Introduction to Part II
Still pendant from the exact center of the garland of
visions, Nitya has appended a trenchant essay. For all the world like a master
chef presenting the main course on a silver platter, with a grand flourish he
enunciates the impetus for our study. He doffs the lid to reveal equal parts of
uncooked truth and goodness, marinated well in beauty and garnished with the
spice of unalloyed happiness. And as the eager guests at the feast we gasp in
amazement at the offering, for while we’ve enjoyed the gathering considerably
up till now, we haven’t been quite sure what the host was planning to serve us.
I heartily recommend you read this essay, straightforward
and uncomplicated for the most part, and standing on its own as imparting the
raison d’etre of the whole game, no matter whether it’s played from a
scientific, philosophical or religious angle.
As far as the importance of an examined life goes, we read:
state which the common man envisions as being good may, in the long run, turn
out to be not so. What men usually consider to be good is based on the
expedient needs of the individual, not on what is best for the collective
society. Thus the necessity arises for a normative notion of what is truly
good; that is to say, the good that can ensure its value as the good for all.
The good for all and the good which is so at all times is identical with truth.
It is in the expression of a general good that truth gains its operational
connotation. Truth then ceases to be merely an abstraction or a speculative
edifice and becomes a way of life. (288)
Note that if something is a way of life, it has to be an
integral part of you. Abstractions such as truth have to be converted into
manifest actuality in order to become good in any practical sense. This is the
challenge that pries us out of bed every morning, as Anita mentioned with a
chuckle. Who doesn’t love that cozy period after awaking when you doze in warm
sheets with most of your mind still resting in other states than the wakeful?
But we are inspired, and also called by necessity to “rise and shine,” so we
sit up and put on our game face.
My favorite part of the essay is a comparison Nitya makes
between mystical Christianity and Vedanta: “What is true in any religion is
true in all. The Christian mystical notion of life, light and love is identical
in meaning with the Vedantic notion of sat-cit-ananda.” We spent some time
examining how they stacked up.
Charles is our top on-site expert out of several in matters
Christian. He well remembered that according to the Bible, God is light and God
is love; when he couldn’t think of any God is life phrases, we came up with the
living God, which if you think about it is the same idea. Sat is being or existence,
actuality, and life is that which exists. Whether you call it God or the
Absolute manifesting as life makes no difference. Charles told us that light in
Christianity was not just the visual waveform of energy but knowledge or
awareness; cit (pronounced chit) is the same thing. Light and cit are that
which observes existence. Finally, love is the optimum value form of delight,
the meaning or impact of the awareness of existence. Again, ananda is precisely
the same. Often translated as bliss, the Gurukula defines it as value, which I
prefer to call meaning. Significance. Love is the ideal embodiment of the
meaning of life. When we are free of impediments we radiate love, naturally.
In That Alone, Nitya adroitly reveals that this threefold
structure is really one thing with three aspects, all of which are essential.
Sat-cit-ananda is usually translated as existence, awareness, value (meaning).
Leave out one part and you are left with nothing, in the negative sense. If
something doesn’t exist, then you won’t be aware of it and it won’t have any
meaning. If something exists but you aren’t aware of it, it has no meaning to
you. And what is the attraction to knowing about something meaningless? So for
each unit of what is to matter, we must be meaningfully aware of its existence.
The same thing could easily be said about life, light and love.
The Holy Trinity of Catholicism—Father, Son and Holy
Spirit—is also related to the above trinities. God the Father is the Ground of
existence, the Son is its expression and reflection in consciousness, and the
Spirit is the meaningful involvement of that mystery in the world. Comparing
various nomenclatures for the same concept can help rid them of extraneous
elements, such as the simplistic imagery of single human beings (Jesus as the
Son, for instance) for general principles.
Charles then recited a poem of William Blake:
appears, and God is light,
those poor souls who dwell in Night;
doth a Human Form display
those who dwell in realms of Day.
Auguries of Innocence
He told us that Blake wanted
to get away from the distant God, angry or disinterested, widely imagined in
his time. He felt God was expressed by and fully present in human beings. This
poem brings God down to earth. As we’ve repeatedly discovered in this study,
where else could God be but here? We are some of the expressions of the divine
that caused the unmanifest to become manifest. This leads us directly to the
gates of action.
The last part of Nitya’s commentary directs us to the upcoming
Karma Darsana. Action “has an immediate impact on the present. And it has the
power to transmute the potentials of the future so that these become
experiential facts of the present.” In a sense it is the most real thing we do,
in terms of actual events. He warns us that care must be taken because the
downside of action is that it produces chains of cause and effect reactions
that can make chains of bondage for purportedly free individuals. The class
spent time examining the motivators of action and describing some of the chains
familiar to us in life.
Deb asked us to talk about the different impulses to action.
Nitya uses the most general term of all here: necessity. In his excellent
commentary on verse 23 in That Alone, he notes the trifurcation of action into
absolutely necessary actions, provisionally necessary actions, and freely
chosen actions. Glancing over that commentary will throw a lot of light on our
Often not doing some action would have been the wiser
course. After class, Charles used the Iraq War as an example, whose devastating
repercussions now stretch into the distant future and will warp the lives of
millions if not billions for generations. Yet it was begun by a handful of
madmen under the guise of being nothing more than a brief incursion. During
class he also gave the example of getting a girl pregnant. Simple interjection,
endless obligatory activities thereafter, likely lasting a lifetime. We thought
of how the World Bank makes loans to third world countries for infrastructure
development based on inflated expectations. Much of the loan is siphoned off by
local dictators, which then saddles the country with a growing debt requiring
severe degradation of the welfare of the populace as a whole to service it.
These are the lusted after “cash cows,” countries that pour all their
productivity into the pails of the wealthy bankers. We thought of lots more,
and you can too. We will be going deeper into the subject over the next ten
weeks. Suffice to say that contemplation does not always have to be
pie-in-the-sky, it should also address transactional issues that can and do
have an impact on our well being.
Conversely, our good actions can have lasting repercussions
of a positive nature also. Brenda gave a lovely example. Both her parents
dropped out of her life early on. Some ten years ago she achieved a level of
maturity that allowed her to forgive them and reach out to them. She spoke in
particular last night about her father. Of all his children she is the only one
in contact with him, and has had many touching times with him. Her son treats
him as a grandfather. Although far from perfect, the relationship means a great
deal to both father and daughter. Brenda credits it all to a willingness and
ability to forgive and not hold out for redress of past grievances. If she had
remained self-absorbed she might never have made contact, but her self expanded
to embrace an important “other” in her life. This reminds us that we don’t have
to save the whales or find a cure for cancer, we can and should start a program
of positive action in our immediate milieu. Our positive ripples will expand to
bless things we will never even hear about, setting off chain reactions of
improvement wherever they are enjoyed.
Brenda’s presentation stimulated Susan into talking about
her long struggle to understand the story of the prodigal son in the Bible. It
seems so unfair! Leaving aside any symbolic meanings, if the father had held a
grudge against the flaky son, the reunion never would have been the cause for
celebration. The wise father could see that the person approaching him NOW was
different from the one who ran away in the past. He addressed the present,
repentant child, and left the sassy know-it-all back in the past where he once
existed. In order to get back in communion we absolutely must let go of our
complaints. Susan sounded much relieved to be making sense of the story after
so many years of puzzlement. The relief is in direct proportion to the
confusion—another facet of the prodigal son story.
I’ve got to find a way to shorten these notes, but not
today. If anyone’s made it this far, here is part of what Susan wrote before
bed last night:
the way home after dropping Moni, I finally hit upon the epiphany that I
couldn't get to in class. When the Prodigal son comes back to his father, his
father is putting aside all his possible anger at what the son has done
(projections, disappointments, fears) and being with the truth of the situation
(the homecoming, the son's remorse). If he were to focus on his son's bad
behavior at that moment, it would undermine the son's return to the light. This
is not unlike the dog thing. If you punish a dog when he comes back to you, for
earlier refusing to come back to you, then you take away the goodness of his
coming back. Another example is when a child breaks something and comes to tell
his parent about it. If the parent gets angry, then he is focusing on something
that is past instead of the better and truer thing that is right before the parent.
The child has come to tell the truth and in this is a realization of
wrongdoing, an honesty, a trusting of the parent. If the parent leaps over all
that and just gets angry (though this might be justified by the seriousness of
the accident) then the only thing that he is dealing with is elusive. I know
this isn't true in all situations, but I'm just thinking as I go. Anyway, this
might be what forgiveness is all about and it makes me think more about that
particular word too. When you forgive you give before. You give love instead of
anger. And the giving isn't something that is forced. It comes from down deep,
In our study of Darsanamala
as a whole we have been gradually emerging from the point of origin and
becoming fully manifest, shrugging off illusions and surmounting hurdles on our
way. Now we have arrived at a holistic realization of ourselves, and we stand
at the threshold of being highly effective participants in the panoply of life.
Thus it is perfectly logical that we move next into the realm of action, or
karma. Our future course examines karma, then moves on to thought, which as
Tamar reminded us is action in a subtle form. Harmonious actions and thoughts
bring us to a reverential and ecstatic parity with life, discussed in the eighth
darsana dealing with Bhakti. The Yoga Darsana further unites our psyches with
the totality. The Nirvana Darsana then traces the fading out of consciousness
at the end of life, bringing completion to the cycle examined by Narayana Guru.
We shouldn’t be confounded by the linear tradition we hail
from into thinking the end of the book is the goal. We have arrived at the goal
already: we are beings who have thrown off our shackles to stand fully prepared
and competent to express a nearly infinite range of possibilities. Lucy and
Kai, our two dogs, like to meditate and chant along with us, but they can’t
express words well, they can only produce a kind of semi-expressive whine. And
they don’t read at all, or share their thoughts with us. Humans are easily capable
of these amazing abilities and much more. Our fingers are supple and so
structured that we can play music or tennis or knit a potholder, and our arms
are perfectly suited to hugging our friends. What are we waiting for?
The Self alone, through maya,
does action by assuming many forms, though detached and self-luminous, like the
taijasa in sleep. (VI, 1)
Any hope of having a class
that can be summarized quickly was dashed again last night, as a cheerful group
ranged far and wide over the plains of maya. It is truly wonderful—fabulous as
Deb would say—what unexpected revelations and surprising twists are revealed by
our mutual explorations.
Anita started us off on a happy note by presenting everyone
with a homemade Valentine’s Day card, reminding us of something we grasped last
week, that love and ananda are the same. Very sweet.
First there is a brief introduction to the Karma Darsana, in
which Nitya mentions how we are each of us mirrors of the whole of creation.
Most of us are distorted mirrors in some or many ways: we see things colored by
our own prejudices, we have cracked and broken places where we can’t see at
all, and curved surfaces that magnify of diminish what they reflect. Yet
somehow a totality of all the mirrors put together can give us a sense of what
we are reflecting, because there’s some correspondence between the Source and
the images. The blending of what exists, the mirrors that reflect it, and the
meaning of the ensemble, is what Nitya calls here a cosmo-psychological function.
Another form of saccidananda.
Practically speaking, one of the most important realizations
anyone can have is that all of us as conscious mirrors reflect only a piece of
truth; no one or no group is privy to the whole picture. There are degrees of
greater or lesser awareness, but no one comes close to owning the whole
enchilada. That should make us instantly humble and respectful of others. Where
human history repeatedly goes awry is when groups anoint themselves the chosen
people or the superior race or so on. If you are holier than the other, it
oddly gives you the permission to act much more horribly than the other, in
your own righteous cause.
Nitya’s commentary on the verse itself concludes with a
curious insight that stimulated much of our discussion. The Self is described
as detached and self-luminous, mystically evocative of the sky and the sun. The
sky symbolizes the Void, the qualitylessness of Absolute. The sun, on the other
hand, exemplifies how the Absolute transmutes that emptiness into action. It
radiates powerfully its full spectrum of blessings like light and warmth, but
there is no motivation as we understand it. It just does it. The sun does not
seek or take credit for what it does. It goes on pouring out its very nature,
to the benefit of all creatures great and small.
This is highly instructive of how we should act as
individuals. When we dig down to our core, it is empty in a sense. But that
emptiness is paradoxically full of potentials, of vasanas or incipient
memories. As these potentials become actualized, they grow into abilities and
characteristics which are visible and tangible. If we are able to be who we
are, we just radiate those qualities into the world as loving beams of light.
What a lovely scheme of divine manifestation!
Unfortunately (drum roll please) the natural expression of
our inner garden of delightful abilities is almost invariably distorted by many
factors, which we have discussed at length before. We or our environment
suppress and repress our development, bending it to the will of society or
imaginary deities or whatever. The result is a warped psyche, a satirical echo
of what we could be at our best.
Yet some pruning is good, so our garden isn’t just a rampant
weed patch. We can and should select our best flowers to promote, and pull up
our ugly or deleterious growths. But all too often we do it the other way
round. We internalize harsh judgments from the world around, which causes us to
sequester our beautiful flowers in a protective cage, out of sight, while
promoting a public face of tough, thorny hedges to keep threats at bay.
At any time of life we can consciously redesign our inner
gardens to show more of the beautiful flowers and minimize our thorns. We know
that sharing beauty has a cascading effect on our friends and associates, just
as negative actions produce a snowball effect of misery. It goes almost without
saying that Narayana Guru is urging us in the Action Darsana to spread beauty
and compassion through what we do, and restrain our ugly impulses. This is the
essence of wise action.
A large part of the evening was spent discussing free will.
Such an elusive beast! I would have to write a book to do the subject justice.
In many religions God gives man free will, but if he exercises it he goes to
hell. He is expected to use his free will to do exactly what God wants. How
paradoxical is that! But it becomes less paradoxical when you think of action
as a continuum and not decisions made in isolation, segmented in time. The will
of God is then the impulse of creativity that is always flowing through the
universe. If we link our hearts to that, we can surf those waves. If we shut
out the awareness of it, we become isolated and unhappy, which is the state of
hell. We even despoil God’s green earth in our ignorance. So those religions
are clumsily advising us to merge with God’s wave and stop trying to imagine
that we can live as separate beings. Free will in this context is striking out
on a path imagined to be at odds with the tidal surge of the Absolute. Perhaps
it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
And it’s not free will if you decide to go to Starbux on 23rd
street instead of the one on 13th. That’s a very
limited range of
free choice among nearly identical entities. We have plenty of that kind of
freedom, at the moment. Will is a much more profound concept, whatever it might
When examined, our true freedom looks more like a continuous
unfolding of a vast story of which we are a tiny but integral part. I found the
following quote from Leo Tolstoy, expressing one of Hegel’s main ideas, which
of course is well known to philosophers of all times and climes:
historical events great men—so called—are but the labels that serve to give a
name to an event, and like labels, they have the last possible connection with
the event itself. Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their
own free will, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the
whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity. (Tolstoy,
War and Peace)
God does not specify that I should sit every Wednesday
morning and write notes about the class of the previous night. I have chosen to
do it, and I am simultaneously constrained to do it by other people’s—and my
own—expectations. The wave here is the knowledge that we all embody finding yet
another form in which to appear and enlighten us. The little blip of light from
the class gets spread a little further. I can choose not to do it, and then one
more avenue of light will go dark. Life is the measure of how much we fall
short of our infinite potential, and we all fall short. But everything we do
manage to do makes us happier, as the joy rebounds through the cosmos. The
Karma Darsana is enjoining us to bring forth our light because, as William
Stafford says, “The darkness around us is deep.”
I’ll close these all too brief notes with nice words from
Jan that began my morning:
still pondering last night’s class and the whole idea of letting the Absolute
expression flow through us without taking credit or blame for its
actions, or getting as involved in judgment of it. Sounds very healing for
me...hope I can embrace that more. Love, Jan
I think, I speak, I grasp, I
hear—all such forms of action are done by the Supreme Self through the agency
of consciousness and the indriyas. (VI, 2)
Several verses in a row reorient our outlook from our old
one of the individual looking out, to one of the Self looking in, so to speak.
According to Nataraja Guru, the first five chapters scientifically trace
effects back to their causes, until an ultimate cause is reached. At that point
full ontological reality—the beingness of the individual—is established. Now we
are examining how the Absolute, the original cause, produces all the varieties
of “individual” action.
If we are merely the tip of an iceberg foolishly believing
we are in charge of our destiny, is our freedom merely imaginary? Where then is
true freedom to be sought? Free will has continued to grow as an important
issue from the last class, as well it should. A major part of spiritual life is
first realizing that we are bound in many ways that we ordinarily don’t much
think about, and then finding ways to break free of that bondage to achieve
greater and greater expressions of freedom.
There is nothing wrong with free will. It was granted to
Arjuna at the end of the Bhagavad Gita as the culmination of Krishna’s guru
transmission. In fact it is the highest teaching of Vedanta. We have to be careful,
though, because mere willfulness or egoism are often mistaken for freedom of
action. We should ponder exactly what Arjuna did learn, and how he gained such freedom as he finally
As preliminary matter, I’d like to review some of what Nitya
has written on the subject. Here are some excerpts from That Alone to throw
light on the subject (yes, Virginia, there is an index!):
intellect faces the problem of making categoric decisions. The laws of nature
are imperative. They are precise to the most minute detail. The areas of indecision
and heterogeneous functioning we see in human intelligence show the inadequacy
of our methodology, which is unable to explain the more evolved in terms of the
less evolved. The intelligence operating at lower levels of biochemical,
physico-chemical and psychophysical levels is of a predetermined nature. At a
higher level, there arises the factor of free will. The free expression of the
human mind should be seen as both the cream and the scum of the final
unfoldment of nature. The nature we are referring to here is not infra-nature,
but that which includes meta-nature and supra-nature as aspects of the nature
of the cosmos. (13)
a separate individual I can boil my vegetables and drink my apple juice, while
my friend cooks his steak and drinks his beer. This is certainly a clear
indication of our freedom of will. How I wish I could have the same freedom in
deciding not to grow or in deciding to suspend time for all eternity or have my
own sunrise and sunset specially programmed, just like the little prince of
Antoine de Saint-Exupery! Well, there is a limit. I cannot push my free will to
that extent. This means I am not my master. Who is the master then? Here Madhva
agrees with Ramanuja that this world show is run by the one independent
Absolute, which both call narayana or
visnu. What Ramanuja calls vibhuti, or the innumerable spiritual, psychic, moral and
physical qualities of the body of the Lord, are simply renamed by Madhva as
dependent factors of the one independent Absolute, which he calls tattva. (17)
instruction of verse 8 is to adopt a drastic attitude. You should not allow
your mind to be like a wandering dog in the street, you should become its
master. This little awareness which is just witnessing has in it at least the
potential for omniscience. In most of us, the omniscience of the witnessing
element is a bit like the United Nations. The U.N. sees what is going on all
over the world, but it has no power to stop a nation from indulging in any
stupidity. It can only advise, "Don't do it." We also have a Unified
Notion in the omniscient witness in us which sees everything. If we cultivate
it, if we give it a volitional power, it would be like handing over all the
world's militaries to the United Nations and giving it a mandate over the so-called
sovereignty of the individual states. It would then be able to prevent
could actually happen, but at present it does not. There are certain
individuals, though, who do practice it. They combine their witnessing
consciousness with their volitional consciousness. This is extremely effective
as long as the witnessing consciousness is established on a normative notion of
good for all, highest beauty, supreme truth and unlimited commitment. (73-74)
Augustine took two ideas from Plotinus and Plato, deficient causation and the
aesthetic conception of evil. Man has free will. The freedom of his will, when
it is in resonance with a universal will of goodness, is a salvaging factor.
Free will can also become a free expression of the ego which is cut off from
the light of the spirit. When it is cut off, it places sensory pleasures or
physical well-being as more cherishable than spiritual excellence. This is the
idea of deficient causation.
itself is against such kinds of excesses which the egoistic will brings upon
life. When a person relishes his food too much and goes against nature’s laws
by becoming gluttonous, the excessive food poisons his physical body. He eats
more than he can digest properly, and accumulates toxins that are absorbed and
that cause him physical disease. Plotinus and St. Augustine say here that
nature is coming to our aid to save us from the excess of free will originating
from the dark side of the self, which is the ego.
physical disease, other kinds of excess bring war, pestilence and so many other
problems. The exclusive growing of vast areas of one type of crop, for
instance, has brought about an explosion of damaging insects and plant
diseases. The pollution we release in the air has devastated forests, caused
cancer in humans, and even eroded buildings. The list of such excesses is very
long. All of them are considered as the evil which originates from man’s free
should learn how he can exercise a true free will, which is when he is freeing
himself from the clutches of his sensuality, from the demands of his vasanas, and when he is seeing the oneness of all from
inside. Only after getting free of these conditionings does true freedom of
will come. Otherwise, you think you have free will, but you are a slave to your
senses and your urges. You make your reason a kind of donkey upon which evil
rides to its own destruction.
second thing St. Augustine shows us is also in the Bhagavad Gita, which says
you can only free yourself by being the Absolute. As St. Augustine poetically
puts it, if you can see the grand beauty of the panorama of creation and sing
with the mind of the Creator, you make a beautiful world for yourself. The
gorgeous sun which rises in the east as a golden disc, the gentle breezes that
come from the salty oceans and the breezes from the mountains laden with the
aroma of spices, the clouds that bring rain to our gardens, the singing birds
and the blooming flowers, the variety of plants that provide food for man and
other beings--when we see this grand beauty everywhere we are having a
panoramic vision of the Absolute. We become so saturated with the sense of its
magnificence that we cannot alienate ourselves from the wonderful goodness of
is where the aesthetic cause of evil comes in. When you have lost the
sensitivity to appreciate things aesthetically, when you become incapable of
seeing the beauty of creation, you become a corrupted person. (180-182)
Nitya reminds us at the outset of his commentary on VI, 2
that the purpose of Darsanamala is to discover “our lost treasure of
happiness…. What seems to obstruct our path is the continuous hindrance caused
by unavoidable propensities that make us act or react.” If we are to have free
will we must be free of those hindrances, which is the main effort we have so
far undergone. Our recent arrival at sadeva tat (That alone is real) marked the
beginning of a free life of liberated beingness for us. Nitya further points
out that “moksha [liberation] is not equated with nothingness or the void. It
is the rediscovery of beingness. In this context beingness is equated with the
Absolute.” This calls to mind one of my favorite statements of his, from a
letter to Diann Payne in 1976:
comes not by seeing everything as unreal but by making every moment real enough
to love and adore it. (L&B 422)
If the subject of free will
intrigues you, it is because a deep-seated predilection in you is responding to
a stimulus from this class. It is a doorway opening up toward freedom, but it
by no means occurs in isolation, as though you pulled it out of thin air. Isn’t
it a curious paradox we find ourselves in? Our desire for freedom is yet
another form of conditioning, but it is one with a heightened possibility of
leading us to something truly free. We are opening ourselves to the
already-existing flow of the Absolute so that we will be swept along that
worthy path and not wander off in the wrong direction. It doesn’t make any
sense, and yet it makes all the sense in the world. I hope you enjoy the ride!
Prior to action the Self
alone is; nothing else is known; therefore, actions are done by itself with its
own maya. (VI, 3)
The first three verses in the Karma Darsana unseat the ego
as the cause of anything and firmly establish the Self as the source of action.
Despite Narayana Guru’s careful laying of the groundwork for this revelation,
it can be very unsettling. Nonetheless, on the whole there is a pervasive sense
that the class has reached a stage of intense transformation and realignment of
priorities. Several folks have mentioned being able to address problems with a
heightened calmness and clarity. It comes as a surprise, more of a welcome
relief, to find in life’s difficulties an exciting challenge instead of a
dread-filled threat. Joy is restored to present moments where it had long been
As for the unsettling part, that only comes from imagining
that the Self is somehow different from who we are. The ego supposes that
something foreign is taking the reins and kicking it out of the saddle. But
there is unity throughout the system. The Self is our true nature, and the ego
an epiphenomenon of experience. It is merely sensible for us to identify with
something solid instead of a chimera. Traveling into this awareness as a group,
psychologically holding hands, makes it relatively easy to embrace the new
Deb’s father died last week, and she started us off with a
rhapsody about how a person’s essence is brought to the fore by death. For the
living in attendance there is an overwhelming impression of the beauty of the
deceased, shorn of all extraneous baggage. While we are working hard to drop
the junk while we’re still alive, it is a reminder that in any case it will
become irrelevant at the termination of our time in the body. Nitya quotes the
familiar Maitri Upanishad analogy of the soul being like a caterpillar that
when reaching the end of a blade of grass brings its front and back ends
together. Then it stretches out into empty space and casts about for the next
leaf on which to continue its journey. This consolidation at the end embeds the
vasanas or essences within the subtlest levels of the psyche.
When our vasanas begin to sprout, we identify them first as
“ours.” The ego lays claim to being the originator of what they are unfolding,
but if it is better adjusted it will realize it is merely a witness and
facilitator of something very deeply rooted and profound. There is also
serendipity in how the Self is expressed in us. Nitya says:
is a magical quality in life. We can see it in the mysterious changes of moods,
in the sudden birth of new interests and in their often equally sudden
vanishing, and in the surging up of unexpected situations. All these can fill
us with a sense of wonder, or one of tragic and disastrous catastrophe. This
evasive, magical element that enters into consciousness… accounts for the
experiencing of our world of varying interests. (302)
Nitya also gives us a rare affirmation: “The ultimate goal
of human life… is the discovery of the Paramount Person (purushottama), hiding in all and behind everything as the totality
of experience.” Simultaneously we are enjoined to foster and nurture our
various expressions as they arise, redirecting or nipping off the unhelpful
ones, and also to seek the universal ground in which they are sown. The closer
we can get to a pre-seeded state, the more we are free to engage with the
ineffable tides of the present.
In Christian mysticism this is described as becoming an instrument
of the divine, of opening yourself to the will of God. Deb took umbrage of the
dualistic conception in that, because it’s far too easy to think of God as
separate and not your own nature. It is very important to realize that we are the will of God, and not just little radios
picking up a broadcast. It has to be unitive, or it fails. Then we may either
“assist” God like a George Bush or a Charles Manson, amplifying our own
deficiencies, or more commonly we can become passive and tamasic, expecting some
external God to get on with it while we sit back and draw the benefits. The
magical quality Nitya speaks of is that the Absolute is wholly uninvolved, and
yet it produces action—call it life if you will. This could only happen with a
medium like us, paradoxical beings who are at once dependent and independent.
Being able to walk this razor’s edge, this fine line, is expertise in action.
That this is not just empty chatter was affirmed by several
class members. Brenda mentioned a new attitude toward dealing with her mother.
She can now keep from getting drawn in to her mental storms, making them much
easier to cope with. Instead of reacting and getting angry of upset, she is
available as a pillar of strength to do whatever she can, and not more or less.
Attaining this with an intimate family member is a graduate level achievement.
Brenda sounded almost startled that such expertise came to her naturally,
Jan has been laying the groundwork for a business endeavor
for many years. A lot of the time she was stewing around ineffectively, losing
her drive through pondering chains of possibilities or meeting basic needs.
Recently she has gathered her energies and begun, and it’s a great feeling. You
don’t have to solve all possible problems in advance, you can just start with
what engages your interest and then solve the problems as they arise. Not
nearly as many problems actually occur as can be imagined, so right away you
are freed of most of them. The pleasure of being involved in a creative adventure
makes dealing with situations vastly more fun or at least tolerable.
I didn’t mention it in class, but my writing “career”
followed a similar course. For years I was overwhelmed by all the
possibilities, and so writing even a simple piece was like moving a mountain. I
literally hated it, it was so heavy. But circumstances—the magic of life—drew
me in against my will. I went along reluctantly, but trying to admit the
possibility. In my horoscope, John Spiers had said I would be a writer, so I couldn’t
totally dismiss the notion. Now I have confidence that if I just sit down and
begin, something will emerge from the chaos. As long as I don’t have to do too
much, it’s actually joyful to see a coherent piece emerge from the
hypothesphere. Writing builds its own momentum, and allows what was hidden to
become revealed. Most arts and sciences and even businesses do just that. They
reveal what was formerly invisible potential. That’s what we’re all doing, each
in our own way. If we are performing what we are intrinsically capable of, it
is a blissful expression of our nature. And God knows, the world is an infinite
enough field for all our expressions to find their place.
Charles and Brenda led us on a discussion of what a guru is.
The subject came up mainly by accident, as I recall. The Guru is what removes
your darkness, what brings light or enlightenment. It can be anywhere—nay, it is everywhere. Sometimes
it resides uniquely in a person
who is gifted as a teacher. Since we often think in word pictures, a person can
communicate many things that streams and mountains cannot, and vice versa.
The teachers we have known amongst us, primarily Nataraja
Guru and Nitya, taught in a variety of ways. Most striking was the public
grilling of disciples, which outed hidden proclivities for selfishness and
egotism, as well as unearthing hidden talents and abilities. Nataraja Guru was
relentless, for all the world like a ferocious Socrates, and there are lots of
great stories about his style scattered around the books. Nitya followed his
example for awhile, but he gradually moved to a more gentle style. He said that
Nataraja Guru had confided in him at the end of his life that he believed the
paralysis he was experiencing was due to being too rigid in his instruction. He
had been famous for upbraiding people even during chance encounters in the
street. Nitya eventually did away with the public humiliation of half-baked
thinkers, and taught more by his excellent example, which anyone was free to
take or leave.
In the Portland
Gurukula we do almost none of the high pressure tactics. Sometimes we encourage
a course of action that causes mild discomfort, but the student is always the
judge of the efficacy of whatever is offered for consideration. Traditional
guru-disciple dialectics is generally not appropriate for what we do here.
Charles regaled us with stories of his time with Nataraja
Guru. There was always a level of intellectual instruction on a wide range of
topics in which the Guru was expert. A second level was a mystical transmission
that occurred invisibly in and through the patter. Suddenly someone would go
white and get up and leave. They had been touched in their core, and needed to
get away to absorb what they could of it. This reminded me of Nitya’s first
Gita class in Portland. After a couple of sessions he insisted we all sit in
the same seats. He told us there were certain points he wanted to direct to
certain people, and he needed to know where we were. After that I frequently
saw in my mind’s eye astral white arrows arching from his center and
accelerating into my heart, striking with a silent “Zap”. They were not
necessarily connected to the actual word content of the class. I assumed others
were having the same experience. He described this later as sowing spiritual
seeds in us.
While no one here is anywhere near the caliber of those two
extraordinary gurus, we find a similar two-level structure in our classes. We
have the discussions, usually drawn from writings of the gurus themselves, which
are fascinating and instructive in their own right. But underneath all the talk
is a quiet, meditative space where we all can experience a unity and loving
connection. This dynamic nothingness (for lack of a better word) is as much or
more transformative than the ideas being explored. Thus there is a form of
guruhood that emerges from the scene as a whole. No one can claim it as their
particular purview, but it touches everyone, each in their own fashion. We
gather together to open ourselves to the possibility of meaningful connection
I don’t suppose that part gets into the emails, sorry to
say. But those of you far away can read the words and then apply them to some
aspect of your own life, where a similar kind of enlightenment can take place. The
Guru is always looking for places to manifest in our lives, and we are free to
offer it whatever we are capable of.
There is a nice essay on guruhood by Nitya, added as
Appendix II to the US edition of Love and Blessings, for your further
The Self has some kind of
power, inseparable from it, difficult to define; by that alone all actions are
projected in the actionless Self. (VI, 4)
Not to crow too much, but every time I read the words That
Alone I’m grateful that that was the title that came to me for Nitya’s Atmo
commentary. Here it pops up again, and the triple entendre—THAT alone, that
ALONE and THAT ALONE—only serves to heighten the paradox at the center of this
Narayana Guru puts the gist of the paradox unusually clearly.
The Absolute is unchangeable, and yet it produces changeable reality. Well,
even the word ‘produces’ is suspect. Somehow, a changeable universe emerges
from an unchangeable background. Not only is this an impossible conundrum, we
are somehow expected to find our way from the one to the other and make
ourselves at home there. Nitya admits we may well scream in frustration when
we’re faced with such a daunting task.
Actually, the impossible is eminently possible. Remember
dear Douglas Adams, who felt we should limit ourselves to no more than seven
impossible things before breakfast. Plus, keep in mind his well considered
advice: Don’t Panic! You just can’t run smack into a paradox and expect it to
resolve instantly. You have to treat it like the wild thing it is and approach
gingerly. Possibly this is the reason so many aging hippies are consuming
ginger by the ton nowadays: can the ultimate resolution be far off?
If Narayana Guru calls it difficult, you can be sure he’s
not saying it lightly. Even focusing on the problem was slippery, and the class
frequently veered off on tangents. (This is nothing unusual for us.) The Guru
uses the word durghata, something of incomprehensible structure, or, simply,
difficult. It is related one way or other to the goddess Durgha. Our resident
art historian, Deborah, told us a little about her, how in Hindu mythology she is a malignant form of Devi,
often represented by a yellow woman riding a lion or tiger. She is also Kali or
Parvati, the consort of Shiva. When the gods were confronted by an impossible
demon who was eating up the whole world, none of them could defeat it on their
own. They pooled their resources, combining all their anger and fury into one
great flame, which became Durga. As they battled, the demon continually changed
shape. Paradoxes and demons are so often shape-shifters! Finally the demon
became a buffalo and Durga rode up on her tiger and cut off its head, which is
the tableau most often seen carved on temple walls.
Okay, so this myth demonstrates (no pun intended) the direct
confrontational approach to resolving paradoxes. That doesn’t automatically
annul the gingerly approach. There are other stories for other methods. While
we have to find a route that suits our personality type, the pooling of the
gods’ resources to create Durga implies that we can work together, that our
community mind can unleash forces and abilities that can accomplish what each
of us as individuals cannot.
Another story about overcoming impossible obstacles is
retold by Nitya on pages 314 and 315 of That Alone:
is an Indian myth that a certain demon came and challenged Balarama, the
brother of Sri Krishna. Balarama accepted the challenge. He went, raising his
fist to smash its head. Then the demon became twice the size of Balarama.
Seeing this, Balarama, who had psychic powers, grew double the size of the
demon. The demon doubled in size again, and started lifting hills to throw at
him. Then Balarama realized he could not overpower the demon. He turned to Sri
Krishna and asked for help. Krishna smiled and said, “Brother, leave him to me.
I’ll deal with him.”
demon turned to Krishna and found that in his hand there was no weapon. Krishna
stood with his hands open and smiled. Then the demon became the size of an
average human being. Krishna still stood there with his bewitching smile and
said, “Come on friend.” He came close and became smaller than Krishna. Krishna
patted him. He became very small. Then Krishna took him in his hand and stroked
him. He became so tiny.
Balarama came and said, “Brother, I don’t understand this. How did he become so
small? How did you tame him?” He replied, “Brother, don’t you know this demon’s
name?” “No.” “This demon’s name is Krodha, anger. When you become angry, you
are only feeding him. He thrives on somebody else’s anger. When you take away
your anger, there is nothing to nourish him. He becomes less and less. So when
I give him love, there is nothing on which he can feed himself and he becomes
is also the central teaching of Buddha: with hatred you never appease hatred,
but with love you win all.
This tale is more
to my taste than the Durga one, but you can never be sure what form of paradox
you will encounter next….
most of his commentary
describing the three primary faculties of human beings, feeling, reasoning and
willing. These are generally experienced as “I am enjoying,” “I am knowing,”
and “I am doing,” respectively. He is quite aware that the Vedantic idea that
these are all mistaken identities is difficult to square with and
This is the crux of the dilemma
way forward. How do we relinquish our sense of being in charge without becoming
passive? We are expected to maintain our active expression of our true inner
nature at all times, while simultaneously expanding our awareness to an oceanic
level. If we identify with our small self, our separateness and individuality,
we are forced into anxiety and fear over our limited ability to manipulate the
vast world in which we are placed. When we expand our sense of self to include
everything and even nothing, we find ourselves in a stream of consciousness
without beginning or end. Or we open our hearts to the onrushing wave, a la
Bergson. Our anxiety diminishes as we discover that the waters buoy us up. As
with “ordinary” water we don’t sink unless we flail and thrash about. Learning
to float in water as children was in fact one of the great spiritual lessons we
have already learned, along with riding a bicycle. The inner poise required by
these two skills is closely related to the poise necessary to merge into the
impossible paradox of the Absolute, where we must be fully relaxed and active
Susan brought up the notion
action” and wondered how it fit into the picture, in other words how are we to
direct our actions and what constitutes “rightness.” I suggested that right
action is a Buddhist concept, and that anything implying an opposite such as
wrong action is dualistic and not a part of Advaita Vedanta. Deb then offered
the excellent insight that what Buddhists mostly considered right action was in
fact centered action, at the happy mean of right and wrong or right and left.
Thus rightness would be something without an opposite for them also.
Rightness as far as it would apply to
our study means being in tune with our true inner nature. Thus, external lists
of rightness are irrelevant. It’s alignment with the inner flame that
constitutes rightness, and to the extent that we are yanked around by exterior
influences we can go “wrong.” Still, right action is such a loaded term that
the Gurukula gurus use it very sparingly, as far as I can recall. We want to be
free of the nagging sense of a code of conduct against which to measure
ourselves under threat of punishment, and get those delicate sprouts of our
inner abilities out into the sunshine where they can begin to thrive.
New attendee Trish noted how she loved
being in a religious or contemplative situation where the movement was from
complexity or ordinariness to the feeling of “Ah!” Whether she felt that Ah
last night or was suggesting we stop yakking so much we may never know. Either
way, her point is good. We use the discussions to come to a state of dynamic
peace where mind and heart are in balance. This is opposite the direction of
normal conversation, where the object is to hop from one idea to another with
minimal connectivity. Likewise it is opposed to our normal squirrel-cage
activities where we respond to necessity after necessity with only our sense of
‘I’ to connect the disparate elements. Gathered together, we are participating
in a state of Ah—some of us are wizards of Ahs—in the expectation that it will
infuse our whole life and lead us to a more enlightened beingness.
Anita showed us that the very idea of
being led is dualistic and misleading. It is we who lead, even as we open our
hearts to the Absolute. The paradox of the unmoved mover means that we
ourselves are the active aspect of the Absolute. The Absolute cannot act without
a creation to perform the action. We are thus at the very heart of the mystery.
The Absolute is only as good or wonderful or clever as we are, and vice versa.
As she went out the door, Susan said
that the discussion could have gone on for several more hours. That’s why we
have another gathering next week. But if anyone writes some of what might fill
those hours, I’ll be sure to pass it along. Have fun out there, and watch out
for the squirrel cage!
Another zinger from Guru Nitya in Love and Blessings, p.
426. A succinct way of saying some of what I was trying to communicate earlier
about changing the impossible into the possible:
questions stem from their answers. So if we wait for some time, the questions
will transmute into their answers.
The Self is always detached
alone; by ignorance action is done as if attached; “I am not acting”—thus, the
seer remains detached in action. (VI, 5)
Smack in the middle of the Karma Darsana is a wonderfully
practical bit of advice. Narayana Guru sums up the previously described mystery
by reminding us that the Self is beyond action, but we imagine we are acting
and so become embroiled in endless chains of karma. And we’re talking literal
chains, sort of. All actions done in ignorance are binding and include ropes or
chains of attachment to many other ganglions. By the time we decide to seek
liberation we are so wrapped up we resemble the hobbits in Tolkien’s book of
the same name. It is like we are stung senseless by giant spiders and wrapped
in cocoons of unbreakable, sticky cords and hung upside down from a tree. If
you tiptoe close to one of these grisly objects you can faintly hear the cry “I
have free will! I have free will!” Maybe because of the poison, you seldom hear
“Let me out! Let me out!”
Because the situation is so dire—and confessions of various
instances of this in peoples’ lives began streaming out early on and gathered
momentum through the entire evening—Nitya the contrarian made sure to deal with
it humorously. First he went to the familiar example of infatuation with a
lover or sexual partner. When he was writing this book, and for most of his
life, endless streams of people came for his advice about love. Isn’t it
strange to ask a sannyasin about love? They told him how they were with the
light of their life, everything was perfectly wonderful, they’d found Mr./Ms.
Right. Then the next week or month they would come back with a tale of woe, how
that person had let them down, and they’d dumped them, but now they’d found the
Real One. And on and on. There aren’t many categories where we project our
inner happiness out onto external objects or subjects as ferociously as in
“love”. The entire pattern is a classic, and you’d think someone would catch
on, but life is very clever to clothe the game in complex and attractive
packaging, and we fall for it every time. Not to the complaintants’ faces, but
to the public classes, Nitya would relate the latest tale (anonymously) and
roar with laughter. When you weren’t caught at the moment it was easy to laugh
too, but if it was your present condition it felt somewhat different, or so I
Anita wondered if this kind of love was inferior to a
nonattached love. Yes, by orders of magnitude. Funny that we cherish puppy love,
or the delirium of being swept off our feet, even though it’s guaranteed to
crash and burn eventually. It is a
rush. Stodgy old Gurukula class is for those who’ve tired of those delightful
but youthful follies and are looking for something that’s going to stay with
Next Nitya spun his tale around food, another familiar
example of infatuation. After all, fat is the very root of that word. He was a
great lover of rich and spicy, “flavorsome” foods, but after having some health
problems his doctors advised he change his diet. When he says “This is a hard
blow for someone who enjoys food, and at first he may revile his doctor as a
sadist who enjoys denying him the joy of his life. The patient may vehemently
defend his eating habits, finding many arguments he thinks will prove the
doctor to be unimaginative and wrong…” he is speaking autobiographically. The
next part, about “reformed whores” who change their diets or other behaviors
and then become evangelists of their chosen program, harks back to the first
Portland Gurukula in 1971. Nitya was still enjoying his rich and flavorsome
foods, but the Macrobiotic diet was the new rage, and several inmates
converted. He received the full blast of their disrespectful and rude urgings,
and muttered not a few complaints. He coined the term ‘food fascists’ back
then, but he never seemed to be too put out, because he always was ready to
laugh at people’s stupidities. This one hit pretty close to the bone, however,
and he got steamed more than once. When I think back on how all of us took him
for granted in so many ways in those days, I am heartily embarrassed. It was
pearls before swine in spades, even if the swine imagined themselves as the
After loosening us up with some chuckles at our common
foibles, Nitya bears down hard at the end of his comments. He first mentions a
blind spot in the psyche that influences and overshadows the individual mind.
Though ostensibly referring to an earlier verse, it struck a nerve in the
class. Many of those present had a story about how they became fixated on a
facet of something and were drawn off center by it. Nancy mentioned how when
she talks to people she assumes they are like her and on the same page, what
you might call normal, but after awhile she occasionally finds that they are
somewhere else entirely. She finds this quite disconcerting. If the truth be
known, Nancy is one of those rare people who really does reside in her calm
center much of the time. When events throw her off, as they inevitably throw
all of us off, she is the fastest to knit back together. She is amazingly
capable of assessing the situation clearly and not clinging to any
misunderstandings that might have been generated. In her quiet way she stands
out as a living example of what the Guru is trying to impart to us in words.
Moni talked about how she still misses her mother, who died
about nine months ago, so much. No matter where she is, the memories can come
and she is close to tears, even suicidal thoughts are coming. She patiently
talks herself back into wanting to go on living and being centered, but the
wound is torn open again and again. She busies herself with many jobs and
chores to take her mind away from what for all of us is the deepest connection
of all, our mother. This shows the deadly serious side of why we bother to come
to class. Some part of us knows that the cure is here, if we can just get it
into our hearts.
Everyone had something to contribute to this discussion. We
all have our infatuations, loves, desires, and we all get carried away by them.
Nancy and Deb talked about the figure eight cycling of consciousness around the
pivot of a neutral balance point. Nancy knows that when she soars upward she
better be prepared for a countervailing downturn. But it’s okay because the
center is always there no matter what. Deb talked about what Nitya once taught
us, that you can minimize the downside and gently boost the upside without
throwing things off kilter. Even just being aware that consciousness cycles is
helpful, offering solace during the inevitable down periods.
Tamar pointed out wryly that all this sounds relatively
simple when it is just one foible taken in isolation, but our lives are filled
with zillions of problems, and it is very hard to find that calm place when turbulence
is on all hands. This is very true. We can’t expect to undo all our ignorance
one strand at a time. It has to be a wholesale endeavor. We will never wash all
the lather out of soap. That’s why the Guru has given us an attitude to adopt
if we wish to ever break free of all those myriad entanglements. He asks us to
stop thinking that we are the knower, the doer and the enjoyer. To accomplish
this, he says to meditate on the phrase “I am not acting.” Several verses have
prepared us for this simple suggestion. Yet prepared or not, simple or not, we
have a devil of a time taking the advice. We are severely addicted, with a
lifetime of habituation, to believing we are in charge. It really seems that we
are, and through the whole class there was a general insistence that we are, and that’s
I call this the Al Haig syndrome. He was Secretary of State
when President Reagan was shot, and even though he was just an arrogant little
pinhead he threw out his chest and claimed “I’m in control here!” He wasn’t,
but that didn’t stop him until he was told how absurd he was being. The ego
always reminds me of that moment, a peripheral player imagining he or she’s at
the hub of power.
The Guru’s ideas have been making sense to Susan this week.
She told about her negative inner voice, and how she was realizing that she
could counterbalance this with a positive voice and lighten herself up. This is
a terrific insight, as long as it’s implemented. After this verse we can also
say that there is a neutral inner voice that will have a positive salubrious
effect: it is to chant “I’m not doing this.” We can annul that negative voice
with the thought that that’s all it is: a negative voice. Hot air not even
passing over vocal cords. It has no particular connection to truth. It is a
habitual, deluding, pinching, gullible, train of drivel. We should unseat it
from the control panel of our life.
Okay, yeah, it’s way easier said than done. First you have
to believe that it’s a valuable thing to try. Without that, there is no point
to any of this. Lots of people aren’t buying this at all, so far. Then, it
helps to be tired of all the misery that that stupid voice has caused you,
urging you into dead ends, advocating selfishness and isolation and blocking
you from reaching out to your dear friends, not to mention making you sick. My
guess is that only when they can’t stand the conceit and hostility of that
inner voice anymore will anyone turn to an alternative.
John thought that neutral was an icky word, and he wanted to
stay away from it. He takes it for insipid, dull and featureless. True
neutrality is anything but. It actually allows a heightened appreciation and
enjoyment of events, and makes you more available to help out in situations.
Anita pointed out how much of our great art came from tortured souls completely
out of balance, and this is true. Much of our great art comes from
well-adjusted people, too. Seldom from conformists, though. Maybe torture has a
slight edge. Does that mean we should seek unhappiness so we can be more
artistic? Repressing homosexuals seems to be particularly beneficial for art’s
sake. Too bad all repressed people don’t become artists—they also fill the
lists of mass murderers, misanthropes, and the merely miserable. How do you
predict what you’ll get? And after all, which would you rather be, happy now or
unhappy but with artifacts hanging in unknown people’s living rooms and
museums? I should assert that the class is for those who choose the former over
the latter, and will merely be a source of pointless aggravation for the
The previous verse’s commentary segued into this one with
the paradox which has unsettled us here. The Self produces duality in the form
of ignorance or that which is false. It is maintained by the running comments we
supply ourselves, the smug egotism that wants to reduce the glories of the Self
to a vestigial animal that it can manipulate and dominate. The most essential
problem is that it projects the attributes of the Self onto the non-Self. We
come to believe our happiness is contained in outer objects, and is not our
inherent nature. So we chase item after item in a desperate attempt to regain
what we never lost, or only imagine we’ve lost. Nitya reminds us “We need to
free ourselves from this enigma if we are finally to achieve emancipation from
the riddles of life.” Emancipation doesn’t mean the riddles go away, just that
we no longer are caught in them. Narayana Guru says here that we should remain
detached in action, not detached from action. As Nancy put it and John seconded, we want
watch the wonder and be fully present at the play. We aren’t suppressing
anything. We are in fact coming alive.
E E Cummings wrote that “Life is a matter of being born, but
art is a question of being alive.” His sayings are very close to the spirit of
Darsanamala, and I thought it would be nice to include a few for good cheer, as
well as to show that art doesn’t have to come from insanity, it can also be
Art is a mystery.
is something immeasurable.
so far as every child and woman and man may be immeasurable,
art is the mystery of every man and woman and child. In so far as a human being
is an artist, skies and mountains and oceans and thunderbolts and butterflies
are immeasurable; and art is every mystery of nature. Nothing measurable can be
alive; nothing which is not alive can be art; nothing which cannot be art is
true: and everything untrue doesn’t matter a very good God damn...
Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity,
spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.
unbeingdead isn't beingalive
poetry and every other art was and is and forever will
and distinctly a question of individuality....poetry is being, not doing....if
poetry is your goal, you've got to forget all about punishments and all about
rewards and all about selfstyled obligations and duties and responsibilities .
people fear most:
a mystery for which iv'e
no word except alive
Every artist's strictly illimitable country is himself.
An artist who plays that country false has committed
even a good lawyer cannot kill the dead. But a human being who's true to
himself — whoever himself may be — is immortal;and all the atomic bombs of all
the antiartists in spacetime will never civilize immortality.
I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance.
Susan sent the following relevant Rumi
used to want buyers for my words.
I wish someone would buy me away from words.
made a lot of charmingly profound images,
with Abraham, and Abraham's father, Azar,
was also famous for icons.
so tired of what I've been doing.
one image without form came,
for someone else to tend the shop,
out of the image-making business.
I know the freedom
random image arrives. I scream,
out!" It disintegrates.
the holder the flag fits into,
wind. No flag.
The One alone burns as fire,
blows as wind, showers as rain, supports as earth, and flows as river. (VI, 6)
A lovely evening with almost everyone contributing something
heartfelt, and a better than average coherence in the discussions. It appears
we are slowly learning the subtle skill of weaving what we want to say into the
general drift of the conversation, no small feat with an unfamiliar subject
such as this.
The word Self does not appear in this verse, although it is
certainly implied, so I have taken the liberty of deleting it from the verse
translation. Makes it more poetic. As with Self, the One is both us and the
Absolute and all points in between.
I can’t say whether Narayana Guru meant the showers of rain
to stand for the akasa, or whether he listed two types of water, one vertical
and one horizontal. Certainly all inner aspects of the individual are meant by
the symbols here, as are all categories of the external world linked to the
Self. The scheme, if you have just joined us, is earth = physical, water =
emotional, fire = mental (with mind being the coordinator of the six senses),
air or wind = intellectual and intuitive, and akasa = spiritual dynamism. The
idea carried over from the last several verses is that all action is aspects of
the Absolute coming into manifestation. Thus we mistakenly think “I am doing
things” when the truth of the matter is that things are simply occurring. They
are happening, man!
If we can reimagine the world as unfolding through its own
spiritual force and not as the clumsy result of individual plotting and
planning, many good things happen. We can drop the anxiety of worrying whether
what we intend will succeed and how much we have to push to bring it about, and
become more like midwives to the natural birth of the next thing, and the next.
It’s going to happen anyway, but we can attend it and be a part of the fun.
This idea brought up some beautiful sharing by several
people, which strikes me as being too personal to go into the notes. Suffice to
say that they were able to move from a personal stand of sadness and
disappointment to one of acceptance. Their personalized take on some situation
was upsetting, but what was actually going on was a completely normal flow of
events, and when they altered their angle of vision the hurt went away. One
safe example to share came from Anita. She had always cherished Mother’s Day as
a time when she would receive some affectionate contacts from her far-flung
family. It was a Big Deal. Yet a couple of years ago she realized that actually
her two daughters were now the mothers, and the focus of that day had moved
from her to them. Instead of waiting and hoping to hear from them, she was now
motivated to send them the good wishes. After all, they were doing the hard
work of mothering. This reminded her how free her own life had become, with
fewer demands on her time. An opportunity to feel lonely was converted to a
happy occasion, with everyone being better off.
Another benefit of changing our perspective is that we
become much more open to opportunities. When we have a predetermined course of
action and hold to it, all that can happen is the fulfillment of our
expectations. But what about all the things we don’t expect? Many of us dread
those possibilities and want to block them, but what of the blessings, the
grace that is showering down upon us like gentle rain? Our preprogrammed life
is like an umbrella we walk around under that deflects the grace into the
gutter. Who knows how many serendipitous events have offered themselves to us,
only to be brushed aside as inimical to our mission of the moment.
Our daughter had a great example happen this weekend. She
was flying home for spring break, exhausted from a big press of not only
schoolwork but certain demanding extracurricular activities. All she wanted to
do was get home to mom’s cooking and a quiet bedroom. But on the day of her
trip a huge snowstorm blew in. She caught one of the last planes out of Boston,
where she had friends and places to stay, but when she tried to change planes
in New York the airport shut down. For awhile she was furious and frustrated,
calling and emailing home every few minutes to curse us and generally rant and
rave. Finally her batteries ran out and she had to attend to where she was and
what was going on there. After sleeping the night on the airport floor, she met
a nice woman from San Francisco, and the two went into the city together. They
had a nice lunch and went to the museum, where they saw a fantastic show of
Catalonian artists. She had even been thinking of Gaudi the previous week, and
he was prominently featured. Then she went to a friend’s apartment, where she
was welcomed into a rare slice of life: wealthy Jewish New Yorkers, pretty much
a unique demographic. Cell phone recharged, we got calls of a very happy and
excited young lady, with many “unbelievable” stories to tell.
The same thing happened to me on my first solo trip to
Mexico. I planned to go for a long time, so I loaded up a duffle bag with tons
of gear. At the train station at the border I failed to get the correct
inspection tag for the bag, so it stayed behind while I chugged down into the
heartland with only a light daypack and the clothes on my back. The first night
I slept in a ditch outside the Guaymas station, meeting every train in hopes my
bag would be on it. By morning I had given up hope and decided it had been
stolen. I walked into town and began having fun. Traveling light enabled me to
walk everywhere, and soon I was hitchhiking around the country, meeting lots of
people, and going where the wind blew me. I hiked all over, and had many
memorable adventures. That huge bag would have tied me down and crimped my
style. Some months after my return home I realized what had happened to it, and
asked a friend to go back to the train station for me. There in a dusty corner
of the inspection depot was my duffle bag, biding its time.
Susan talked about her negative inner voice, and how she was
realizing that its running commentary was forcing her into ruts that led her
back to the same old places, stuck places. It’s for all the world like a big
black duffle bag full of useless expectations. If she can leave it at the
station and go on without it, who knows what adventures she might have?
Much of the evening we discussed business. Jan is beginning
to set up her own business on the internet, and is having a tough time
reconciling the demands of all the specific details she has to attend to with
the openness Narayana Guru is suggesting in the Karma Darsana. It’s true that
we are called on to hold up our end of things by actively taking care of so
many things, but even while doing that we can be open to what comes along.
These aren’t mutually exclusive when properly understood. We can attend to our
chores and still be open. It’s when we don’t answer the door when opportunity
knocks that we miss the boat. (Mixed metaphor of the week award.)
Anita agreed that this was the opposite of everything she
had learned about business. The old management by objective model has every detail
plotted out and determined for years in advance. That kind of business is all
about forcing things into the model. Of course it’s a particularly inflexible
model, and failed spectacularly in the 1970s in the United States when
circumstances changed more rapidly than it could cope with. The Japanese fared
far better, because their model at the time including group participation and
listening to a variety of ideas. Management by consensus is a good idea, but
scary from a business standpoint. If you are brave enough it does allow for
some openness and innovation.
Bill told us about Zen priest Marc Lesser and his ZBA, Zen
business administration. It sounds like his book would be a big help for anyone
trying to incorporate the whole range of human qualities into the business
model. Since it’s short and on target, I’ll copy his introduction from his
to the Book
“Don’t be a board-carrying fellow.” This expression,
sometimes used in Zen, refers to a carpenter carrying a long, wide wooden board
on his shoulder, blocking his view in one direction. It is an admonition about
seeing the world and ourselves as ordinary and mundane without also considering
the sacred, mysterious, and unfathomable aspect of our hearts, minds, and
surroundings. This expression can also help us understand that our work is not
separate from our lives. One side, an important and vital side of work,
involves goals, achievements, money, ambition, and developing your career.
Understanding and implementing the technical and strategic aspects of your work
are critical for your organization or business to fulfill its mission.
about the other side? We are all human
beings. We all bring a vast set of rich and complex experiences, skills, patterns,
needs, aspirations, and emotions to our work. The other side, often more
difficult to see, is the sacred aspect of your work, the way in which your work
can expose and transform habits and patterns in your life while uncovering your
authentic, compassionate, inner wisdom.
When you remove the board from your shoulder, a
new world opens, a new way of understanding yourself, of seeing others and the
true meaning of your work. Removing the board doesn’t mean turning your work
into a self-help workshop. As a business owner with an M.B.A., I understand the
importance of results, hiring and motivating talented people, sales and
marketing, strategic planning, and cash flow management, as well as the many
skills required to start, manage, and grow a business. As a human being and a
Zen priest, I also understand we all bring our full selves to work: our wishes,
dreams, desires, anger, and frustration, as well as a deep yearning to find
real inner peace, freedom, and happiness.
In these pages I offer many of my experiences,
mistakes, lessons I’ve learned, things to try, ways I have laughed at myself
and sometimes cried, and many, many questions. I feel honored and humbled to
present my experiences and offer some basic and not-so-basic practices.
Honored, because I am passionate about the importance of integrating business
practice and spiritual practice, the delight I feel in sharing my journey, and
the potential I see for conscious, awakened business people to transform our
world. Humbled, because the skills and abilities required to run successful
organizations and businesses, while at the same time opening our hearts to
being fully authentic human beings, are immensely challenging.
One of the most famous pieces in Zen literature,
read or chanted every day in Zen practice centers, is called the Heart Sutra,
which in a few paragraphs describes the heart, the essential path of Zen
practice. A phrase from the Heart Sutra says “without any hindrances, no fears
exist.” These “hindrances” are the ways that we protect ourselves, shield our
hearts, and keep ourselves closed and separate. Zen practice provides a method
and discipline for identifying and loosening how we get in our own way and for
helping us to move from living and acting from fear, to living and acting with
fearlessness. By searching for safety and control, and from responding out of
fear, without realizing it, we sacrifice the freedom, flexibility and
connections that we deeply want and are our birthright.
Business practice could also be described as the
method and discipline of removing hindrances. The challenge of business is to
identify and remove what gets in the way of manifesting and implementing a wide
and creative vision, to remove the obstacles to putting people and resources
where they are needed, and to remove the obstacles to actually meeting the
needs of all people in our communities and our planet. What would a world
without hindrances, without fear, look like?
Though this task of integrating our full selves
with our work may at times appear daunting, the challenge and the effort are
not separate from the path. This book provides some tools, ideas, and insights
and may give you the courage and confidence to make the effort to see yourself,
your work, and the world as they truly are. Integrating Zen practice and
business practice allows us to find our work and ourselves, beyond our ideas,
and to experience both the ordinariness and the immensity of our lives.
Several times I remember Nitya standing before a gorgeous
vista, gesturing out at it, and say “Oh, how beautiful I am.” Such a phrase
shocks us as dualistic Westerners. But we don’t realize that what we see on all
sides is us. Even though current scientific models take full cognizance of the
fact that we replicate the world inside ourselves and relate to the replica, we
still fall for the illusion that what we see is out there and separate somehow.
It isn’t. That’s the movie screen on the inside of your brain you are looking
Being us, we have some possibility of having an effect on
it, but there is no direct and simplistic connection. Meditating on a new car
doesn’t get you a new car, it gets you the Iraq War. Selfish thoughts play out
in unexpected selfish ways, while selfless thoughts do the same. Having no
expectations is the correct way to meditate, and then accept with gratitude
whatever comes to you. The connections are wholly mysterious, and all claims to
the contrary are only nonmystical means to transfer the money in your pocket
into somebody else’s. Leave the outcomes to God, and open your heart to the
bounty that surrounds you already.
Going upward as prana,
downward as apana, remaining actionless, the one alone beats, murmurs, and
pulsates in the nerves. (VI, 7)
After meditating on the wonder of the Absolute unfolding as
the cosmos, we redirect our attention in this verse from out there to in here.
The same mysterious cascade of seemingly intelligent events operates the
amazingly sophisticated chemical factory of our body.
Freight trains loaded with raw materials enter the main gate
of the super-factory, where cave-dwelling enzymes immediately begin converting
them into usable forms. They are carried by conveyor belts deep into the bowels
of the plant, passing through several stages of simplification and refinement.
The last stage of the input process carries the raw materials to every
operation in every corner of the complex, where many trillions of workers
perform thousands and thousands of advanced and top secret alchemies every hour
of the day and night.
Outwardly appearing uniform, the factory is actually
comprised of a melange of different entities. Government studies estimate that
only about ten percent of its workers are natives; the rest are foreigners or
else distinct species manufactured in the factory itself. For the plant is
indeed capable of producing living beings, highly intelligent ones at that,
that can act as expert doctors and nurses, engineers, sanitation workers,
maintenance and repair people, evolutionary R and D, and so on. The operation
is so vast that on average ten thousand workers die and are replaced every
second. Their expired bodies are partially cannibalized for parts, with the
rest passed into the waste streams exiting the factory.
Vast amounts of energy, called prana, are required to
operate the plant, and these are brought in by air. The air itself can be
watched from the observation deck in the upper reaches, ceaselessly carrying
energy in and waste products out of the system. If this energy exchange and
waste retrieval process shuts down for even a few minutes, the entire operation
would suffocate and have to be shut down permanently. Regulation of the whole
system is dependent on the uninterrupted and salubrious flow of energy
The output is astonishing! Unbelievably complex chemicals
are synthesized in numerous places. Whole systems are dedicated to reproducing
the factory in miniature, with every essential part present, after which they
are carried out and set up in nearby locations. And possibly the most
interesting and astounding product of all is a self-monitoring surveillance and
guidance program. Although most operations of the plant are self-governing, a
central monitor coordinates overall activities and directs the never-ending
search for new raw materials.
You may well wonder why such a sophisticated contraption
exists at all. What is the point? That’s a very good question.
Many people feel that the most salient raison d’etre for the
factory is to be able to sit on a couch munching potato chips and observing
flickering lights and synchronized sounds emerging from a small box. A lot
consider that only what takes place on the outside walls are of any importance,
and try to bring them into contact with a variety of substances. But there are
of course many, many other activities, and they are constantly undergoing
slight modifications at each site. Far too many to list here. Perhaps you know
of some yourself? What is your
I have to admit that I once again expected last night’s
class to be simple and not too involved. Lo and behold, with the magic of
synergy we explored some very beautiful and surprisingly relevant areas of the
human imagination. In keeping with the theme of the verse, we noticed how a
group harmonic plays in our psyches when we gather together and focus on a
single idea together. We come to the class like chattering monkeys and leave as
very peaceful monkeys indeed. There is real gratitude for the mutually
supportive interaction, which reinforces and amplifies the sense of peace.
Nitya’s most important instruction in the commentary is that
we should seek truth right in the midst of everything that happens. The natural
inclination is to want to still the mind, to pacify the stream of
consciousness, as he puts it. Narayana Guru’s implied direction is to correlate
the inner and outer events of life, and study the kinds of parity they have.
The non-active actions of the Absolute are occurring in everything all the
The class found this gratifyingly easy to discuss. Several
of our stories were about ways that people are finding to move from defensive
postures that increase chaos to fearlessly grounded places that spread trust
and openness into their environment. Anita told us of her coworker who is
passive-aggressive, and who has been very difficult to get along with. Anita
has moved from responding by getting angry or upset to having sympathy. By not
taking personally what the other says, she has evinced a positive aura that had
a breakthrough effect this week. The two of them had lunch together, and the
coworker was delighted to open up to a new friend. Suspicion was replaced by
trust, and both people had a good time. Feelings afterward were positive
instead of upsetting.
In another class, Melina is a young woman who was living in
an apartment where her neighbor was hostile and threatening. Melina actually
missed last week’s class because she was afraid to go out her door. Instead,
she stayed home and did her yoga meditation. She calmed down and thought she
would send the woman some good feelings—good vibes as we oldsters like to say.
She felt sympathetic that whatever was the matter was something the woman was
carrying from her past, and it had nothing to do with her. The next morning she
was trying to tiptoe out, but here came the angry woman. Melina thought “Oh oh”
but as she started to shut the door the woman said, “I came to apologize for
shouting at you last night. I’m so sorry.” Melina’s relief erupted in a loud
sigh. She was so cute about it. When I called her a few days later to see if
she was okay—she had really been afraid for her safety—she told me excitedly “I
have proof that yoga works! It’s for real!”
Ann and John both noted how nature really and truly is one.
When we divide it up we have conflict, with our neighbors or the environment or
whatever. When we are aware of our impact and convert it to understanding and
kindness it rapidly repairs the damage. In cases like the above, the hostile
person can sense your feelings, no matter how carefully you disguise them on
the surface. They expect and are used to resistance, and it pushes their
habitual buttons of defensive aggression. But if they can sense at the very
least a welcoming attitude, or better yet a neutral, unconditioned state of
mind, they will feel safe enough to let their guard down. Unless they are
seriously disturbed, they will respond well, even eagerly. And this isn’t
something you have to do for them,
it’s a natural result of rebalancing yourself. Both sides get the benefit of
your work on yourself. In fact it works better if you don’t do it for the other
person especially, because it’s hard to avoid a taint of patronizing
superiority in setting yourself up in relation to some other person’s problems.
Tamar talked about being sensitive to other people’s
thoughts. She can feel when people are thinking about her and projecting their
expectations from across the room. We had a long discussion of this phenomenon,
which is most commonly experienced in our sudden reflex when someone looks at
us in a public place. Materialists have struggled mightily to dismiss this
widely experienced reaction, but never convincingly. We definitely can feel a
look. Since we are in truth one in our core, it is very easy to by touched by
the gaze or thoughts of someone else. Tamar reminded us how intrusive it is
from strangers, probably particularly for women because of the sexual aspects.
Brenda and Charles also suggested that in a marital or other close
relationship, you give the other person permission to go beneath the
barricades, so to speak. Then what is offensive becomes tolerated or even
There ensued a general discussion of exactly what oneness
means. Our egos begin the spiritual path as highly defended small plots of
turf. Part of our growth is to expand those boundaries and embrace more and
more of what was formerly outside. Do you then engulf the next fellow, like an
amoeba? Or where do you stop? I related a Nitya story. While he had many
realizations in his life, there was one when he felt the total oneness with
everyone and he was volcanically happy. All barriers of separation were
stripped away, and he knew in his heart we were all the Absolute. He went
around in a state of ecstasy, hugging everyone he met. But India is even more
puritanical than America, if you can believe it. After awhile he saw that what
he thought of as a loving gesture was in fact causing the good people he met to
recoil in revulsion. It actually increased their defensiveness. So, while he
never lost that oceanic awareness, he stopped hugging people. When he kept his
distance, they could still feel his loving warmth, and could respond to the
timid degree they were comfortable with.
Once he had forced that level of decorum on himself, he came
to America, where back in those times hugging was all the rage. Women
especially were climbing all over him, and he had to struggle with his own
negative reactions to it.
We thought of how what you send out does come back to you,
however disguised, but in harmony with what you gave. There was a lot of talk
of how thoughts and feelings rebound. “Hatred bounces” is a bumpersticker I saw
last week. What we put out doesn’t come back right away, it goes on a journey.
Hopefully it will touch a heart or two and lighten them up. But sooner or later
it passes back through us too. Seldom do we recognize its origin in ourselves,
but once in awhile we can. Then we must extrapolate the rest. We must teach
ourselves what the wise of all times and climes have repeated throughout
history: what you give is what you get, what you sow you shall reap. If that
doesn’t lead us to be kind, I don’t know what will.
From the unmodulating Self,
and not another, the six aspects—existence, birth, growth, change,
deterioration, and extinction—happen here. (VI, 8)
The final three verses of the Karma Darsana home in on the
essential mystery of all action. The Absolute ground does not act; we do not
act. Action unfolds of its own nature. Where does its direction or motivation
When Nitya wrote his commentary, science was still enchanted
with the static model of the atom that has since come to be regarded as
seriously flawed. He was aware of the flaws, but a better model had not yet
arrived on scene. Now it has.
A universe comprised of independent particles has no
coherency. Therefore the logical conclusion to be drawn from it is that
everything happens by accident, and the complex world we see is an unbelievably
lucky, yet meaningless, pile of happenstance. It doesn’t take the contemplative
long to apprehend the absurdity of such a view.
If the universe had a common substratum—that which we call
the Absolute—then all actions would be linked together, and complex systems
would arise as a matter of natural expression. Far from blindness, such a
unifying factor would appear infinitely intelligent, permitting and even
abetting an unending panoply of truth, beauty and goodness, not to mention
untruth, frowziness and opposition. Thankfully science has recently discovered
something very like it.
A substratum is in no way dependent on semi-sentient beings
ratifying its existence, but those beings can find intellectual peace from
knowledge of it. So the modern day discovery of the quantum vacuum permits
scientists to knit the world together instead of viewing it as an animated heap
of dust. The vacuum is almost infinitely dense, infinitely powerful, and packed
with templates of information that “inform” the unfolding of action. Among
other things, this explains why our world is filled with perfect creations on
every level, instead of “works in progress” of blind piles of rubble trying to
develop something out of nothing. “Nothing” is actually the most dynamic
substance of all, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.
Since I’ve talked about the quantum vacuum at length
elsewhere (The Trajectory of Science, in the Spring 2006 Gurukulam Magazine,
and on the website) there is no need to linger over it here. Suffice to say
there is an unmodulating ground on which floats the continuous dance of lila,
the sport of action manifesting, very much in harmony with the ancient Vedantic
conception of the Absolute referred to by Narayana Guru.
John wondered if extinction really means that something goes
away. He has been charmed by the notion of cycles, and told us how meaningful
that was to him. Moni responded with a beautiful analogy. Many near and dear
friends and family have recently died, so the extinction part of the cycle is
very much highlighted. She spoke of the ocean, and how each person was like an
earthernware pot full of water scooped out of it to sit separate for a little
while. Then when death comes it is like the pot breaks and the water returns to
Should we mourn the breaking of the pot or delight in the
return of the water to the ocean? When we focus on the temporary aspects of
life’s transformations, we want to hold onto the things like the pot that will
inevitably die or fade away. But if we look inside for the eternal water of
life, the vessel it resides in may be cherished but it will seem somewhat
secondary in importance. As Nitya puts it, “A minute scrutiny of the material
world leads us from the concrete to the subtle and from the subtle to the pure
subjective notion that can vanish in the transcendental.” He also reminds us
that “for those who seek the liberation of Self-realization, the verticalizing
of their tendencies is an inevitable discipline they must undergo.” This sounds
almost like it is something to dread, but the Guru understood as well as anyone
that verticalization is a “consummation devoutly to be wished.” We seek
Self-realization because we want to, because we have pondered life enough to
see that the surface play is not the whole game. We want to add a stable basis
on which to sit, so we can watch the play but not be undone by it. “Undone”
refers to a bit of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:
Under the brown
fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed
over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought
death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and
infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man
fixed his eyes before his feet.
This commentary is ascending into
poetry, which also figured largely in our class. Before I tack on some of the
poems we read out, it’s important to at least address Anita’s perennial
question, since it’s right on the crux of the matter. Her question is perennial
because we always skirt the issue and don’t answer it. Perhaps it can never be
adequately answered…. Speaking of Moni’s analogy this time, Anita wanted to
know if there was continuity of the individual being symbolized by a particular
potfull of water. What do the vasanas represent if not the individual’s
storehouse of seeds of actions? Moni’s analogy is close to the Gita’s version
that the Absolute incarnates, and it would be hard to imagine that you could
ever scoop up the same batch of water from the sea. Modern genetic theory is
very similar to the theory of vasanas, in that we inherit the accumulated
impressions of the entire history of biological evolution. Much of what we are
is certainly determined by the course of evolution that we are making an
appearance in. But there is also a widespread belief that may well have
validity that each individual is on a long trajectory ascending from complete
unconsciousness to full transcendental awareness. Such a journey would necessarily
take many lives, usually referred to as millions. To prevent overwhelming the
mind there have to be periodic lapses of memory, called deaths, after which
only the essence of previous activities are preserved. The seeds or essences of
previous actions wait in the psyche for the opportunity to sprout once again
into horizontal expression. Over time we can foster the best of these and allow
the worst to die away unreinforced. (As Nitya reminds us here, “mere repression
of action will produce only inner conflict, and as a consequence more action of
the worst kind.”) Anyway, so much of the call to a spiritual life depends on
some sense of personal involvement. We are energized by the dream of growth in
love and blessings, both given and received. Bergson call the universe a
machine for making gods. And we see how each infant is unique long before
nurture has a chance to impact the common lot of genes with which each arrives.
We don’t just arrive stamped out of a mold, and then begin diversifying. We are
already uniquely ourselves. There is no reason to imagine we don’t matter.
That’s one of the faults of Soviet-style communism, denigration of the
individual. The Bush cabal reminds us of the horrors of unabashed individualism
at the other extreme: lack of concern for anyone but yourself. An ocean of
individuals united by their common frolic in the ocean of life, with
interpenetrating energies, is the perfect balance of the two extremes.
Deb found an apt poem to express the mystery of action and
We were riding
through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose
in the darkness.
And suddenly a
hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed
to it with his hand.
That was long
ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor
the man who made the gesture.
O my love, where
are they, where are they going
The flash of a
hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of
sorrow, but in wonder.
Milosz from "The Collected Poems 1931-1987",
by Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee
© Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee
Anne read us out an excerpt from Song of Myself by Walt
Whitman, cited in Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems. This is a slightly longer bit:
Who goes there?
hankering, gross, mystical, nude;
How is it I
extract strength from the beef I eat?
What is a man
anyhow? what am I? what are you?
All I mark as my
own you shall offset it with your own,
Else it, were
time lost listening to me.
I do not snivel
that snivel the world over,
That months are
vacuums and the ground but wallow and filth.
truckling fold with powders for invalids, conformity goes to the
I wear my hat as
I please indoors or out.
Why should I
pray? why should I venerate and be ceremonious?
through the strata, analyzed to a hair, counseled with doctors and calculated
I find no sweeter
fat than sticks to my own bones.
In all people I
see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less,
And the good or
bad I say of myself I say of them.
I know I am solid
To me the
converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written
to me, and I must get what the writing means.
I know I am
I know this orbit
of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter's compass,
I know I shall
not pass like a child's carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.
I know I am
I do not trouble
my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the
elementary laws never apologize,
(I reckon I
behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all.)
I exist as I am,
that is enough,
If no other in
the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and
all be aware I sit content.
One world is
aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I
come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully
take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.
My foothold is
tenoned and mortised in granite,
I laugh at what
you call dissolution,
And I know the
amplitude of time.
Gurukula fans will recognize the
connection of the child’s curlicue with Verse 33 of Atmopadesa Satakam:
to know its own nature here,
become earth and the other elements;
up, back and turning round,
a glowing twig it is ever turning.
Finally, in the Gita class
day I read out the famous excerpt from Leaves of Grass by Whitman, that Johnny
Stallings used in his one man show:
This from the
Preface to the First Edition of Leaves of Grass (1855):
what you shall do: Love
the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that
asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to
others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indugence
towards the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any
man or number of men -- go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with
the young, and with the mothers of families -- re-examine all you have been
told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own
soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency,
not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between
the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.
Have fun out
In spite of action becoming
self-accomplished by the psychic dynamism and the senses, the wise one thus
knows—“I am the unattached kutastha.” (VI, 9)
Nearly done with the Karma Darsana and still plenty of confusion
left about action! We all agree with the Gita (IV, 17), “the way of action is
elusively subtle indeed.” Verse 9 here puts its finger on the crux of the
Before reviewing some of the class interaction, it behooves
us to summarize what we’ve already learned. A significant part of the confusion
comes from forgetting what we’ve talked about before, or else missing classes.
Spotty attendance of either kind helps keep the mystery mysterious!
Unitive action is like the artist in that Zen moment of
perfect attunement. Take the potter throwing a pot. She has to compile all the
materials and hone her skills, so throughout there is an intentionality
present. The process first became conscious when she began to be aware of her
interest in becoming a potter, as she felt her svadharma rise up within her.
Vasanas were sprouting. Now that she has done all her homework and preparation
she can sit at her wheel and do her work. As she makes each pot she must become
fully absorbed in what she’s doing. If she thinks “here I am making a pot,” the
injection of an extraneous thought into the process throws it off, quite
literally out of balance. If she has an itch she has to wait to scratch till
later, because she’s fully occupied. Same with “what about dinner?” At the
perfect moment when all extraneous factors are suspended or on automatic pilot,
we glibly say she is in tune with the Absolute. At least, that’s the artistic
moment of unitive action.
In more complex situations, Narayana Guru recommends
stepping outside our personal interest to openly assess every aspect and make a
global determination based on the greatest good for all. This is covered most
explicitly in Atmopadesa Satakam, verses 21-25, and also the mid to late 40s.
If we know that the Absolute fills every being in creation, and everyone is
seeking happiness, albeit usually selfishly, we can give their part in our
action its due. This is the basis of simple justice.
Brenda provided a perfect example this week. We hold a Gita
class at her house on Sunday evenings. A week ago her ex-husband arrived during
the class and went ballistic, shouting and cursing and throwing a bunch of
their daughter’s stuff on the front porch. Brenda’s feelings were hurt and she
was embarrassed in front of everyone. The natural response would be to be angry
and resentful. Even a saint would be upset, because the situation called for
some sternness and resistance, but like a saint Brenda let go of her feelings
(knowing “I am the unattached, well-founded one,”) and after a good night’s
sleep she invited the man over for dinner the next night. By meeting aggression
with love, Brenda turned the situation around. Because of her example, her ex
was able to let go of his anger too, and the dinner turned into a beautiful
experience. The next day he called her back to apologize.
Imagine if everyone was able to rise above their petty
grievances and act like this? Even serious grievances would erode before long,
as people stopped lusting for revenge.
Unitive action is hard to explain, but it isn’t hard to do.
It isn’t a clunky process of painfully ripping yourself out of the situation,
unless you’re already stuck in the mire. It’s a light and flexible dance of
paying attention to what the situation calls for in an absolutist sense. It
should make us even happier than we already are. In Brenda’s example, she
didn’t just make a personal sacrifice for someone else, she and everyone
involved was benefited. A selfish reaction would have preserved her resentment,
but reaching out permitted her to let go of her own upset too.
Nitya has provided a wonderful commentary to explain why a
Vedantic philosopher does not think of action in terms of being an instrument
of the divine. It is not safe to believe we act according to the “will of God.”
Those who think they know what the will of God is tend to be barking (or
purring) mad. Once you compromise the Absolute by involving it in creation you
water it down, and before long it is meaningless. There is no point in me
repeating what the Guru has so elegantly expressed here. You can read this
Anita made the excellent point that living “in tune with the
Absolute” is suspiciously similar to following the will of God. This can be a
cliché that admits duality through the back door, so to speak. What we really
mean is “in tune,” period. Harmonized, balanced, period. Yes, the Absolute is
the epitome of balance and harmony, but we dance our own dance on its ground,
and it supports and permits any and all permutations, good, bad and
It takes a real effort to realign the psyche to do away with
the projection of an interested and willful god looking over our shoulder. When
we are children we internalize a way of acting that is based on how our parents
want us to behave. We consciously and unconsciously pattern our thoughts and
actions on what some external beings want us to do and think. Soon we come to
believe we are living for their happiness, and our own happiness can only be
indulged in in secret or not at all. As adults we transfer those feelings to
the authority of the State and especially to God, but they are not far removed
from the immature beliefs of the child. The schizoid state of modern humanity
embodies the gap between our internal needs and feelings and the imaginary face
of the society we are supposed to be pleasing. If we’re “well adjusted” it’s
hard to know the point of anything if we aren’t doing it for someone else,
especially God. An uninterested Absolute is absolutely unnerving. How dare we
accept that we—we ourselves—are the reason for this life? The point is
happiness and interest for us—all of us—but we can’t know this until we stop
living for some imaginary other. Creation is its own reward. It should be
grasped whole and loved completely.
We learn to deny ourselves and live for God, but then we
wait in vain for God to smile on our efforts. Because there is nothing harder
to do, it becomes a lifelong struggle to suppress our own nature. What a tragic
waste of time! It stems in large part from the belief that we are born sinners.
The innocence of fresh life is unconsciously resented by people who have lost
their own innocence, and so it must be punished and destroyed. Needless to say,
this is not the way to reclaim our innocence, or anything else. Instead, we
must dare to be alive. Creation is an unfolding process, and we should reclaim
the unfolding expression we have lost in the process of abdicating our souls to
a hypothetical external enjoyer. To do this safely we must give up our selfish
will along with our belief in God’s will. Will disrupts the unfoldment of our
life. We posit the Absolute as a neutral ground so that we can eliminate or at
least deflate all forms of will, and instead center ourselves on who we are.
When we are that, things go well, and when we lose it, we go on tangents. The
Triumph of the Will is a Nazi holocaust.
Simple? No, elusively subtle indeed. It’s good to spend time
thinking about it, but then we must act with decisiveness when the time comes.
Like the potter with the lumpy pot, we can always try and try again.
Nataraja Guru offers an overview of
what we’re doing—that is, becoming ourselves—in his inimitable style:
methodology and structuralism tacitly presupposed in the Darsanamala implies both a reduction and a construction by which
multiplicity is first reduced to negative unity in the first five chapters.
Both plurality and duality get abolished by a method of elimination of what is
doubtful and unessential. Having touched the rock bottom of ontology by this
negative reduction, the last five chapters aim at a more positive construction
implying the normalising of existence with its own rational subsistence. There
is a construction implied in the method here by which ontology gets transformed
into a value-world where teleological first and final causes gain gradual
primacy. Even at this stage of reconstruction there are always the Self and the
non-Self involved as irreducible counterparts related by complementarity,
reciprocity and cancellability. We shall explain these later on. Here we have
only to remember that the methodology of this work has to be treated together
with its own epistemology and axiology. (ISOA Vol. I, p. 239)
Your assignment for the next
class is to provide an adequate explanation of what this means! See you!
Thanks to Peggy for her
hyperbolic elucidation of the varichromatically profuse offering of our
paramguru, which came back almost before I had tapped the Send button:
he he he he.....
I inscrutably marutably
considered your conundrum
the confabulating wabulating moxitorbund truth
contained in this here
passage hidden well from all but sleuths.
Simple seeds of wisdom
peak beneath the fancy lore,
complexity's like dancing
girls distracting minds from core.
All is whole in harmony and
deep inside we're free to Be,
conflagrittingflabustance may tempt us with a fancy dance,
a baby's eyes sees only
truth, and this is how we see.
Peggy Grace Chun
Because “I” is seen as an
object of awareness, I-consciousness is also a superimposition, like the silver
in the mother of pearl; above everything else, today and tomorrow, the one
alone exists. (VI, 10)
Having turned the corner in the middle of Darsanamala to
replace descent with ascent, we began the sixth Darsana or Vision as if we were
tentatively wading out in the shallow end of a swimming pool. Very subtly the
waters grew deeper, creeping over our knees. Here the bottom suddenly drops
away and we are plunged into the deep end, over our heads. We have to float or
we’ll sink. An ocean yawns before us. We must dig down inside ourselves for the
courage to swim. Some of us may turn and head back to familiar shores. It’s all
okay. It may help to remember that the ocean is metaphoric, a story, a tale
told by an idiot, so we can go very far without any real danger.
There never was real danger in brahmavidya. Waking up is
only threatening to what doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, we tend to cling to what
doesn’t exist like the proverbial straw to a drowning man. The nub of Nitya’s
commentary addresses this:
a person says “I,” that is what he experiences—the individuated ‘I-ness’ of
egocentricity. Such a state is a conditioned one, and all conditioned states
are nonexistent. Therefore such an ego has no real existence, and it and the
experience of it are founded on ignorance. As a consequence, the attempt to
please by pampering a nonexistent ego must lead to futility in action. Be that
as it may, most of us are all the time engaged in actions designed to lead to
self-gratification. A wise man realizes the worthlessness of such pursuits.
When we are still identified with our ego, statements like
this are discomfiting. By this point in the study we should have gotten some
distance from this identification, “normal” though it may be. We have already talked
in great detail about the process by which the child creates an image in an
attempt to get attention from the adult world of walking zombies in which it
finds itself. It realizes it is living on the margins of adult interest, so it builds
a really cool persona and trots it out for admiration. It is frustrated when the
persona is ignored and proud when it is praised, and before long the child joins
the adult world by forgetting its true nature and fully identifying with the
Frankenstein’s monster it has created.
As adults we spend our spare time tinkering with and
improving the monster, adapting it to changing times and climes of social
interaction. Or else we get disgusted and give up and go sulk in a chair. Talk
about futility in action! Very few are well-instructed enough to let go of the
image and sink into themselves. While other people may continue to relate to
their illusory ego-image, they wean themselves from the practice.
Becoming real is thus not discomfiting at all. It’s
ultimately satisfying. As Deb mentioned, by doing it you tacitly give others
the permission to do the same. Whether they are so inclined or not, they feel
an openness radiating from you, and are encouraged by it. It feels very much
like love. Thus the way to “work for peace” is to discover it in yourself and
live it. It is a rare hidden treasure buried right in the center of your being.
You are the Absolute. You are not the image you have cobbled together. That is
only a nonexistent superimposition.
Susan said how as a Christian it is deeply engrained that
she should think of others and not herself. Such yogic orientation as
abandoning your persona to become your true self is considered diabolical. It
is characterized as selfishness and egotism. In actuality it is the other way
round. Becoming yourself is precisely how you become available to everyone and
everything else, and alive to every nuance in every situation. It means giving
up the maintenance of the ego. On the other hand, doing good for others—which
is quite admirable, of course—can and does frequently reinforce the ego. The
thought is “I am doing good things for this other poor unfortunate person.” The
‘I’ is placed on a pedestal of righteousness, and the ‘other’ is placed low as
needy and lacking. Nataraja Guru’s correction was to keep in mind that we are
all equally poor and unfortunate. The Gita teaches us we should do good, but only
as a matter of course, not as an egotistically-directed action bloated with
expectations. The distortion of the do-gooder only gets worse when a person
believes they are in sole possession of truth and are ministering it to those
who don’t have it. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect recipe for unbridled
egomania than that, unless you add that that ego is permitted by God to rule as
a Lord over its other family members.
This is yet
another case of religion squarely blocking the very path that really does bring
So we are directed by Narayana Guru to abandon our false ego
images and sink into our heart center, which is the Absolute. The Gita
describes the result in VI, 27 and 28:
a yogi, verily, of calmed mind, of pacified passion, who has become the
Absolute, free from all dross, comes to supreme happiness. Ever uniting thus
the Self, that yogi, rid of dross, having contact with the Absolute, enjoys
easily happiness that is ultimate.
Peggy was the only one who did the homework assignment to
interpret Nataraja Guru’s somewhat convoluted overview of Darsanamala. We
always knew she was in a class by herself! The paragraph can be boiled down to
some degree as dividing the work in half. The first half describes the process
of an individual first being created and then developing while paring away all
the attendant falsehood to arrive ultimately at “negative unity,” in other
words, at the real (ontological) essence of a sentient being. The second half
describes the remerging of the individual with the Absolute by a progressive
ascent of conscious awareness. Subject and object gradually grow together and
reknit in unity. (Actual knitting has become a symbolic activity in the class
lately!) Life is ever more accurately paired with its appreciation by consciousness.
The process reveals higher and higher values as it becomes more and more refined.
We leap off the plank of solid action into more rarified
realms of knowledge as we bring the Karma Darsana to a close.
At this very moment Anita
should be 2/3 of the way through her three hour long heart operation. We closed
last night’s class by sending her a group lightbeam of love and care. Earlier
she had shared something she wrote for an art class assignment with some of us.
It fits in well with our earlier discussions of cultivating the positive inner
voice, and represents a wonderful step toward health on every level of life. If
the class on Karma Darsana was graded, this would be an A+ summary. She wrote:
Please include the caveat
that it is my statement of intention...I use it now as sort of a daily mantra
to help me focus my thoughts and energy towards a way of being that I want to
emulate. It was the result of an exercise in which I was asked to imagine a
perfect world in which everything was just the way I wanted it. What would my
life look like? I have much to do to yet to achieve this state of beingness.
Perhaps by expressing this in writing and committing to sharing it, my
intention will be reinforced.
Statement of Intention
My life is joyful and I am
contented. I accept all things, the pleasant and unpleasant, with equanimity
and serenity. My happiness is independent of the events that occur in my life.
I revel in the wonder of life and I am fully engaged in each moment. I find
peace both in solitude and in the company of family and friends.
I effortlessly merge with the
flow of creativity of the universe and happily participate in its expression by
devoting time to create art in several mediums regularly. I attract others into
my life who are engaged in this same expression of creativity and we enjoy one
I eat, rest and exercise in a manner that promotes my
optimal health. I observe and accept the aging process with grace. I express my
emotions in a way that supports the common good. Because I am able to easily
reinforce the positive feelings and thoughts the negative ones fade through
lack of reinforcement.
I celebrate the daily
miracles of life.
A note to the class:
Anita wanted me to let
everyone know she's doing well. To my surprise she came to the Gita class last
night; she's already been up and about for a couple of days. Modern medicine is
mahendra magic! Thanks to all who sent their healing thoughts in whatever
I received [a] message from
Jean Norrby asking about my procedure.
If you think it would be appropriate, would
you please send a group
mailing with just a brief update to let those on the mailing know that I'm
doing great and that I really appreciated the love and concern that I felt from
them. I'm back at work today and
busy, the sun is shining and the world looks beautiful.
Earlier she had written:
Thanks to all for the lovely
Light beam of love and care from the class. I was calm and things went well so
I am sure I was held in the collective loving arms of family and friends during
this time. My doctor told my daughter that the procedure was successful. It
should take about a month for my heart to get back to full functioning and
hopefully I can be weaned off the heart medicines then as well.