Nitya Teachings

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Peace Class (2004)


Good morning! As usual after the first class I was badgered by repeated reflections of how quickly we zoomed over some very important ideas where I should have taken more time to make them lucid. I apologize. It's just that there's such a huge mountain of interesting insights ahead it's tough to keep an eye on the footing going up the initial slopes. I'd like to reassure you that we will spend time going deeper into everything.

I think it was Chris who mentioned the circle idea wasn't clear. That's true, it wasn't! Briefly, Teilhard de Chardin (among others) looked at how life was organized through evolution, and noted that particles were combined into atoms, atoms united into molecules, molecules grouped into cells, and that cells clustered to form what we consider living beings. Although we think of ourselves as a single "I" consciousness, we are actually made up of billions of individual beings, cells, that are coordinated God knows how. De Chardin theorized there could well be another level of organization, what he called the body of Christ and what Indians name Atman. In the same way that cells are independent entities and yet work together to sustain bodies, humans are independent entities that invisibly participate in the Atman. It's a tremendous mystery how those billions of independent beings are united in a common cause on a level few are aware exists at all.

Anyway, that's the big circle full of the little dots, who are the individuals. It's probably not a circle, (actually a sphere): its true shape can only be guessed at, but it's made up of the totality of all of us together. As we are all in motion, physically and psychically, the shape is not likely to be static.

So we really ARE in this together. Somehow we are all cells in an organism, Gaia, that unites us for superconscious purposes. This is a balanced, yogic view that embraces everyone. And, contrary to the teachings of some religions, this being grows through each individual expressing their uniqueness in new ways. The envelope is stretched by those who dare to plunge into unknown territory. How boring to have everyone behaving the same way, following meaningless rules! What a dull Christ-body that would make for!

The sphere is light and flexible at its outer perimeter, propelled by artists and lovers, thinkers and singers, but becomes denser and denser as you go toward the center. Those who are afraid to do anything but what they're told form the stony center of this planetary being. Those filled with hate are crushed in the most static places of all.

That so many are going around judging others as "good" or "bad" makes for the indigestion in the system. I hope and strongly suspect that the aches and pains of the world are birth pains rather than our death rattle, but a single cell really has no way of being certain about the macrocosmic program that's unfolding. Based on previous experience, there's an evolution of consciousness in leaps and bounds that should bring us tremendous optimism, but the situation on the ground is extremely tense at the moment, and it can obscure the glory of the big picture. Stay tuned.

Thanks, Larry, for bringing up this notion.

Alright, that's one bit explained a little better. It's good to be confused, good to wonder, good to have more things to investigate in the next seven sessions. Confusion and wonder are part of the process of opening up to larger and larger concepts. Have a wonderfilled week, Scott

I would add to your 10/7 Chardin example

that Teilhard's name --

for the third planetary evolutionary aggregation,

after the lithosphere and the biosphere, --

is the noosphere,

the sphere of interconnected consciousness.

He describes it thusly:

"Noosphere ...the living membrane

which is stretched like a film over the lustrous surface

of the star which holds us.

An ultimate envelope taking on its own individuality

and gradually detaching itself like a luminous aura.

This envelope was not only conscious, but thinking...

the Very Soul of the Earth."

The global neural network we call the world-wide-web

is a good example of our manifestation of the noosphere.




Thanks for expanding our consciousness about all of this. It is absolutely

a wonder-filled universe we live in (and are an integral part of). I look

forward to more of your teaching in the next weeks.

Larry Custer


My apologies for not generating more discussion in last night’s class. Mostly this is due to my own fault as a teacher and I’ll try to improve on it. Also it appears the material really is quite unfamiliar for many of you. Class should perk up as the new material percolates deeper down. (How’s that for a dialectic?) Hope everyone didn’t decide it was too boring for words….

I’d been getting a strong intimation all week that the Gita needed to become the centerpiece once again. So it was. We covered two central contributions of the work, dialectic thinking, known as wisdom yoga, and relinquishment of the fruit of actions.

A favorite example of mine to illustrate yoga dialectics is to take a macroscopic view of life in terms of dependence/independence. We begin our sojourn on earth as totally dependent beings, and our early adjustments are to incorporate the directives of others—parents, teachers, government officials like cops—into our programs. When Arjuna steps into the no-man’s-land between the contending armies, these are who he sees all around him. What is taught to children is usually done with the best of intentions, but the result is a person who has had to abandon their free will in deference to very rigid social norms.

At some stage of a healthy life, usually around the mid-teens, the developing person feels a powerful need to be more independent, to find out who they really are, to become themselves. They feel strong desires to do things that are not permitted or not polite. Quite properly and logically, the first steps in the direction of independence are to reject the innumerable dependencies that they have relied on up till then. Rebellion is a kind of visceral rejection of the bondage experienced by awareness of our prior conditioning. But it is still based on, and therefore controlled by, the rules and regulations of society. Rebellion produces a false sense of freedom that comes from the relief we feel from throwing off the chains of ordered existence.

Advertisers and entertainment corporations play to this imaginary freedom and sense of relief and find it incredibly lucrative. The rebellious become tamed by watching images of rebellion as a polite substitute for actual rebellion. That way you don’t rock the boat!

Most of society is made up of these two types, those who advocate a “return to traditional values” or “the good old days,” who insist that “being good and behaving yourself” are the keys to heaven, and those who scorn such childish attitudes, who experience the thrill of being “bad” once in awhile, sneer at others’ stupidity and so on.

Philosophic types find both these attitudes have their limitations. A yogic thinker steps back and embraces both, allowing her to see the pluses and minuses of each, as well as to experience a state of neutrality that is the true ground of freedom. From this contemplative state unbounded action can arise in a natural and unforced way.

A large part of the Gita is aimed at achieving this state of neutrality or balance between contending factors. In the class we covered the main suggestion, that we should act without expectations about the outcome of our actions. In the Gita’s poetic but antique language this is described as relinquishing the fruits of our actions. The point is that expectations undergird most of what we do, and disrupt the naturalness of the flow of our lives.

In the example above, the dependent person expects that following the rules will bring happiness, and the independent person expects that breaking the rules will bring happiness. Neither can understand why this doesn’t thoroughly satisfy them, but they tend to be reasonably content because they’ve met their own expectations. As both these attitudes are based on rules, our society is experiencing an explosion of laws covering every detail of life. It appears to be almost impossible to extricate ourselves from the tangled web we’ve woven. No wonder Arjuna gives up in confusion and despair! Luckily, he turns to the Guru, who smilingly reassures him that his predicament is less dire than he imagines. There is a way out.

A number of pertinent suggestions are found in the section we covered, the middle of chapter IV. One of the most intriguing is in verse 21, where Nataraja Guru translates aparigraha as one (does not lose composure) who has given up possessiveness. Since the word has a long history of association with vows of poverty, every other commentator I have seen translates it as one who has given up all possessions. Modern people get very uncomfortable about giving up their possessions, but can readily understand the negative aspects of possessiveness. Here’s a draft of what I wrote in my own Gita commentary yesterday:

One of the central points that makes Nataraja Guru’s translation superior to all others is found in this verse. The word aparigraha is universally translated as giving up all possessions, but he translates it as giving up all possessiveness. What a world of difference in that slight alteration! For thousands of years sincere seekers have been giving up their possessions, imagining it opened some magical doorway to realization. But the possessions themselves are by and large irrelevant. It’s the sense of wanting to possess that needs to be overcome, which is a far more profound and complex matter.

Aparigraha is an interesting word. A means not. Pari means universally, round, about (in space and time), in the direction of. Graha means to seize or grasp for. So aparigraha means non-grasping, not always trying to seize everything around in the space time continuum. Not trying to make everything our own. As the Isa Upanishad says, “Whose is wealth? Renounce and enjoy.” We participate even in the enjoyment of our neighbors having something we might otherwise covet. If we’re all in this together, why not?

Nataraja Guru calls practices like giving up possessions to achieve a nongrasping mentality “opening the door from the hinge side,” in other words, using physical means to bring about psychological changes. It is nearly impossible to do away with possessiveness by simply giving up possessions, many of which might even make the process simpler. Religious cults often collect all the material (and monetary) goods of their participants, using this (mis)translation as their scriptural justification. Refugees from these cults frequently discover that the poverty they have embraced has thrown them into a basic struggle for existence that makes finding peace much more difficult.

Taking scriptures literally is perilous, as there are often many ways to translate the same word. One needs to dig down to the meaning the words are attempting to convey. This is one of the valuable aspects of searching questioning, as recommended in verse 34 below. By contrast, many religions consider questioning to be a sign of loss of faith and a threat to their power.

Possessiveness is an extension of wanting to manipulate circumstances for one’s own benefit. When the advice of this section is put into practice, when we aim the good of the whole world rather than merely our own, the pressure eases off of its own accord, nearly effortlessly, like opening a door by the handle in Nataraja Guru’s analogy.

One more thing before I fade out. Sacrifice is a problematic word used frequently in the Gita. Verse 33 reads:

33) Superior to any sacrifice with (valuable) objects is the wisdom sacrifice; all actions have their culmination in wisdom, O Arjuna.

In relation to the foregoing, this could read: “Superior to sacrificing your possessions, O Arjuna, is to sacrifice your need to possess, your possessiveness. What really matters is your state of mind.” I’m sure the connection with the comments above is clear, but I think it was Chris who asked what wisdom sacrifice means. It boils down to taking time to think about things, to seek and find understanding and comprehension. Attending a Gita class is a wisdom sacrifice. Reading this email is a wisdom sacrifice. (Watching the Presidential Debates is a sacrifice too great to ask of any seeker of truth….) Reading, studying, listening—it’s all a wisdom sacrifice. The words only sound exotic and strange. So in whatever you do in whatever way you like, ponder the meaning of it and have your thoughts fine tuned by interaction with your friends.

Well this is already more than anyone wants to read, so I’ll leave it at that. This covers maybe five minutes of the class, but I’m not a stenographer.

Any comments or suggestions you have about making the class more interesting are welcome.

Vive valeque (live and keep well), Scott


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the “thought experiment” from the last class.

We gathered into pairs to brainstorm the event, which undoubtedly seemed like overkill to my hapless victims. I got everyone to focus on me, and for the briefest instant pulled an apple out of my briefcase, held it up, and tucked it out of sight again. While it was held up I asked “What is this?” The entire process took about a second.

The groups each filled a whole page with ideas, which we then collected. These ranged from applelike concepts to mythological associations, urban legends and arcane references. My guess is there were also lots of thoughts held in check as to why we were spending time on something so trivial.

Here’s why: the process illustrates how the mind works. In the Indian scheme, manas or mind is the first stage, the part of us that asks “What is this?” We are biologically hardwired as well as psychologically conditioned to direct our mental energy toward identifying our surroundings so as to avoid danger and seek pleasure and sustenance. (This can also be a technique to discover the Absolute, if “What is this?” is accompanied by neti neti, whereby all identifiable thises are subtracted from the solution; but that’s another story. We almost always focus on identifiable thises.)

In response to “What is this?” the cittam, the memory banks, recall similar items from the past. Nothing is ever forgotten, so every damn apple you’ve ever met is in there. This is only one of the astounding miracles of existence we casually take for granted, how those thousands of memories are activated in the blink of an eye. If we didn’t zip ahead to the next step, they would parade before our mind’s eye until we were able to.

But very quickly buddhi, the intellect, kicks in with its identification. A name label is our handy way of epitomizing the identity of something. Though the process was too fast for anyone to notice, each had the nearly instantaneous answer to my question, that “This is an apple.”

And lastly, the ahamkara, the ‘I’ sense or ego, brings in its personal preferences and concludes “Apples are good. They are food. They are not dangerous. I like apples.” If we had had someone who had eaten a poisoned apple or was allergic to them, they would have concluded “Apples are bad. I don’t like them.”

This fourfold process is going on all the time. Why do we care? Because it demonstrates how little of the actual world we are taking in, and how much of it is our highly refined and yes, prejudiced opinion. For most Americans, if I’d held up an Arab, they would have spewed negative associations for hours. It wouldn’t matter how saintly the person was, the memory links would have been lethal. And all this comes from propaganda conditioning. This is how we are prepared to fight. We don’t have to be coerced, we just have to be convinced.

The actual source of our thoughts is hardly encountered at all after our first few years of life. This is true with everything, not just the bogeyman of the hour. If I had brought in a wax apple or even a red ball with painted streaks, our minds would have gone through the same process of interpretation and reaction, and identified them as apples. The modern world has piled false images on top of the already false system we operate under. Without a “hands on” examination, we might still believe we had seen an apple even if we hadn’t.

If we are ever to return from spiritual death and come back to life, to use the traditional imagery, we must open ourselves up to something more than this static reactivity to our surroundings. We must relearn how to “see” the world. Is there anything more important than this?

The key question is, does the apple really exist or not? Everything we “knew” about it was supplied by us, a tiny amount by our sensory system and the vast majority by our memory banks. Where is the actual apple in all this?

The Indian description of reality is that it has to be as real as a berry in the palm of your hand, in other words, irrefutable, axiomatic. After the thought experiment the apple was diced up and passed around. Since experience is dramatically mediated and truncated by our thoughts, such as “I am now eating an apple,” which brings in the millions of memories of previous apple eating, we turned off the lights and concentrated a moment before eating it. Hopefully there was a brief instant of true experience that transcended all our concepts. Certainly the what-it-was tasted very good and was undeniably eaten. For a millisecond it was “a berry in the palm of our hands.”


Your apple experiment inspired me

to imagine this dialog

from the frontier of faith and reason:


Question: Why did the apple fall from the tree?

Moses: It was drawn to the ground by God.

Newton: It was drawn to the ground by gravity.

Moses: What is gravity?

Newton: It is the fundamental force that is responsible for all

interactions between bodies, extends over infinite distances, and

determines the structure of the universe.

Moses: It sounds like God to me!

Newton: But gravity is not a person.


(to be continued ...) Baird Smith


Dear Scott,

Well, I must say that your thought experiment doesn't seem at all misplaced

here in the midst of Truthout articles. What a refreshing pause!

Reminds me of an apple trick I did once for primary graders, first holding

up the apple, then pointing to some great "distraction" outside the window,

while the apple disappeared, hardly to be noticed anymore. An example of

how our thoughts can be diverted by pointing out distractions, real or


Searching for truth,

Jean Norrby


“The entrance to Truth is closed with a golden disc. That, you, O Nourisher, open, so that I, established in truth and law, may see.” (Isavasya Upanishad, 15)

We began the class with a discussion of Thomas Merton’s ideas from Faith and Violence about simulacra, simulations. The term the Latin Vulgate uses for idols. He claims we consider ourselves free of idolatry because we think of idols as little statues or Pagan altars, but an idol is an image, a simulacrum. He sees TV as one of our idols, and we worship its simulations hour after hour, day after day. Worse, we have established a comfortable image of ourselves as not being idolaters, so we don’t worry about this most crucial aspect of spirituality. Our smug self-satisfaction leads us to destruction: “Our idols are by no means dumb and powerless. The sardonic diatribes of the prophets against images of wood and stone do not apply to our images that live, and speak, and smile, and dance, and allure us and lead us off to kill.”

Merton emphasizes this with a conclusion that sounds like a firsthand description of the Bush Iraq policy:

Because we have an image (simulacrum) of ourselves as fair, objective, practical and humane, we actually make it more difficult for ourselves to be what we think we are. Since our “objectivity” for instance is in fact an image of ourselves as “objective” we soon take our objectivity for granted, and instead of checking the facts, we simply manipulate the facts to fit our pious conviction. In other words, instead of taking care to examine the realities of our political or social problems, we simply bring out the idols in solemn procession. “We are the ones who are right, they are the ones who are wrong. We are the good guys, they are the bad guys. We are honest, they are crooks.” In this confrontation of images, “objectivity” ceases to be a consistent attention to fact and becomes a devout and blind fidelity to myth. If the adversary is by definition wicked, then objectivity consists simply in refusing to believe that he can possibly be honest in any circumstances whatever. If facts seem to conflict with images, then we feel that we are being tempted by the devil, and we determine that we will be all the more blindly loyal to our images. To debate with the devil would be to yield! Thus in support of realism and objectivity we simply determine beforehand that we will be swayed by no fact whatever that does not accord perfectly with our own preconceived judgement. Objectivity becomes simple dogmatism.

Wow. Talk about putting your finger on it! We spent a little time bringing these ideas back to the personal level. As always, it’s easy to see the fault in someone else; essential to look for it in yourself. George Bush doesn’t care how wise you become, and even if he did you will almost certainly never meet him. But you spend most of the time with yourself (hopefully), so what you learn can have a profound effect in that venue.

About this time Gail arrived—something about a dragon blocking the highway—and led us in a couple of very nice yoga stretches to energize our brain cells. It was a stimulating addition to all the talk. Thanks, Gail.

Next we turned out attention to the Golden Disc in front of the sun. This is an image of idolatry. The sun is the classic symbol for the Absolute, the Source. The best way to hide it isn’t to put a big dark screen in front of it; then you wonder what’s behind the screen. It’s to put a little metal sun trinket up there that just covers it. Since it looks so much like the sun, we just accept it and go about our business.

What this means is the ideas we console ourselves with about how to live and what to think are our substitutes for what we often call spirituality: true living and thinking as they pour out of the present moment.

Larry mentioned how many of us struggle with anger, and wanted to know the Gita’s prescription for dealing with it. This got us exactly to the point of all these words. In actual situations our spiritual self can make excellent decisions instantly that perfectly accord with the problems encountered, but we block that ability by having preconceived ideas about “what to do” when certain things happen. What we decided in the past about how to act is unlikely to match the present, but we apply it anyway, often with disastrous results. The solution is to throw away the Golden Disc, the Plan, and trust that we will meet contingencies with our best effort when they occur.

I had planned to read part of Dr. Mees’ Introduction to The Key to Genesis, but never got to it because the discussion was so lively. Here’s a bit that relates to the above idea:

Elsewhere[1] I have shown at length that the symbolic meaning of the Commandment of Moses, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness that is in heaven above”, is that man should not interpret his sacred traditions in a literal way. The warning against idolatry is a cautioning against mental idolatry. By an irony of circumstances even this symbolic warning has itself been explained in a literal sense, already in early times.

The Bible is full of warnings against literalism. I have shown at length elsewhere[2] that Jesus thundered at the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites”[3] for the same reason, accusing them of killing the prophets, that is, those who reveal the inner or symbolic meaning of Scripture, which is often much the opposite of the literal meaning. I have also shown that Jesus was killed by the priests of Jerusalem, representing the literal interpretation of the Law or Tradition, because he stood for the inner meaning. The Sin of Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, the only sin that “shall not be forgiven”,[4] is also intimately connected with literalism.

As “prophecy” is, etymologically and traditionally, the “forth-speaking” of the inner meaning of the Law or the Tradition, “blasphemy” is the “hurt-speaking”. This is the wrong interpretation of the Law, based on the literal and the rational view. Therefore Jesus said: “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.”[5] Thought always stands in the way of the spiritual or inner functions of life. The Holy Ghost is the spirit of the Law or the Tradition. Quite significantly Jesus, before he spoke the words just quoted, said: “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.”[6] “Blasphemy” against the Holy Ghost, that is, the wrong interpretation along literal and rational lines of the Spirit of the Tradition, is the unpardonable sin, because it affects the world at large.

In the clunky, old-fashioned language of Dr. Mees and the Bible, Jesus is recommending the we don’t plan our words and actions in advance, but stay fluid and respond according to the Holy Spirit of the moment.

In preparing to meet dangerous situations we must not commit ourselves to fixed plans and programs, but instead learn to listen to the “still small voice” within.

I gave two examples of dangerous situations from my own life, one where I was totally self-abnegating and one where I was aggressive. Both reactions occurred spontaneously and neither had been the least premeditated, and both worked spectacularly to diffuse the tension.

The outcome of this line of thought was the motto: “Meditate—don’t premeditate.” Or “Don’t premeditate—meditate.” Not bad for an evening’s work….

The second hour was spent in exploring the dialectic/yoga approach to the question of control in relation to how we live our lives. This is an important issue that we’ll pursue in the next class as well.


We started out exploring anger and reactivity. Larry mentioned being angered by a political email and later regretting his feelings. This is a perfect example of how our conditionings envelop the whole of our lives to produce unhappiness. Larry’s anger was a genuine reaction to a stupid and hurtful comment he encountered. But the invisible hand of his parents and teachers reached out of the deep past to tell him no, it’s bad to get angry. You must stifle your emotions. Between his honest feelings and his self-inflicted suppression of them, Larry was naturally feeling very conflicted. Probably there was a sense of shame too, which is how we felt as children in such situations. Remember how your cheeks burned when you were humiliated for doing the wrong thing? It was precisely because you didn’t think it was wrong at the time.

This is exactly the state that the Gita seeks to free us from, and I hope we can all see how we get into the same situation over and over in our lives. This is not just Larry’s problem, it’s our common plight as civilized humans. If we’re lucky we still feel the upsurge of righteous feelings, but then we immediately suppress them. Often we feel guilty. Those feelings are not approved! Bad boy! Bad girl!

Freud was right that we take over the job of self-policing from our parents and teachers. A socially “healthy” adult has an active superego so that everyone can leave them to their own devices, safe in the knowledge that they will behave themselves. The “healthiest” ones hardly notice their true feelings at all any more.

In order for us to trust ourselves enough to allow ourselves genuine expressions again, we need to turn away from the socially conditioned world to the much vaster realm of the spirit, the divinity within us. The Gita’s recommendation is to learn see the Absolute in everything and everyone. This frees us from the fear that our natural expressions will be bad or evil. Freud’s great failing was to buy the Judeo-Christian view that our true nature is evil, and so to accept suppression as necessary. The Gita celebrates the spirit of life as neutral but paradoxically full of benevolence. Insight into this part of our own nature is a tremendous relief, in that all our self-censorship can begin to be retracted. As it is withdrawn, our naturally loving and compassionate essences flood back in to assume their rightful place in the world.

The dialectical balancing of our attitude is the key to this opening up process. We have examined in some detail the dialectic of control/no control in the last two classes. Larry’s uncontrolled reaction was stifled by the controlling side of his mind. A dialectician could then step back and examine the situation contemplatively, perceiving that neither of these by itself is an adequate response, but some kind of dynamic equipoise can bring about the optimum action. An uncontrolled reaction invites an equal or even greater negative reaction by the other party, and a stifled reaction produces heartburn and all the other symptoms of a repressed personality. Finding a balanced synthesis is the Gita’s way out of all such impossible conundrums.

Once you regain balance in your life, the anger inside dissipates. It turns out that anger builds up from the very act of stifling yourself and frustrating your expression. Once the dam is breached you will begin to discover that your reactions are more compassionate and more in tune with positive solutions. The desire to self-censure can be eased off simultaneously. This most definitely leads to a happier life.

There is a very well known fairy tale that teaches dialectic thinking. Let’s see who can identify it at the next class.

[Goldilox and the Three Bears]

10/31 Dream

I’m in a small office. I’ve somehow got hold of a substance with a minor magical property. I have these flat blue rubber rectangles that are like deflated balloons, and if I put some of the substance on them I can throw them and they’ll stick to the wall. I’ve tried it without the magic, and the rubber rectangles just hit the wall and fall to the floor. With it, if I throw them just right they’ll stick. It’s still like throwing a leaf: they wriggle and wobble in flight, and if they hit on an edge they bounce off, but when I get it just right they stick. Everyone finds it really fascinating when they do and goes over to admire them.

As I woke up I realized what the dream meant and had a good laugh. The office was a lot like the previous classrooms at the UU, and the deflated balloons were ideas I was tossing out. It was a metaphor for our Gita class! I kept hurling two-dimensional ideas hoping they would stick. Mostly they didn’t make any sense to people, so they fell flat, but if I got it just right they would work and pique everyone’s interest. We admired them together, from the same side of the wall, so at least the element of pedagogy was minimized. Unfortunately, they were still flat images, merely representational of what they could be in “real life.” It was like they produced an electric current inside the walls that held them like an electromagnet. I was pondering the mystery of this when I came out of the dream.

Isn’t this the perennial problem a teacher faces? How to communicate something more than a flat image, how to make the ideas become inflated to their true shape with meaning. In the case of balloons, you fill them with hot air—i.e. words—but we’re all hoping for something better than that. For the class to really have meaning we have to inflate them with our imagination first and our daily life immediately after. Then the game will stop being a farce and become a step in the right direction.

Advice from the unconscious always helps! Ciao, Scott


Ah! Here's an example of what happens when you reinflate those ideas with your own effort! This made my day as well as Wendy's. RST

dear Scott Thanks for the class notes and verse 75. What a glorious start to the day. Very timely too, as I got quite cross with Karel yesterday in the garden, as we wern't working together well and the wet weather made us even grumpier, so that we ended up having an altercation. It hung around all the evening and I felt really guilty for being beastly and gave myself a hard time and wasn't I supposed to be becoming a good person with the verses etc.. and so I crept into bed with my tail between my legs feeling utterly forlorn. Then this morning I found your notes on the computer and it cheered me up no end. I thought about how I could have handled my crossness differently and what a gift your notes were. Karel and I had a very close and happy day today and planted our spring bulbs in a spirit of harmony together. I remembered how I was always supposed to be "a good girl" as a child. I did my best to fulfil this and always felt dreadfully guilty if I got angry about anything. It is a hard one to shake off. I am trying. I am savouring verse 75 and have copied it as you sent it, so I can enjoy it. Thanks a million. love wendy

Nov. 5

We delved once again into the mysteries of the yoga-dialectic of the Gita. Afterwards at some friends’ house I ran across the book The Alphabet Versus The Goddess. Perhaps some of you know it? The author, Leonard Schlain, distinguishes picture language and alphabetically written language as right brain/left brain, female/male and so on, and traces the historical changes ensuing from the adoption of writing. Although I haven’t read it yet, it appears to be a “lite” version of what Nataraja Guru made a centerpiece of his philosophy, protolanguage versus metalanguage, and offers simplified examples of the dialectic thinking praised in the Gita as Yoga. Might be worth a look.

If I draw a picture on the flip chart and don’t say anything about it, you won’t get too much out of it. If I talk and talk about the idea I’m trying to get across, it becomes excessively verbose and confusing, and very quickly your mind begins to block it out. But if I can draw or communicate a picture along with some explanatory words, at some point of proper balance of both those elements the meaning of it leaps into your mind, generating excitement and comprehension together. Great teachers do this continuously, while the ordinary types get there once in awhile or not at all…. The point is that the spiritual event—understanding—comes as a flash of insight arising out of the happy blending of the two poles of how our mind thinks.

Nataraja Guru praises this moment as attaining the Absolute. At the very least it is the gist of contemplation, from which the “aha!” springs. It is full of ananda, bliss. It tends to lead to further insights.

As we infuse our lives with bliss, minor irritations are absorbed automatically and cease to bother us. If you get really good at it, major irritations are absorbed as well. No wonder yoga is praised as being of great value.

I think the usual process is to use words in different ways until a picture is generated in the mind. At that point the other person says “I get it” even though what they get may be different from the original. In any case, something about the pictorial element seems to being life to our understanding.

Gail started a very interesting discussion of dialectics in relation to same sex couples and marriage. Many people were very excited that it appeared society was finally ready to accept this. She noted how the movement unintentionally produced a counterblast resulting in numerous states passing laws outlawing it. Gail correctly noted that this is a historical dialectic, but was bothered why the Gita would praise it and how it could be used positively.

Issues like this hinge on two distinct frames of reference which we often fail to distinguish. In this case it’s the social and individual levels that are being mixed up. While it is safe and healthy to practice dialectic thinking yourself, once you try to take your agenda into a closed society you are asking for trouble. There every action produces an equal—or greater—reaction.

When the Gita says be careful about getting too excited about things, this is partly what it’s about. Everyone’s enthusiasm to welcome another slice of humanity into equal status caused them to ignore the likely repercussions. There was a rush to do as much as possible to quickly right ages-old wrongs. Unfortunately, the issue was exploited by cynical politicians and the attempt backfired in some respects.

One should not forget that gains were made as well. Dialectics reminds us to not just look at the counterblast and become sad, but balance that with the happiness that came from all those weddings, which gave lots of people the chance to reach out to their neighbors and reassure them and show them their love. People everywhere felt a sense of hope. Those connections are more direct or real than the hatred of church groups in Alabama or even Wilsonville.

This process has many historical precedents. The movements of the Sixties created much more powerful countermovements, so that in a sense we were responsible for the Reagan/Bush juggernaut being as successful as it was. We rushed forward blindly and naively, while the haters of humanity hunkered down with pencils and paper to make their plans. (This was the old days, remember.) Charging at an imagined enemy (however real they may seem) is all too reminiscent of a bull charging a red cape. If you want to have substantive, positive change, you have to pull up your chariot into the middle of the situation and calmly study both (or all) sides. If you’re attached to one faction or the other you won’t be able to do this.

On the individual level, the process is identical, but you can control the aftereffects better. Chances are much higher for success. Most people are stuck on the polarity heterosexual/homosexual, and the threat to their self-image from homosexuality touches primal fears. This can be reinforced by so-called religious beliefs that claim you should only love the opposite sex and if you don’t you’re evil. A yogi looks at the issue unitively. What unites both sides is the desire for a mate or for the love of another person. This is a very nearly universal need among humans. I like the love of my friend; you like the love of your friend; at this level we are the same. Simple. When you look at it that way you don’t need to fight.

Once again, the next class is on the 18th, two weeks off. Then two more in December, 2nd and 9th I think it is. Keep heart! Scott

A parable from Sraddha, 11/5/4

There once was a poor old man who owned a beautiful white horse.

Whenever noblemen passed through the village, they always noticed the horse and offered handsome sums of money for the stallion. But the old man always declined their offers, saying, “This horse is my friend. How can I sell my friend?”

One morning the old man awoke to find the horse was gone. The village people gathered and said, „Old man you were a fool not to sell the horse. You could have been wealthy! Now it has been stolen, and you have nothing. It is a great misfortune! But the old man replied, “Don’t go so far as to say that. Whether the horse was stolen or not, or whether it is a misfortune or a blessing, is unknown. All we know is that the horse is not in the stable.

Some days later the horse returned, bringing with it several beautiful wild mares. Again the village people gathered, and they said, “Old man you were right! The horse was not stolen, and it was not a misfortune. It was a blessing, and now you have many fine horses!” But the old man replied, “Again you go too far. Don’t say it’s a good thing, don’t say it’s a bad thing. Just say the horse is back. Whether it is a blessing or a misfortune is unknown.

Some days later the old man’s only son began to train the wild mares, but he was thrown and trampled, and one of his legs was badly broken. Again the village people gathered. “Oh old man, you were right! It was not a blessing but a great misfortune, and now your only son is lame! With a sigh the old man replied, “Don’t say it’s a good thing, don’t say it’s a bad thing, just say my son has broken his leg. Whether it is a blessing or a misfortune is unknown.

It happened that a few weeks later the country went to war, and all the able bodied young men were forcibly taken for the military. Only the old man’s son was passed over, because he was crippled. The whole village was crying and weeping, for they believed their son’s would probably be killed and never come home to them. In their grief they came to the old man and said, “You were right old man, your son’s injury has proven to be a blessing. Your son may be crippled, but he is with you, while our son’s are gone forever! The old man simply shook his head and said, “Will you never learn? Only say that your sons have been forced into the military and my son has not. More than that is not known.


> Life is a mystery, unfolding moment my moment, event by event. What looks like misfortune can, in time, be a blessing, and vise versa. The journey never ends. One path ends, another begins: one door closes, another opens. Those who are courageous are content with the journey, content to live the moment and grow into it without judgement of its future meaning or value, walking what Castenada called “the Path with Heart.”

And there I wander - looking, looking breathlessly.

"Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine!" - Buddha, 568-488 BC.


Our one meeting for a month was a delight. We covered so much ground I can’t even begin to summarize it. Lots of participation by everyone added that mysterious element of bliss that is the je ne sais quoi of a successful class.

Sorry, my computer isn’t intelligent enough to send italics. There are lots of italicized words in this note you’ll just have to guess at.

We got the class off on the right foot with the following email from Baird:

I am passing this on to you

because it definitely worked for me

and we all could use more calm in our lives.

By following the simple advice

I heard on the Dr. Phil show,

I have finally found inner peace.

Dr. Phil proclaimed

"The way to achieve inner peace

is to finish all the things you've started."

So I looked around my house to see

all the things I started and hadn't finished.

So, before leaving the house this morning,

I finished off a bottle of Merlot,

a bottle of White Zinfandel, a bottle of Bailey's,

a bottle of Kahlua, a package of Oreos,

the remainder of both

the Prozac and Valium prescriptions,

the rest of the cheesecake,

some saltines and a box of chocolates.

You have no idea how freaking good I feel.

Please pass this on to those

you feel are in need of inner peace.

Next we tried to define truth, which is something we feel certain about, but it’s more mysterious than we think. We came up with a few attributes, but not what it was. Here’s the list of dictionary definitions I brought in:

What is truth?

Random House dikker:

actual – existing in act or fact; real.

be – to exist.

exist – to have actual being; be.

fact – the quality of existing or of being real; actuality; truth.

real – true; actual.

reality – that which is real.

true – in accordance with and not contrary to fact. Having a basis in fact.

truth – true or actual state of a matter. Conformity with fact or reality; verity.

verity – the state or quality of being true.

NOW tell me what truth is…. Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free—but what is it? The search for meaning—the meaning of meaning—is an integral part of the spiritual quest.

Probably the most important idea of the evening centered around how intuition reveals the Absolute. Henri Bergson, the great French philosopher, found agreement with the Upanishads in his equating the Absolute with pure movement and pure duration. It is like a flowing river. Our normal mode of thought is to sit on the bank and make mental images, like snapshots of it. Our minds are filled with these static snapshots, which I illustrated with rectangular picture frames superimposed on the flowing river.

The river is the source of an infinite number of static images, but no amount of images put together can ever equal the pure flow of the Absolute. Although 24 frames a second can fool the mind into perceiving a flow of static images as a movie, it’s still only a simulation. To truly participate in the flow one must plunge into the river by an act of intuition, in the way Bergson describes: “The true mystic just opens his heart to the onrushing wave.” This illustrates his two ways of knowing a thing, either from outside as ideas about it or inside as being it.

Some images are fairly accurate and others less accurate. Some have the mark of eternal truth when they really match the flow. But all images fall outside the river to some degree.

We discussed in some detail how we become attached to our mental imagery and fail to keep up with the flow. Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters put all their youthful, psychedelic-inspired energies into trying to catch up to the moment, but found it always just ahead of them. The minute you examine something, you have to hold it for a second and you’re already a step behind.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” are the immortal words that F. Scott (no relation) Fitzgerald ends The Great Gatsby. We fixate on our best assessment of reality with the help of parents, school and church, and lose the dynamism we’re born with as children of the Absolute. Worse, we become identified with our images to the point that any criticism of them is a criticism of us. Now we’re ready to fight. People who have different lifestyles or attitudes are an implicit criticism of our own views, so we resent or hate them. The dark side of our mind thinks the best fix is to destroy those who are different from us.

Luckily, since everyone understands this mechanism, which is widely taught, world peace is flourishing on all hands….

An important corollary is that many people are satisfied with the happiness they derive from clinging to outmoded ideas. As long as they aren’t being excessively harmful to others, there’s no value in trying to change their minds. It’s ourselves we have to work on. We’re the ones who are unsatisfied with the dead letter and are looking for the living spirit. Let the dead bury the dead. Find the river of ever-new life for yourself and don’t worry about anyone else. Once you’ve found it you can share your light with all, but until you do you’re only making trouble. An awful lot of conflict comes from arguing over whose static concepts are better. Yes, they have a relative degree of largeness and inclusiveness or smallness and exclusivity, but that’s not important. The real solution is to attain the Absolute and incorporate all relative positions into your oceanic vision of love and forgiveness.

Here’s how Nataraja Guru summarizes a section on intuition:

The Absolute has to have a living content, without which it is nothing more than a word without meaning in life. The content is the resultant of the meeting, from two opposing sides, as it were, of physical and metaphysical factors, both reducible in terms of intuition into a common homogeneity. When so reduced into unitive terms there will be a mutual transparency and participation between matter and mind in a neutral matrix with a constant osmotic interchange, like respiration mentioned in many of the Upanishads.

Action and inaction meet in such an alternating osmotic interchange that is both inter-subjective and trans-physical. This grand osmosis, which includes the macro- and microcosms at once within consciousness, collective or individual, yields peace and joy without limit. Such are some of the high claims of Vedanta. (Vedanta Revalued and Restated, Ch. 12)

Don’t be frustrated if you didn’t understand this completely on a first reading. That’s Nataraja Guru for you.

A key factor in staying alive and attuned to the world in a healthy way is to reevaluate or even discard old frames of reference when they become outmoded. The great minds that found their way into the flow conceived beautiful frameworks to express what they discovered. We have been blessed with their visions as the religious and philosophical systems that have been handed down to us, and they can remain valid for a long time. But they only remain alive if they are reinterpreted by each succeeding generation. Once conformity with somebody else’s interpretation is enforced, the visions die. Many examples leapt to everyone’s mind here, not only Christianity, but “the Founding Fathers,” detachment, God, and on and on. Once-grand ideas that have been reinterpreted until they bear little or no resemblance to the original, but have become albatrosses we hang on each other like leis.

You can see what a mine of great ideas we stumbled into here. I could write all day, but luckily a neighbor’s coming over with her one-year-old son, so I’m heading down to the river that each child embodies so amazingly.

I’m outta gas and time. From here on I’ll tuck a miscellany of notes and stuff. The first was mentioned at the end of class, the rest are just in case you wish to have a few more ideas to stew around in.

Here’re my class notes on how to apply nondual thinking in real life:

How do we use advaita in daily activities? Example, in hatha yoga:

I’m doing this because I’ll become more flexible. No (neti neti).

I’m doing this because it’s good for me. neti neti

I’m doing this because it’s my job. neti neti

I’m doing this because it’ll make me more attractive. neti neti

I’m doing this so I’ll live longer. neti neti

I’m doing this so I’ll be peaceful. neti neti

You’re just doing it. Get more and more into just doing it, and toss out the reasons. As this progresses there’ll be an increasing attunement that transcends reasons. This is what the Gita means by subtracting expectations from your motivation. By having no expectations you become totally open to what’s happening, and can truly experience things as if for the first time.

Here’s something I wrote for a book flap which of course was deleted but I still like it:

Have you ever seen a dog on a leash being dragged along, whining and rolling its eyes in terror? Not likely. They strain forward with every atom of their being, blissfully investigating every nuance of their environment, wagging their tails in delight. Such is the proper attitude of a seeker of truth. Unfortunate conditioning may make us afraid to participate in this wondrous world in which we have taken up temporary abode, but when everything extraneous is subtracted through insightful contemplation our natural eagerness is effortlessly restored.

They don’t call ‘em pointers for nothing!

And a last mega-tidbit (is this an oxymoron?) from Nataraja Guru:

from Vedanta Revalued and Restated:

8.1 One could approach the Absolute and merge with it finally so as to attain salvation or freedom in various ways, all of which come under two heads: the way of wisdom and the way of works or action. Although the distinction between them is initially understood to be one of contradiction between the two, by treating both through the dialectical method proper to yoga, they each become understandable in terms of the other. Both finally merge in the unity of the Absolute. The various possibilities in this respect are elaborated most masterfully in the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.

8.2 The dialectical treatment of wisdom and works, so that one or other or both yield salvation or freedom, is the secretmost doctrine of the Bhagavad Gita (iv, 18). In the light of this principle of reducing opposites into unitive terms dialectically, there are other important derived doctrines of Vedanta stated in the Gita referring to a way of life, of which that of action dedicated to the wisdom of the Absolute (nishkama-karma) and that of not swerving from the path of life that is fully compatible with one's own past and the future (svadharma), which is correctly open to each person, and that of keeping the spirit ever positively oriented to the Absolute, equalizing opposites at each stage within pure consciousness, fully verticalized in yogic contemplation, of which the key word is equanimity (samya), are some of the important corollaries derivable for understanding the Vedantic way of life, dedicated to the Absolute.

Have a lovely time giving thanks to That which sustains us all. Peace, Scott


Only Baird has sent back thoughts on truth so far, though the world is still young:

Thanks lending me your pagan pamphlet.

It was published by the Pathfinder Press

sponsor of the great wall social justice mural

on which it says

"The truth must not only be the truth,

... it must also be told."

reminding me that

Truth - rather than a state of being -

is a relationship.

Truth is that which is accepted.

By whom and from whom.

The absolute can not be true -

it is too big to be true.

The finite can not be true -

truth is to big to be finite.

So it boils down to this:

Who do you trust?

The one who speaks truth to me.

This is very nice, yet we should keep in mind that relational truth refers to only the facets of the diamond of truth, and not the whole jewel. Remember in L&B (Love and Blessings) how Gandhi describes truth as many-faceted, like a diamond? He meant that truth comprises the sum total of perspectives involved in any situation. Each person has their own sense of certitude, their own version of truth, but only when you take them all together can you begin to get a sense of the big picture. Moreover, all the facets are held together by the solid core of the diamond itself, without which they would only exist in isolation, and there would be no meaning in the world.

Relational truth is between one facet and another, and should not be minimized. It is the truth we experience in the transactional world, related to Narayana Guru’s admonition “Ours is not to argue and win, but to know and let know.” One facet is not more important of valuable than any other. The basis of democracy, among other things, is a mutual respect between facets who know they are only “a piece of the continent, a part of the main,” in John Donne’s immortal sermon.

Modern hubris-saturated politicians loudly proclaim “The truth is what we say it is,” and rush full speed ahead right into a rock wall. A contemplative becomes familiar with his or her own truth and then looks to incorporate all the other needs and angles of vision into it. The All is embraced. There is no compulsion to exclude any part of the picture in order to gain advantage over others, since the maximum good of all is the goal.

Yet this is still only relational truth. I would contend that the Absolute IS truth. At least in the Indian view, the Absolute is exactly what is true, and the relative expresses—with varying degrees of accuracy—bits of the whole truth. I like Baird’s rubric and take it as an admirable application of dialectic thinking, with a conclusion that holds a lot of value, but by separating the Absolute from truth it seems to me it doesn’t quite penetrate to the essence. I guess I could say that about all our shots at pinning down truth!

Keeping in mind that anything that has an opposite is not the Absolute, it cannot be said that the Absolute is big or small. Obviously, if we define the Absolute as unknowable and indefinable, and we equate truth with it, then truth is going to come in as indefinite and unknowable. Curiously, the claim of Vedanta is that we CAN know the Absolute, by participating in it via mystical intuition and surrendering our partial vision for an overwhelming participation in the whole. Many religions offer the assurance that such an experience is valid, i.e. true. At any rate, we can but try.

To sum up, there is the truth of individual conviction (one facet), the truth of the totality of individual convictions (the surface), and a transcendental truth that is the Source of all (the Core) and paradoxically includes the surface. With so much truth around, you’d think it wouldn’t be so hard to find!

That Alone (Atmo) has a large number of interesting entries indexed under truth. The book itself begins with truth on the very first page: Narayana Guru’s point that to know that the wave and water are not two is the goal of spiritual search. Our initial attitude is to see God or the Absolute as separate from the world. The truth of the matter is they are one. Realizing this is all that matters, but it’s far more than an intellectual notion. It has to become a living reality at every moment. That takes a little digging for most of us.

Luckily, the gems we dig up on the way make it an exciting pastime. Happy hunting! Scott

12/2/4 class

Oh, baby! It would be a piece of cake to write an entire book, or even several, about the subjects we covered last night. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do the class much justice, but I’ll give it a try.

Once again, lots of participation by lots of people helped make this particularly exciting in my estimation. Thanks to all and keep it up, in class and out.

We began by exploring the question What actually changed on Election Day 2004? Hopes were dashed, there was the realization that the country is deeply divided, despair felt, cynicism reinforced. It’s safe to say that a large chunk of the compassionate half of the world went into shock for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

As soon as we looked for actual changes on Election Day, though, they were only between our ears. For instance, the “deep divide” of the nation meant that blue and red states had very slightly different percentages in who voted for whom, most people still abstaining in disgust. The slight variations in support for each candidate can readily be traced to propaganda and advertising, not people’s core beliefs. The fact remains that humans all over the globe have essentially the same views on morality. Comparative religious studies have never found important differences in values anywhere on earth. Once again, a belief based on nothing at all is causing a national stomach ache.

So from a broad perspective nothing actually changed; only our expectations were proved to be groundless. We believed that by voting for someone almost identical to Bush that the genocidal war would end, environmental destruction cease, persecution of minorities vanish, and so on. Whether or not this was justified, the crushing of those expectations was the cause of the shock.

This helps illuminate one of the Gita’s most important and most frequently misunderstood ideas, that we should act without expectations. People’s expectations diverted energy from activities that might well have been much more constructive. They were based on false premises, as most expectations are, which then caused grief when their bubble was popped.

We talked about high school students, many of whom draw their motivation from getting good grades to get into a good college, so they can work hard to get a good job, so they can work hard to get a good retirement, so they can start having fun. Such expectations breed a profoundly negative attitude due to suppression of natural expression. Either the kids push themselves hard and are anxious all the time or they become titanically cynical and hostile to an imagined world that gives them no other options.

Working without expectations is as spiny a problem as acting with detachment, which is related. They may even be two descriptions of the same thing. Our first thoughts are that this is close to being dead: that not having expectations means you can’t have a vision to work toward, you shouldn’t take pleasure in life, or care about outcomes. I can only advise that we take it as a given that we should take pleasure in life, have grand visions, and work meaningfully, which implies a certain level of care about outcomes, and then see what’s left to eliminate. The election gives a perfect illustration of the useless side of expectations, where our hopes cause us to defer our presence in the now in favor of imaginary future gains. It saps our ability and need to function, handing the initiative to “others.” This in turn causes us to look elsewhere for solutions: somebody else will take care of things. This goes very deep because our early days on earth were dominated by our caregivers taking charge of everything for us, while we lay at our ease in our bassinets. Those were the “good old days.”

No, first off we have to extract all the false notions from our imaginings, which brings our expectations down to size, and then realize that things are going to turn out differently than we expect anyway, so we can adopt a wait and see attitude about what our actions are going to accomplish. A clear-eyed look at politics would quickly show that where we longed for an antiwar candidate, Kerry was pro-war. We would also admit that a president is the happy face on a huge, cumbersome military/industrial complex that lurches along out of the control of even its own insiders. Such changes as actually occur in our world come from the work of everyday people like us on circumstances over which they have a direct connection. Occasionally these matters do come to a vote, as Chris pointed out, with local issues like medical marijuana, but the vote is just the last tiny bit of a big effort and de facto acceptance ahead of time.

The shock we felt at the election of a clear war criminal would have been minimized by stripping our fantasies from the reality, as best as we can grasp it. The worldwide stunned confusion was the nearly audible sound of all those illusions falling away. The Gita recommends we don’t follow our inclinations to quickly put on another set of illusory clothes to hide our nakedness, but dare to stand naked as upholders of truth.

An important part of the wisdom sacrifice is to step back and take a good look at what’s bothering us. It’s almost always true that we are being mislead or are misleading ourselves. Correcting this may not solve the world’s problems—that was reserved for the second hour of the class—but it allows you to keep your head above water and retain your sanity.

We next examined what actually happened on 9/11. It’s likely that each of us had a different view of what actually happened, since the official tale is so full of ludicrous fictions, but that day caused the same arrest of sanity through shock as the election, and the momentary suspension of disbelief allowed an aggressive cabal to consolidate its power even further. Those fellows’ forebears can be traced back to the Civil War or Louis the XIV or ancient Rome if you like, and the apparent change was in truth part of a continuum of a master/slave power struggle that never ends.

This dominance by the few is abetted by blaming the weak through appeals to a racist streak in many people. Currently Muslims are the preferred scapegoats, and there is widespread repetition of demonizing “facts” such as their propensity for suicide attacks. Once racist beliefs are lodged in a nation’s psyche, it is simple to lay the blame for all ills on those people. Hitler pioneered an advanced form of this during the Holocaust, and the current American administration is lifting the Nazis’ techniques wholesale, merely changing the identity of the subhumans. In Atmo verse 25, which was one of the class handouts we never went over, Nitya speaks of WWII in terms eerily reminiscent of today:

Narayana Guru’s disciple Nataraja Guru, in his commentary on this verse, says that when a spark of fire goes into a pile of sticks, it does not just burn one tiny bit of it. It will affect the next piece and the next until it becomes a conflagration. Like that, when we sow the seeds of discontent it is contagious. In a very literal sense it can become a hell fire, even when small discontentments accumulate.

An example of this is the little pamphlets printed and circulated in Japan prior to World War II that said, “America is our worst enemy. Our fleets and manufactured goods are rivaled by American mercantilism and American capitalist expansion, so they are our enemies. Spread this to every corner of Japan.” In America the same kind of rumor was spread: “Japan is our own worst enemy. If we allow that country to go on expanding, there won’t be any America left.” In each country, stereotypes and prejudices were fostered and reinforced. Soon American minds were filled with venom, and Japanese minds were filled with venom. A terrible war was fought, culminating in atom bombs being dropped on two Japanese cities. That was real hell fire: tens of thousands of people burned in no time, many more slowly suffering horrible pain and death.

It is not just a story Narayana Guru is telling us. It can become actual at any moment. It all begins from just one spark of discontentment or one wrong notion, and we have millions of them from which to choose. America has a huge stockpile of deadly weapons, enough to annihilate the entire planet many times over. Until recently, Russia’s stockpile was almost as large, and at least a half dozen other countries have nuclear arsenals. What are we doing? Accumulating the ability to devastate the whole universe? It all begins as paranoia in the mind of one person expressed to another. Someone in the CIA or the Pentagon says, “I really see the possibility of Russia or China attacking us tomorrow,” and then we go mad, preparing to do more destruction than ever before. Unfortunately it is not only in the matter of realization that the oneness of the Self operates. It also works very efficiently in becoming polluted with negativity.

“I really see the possibility of Al Qaeda attacking us tomorrow,” and then we go mad, preparing to do more destruction than ever before. Hmmm.

But why does this keep happening again and again, despite the best efforts of parents, teachers and civic-minded good samaritans? If you think this question hasn’t been answered, you’d be wrong.

One person with a terrific grasp of the problem is Alice Miller, who studied the Third Reich with an eye to finding a psychological explanation for it. An expanded Freudian, she was already cocking an eye toward childhood as a source for the deadly hatred, but she was nonetheless overwhelmed by what she discovered.

She made a very detailed study of Hitler, and then a further survey of most of the top Nazis. In every case there was extreme abuse and a demand for absolute obedience in childhood. In a long lifetime as a psychoanalyst she has yet to uncover even a single dictator, mass-murderer or other severe psychopath who did not have that background. She’s been on a campaign ever since to bring the light of compassion much deeper into child raising attitudes.

Basically she theorizes that abused children internalize their rage and frustration, where it eats at them for a lifetime if not exorcised through some form of therapy. Combined with the demand for obedience, this rage then becomes a tool of the state, the substitute parent of adulthood. Her devastating conclusions about the Third Reich fit the new American fascism like a glove. It’s no coincidence that fascist government appeals to Evangelical Christians, who still, Jesus notwithstanding, believe in severe punishment for children. Nor is it a coincidence that church and state consciously emulate parent figures in order to command the loyalty of those legions of adult children.

This is obviously a huge subject which you can read more on in her many books. In our second hour we barely scratched the surface. But it is a concrete situation that places our own compassion at the fulcrum where we might yet save the planet if we can only stop producing walking nuclear bomb humans through deranged parenting techniques.

My favorite Alice Miller sentence is:

The infantile revenge fantasies of individuals would be of no account if society did not regularly show such nave alacrity in helping to make them come true. (Paths of Life p 162.)

(This still bedevils me. I can understand psychopaths wanting to be leaders, but I have a hard time with all those lost adults who eagerly follow their every insane recommendation….)

On the next page she writes:

It is a well-known fact that things learned early in life are extremely hard to dislodge; in the course of time they can become “second nature.”

This does not of course exonerate the perpetrators of such criminal deeds. But it should motivate us to seriously consider the hypothesis that the propensity for active and voluntary involvement in organized genocide and torture is not a quirk of nature, an “act of God.” The individuals displaying such inclinations belong to the sizable group of people who have never developed the capacity to feel pity and compassion, or else have forfeited that capacity very early. The brains of these people may otherwise function impeccably, and this coupled with their crippling deficits in the emotional sphere make them ideal instruments for the implementation of the crazed designs of paranoid leaders. (Paths of Life p 163.)


Now that we have seen how easy it is for intellectuals in a dictatorship to be corrupted, it would be a vestige of aristocratic snobbery to think that only “the uneducated masses” are susceptible to propaganda. Both Hitler and Stalin had a surprisingly large number of enthusiastic followers among intellectuals. Our capacity to resist has nothing to do with our intelligence but with the degree of access to our true self. Indeed, intelligence is capable of innumerable rationalizations when it comes to the matter of adaptation. Educators have always known this and have exploited it for their own purposes, as the following proverb suggests: “The clever person gives in, the stupid one balks.” (For Your Own Good, p 43.)

Enforcing obedience on the child not only enables her to become the perfect citizen of a dictatorship:

What kind of Paradise is it in which it is forbidden—under threat of loss of love and of abandonment, of feeling guilty and ashamed—to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, i.e. to ask questions and seek answers to them? Why should it be wicked to want to know what is happening, to want to orient oneself in the world?

Who is this contradictory God/Father who had the need to create a curious Eve and at the same time forbid her to live according to her true nature?

It is conceivable that the alienated, perverse, and destructive side of present-day scientific investigation is a delayed consequence of this prohibition. If Adam is not allowed to be aware of what is before his very eyes, he will direct his curiosity to goals as far removed from himself as possible. He will conduct experiments in outer space, will play with machines, computers, monkeys’ brains, or human lives in order to satisfy his curiosity, but will always take anxious care not to let his gaze rest on the “Tree of Knowledge” planted right in front of him. (Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, p.95.)

In passing I should mention that to live in keeping with one’s dharma, of the Gita and elsewhere, is the same as Miller’s “to live according to her true nature,” above. It has nothing to do with duty, as unenlightened commentators continue to insist. Speaking of obedience and duty, Alice says:

We admire people who oppose the regime in a totalitarian country and think they have courage or a “strong moral sense” or have remained “true to their principles” or the like. We may also smile at their naivete, thinking, “Don’t they realize that their words are of no use at all against this oppressive power? That they will have to pay dearly for their protest?”

Yet it is possible that both those who admire and those who scorn these protestors are missing the real point: individuals who refuse to adapt to a totalitarian regime are not doing so out of a sense of duty or because of naivete but because they cannot help but be true to themselves. The longer I wrestle with these questions, the more I am inclined to see courage, integrity, and a capacity for love not as “virtues,” not as moral categories, but as the consequences of a benign fate.

Morality and performance of duty are artificial measures that become necessary when something essential is lacking. The more successfully a person was denied access to his or her feelings in childhood, the larger the arsenal of intellectual weapons and the supply of moral prostheses has to be, because morality and a sense of duty are not sources of strength or fruitful soil for genuine affection. Blood does not flow in artificial limbs; they are for sale and can serve many masters. What was considered good yesterday can—depending on the decree of government or party—be considered evil and corrupt today, and vice versa. But those who have spontaneous feelings can only be themselves. They have no other choice if they want to remain true to themselves. Rejection, ostracism, loss of love, and name calling will not fail to affect them; they will suffer as a result and will dread them, but once they have found their authentic self they will not want to lose it. And when they sense that something is being demanded of them to which their whole being says no, they cannot do it. They simply cannot.

This is the case with people who had the good fortune of being sure of their parents’ love even if they had to disappoint certain parental expectations. Or with people who, although they did not have this good fortune to begin with, learned later—for example, in analysis—to risk the loss of love in order to regain their lost self. They will not be willing to relinquish it again for any price in the world. (For Your Own Good, pp.84-85.)

Need I add, the Bhagavad Gita is the story of Arjuna, bound by the conditioning of his upbringing, learning from Guru Krishna how to regain his lost self.

A couple more and then I’m off to bed:

Those who were permitted to react appropriately throughout their childhood—i.e. with anger—to the pain, wrongs, and denial inflicted upon them either consciously or unconsciously will retain this ability to react appropriately later in life too. When someone wounds them as adults, they will be able to recognize and express this verbally. But they will not feel the need to lash out in response. This need arises only for people who must always be on their guard to keep the dam that restrains their feelings from breaking. For if this dam breaks, everything becomes unpredictable. Thus, it is understandable that some of these people, fearing unpredictable consequences, will shrink from any spontaneous reaction; the others will experience occasional outburst of inexplicable rage directed against substitute objects or will resort repeatedly to violent behavior such as murder or acts of terrorism. A person who can understand and integrate his anger as part of himself will not become violent. He has the need to strike out at others only if he is thoroughly unable to understand his rage, if he was not permitted to become familiar with this feeling as a small child, was never able to experience it as a part of himself because such a thing was totally unthinkable in his surroundings.

With these dynamics in mind, we will not be surprised to learn from the statistics that 60 percent of German terrorists in recent years have been the children of Protestant ministers. The tragedy of this situation lies in the fact that the parents undoubtedly had the best of intentions; from the very beginning, they wanted their children to be good, responsive, well-behaved, agreeable, undemanding, considerate, unselfish, self-controlled, grateful, neither willful nor headstrong nor defiant, and above all meek. (For Your Own Good, p. 65.)

But who is it actually who is so eager to see that society’s norms are observed, who persecutes and crucifies those with the temerity to think differently—if not people who have had a “proper upbringing”? They are the ones who learned as children to accept the death of their souls and do not notice it until they are confronted with the vitality of their young or adolescent children. Then they must try to stamp out this vitality, so they will not be reminded of their own loss….

The caring parents of the child Jesus have never served as models; on the contrary, religious manuals generally recommend strict disciplinary measures starting in infancy. Once it is no longer a secret that certain psychological laws are behind this kind of model, once enough parents become aware that preaching love will not nurture the child’s ability to love, whereas respect and understanding will, then those who receive this respect and understanding in childhood will no longer be the exceptions and will not have to die a martyr’s death.

If we also take Herod as a symbol of our own society, we can point to aspects of the story of Jesus that may be used as arguments either for or against traditional child-rearing practices (depending on our personal experience): on the one hand, the massacre of the innocents and, on the other, extraordinary parents, servants of their child, who in the eyes of traditional pedagogues would then of necessity have become tyrants. Society, personified in Herod, fears children’s vitality and authenticity and attempts to eradicate them, but lived-out truth cannot be destroyed, not even when the officials of Church and state take it upon themselves to “administer” the truth with the intent of eliminating it. The repeated resurrection of the truth cannot be suppressed; again and again, individual human beings affirm and live it. The Church as a social institution has continually attempted to prevent this resurrection from taking place—for example, by instigating wars in the name of Christ or by encouraging parents to use strict coercive measures to deaden their children’s souls (i.e., feelings) in the name of the sacred values of child-rearing (obedience, submissiveness, denial of self).

The Church’s struggle (supposedly an expression of God’s will) against children’s vitality is renewed daily by training them to be blindly obedient to those in authority and to think of themselves as wicked; this approach is more reminiscent of Herod, with his fear of the resurrection of the truth in the child, than it is of Jesus, with His demonstrated confidence in human potentiality. The hatred rooted in the small child’s reaction to this training swells to immense proportions, and the Church (in part unconsciously) abets the proliferation of evil, which, on a conscious level, it professes to oppose. (Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, pp.98-99.)

Sent by a friend:

The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, our perceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday the body will present the bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.

As Susan and Rousseau noted, we are like a tree that enters the world perfect and straight, but as it grows it becomes warped and deformed by the various environmental factors it is subjected to. Ordinary therapy or the support of a group merely props up the deformed plant as it has grown. To restore its true nature one has to go to the root, prune away the deformed matter through conscious awareness, and correct the environmental factors of false beliefs and poisonous attitudes. The result will be new healthy growth that can some day provide shade and nourishment to others.

To sum up, the class was not really about the election and 9/11, it was about how our unquestioned assumptions, expectations and beliefs guide our lives and cause us pain and confusion. Many of these are instigated so early in life as to be totally unnoticed by us as adults. The Vedantic methodology is a process of examining these in order to pare down our illusions to the bare minimum, which occasions the rebirth of the spirit within, the finding of our true nature, or whatever you like to call it. I hope everyone can use these examples to see how to address ALL their conditioned beliefs. Applying critical examination on a daily basis is both the high road to happiness and the greatest contribution each of us can make to the health and sanity of the whole human species.

Voting is the least you can do; reawakening the bountiful force of life within yourself is the best you can do.

We closed with some relevant words from the Tao Te Ching, Gia-fu Feng’s translation:

A truly good man is not aware of his goodness,

And is therefore good.

A foolish man tries to be good,

And is therefore not good.

A truly good man does nothing,

Yet leaves nothing undone.

A foolish man is always doing,

Yet much remains to be done.

When a truly kind man does something, he leaves nothing undone.

When a just man does something, he leaves a great deal to be done.

When a disciplinarian does something and no one responds,

He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to enforce order.

Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.

When goodness is lost, there is kindness.

When kindness is lost, there is justice.

When justice is lost, there ritual.

Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.

Knowledge of the future is only a flowery trapping of Tao.

It is the beginning of folly.

Therefore the truly great man dwells on what is real and not what is on the surface,

On the fruit and not the flower.

Therefore accept the one and reject the other. (v. 38)

What is here awkwardly called “knowledge of the future,” Ursula Le Guin translates as opinion. Gita students might best use the word expectation.


When the great Tao is forgotten,

Kindness and morality arise.

When wisdom and intelligence are born,

The great pretense begins.

When there is no peace within the family,

Filial piety and devotion arise.

When the country is confused and in chaos,

Loyal ministers appear. (v.18)

Sleep well, Scott

12/9/4 class

Our last class began with a discussion of what salient ideas seemed valuable from our time together this fall. Larry mentioned wrestling with the business of giving up attachment to outcomes, and provided a perfect example of a coworker who always had very high expectations of new employees and inevitably after a few months would be bitterly disappointed by them. His example also reveals the subtle connection between dialectics and expectations, and points us to the way out of predicaments like this one. By examining the entire spectrum of feelings on a continuum we can attain a balance in our minds that precludes the need for expectations. In other words a clear-eyed assessment is satisfying enough that we don’t need to lay any additional projections onto the situation.

Chris proffered that she had been able to use dialectic reasoning to move from a frustrating place in a friendship to a more accepting one, and was very happy about it. This is exactly the point of a healthy philosophy: actually using ideas to lead you to a happier place. Nataraja Guru’s favorite mixed metaphor was “Armchair philosophy bakes no bread.” In other words, if what you believe doesn’t help you with your life in some way, it is meaningless.

Our discussion led us to recall a couple more important ideas: the meaning of life is to be happy, and “Don’t premeditate—meditate.”

So it appeared the class wasn’t a TOTAL waste of time….

Next I read out part of a chapter in the book I’m working on at the moment, Nitya’s Meditations on the Self. His self-assessment provides a lot of food for thought:



Bangalore August 27

This morning a friend wanted me to solemnize the marriage of his nephew. Marriage is not banned in the Gurukula. When young people are united in their hearts, we cooperate to unite them in the eyes of the outside world. For this purpose a ritual was conceived by Narayana Guru, which begins with a burnt sacrifice. It bears a passing resemblance to the ancient Vedic ritual for marriage.

My attitude towards life is that of a Vedantin. I don’t have gods to propitiate or desires to fulfill. To a Vedantin the reality of this world is phenomenal, and the acceptance of this truth is what has made me a renunciate.

What did I renounce? I did not renounce this world, because it is not mine to give up. I belong to it like a budding or withering flower, or a floating or raining cloud. Much of what I am is phenomenal. I have only existential validity in a certain time-space, cause-effect, action-reaction context. As time runs out the context may vary, and the variation eventually transforms everyone’s existence into history. I am comfortable when my past is not far off and my future is on the threshold of my present. In other words, when my ‘here’ is without any rigid spatial boundary and my ‘now’ is an eternal present.

What do I seek? Honestly nothing—not even truth or liberation. If I exist, I exist in truth. Truth manifests in me, and it sustains me. Perhaps I will only defile truth if I attempt to lay it bare on the surface of my consciousness. Of course, I prepare myself for the advent of truth, and I accept it gratefully whenever it reveals itself to me. I adore it, and I dedicate myself to it wholeheartedly.

But should I not be liberated? Physically I’m not bound; I can move about at will. Socially and politically I’m a free man. If I previously experienced any sense of bondage, it was as a paranoiac fear created by my own ill-conceived concepts of the ego and the superego, and my placement in society as a responsible member. By embracing death I have transcended fear. The only chains that can bind me now are my memories, and the only prison walls I see around me are my prejudices. The occasional compulsions that I might experience come from the vestiges of my emotional attachments.

I believe that I have succeeded in some measure in dismantling my anthropomorphic fixation on the superego. Today, in its place, I look for manifestations of beauty, goodness, justice, kindness, tenderness, openness, honesty, and a hundred other values. In contrast to a superego hanging heavily around my neck and forcing on me the compulsion of a categorical imperative, these virtues invite me to openly share their beauty and freely participate in their positive expression.

I am no longer at war with my ego, either. In the structuring of my consciousness, my ego acts as a central locus of coordination, and also as the percipient of the value orientation of all the passing gestalts of my wakeful and dream awareness. My ego assumes the role of the enjoyer, doer, and knower only when I consciously commission it to hold these positions. It is no longer rigid.

Even subliminal urges have become less exacting, and they show a willingness to play more open games. I am now happily placed, because I don’t have to feel terribly obliged to society or tradition. But I shouldn’t push this ruthless reasoning too far. After all, I did agree to perform the marriage ritual.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to dissect this sentence by sentence, which it thoroughly deserves. We did discuss the elusiveness of truth while acknowledging our inner certitude about it. The difficulty of pinning truth down has left ample room for propagandists to try the experiment of seeing just how far truth can be stretched before it breaks. As Focksnooze says “The truth is what we say it is,” and a high Bush cabal figure admitted this summer “We make our own reality.” Actually, we all do this to some extent, so it is very difficult to refute. One would have to be able to define truth, which we’ve found to be impossible. I guess all we can say in the final analysis is it’s too bad the reality they want to make is so ugly and cruel, when they could just as easily make one that’s loving and fun. Decisions like that are a form of “acid test” likely to determine where each person is headed in the long run.

And, as Chris mentioned, Nature bats last. You manipulate truth at your own peril. Falsehood is both contagious and difficult to extricate ourselves from.

Jebra wondered about how dialectics related to truth, in other words whether truth is an absolute value or a relative one to be contrasted with untruth. A most interesting dilemma to ponder. Other than mentioning where Nitya is going in this excerpt, that absolute truth doesn’t require our ratification to exist but untruth does, we didn’t go too far into it. It’s something intriguing to ponder when you’re stuck in traffic or waiting for the bus this winter. A wisdom sacrifice: instead of imagining what you’re going to do when you get where you’re going, meditate on the significance of truth. Then when you arrive you can just take things as they come. That way no “time” will be “wasted”.

Chris brought everyone copies of a Native American prayer, and read it out to us:

Now Talking God

With your feet I walk

I walk with your limbs

I carry forth your body

For me your mind thinks

Your voice speaks for me

Beauty is before me

And beauty is behind me

Above and below me hovers the beautiful

I am surrounded by it

I am immersed in it

In my youth I am aware of it

And in old age I shall walk quietly

The beautiful trail.

This offered a nice contrast with truth, which can be contentious and intellectually challenging to grasp. Although it’s also an ideal, no one has a problem with beauty. The state of mind that sees beauty everywhere is one that is properly attuned to the Absolute. The Absolute could as well be defined as the beauty within everything as the truth within everything.

Moreover, the dialectic state of the poem that views our lives as manifestations of the unmanifest divine—limbs for the Talking God to articulate through—is central to the Bhagavad Gita as well. This is a lovely concept, but not without its downside, as religious warriors clearly attest. It brings in the problem of how we discriminate between God’s will and our own. Not too coincidentally, we will be exploring the Gita in a more organized fashion in the winter term, and addressing this very question.

For the last half hour of the class we had a group meditation on the chakras. The strength and cosmic intelligence of all the class participants filled the room with bliss. It was an implicit reminder of how much we can offer each other when we are in harmony, and an artistic but invisible evocation of peace. May you all continue to share your inner radiance with yourself and everyone you meet. Aum.

Scott Teitsworth