the first instance that the Absolute is true and the world is false. Thereafter one should meditate on the fact that the Self is self-luminous.

 

*         *         *

 

         Here are the two sections we read out from Love and Blessings about Nitya’s time with Ramana Maharshi. The first excerpt is something Nitya experienced during the event described in the second:

 

         Now I shall tell you how I was born. When an animal has a vertebral column running beyond the length of its trunk, it becomes a tail. My memory also has a kind of tail, rooted far beyond the trunk of this present life in the folds of the prenatal past. Everyone’s consciousness begins from this prenatal region, though only a few can recall it to mind.

         When I think of the cosmos, my mind spreads out into the infinity of what we know as space and time. From the here and now it stretches out beyond the horizon to the far fringes of outer space, lingering there in bewilderment since whatever lies beyond our known existence can never be more than a vague supposition. Similarly, as memory flows back from the present through the annals of history, plunging ever deeper into the fossils of prehistory and myth, the mind once again recoils on itself, unable to reach the beginning of time. And the imagination shoots into the future, piling possibilities upon possibilities until it too reaches a blind alley of bewilderment from an excess of complexity.

         Such are the virtually immeasurable dimensions of our cosmos, the space-time continuum. But the cosmos marks only one of the poles of the axis of truth. The other pole or counterpart is marked by a point which has neither any dimension or location. This pure, spaceless, timeless, nameless aspect is the individual aspect of the all-embracing Absolute or Brahman. It throbs with a negative dynamism. In fact the movement is so subtle that it cannot even be termed a throb or a movement of any kind. Yet the negative charge precipitates the fusion of its own spiritual spark with a positive impulse from within the creative matrix of the cosmos.

         Such an activated spark was the primal cause of my being. It became elongated as a mathematical line without thickness, on which were strung all my previous tendencies and talents. The pure ray which issued forth from the matrix of the cosmos and the dimensionless point became colored and split in two. One half became positively charged and attained the color of gold. The other was negatively charged and became blue. The two rays passed through the entire gamut of time and space, and through all names and forms and every kind of memory that anyone had ever had, and entered the psychophysical orbit of Earth from opposite directions. The golden ray circled the Earth clockwise and the blue ray circled counterclockwise, and both of them entered opposite halves of a ripe pomegranate. This very fruit happened to be in the garden of the haunted house where Raghavan and Vamakshy Amma had recently taken up residence. Seeing the fascinating glow of the fruit, Raghavan plucked it, cut it in two, and gave half to his wife; both of them ate their share.

         In that mystic communion the negative ray of the spirit entered Raghavan’s soul, while the positive ray spread itself throughout every part of his wife’s organism. They became possessed of a great love for each other and felt a strong need to cling together. During this loving consummation the two rays again united and became a fertilized ovum. The dynamic rays, before becoming a fetus, took from Raghavan twenty-three chromosomes with the qualities of becoming poetic, intelligent, kind, open, frank, gentle and sensitive, and from Vamakshy Amma the qualities of being willful, austere, forgiving, generous, and so on. The fetus began to grow in the mother’s womb to eventually become the present writer. (4-5)

 

         It was in 1948 during my summer vacation that I first went to see Ramana Maharshi. As he was Dr. Mees’ guru, I went to him with great expectations. I had read many accounts about him and considered it a rare opportunity to meet such a person.

         Tiruvannamalai is a hot place. One does not feel quite comfortable there. But the morning hours are very fresh and lovely. The night abruptly comes to a close. This is followed by the golden light of the sun embracing everything, which in turn is accompanied by a very beautiful chanting of the priests.

Before going to see Ramana Maharshi in the ashram, I wanted to get a feeling for the few places in town that were associated with the early days of his tapas. I went first to the famous temple. Even though I wasn’t much of a temple-going, deity-worshipping devotee, I stood before the sanctum looking at the drowsy flames of the temple lamps in that dark room. I kept absolutely still, imagining how the young Ramana first entered the temple without a ceremonial bath, yet drenched by a rain that had accidentally showered upon him. On the day I arrived, I was hoping to have a similar shower, but it didn’t happen. Instead I perspired and my clothes were as wet as if I had been standing in the rain.

         There were only a few people in the temple at the time. With someone’s help I found the dark room in the basement where young Ramana had forgotten himself in bliss for days on end. According to the stories I’d read, his buttocks had been eaten away by ants or vermin. I went and sat in that sepulchral room, where a single lamp burned with a steady flame.

         I felt tempted to go up onto the mountain and look at all the other places mentioned in his biography, but my curiosity to see the Maharshi was so strong that I went straight to the hall. There many people were seated around the figure of the Maharshi, who was lazily squatting on a wooden cot with a mattress on it. He was not conventionally dressed. He had only a t-string, like the local farmers wore. Even before entering the ashram I had seen many young and old people wearing t-strings, so when I saw Maharshi also wearing one it didn’t surprise me. Under one arm he held a coiled white towel. On three sides of his bed men and women squatted on the floor, while on the fourth side there was a screen which served as a wall. Never in my life have I seen anyone so completely exposed to the public, day and night.

         The Maharshi’s bed was at the end of a fairly large hall, which was full of people most of the time. As everyone sat absolutely silent, you would never realize there were so many people present until you entered. Even after seeing the gathering you didn’t get the sense of being in a crowd, because each person was so much drawn inward, absorbed in themselves. Some people sat with their eyes closed. Many were dozing off. I saw a Catholic priest reading a book, probably his Bible. There was an old Muslim fakir with a rosary in his hand. He was counting the beads. From his lips I could see that he was silently muttering something. An old lady was copying a passage out of a book into her notebook. I saw a red-faced American whimpering, and occasionally sobbing and shedding tears.

         The Maharshi sat erect. He looked like he was pondering over some abstract thought. His head was shaking slightly. My first impression was of an old man mildly suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

         My hero in those days was Swami Vivekananda. Like him I also worried about India’s poverty, ignorance, and illiteracy, and its inability to organize dynamic work projects for groups of people in order for India to buck up and get out of the shackles of lethargy. The Maharshi sat before me like the concrete symbol of India’s inaction.

         For a while I felt sorry I had come. I didn’t know why people were making such a fuss over someone who was not giving people any incentive to work hard to make India rich and beautiful. When the sun was about to set, I saw the Maharshi getting up and going out of the hall for his routine walk. I was told that for many years it had been his habit to walk around the hill. I followed him. He only walked for a short while. Then he sat on a rock.

         It was just a change of place; otherwise he was exactly the same. People sat before him just as they had done in the hall. After a wash, which was done out in the open, he went back to his bed. Some Brahmins sat before him and chanted from the Taittiriya Upanishad. They also chanted some Vedic hymns, which I couldn’t immediately decipher. The atmosphere was very reverent and serene, but my feeling persisted that the Maharshi was just lazy.

         When I had first come, I had stood before Maharshi and saluted him, but he didn’t take any notice of me. Being a young man with a lot of self-esteem and ego, I had wanted to impress everyone with my ability to chant the Gita. After a couple of days of just sitting there quietly and anonymously I became very bored, so I decided to leave. In India it is a custom not to approach or leave a saint without offering some present, so I went out and bought some oranges. I placed them on the ground near his feet and prostrated, even though I didn’t have the least desire to bow before him. He took no notice of me. I thought he was treating me like a shadow or a dead man. I was filled with resentment. I wanted to walk away as though I had done nothing more than my duty.

         For some reason or no reason, I lingered there for a moment. Then what a wonder! Maharshi’s gaze, which had been floating over my head, became slightly tilted, and he looked straight into my eyes. It was as though two magnetic shafts were coming towards me. Both struck me at the same time, right in the middle of my heart. A great darkness began spreading around me, and I felt very dizzy. My body started trembling. I couldn’t control myself. Soon it was as if my own consciousness was an unflickering flame placed in the vastness of a lake of darkness.

         A sort of retrospection started unreeling my memory from the present to the past. It was just like watching my life played out in reverse. I was riveted to the scene, unable to move. Many things that had happened in my life passed before my eyes. Soon I remembered being back in my mother’s womb. At one point I felt a strong physical shaking, and remembered hearing that my mother had fallen off a collapsing bridge while she was carrying me. I continued to retrogress, back before my conception to my existence as a mathematical entity defined only by vasanas and dharma. A great peace filled my entire being, as I became totally absorbed in the interstices of the cosmic matrix. After many years of search I had at last returned to the Source.

         Eventually somebody tapped on my shoulder, and I came back to my senses. The Maharshi was no longer before me, and the people in the hall were also gone. Everyone had left for the dining hall. I was invited to come and eat. I walked as if in a dream. To my utter surprise, when I got to the dining hall I saw that the leaf on Maharshi’s right hand was not claimed by anyone. I was asked to sit there. When food was served, Maharshi looked at my leaf as if to ascertain that every item served to him was also being given to me.

         From that moment Ramana Maharshi was no longer a person to me. He was a presence, or rather he was The Presence. He was that which I was seeking, and he was everywhere. I needed no effort at all to be with him again. What held my heart with an imperiential enchantment was neither the memory of a social person nor the proximity of an unforgettable one. It was as if the duality between the perceiver and the perceived had become merged in a single unitive phenomenon.

         That was how I met Ramana Maharshi for the first time. Thereafter I visited him off and on until a few days before his mahasamadhi. (139-42)

 

         The rest of Nitya’s writings about the Maharshi, including his attendance at the mahasamadhi, may be read here: http://aranya.me/uploads/3/4/8/6/34868315/nityas_time_with_ramana_maharshi.pdf.

 

*         *         *

 

         More on nirvana from the Integrated Science:

 

If someone prefers to live in the colder climates of Europe and North America, such a preference need not necessarily be considered as binding on a person who prefers the climate of the Equator. Both persons will be able to communicate their preferences between themselves only when the implications of the latitudes and longitudes of the cold regions and the Equator are understood as belonging to the same Science. Each man thus conforms to his own svadharma (the type of behaviour compatible with one's inner nature), while trying to understand the same attitude in others who might be different from him. No question of superiority or inferiority should arise, and a scientific vision in this matter will help humans to live together in better harmony, which is not a negligible factor in human life. (420)

 

The final definition of the Absolute (brahman) belongs to the larger context of nirvana. As we see in the penultimate verse, it is the result of a neutralization or normalization rather than the result of an ascending or descending effort on the part of the contemplative. As the verse clearly states, the Absolute is self- luminous and sufficient unto itself. It emerges when it is left fully alone, as the Taoist philosophers say. Our efforts, in whatever direction they are made, will only spoil the case for the certitude proper to the normalized notion of the Absolute. When normalization is accomplished, the Self-luminous nature of the Absolute, of its own accord, becomes evident to the contemplative. There is an identity between subject and object marking the term of the wisdom implied in the Science of the Absolute. (422)

 

This should be paired with:

 

Open wisdom represents the plus side of the vertical axis, which needs to be consciously cultivated. It cannot come by negative passivity. (490)

 

*         *         *

 

         The quote from the Gita, “establishing the mind reflexively in the Self, without thinking of anything whatever,” is part of the most comprehensive definition of yoga in the Gita. It’s worth citing the whole section, from chapter VI:

 

20)         (That state) where the (relational) mind attains tranquility, restrained through continued cultivation of a yogic attitude, and where also the Self by the Self in the Self enjoys happiness,

 

21)         that in which one cognizes the ultimate limit of happiness which can be grasped by reason and goes beyond the senses, and established wherein there is no more swerving from the true principle,

 

22)         and which, having obtained, there is no other gain thought of which could be greater (in value), in which, when established, there is no swerving even by heavy suffering

 

23)         —that should be known by the name of yoga: disaffiliation from the context of suffering. Such a yoga should be adhered to with determination, free from spiritual regret.

 

24)         Abandoning completely all desires originating in the will for particularized ends, curbing the collection of sense-functionings on every side

 

25)         —slowly, slowly, activities should be brought to a standstill by reason steadily applied, establishing the mind reflexively in the Self, without thinking of anything whatever.

 

26)         Whatever causes the changeful, unsteady mind to go out (again and again), from each such, restraining it (again and again), it should ever be led to the side of the Self.

 

27)         Such a yogi, verily, of calmed mind, of pacified passion, who has become the Absolute, free from all dross, comes to supreme happiness.

 

         My commentary on verse 25 may also be helpful:

 

         Bringing activities to a standstill via the steady application of reason is the kernel of the Gita’s meditation practice. Activities don’t stop by themselves; it takes conscious intention to settle them down to a minimum. There is no particular technique required to accomplish this; it is just something you put your mind to. Krishna already gave Arjuna instruction in this toward the end of the second chapter.

         Ordinarily we act to correct imbalances, but very often we overreact to them, and so perpetuate them negatively. Instead of “rushing off half-cocked” in this manner, we are instructed to take a dispassionate look at the entire context. To do this we must disengage from our initial impulse, shrug off our compulsive need to always be right, set aside our habitual prejudices, and calmly examine the situation from every imaginable perspective. At first this depletes our actions of their hysterical or neurotic energies, and as we gradually become more centered, the need to intervene to alter the inherent rightness of the world drains away entirely.

         The writer Franz Kafka describes this aspect of meditation most poetically: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

         Nataraja Guru has translated this verse’s atma samstham as “establishing the mind reflexively in the Self,” correctly giving the sense of the Self perceiving the Self, as described in verses 5 and 6 above. Despite having forgotten our true nature, we are not in any way alien to it. Most translations have something like fixing the mind on the Self, or holding fast to the Self, as if it were other than us. The dictionary gives the sense of residing or dwelling in the Self, and includes “standing together; standing or staying or resting or being in; belonging to, based on; partaking or possessed of; in the presence or midst of.” All these senses are germane. By emphasizing the reflexive aspect, Nataraja Guru wants to preserve the sense of dialectic resonance, where we are drawn into the Self by our natural affinity with it, and not as invaders or explorers of a foreign land.

         Most seekers strive to hold onto certain thoughts, or at least have some direction in mind, while meditating. We gain much more by opening ourselves completely to whatever influence the Self has to offer, by not thinking of anything at all. Our thoughts automatically limit the range of our meditation. While actively thinking and analyzing are valuable and important in a healthy discipleship or field of study, we optimize our meditation by temporarily emptying our minds to the maximum extent possible. Afterwards we can assemble the inspiration into a comprehensible structure, if we are so inclined, and that can be very helpful in our daily life.

 

Part III

 

         This section focusing on certitude deserves its own separate denotation. First off, here’s a fuller reading from the beginning of ISOA about the importance of seeking certitude and where it may be found:

 

SCIENCE seeks certitude. Man is naturally curious about two fundamental problems, which are contained in the sentences: ‘Whence this world?’ and ‘Who am I?’ When the first of these questions is kept in mind, we may be said to limit our enquiry to the visible world, perceived or perceptible. In its extended sense this domain can be said to comprise that of physics.

         When a man puts to himself the question ‘Who am I?’, he has to do so with the knowledge of factors which are not merely physical. He has to rely more on concepts than on mere percepts derived from sense data. He introspects or speculates on general ideas, mostly taken for granted by commonsense experience. Such ideas are largely relied upon in the matter of arriving at any degree of certitude in metaphysics, which is the other aspect of knowledge, besides physics, under reference here.

         His whole vision vis-à-vis the physical world, together with his own subjective experience, which is not experimentally demonstrable, thus emerges into view as the legitimate and unified basis of our present enquiry, containing the domains proper to physics and metaphysics. Physics is quantitative while metaphysics may be said to be qualitative. If physics gives primacy to space, metaphysics may be said to give primacy to time. If physics is phenomenal, metaphysics is noumenal. If physics is relative, metaphysics tends to look at this relative plurality in the light of something that is non-relative. When physics and metaphysics, thus understood, are treated unitively, so that the certitude contained in the one helps the certitude contained in the other by mutual verification, we have the beginnings of a Science of the Absolute.

         The Science of the Absolute can be also called a Science of sciences, a Unified Science, or an integrated body of knowledge. When such an enquiry is pushed further, so as to yield a common notion serving as a normative reference for all sciences, we then have a fully integrated Science of the Absolute.

         Science, in its progressive and triumphant march, and as it is now understood, is faced with the problem of incertitude rather than the certitude which it thought it was gaining. The inductivo- hypothetical approach to the formulation of scientific laws or theories, based on calculations found permissible according to prevailing practices in mathematics, yield at present varying pictures of the physical world. Scientific myth-making is a danger to which we are becoming more and more exposed. When science is thus being allowed to part company with common sense, man becomes confused, both about what he should doubt as well as what he should believe. A normative or integrated notion of the Absolute, such as we have indicated above, can alone act as a regulative reference in this matter. Thus, our attempt to give precision to the whole range of scientific thought is not a fanciful undertaking. Science, even as understood at present, consists of

both conceptual and perceptual factors, being a mixture of calculations and observations.

 

         I’ve added an Appendix to ISOA that collects references from Nataraja Guru’s autobiography, including this:

 

Nothing absorbed my interest or activities at the end of 1965 and throughout 1966 more than the increasing of my inner agony to the white heat required to actually begin and then finish the projected 1000-page book: the Science of the Absolute. Every minute of my waking hours and most of the subconscious state within light or deep slumbers at night was filled with this non-event of thinking of expressing my thoughts in as clear sentences or paragraphs as possible. The agony of ascent soon attained its peak within me, but the 16th Convention of December 1965 called for some other work connected with fully earthy matters like levelling the hilltop for a future institute of a Science of the Absolute which had to be given its share of attention.

         The pressure of effort was sustained by early morning, afternoon and night readings and discussions in which many, including Celine and Romarin, were regularly present at the site of the Brahma-Vidya Mandiram itself where a cabin had been made for me with cement floor and asbestos sheet roofing. I carried my own big box of reference books all round, Fred Haas and John Spiers joined the group at Varkala on 23 December. The Convention programme, waxing stronger each year, began on 26, its many items like homam (fire sacrifice), assemblies and meetings, select reunions, classes and consultations going on as a seven days’ wonder….

         Meanwhile we did not relax the tense efforts to be able to actually begin the first sentence of the book. The pressure was made to mount each day by our readings over early morning cups of tea ‘that cheers but does not inebriate’. Thus we suddenly found ourselves ready to actually pen the first sentence. Well begun is always half done because a bad beginning can always entail endlessly brewing troubles as the writing proceeds. The first sentence affords a peg on which everything else hangs. Thus we hit upon the short and pithy sentence which by its brevity was the mother of wit. It read, ‘Science seeks certitude’. This beginning has augured well for us and has meant smooth sailing throughout.

 

         Then in the Jnana Darsana (Vol. II, 219-20):

 

1. Apodictic, Dialectic and Intermediary Certitude

 

Science, as we have said at the very beginning, seeks certitude. Absolute awareness in the total context of reason must contain all the elements of certitude needed for making our inquiry of truth fully scientific. It is the global approach as a whole without getting lost in its ramifications that can lay bare the main lines of scientific reasoning in the context of the Absolute. No kind of reasoning need be excluded from its scope, but we should not lose sight of the forest because of the trees. In so far as they can be fitted into a total whole, structural details of logical or even syllogistic reasoning yielding only a feeble degree of truth may, however, be profitably left out. The same holds true for quibbling, equivocation and eristic and sophistic argumentation serving no fruitful purpose. Verbosity should also be minimized.

         To avoid errors in thinking the main structural features should be kept in mind. The choice between the innumerable possibilities and a singular impossibility for the converse side, should be together envisaged. In guiding human thought between the experimental and axiomatic poles of the total knowledge situation, empirical control, rational method, critical scrutiny and intuition in matters of pure possibility must all cooperate together. In this chapter Narayana Guru presents his case for logic in his own way. He neither includes all the elements of logical reasoning known in the West, nor all those known in India. Instead he applies the principle of elimination of the extraneous with a drastic love of order and simplicity.

         Syllogistic reasoning in the context of Aristotelian logic has a certain element of feeble certitude when it proceeds deductively from the general to the particular or inductively from the particular to the general. Starting from premises or postulates allowing for incertitude in themselves, the major, minor and middle terms, when properly manipulated, can prove many things that are highly questionable. Such a logical approach is only a feeble instrument for a fully scientific method of reasoning.

 

         From Nitya’s In the Stream of Consciousness:

 

Bhoga and Yoga

 

         We were setting out on a long journey from the Nilgiri Mountains in South India to Punjab in North India. As soon as we boarded the train, Guru said, “Man seeks certitude.”

         People were still pushing each other aside to find their seats. Both inside and outside the train there was a lot of noise, and the situation was absolutely chaotic. But when I looked at Guru, he was sitting with his eyes half-closed, absolutely oblivious of the shouting and disorder in the compartment.

         I pulled out my notebook and started writing. He continued, “Man is endowed with reason. Like a crest-jewel, there shines in human reason the jewel of discrimination that enables man to discern the true from the false, the essential from the nonessential, the self from the nonself, and the transient from the eternal. It is this discernment that brings certitude. Certitude brings peace. In peace the duality of the self and the nonself is transcended, at least momentarily. That moment of nondual silence is yoga.

         “Life alternates between bhoga and yoga. Sexual consummation marks the peak of bhoga, and spiritual absorption arising out of true certitude marks the peak of yoga.”

 

         This is from my Gita commentary:

 

XVI, 24)         Therefore the scripture is your authority in deciding what should and should not be done. Understanding what is indicated for guidance in scripture, you should do work here.

 

         After much thought, Nataraja Guru began his magnum opus, An Integrated Science of the Absolute, with the simple sentence “Science seeks certitude.” Certitude is as mysterious as truth, and like it, is susceptible to misplaced enthusiasm. We can feel quite certain about things that are not at all true; in fact, history contains an unending litany of people being motivated by certainty about matters that had tragic consequences and which seem ludicrous in retrospect. The contemplative must be cautious about the soaring sense of inner certainty and make sure it has a reasonable basis. Although certitude is exactly what is sought, it must be doubted and questioned, and held up to comparison with the accepted standards of wise predecessors. Only if it matches those guidelines can it be considered legitimate. As Mark Twain said, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

         The Gita is returning to solid ground after exploring the most sublime reaches of human potential, preparing the student to reenter the actual world. Pure spiritual intuition does not avail in all circumstances except in the rarest of cases; for the majority of us—those who plan to maintain a measure of connection with society—there should be external guidance available. While an enlightened guru is an ideal guide, readily available scriptures fill that role for most people most of the time.

         The dilemma of whether to surrender to outside advice or one’s inner promptings is perennial, that is to say eternal. There is no hard and fast answer for it. We have to enlist all our resources all the time in order to be on the safe side.

         Very often even the wisest person will be puzzled as to the right course of action. Rather than being led astray by the persuasive arguments of someone with a vested interest, not excepting one’s own ego, the neutral wisdom of a scripture may offer superior advice. At least advice worth considering. The ego can be very convincing in rationalizing an unwise course of action. By comparing our inner promptings with a widely admired hypothesis, we can be assured that the desire is legitimate and beneficial rather than merely selfishness masquerading as virtue.

         Taking the most important teachings of the Gita as a whole, scripture would have to be considered a valuable adjunct to an intuitive connection with one’s true inner nature, one’s dharma.

         One can’t help but think that the Gita may be offering itself as an eminently wise scripture to be attended to. While we are aware of Godel’s second incompleteness theorem, which asserts that systems asserting their own consistency are inconsistent, we can bring our own judgment to bear as well. The Gita most definitely provides ample encouragement for a penetrating and open-ended excursion into the nature of reality. It doesn’t have to blow its own horn. Sipping its sublime nectar is convincing enough.

 

         Lastly, how about this from Swami Tanmaya, from his article Blending The Spiritual And Temporal In The Sanskrit Compositions Of Narayana Guru, in the Autumn 2009 issue of Gurukulam Magazine:

 

We live in an age of science; our minds are disciplined through logic, reasoning, and the principles of science; somewhere there is also the code of conduct for a peaceful life, outlined by our intuitive and imaginative ancestors. The mystical language of mythology and the hidden language of temple imagery interest modern persons as a source of practices to balance the mind, to free it from stress. Science seeks certitude, knowing that faith helps to go beyond to the unknowable Absolute. The subconscious mind molds symbols of both specific and universal character; the symbols in temple iconography are coupled with wisdom hymns in the light of absolutist vision to help us to become more harmonious. Contemplative reflection of philosophical works, it is hoped, will bring us closer to the certitude necessary for adopting a neutral stand between revalued traditional wisdoms and modern life. And here, the fruits of Narayana Guru’s labors in clarifying the dross of the dharma sastras into pure wisdom are ours to partake of.

 


Scott Teitsworth

rsteitsworth(at)yahoo.com