What is not known, that is
maya; it alone shines as many forms: vidya, avidya, para, apara, tamas,
pradhana, and prakriti. (IV, 1)
One of our rare summer evenings, with a light breeze,
sitting on the porch and watching the sky do its psychedelic performance,
vibrating with intensity.
Verse one lays out eight terms that will be taken up one by
one in the course of the darsana, with maya itself making two appearances.
These are mostly tools for continuing the process of distinguishing the real
from the unreal, but with more direction aimed at finding the pearl in the
oyster so to speak. We will be enabled to discern the truthful basis of our
superimpositions of falsehood, as Nitya puts it. We are now beginning to turn
away from falsehood and towards truth in our overall study program.
Like a garland, Darsanamala resembles an inverted arch. It
drops down rapidly into the phenomenal from the noumenal, then gradually begins
to bend from the negative to the positive, simultaneously slowing its descent.
The turning point in the exact middle is Aum Tat Sat: That Alone is real. That
Alone again! Afterwards it moves upward with increasing alacrity, sweeping up
to disappear once again in the Nirvana Darsana, the tenth.
We are in an exciting moment in the unfoldment of
Darsanamala, but considering the slow pace we take with it, we had a few
ripples of impatience in the group last night. Where is the truth in all this?
True, on the surface we’re wallowing in the vines that encircle us, but it is
essential to recognize you’re bound before trying to become free. Otherwise it
is likely to be an imaginary freedom. In order to be sure, we have to really
look at those pesky things holding us in place.
The key idea is that truth is not something we make or
create, it is sitting there all the time. Only it is overlain with piles of
junk we have encountered and danced with. Whatever extent we are able to
discard the crap is the precise extent we will encounter truth. I shouldn’t
even call it crap, because we tend to love and cherish our junk, our
psychological tchotchkes. Our endearments is the better word used by Narayana
Guru in his One Hundred Verses of Self-instruction. In the cliché lingo they
are called attachments, but sometimes words get used so often they lose their
import. Anyway, we frequently make the mistake of trying to build up an image
of truth, instead of paring away the extraneous to let it stand revealed. We
insist on belief. “Do you believe in God?” “Do you accept Allah!?” As if these
are something specific, items fixed and knowable. We make tchotchkes out of the
divine mystery, and stick them on the shelf.
Nitya beautifully describes maya in the first verse.
Manifested things come and go, are born and die. When they are here they are as
real as anything gets, but then they disappear, first leaving memory traces and
then into nothing. They become unreal. Maya is what is both real and unreal, in
the sense of emerging and remerging from the primal soup. If there was no
underlying reality, it would truly be chaos, but apparently there is something
that holds it all together. There is a continuity to the whole that surpasseth
We are going to learn that instead of imagining that our
happiness is dependent on the things that come and go, it is actually intrinsic
to our nature, and those things derive their apparent radiance from us. If we
turn to the source within instead of the reflection without, our happiness will
become steady, instead of fluctuating with the availability of the things we
cherish. We can and should still dance with the things we love, but our love
will be vastly expanded to include everything. We will be making this change of
outlook as real as we can in the coming months, under the guidance of a couple
of truly great masters.
By the end of the class, with glowing darkness wrapping us
in its arms, we spoke of the thing we all cherish most: our mothers. How is it
that something so transcendentally dear and important can pass away, and what
are we left with? Perhaps we are in bondage to our mothers, because we believe
our happiness is so inextricably entwined with their existence. Or perhaps we
have been shown the ultimate lovable beauty the universe can create out of its
infinite compassion. We can take that example of pure selfless caring and
return it to That Alone which nourishes us, sharing it and teaching it to our
lonely fellow beings. What is there to stop us?
Oddly, tchotchkes don’t make most
dikkers, being Yiddish. It’s a very handy word. From the internet: Tchotchke is from Yiddish tshatshke, "trinket,"
ultimately of Slavic origin.
More from netlingo.com:
a.k.a. knickknacks -or- swag -or- schwag
emblazoned with company logos, from the traditional type of giveaway (baseball
cap, T-shirt, tote bag, or mouse pad) down to really weird junk (barf bags,
butterfly nets, neon sunglasses, or pogo sticks). These items are usually given
away in the thousands at shows and are given to other people in turn or
retained as part of an individual's geekosphere.
see also: SWAG
It also reminds me of Nataraja Guru’s
definition of siddhis, (psychic powers) which are “psychophysical dynamisms.
They are like the plastic spoons, soap-powder packets, etc.: free gifts of very
little value.” So, yeah, it’s just what you thought it was—junk.
Like the prior nonexistence
in the clay alone, before it is fashioned, none other than the Absolute is
known; what is that Absolute is indeed maya, of indeterminate possibility. (IV,
It is apparently against a
basic law of the universe to compose a Vedantic work without at some point
bringing in the metaphor of the pot and the clay. For many years I would nod
off whenever it came up. But if we keep in mind the symbolism that clay
represents the Absolute as substance and pot means a specific manifestation,
particularly YOU, then it is more interesting and makes more sense. The world
around us is like an amorphousness bending and twisting into a ceaseless series
of morphs, forms, which are briefly stable and then morph into something else.
The pot and the clay thing describes this process in more unitive terms than
almost any other metaphor, accounting for its continual resurfacing. It will be
When we see that the pot is nothing but clay through and
through, we can readily agree with Narayana Guru’s definition of maya here. It
is none other than the Absolute, unfurling. Everything is a temporary form of
the Absolute. The pot of you is indeed the Absolute. Tat tvam asi, girls and
Nitya makes a nice point in his commentary that when the
unfurling of our life goes well we picture a benign God or Providence, and when
it gets ugly we bring in the Devil or pitiless Fate. We love to anthropomorphize.
But basically it’s inscrutable, the possibilities are indeterminate. As the
seed grows into a tree, good and bad things happen to give it its shape and
dimensions. We can retrospect and notice a lot of coherence in our unfoldment,
but we can only guess and hope as to its future course.
Still, looking back and contemplating the course of our life
has an important value at times such as this. When life appears bleak and
frightening, as when warfare is redoubling around the globe and no way out can
be imagined, it is comforting to notice that there is an intelligent direction
to everything. Sadly, mankind as a whole seems to grow by fits and starts, by
agonizing contractions between spurts of expansion. Doom seems certain, and yet
life as a whole perseveres and furthers. The chaos stimulates our thinking and
contemplative propensities. We too easily become complacent. We want to have
faith in our leaders, so we pretend they are not psychopathic lizard-people. We
would rather follow than lead.
Happily, a balanced yogic approach means we should stay
poised midway between leading and following, open to the next possibility. The
class talked about how we need to plan and strive and set up programs in order
for anything to happen, but at the same time how too much planning and programming
makes serendipity impossible, makes new directions impossible. This is another
arena in which to find the happy median. We don’t want to be bound by our
previous decisions if they become outdated, yet we want to accomplish and
fulfill what we find rewarding.
We tried an exercise to look back at our lives to try to
spot moments when something unexpected changed its course in a significant way.
As Deb said, really everything is unplanned or unexpected. Mostly we talked
about little things like plans for the day that got altered for the better, or
at least for the nonce. But there are major events that start as a point source
and spread to have earthshaking consequences. It is valuable to take a look for
them, if only to open up to the wonder of an invisible hand directing the
course of the river of our life. Equally present are courses we once considered
highly likely that came to nothing.
Finally Moni showed us the proper way to meditate on this
idea. She talked about how when she had graduated from university and was
wondering about her future, she received a letter from Guru Nitya inviting her
to come to the Gurukula for a short visit. She was certain her father would not
permit it, since it went against all propriety. And yet, when she showed him the
letter he was enthusiastic about the idea. She went for two weeks, and later
became Nitya’s personal secretary and traveled all over the world with him. She
got a US passport, so now she lives here. So many events in her life she was
able to trace back to that one watershed letter. It was touching and beautiful!
It turned out Jebra (one of our two special guests along
with Jean Norrby) had done a similar exercise to last night’s, in a course
after college to determine a suitable occupation. In her class everyone filled
out a questionnaire listing highlights of their life to date. Then they looked
at them closely. Almost everything in Jebra’s involved some form of writing.
Now she writes for a living—she doesn’t like to call herself a writer, but the
rest of us could. So sometimes you can reinforce already existing tendencies by
consciously recognizing them. And this wasn’t something that popped up by
Chance, it had been there all along.
As we have been studying, each of us has many innate
tendencies, called vasanas in Sanskrit. They are like seeds buried in the
manure of our psyches, waiting for opportunities to grow and actualize their
potentials. There is a mysterious mating of opportunities and potentials that
has made us what we are, and which makes the world what it is. It is done with
such finesse that it looks accidental, haphazard even. It is a seamless,
flowing miracle. To participate in it is the greatest wonder. There is no
blessing other than this. Tat tvam asi.
The non-Self is unreal, the
Self is real; thus, the means by which such knowledge comes, that is this
vidya, like the recognition of the truth about rope and snake. (IV, 3)
The Self is unreal, the
non-Self is real; thus, the means by which such knowledge comes, that alone is
avidya, like the erroneous cognition about rope and snake. (IV, 4)
Once again a vast conception is epitomized in a few words.
Our class was like those boxes full of compressed paper snakes, the ones you
open and they expand and shoot out all over the room. Very festive, but
difficult to summarize, to squeeze them all back in the box and shut the lid.
I’ve been writing about truth quite a lot lately, trying to
get a handle on its elusivity for my Gita commentary. So I was well prepared to
recognize that Nitya does a masterful job of delineating truth in a few short
paragraphs here. Understanding the distinctions between truth and falsehood are
the starting point for a sincere swim in clear waters, and we’ve been working
diligently on that very subject for a long time in our study. It’s almost time
to see where it will take us.
Narayana Guru highlights an aspect I at least hadn’t
separated out before, even as editor of this very book. He is saying here that
vidya is not just knowledge of truth, but the transitional experience of
“getting the picture,” of suddenly “seeing the light.” What is going on when
you finally realize it is a harmless rope and not a poisonous snake in front of
you? Your first impression of something terrified you; adrenaline shot through
your system and you freaked out. But this time instead of running back to the
village to raise a posse armed with machetes, you stopped and looked more
closely. And right before your eyes the deadly thing morphed into a harmless
bit of detritus. Now relief surges through you; you want to laugh. You can make
fun of yourself and be on your way. I don’t think Narayana Guru is saying we
should just substitute one loaded set of memories for another, but that there
is a fresh way of seeing without memory tags at all. He wants us to watch how
we transition from a loaded, conditioned state of mind filled with negative
expectations to an unconditioned one, and not just think of the end result but
of the movement this entails. If we know “the means by which such knowledge
comes,” perhaps we can make it a permanent part of our repertoire.
I have to plug verse 20 of That Alone, where Nitya and
Narayana revalue the rope and snake metaphor. It’s a great essay. Reading it
will throw a lot of light on this part of the study, and the “snarope” comes
back in the next verse too.
As part of his unification plan for science and religion,
Nitya describes how a materialist can have a contemplative relationship with
his world. He posits a chemist who wants to know the true nature of ordinary
table salt. Beneath its sensory qualities he first knows it as sodium chloride.
Going deeper, he can examine sodium and chlorine separately as atoms and then
observe their subatomic particles, which are essentially the same everywhere.
At last he arrives at the mystery of the primal source of all matter, which we
call the Self or the Absolute.
Later in the comments, for dialectic perfection Nitya offers
the parallel version of the intelligent contemplative, who begins by asking
herself “what is it that compels me to act?” She will see that action comes
from volition, volition comes from desire, and desire comes from preference for
pleasure over pain. Nitya goes on:
is a quality of awareness that reflects the element of happiness, which in
truth belongs to the Self. If the seeker understands this, he will realize that
he should turn his attention inward into his own being to find true and lasting
happiness, instead of seeking it through the gratification of his senses in the
world external to himself. When one gains this knowledge, he naturally curtails
all activities in which he previously engaged which are born of the confusion
arising from the ignorance of his projected values. Then he is saved from the
world of transient values that the Isavasya Upanishad describes as darkness. It
is for this reason that the Isavasya Upanishad says that a man who knows the
secret of ignorance will transcend death.
As previously noted, Maya Darsana consists of a series of
definitions. This verse is Narayana Guru’s definition of vidya, knowledge. He
is unequivocal that true knowledge of the Self is vidya and knowledge of the
transactional world, for instance of salt as a sensory seasoning, is asat or
untrue. Whether we’re a chemist or a mystic, we should look beneath the surface
and trace all our snakes back to their source, where they lose their sting.
We spent a lot of time on verses 9-11 of the Isa Upanishad, that
Nitya brings in as a parallel teaching:
blind darkness enter they
darkness greater than that, as it were, they
delight in knowledge
indeed, they say, than knowledge!
they say, than non-knowledge!
we have heard it from the wise
to us have explained It.
who this pair conjointly knows,
non-knowledge passing over death
With knowledge wins
Deb noted that the delighters
in knowledge live in greater darkness because they are closed to new knowledge.
At least an ignorant person welcomes light into their darkness, but once they
decide they know it all, their doom is sealed. Many people only want to know
that salt makes their food taste better, period. Don’t confuse us with
molecules! With salt the darkness isn’t particularly lethal, but in other cases
I gave the example of Israel living in a self-imposed bubble
of conceit of a chosen people surrounded by hostile enemies. Almost all information
and education in the country is tailored around a paranoid mindset. In our
terms, ropes are depicted as snakes, and anyone who disagrees is ostracized.
There have been snakes sometimes, so you either agree that all ropes are
snakes, or you’re out. The Arab children crouching in bomb shelters are not
really children, they are subhuman and threatening, so bombing the shelters is
justified. There could be a terrorist anywhere, so kill them all and let
Jehovah sort it out. As long as you crouch behind a wall of ignorance and
exclude all who disagree with your selected “knowledge” you don’t have to even
look at the disasters you cause. Dozens of peace initiatives have been ignored
out of hand, because the presumption is that only war will bring peace. Pleas
for sanity are only to be sneered at as the whining of the ignorant. “Never
again” has been perverted to mean that this time we will be the perpetrators,
but never again the victims.
The class then moved back to the personal level. It’s good
to always use such large-scale holocausts as forceful teaching aids. As Nancy
pointed out, we can’t do anything immediately about far off disasters, but we
can remind ourselves to always stay open to the All. And we can but hope that
some day all the good folks who have held to the light in their personal
actions and meditations will tip the scales in favor of a peaceful and
Susan had some very good examples from her relationships
with her children that led to a lively exploration. Kids are masters at pushing
our buttons, natural gurus. We have a universal urge to instruct them, and they
have a universal urge to resist. It’s the macrocosm writ small. Both world wars
and family skirmishes are fought over who gets to instruct who. Paradoxically,
if we abstain from pushing our own agenda, peace sometimes breaks out. Maybe
our specific agenda wasn’t as important as we thought; we can adapt and
Susan has been closely watching how certain acts of her
children bring up floods of memories, many tinged with fear, which color her
own feelings as well as magnetizing her responses. She is then able to let
those go and act more from a neutral place. A terrific accomplishment, I must
say, and an ongoing effort for everyone.
Well, this is already too long, and I have some killer
excerpts from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad to tack on here at the end. Too bad
I’ve barely scratched the surface. The fine thing is that the richness of
Darsanamala is flowering forth in our discussions, and that of course is a
self-reinforcing energy. A new, clear chain reaction.
Okay, call this Part II. I
could mix these into the text, but I think you’ll see the relevance. They’re
all from Volume II of Nitya’s BU commentary, and all close together. First, a
cute sentence to remind us not to panic that we haven’t figured everything out
body is “a perilous and perplexing place” for the Self to reside. (573)
Another take on the darkness
of partial knowledge:
physicist has ever seen an atom, much less a subatomic particle. But, like
religious people who make icons, the physicist has also made conventional
models of atoms and particles. Any person who has gone to school and studied
the model of the atom cannot be dissuaded from that mental picture. In this way
even scientific knowledge becomes a matter of belief. The Upanishad sweeps away
all images born of mind. That is why a true Vedantin can never be a religious
human ego is like a medium out of which one can fashion commendable patterns as
well as incoherent ideas. As a result, a person with a mind that has sense
impressions registered in it which are colored with likes and dislikes is
tempted to apply all the previous memories and preferences to current
experiences. Patanjali thinks it is this so-called scientific certitude that
stops a person from going into transcendence. (575)
All purpose good vibes:
we are used to accomplishing things and obtaining desirable ends by our
actions, we entertain the false impression that for the self to become brahman there has to be some kind of process by which the
part can evolve into the whole. Mantras seventeen and eighteen remind us this
is not so. We are always the whole. All that we need to do is forget the false
notion that we are anything other than brahman. Realization is not accomplished by a forward march
but by a regressive dissolution. Up to the last moment you have a choice to
skip the whole process of samsara merely by accepting the fact that you are the
And finally, this is to help
explain that mysterious and, let’s admit, baffling verse 11 of the Isa:
is death? The non-Self is opposed to life. When you develop a hankering for the
pleasures you expect to get from the non-Self such as love objects, you are
allowing part of your self to be afflicted by the darkness and ignorance of the
non-Self. That is one way of embracing death. When you withdraw your desire
from anything which prevents you from ennobling the Self or being at one with
the Self, you are opting to put the Self in the position of the non-Self.
Inside you will grow bright and more in resonance with the Self. To that extent
you transcend death. You need not force any mechanical renunciation upon
yourself. While living in the body, the senses are like handmaids to you and
the mind is like a trustworthy friend. Thus it is to your advantage to live
physically and have enough opportunities to be a silent witness of your
organism functioning as if it knows what it is and what is going on.
life and mind are simple if we do not complicate them. A river does not need to
take extra care to flow over any land where it chances to be and ultimately
reach the ocean. A river reaching its natural destination, the ocean, is
symbolically the same as the self arriving at the Supreme or Absolute. If, in
your poetic exuberance, you put on many festoons and make yourself so
artificial that you are giving too much thought to body and mind, you give up
most of the freedom of the person living in your body. (564)
And so, good night sweet
princes and princesses!
I’ve been asked to clarify the Isa bit about those who
delight in knowledge living in greater darkness. The qualm was over the notion
of delight. Delight is just fine. Indeed, it is one of the warning signs of
enlightenment. One can easily note the same root in both.
What the Upanishad
is talking about is the attitude of self-satisfaction, satisfaction in a
partial vision, which may in fact be exacerbated by delight. If we believe
something and it makes us happy, we ask ourselves what more do we need? It’s a
bit of a paradox, the same paradox found between temporal and eternal
happiness. Not so easy to sort out, when you think of it. Beliefs, however,
tend to become static and lose their charm the more they are believed. They
easily become memories of delight, and we cling to them all the more as they
slip into shadow. This starts the cycle of striving to renew the sensation of
delight by repeating the activity associated with it. Soon we’re focused on the
activity itself, and the delight slowly fades away. We become “defenders of the
faith” when we should be letting it go.
Sound like a familiar pattern? Sattva—rajas—tamas, isn’t it?
The antidote for
this ensnarling cycle of the gunas is expressed as a dialectic relation with
knowledge. We don’t hold back from the world, we enjoy it. And we don’t allow
ourselves to be caught by anything in particular, we are open to all of it.
Above all, we don’t identify our happiness with the object “out there.” We
discover—un cover—it in ourself, and then everything is to a greater or lesser
extent a factor in our total state of happiness.
My friend was
worried that the Isavasya Upanishad was recommending that old-fashioned
religious withdrawal from everything, a giving up of joy. Not at all. Go for
it, and let the dead bury the dead! In other words, don’t cling to dead forms
of imagined delight. By all means look to your own nature, which is in truth
the value form of delight, as Narayana Guru put it somewhere or other. Or seek
ye first the Republic of Heaven, and all things shall be added unto you, as the
Bible has it. In closing, it may not hurt to peek ahead just a bit, to verse
VIII, 8 of Darsanamala: “Thus the wise man sees everywhere nothing but the joy
of the Self—not even a little of anything else. His bhakti indeed is the
Yesterday at the library I stumbled across an
interesting-looking book titled The Ignorance of Certainty, by Ashley Montagu and Edward Darling. Nice to know
the Isa Upanishad isn’t alone in being suspicious of the knowledge-enamored.
From the flap:
we trudge along, believing what we want most to believe and planning our future action as if
our crystal ball
were unclouded. This, alas, is how the ignorance of certainty leads to the
certainty of ignorance. We must mistrust the man who is certain. Absolute
certainty is the right of uneducated minds, absolute fools, and fanatics. For
the Thinker certainty is never an end, but a search, at best the highest degree
of probability that attaches to a particular judgment at a particular time
level, and hence, like truth, infinitely perfectible.
Nataraja Guru opened his
magnum opus with the carefully chosen words “Science seeks certitude.” He
certainly did not mean “Science finds certitude.”
From the Preface:
ignorance of certainty is that lack of information which makes us bold to
assert that we see the truth, pretty much the whole truth, and discard anything
which is not the truth. It appears to be a human trait that our certainty is
inversely proportional to our knowledge—that is, the thinner our information
is, the surer we are we’re right and the more viciously will we defend our
position and the more fiercely liquidate deviationists of every color, preferably
(at the low ebb of wisdom where the barrens of complete ignorance begin) with
suitable torture. The heretic must die in agony. (xiv-xv)
Greater darkness indeed.
The senses, mind,
intelligence, five vital tendencies and such—that by which they are
specifically created as the subtle limbs of the reasoning Self is para alone.
Para is one of those words with a whole column to itself in
the Monier-Williams, plus pages of combined words made from it. Basically, para
is the Beyond, in all its implications. The transcendent. Nitya mentions that
para as used here is not the pure transcendent, which is the Absolute, but a
relative transcendence opposed to apara, immanence. He elaborates, “So far as
transcendence (para) is concerned, it becomes meaningful only when it refers to
a reality which transcends all the requirements of the flux of becoming in the
space-time continuum.” In other words, this type of para is established by
apara, and vice versa. As Bill pointed out, para within maya is not the true
para, but a reflected image of transcendence based on the limitations of our
What I feel Narayana Guru is getting at here is that while
we once had strongly fixed notions about objectivity and actuality, if we
really look at them they become misty and vaporous. The solidity on which we
bang our head becomes an evanescent picture in the mind, and the mind itself is
a picture in the mind. We have now arrived at the moment in Darsanamala when
the outside world is so far along on the process of dissolving that its
nonobjectivity becomes an integral part of our operational awareness.
This is a verse to meditate on rather than think through. We
are asked to sit and observe the workings of our mind and senses, and as we do to
realize that what appears to us as a harsh and universal reality is a chimera
of scintillating illusions with all the earmarks of believability. We must
certainly act on what we perceive, and that is well and good. But the seeming
immutability of what appears to be no longer drives us to act compulsively. It
has become subtle.
This verse, then, must be coupled with the next, defining
apara. Transcendent and immanent have to be together. It is not that, like many
religious programs, we are trying to leave the immanent and move to the
transcendent. We are expanding out of our fixation on the immanent to
rediscover and include the transcendent aspect. When both of them are brought
together unitively, we have an accurate take on whatever we encounter. Immanent
and transcendent are merely two complementary perspectives on a single
The five vital tendencies are the five vayus or pranas. Vayu
is wind, in the same sense that spirit is wind. The vital energies regulate the
body systems. For the record, prana is associated with the rising breath and
apana with the downward breath. Udana regulates the movements of the alimentary
canal. Samana circulates food throughout the body. Vyana regulates the overall
temperature and harmony of the body. The whole schema is yet another way of
turning what is often taken as ordinary material processes into a more subtle,
Adopting these limbs, the
reasoning Self by its own maya becomes deluded, as if happy or unhappy; in
truth there is nothing at all. (VI, 6)
As Nitya says, “In this and the previous verse, what puzzles
our minds is locating the cause of the phenomenal in the transcendent, which is
called para.” Perhaps para is where the term para-dox comes from, because this
is the biggie: how do two seemingly absolutely antithetical aspects meet,
overlap, or coincide? Coincidentally, I wrote the following earlier in the day:
“Pretty early in the process of chasing our likes and avoiding our dislikes we
lose awareness of the connecting link within the dual back and forth movement.
Heads and tails are taken in isolation and are no longer seen as parts of a
single coin.” In other words, by fixing our attention on the play of
manifested, transient objects and events, collectively called maya, we forget
the connecting ground on which they are taking place.
Very soon, Nancy Yeilding will finish preparing Nitya’s
commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for publication, likely to be his last
great book in English. As it came out in Gurukulam Magazine once upon a time
the Portland Gurukula held classes on it. If I had time to dig through the back
issues, I’d re-present the section where Nitya updates Patajali’s take on maya,
but for now I’ll just paraphrase. Our “limbs,” meaning our psychophysical
system, vasanas and all, is like a movie projector in a theater. A bright
light—awareness, cidatma, what is translated here as the reasoning Self and by
Nataraja Guru as “the Self that is consciousness in essence”—shines through a
film of our predispositions, projecting negative imagery upon a blank screen.
Although the bright light is our true source of awareness, we have turned away
from it and become engrossed in watching the action on screen. We are so
totally engrossed, in fact, that we have forgotten our true nature and now
imagine that we are players in the movie itself. When something sad happens we
cry and when something funny happens we laugh. We say we are sad or happy, depending on circumstances. In truth
there is nothing at all: we are part and parcel of the entire metaphoric
situation, story, projector, audience, light, building, and even its place in
space and time. Patanjali’s recommendation, as I recall, is to turn 180 degrees
away from the hypnotic screen, back to the light. You begin the process of your
own liberation by seeing the captivating play of lights and shadows for what it
is. I think this image parallels the present verse rather closely.
We’re having a practical exam for this awareness today at
the Gurukula, since Harmony just flew out this morning to attend college. Deb
and I are filled with an emotional intensity that could be considered sadness,
and also feels like bliss. It brings tears and surges of memory. But it is in
essence nothing at all, only the continuing, natural flow of life taking its
course. If properly viewed, every moment would have the same intensity, and it
is to be embraced and cherished and then released. Holding on would be morbid,
but appreciating it is the joy of living.
A significant part of Nitya’s commentary spoke of the way
religions personify natural processes, often divided into a benignant deity
opposed by a malignant master demon or devil. This takes Narayana Guru’s happy
and unhappy to its logical extremes, where due to delusion we presume there is
an absolute good battling an intractable evil for ultimate supremacy. The
entire theology is a fictive mindset, an anthropomorphic superimposition that
converts the unitive unfolding of life into a dualistic nightmare. In the
Chinese image of yin and yang, which one will win? It’s an absurd concept. Both
arose together and couldn’t exist in isolation for even a nanosecond.
We talked about the tsunami of a year and a half ago, when
all the Christian fundamentalist “pundits” weighed in that God was punishing
those people for being Muslims, and many anxious hand-wringing souls wondered
how God could permit such a terrible thing to happen. The “nothing” that was
going on was the natural movements of an evolving planet, within which
relatively tiny adjustments can have a devastating impact on the life forms
clinging to its surface. There was no demon or angry god with an invisible
lever prying Sumatra a little to the left. The Guru wants us to leave all such
superstitions and come out of our caves.
We segued into how the demonizing mindset leads to wars.
Instead of accepting that each person sees the world from their own
perspective, and that it is “right” from their point of view, we somehow
imagine that our angle is right and the other’s is way off base. The light of
consciousness in every case is the same—there cannot be two truths or two
Absolutes. “My God is bigger than your God” is a deranged kindergarten belief,
though recently espoused by a top American military officer in Iraq. Nancy
sighed out loud at how simple and obvious it all was, and yet somehow the
fighting goes on. She wanted everyone to admire and respect everyone else’s
opinion, instead of wanting to punish them because they didn’t agree with their
I noted a recent article by Chris Floyd about how even the
liberal British press held a taboo against mentioning that there might be some
legitimacy in being upset and even vengeful about having your family blown up.
You are shushed up immediately and called a traitor to the crusade. Rigid
blockades against imagining the obvious are necessary to preserve the
instability that allows certain people to dominate others. Those who travel or
who are at least brave enough to think get around the blockade by meeting
people everywhere who are “just like us.”
Deb brought us full circle by reminding us that this advice
was about us as individuals, not about anyone far off. If we try to impose such
a vision on others we will only create more conflict. Still, in the words of
the Gita (III, 21): “Whichever may be the way of life that a superior man
adopts—that very one is (followed) by other people. What he makes his guiding
principle, the world behaves even according to the same.”
So the Gurus want us to stop being taken in by the delusory
movie that’s being shown, and make our own improved version in tune with the
light. Perhaps it will help the world, perhaps not. Nitya sums up, “Krishna
advises Arjuna not to bemoan anything which is of a transient nature, and
everything except the transcendent Absolute itself is of a transient nature. We
should maintain a state of equanimity in all situations, knowing that
everything is transient and in a state of continual change, including
ourselves.” Such an attitude opens the floodgates of compassion and understanding,
long blocked up by our delusory beliefs.
That by which this world,
which is indeed the object of the senses, is specifically created is apara
alone, which in the Self permeates the eidetic imagery of the gross. (IV, 7)
A couple of days
back I wrote some things in my Gita commentary that closely parallel this
verse. It’s not just that I’m lazy (though I am) but I’d want to say these same
things over again, so why not just copy and paste? These are excerpted from the
last two verses in Chapter III, Karma Darsana:
42) It is taught that the senses are great; beyond the
senses is the mind,
beyond the mind is reason, and beyond reason is That.
The graded series
telescopes inward and upward. The senses are great because they translate the
objective universe into a form of computer code that can be used by the brain.
They perform a vast reduction of the myriad manifested things. The mind then
utilizes this input to perform transactional assessments, further sorting and
abstracting the data. Afterwards the intellect may make generalizations,
grouping like events so it can draw conclusions, make excuses, and so on.
As to desire, the
senses begin the game by being tickled by stimuli, and they have a natural
interest in stimulation. After all, that’s their game. The mind then decides
preferences, and directs the body to repeat the experiences it likes and avoid
those it doesn’t. As a person becomes more sophisticated, desires get cloaked
in all sorts of rationalizations and philosophies. The intellect can
rationalize detrimental desires because it always knows exactly the argument
the mind will agree to.
The senses are given
their due here as windows on the world, vast and enchanting, but even in
ancient times it was well known that they weren’t absolutely trustworthy. They
aren’t particularly accurate, and can lead you astray on many levels. The mind
is viewed as a kind of sixth sense, collator and coordinator of sensory input.
This roughly corresponds to the material brain of modern science, extremely
useful but subject to many delusions and misunderstandings. Reason or intellect
is metaphysical, the part of the individual that soars beyond the chains of
actual objects and events. At its best it is aimed at union with the Absolute,
though as we know it is more often used to control the actual world through
The Absolute is as
always beyond the beyond. Needless to say, infusing the intellect, mind and
senses with the ineffable Absolute is the aim of Krishna’s teaching.
It’s important to
remember that param, translated as beyond, doesn’t necessarily have any spatial
component. The mind is not only beyond, it is within the senses, animating and supporting them; the
intellect is likewise within the mind, and the Absolute is within everything.
Beyond, within, transcending, exceeding, prior to, and much more are implied in
43) Thus knowing That to
be beyond reason, stabilizing the self by the
Self, kill that enemy in the form of desire, so difficult to overcome.
Drawing a conclusion
from the sequence of the last verse, a secret teaching is made as plain as
possible here. The senses are gathered into the mind, and the mind is gathered
into intelligent reason. From this point a leap is to be made, for a kind of
inner connection with the Beyond. We do not know (since it is beyond reason)
how to do this or what to aim for, yet we can have an inward gesture that opens
us up to the kindly light of the Absolute. When we can relinquish our sense of
agency into the “arms of the Divine,” our personal self becomes stabilized in
the universal Self. Stabilization means the self and the Self become unified.
Verse 42 even has a series
using paran, basically the same as para and the opposite of apara as employed
by Narayana Guru. Para and apara are transcendent and immanent, as has already
been mentioned. We are trying to find the middle ground between what we see and
interact with, and what we know beyond our sensory input. We are already aware
that the senses by themselves are inadequate, and that thought divorced from
actuality is pointless.
We spent most of the class wrestling with the notion that
Narayana Guru and Nitya are somehow in the same mold as Hindu fundamentalists
and hair-shirt Christians. There is a long and sad tradition of joy-killing in
religion, as though God will not be pleased if anyone enjoys His creation.
Don’t get me going: those fervently held beliefs are nothing more than trashy,
immature thoughts cloaked in high sounding phraseology. Admittedly, some of the
words used by the gurus sound similar, but it is very important to realize that
they (and I) are definitely not in the camp of hellfire and damnation. I
consider beliefs like those of the Puritans and Calvinists, et al ad infinitum,
to be at best seriously deranged, and at worst a fatal cancer on the human race
and possibly the planet.
Americans, among others, are so steeped in religious
negativity that it is extremely difficult for them to crawl out of the hole dug
for them by their forebears. I am eternally grateful to my parents for never
threatening me with church, let alone hell. They gave me hell once in awhile,
but it wasn’t syndicated into a permanent condition…. Anyway, this is one place
where a determined effort is to be made. Semiconscious beliefs are literally
killing us, blocking us from living up to our potential, spoiling the fun of
being alive, poisoning our relationships with other humans and the environment
as a whole. And somebody please tell me, what’s the upside??
The projected terrors of imaginary demons, along with the
projected delights of imaginary fairy godmothers, when superimposed on reality
are called sankalpa, translated here as the eidetic imagery of the gross.
Religious symbols are especially fraught with eidetic associations. We can’t
even look at simple crossed sticks without zooming immediately to death and
Christ and suffering and God knows what else. None of that’s in the sticks,
it’s in our minds. The course of Darsanamala has dealt with these projections
at length already, but they are very persistent. The Guru is offering us yet
another opportunity to break their stranglehold.
The first thing is to really see how they poison us. Part of
their defense is to make us suspicious of someone trying to help rid the system
of them. Until we clearly understand their harmfulness we tolerate them and
shrug our shoulders. They are like leeches. We’d rather leave them alone,
because if we pull them off we’ll bleed a little. It might hurt. Unlike leeches
though, they don’t fall off of their own accord. When a leech is full, it goes
off looking for someone to mate with. That’s because a leech is real, while our
beliefs are not. They stay stuck on.
As Nitya puts it here,
time ordinary men experience pleasure they become more firmly rooted in
allegiance to the illusory world of sensory impressions and mental projections
of fantasies. Such people, and that includes almost everyone, are unlikely to
forsake transient pleasures and turn away from the phenomenal to seek the
consolation of the non-transient transcendental…. That men should choose the
lower, when they could as easily choose the higher, is very strange. It is the
negativity of the universal ignorance and the implacable demands of nature that
make us do this. That aspect of maya which again and again brings a false
reassurance to our minds to accept the verdict of the senses, and to stand by
all the obligations and changing patterns of our day-to-day life, is here
classified as the apara aspect. (216)
Nitya hid his ferocity well beneath a gentle and kindly
exterior. If you really and truly hear these words, they are powerful blasts
against our idiocy. He is trying to shoot them deep into our souls, somehow
penetrating the bulletproof vests we all wear. He must have felt like it was
mostly a waste of time, but thankfully he persisted.
Happily, Susan helped us end on a positive note. She works
mainly in her dreams, which are quite amazing. She had been having a string of
dreams of being in seedy hotels, and worrying about trying to move to a nicer
one. There were lots of foreigners and suspicious people watching her. Recently
she realized that the hotel was her, its rundown condition was her poor
self-image, and the suspicious watchers were her own guarded and worried
feelings. She thought she should stop rejecting her hotel and remodel it
instead, in other words accept herself and make improvements instead of wanting
to run away. This is a very large leap in the right direction. Almost everyone
secretly believes they are inferior or inadequate. It’s a baseless fantasy from
childhood that lays its eidetic imagery over the whole world, tingeing it gray.
Dark gray. Realizing it’s a universal misunderstanding and refusing to be
undone by it anymore is a huge step in the process of attaining that rarest of
As ignorance of mother-of-pearl is the basis of silver, what
is imagined in the Self—that is known as tamas. (IV, 8)
A common variant on the rope/snake metaphor, the silver in
the oyster shell is well known. (An oyster is defined as someone who sprinkles
their conversation liberally with Yiddish words.) (That’s a joke. And now back
to our topic.) Seeing an unreal appearance is a natural enough experience, but
here Narayana Guru underlines it as tamasic, the product of darkness. Nitya
comments: “This can be very frustrating. We are exposed to such experiences on
many occasions during our lifetime. Disillusionment in matters such as the
accumulation of riches, mistaking infatuation for love, and treating scholarship
as wisdom are only a few cases which remind us of how we are deceived day after
day by the veiling power of our own psychic darkness.” (218) We go about
enamored with the silveriness on the surface, but yet working on seeing the
basis of it, knowing there is more to the picture somewhere. And eventually, if
we are indeed trying, we somehow become aware of the mother-of-pearl that is
the source of the perception, in an “Aha!” moment.
This is not an experience that happens of its own accord; it
must be sought, pondered, weighed and considered from every angle. Interaction
with friends and teachers is almost the most important factor. And then
suddenly you see it. As Nitya puts it: “Until our mind is flooded with [the]
uncompromising light of truth and justice, compassion and love, we will not see
how faulty our stand is.” (218) The new understanding sweeps away the darkness,
in many cases permanently.
I asked for any examples from each person’s life, but
unfortunately the class consists mostly of old hands who are beyond this
remedial work, even looking far back in time. We are only approaching the part
of the study that will be most appropriate for them, although we’re getting
very close. Be that as it may, readers of the notes can try the exercise at
home. Have there been times when some realization or awareness filled your
being with an uplifting emotion, in the presence of which you felt changed,
shaken to the core? Was there a new awareness of a faulty stand that was now
swept away? Did you feel exposed as a hypocrite, or merely uplifted into the
Anita brought up an excellent example. She had a co-worker
who was insufferable—self-absorbed, curt, and unhappy. Anita took it as being
the woman’s attitude to her personally, and so didn’t like her, felt hurt and
resentful, and so on. One day she discovered that the woman had a long list of
personal problems that would unhinge anyone, and she immediately realized that
she was suffering tremendously and was deserving of sympathy and assistance.
All Anita’s feelings of self-pity were instantly beside the point, and she
effortlessly gave them up into her new understanding of the situation. Not only
did the awareness of the underlying problem resolve her immediate difficulties,
there were subsequent times when people were acting antisocially that Anita
didn’t take personally any more, imagining they were wrestling with their own
demons. A permanent upgrade of attitude came from seeing a little deeper into
an everyday situation.
This reminds me of the end of Verse 15 in That Alone:
Many people used to ask Ramana Maharshi what they
could do for the world. He always asked them, “Who is doing for whom?” Thus
their focus was turned to their own selves. If I want to make you happy, I
myself should be a happy person. If I am sad, how can I make you happy? To make
you smile, I should first of all know how to smile. I should know what peace is
to bring peace to you. We have to discover the peace within ourselves, the joy
within ourselves. This can be done only if the friendship that we cultivate
with the spirit within becomes continuous, unbroken.
like magic: your world tomorrow won’t be the same. You live in exaggeration.
This world is not as bad as you paint it. What is madness? Madness is a positive
or a negative exaggeration of the mind. If you see a thing in its natural value
or worth, not more or less, it is a sane attitude. But we tend to exaggerate.
somebody is busy doing something and you pass by and they do not smile or greet
you, you say, “Oh, he does not like me any more. That’s why he didn’t greet
me.” You are so self-conscious and poverty-stricken, wanting somebody’s
attention all the time.
kind of a terrible disease is this? If you don’t have such a disease you would
say, “Oh, my friend was very busy today, so absorbed in himself that he didn’t
see me.” It amuses you. “He didn’t even see me!” The other attitude is, “He
deliberately ignored me.” One thing is seen two different ways. One hurts you
and the other amuses you. So why should you be on the side of being hurt rather
than amused? I am speaking of you, not some far away people. You can make your
world a real heaven. This is the paradise; there is no other. This is a happy
world, right in the palm of your hand, every day. But you throw it away.
is the promise Narayana Guru gives us in this verse.
The example I gave was from the sama and anya section of the
same work, verses 36-42. Somehow the teaching hit me in a titanic blast right
at that stage. The dichotomy of the self and the other had been mostly
hypothetical to me up to then, but suddenly I was struck by a humiliating
realization of how I had been erecting barriers all my life to protect my self
from the imaginary other. Implicit in such an act was a rejection of the other
as dangerous, hostile or simply less than my evaluation of myself. The
realization was seen inwardly as a field of white light, indivisible, (with
liberty and justice for all), in which I was constructing subconscious walls
and turning subconscious shoulders to the outsiders. All kinds of selfish
attitudes showed clearly in that light, and I felt psychically bowled over. The
repercussions have continued to reverberate until today, though I have to be on
guard that it doesn’t become “canned” due to repetition. That would be the
tamasic element reclaiming the territory.
All such prejudices thrive in the dark, in our tamasic
regions. All we can do is bring light a bucket at a time, hoping that some day
we’ll be overwhelmed by a cleansing flood. When you dance with the Guru, it is
a distinct possibility.
In the years since Psychology of Darsanamala was written, an
incredible amount of scholarship and new findings has brought a flood of light
to early Christianity. In the commentary, Nitya refers to some old beliefs that
have been discredited, at least by some top scholars. I’m sure he would have
appreciated the upgrades. Even though his points are good anyway, I’d like to
do a little repair work for those who are sensitive in this area. Here’s the
cannot evaluate or revalue without adopting a normative notion of fundamental
values. When given the option to save from death the condemned fellow,
Barabbas, or the spiritual master who was the light of the world, Jesus, the
Jews exercised their option in favor of the crucifixion of Jesus. The Jewish
mob, and Jesus—who preferred to die rather than concede to the relativistic
Jewish norms—both held to their normative notions of what was right. The Jews
were obsessed by the sociopolitical oppression imposed on them by their Roman
masters, so they looked upon Jesus as the Messiah whom the prophets had said
would come to bring about a political redemption. They became frustrated and
angry when Jesus bracketed them and the Gentiles together as all the children
of God in need of spiritual redemption. (218)
John Shelby Spong, a former Episcopalian bishop, has written
eloquently about this era, and he makes an excellent case that the writers of
the gospels were trying to twist the finger of blame from the Romans, who were
totally responsible for Jesus’ execution, to the victims of Roman oppression,
the Jews. Spong sees this as Christians trying to curry favor with the Roman
masters at the expense of the Jews, to make themselves separate from the
persecuted group and thus escape at least the worst of the punishment. To me it
looks like tinkering by the Romans themselves. In either case, it was long
after the fact that the anti-Semitic words were written.
Curiously, a minor point as to Barabbas, the name literally
means son of God. If you have to pick between the son of God and another son of
God, who do you choose?
the Gospels, Spong traces
the evolution of the slur personified by
Judas Iscariot, and says: “In this evolving story, the blame for Jesus’ death
was clearly shifted from the Romans to the Jews, and as part of that shift, the
story of the traitor emerged. The traitor was then given the name Judas/Judah,
which was historically the name of the whole Jewish people.” (273)
Matthew’s gospel Pilate [the Roman governor] was said to have gone so far as to
wash his hands publicly and declare himself “innocent of this man’s blood.”
Matthew then went on to have the Jewish crowd say those terrifying words, “his
blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 26:25). Pilate was exonerated and
the Jews were portrayed as calling down blame on themselves for all eternity.
No text in any religious sacred literature has ever been the cause of so much
pain and suffering in history as has this one. In these words a killing
anti-Semitism found its biblical and therefore, in the eyes of many Christians,
its justifying legitimization. The attempt to shift the blame from the Romans
to the Jews is obvious, and it has been historically successful. (272)
raise this possibility to consciousness in the hope that as you and I are
awakened to the realization of what this story of Judas has done to the Jews of
history, we Christians might rise up and deal a death blow to the most virulent
Christian prejudice that has for 2000 years placed on the Jewish people the
blame for the death of Jesus. If that result could be achieved, then the
darkest cloud that has hung over the Christian Church in our history might
finally begin to lift. At the very least, this is an idea that Christians need
to entertain with great seriousness. (276)
Sadly, for every reader of Spong there are a million viewers
of the poisonous trash spewed by the Mel Gibsons of the world, but we thank him
for digging for the mother-of-pearl beneath the silver sheen of tamasic
ignorance. The false image will ever be box office dynamite, and the seeker of
truth the rarity, it seems.
As I said earlier, Nitya’s point about a consistent
normative notion is true despite the historical inaccuracies. “What’s good for
the goose is good for the gander” is a proverb that expresses the idea of
normative notion accurately, as does the Golden Rule. We should not have one
standard for ourself and our loved ones and another for those outside our
group. If we don’t wish to be killed, we should not be killers. We are
hypocrites if we are nice to some people and nasty to others, because of
unexamined presumptions we carry in our hearts. The concept is deeply enshrined
in the ideals of justice and truth mentioned by Nitya as being elements of the
flood of realization. It plays out in the Jesus bit as meaning that if we open
ourselves to truth, we should not kill the messenger and change the story to
suit our comfortable fictions. If we want to be honest and adhere to our
ignorance, it is a free choice. But if we pretend to a search for truth, we
should not customize it to our habits of mind, but let the truth break open our
shell as it listeth. Who knows, we may discover the pearl of great price
Great class notes, as usual,
following, of course, a great class.
A couple of quotations have occurred to
me, rather belatedly as my brain
works more slowly than most. They
are probably more relevant to verse 7 than verse 8, but very good nonetheless.
Do not look for rest in any
because you were not created
you were created for joy.
And if you do not know the
difference between pleasure and joy
you have not yet begun to
- Thomas Merton
I have come to the
frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates
the climate. It is my
that makes the weather.
I possess tremendous power to
make life miserable or joyous. I can
be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response
which decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is
humanized or de-humanized.
If we treat people as they
are, we make them worse. If we
treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
And joy is everywhere;
it is in the earth's green
covering of grass;
in the blue serenity of the
in the reckless exuberance of
in the severe abstinence
in the living flesh that
animates our bodily frame;
in the perfect poise of the
Human figure, noble and upright;
in the exercise of all our
in the acquisition of
in fighting evils...
Joy is there
from Baird, the source of the
Spong connection (and the person we would most like to attend a class some day,
even counting Madonna), a better summary than I gave:
To elaborate a bit on the
story of Judas, here are some of Spong's comments from his newsletter just
after the "Gospel of Judas" was aired on TV last spring:
A great part of the reason
that I greeted this ‘discovery’ of the Gospel of Judas with a huge yawn is that
in my book, “Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes,”
written in 1996, I had argued for an even more radical understanding of Judas
than the one included in the canonical gospels. The Gospel of Judas only seeks
to restore Judas’ reputation from those earlier gospels. I contend that there
never was a figure in history whose name was Judas Iscariot who needed to be
rehabilitated. My study has convinced me that Judas was a creation of the
second generation of Christians designed primarily to shift the blame for the
death of Jesus from the Romans to the Jews. The pressure driving this creation
of Judas came from the war between the Romans and the Jews beginning in 66 C.E.
and ending at Masada in 73 C.E. The crucial event in that war was the destruction
of Jerusalem and the razing of the Temple in 70 C.E. Roman hostility against
the Orthodox Jews, who they blamed for initiating this war, was overwhelming.
The Christians, who at this time were primarily Jewish, needed a way to
separate themselves from the Temple authorities and to reach out to the Romans.
To vilify a representative Jew, who had the name of the whole nation, Judah or
Judas, while exonerating the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, accomplished
exactly that. So Pilate was portrayed in the gospels, written either during or
after that war, as washing his hands and proclaiming himself innocent of the
blood of this man, while the Jewish authorities were portrayed as accepting the
blame for Jesus’ death and suggesting that it was appropriate to pass that
blame on to their children. This shift is clearly shown when the gospels
themselves are read in order.
Adding data to the idea of
Judas being a created symbol, we note that the concept of betrayal enters the
Christian story in the writing of Paul in the mid-fifties some 15 years before
the first gospel was written. Paul’s word literally meant “handed over,” an
action that might include betrayal but does not necessarily do so. Paul,
however, never identified this handing over of Jesus with one of the twelve.
Indeed, just a few chapters later in this same epistle, Paul wrote that the
Risen Christ appeared to ‘the twelve.’ Judas was clearly part of his Easter
vision, an idea that is inconceivable if he had been the traitor. Matthew, who
says that the risen Christ appeared only to ‘the eleven,’ also says that Judas
had hanged himself before the crucifixion occurred. Once that seed of doubt
about Judas’s historicity is sown, then the narratives that constitute the
betrayal story can be looked at to see if there is another source for their
content. For those who know the Hebrew Scriptures, almost every detail in the
Judas story can be found in earlier biblical betrayal stories. The 30 pieces of
silver as the price of betrayal, for example, as well as the hurling of that
silver back into the Temple come out of II Zechariah (11:12,13). The idea that
the traitor was one who broke bread at Jesus’ table, reflects the story of
Ahithophel and King David. When Ahithophel’s treachery was discovered, he went
out and hanged himself (II Sam. 17: 24, and Psalm 41:9). The kiss of the
traitor comes out of the story of Joab and Amasa (II Sam. 20:9). The idea that
a member of a band of twelve betrayed one of its own is found in the story of
Joseph and his brothers from the book of Genesis (Gen:37:26). It is worth
noting that in that story the one who decides to get money for betraying Joseph
is named Judah or Judas. Keep in mind that the first story of Jesus’ passion,
written by Mark, is not based on eye witness accounts but is drawn primarily
from Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. All of these things cast doubt on the historicity
Just as a tree wonderfully is
latent in the seed, all are in this; therefore, or by its importance, it is
called pradhanam. (IV, 9)
The last two verses of Maya Darsana lead us seamlessly into
the Bhana Darsana. Pradhana is the source producing prakriti, the manifestation
of Nature, which is the final term discussed in the next verse. Pra has several
shades of meaning, in this case bringing forth, emanating. Dhanam means holding
or containing, like a womb. MW defines pradhana as the most important part of
anything, the Originator, primary germ, the original source of the visible or
material universe. Where everything comes from, in other words.
Swami Vyasa Prasad made an excellent point about pradhana.
Shankara and Narayana Guru are kindred souls, and Narayana Guru often dismissed
himself with the phrase “What I have to say is what Shankara said.” But
Shankara left pradhana out of his philosophy, probably considering that the
duality of purusha and prakriti didn’t suit his absolute nondualism. Here
Narayana Guru reintroduces it. He wanted to also embrace the actual world,
which is necessarily dual, and not only have the unitive but distant or
detached side of things in his philosophy. This is in fact a major difference.
Shankara’s outlook produced legions of monks sitting in profound meditation,
but Narayana Guru invites us back down to earth, to live our life in all its
uniqueness while carrying the Absolute with you wherever you go. To me, this
slight change makes all the difference. I want to imbibe life, not bury myself
in some repetitive program designed by someone else, long ago.
The sequence right now in the study is that out of “nothing”
everything comes. As it emerges, everything becomes bifurcated into subject and
object, observer and the observed, and all that. Then it is further trifurcated
into the gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. The complex interplay of these three
produces the infinite kaleidoscopic display of manifestation.
Here in the ninth verse we are closely pondering the moment
that nothing becomes something, the greatest miracle in a cascade of miracles.
If it were really nothing, nothing could emerge from it, but since it has
become all this, we have to know that what appears to be nothing has in it a
proliferating pattern and an urge to become existent. Therefore, as Anita said,
nothing contains everything. It’s very pregnant.
This means, among many other things, that the meaningless,
random universe of dull minds is nowhere to be found. All creation brims with
meaning and significance. Every moment is a priceless gem of the manifestation
pouring out of the void. As Narayana Guru puts it, everything is wonderfully latent
in the pradhanam. The wonderful part is very important. It is a wonder, filled
to the brim with wonder. If properly appreciated, we should dance with joy at
every moment, good, bad or ugly as it may happen to be.
Part of this meaningful universe is the synchronous
realization of different aspects of life with the path one is following. No
less than three people had encountered the following quote within the last
couple of days, which says the same thing in modernese. It’s by Marianne
Williamson, from the recent film Akeelah and the Bee (thanks Susan):
deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are
powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens
us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small
does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that
other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as
children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light
shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are
liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Susan commented, “Is this not
a wonderful, marvelous, very relevant quote???” Yep. We also are working on
bringing this awareness into actualization, with our little sorties into the
In short, the universe is not spewing all this amazing stuff
just so it can be dismissed as ordinary, ho-hum. Get over it! Let it blow your
mind. And we’re not just talking to scientific materialists. When religious
enthusiasts claim God created everything, they are all too often dismissing
creation to exactly the same extent as the materialists. God created it, so
watch out! Do what God wants, or else! That kind of God is no better and often
worse than an arbitrary big bang in an empty desert. We have some more layers
to strip away here. And we will.
Nitya, in his commentary, takes three major fields and
retraces them to a point of origin. Religion holds the universe is a
manifestation of the Word or logos, which emanates from the mouth of God. God
is thus the point source of all. Science examines how the tiniest particles
combine to make larger and larger structures, or how a big bang begins with a
single point and expands into all this. And mathematics also begins with an
imaginary point, which moves to become a line, turns to become a plane, and
turns again to become a solid. All three hold the solid world begins with a
point and expands. When the concrete, specific world vanishes, retraced back to
the single point, it becomes only a conglomeration of ideas. An equally vast
universe of ideas complements the material one, and they are united at the
vanishing point. In our scheme of correlation, the horizontal positive pole
represents the objective world, and the horizontal negative represents the
conceptual, general world. They meet and “cross over” at the intersection with
the vertical pole, precisely in the middle. The image is of two complementary
solids like cones or pyramids, with their apexes conjoined, constructed along a
The Bhana Darsana teaches that the objective and subjective
worlds come into being simultaneously in a rapid back and forth movement, like
the fluttering of the wings of a bee that is so quick it becomes invisible. The
present verse lays the groundwork for our understanding of that concept.
We ended the class with something you can try at home: a few
moments of sitting still and contemplating the nothingness from which all this
has sprung. Don’t give it a name, like God or the Absolute, or even nothingness;
then it isn’t nothing any more. Just take an unmediated peek at it, or at least
try to imagine what nothing would look like if you could check it out.
When we become enmeshed in manifestation, we can change the
roll of the dice somewhat by mentally returning to the state of emptiness.
Tinkering with what is already accomplished is unwieldy at best, but catching
the cycle at a subtle level makes for significant change without any greater
effort than having a clear understanding. As we all found, it’s actually rather
pleasant—very pleasant even.
Vyasa Prasad sent
the following last week after the class he attended, and it's here in case he
didn't send it to all of you. Thought it would get the synapses firing in prep
for this week's class. I'm also including a piece written by Vinaya Chaitanya
for the Narayana Gurukula Yahoo group, where the old notion of the guru as a
social reformer was once again floated. It's not obvious to everyone why this
is a pejorative reference, so I asked him to spell it out. RST
I found myself
reflecting on the notion of "nothingness" used to describe the
mysterious state from which everything emerges. I got a tip from Laszlo's latest offering, "Science and
the Reenchantment of the Universe" where he quotes Heidegger's question,
"Why is there something rather than nothing?"
We do experience
a content, a beingness and so I think of wisdom as a shift from objective
consciousness to the content of consciousness. We can call such a state
'transcendental' in which our value content is at its purest state. When we are drawn into experiencing the
world, both in its subjective state and objective state, the value is
"alloyed". In the course
of our growth we move from inanimate objects to the value of life itself. I understand this value as the
sat-cit-ananda described by the rishis.
"nothingness" we think of is not a void or a vacuum, but a state in
which there is absolute value content.
As we get caught up in the world of action
and objects this absolute value
is compromised and obscured, giving us only partial glimpses in the course of
our interactions. So the original
state can be a nothingness in terms of the objects and ideas we have come to be
associated with, but in itself it is a mysterious fullness, purnam, from which
everything can arise, and yet manifestation can never exhaust its fullness.
This notion is found in the peace invocation, "purnam idam, purnam
I suppose this is
what Sankara meant when he composed verses ending with "cit ananda rupah,
sivoham, sivoham" (I am consciousness and value). Narayana Guru has
examples of his own, like 'arivu', and 'karu'.
Why the Guru
Narayana is not a "social reformer" but a World-Teacher,Jagat-guru?
and Samadhi anniversaries have passed, and as usual, lot of newspaper publicity
about the Guru, and all the politicians competing to praise him, should gladden
the disciples of the Guru, but the fact is quite the contrary, and it's also
very sad. And my good friend Scott
asking me to elaborate on this for the benefit of students/friends is the
reason for this piece; otherwise I'd rather leave it well alone, and
concentrate more on the translations of the Guru into Kannada and similar
things that I am busy with these days, apart from the routine chores at the
Even though lots of
lip-service is paid to the Guru as a social reformer, hardly ever do we find
any mention of him in speeches/writings on philosophy in India.
The first thing to
note is that it is not so much as a historical figure that we study Narayana
Guru, but more as a World Teacher and model Guru, in the context of perennial
philosophy. Not that he didn't
respond creatively to the historical situation in which he found himself in the
light of his wisdom-vision, but that is not to be mixed up with the far more
important role of a Guru whose teachings are relevant to one and all, anywhere,
anytime, who seek answers to questions that haunt humanity at levels far deeper
than the social/historical questions.
The reformer is forgotten once the social
problems are redressed, but a
Guru's message is timeless, and this understanding/ discrimination between the
eternal and the transient is the first qualification for a seeker of wisdom in
the Guru tradition.
In the long line of
Gurus of India, it was the Buddha who frontally dealt with the despicable issue
of "caste." Gurus who
followed have left much to be desired on this front, in spite of being staunch
proponents of advaita.
Narayana Guru was unequivocal on this question, declaring the oneness of the
human family through his writings as well as establishing centres where this
could be lived. This must be the reason why he's usually excluded by speakers
and writers on philosophy.
And it is not helped
at all by the almost "successful" attempt by certain communities to
see in him a "social reformer" and leader of a particular tribe
struggling for social and economic justice. To be affiliated to the name
of the Guru for wrong reasons is just as bad as neglecting or ignoring
him. It cannot be over-emphasized
that the Guru Narayana was NOT for any one group of people as against another. He wanted humanity to recognize itself
as belonging to the One caste of humanity, as made clear in all his writings, especially the
Jati-Mimamsa (Critique of
Philosophy does not
live in a vacuum. Falsehood
be denied before truth can be founded firmly in the human heart. Guru does this not only in the social
realm, but in all realms, as evidenced by his bringing in an Asatya-
darsanam (Vision of
Untruth) in the Darsana-Mala, where he integrates all possible philosophical
points of view in terms of the Absolute Selfhood of the human being and its
dearness to one and all. And, to
conclude this, this integration at all levels is the uniqueness of the
philosophy of Narayana Guru. Brahmavidya is this integrative or unitive
understanding of all, not another system, and the Guru restated it in clear and
simple terms that befit the dignity of the human kind. And this is why he is universally
revered and his name celebrated.
May such understanding bless us all.
As by its very nature, it diversifies the modalities
marvelously; this, which is of three-fold modality, is well known here as
prakriti. (IV, 10)
Continuing the theme from
last week, where something is mysteriously born from nothing, here that
pulsation is shown to proliferate into everything we see and know as our world
or our universe. The tenth verse is thus a rounding off of the entire darsana,
and in a way of the entire first four darsanas, which depict the psychological
and cosmological beginnings of existence. We stand now on the doorstep of the
more practical part of the work, where the transformation imparted by the Guru
can really begin to sink in.
There has been plenty of adjustment of our way of seeing
over the first four darsanas, but as Deb pointed out, this was preparatory
stuff, what Nitya called “finding our seat.” We’ve learned to discard blocks
and attune our vision to a harmonious keynote. We’ve settled neutrally onto our
ground, which is called the Absolute, thereby laying the foundation for our
personal castle on solid rock. But what will we create there?
As a reminder for those of us who’ve gotten disoriented by
the intensity of the study, Nitya immediately brings us back to the gist:
is a textbook of the Science of the Absolute. The intention of the author, and
what should be that of the student, is not the gathering of information for the
sake of scholarship. The prime motives are to attain a lasting happiness and to
free the mind from the dual conditionings of pain and pleasure. (p. 225)
He then elaborates just a
little, since this has been stressed repeatedly in the past:
we go from verse to verse we are asked to take full cognizance of every detail
of the transactions of life. Between the concepts of maya and prakriti [i.e.
between “what is not—that is” and Nature] we are given every opportunity to
trace the development of manifestation from what “is not” to what is
irrefutably “out there.”
In his search for happiness man is
confronted by many objects which exist at the physical level externally to
himself. But what exists as an external factor does nothing for him until he relates
to it his subjective awareness of its meaning or significance. (p. 226)
We are exhorted not to
dismiss anything but embrace everything.
Underneath this simple yet radical teaching is a sketch of
the fourfold or quaternion structure used by the Narayana Gurus as a great Key
to understanding. “What is not” is placed at the vertical negative, and as it
proliferates into “all this” it moves upward toward the omega of the vertical
positive. Incidentally, the vertical movement implies time.
As things become manifest in space, they take on a
horizontal component. On the horizontal plus side, which is arbitrarily located
on the right, objective reality (the reality of objects) is graphed.
Corresponding to this on the left or negative side of the horizontal axis are
the mental concepts of objects, known as subjective reality.
A lot of the work we’ve done so far is to focus our
subjective awareness so it accurately matches objective reality. (That’s part
of why this is called a science, by the way.) Our storehouse of prejudices and
misperceptions alters our subjective awareness to conform to a more or less
imaginary version of objective reality. As we discard them, we begin to see
things as they are instead of how we wish them to be. When this becomes established
as our normal viewpoint, we have arrived at the stable seat of consciousness,
our firm ground. We are now ready to begin. Before arriving at this stage we
were only pre-tending, preparing for our journey. Now our mental safari
equipment is ready, the porters of good intentions are hired, the maps of
consciousness well scrutinized, and the antivenin and mosquito netting of
helpful friends and wise teachers kept handy. We’re set to take the plunge.
Today I received a letter
from Jim, saying that the chanting and all the Sanskrit words in the class was
very alienating. He finds them a stumbling block rather than being beneficial
in any way. Without having been in class, he echoed Nitya’s sentiments that we
should be seeing the truth beneath or beyond the words, and not busy ourselves
with “scholarship.” Since his complaints are felt by many others and are well
taken, I want to share my response with everyone. I beg Jim’s pardon, but my
guess is that a lot of people will be very glad he voiced what they secretly
Thanks for sharing your frustration with the class with me.
I think you’ve expressed ideas many people feel. Perhaps you’d be surprised to
learn that I agree with you for the most part.
There are many ways to approach the study of what may
loosely be called metaphysics. The one the Gurukula offers is intellectually
challenging. It is based on the insights and vision of people with a different
language than ours, though happily with excellent English skills as well. English
in fact does not have words or concepts corresponding to many of the Sanskrit
terms, so the latter are frequently used. I know this is very off-putting until
one becomes familiar with them. Even then it is fraught with peril.
The familiar word karma is a good example. It means action
in its widest sense, but it is widely imagined to refer to a mysterious form of
causality where you reap what you sow. The widespread belief that there is no
relation between reaping and sowing thus makes people sneer at a relatively
simple term that would actually be completely acceptable to them. Funny.
Terms like Maya or Bhana combine many many unfamiliar
concepts into a single term. Expanding one’s understanding of all the
implications is a major part of the way many Indian gurus teach. It’s handy
when you can evoke an ocean of understanding with a single word, but it’s prone
to even more misunderstandings as people weigh in with their limited take on
what they mean. I guess you could say this is always the problem with language
and words. The Bible refers to it briefly as the Tower of Babel conundrum.
But these are great words, mostly, and like a universal
language are widely known around the world. There is a lot to be gained by
knowing them. Unfortunately, you just jumped into the deep end of the pool
before you learned to swim, so to speak. This is not an introductory course. It
helps a lot to meet the words one at a time and have them explained. We are not
doing much of that at the moment.
In the past we have taught much more user-friendly classes.
It took twenty years to get up the courage to present The Psychology of
Darsanamala, which quickly scared away most of our class participants. I was
not too surprised, either.
Knowing the language barrier to be very significant, I have
tried hard to limit the unfamiliar terms in the books and the classes, and
striven to be the helpful intermediary you have not found in the class. I
apologize for my failings, which are legion and I believe well acknowledged. I
agree that getting the point is what it’s all about, as does Nitya. You
probably saw the bit I quoted from him in the class notes from the last verse
commentary: “Darsanamala is a textbook of the Science of the Absolute. The
intention of the author, and what should be that of the student, is not the
gathering of information for the sake of scholarship. The prime motives are to
attain a lasting happiness and to free the mind from the dual conditionings of
pain and pleasure.” In That Alone, Nitya
excoriates teachers who sling Sanskrit terms to engender false respect in their
followers. He always wanted to get the point across in ways people could grasp,
and was an expert at doing so. But all we have left of him are his words, to
bring back to life if we can. None of us is as good at it as he was, by a mile.
But we feel we can sometimes help, despite our patent and admitted
inadequacies. Amazing as it may seem, our classes are
aimed at doing precisely what you request: turn unfamiliar ideas and words into
something that makes sense to everyone. Sometimes we do better and sometimes
I have suggested to others that they can skip the Sanskrit
words as they read the books, because they almost always are translated anyway.
They are like lions guarding the gates, but they won’t bite if you slip past
them; they only look fierce.
The source of the Gurukula teachings is in one sense very
far from our familiar awareness. I trace it thusly: Narayana Guru had the
precipitating vision; Nataraja Guru was able to schematically interpret it for
scientists and philosophers; Nitya made it available and comprehensible as
practical instruction for dedicated seekers. All of them re-experienced the
vision for themselves, to make it real. Those of us remaining in this milieu
have the task of not only striving to re-experience it too, but also of
modernizing it into our present language and drawing parallels that speak to
everyday problems. It’s not as easy as it sounds. That’s why we wrestle so
mightily in class: we’re struggling to present a mastodon in the guise of a
pussycat, and hoping that everyone can reimagine the mastodon from the cat.
That’s how words work.
If you can get to it without words, fine. From what I’ve
seen, there is a modicum of success with nonverbal meditation techniques, but
nothing like what the Guru I knew achieved. We live and breathe words, and they
are simultaneously our prison and our release. What we need most is to move
from words and concepts that imprison to those that liberate.
While my experience
is limited, most
of the “simple” presentations I’ve seen I find very disappointing. Ignoring
problems doesn’t make them go away, but that’s what they mostly boil down to,
in my estimation. Anyway, there’s lots of them for those so inclined. I’ve said
before, this is not The Three Minute Manager. More like the thirty year manager….
As to the brief chants before and after class, you are free
to ignore them if they bother you. I’d be happy to explain them some time if
you like. They are a way of calming the mind—nonverbally for those who don’t
understand the words—with a variation of the aum sound. Other than the writings
of the Gurus, they are the only shred of anything that unites the Gurukulas. If
you go to Kanakamala or Somanahalli or Varkala or Ootacamundalam or Bainbridge
you would find that classes begin and end similarly. None of the classes would
be the same, however, because everyone sees things differently.
There is no “agenda” in the Gurukula other than the sharing
of wisdom. In Portland we have even stopped doing the main chant, because it’s
a little long. But they are all lovely.
The chants are not intended to be religious. The intention
is to harmonize ourselves, to move from the chattering state of mind we enter
the classroom with to a receptive and contemplative state, quickly and gently.
As you noted, any meaningless sound can do this also. Humming a chant-like tune
excludes errant thoughts. For your info, here’s what we use. They are all very
ancient, and connect us to the Upanishadic rishis, who chanted them thousands
of years ago. You can just read the English:
guru Brahma, guru Vishnu,
sakshat param Brahma,
sri gurave namah.
shanti, shanti, shantih….
Aum. The Guru is Brahma, the
The Guru is Vishnu, the
The Guru is Maheswara
(Shiva), Great God and Dissolver of all.
The Guru is indeed the
To that Guru our salutations!
Aum, peace, peace, peace….
asato ma sat gamaya
tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
mrityor ma amritam gamaya
lead us from untruth to truth
lead us from darkness to
lead us from death to
shanti, shanti, shantih….
Aum. Let us together be
Let us together enjoy.
Let us together be nourished.
Let us together become
radiant with spiritual effulgence.
Let there not come any hatred
Aum, peace, peace, peace….
purnam adah, purnam idam,
shanti, shanti, shantih….
Aum. That is plenum, This is
From the plenum, plenum
When plenum is taken away
Plenum alone remains.
Aum, peace, peace, peace….
Again, my profound apologies
for my poor teaching abilities. And thanks to you
especially for voicing your concerns, without which we never know whether
things are going wrong. Your friend, Scott
9/28/6 More from
Greetings to all:
RE: my built in firewall
You may or may not know, from
your experience and time we have spent together over several decades that I am
sincerely engaged in the search for truth. This search for truth I deem to call religion. You may or may not know of my views of
organized religions. These
organized religions of which I have participated, some for remarkably short times
and others for longer periods have been various and varied in approach and
M constitution includes what
can be best described as a built in firewall that concerns itself to my
religious and truthful searches and understanding. The normal activity of this firewall is to determine weather
what I’m doing is inclusive of all people, all perspectives, and without dogmas
or certainties, that are a given, within this group of searchers I might be
gathered with at one time or another.
It rebels occasionally when
groups, whether religious or not, place me in a position where locked perspectives,
inherent dogmas of behavior necessary to continue my search and share with
others is present. In the old
days, (not that this has come to an end), me and friends would commonly refer
to this rebelling interpretation as with regard to the cause, as BS.
Accordingly, I view my
Gurukula attendance and studies as religious. My firewall has made itself known. And I’m one very frustrated, depressed and uncomfortable camper
concerning this. I have no
create disharmony, as I may have already. And I am depressed because I find myself mostly alone with
this dilemma. I am uncomfortable
because I have no choice or voice in my sincere intuition that something is
amiss and that for some reason something good for me is making untoward
I found it worrisome that you
mentioned, I did it wrong, i.e., jumping into the deep end before I was ready.
Because I have been in the deep all my adult life with regard to search for
meaning and truth. Perhaps
didn’t mean this. As was taken
from this writers view.
From experience there have
been times when I have enhanced my understanding even while walking with
another person, or participating in other overt activity. So a lotus position is not a
requirement. This is
place in view what is organized or not organized. While learning, much has been learned from the chance
encounter, the novice and well as the i.e., moderator. These loosely framed remarks are the
best this writer can offer to further illuminate my heartfelt concerns.
Please accept my apology and
my best wish to you and all for love and peace, Joy and Happiness.
I am not leaving. I am with
you all and will continue as
best possible, but please accept my apologies for any discordance or
interruption and to all, of course my love and wishes for personal Joy and
You may do whatever you want
with any remarks received from me.
Thanks for your
further amplifications. I'm sorry that you are not happy about the Gurukula
class, but any search for truth is bound to have its ups and downs. It's there
for those who wish to avail themselves of it for purposes of understanding, and
we don't ask anything of anyone, monetarily or philosophically. Participation
is free and withdrawal is free. I'm aware it doesn't suit very many people, but
for those it does it is a breath of fresh air, actually a hurricane of fresh
As to firewalls, I always
Frost's voice in my head: "before I built a wall I'd ask to know/ what I
was walling in or walling out." Right after, he adds, "Something
there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down." The mysterium
tremendum naturally breaks down barriers, but we can build them back up again
if we choose. That's from Mending Wall, to my mind one of the greatest poems in
the English language.
To clarify things a bit, no,
know anything about your past search for truth or religious involvements. And
you misunderstood my comment about the pool, which was that I hadn't bothered
to talk to you about the chants because I didn't realize there was any need to,
until you mentioned it. A little clarification might have relieved your doubts,
who knows? For instance, we "pray" that no one takes or gives
offense, and that we will have mutual enjoyment of learning in the class. With
that as a starting point it is easier to remain amicable. Instead of knowing
this, if it's just a series of meaningless sounds, it's possible to imagine all
kinds of things. I'll be the first to stipulate that religions have been
responsible for many tragedies great and small throughout history.
Americans are traditionally suspicious
of foreign languages. I hope you'll read the hilarious diatribe by Jim in
Huckleberry Finn about French; I'm sure it's on the internet somewhere.
Anyway, you and I know that you are not
leaving, because wherever you go, there you are. No one can leave the Absolute,
which is their very nature. So we are always here, even when we think we
If you feel like discussing
further in person, please give me a call. I'd like to clear away whatever can
be cleared away, and leave only the actual junk that persists. Or we'll have a
simple piano visit later this fall.
sure no one has taken any
offence at what you think or say. I reiterate that everyone should always speak
their peace. Conflicts like this if aired are a beneficial learning situation;
if retreated from in silence they become just another of life's dead ends. It's
our choice. Svasti (May it be well!), Scott
You're right about the Gurus
and our call to live and reinterpret their perennial vision of Truth in terms
we can relate to, understand and find meaning through. I appreciated your honesty and value
your insight that words simultaneously conceal and reveal. It's up to us to see
and to use language effectively and know when to keep quiet. And to know and
feel the inner quiet of AUM ever reverberating underneath our words, their
inspired source, the very embodiment of their sounds and their repository when
remembered or forgotten.
It does take some intellectual chops to
understand the Absolute as one's Self and one's world through philosophy,
psychology or mysticism. That's one of my main attractions to Vedanta. It is
scientifically-thorough, logical, reasonable and precise; psychologically
inclusive and wholesome and mystically adventurous and fulfilling to the body,
mind, heart and soul.
AUM Tat Sat. Svasti. The
waves are breaking before the infinite sun on the cosmic shores of paradise.
Aloha. Peter M.
WOW. Thanks, Scott. I think I missed the ACTION!...and
actual class notes for a few weeks (last one received 9/5/06)??? Valuable dialog. I remember feeling totally
alienated in a Latin Catholic Church service (or again aware that
I'm really an ALIEN...), and equally so at a Witch's Coven gathering
in college. In these situations,
I wonder if these "in group" and "out group"
rituals try to serve the purpose of bonding and elevating the superior
believers (illusion or not), and revealing the masquerading misfit inferior
outcasts. Come to think of it, aren't the UO Duck's football
team chants EXACTLY for these purposes?!
I think Jim and the rest of us will find the
seek by embracing our ALIEN-NATION, and thus are no longer
offended by any situation where we feel alienated...rather the reminder
helps us feel right at home.
A bit of a different twist...or maybe I'm
just twisted tonight....
hmmmmmmmm. Either way, filled
with joy along the path....
All love, grace, gratitude,
and a pinch or two of humor,
Well, well, well.
That was a fascinating and edifying
exchange of views you had with Jim.
Actually I caught the first part of it last
night, right before I went
to bed, but it was 3 a.m. and I needed to give it some space. I'm so glad that Jim dared to air his
concerns with you (and you can share these first two paragraphs with him, so he
knows it). I was also glad to be
able to know him better than that he makes a delicious whipped cream-fruit
salad! He was very quiet at the one
class I attended, but I know from experience that quiet people can be vibrantly
alive inside, just nervous about opening out. OK, I've felt some of the same "alienation" he
has, like, "I'm not getting this, this is beyond me", and "isn't
that an awful lot of words to say a 'simple' idea?". I've thought, "Oh, well, let Scott
have his fun". My thoughts
went to the picture of Lahiri Mahasaya (page 375 in Autobiography of a Yogi),
his resemblance to you, and perhaps a repeated karma in your own life. In other words, I didn't always
understand what you were talking about, but didn't like you less for that. Within my own "firewall" (and here I equate firewall more with a
sense of personal integrity than with a wall), I just felt a little more
So I received your
translations of the chants with gratefulness. (My only real contact with chanting has been at La Center so
long ago., and I never really felt initiated there, either.) I revelled in your definitions and
clarifications, and lovely similes and metaphors, of Sanskrit words like
fierce-looking lions guarding the gates of knowledge, or of "struggling to
present a mastodon in the guise
a pussycat", while trying to reimagine the mastodon from the cat! Swimming pools in all honor, with their
deep and shallow ends, I personally feel stuck far away in a land of frozen
lakes, and I've missed an awful lot of swimming lessons, so I need all the help
I can get. But partly through your
class notes, and greatly through studies with Nancy, Gayathri and Wendy, I am
actually re-experiencing the great vision (freeing up the mind), modernizing it
into present language, and drawing parallels with everyday problems. Anyway, many thanks to Jim for bringing
this concern to light, and to you Scott, for your humble and pedagogical way of
dealing with it.
How wonderfully J---! I can
just hear her saying this. I guess that I am just guarding the dragons. I find
your class notes and expression always thought provoking and often very
touching. Don't you find that understandings sometimes come later? When the
plums are ready they fall from the tree. Not quite sure if that fits but you
will know what I mean. Don't water the content down to suit us, continue to
help us to rise up and meet the content.
I enjoy the chants even
though I am not able yet to say them without the help of the book. I enjoy learning new languages and was
just yesterday looking in the Darsanamala at the front section where it goes over
pronunciation of the Sanskrit letters/sounds and also at the beautiful Sanskrit
at the back of the book where I assume the verses are presented. I even looked over the Sanskrit version
of the index, so my experience is that this is not off-putting but intriguing.
I want to read Jim's message
and your response more carefully but I am of course reminded of my own moments
of feeling out of step with the class and I do agree with you that voicing my
concerns has been a beneficial learning experience. I hope that this will be Jim's experience as well.
PLEASE Scott leave all the
Sanskrit words in. Let people look them up. The are only alienating if one
chooses them to be. They all form a wondrous part of the whole and fill the
class notes with an Indian fragrance and vibration all their own.
I definitely appreciated your
explanation and also that Jim let his opinions be known. As for me, I like the
class the way it is. I always begin in a kind of fog and leave with a greater
clarity. That seems the way life is in general. We keep coming up against
challenges great and small. At times it feels that the ground is shaking
violently or that the roof is caving in but if we surrender, accept, grapple,
confront, ask questions, allow discomfort, sit quietly (not in that order
perhaps), we find understanding, clarity, and such joy. Or maybe just the
strength to take another deep breath.
Oh gawd. Sounds like a
Hallmark card. But you get the gist...
ST: Sounds like the phones
are ringing off the hook!
When I lived in a tiny cabin
in Kneeland, California, high up in the mountains just east of Arcata/Eureka,
right by the Mad River (hmmmmmm), I had just made a gigantic creative
breakthrough and spent many obsessive months--nearly a year--madly
creating by candlelight and kerosene, my first major tapestry,
"The Dragon and Chrysanthemum". It includes 3,000 fabric pieces,
500 individually studded gems, thousands of beads, literally blood, sweat and
tears, plus gazillions of precious breaths. This was the sacred
christening of the 30 year path upon which I am still now traveling
with this current gypsy project, a true 10 year monster of an undertaking.
I'll always remember when a
sweet well-intention woman down the road happened to stop by and said,
"Heavens, that's quite a quilt, honey. A little gaudy for most
tastes, but I'll give you $200 for it anyway." I was speechless, and she
thought somehow she was doing me a favor. The part of me that was still
nurturing my aching bleeding fingers felt the urge to jump her and bury her in
the basement. But I stood there seeing that she did not know what she was
seeing, and she probably didn't deserve to die for the crime of what to her was
Needless to say, she and I
never developed much of a depth relationship, but we'd nod warmly when we'd
pass in the market.
I can still remember the urge
to feel insulted, hurt, doubtful, alienated, instructive, aggressive, angry....
but I think this lesson came to me at a time when I was dancing so closely with
the warm innocence of the Divine, that my mind came to rest with such gentle
obvious truth that we were both good humans with varying ways to see.
All love and gentleness on
this beautiful clear day,
I'm tired of
being in the news. But I want
wish love. Jim
[only two of
these notes were ever sent, plus my responses]
Language, it is said, has
I came across a paragraph by
Nataraja Guru: "Philosophy
too, when rid of linguistic or cultural frontiers, will tend to bring humanity
together in a more real sense than in the case of the Tower of Babel, which
left the question of a common language outside its scope."
The language we speak today
has roots that go back to antiquity.
A branch of study called etymology traces
the development of words. Latin, Greek
provided the English
language with most of the words in use today.
When the word 'paparazzi'
recently gained currency we had to rush to our dictionary to find the
meaning. The origin we are told is
Italian. When 'au pair' began to
be voiced by the media, we discovered that it was French. The English language has anglo-saxon
roots, supplemented later with Latin and Greek roots. The native anglo-saxon roots have given us words like bread
(from breowan) and knowledge (from cnawan) and friend (from freon) and wisdom
(from witan). After the
Conquest words based on Latin and Greek roots found their way into the English
Language. Latin roots like ager,
agriculture; aqua, water; arbor, tree;
canis, dog; frater, fraternal and friar;
humus, humble; oro, speak. The even
more ancient Greek provided
words such as angelos, angle or evangelist; anthropos, philanthrophy; kardia,
cardiac; kosmos, cosmopolitan; lithos, monolith; mythos, myth; oikos, economy,
ecology; pathos, sympathy; psyche, mind.
The Sanskrit language is the
root of almost all the languages of India, except for the Tamil. The word "Sanksrit" means "refined." There are
similarities between some
Greek, Latin and Sanskrit words.
(mater and mata both mean "mother") In my personal experience, I have found the relationship
between sound and meaning quite intimate in the structuring of Sanskrit
words. The semiotic process seems
more streamlined and so learning
some of the words actually helps the thought process. My conclusion is that there is no harm in picking up a few
Sanskrit words, even though they seem difficult and alien and even funny in the
That about wraps it up. It
certainly wasn't my decision to use Sanskrit and chanting as a teaching
technique, it goes back thousands of years. It's just what I happened to learn
from a really excellent teacher, our buddy Nitya. Peace, Scott