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
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
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
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
of the star which holds us.
An ultimate envelope taking on its own
and gradually detaching itself like a luminous
This envelope was not only conscious, but
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).
forward to more of your
teaching in the next weeks.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Moses: It sounds like God to
Newton: But gravity is not a
(to be continued ...) Baird
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
how our thoughts can be
diverted by pointing out distractions, real or
Searching for truth,
“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
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
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.
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:
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
is full of warnings against literalism. I have shown at length elsewhere
that Jesus thundered at the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites”
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”,
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.”
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.”
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
There once was a poor old man who owned a beautiful white
Whenever noblemen passed through
the village, they always noticed the horse and offered handsome sums of money
for the stallion. But the
always declined their offers, saying, “This horse is my friend. How can I sell
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
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
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
I heard on the Dr. Phil show,
I have finally found inner peace.
Dr. Phil proclaimed
"The way to achieve
is to finish all the things you've started."
So I looked around my house
all the things I started and hadn't finished.
So, before leaving the house
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;
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
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
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
to apply nondual thinking in real life:
How do we use advaita in
daily activities? Example, in hatha yoga:
I’m doing this because
become more flexible. No (neti neti).
I’m doing this because
good for me. neti neti
I’m doing this because
my job. neti neti
I’m doing this because it’ll
make me more attractive. neti neti
I’m doing this so I’ll
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
And a last mega-tidbit (is
this an oxymoron?) from Nataraja Guru:
Vedanta Revalued and Restated:
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
compatible with one's own past and the future (svadharma), which is correctly open to each person, and that
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
sponsor of the great wall
on which it says
must not only be the truth,
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
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
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:
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
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.
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
“I really see the possibility of Al Qaeda attacking us
tomorrow,” and then we go mad, preparing to do more destruction than ever
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
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 naïve 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
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
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,
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
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
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,
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.
justice is lost, there ritual.
ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of
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,
the fruit and not the flower.
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
wisdom and intelligence are born,
great pretense begins.
When there is no peace
within the family,
piety and devotion arise.
the country is confused and in chaos,
Loyal ministers appear. (v.18)
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
BEING IS REALIZED IN THE BECOMING
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.