At last we arrive at the most delightful stretch of the
Garland of Visions. After nearly two years of paring away delusions and false
pretences—a redundancy if ever there was one, as all pretences are false—we
stand ready to reencounter the love of the Self that comprises our body, mind
and soul. Preparatory groundwork is laid; now let the revels begin!
Well, of course, we’ve been reveling all along, but now we
can revel even more.
Nitya’s introduction to the Darsana briefly summarizes the
journey we have undergone to arrive at this stage. His opening sentence is
“Love, devotion, compassion, empathy, and consequent rapture of mind come
spontaneously rather than as the result of mechanically practiced discipline.”
One of the greatest, if not the greatest, struggles we have had is to stop
thinking in terms of our relationship to divine love or realization or the
Absolute as being the end product of a chain of actions or behaviors. Ends and
means are to become fused, and not separated. Horizontal and vertical factors,
distinguished for purposes of examination, are to be rejoined in an amalgam
merging into a transcendent unity. Even the thought “I just have to clear the
irrelevant details away from my life in order to have time for this” is a
stumbling block to be discarded.
Fred, visiting from Florida, began and ended our class with
a perfect example of unity: flowing streams of music from his African thumb
piano or kalimba. Music is a vertical value, while the specific notes he
stroked on that Tuesday evening in that specific location comprise the
horizontal expression. Obviously there cannot be any real division of the two
aspects. Music without the notes you actually play or listen to would be
meaningless and empty, while notes that don’t make coherent music are merely
noise. Neither “leg” has the ability to inspire on its own: they are
inextricably woven together. And as Fred pointed out, in and behind and through
the musical (or any other) experience is a luminous, transparent essence we
refer to as the Self or the Absolute.
Luminosity is a key characteristic of bhakti, whose root
means conjunction with light. Shankara and Narayana Guru both describe it as
continuous contemplation on the true nature of the Self, which is light or love
or perhaps best considered a nameless mystery. We don’t have to name it except
in special studies like this one, because we are always conjoined with the very
things which attract us. Our heart automatically goes out to the lovable, the
beautiful, the exquisite, and so on. We don’t have to learn to love music, for
instance, something in us is always ready to be enchanted by it. When we fall
in love with another person, we don’t have to carefully follow any eightfold
path or twelve steps or ten thousand pranams. No effort is involved. Nitya
exalts it thus: “The most popular experience in which people can easily
transcend the sense of duality is when loving mates are overwhelmed with the
thrill of each other’s inseparable presence as the pearl of one’s heart’s
sweetness.” Bipolarity with the Absolute broadens and generalizes this
experience to include every interaction at every moment. Which of course is
where we’re headed with this.
What we well know as we begin the Bhakti Darsana is that
individual items of joyful experience are temporary, but the joy itself is
eternal, just as music is eternal but we can never quite regain the notes that
floated through the room last night, bathed in the glow of a gentle sunset and
the purple light of Adam’s cosmic egg sculpture. We aren’t so foolish as to
think that we have to reproduce those specific conditions in order to be happy,
and yet we fall for that illusion in more subtle ways, believing we have to
structure our lives in a certain manner in order to have joy. We seek to repeat
what made us happy before. The present Darsana should be fully convincing that
joy is our “native place” and we are naturally conjoined with it all the time.
We don’t need to make it happen—it is always happening and available to us.
Knowing this, the ups and downs of everyday life will be emblazoned with the
radiance of our inner suns.
There is a specific secret transmitted in this Introduction
that should be noted. Nitya directs us to attend to those experiences that are
joyful to us, but instead of longing for their repetition, to allow them to
stabilize us in our vertical core. As we philosophically generalize the
specific experiences, the arena of our joy expands exponentially. By doing this
capable of remaining
at sublime levels of an abstract sense of the lovable, the beautiful, the
adorable, the wonderful, etc. In such a state there is little or no
identification either with the individuated subject or the object ground on
which the joyous experience is projected. For this reason it is normal for a
person to remain at home in his or her personal center. The Guru describes such
a spontaneous involvement with oneself as a joyous and effortless beatitude, an
act of contemplative devotion…. It is in this pure joy that one experiences
one’s natural alignment with the Absolute.
There are many religious programs that consider joyful
experience to be an impediment to realization, and their partisans tend to be
sour and repressed, full of aggressive hostility toward anyone evincing
happiness. The Guru’s philosophy does not go there. It is supremely blissful
and loving, tolerant and compassionate. We are only asked to come to know our
joy, and to offer it freely to our fellow beings. Nothing could be simpler.
Meditation on the Self is bhakti. That by which the Self is blissful, with that, the
knower of the Self always meditates upon the Self by the Self. (VIII, 1)
Narayana Guru, in his own comments, says “The very nature of
the Self consists of Bliss. It goes without saying that it is the high value of
Bliss which deserves to be meditated upon. All living beings are naturally
disposed to such meditation.” He presents us with a structural image in this
verse, with the knower of the Self consisting of a subject and object, both of
which are aspects of the Self, dialectically subsumed in the bliss of That. In
other words, bliss is the be-all and end-all of existence, that which unifies
the bifurcation of subject and object.
Speaking of the be-all, Nitya introduces a term in his
commentary that he tried out briefly and then abandoned: be-ness. He was
dissatisfied with the participle, being or beingness, as it gives the
impression of extension in time, and so isn’t ‘now’ enough. He felt ‘be’ alone was
more accurate and might break us out of the cliché of beingness that we tend to
use without thinking. When I asked him about it, he gave the footnote by way of
explanation: “Be-ness is used here in the sense of at-one-ment with the
Absolute.” (He was always careful to give the original sense of at-one-ment
too, as atonement has picked up some excess baggage of its own.) Don’t be
surprised when be-ness or even ‘here and be’ instead of here and now, pop up.
As long as we’re doing definitions, Nitya gives us an
important distinction here:
our own times, meditation and contemplation are used as synonyms: both the
terms have lost their precise connotation and have become vague in meaning. So
it has become necessary to revalue and restate the terms ‘meditation’ and
‘contemplation’. Sequentially, meditation comes as a prelude to contemplation.
The way to know something, as Henri Bergson puts it, is not by going around it,
but by first entering into it and then being it. Meditation is an active
process of applying one’s mind to make a total ‘imploration’ of the depth of
whatever is to be known. The state of actually being it is what is achieved by
contemplation. It is a passive but steady state. (368)
Anusandhanam is translated as
meditation, and bhakti as contemplation. Nitya asserts that the word
anusandhanam holds the key to the entire Darsana of bhakti. It means
“investigation, inquiry, searching into, close inspection, setting in order,
arranging, planning; aiming at;” (MW).
Bhakti also has many shades of meaning. It is best known as
devotion and associated with highly active forms of worship. It all depends on
your personal taste as to what you find enchanting. The Narayana Gurukula Gurus
tend to prefer quiet appreciation and loving communion over overt displays. We
are asked to think of bhakti as love, but as Nataraja Guru reminds us, “Love is a vague word used by unscientific people about
feeling they don’t understand.” In our study we will try to attain some
understanding so we don’t get lumped with the lumpen in this matter. If
contemplation equals bhakti equals love equals bliss, then we can at least
understand Nataraja Guru’s assertion that “All of life is a love affair.”
Here again we meet the
old Paradox in a
new guise. Our bliss leads us to fall in love with so many things, people,
places and events. But all the specific manifestations of love are temporary
and subject to decrease. We need to continuously relate the specific with the
general in the form of Absolute love in order to not become deluded about the
origin of the blissful state. There is every temptation to believe the Absolute
resides in a specific manifestation and not elsewhere, and feel bereft when
that manifestation is not available. Our spiritual growth consists of
contemplating all the varied experiences of bliss and continuously relating
them to our inner core, so that they gradually expand and run together until
they make up the entire fabric of our life. This is at least one of the senses
meant by the Gurus when they say bhakti is continuous contemplation on the true
nature of the Self.
The Upanishads remind
us of this idea
by saying the husband doesn’t love the wife for the sake of the wife, but for
the sake of the love of the Self, and the wife doesn’t love the husband for the
sake of the husband, but for the sake of the love of the Self. Nataraja Guru
paraphrased this by saying “When a man in love sees a woman, what he really
sees is his own self. kami swatam pasyati – ‘a man in love his own self sees.’”
is of course the one where we are maximally fixated on the beloved, so it is
rightfully famous. We also are enamored of our children, music, food, beautiful
art and scenery, growing plants, and so many other things. All we are asked to
do is extend that love to everything, to fill up the empty places in between
with more love to make the whole business continuous.
implies striving to attain,
while contemplation resides neutrally in the perfection of the blissful state.
The experience of bhakti or love, in whatever context, “is so total and
realistic that it does not allow the intrusion of any desire for anything else.
As a result of such a spiritual compulsion to be ever persisting in the union
of what is most adored, the absorption of consciousness implied in that state
requires no deliberation to maintain the union.” (370) Sitting together in the
glow of evening and the inner glow of so many kind hearts was yet another way
of basking in the bliss of creation that required no effort to maintain. Aum.
meditated upon because Brahma is blissful. Constant meditation on Brahma thus
is known as bhakti. (VIII, 2)
Last night a simple verse and a brief commentary became a
far-reaching discussion in which everyone participated, bringing in a plethora
of insights. No further justification of the class is needed: we all received
plenty of food for thought, and offered our own psychic alimentation gladly.
The main discussion centered around Nitya’s presentation
that as individuals we naturally divvy up the world into several modes, based
on our limited perspective. “When these… modes stand one apart from the other
to suit the finitude of the mind’s logistics, individuation becomes fully
cramped so as to be confined within the narrow frame of an embodied being.” He
goes on to assure us that the “sudden and total reconversion of the modulated
into its true and original nonduality is the absolution that figures in this
verse as an act of meditation on Brahma.” (371)
First we subtracted any sense of guilt from being
individuated beings with a point source outlook, described as original sin in
Christianity and often misrepresented as an affront to God in many religions.
We naturally begin life with a very limited purview—how could it be otherwise?—and
the normal growth we experience throughout our lives includes the steady
expansion of our inclusiveness. This is opposed by many social forces which
attempt to keep us bottled up in ourselves, using fear and consumerism to draw
thick lines between people and groups. As Anita mentioned, we are trained
aggressively to remain separate individuals: even some therapists insist on
developing an impervious ego boundary as a cure-all. While this is an important
step on the road, it is by no means the end. Bill quoted a Buddhist philosopher
as to the importance of being a fully functional individual, so you can better
help others and do good works. The ego is a healthy thing, not an antagonist to
be smashed. But its limitations must also be considered and overcome for
optimum spiritual health.
Narayana Guru here recommends meditation on the unifying
factor as the way to grow out of limited selfhood to all-embracing Selfhood.
When we relate separate items to an overarching normative notion, we transform
enemies into allies and stumbling blocks into challenging exercises of
overcoming obstacles. It permits us to be more present to engage in the real
challenges we face, instead of worrying about ones that might or might not
manifest later on.
Anita wondered about Nitya’s mention of “unlimited
liability” that he attributes to the perfected masters: “This constant
meditation on the all-embracing Absolute is exemplified in the lives of Buddha,
Lao-tzu, Jesus Christ, and other perfected beings who are well known for their
compassion and their voluntary admission of unlimited liability to the entire
world, for the fulfillment of which they lived every moment of their lives.”
She noted the paradox of opening yourself up more and more, when there are so
many things which are dangerous and/or loathsome in the actual world. Nancy
assured us that becoming open made us more attuned to what was needed in every
situation, that prejudice was a block to clearly seeing what was necessary.
Being open doesn’t mean you endorse negative behavior, or fail to steer clear
of danger. It means you see things as they are, rather than as you fear them to
be. And you are always prepared to give what is required, even if it isn’t your
Openness to all included becoming angry at greedy and
selfish people, at last for Muhammad, Jesus, Nitya and Nataraja Guru. And while
Jesus intentionally walked into fatal danger, since it was his destiny, there
are many tales of seers who were guided away from danger. In martial arts, the
first defense is to avoid confrontation whenever possible. Since we see so
little of what impends, we can trust in the wisdom of the Absolute to guide us
where we need to go. A belief that what we face is precisely what we should be
facing spiritualizes all of life. We can learn from everything we encounter, as
long as we relate it to us. Meditating on the Absolute is thus another way of
saying “understanding from an impeccable perspective.”
When we see the Absolute everywhere, we know the value form
of delight. We are led by joy to engage more and more with life. There is
nothing sad or mean or forced implied here. We grow naturally, from our own
enjoyment. This reminds me of my old “expanding boxes theory.” Life takes place
in a series of nested boxes, one inside the other, but with a substantial
difference in size from one to the next. We move about in the first box quite
contentedly for awhile, until we grow to fill it up. Learning and growing are
the same thing. Then there is a period of feeling constrained by our
surroundings, like a chick about to break out of an egg, when we become aware
of the limitations of our understanding. Some of us of course take well-meaning
advice from people and content ourselves to remain in a small box, but the rest
keep growing and eventually burst our bonds. Then we have relative freedom of
movement for a time, until we fill up the larger box it turns out we’re
inhabiting. Since they’re invisible, we don’t become aware of the boxes until
we have grown to fill them. Whether there are only a few or an infinite number
of them I couldn’t say. Realization means breaking out of all the boxes at
once, but there are relative, minor realizations at every stage of expansion.
The feeling cramped within the narrow frame of a human being Nitya talks about
is the same as the temporary pressure when the chick has filled the egg to
bursting. The only difference is that the expansion is psychological rather
So we remain engaged with life even as we grow in spiritual
dimensions. As Nitya says, “The constant meditation on the Absolute is not to
be understood as a sheer withdrawal and absorption into a faceless and
characterless emptiness, but as a positive acceptance of one’s cosmic dimension
and a universal recognition of the one Self that prevails in all and everywhere
as the only joy and meaning of this world.” That’s about as beautifully as it
can be put.
Anita told us a story that illustrates one secret of
Gurukula life. After last week’s Sunday Gita class, she and Donna were driving
home over the wide Columbia River on the I-205 bridge. It is always very busy
and fairly dangerous there, so we’ve often counseled her to pay close attention
to her driving, which she always does anyway. Donna gasped as they came out of
the trees, seeing the nearly full moon poised in the nearby Columbia Gorge,
just touching the water. It was a summer sight to send a supple soul soaring!
Anita risked a quick peek, but couldn’t really enjoy it as she was attending to
the road. She felt chagrined that she missed the beautiful view, but also
satisfied that she had done the right thing by bowing to necessity.
In the following Tuesday Darsanamala class she told her
tale; at the moment I can’t remember exactly why. Then on her way home she took
a different route, over the Interstate Bridge. As she approached the highest
point, the traffic slowed and came to a halt. It was a fairly rare opening of
the drawbridge. (In my nearly forty years in Portland, I’ve been stopped by it
only once.) The longer class and the drive had put it about an hour later than
Sunday, and so as she looked to her right there was the moon hovering over the
water, right in the right spot. This time there was no danger. She rolled her
window down and drank in the view at her leisure, while the world came to a
stop around her.
I have noticed dozens if not hundreds of “coincidences”
this surrounding the Gurukula classes, and undoubtedly have missed many times
that amount. This is because if we expect them they don’t happen. Anita would
never in a million years have expected to be allowed to stop on the bridge as
though she were at a sequestered viewpoint to admire the beauty of the scenery.
And so it happened. It is not for nothing the Gita counsels us to discard our
expectations. We cannot possibly say why these things happen, but they do. But
they must happen in perfect innocence, and our desires and expectations
inevitably corrupt and suppress their flowering.
Yes, many invisible good things come of the wisdom sacrifice
of studying scriptures in depth. Yet it is important to not seek them out on
purpose. The correct attitude is to accept what comes, possibly with the
simplistic belief that the Absolute knows best. Instead of trying to manipulate
reality, we turn to appreciating how wonderful it already is, and how much
comes to us unbidden. Often what is proffered us is not welcome at all, but it
may nonetheless be exactly what we need for our spiritual progress. A brief
paragraph in the Portland Gurukula Diary, part II of Love and Blessings, succinctly illustrates the paradox:
went out later with Peter to buy some stationery materials. When he was about
to park his car, he said that luck was always with him when he’s with me. The
Tao is very reticent to be pulled into stereotyped regularity, so I thought
that this time it might prove otherwise. He easily found a place to park, but
when we returned we found a “No Parking” sign we hadn’t noticed and a ticket.
That confirmed my fear of the Tao’s unpredictability.
This simple incident has
stayed with me all these years as a gentle reminder to not expect predictable
reverberations from any particular input, no matter how “divine.” The waves set
in motion by our actions are exceedingly complex as they intersect with all the
other disturbances in the pond. And yet those waves will undoubtedly do
wonderful things, most likely out of sight and out of mind, but that is just as
it should be. All vibrations and modes disappear into the Absolute and emerge
from it as well. That is the meditation we are called upon to make a continuous
part of our lives. Aum.
Ananda alone is meditated,
not misery by anyone at any time. That meditation which is blissful is bhakti,
it is instructed. (VIII, 3)
This morning I awoke with a dream of being in a house like
Hall St., crowded with pensive and happy people milling around just as they do
in dreams. I was sitting on the floor with Nitya. He was simply beaming at all
of us. I told him, “You read everything, but you don’t read the best books.” He
looked at me, as did several other people, puzzled. He was a voracious peruser
of whatever best books he could lay his hands on. “That’s right…. You never
read your own books. They are substantially better than any others!” Everyone
While it’s true that Nitya seldom revisited his books after
he finished with them, being always busy with so many new projects, this
must’ve been an echo of my own continuing admiration, exacerbated by the excitement
of a visitor to the class, Eugene, who is inhaling those books at an
astonishing rate. It is heartwarming to see someone who has caught the spirit
of Nitya’s philosophy so beautifully, and for whom it so obviously resonates.
We can only hope the Gurukula has enough material to enchant such a bright
youngster for a significant period before he roars ahead to his destiny. His
presence made the class even more special than usual.
So, on to the verse. This is a restatement of an important
insight of Narayana Guru’s, famously found in Atmo 49:
All beings are making effort in every way,
all the time, for the happiness of the Self;
in the world, this is the one faith;
on this, without becoming subjected to sin, be
This should be a familiar
notion for Gurukula students, with very practical implications. If we realize
that the person who is throwing a tantrum in our direction is actually seeking
happiness, albeit in a veiled or ineffective way, we can accept it more easily
and at the same time not be hurt by it. I think we all know that when people
have different beliefs that we do, it isn’t that they are evil or ignorant, but
only that they are seeking happiness or satisfaction from their own
perspective. This doesn’t mean that faulty beliefs leading to damaging outcomes
aren’t worthy of improvement, but it does change a black vs. white oppositional
mentality into a mutual quest for understanding. Thus it is a core outlook of
Narayana Guru’s philosophy, and lodged here as well as in the core of the book
of cores, Atmopadesa Satakam, the hundred verses of Self-instruction.
Nitya’s comments on this verse are dense and trenchant, and
were the focus of the evening’s discussion. Meditation (dhyana) on the bliss of the Absolute is bhakti. This state
likened to a still pond, referred to also by Nitya’s new term ‘be-ness’.
Thoughts—irrespective of their truth or falsehood, or positivity or
negativity—arise and create ripples on the surface. The bliss we are
consciously or unconsciously seeking is the quiet stillness of the unrippled
pond. Stillness allows us to merge into the infinitude of the Absolute;
movement produces individuality. Paradoxically, we strive mightily to become
calm by trying out new ripples, with varying degrees of success. It’s like
Nataraja Guru’s image of a man standing in the center of a roomful of
pandemonium and shouting for silence. Most of the time it heightens
individuality and further obscures the unitive peacefulness.
There are several methods to return to the stillness of the
core. One is to try to stop making ripples and wait a long time for the ones
already present to subside. This is the way of the recluse, the monk or nun,
who withdraw from the world and suppress as much activity as possible.
According to the Gita, you have to wait an infinitely long time for the waves
to subside. Still, there is much benefit from being even partially successful.
It is a matter of taste whether you are nihilistic enough to want to do away
with your individuality entirely, or prefer to enjoy it to the fullest.
Narayana Guru follows the Gita in recommending an active
yoga, which intelligently posits equal and opposite waves to the ones already
careening around your pond. The interference produced can bring a state of
equilibrium that is dynamic in the sense that it incorporates the individual
waves that already exist. There is no need to suppress yourself, indeed this is
considered impossible anyway. What we can and probably should suppress are the
giant boulders of misunderstanding we keep tossing into the pond, sending huge
waves that slosh over our personal shores to drench our neighbors whether they
like it or not.
And we are asked not to forget that those personal
boundaries are what cause our waves to rebound and interfere with each other in
the first place, sometimes negating and sometimes reinforcing each other in a
spectacular eruption of spume and fury. If the sides of our pond are rigid and
made of cement, the waves rebound undiminished. A gentle beach absorbs much of
the energy. But when we dare to expand the boundaries, there is little to
reflect the chaos back at us. The waves roll into the distance and dissipate
Ultimately, we can calm our waters somewhat through various
techniques, but the true solution is to embrace the universal perspective. The
larger we become, the smaller the disturbances are relative to the whole. As
Anne put it, when we realize we have so little control over anything, we
relinquish trying to manipulate things and open ourselves to the graciousness
of the Absolute. Experience and accompanying insight allow us to trust the
benignity of the universe more and more as we realize we are only a small part
of a whole system that remains in balance at all times, chaos or no. Again,
this is where we are going with this study.
Summing up I’ll leave to Nitya’s able explication:
the individuated Self… is cut out into a separate entity with specific
dimensions and unique character, the undisturbed state of consciousness that
goes into the making of such an individual becomes substituted for by a series
of peripheral mentations intrinsically connected with human physiology and its
conditioned reflexes. That being the common lot of people, hardly anyone is in
a state of meditation. Atma, Brahma
and ananda fall into the vertical
line of bhakti only when the manifested phenomena, conditioned consciousness,
and the dual state of pain/pleasure affectivity are all reduced to the nondual
reality of ‘be-ness’. Such a reduction is not a mere intellectual exercise. In
the present case, bhakti means embracing the universal; and hence the lover of
the Absolute, who is seeking union through a state of nondual bliss, has to
enter into a wholesale commitment to effect harmony wherever there is the
likelihood of a disturbing element raising its head to tamper with the
harmonious functioning of the world order. This is the concept of the merciful
Buddha or of the savior that is seen in Jesus Christ. (375)
We well know from our previous studies that this means we
are to grapple with our own demons and defang them, and also to offer ourselves
as consolers and teachers to our friends and associates. Actual activities are
powerfully harmonizing, while detached mentation can drive us mad. We can
rediscover the joy of simple acts at any time: caring for others, tending our
plants, living artistically even in mundane activities, exercising our bodies.
Eugene is a voice teacher and singer, and he readily agreed that the act of
singing propels you right into the heart of the unitive state. Many people
think “I can’t dance,” or “I’m not going to sing!” but if they just let go and
do it they can become enveloped in a joy that transcends mental gymnastics. The Bible refers to “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding….” (Phil. 4.7),
which is the same
thing. That peace can be found right in the midst of every activity, through
the loving bliss of bhakti.
Atma alone is
Brahma. The knower of the Self contemplates the atma, not any other. This thus
meditating the Self is named as bhakti. (VIII, 4)
Deb started us off by insisting that
this was it! This verse said it all, so how could there be anyplace else to go?
Even though we have 26 verses still lying in wait for us, she is in a sense
correct. Certainly Bhakti Darsana is quite homogeneous, the first six verses
being permutations of each other, and the last four underlining the stated
verity that ananda, Brahma and Atma are three names for the same thing and are
related to by the act of bhakti. Regardless of what you call That, it is One.
Bhakti is conjunction with it.
his translation of this verse, we
can note that Nitya used meditating the Self, whereas we usually say meditating
on the Self. This is
another attempt like be-ness to bring unity to language. Meditating on something implies the meditator and the
object of meditation are two separate entities. Simply meditating something
means it is apprehended, and thus perhaps even created, by meditation alone.
There is no separate existence anywhere.
is unitive. Anusandhana,
dhyana and bhajati
have been translated as meditation so far
in this Darsana. The three terms are progressively unitive. By way of review, anusandhanam means “investigation, inquiry, searching
into, close inspection, setting in order, arranging, planning; aiming at;”
(MW). Dhyana is the usual term for meditation. Bhajati has many implications,
the one most germane is probably “partake of, enjoy.” Nitya’s definition far
exceeds the dikker’s:
unconditional knowledge that transcends relativistic notions can be considered
true Self-knowledge…. It is thoroughly in resonance with the Absolute, and it
is that resonance that is described here as bhajanam, contemplation. The word
bhajanam has in it a very subtle suggestion that the state described here is
dynamic and not static, open and not closed. Its range is infinite and not
finite. No experience of a relativistic order can fully reveal the true purport
of bhajanam in its immensely rich mystical resplendence. However, we can get a
faint idea by comparing it to the striking of a matchstick in an absolutely
dark place. (377)
Nitya’s primary analogy in the commentary is that the
individual self is like a bucket of water scooped out of the ocean. Although
the water in both places is identical, once it is separated the water in the
pail can no longer be considered ocean. The class added that since everything
is ocean, it is only through the appearance of maya that there is any
separation. The pail is also made of water, and there is nowhere else to scoop
it away to. Yet miraculously, even though all is ocean, there is the appearance
of being one separate thing or another.
This directed us once again to the primary thrust of the
Bhakti Darsana: since our very essence is Brahma-Atma-ananda (or sat-chit-ananda)
there is nothing to be constructed or accomplished, other than removing the
ignorance by which our true nature is veiled. Bill reminded us of the opening
line of the introduction: “Love, devotion, compassion, empathy, and consequent
rapture of mind come spontaneously rather than as the result of mechanically
practiced discipline.” We don’t have to furiously scrape away the darkness—all
we have to do is strike a match. Or better, simply look to the light, as there
is no match and no surface on which to strike it. With the advent of light,
which is what we are made of, darkness is automatically dispelled.
Eugene noted how we are trained to “do” things in order
“fix” them. He was raised to subsume himself in doing good for others, and
being a teacher naturally follows that channel. The other night, while doing
dishes, he had an epiphany of how that was limiting his relationship with his
mentor. She is almost like a fairy godmother in his life, and yet instead of a
direct connection all these urges to do something or to prove himself to her
kept getting in the way. The realization caused him to weep secret tears into
Eugene’s revelation ignited many reminiscences of how we are
all trained to take a monkey wrench, so to speak, to the darkness surrounding
us. We have so very little training in looking to the light. And the result is
to miss out on so much beauty, both given and received. We spend years and
years nursing our wounds in private, feeling sorry for ourselves, which is our
convoluted way of preserving those invisible buckets full of ocean water we
call our self. It is paradoxical, true, that we have to stop doing good to
allow Good to happen, but that’s how it works. As we have noted often before,
doing good creates the flip side of being disappointed when good doesn’t seem
to occur as a result. We are trying now to sit in between giving and receiving,
hoping and despairing, and all other dualities, to reacquaint ourselves with
the ocean of light and love in which we float.
It can’t hurt to revisit one of our favorite poems at this
RITUAL TO READ TO EACH OTHER
don’t know the kind of person I am
don’t know the kind of person you are
pattern that others made may prevail in the world
following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
that lets the fragile sequence break
with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
out to play through the broken dike.
elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
what occurs but not recognize the fact.
appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
important region in all who talk:
we could fool each other, we should consider--
parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
is important that awake people be awake,
breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
we give--yes or no, or maybe--
be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
Happily, Anita had a good practical example to share with us
of how to do things unitively. Yesterday I tucked it into my Gita commentary.
Since Chapter XVIII is a long way from being ready to put on the website, I’ll
share the whole verse with you now, of which her experience is the concluding
example. Of course, I’m hoping to have many more good examples pour in from all
the other Darsanamala students, so I can add them for the edification of the
billions of readers the commentary will someday have:
Devoted each to his
own occupation, man reaches perfection (in practical yoga); how, devoted to his
own occupation he attains such perfection—that do hear.
There is perfection
at every stage of life. Knowing this fact is helpful to free us from our
manifold feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, and to learn to embrace all
beings as intrinsically equally divine. Since everything has a flip side, this
attitude can also breed complacency and acceptance of injustice. To guard
against this it’s good to make plans, hope for the future, solve problems, work
for a better world, and all that. The unitive way to do this is to always
appreciate the perfection of the situation and the people in it, even while
trying to “improve” things and do your best. Improving on perfection is a bit
of a paradox, but a relatively easy one to embrace. Improvement is an
especially perfect thing to do.
Being devoted to
your occupation, you are the one most likely to grasp the nuances and
intricacies, and to know how to improve and streamline the systems involved. It
is an ancient curse that politicians, dilettante managers and busybodies want
to butt in and direct the experts, instead of humbly asking for their input.
Krishna clearly supports the on-sight workers here.
Through the ages
this verse has been interpreted to reinforce stasis in the lives of people, but
that is a projection based on the master-slave dichotomy. The Gita always
supports dynamism by way of creative thought and action. Actually, this and the
following verse hone in on one of the Gita’s key teachings: that the divine is
not found in some recondite corner of the universe, but everywhere. Right here
in fact. Therefore we work on ourselves not by seeking any occult
accomplishment but by dealing with everyday issues that land right in our lap.
The more we come alive to the world around us, the more we can participate in
the total situation with expertise.
A friend of mine, a
typical office worker, has recently learned to put this teaching into practice.
Where previously she jealously guarded her turf on programs she had developed
over the years, she has stepped back to take a good hard but neutral look at
what she was guarding. As soon as she did this she realized that it wasn’t
nearly as important to keep to herself as she had thought. It suddenly became
easy to open up and share her expertise with others, who responded positively
in kind. The step in the right direction was thus a blessing to herself even
more than her coworkers, because she could drop some of her defenses. Defending
turf takes a lot of energy, which has much better outlets awaiting its
deployment. Yoga here means not defending and at the same time not letting others
push you off the map, in other words holding firm if they want to take over the
turf you have stopped defending. (Sounds just like the battle of Kurukshetra,
doesn’t it?) She has to learn a delicate balancing act between these twin
forces. Such refined spiritual practice is hard to find in a meditation
retreat—it requires engagement with other people on a transactional basis. So
even more important for my friend was the reinforcement of the wisdom of
working on yourself where you are. Spiritual growth isn’t something that takes
place sequestered in the meditation closet, it happens right where you live and
work. When you see your job as an opportunity to put into practice spiritual
precepts, it can be transformed from an arena of dread into an exciting theater
for performance art.
‘Doing’ as an end in itself can lead to all sorts of
attachments to results, and consequent defensiveness over petty issues. Being
open takes plenty of effort and even bravery, but it leads to the oceanic insights
of bhakti, including broad generosity. We can and possibly should still do good
things, but they don’t happen as conditioned reflexes or forced behaviors. We
don’t perform them as trained seals. They are free acts of free souls, and so
are infinitely more valuable and meaningful than anything intentionally
designed. Such unconstrained actions set forth ripples and waves that give
tacit permission for others to do the same. They dispel darkness for everyone
in the vicinity. Thus, it is truly by freeing yourself that you do the most for
others, since our nature is the very happiness that all are seeking.
This came from Jean:
I read your class notes
yesterday and was immediately reminded of
a thing I’d just read on MSN Explorer, something like “help yourself by helping
others.” The message was that people who help others feel happier themselves,
and it seems to work better than therapy or medication. There was a
study of MS-patients getting monthly phone support calls from a group
of others. Many of the patients felt a little better after getting these
calls. But the ones who felt REALLY better were the ones making the calls! Just
a little thought in the “do good” debate.
There is no argument over
whether we should act selfishly or globally. The distinction the Guru is
making, which probably wasn’t made very clear by me in the first notes, is
between acting out of compulsion versus acting spontaneously. If we do good
because we heard on TV it was a healthy thing, we’re still following a code of
mental abstractions. Much of our action is crafted mentally and then performed
mechanically. As far as this goes, it can be artful or clumsy, or even
downright disastrous. But what the Gurus are trying to show us is another way
to live, one that can make us feel REALLY REALLY REALLY better. If you are a
compassionate soul, you act compassionately not because you should or it’s a
good idea, but because it is the perfect expression of who you are. And life
continually provides opportunities for such expression; they seldom or never
have to be sought out.
We shouldn’t ignore the weaknesses in current “scientific”
studies, either. There is no absolute measuring rod involved. Who felt better
was determined by people’s own answers on a sheet of paper to multiple choice
questions that received a numerical grade that was then statistically
tabulated. The patients surely enjoyed receiving phone calls, but still were
sick, so they rated the experience fairly cautiously. The callers rated
themselves higher, precisely because they were “doing good” and had been
trained to think of this as an exemplary act. There’s a whiff of ego in it. But
of course no one’s going to think that they touched someone else’s life and
that’s a bad thing. So the veneer of science cloaks a tabulation of opinions.
No wonder such studies usually ratify the prejudices of the testers!
If you aren’t on a program of spiritual development, acting
based on learned behavior is perfectly adequate. It’s only when you want to get
in touch with your dharma and allow it to shine forth brightly that this
becomes less than adequate.
The key here is why Eugene cried: he recognized the
limitations of his love that were embodied in static behavior patterns. He—just
like all of us studying Darsanamala—needs to dig down below the surface and
reawaken the great love that is slumbering there. Part of the access comes from
being a little fierce with one’s habitual responses, with not being satisfied
with obedience to learned patterns. As this present Darsana is showing us, all we
need to let the love shine forth is to scrape off the dead crust of half-baked
cerebral living. The tears come when we glimpse the goal and have yet a little
ways to go to bring it to fruition.
I get a bit lost in this
I have been reading the
(which is a source for the currently very popular “Secret”
and one of their tenets is that we should
let our feelings be our guide.
we should do things just because they feel
So is this what the Gurus are
trying to show us:
another way to live,
one that can make us feel REALLY REALLY
REALLY better ?
Yes, the Gurus are trying to show us how to live better, but
feeling REALLY REALLY REALLY better is only a byproduct, not the main point.
Besides, that was just my wordplay off what Jean wrote. I wondered if anyone
would call me on it, and now I know!
“Let our feelings be our guide” sounds a bit simplistic
me, but I haven’t read the Hicks’ stuff myself. And isn’t that the movie where
you get the BMW? Anyway, simplistic ideas work fine as long as they’re right,
and they always have a popular appeal. In the Sixties we used to say “If it
feels good, do it.” Charlie Manson demonstrated the fallacy of that notion
I couldn’t make up a formula of how to live if I
tried—actually, the harder I try, the farther any formula recedes. Formulaic
thinking is one of the stumbling blocks to a life of freedom, I’d say. Maybe
that’s just a lazy opinion. Formulas have an undeniable appeal too.
Feelings are important, but so are needs, reason, and
intuition. (That’s water, earth, fire and air, in order.) An intelligent person
blends these together into a delicious soup. Sometimes one dominates, and at
other times others do. Mostly that’s okay.
Feelings alone are too easily warped by selfish desires. If
Mother Teresa had just followed her feelings, she would’ve quit tending the
sick early on. She persisted over profound doubts out of sheer belief and a
memory of a single encounter with Jesus. Her letters reveal that she was out of
touch with “God” for very long stretches, and in those she was sustained by her
faith- (and doubt-) filled mind. I think that’s normal for most of us. We don’t
have a minute by minute contact with our divine interior, but we are guided by
occasional flashes of insight and the wise words of others that get past our
sense of doubt. Feelings are far too transient to be our sole source of input.
The Upanishadic rishis recommend reason in action, and in
this instance at least we’re trying to reasonably subtract false motivations.
When a person like Eugene contemplates with a spiritual intent, they begin to
see how their soul or self is laden with all kinds of drags. Most of them
relate to how we’re trained to act, consciously or unconsciously. Doing good
can make us feel good in an egotistical sense, because we’re proud of doing
what we’re “supposed” to do. Doing exactly the same thing because it’s how we
relate to the world is not forced, it’s free. And that makes all the
There’s a certain cachet about religious claims that come
either from God or some disembodied soul from the beyond. Wishful thinking
makes these have more appeal than simple sensible truths spoken by the folks
next door. (Perhaps this is additional proof that we are indeed descended from
monkeys? We love the window dressing almost more than the gist.) So people go
on arguing about what God wants them to do or what God says, even though they
are just imagining the whole business. We’d get along better if we treated the
person we are arguing with as God, and didn’t try to snow them.
Our thoughts, words and actions emerge from the Unknown to
startle and amaze and occasionally embarrass us. The more beautiful our image
of the Unknown, the happier some of us will be. Others prefer a dark and fierce
Unknown, and that is available too. Vedantins think of these emerging from a
seedbed of previous conditionings, which is neutral and karmically prepared. I
prefer the neutral stuff myself, as long as it has the slightly positive
impetus that we see played out all around us. It allows us to work on things,
and not just feel like effects of a distant Cause.
I hope this doesn’t make you feel more lost. It is easy to
get confused analyzing this business, but if you are doing what you
thoughtfully think is right, then don’t overanalyze. Go for it. We have ample
down-to-earth evidence that the universe will support your earnest endeavors.
Ananda, atma and Brahma—such
are the names of this alone, so it is said. In whom there is such certitude of
awareness, he as a contemplative is well known. (VIII, 5)
Deb started us off noting the progression of the three
Sanskrit terms in reverse order. Brahman is the Absolute, atman the Self or the
conscious totality, and ananda the experience of it. While all refer to the
same ultimate reality, there are increasing shades of personal comprehension
involved. Narayana Guru’s order becomes progressively more sublime, inviting us
to step outside our familiar parameters.
In keeping with the purport of the verse, Anita challenged
us to relate what we felt when hearing the words in the commentary, especially
peace, oneness, love and truth. Her point was well taken, that we hear the
words and nod our heads solemnly, just as others do with terms like God, Allah,
Buddha, and so on. We convince ourselves we have understanding because we know
the words, but we do not. In fact, such an attitude makes accessing the truth
behind the words even more speculative, more theoretical.
Narayana Guru is reminding us once again that these are
merely names. Convincing “certitude of awareness” is another matter entirely.
Knowers of the former are academics; knowers of the latter are true contemplatives.
The advice is plain enough: we must effect a transformation of words into
living awareness through the practice of contemplation, the experience of
Guru Nitya’s masterful commentary guides us through just
such a transformation, but only if we follow along in three dimensions, so to
speak. Here again we encounter the limitation of reading out from a printed
page. Anita is now practicing listening carefully to the reading, rather than
following along in the book, and she found that at least some of it came more
alive that way. We have to concentrate much more to listen than to read, and
bringing more of our faculties to bear on a subject brings it more to life.
This gives us a broad hint as to how to proceed.
Nitya reminds us of the chaotic side of creation, where
every part of it from microcosm to macrocosm and all forms of life and
consciousness are in constant motion and transformation. In the midst of this
is bound to be frustrated about not seeing any trace of the Absolute anywhere.
Even the idea of the Self is irreparably disfigured because of its substitution
with the individual’s physical body and the constant shouts and stutterings of
the ego. In spite of the ever-raging storm of such adversities there is a ray
of hope, because every now and then the senses discover a momentary joy in the
objective presentation of a sensation, a cognition, an imagination, or in a
constant and contiguous presentation of a certain certitude, which can come and
stay as a permanent plank under one’s foot. It is by firmly standing on this
plank of certitude, the ‘be-ness’ of life, that one makes a dent in the world
of names and forms, causes and effects, and actions and actors, to enter into
the ontologic existentiality which sustains every form and name and the causal
unity of actions revealed as the governing law of the universe. This law is
discovered and appreciated as the constant behind all the variables in the
changing worlds of the physical, the chemical, and the biological. (380)
The real mystery here is where does that plank of certitude
come from? While each of us experiences it differently, the core is the same,
and it corresponds to all those overused words mentioned above. Vedanta aims at
an intelligent assessment of everything we encounter, which will reveal an
inner unity amidst the multiplicity. This could easily be held to be the aim of
science and philosophy in general, when they are broadly directed and not
intentionally limited to the elaboration of minutia. But in all these cases
there is some hard work involved. The popular approaches offer to provide us
with a simple, readymade comprehension, and all we have to do is pay our money
and take our chances. No wonder they are popular! But they mainly offer a “new,
improved” set of names and words. This doesn’t satisfy the scientist or
contemplative who demands the proof—the certitude—of actual living experience.
The idea of the Absolute is the best that words can do to
focus the attention on the overarching unity of existence. ‘Universe’ is also a
good concept, meaning “to turn into one.” When we speak of contemplating the
Absolute or the universe, it is an active process of paring away extraneous
details and pairing up polar opposites. When done correctly, it produces a
plank of certitude on which we can stand or, more likely, cling to in the midst
of the raging flood.
Practically, we can take the occasions of love we have
experienced and try to generalize them to a larger context. But you have to
start with the love, with something you really feel and know to be meaningful
to you. Once upon a time Anita thought that marriage would provide this, but it
fell apart, revealing its innate limitation. She did truly feel it with her
children, but they grew up and moved away. Deb then recalled something Nitya
once told her. When he was staying with Ramana Maharshi, the Maharshi would
look on the crowd of many hundreds of very diverse people with the beaming
countenance of a mother caring for her children. Somehow he had managed to
imbibe that supreme experience that many mothers know intuitively, and then it
became an ever-present state of mind for him.
Those who have actually been mothers have a big head start
with this one. But again, everyone is unique. Where does your own plank come from?
And how stable is it?
Susan sent a full reaction to the recent notes:
I loved last week’s chapter.
So beautiful (despite the fact that they are just words). I have been thinking
so much about Mother Teresa (and was happy you mentioned her in your note to
Baird) and this verse helped me think about her struggle, especially the
paragraph you copied: “One is bound to be frustrated” etc.
When I heard about the writings of Mother Teresa and that
she had been so burdened with doubt, I felt very sad for her. Some of the
commentaries on the web say that it is this doubt that made her work so hard
for the poor and so it was a good thing. This doesn’t make sense to me. It
reminds me of one of the Tibetan monks I read about who went through his rituals
for 19 years before feeling any connection to God. He said he had to go through
all that. Of course I cannot know what these saintly people went through. I
know that the fetters of maya can be overwhelming. Of course I am still working
on this myself. But the little partings of the obscuring clouds, when “the
senses discover a momentary joy,” dispel doubt for me, even if only
momentarily. And little by little, these joys form a plank for me. I really
feel this is true. On this plank I can see the ever-raging storm from a
distance and more objectively and it is such a relief. I am not always in it.
Did Mother Teresa have a plank or was she in the storm? Is her doubt so far
beyond what I can imagine? My life is full of beauty and pleasantries. Her life
was spare and she was constantly dealing with misery. Maybe Bhakti is easier to
find in Portland Heights than the ghettos of India, though it is everywhere. I
guess this is what drove Siddhartha to leave his privileged home life. He
wanted to know truth. Comforts do make it harder to find truth perhaps. I can’t
imagine living a life like Mother Teresa or those monks in France but I always
envy them a little because I figure they have really had to deal with their
demons and that maybe they have found a place of great peace and clarity. But
still I see that Christian focus on the outer God and the following of rituals
and laws -- does this help one see God? When I first became Catholic and took
communion, I fully expected fireworks to go off. I thought I would feel some
incredible flow of God. And yet, nothing happened. The service was beautiful
and the music was nice but I didn’t feel God. As I told you before, when I was
going through that first year of classes and thinking so much about
Catholicism, I did feel very enamored of the idea of Jesus and it was like
falling in love. I would lie awake some nights in ecstasy. But there wasn’t the
connection in my mind and soul.
Well, I can’t really explain it. All I can say is that when
I started reading Love and Blessings and Atmo, things made so much more sense.
For the first time God was not invisible or distant. This was earth shattering
for me, just because it wasn’t earth shattering. Lightning didn’t strike but
there was peace that I hadn’t felt before. More than anything I guess I saw
that I might be able to find truth/God/answers/peace through this philosophy.
The whole journey made more sense. Not just sense. Something deeper. Hard to
But I guess Mother Teresa was really working hard to connect
to God. She had felt it once and she wanted to feel it again. What is that
about? Maybe it’s so incredible and who am I to say that it wasn’t worth
working for decades and being miserable? I guess I could compare this to my own
journey in that I would feel very disappointed not to be able to let go much
more than I am able to do now. This is work that will take years, I expect. But
I need to work at it more than I have been.
I am ananda, I am Brahma, I am atma; in such forms, for whom
there is always identification, as a contemplative he is well known. (VIII, 6)
Bhakti occurs when the contemplative is fully identified
with one of the aspects of the Absolute, such as the three enunciated here. If
the identification is described in words, there is inevitably a degree of
interpretation involved. Narayana Guru assures us we should gladly accept the
other person’s interpretation also, and not insist that ours is the only
“right” one. If there is valid identification at some point, the heart opens in
generosity to other interpretations; if there is only imagined or anticipated
identification, it is less easy to admit the other person’s perspective. There
is a tendency to become inflexible, in hopes that a rigid adherence to
established guidelines will accomplish the imagined result.
While it may sound mysterious and far off in both time and
space, identification with the Absolute is the simplest, most ordinary state,
the one from which we have sprung and in which we swim all day long. It is
nothing more or less than reality shorn of its interpretative aspect. Brenda
provided us with an apt quote from Henri Bergson, from Laughter:
An Essay on
the Meaning of the Comic:
then, we imagine a mind always thinking of what it has just done and never of
what it is doing, like a song which lags behind its accompaniment. Let us try
to picture to ourselves a certain inborn lack of elasticity of both senses and
intelligence, which brings it to pass that we continue to see what is no longer
visible, to hear what is no longer audible, to say what is no longer to the
point: in short, to adapt ourselves to a past and therefore imaginary
situation, when we ought to be shaping our conduct in accordance with the
reality which is present.
Nitya’s beautiful commentary begins “The impenetrability
matter and the evanescence of an idea such as ‘God is Love’ are conjectures of
mind.” In other words, both the materialist’s standpoint and the spiritualist’s
standpoint are based on mental projections aimed at interpreting the same
underlying reality. Life is a continuing series of identifications and
interpretations concocted as each of us wrestles with the flow of the stream of
consciousness. But how seldom do we relax our guard and simply delight in the flow
itself? Nitya concludes by saying “If only [our consciousness] could leave the
surface for a split second and dive deep to become enlightened of the ‘inside’
story, it would become at once free of the multitudinous world and would see in
wonder, listen in wonder, and later speak in wonder of the one Absolute all
this is. Although such a state of the highest wonder has no need for
articulation and has no words for expression, in such a state it is as if one
declares one’s truth as aham brahma asmi, ‘I am the Absolute.’”
In a variation on a tried and true metaphor, Anne likes to
imagine standing in a river as the water sweeps past her. There is no
possibility of holding back the flow, so she can watch in wonder as events approach,
unfold, and pass along downstream. Most of what occurs is very entrancing, but
there are occasional frightening moments, as if a log or dangerous fish were
coming around the bend and about to crash into you. Well, of course you don’t
just stand there, you get out of the way. And sometimes they claim their pound
of flesh. Sadly, those who have been hurt or who have been taught to be afraid
stand in the river with all their attention trained on detecting the next
disaster as far ahead as possible. They ignore the wonderful, limpid stream
that tickles their ankles because it is merely a distraction from being on
guard. And if they wait long enough, some dangerous thing will sooner or later
come along, as if to confirm their suspicions. If it misses them they focus on
how awful it might have been if it hit them. And if it does collide, their
expectations are proved right. Unfortunately, not only do they miss the many
enjoyable parts that way, they are in a sense frozen in anticipation of the
next disaster. Their imagination supplants their awareness. By staying
cognizant of the flow at all times, one is much better able to take the
necessary steps to avoid problems or cope with those that actually occur. This
unquestionably includes making substantial efforts to detoxify and neutralize past
traumas, which we all harbor to one degree or another.
Anita sagely reminded us that even in some cases where we
are strongly motivated to intervene, the best option may well be to let go of
our need to be in control. With loved ones we want so much to fix things and
make them okay, but our very intervention may actually be part of the problem.
Knowing when to participate and when to hold back is yet another razor's edge
to walk, an art form to be expressed, with an instant feedback mechanism usually
In the long, magnificent unfolding of our life, we have all
been trained to have little faith in the inherent wonder of the process, but to
imagine we are wholly responsible for causing it to happen. The conflict
between our uncomfortable realization that we have no clue how to accomplish
anything beyond trivialities and the empowerment of the ego to be the final
arbiter of our destiny, produces a permanent state of angst, of low grade worry
and anxiety. By redirecting our vision to appreciate the magnificence of life
in all its variegations, embracing the negative along with the positive, we can
shed the misery of fearful anticipation in large measure. It is not so hard to
accept our limitations, when we are aware that they are vastly more than
outweighed by the unlimited Absolute. We are riding on “inexhaustible
formations and elaborations,” unfolding the harmony of lives of unbelievable
complexity, permitted to tinker with superficial factors like what to have for
dinner, where to work or who to marry. Of course we struggle with how much
effect we can and should have on the river as it flows past our feet. Getting
it just right is an art form indeed. But the vast majority of everything is
cared for and guided by the loving yet subtle hand of nature. Being aware of
this brings a profound sense of gratitude to balance the ups and downs of our
daily life. We don’t have to build the building, we are only empowered to paint
the façade. We don’t have to create the river, only to refresh ourselves in its
I'm really glad you provided
some explanation of Nitya's opening sentence as I was not clear at all about
what it meant. I had to look up "evanescence" as it's a word I don't
come across frequently. As usual, looking up a word in the dikker always leads
me into more pondering...why would a "an idea such as 'God is Love'"
dissipate or disappear (definition of evanescence)?
What is a "conjecture of
mind". The dikker says conjecture is inference based on incomplete or
inconclusive evidence. So, 'God is love' is based on incomplete or inconclusive
evidence? Maybe 'love' is the problematic word here.
Anne's vision of standing in
the river and also Brenda's of being a river were both helpful to me last
night. And I do relate to what you said about not being so concerned about
watching for the next log or whatever that it takes me away from enjoying the
lovely refreshing coolness and flow of the water. Detoxifying past stuff is
something we all appear to be involved with.
As to conjectures about God
is Love, God is definitely the bigger conjecture. Most of us have felt love in
several forms, but what do we know of God? We rely solely on hearsay and
speculation. Our utter conviction about the solidity of God resembles more than
a little the materialist's conviction about the substantiality of matter. When
examined closely, matter turns out to be almost entirely empty space. Even the
tiny bits of "actual" particles in all that space consist of mostly
empty space too. Similarly, when we examine our beliefs in God they turn out to
be mainly unwarranted assumptions, having more holes than an atom, you might
say. What do we truly know of God? All we can point to is the perfection of
"all this." God is merely a presumption to account for the
It's just like Susan's story last night of her friend who
taught her little boy a wonderful lesson when he was 4 or 5. First she pointed
to his foot and asked, "Is this Brucie's foot?" "Yes," said
Bruce. "But is this Brucie?" she asked. "No," said Bruce.
Then she moved up to his knee. "Is this Brucie's knee?"
"Yes." "Is it Brucie?" "No." And so on all over
the place. She was trying to give him an idea of his soul, or as we would say
atman. His body was perceptible, but his sense of self was not. Still it had an
irrefutability that even a child could easily vouch for. The class couldn't
help wishing someone had done the same for us when we were little. Mostly we
were rigidly instructed to identify with our bodies. For instance, it never
worked to say "I didn't take the cookies—my body did!"
When we need a reassuring image to hold onto in the flux of
the river we float in, we habitually cling to the flotsam and jetsam of
half-baked notions with famous names. I’m speaking of God, Allah, Buddha,
Krishna and all the rest. It would be better to think back to when we were
learning to float in the pool as a six-year-old. You had to grok how to lie
back and relax, in a chilly medium that seemed perfectly unsupportive. You put
your arm down and it went right through! Freak out! The trick was to overcome
those feelings of panic, and trust that what they told you was true: you would
float, just as generations of kids before you had floated. Just lie back and
let go. The calmer you are, the better you float. Once you get the hang of it,
it's quite a lot of fun. Something that truly holds you up is not evanescent.
The evidence for it is therefore conclusive.
Baird sent along a poetic
version of my stutterings about floating. Hurray for the great writers, and for
the friends who share them with us!
Your discussion reminded me
"The Avowal" by
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
The wife does not merely
worship the husband, nor the husband, the wife. By all, their ananda alone is
worshipped, which resides in the sense interests. (VIII, 7)
Narayana Guru makes reference to the famous saying of the
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (II.4.5) that begins with the Guru Yajnavalkya
instructing his wife and disciple Maitreyi “Verily the husband is dear (to the
wife) not for the sake of the husband, my dear, but it is for the sake of the
Self that the husband is dear. Verily the wife is dear (to the husband) not for
the sake of the wife, my dear, but it is for the sake of the Self that the
husband is dear.” He goes on repeating the same mantra, substituting children
for the parents, wealth, intellect, activity, worlds, gods, beings, and
finally, all. He concludes with “The Self (atman), my dear Maitreyi, should
verily be realized: should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. Atman
is that which is heard, reflected on and meditated upon.” This is the essence
of an important realization of Vedanta. We associate our feelings of love or
veneration with objects surrounding us, but they are merely exterior
reflections of the love and veneration and other qualities of the Self of which
we are constituted.
The second half of
Darsanamala is a progressive restoration of our innate “be-ness” in the Self as
the guiding light of our life, which requires the simultaneous retraction of
our accustomed projections onto outer objects such as those listed by
The Bhakti Darsana
has already equated brahman, ananda and atman; the Absolute, joy and the Self.
Here the reference is to ananda as accessed via the sensory side of life. We
are in territory almost unique to Narayana Guru and a few of the Upanishadic
rishis. While the common notion is that all these sources of wonder are
elsewhere, detached, beyond, Narayana Guru asserts that they are right here in
the midst of everything we see and do. He agrees though that they are not
exactly “in” the objects worshipped, but rather that the experience of objects
touches us in our core of ananda. The more we enjoy blissful experiences with a
proper understanding, the more familiar we will become with the abiding state
of eternal happiness that is our very nature, and that is in no way dependent
on external events.
Adam started us off
by describing the painting often called The Jewish Bride, by Rembrandt, which he
said gave him a vivid experience of what this verse meant to him. The work
shows a loving couple, but instead of gazing longingly into each other’s eyes,
they both have faraway expressions of transcendental peace and wisdom. Their
faint smiles could be studies for Krishna’s “semblance of smiling” in Chapter
II of the Gita, which assures Arjuna that his problems are by no means
insoluble. It is an ineffable example of art that calls us to something beyond
the visible, that comes as close as possible to manifesting the unmanifest. We
can plainly see love that transcends the situation that occasions it.
Moni gave us another
excellent example, and one right out of the Upanishad. One of her coworkers
brought an infant down to show her friends at the workplace. He is basically a
sleeping lump wrapped in a blanket, but everyone oohed and ahhed over him and
was so happy. Their ananda was activated, or better put, they allowed their
ananda to be activated. Our ananda is always there, but we inhibit it through
our guarded behavior. Since the child wasn’t their own, no one felt the least
worry or concern about anything. And of course a helpless baby is no threat
whatsoever to cause harm to others. Wouldn’t it be a different world if we
treated everyone we met as we treat an innocent child? If instead of freezing
up in fear we sympathized directly with their inner ananda and could resonate
with their beauty? Where there is no threat, it is easy to access our ananda.
Unfortunately, as Nitya reminds us in the commentary, much more often the
‘other’ represents a potential threat for which we plan and maintain elaborate
are the abiding example of misplaced projection , so it is no wonder they are
cited here. It is so Obvious that the other person is the cause of the love we
feel. When they are present we are ecstatic, and when they ignore us or are
elsewhere we are miserable. If they permanently leave us, we may be
inconsolable for a very long time. The very thought that they might steals the
joy we would otherwise be experiencing. So we have to adopt all sorts of
complicated strategies to preserve what we imagine to be the source of our joy.
Complaining about our spouse, for instance, is a convoluted way of reaching out
for happiness. We should keep in mind the flip side of this Upanishadic wisdom.
The Other is not the source of our joy, but neither is it the source of our
anguish. Both are experienced within and projected without. As long as we blame
the other for our woes as well as our happiness, we will continue to be
“tempest-tossed.” Our study is intended to retract us from our doomed fixation
on the surging waves to the unshakable happiness of the depths.
In his comments
Nitya uses the Buddhist doctrine of mindlessness to stand for what we more
commonly call affiliation with the Absolute. Where there is no mind, there is
no problem. Mind arises to cope with threats and to promote experiences of joy
and satisfaction. When we are mindless we don’t have to work for either pain or
pleasure, to avoid what we dislike and move toward what we do like. We are
already there. Among many other things, this carries a secret of how to make
interpersonal relationships stand the test of time. We have to stop clinging to
the projections and hold instead to the ground we have in common.
Next Nitya treats us
to one of his most valuable sentences, revealing the gist of Narayana Guru’s
intent in this verse:
pain and pleasure are both opposed to mindlessness, pleasure is benignly in agreement
with the dissipation of awareness into mindlessness, whereas pain, both
physical and mental, has the quality of constricting the frontiers of awareness
to the painful actualization of the ontological severity of the here and now of
transaction, leading to an acute problem of one’s ego being riveted to his
physical and social self.
Anita reminded us
that pleasure rivets us as firmly as pain, as long as we become fixated on
specific sources of it. But the idea here is that we can also generalize and abstract
our experience. We don’t have to seek out babies to coo over. Whatever
experience brings us joy is like a stream leading us to the ocean. In the
ocean, joy is unbounded. From this perspective it is even silly to seek out the
same stream repeatedly, just so we can have the familiar experience of flowing
down into the ocean once again. Certainly, each unpolluted stream is infinitely
perfect and delightful. But here the Bhakti Darsana begs us to revel in the
oceanic bliss, and see how all streams empty into it. As teachers we may
someday lead others down a familiar stream to access the ocean, but for now we
are exploring the ocean itself.
While the concepts of this verse are found all over the
place in the Gurukula books, Nitya’s commentary on verse 13 in That Alone is an
especially good exposition. I’ll reprint a few paragraphs here for those who
wish to peruse them, while recommending the entire chapter if you have time.
for example, breakfast. The taste of it, the way in which it is lovingly
served, along with your appetite, makes it very fascinating. Once you have
eaten it though, that value factor, the fascination, is gone. You are now
satiated. You can’t sit there all day eating your breakfast. So, however great
the value of an individual world is, it cannot remain long. You have to be
presented with another value: now office work, now school, now friends, now
something else. Sankara says the Lord of preservation, Vishnu, has a terrible
job to do. He has to keep supplying you with interest after interest. Yet he
somehow manages to preserve these millions of worlds, which are called anantam, endless. Endless are the worlds of interest.
spite of what the mind creates and the values presented by the various
qualities, time devours all these things. So the Supreme or the Infinite is
described again by Sankara as the great Lord who crushes all these worlds of
interest in his palm, turning them into ashes. He smears his body with them.
What we see as a great reality is only ashes smeared on the transcendental God.
It is not even skin deep.
enjoying self in you has many concepts of attraction, but when you turn to your
inner reality all these seem false. At that point you begin a return. It is a
pilgrimage from unreality to reality, from your sense orientation to the
realization of your most divine center. And when does this take place? Every
day, all the time, whenever our senses are drawn outward to get glued onto
objects, and the great surge of excitement comes. This is the time to hitch it
to the central core of our own divine being, rather than identifying the
excitement with an objective, external situation, as we invariably do. Each
time a pretty thing is attracting you, you become a beggar: haggard,
poverty-stricken, wanting, desiring, stretching your hand, crying for it. You
become miserable. Once you get it, you realize you have wasted a lot of time in
pursuing this trifling thing. Now that it’s yours, you just put it aside.
happens between people also. Before someone is possessed as a friend, as a
lover, as a wife or husband, many days and nights are spent thinking and
worrying about how to get together with them. So many intrigues and posturings
take place. But when they are finally yours, it can become a stalemate. Often
you feel trapped, unable to extend your sense of adventure to the next person.
Friends are not as easily stuck on a shelf as books.
at the very height of the excitement and joy of gaining something, you are
asked instead to relate it to the very core, to spiritualize that experience.
You are not asked to kill the joy, but only to look for its essence. You have
to realize that it is not produced by objects, but is an essential part of your
own divine nature. If the joy we see in a person, in a desirable thing, opens a
window for us to see the Lord, the Absolute, the Divine, which is our own
truest Self, then everything becomes a door for us to enter into our innermost
sanctum. This critical process is described in the first two lines of the verse:
“Gather your mind-modalities as flowers and make an offering of them to the
Supreme, who transcends all the necessities of the world.”
are not asked here to withdraw from everything, but to transcend everything.
This is accomplished by spiritualizing, by seeing everything as divine.
Thus the wise man sees
everywhere nothing but the joy of the Self—not even a little of anything else.
His bhakti indeed is the highest.
I have to confess I missed this class, being out of town.
The joy of the Self being universal notwithstanding, I wish it had been
otherwise. I’ll just sketch in a brief synopsis of the commentary to maintain
class notes continuity. If anyone who attends can add to it, they are most
Clearly, this verse is as easy to comprehend as anything in
the entire work. The more you examine your milieu intelligently, the more the
all-pervading joy of existence is revealed to you. That’s what makes the study
such a delight. It’s also why I shudder when people avow living in the Now as a
way to screen off reality. The Now must include everything or it is only
another form of mental defense system. A cloak for the spiritual ego. And the
recent article by Oliver Sacks about Clive Wearing, the musical prodigy who
contracted the worst case of amnesia known to science, reminds us how
absolutely essential memory is. There are many different types of memory—Clive
could still perform music at the highest level, for example—and the loss of
some are more devastating than others. But living without the one that
integrates the personality in time is a never-ending nightmare, a living death.
When every moment is new, it has no meaning whatsoever.
What living in the Now really means is that you are most
effective when you concentrate your attention, withdrawing it from skittering
about in its ordinary, disconnected fashion. One-pointed attention is the
hallmark of meditation, and it is a gratifying state, especially after the
feeling of disorientation and being lost that accompany chaotic mental states.
And what better to focus the attention on than the universal joy of the Self?
As you open up to the joy it responds in kind, opening up to you. The wise one
mentioned in this verse is most definitely living in the Now in the proper
sense, accepting everything and not discounting anything. His joy is indeed the
Okay. So in the commentary Nitya traces in yet another
subtle way the course of consciousness from its fluctuation between the
horizontal plus and minus, perception and conception, to the vertical negative
where we make sense of it. It is very important that percepts and concepts
match, but that part is well established now. Unavoidably, each of us has a
different value interpretation of the world. As these multiple visions at the
vertical negative are refined and made more universal, they rise up to the
turiya, the fourth, where they all blend together. Their petty differences, so
to speak, are annulled by the oceanic nature of their unity.
When a seeker achieves this oceanic unity, he or she becomes
a seer. Nitya says:
this truest of all contemplatives can lucidly shift his position from one angle
of vision to another, so that he can have an unprejudicial appreciation of
every individuated being’s value-orientation and concealed or expressed
motivation. As he sees clearly the triple manifestations of the illusory, the
transactional, and the transcendental, he excels in maintaining his position in
the neutral zero from where he can easily enter into the most adorable Absolute.
It is this efficiency that makes his contemplation the highest of all
Before arriving at this inspiring conclusion, Nitya
passes through an idea well worth highlighting. Cit, the subsistent, is the
golden link between sat and ananda, existence and value. It’s the part that
perceives and makes sense of it all, that which we loosely call consciousness.
The point made here is that existence and value or joy are eternal factors, but
the subsistent is our purview for “work on what has been spoiled,” (hexagram
18, ku, in the I Ching). Nitya
the most needed purification of this vast realm of consciousness is the mighty
challenge which every seeker of truth has to take upon himself. All the
disciplines enjoined in the wisdom texts of all religions, all the austerities
of mystics, and the self-discipline practiced by yogis are most useful to
convert this infinite realm from the ocean of misery to the ocean of knowledge.
For all of you who sometimes wonder just what we’re up to in
our Gurukula classes, now you know!
Actually, ku is one of the great hexagrams to check out,
whether or not you’ve thrown it. Wilhelm makes some interesting and relevant
comments, such as “Decay… has come about because the gentle indifference of the
lower trigram has come together with the rigid inertia of the upper, and the
result is stagnation. Since this implies guilt, the conditions embody a demand
for removal of the cause.” Guilt only means the decay has a human cause, as opposed
to being a consequence of fate. Later he adds, “Decisiveness and energy must
take the place of the inertia and indifference that have led to decay, in order
that the ending may be followed by a new beginning.” Sounds like the whole
world might have thrown this one! I particularly like the sixth line: “He does
not serve kings and princes, / Sets himself higher goals.”
Towards the Father of the
to one’s spiritual teacher,
towards the founders of
towards those who walk in the
towards those who put down
(and) to those who do good to
what sympathy there is, that
what here belonging to the
Supreme Self is the ultimate. (VIII, 9 & 10)
The culminating pair of verses in Bhakti Darsana call out to
be paced as poetry. They constitute a profound blessing in the form of a chant,
poured out from one of the great souls of the Age, the kind of super-genius
that Nitya refers to in his appropriately poetic commentary.
And what a wonderful commentary it is! I recommend you close
these notes, go get your copy of The Psychology of Darsanamala, and peruse it instead. If these class notes
occasionally strike me as decent and even somewhat useful, Nitya’s prophetic
style and sensitively nuanced brilliance leave me bowed before him in humble
admiration and amazement. He did this all day long, decade after decade,
seeming without effort, offering it freely to anyone who chose to be present.
And I should confess here now that my most worthy paragraphs, the ones I get a
rush from writing and nod to myself in satisfaction, turn out eventually to be
restatements of things I learned from him. They went deeply in and disappeared,
to resurface as what seem like original insights. But for most of them at
least, in my extensive readings I’ll sooner or later discover them already in
print in one of his books or stories. It isn’t raw plagiarism though. There is
both a continuity and a personal uniqueness adapted to present circumstances. I
am happy to be carrying on—however stumblingly and semiconsciously—a vestige of
the work of this scientifically minded poetic mystic.
Bill reprised one of the many-faceted sentences from the
last paragraph, wondering about its exact meaning: “Our habitual choice to walk
a path of truth, goodness, and beauty is always a movement or transition from
the previously acquired to what is to be passed on in the relay of tradition.”
Nitya refers to this as a hierarchy of bhakti or devotion. The class talked
about all the ways that we form a link in the continuity of the stream of life.
Tradition is not some static, monumental given truth that is handed, like a
musty tome, to unwilling recipients in the younger generation. It is a fluid
dance, alive and unfixed, though having a consistent shape or pattern that
gives meaning to the continuity. It is not arbitrary, though it is often
chaotic. We tend to believe we are passing on one thing, and are actually
communicating quite another. This is most obvious in parenting. We cajole and
argue and instruct all day long, but our kids observe and embody what we really
mean and thus who we really are before we ever open our mouths. The tradition
that is the true course of evolutionary unfoldment is substantially different
from what we wish and what we say and what we try to make happen. History is
The notion of a tradition of devotion also calls to mind
religious or scientific lineages. There the continuity is usually codified in a
scripture or textbook. We become part of the positive flow when we imbibe the
meaning of the static words and bring them to life in our being. Nitya also
mentions civil legal systems that are generally even more restrictive than the
religious. All these shape us, while simultaneously we carry them forward and
give them definition through the ways we express them. Despite the mismatch of
our wishful thinking, what we transmit is still somewhat dependent on what we
believe. Therefore we are very much active participants in the shaping of our
local universe. Even in rigid and inflexible surroundings we can have a
significant impact. It won't be what we expect, but it will have a mystical
parity to what we actually represent.
No one said it aloud, but the class itself is another way
that the wisdom of the past is revived and instilled in the hearts of its
participants. Some of us like to think that it is a precious and valuable
essence that is being preserved, but probably it looks as stupid as anything
else to outsiders. Maybe more stupid, or even dangerous—that’s how things work.
The better things are, the more they are resisted—and the more superficial, the
more folks flock to them. But a warm gathering of cheerful souls, minds bent
together in penetrating and releasing the conjunction with light that is bhakti,
has a tangible life of its own. By revisiting our inner selves in communion
with sympathetic friends, we hearten each other without ever getting syrupy
sweet or maudlin. It’s a beautiful feeling. We bring the fourth line of the
verse to life in the experience of bhakti with those who walk in the same path.
To some degree we can include the fifth and sixth lines as well.
The richness and true wealth of the sharing in the class
cannot be adequately reanimated here. We covered a lot of ground. I can offer
two more bits for the nonce. First, Moni gave us the best metaphor ever for how
tradition can keep us bound, in reference to the penultimate paragraph, where
the strictures and straitjackets of group endeavors are spelled out. Grown
elephants can easily uproot a tree, and they often do. But if you start with a
baby elephant, you can tie it to a very small tree and it will stay there. The
little bit of resistance the sapling affords is all that’s needed. As the
elephant grows bigger, if you keep tying him to the same kind of tree he will
be content to stay there. Finally (as a triumph of civilization) you can tie a
full-grown elephant to a small tree. Although he could easily tear it out of
the ground and go away, he won’t even try. That’s us, in a nutshell!
Our broadest discussion of the evening was about the
beneficence of the universe, and how much we are freely given by the forces
that surround us. And Eugene reminded us that they are forces, that devotion is dynamic and active, as is our
interaction with life. Sometimes we imagine that in spiritual life everything
stops, or at least gets very calm. Only momentarily, if ever. To be alive is to
change, to interact with everything in keeping with our interests and
inclinations. Nitya’s reminder is that the universe is reciprocal, and our safe
conduct is vouchsafed by the kindness that wells up in our hearts. The Golden
Rule is not just a nice idea, it’s the way things work. For good things to
happen to us, we have to be in motion. Keep in mind that in a dynamic universe,
sitting still may well be the most active behavior of all.
There was a call for examples. I related the tale of a poet
we met last year. He was hitchhiking around Europe one summer many years ago.
In Sweden he found himself in a remote spot with little traffic and a long wait
between cars. Finally he saw a Volkswagon bus (hippie vehicle nonpareil)
winding towards him. It stopped, and he hopped in. The driver was W.S. Merwin,
the poet’s poet.
Adam reprised the story of “accidentally” meeting the
theorist Dabrowski on a Warsaw bus, told earlier in the comments to Darsana V,
Melina gave us a perfect everyday example of how we are
cared for by the universe as a matter of course. She was readying an art show,
and only had one or two frames for the many works she had prepared. Frames are
expensive, and Melina doesn’t have a lot of cash hidden in her mattress, so to
speak. She thought she might have to display her work unframed. A few days
before the show she put a frame in her bike basket and went off to look for
something that might match it at the thrift store. Odds and ends intervened to
change her timing a couple of hours. Then, as she was pedaling along to the store,
a man who saw what she was carrying stopped his van and asked her if she wanted
a bunch of free frames. He delivered an armload straight over to her apartment.
Mostly we take the happenstances of life for granted, but
unusual experiences like these remind us there is a colossal amount of benefit
we get to even be alive. Anyone who’s been very sick knows how heavy the body
gets, and how impossible it can be to get it to move. Millions of complex
activities are taking place in our bodies without the least input from us, to
keep us healthy and hopefully happy. As we overcome our nonchalance and turn
our gaze to appreciate the wonders of existence, we experience bhakti.
On a broader scale, Nitya mentions the sun and the ocean,
teeming up like a universal father and mother to spread rain clouds across the
globe to nourish all creatures: “It is like a free service rendered to all
living organisms irrespective of their merits. A thousand and one other
instances can be quoted to show that the innate law that holds together every
atom of this world has a will to care and a meta-intelligence to design a
program with all the caring parents in the world put together.”
Traditional bhakti begins with a devotee worshipping a
remote deity. Adam described a relevant film he
by David Hockney & Philip Haas,
which includes a comparison of the perspectives in European and Chinese art.
It’s called “A Day on The Grand Canal with The
Emperor of China, or surface is illusion but so is depth.” The West
traditionally based its art on a vanishing point, emphasizing the dualist
perspective. Like God, as you approach the vanishing point it recedes, ever
maintaining its remoteness. In Chinese art there is no vanishing point. Your
are right inside the scene, as if God were all around, or as if the center was
Narayana Guru puts his own dynamic twist on the ancient
scheme of devotion, and over the course of this Darsana brings the two sides
ever closer together. The ultimate union of devotee and Absolute is bhakti at
its best. It’s a wholly natural process, like the bee sipping nectar from the
flower. Reciprocity means that joy invites deeper communion, and deeper
communion invites profounder joy. These final verses are the breath of the Guru
itself, washing over us in the union of all in All. We merge, and yet we don’t
disappear. We remain to act as intermediaries to transmit that liberated joy
gently and tactfully into the world we live in. Aum.
This tidbit contributed by
our local dervish Baird:
The true nature of your
In His loving eyes your every
Word and movement is always-
I don’t think I have made the idea
hierarchy of devotion very clear. What I talked about earlier is mainly the
ordinary concepts about such matters. I think in class several people thought
immediately of a pyramidal structure like the Buddhist religion, where there’s
a top dog who is claimed to be the Absolute, with layer after layer of
inferiors below him. The Catholic Church boasts something similar. Such a
system only works if the pinnacle of the pyramid really does represent
perfection, and everyone else practices perfect obedience, otherwise whatever
imperfections there are cascade down to infect the entire edifice below them. In
a classic process of double negation, errors compound errors and magnify the
deflection from the original intent. We can look around and see the devastation
wrought by hierarchical systems all around us. Luckily, the Dalai Lama is a
pretty good fellow, much closer to an ideal than certain Presidents and CEOs I
can think of, and some of his underlings try very hard to be exemplary
followers. So as of yet the Buddhists don’t have much of a war department.
A spiritual hierarchy of devotion is more like an inverted
pyramid, or better yet a cone. At the point of inception at the vertical
negative apex, the process of relating oneself to abstract, generalized
conceptions begins. Early on these are likely to be limited in purview,
half-baked and/or self-oriented. Over time the conceptions are enlarged and
refined, which structurally means as you go upward (representing the passage of
time), consciousness widens out to embrace more and more factors. In the
vertical positive region, the cone doesn’t stop anywhere, but merges with the
Totality and dissolves. At whatever stage we find ourselves, we are at our best
when the total reality infuses our awareness from above, so to speak, through
the base of the inverted cone.
I guess you
COULD picture this as an titanic ice cream cone, with your favorite flavor
scoop on top as the Self or turiya, melting and dripping down to coat every bit.
What a lot of business you’d do if you advertised turiya-sized scoops!
Seriously now folks, a hierarchy tends to be thought of as consisting
of discrete stages, although in this case it really is a continuum. We might
say devotion begins with the devotee as the point source. Gradually, and conceivably
in stages, the devotee’s vision can take in successively: lover, family,
friends, coworkers, village, country and world. Simultaneously the concept of a
distant God slowly melts into discovering it within everything and knowing everything
is within it. This is a good example of double assertion, a positive feedback
loop intrinsic to bipolar affiliation that is mutually supportive of the
participants. It reinforces truth instead of error. Progressively realizing
this inherent unity is figuratively “uplifting” as it draws you up the vertical
axis toward the oceanic awareness of the turiya, the base of an inverted cone
whose diameter is infinite. There we attain the ultimate level of bhakti, where
we become fully convinced of our “identity with the supremely numinous truth
that shines in and through this wonderful world.”