Nitya Teachings

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Darsanamala - Yoga Darsana

Darsanamala IX Class Notes


Yoga Darsana




  Nitya subtitles this Darsana “Transpersonal Union.” We have an urge to unite with what we see or visualize as outside of us. This is symbolically described in ancient tales like one in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, where the original single soul splits into two halves, named male and female, and then the male aspect pursues the female all over the place trying and occasionally succeeding to mate with it. The blissful sense of wholeness is only restored when both halves are rejoined. This copulative event is known as yoga.

  What prevents and blocks a consistent union with the other is referred to here as intrapersonal discord. Instead of opening up and pursuing our interests, we lurk behind a thick shell of defenses and lament our loses. Eventually the lamentation becomes a semi-adequate substitute for love. We take consolation in feeling sorry for ourself, and resist emerging from our womb of sorrow.

  Of course, what we’ve been studying for these two years of Darsanamala classes is how to come out of the closet, so to speak. We have been throwing off our entanglements one by one and gaining the courage to step out into the light as ourselves. Slowly but steadily we have dared to bask in the brilliance we are increasingly aware of on all sides. From Bhakti Darsana on we are on a steady trajectory toward union with the ‘other’ in more sublime and vaster guises.

  Nitya counsels us here in his introduction that there is a challenging period for us just at the moment we begin to break free of our chains. Doing so does not automatically bring enlightenment to the people we encounter—they are still embroiled in their own intrapersonal disharmony. We become especially sensitive to others at this transition stage, and we have to strengthen our connection with the unified state before we can safely interact with people who may well project their own problems onto us and insist they are ours.

  A friend related a dream recently that bears on this problem. She was on a ship cruising through serene waters, when she was overtaken by a storm. Down in the depths of the ocean there were many beautiful creatures, including a rich blue abalone under its gray shell. People were harassing and destroying the creatures, and my friend cried out for them to leave them alone.

  Our inner beauty is like these exquisite deep sea beings, screened off from harsh exposure to greedy and thoughtless invaders. We cannot share or even experience their beauty properly until the attackers are repulsed. There is a real paradox here: the value of our inner wonders is unitive but they have to be protected from harsh reality and so duality is inevitable. Our spiritual development may be said to be the progress we make in protecting these “natural resources” so they can be allowed to live and breathe, overcoming our initial reaction to sequester them out of sight. Thus, what could be a sudden, wholesale transformation becomes a gradual process of expanding one’s comfort zone to engulf more and more of the other.

  As the love of this bhakti becomes increasingly global, the point source of the self merges into the ocean of the Self. One of the lines that has stayed with me ever since editing this book back in the 1980s is “When this happens in an enormous and continuous manner….” Nothing petty in this. It’s a very powerful transformation. The full paragraph is highly revealing:


When the ‘other’ is not merely another person but the collective Self to which the individual self also belongs, and one treats the universal Self as the ‘other’, otherness is not a bar to union because the personal self serves as the nucleus of the universal Self. In this case one may feel like saying “I am the Absolute,” or one may feel enveloped by the universal to the extent that one can easily turn to the ‘other’ and say, “That thou art.” When this happens in an enormous and continuous manner, the differentiating quality of the individual becomes more and more flushed with the universality of fundamental existence, subsistence, and value, and then one is no longer tyrannized with the congenital idiosyncrasies of the person concerned. (396)


There is an intentional ambivalence in “the person concerned.” Nitya has been speaking of the difficulties of relating to another person, but I think he also had in mind one’s own idiosyncrasies, which lose their grip in a parallel release of dominance. And tyranny is the right word. Where we should be free, the ghosts of our vasanas and samskaras step in to pervert our interactions and warp our perceptions. They have it their way—actually, they have US their way. This notion embodies the central Vedantic belief that our faults are only fully cured by bathing in the ocean of the Absolute. We can tinker with them forever, but they shape-shift into new forms, keeping just out of reach. At some point we have to let go of them and turn squarely to the light, which of course is a simultaneous occurrence and not a cause and effect scenario. Chapter II of the Gita puts this truth poetically:


59)   Even the residual relish reverts on the One Beyond being sighted.


And the same elaborated:


64)   But he whose Self is subdued, whose attachment and aversion are both within the sway of the Self, although his senses still move amidst sense-interests, he wends toward a state of spiritual clarity.


65)   By spiritual clarity there takes place the effacement for him of all sufferings, and for one whose spirit has become lucid, very soon reason becomes properly founded.


  Nitya speaks of this as an all-out purification in which “one falls in love with the only love there is.” The state of delight should be our normal condition as we live our lives, and will be examined closely in the next verse.

  The class spent a lot of time on what might seem a contradiction but really isn’t: depression. We came to be very aware that a lot of spiritual jargon is a false front, projecting a cloud of make-believe that only fools some of the people some of the time. We want to become grounded in a courageous honesty that sees things as they are and dares to admit that we aren’t saints but human merely beings, with all flaws typical of such creatures. In that way we can make real progress and not make-believe progress.

  Many class members talked about their serious struggles with depression. As has been mentioned before, everyone gets depressed. It’s a normal and natural state of human beings as we cycle endlessly up and down, and it is one of the most important incentives to seek truth for enabling release from our suffering. Only in the last few decades has it become viewed as a terrifying disease to be squelched at all costs. Not coincidentally, the drug companies that make billions of dollars peddling pills of dubious efficacy are the prime purveyors of that viewpoint. If depression “unmans” us, then we should find a way back to who we are, and each person will have a unique struggle that is their personal spiritual quest. The sight of the One Beyond, the all-absorbing interest uniquely tailored to our own value vision, lifts us out of all depression and even out of recession.

  Susan shared that she has had chronic depression, but that the more she studies the Gurukula philosophy the less debilitating the episodes have become. This is as gratifying as can be, by the way. The Gurukula isn’t an assembly line to produce enlightened seers who sweep the globe like an army of Buddhas or Muhammads or Jesuses, just a place for restoring and reinforcing simple sanity. What you make of it afterwards is your own affair. We’re just regular folk, a bunch a chronic outsiders huddled together on the banks of a mighty river, sharing the little we have.

  Jan also felt she had had significant improvements in how she felt about her life from her studies, and looks forward to more. Moni mentioned standing at the bus stop with people looking lost and forlorn and thinking how sad it was that they hadn’t been exposed to such a wonderful and heartening philosophy. How truly lucky we are! And yet, being human, we sometimes doubt whether anything has any value, even (or especially) the wisdom of the ages.

  Deb told us how when she was in Australia with Nitya in 1971, someone said to her, “Oh, aren’t you blessed to be travelling with a saint!” Deb became furious. Probably she didn’t say but only thought, “If he’s a saint I don’t want to have anything to do with him! He’s just a human being, like the rest of us.” A similar tragic error is made when Jesus is imagined to be a deity instead of a human. If he is human we have hope of becoming like him; if he is not, then we have no hope. We are nothing but sinners.

  A letter Nitya wrote to Ananda should have found its way into Love and Blessings but didn’t. I will keep submitting it to the Gurukulam editor until it finds its way into print, but for now it languishes on my computer and in the rarity Love Letters of a Sannyasin. It concludes with the same idea:


A strong chinaware is made of a proper blend of white granite grains and pure china clay. The goodness in me is my china clay and the absurdities are my granite grains. Do not wash away all my grains; then I won’t hold any water. My Guru once said, “Do not attempt to wash away all the lather of soap, because the more you wash, the more it lathers.” I may become divine by transforming into a Buddha or a Christ. My humble prayer to God is to give me a few more births from the earth as a human being, with the virtues and vices of that species. I hope he’ll listen.



That which always unites and also gets united with cidatma, which is in the form of restraining mind, that is praised as yoga. (IX, 1)


  The Yoga Darsana proper begins with a structural orientation. The exact wording of the verse is tricky. Nataraja Guru’s version is helpful:


     That which always unites the mind                    With the Self that is consciousness in essence,

      and also gets united with it

     And which is of the form of restraint,

         That is praised as Yoga.


  The restraint spoken of here is in part a tip of the hat to Patanjali, who literally wrote the book on yoga. Cidatma is the Self that is consciousness in essence, otherwise known as the reasoning Self. So we have an image of a bipolar affiliation between the limited mind and the total consciousness, brought about through a form of restraint. With Narayana Guru the restraint is not via any mechanical system of exercises, but through a mutual attraction that naturally leads the mind to withdraw from any and all obstacles.

  To highlight the distinction between more morose forms of restraint and the Guru’s ecstatic version, Nitya speaks extensively of lila, divine sport, in his commentary, which is one of his very best, by the way. He assures us that sport is the best model of yoga. In play there is no extraneous force involved. We are effortlessly drawn into a wholehearted participation in what we love. While we play our games we are fully absorbed in them, and when they are over we pass on to the next game without regret.

  John noted how nowadays sport has become a deadly serious business, just one more high stakes money making scheme. Moni added that all of our life has become like that. Where we should be participating in this wondrous world in joy we are often anxious and unhappy, fearing the worst. It is so bizarre that the most comfortable and well-off society the world has ever known is rapidly descending into a maelstrom of doubt and hysteria. Almost no one knows how to play any more. Even food and water are considered deadly hazards to life. And sex—don't even mention it!

  The mania arises because of the bifurcation of a seamless, unitive universe into subject and object. We become isolated subjects awash in a vast sea of otherness, made up of objects. The solution is to sit quietly and take a clearheaded look at the present situation, to look at the polarity from a transcendental perspective. Then not only can we make better decisions, we are released from the painful squeeze of being identified with our superficial aspects.

  When we sit, we can visualize a subject and object on either side, with lines of convergence coming together in our central core. Doing this, it is easy to know we are much more than either aspect, and also that subject and objects are both subsets of the cidatma, the total consciousness in which we are enthusiastic participants. When the convergence is upward towards the intelligence of the turiya there is a release through comprehension. The convergence can also take place downwards into the unconscious depths, where the ensemble is united as a unit into samskaras and eventually vasanas.

  So when we relate in a stimulus-response fashion to events, we grow our seedbed of conditionings ever more prolifically. We are called by the Guru to bring the light of conscious awareness onto the scene, which is like pulling the weeds from that same seedbed. Those vasanas are sooner or later going to sprout and carry us into their version of reality over and over. Each time it happens is called a unit of modulation, and our unexamined life is a sleepwalk through modulation after modulation. Our meditation in the Yoga Darsana is to wake up from our sleepwalking. As Nitya puts it:


Although [a unit of modulation] happens as a self-deluding hypnotic function, the yogi intensifies the thoroughness of watching the full round of modulation so that he can free that bit of consciousness from being identified as subject or as object…. The result is a total transcendence effected there and then even when the flow of energy does take place. (399)


This last bit is very important. Restraint is often thought of as bottling up the energy flow to prevent vasanas from popping up, but this merely represses them and makes them go underground, so to speak. Then they get weird and gain power, potentially erupting in horrific fashion. Here we are advised to live our lives and do what we do, but bring intelligent awareness to bear on it all the time. Okay, we’ll settle for most of the time…. How about some of the time? Well, however often you can do it, you are doing true yoga, and it frees at least that one slice of consciousness from oppression. When you really know something, you really know it. There is no worry that you’ll forget. If something keeps happening that you don’t like, you haven’t understood it properly yet, that’s all. You need to bring more consciousness to bear.

  The Yoga Darsana turns a corner in our study. From full manifestation and the refinement of thought and action, culminating in devotional conjunction with light, we now begin a progressive withdrawal. In Darsanamala, Narayana Guru presents a complete picture of all life, and bowing out is an integral part of it. The yoga aspect retains a correlation with life as we live and love it, while the nirvana part to follow walks off into the sunset, as it were. This verse on lila is poised on the cusp, and represents the highest realization brought to bear on life. What this means is that we should always remember that until our death, withdrawal is a temporary affair. We meditate to learn and grow, and we come back frequently to full participation. This simultaneously enlightens us for living and prepares us for a peaceful transition when the final curtain falls.


Part II

  The Yoga Darsana has some very complex commentaries that are going to strain our brains a bit. To get them in training, I have pulled some excerpts pertaining to the first verse from An Integrated Science of the Absolute, Nataraja Guru’s version of Darsanamala commentary. This is definitely extra credit material, not for the faint of heart. I won’t muck it up by adding any comments of my own, but hopefully these matters will be reflected in future notes, with maybe even some feedback from others. I’ll begin with Narayana Guru’s own elucidation, which you may remember is included in ISOA:


The correct meaning of the word yoga is the union of the mind, when rid of all dross of nescience, with the Self that is consciousness in essence. This is yoga or union. The mind has in it many activities which come under nescience, etc. When all such activities have been countered by the means that have been indicated in the wisdom texts, and when the mind is thus made to unite with the pure Ultimate Self, such a branch of knowledge is called Yoga. The radical yuj is used in texts as meaning samadhi in the expression yuj-samadhau (union in samadhi by Panini, the great ancient grammarian and linguistic authority), and we are therefore justified in treating Yoga and samadhi as pertaining to the same subject. The saying of Patanjali in one of his opening sutras that Yoga is the restraint of the mind, as well as the definition of Valmiki in the Yoga-Vasishtha which says that Yoga consists of the act or means of tranquilizing the mind, all indicate the same meaning of Yoga. Because Yoga mainly consists of restraint of the mind, it is referred to as consisting of this restraint in general terms. It is not enough, however, that the activities of the mind should be merely mechanistically restrained (in a unilateral sense), but it is also to be understood that the mind when restrained should be constantly joined to the Self that is pure consciousness in essence (cidatma). What is more, such a union should also take place so as to justify the name of Yoga properly understood. (ISOA, Vol. II, 383)


And now to Nataraja Guru, who called this Darsana “Meditation”:


Quantitative and qualitative aspects between matter and mind reveal the same twin structure compensating each other and having a complementary or reciprocal relationship between them. When they attain full equality and mutual transparency of status, as in pure mathematics, they become cancelable against each other. The result is an absolute value factor corresponding to nirvana (absorption) found in the final chapter.

Before such a full absorption can be considered we must first of all consider a form of meditation capable of effecting the reciprocal interaction or union between two aspects of the personality. These aspects are manas (mind) and cidatma (the Self that is consciousness in essence), as used by Narayana Guru in this chapter. Quantitative aspects have a horizontal reference and correspond to the somatic side of the persona, while the cidatma has a vertical qualitative reference corresponding to the psychic aspect of the same absolute persona. The complementarity of contemplative life found in the previous chapter implied the same two selfs. Here the two counterparts come together more intimately than before, and it is preferable to refer to this relationship as a natural reciprocity rather than a mere complementarity.

Quantitative and qualitative factors coexist in one and the same object, as for example, in a red hot iron ball where heat inheres in the inert matter. This is also true of the flame of a lamp, the song of a bird, the perfume of a flower, and the sound of a bell where qualitative and quantitative factors coexist without conflict or contradiction. The qualitative factor can even be called the soul of the quantitative factor. The taste of water has been referred to in the Bhagavad Gita (VII, 8) as belonging to the context of the Absolute when understood in this structural way of a vertico-horizontal correlation of quantitative and qualitative aspects. Time, as pure duration, is a qualitative factor when compared to space, although both may belong unitively and schematically to the same symbolic structural context. At the core of the notion of the Absolute there is always a vertical parameter relating all value-worlds or ensembles into a systematic series of sets for purposes of serving the contemplative end of human happiness.

Whether we think of a somatic self or a psychic self, a reciprocal interaction between them is always easy to imagine. The meditation or Yoga of this chapter is to be understood on the basis of such a possibility, which can be actively or consciously cultivated by any aspirant to final liberation. The Yoga of this chapter is therefore to be understood essentially as a correlation of the psychic and somatic aspects of the personality, and not merely as a correlation of brute aspects of practice as such. (Vol. II, 354-355)


The mind has many levels and the term vasana (incipient memory factors) refers to its lowest or most negative memory aspect. We have seen already that in the first three chapters of this work there is reference to this memory factor together with other aspects of mental life such as caitanya (vital consciousness), manas (mind) and sankalpa (willing). Vasana, caitanya, manas and sankalpa mark the various positive degrees that a mind can accommodate within its scope, ranging from the negative to the positive. In the present chapter we again find that the mind as in Chapter 3 is directly under reference. This mind is supposed here to enter into relation with something higher than itself, which is referred to as cidatma (reasoning Self). The ontological Self and the negative factors of the mind such as incipient memories (vasanas) have been considered in the first three chapters and are now left behind. (367)


As long as the vasanas (incipient memory factors) persist in any individual case of a yogi, his efforts to purify them have to be incessantly and willfully maintained. When by a double negation the yogi has risen higher, he always correctly keeps his verticalized orientation leading to the higher goal. The importance of discipline then recedes into the background. It is only when the vasanas (incipient memory factors) have been sufficiently purified that any kind of respectable Yoga may be imagined as taking place between such a purified mind and its own reasoning Self (cidatma) as its positive counterpart. Any respectable Yoga has to treat these two counterparts as having a homogeneity of epistemological status between them, without which true Yoga cannot take place at all. (373-374)


The popular version of Yoga often presupposes that within some months or years of cultivating the body through breathing exercises or postures, one is brought nearer to some kind of high and culminating value resembling samadhi (peace), satori (the Zen Buddhist version of samadhi) or nirvana (final absorption or emancipation). Freedom in the correct sense is a goal to be reached by periods of practice conceived as units of successive lives sometimes almost implying a beginningless eternity in time. Quickly obtainable results which are meant only to apply to transient and very practical values are mentioned in Yoga literature. But the true Yoga is the pure verticalized version of practical and quickly accomplished Yoga. (395)


Here the intention is to give a revised definition of Yoga in terms of the restraint (nirodha) found in Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali. There is, however, a slight revaluation to be noticed. Instead of referring to restraint of all the functions or the mind, there is a special kind of control exercised over horizontal tendencies. This is so that the mind will gain a vertical and positive orientation enabling it to meet on equal terms with its more positive counterpart, the (cidatma), with which it is ready to unite, to descend into its arms, as it were. The two-sided reciprocity implied between the two poles of the total structural situation, globally understood, constitutes the delicate revaluation and restatement that we have to note in this revised definition of Yoga. (409-410)



Where the seer, the sight and the seen are not known, there the heart should be joined while vasana is present. Such is yoga—thus the yoga knower. (IX, 2)


  We talked a lot about what this heart is that is so glibly spoken of far and wide. Obviously heart is one of those many words that has come almost intact from the Sanskrit, where it is hrt, pronounced hreet. Nitya says it is an ancient metaphor for the right side of the bicameral brain, while ‘mind’ refers to the left side, in the predominance of humans at least. ‘Right and left brain’ is not nearly as poetic as heart and mind, so he advises we retain it. Either way, he seems to be making a division where ego is situated in the heart and intellect is located in the mind. The heart can ideally be pure, but it can also be tainted with a selfish orientation.

  In his Malayalam language masterpiece, the Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction, Narayana Guru begins with a focus on the Karu or Core. For Darsanamala he was enjoined to universalize his teachings, and so translated the terms to Sanskrit. Hrt is Sanskrit for karu. In double checking the dictionary to make sure karu isn’t one of the many words common to Malayalam and Sanskrit (which it isn’t), I noticed the similarity with karuna, compassion. Malayalam being an invented language that drew heavily on Sanskrit, there is likely a connection that was made between the heart and compassion even long ago.

  Now on to the mysteries of the verse.

  When we fall out of touch with our true nature and no longer know who we really are, we feel compelled to create a tempest in a teapot to seemingly ratify our existence. We imagine that as long as we are actively seeing things and identifying them, it proves we exist. The form this hardened type of desperation takes is called the ego. It is a shadowy creation of projected images, and its very tenuousness makes us even more fearful of its dissolution. This is each of our personal versions of “I think, therefore I am.” Vedantins say, “If you see what is to be seen, you temporarily imagine you exist as the seer.”

  As seekers of truth we have hopefully come to know ourselves as much deeper beings than that kind of projected existence. Having established a rapport and trust in the greater context, we can step outside of the house of mirrors for a time. When we transact we have to be seers of the scene, but we can also bathe in our core at times. As Deb put it, we are refreshed and rebalanced by those dips in the pool of the Self. A few people may not ever want to come out, but most of us do. We have lots of excellent vasanas we are still eager to foster, lots to offer our friends and our world.

  Vasanas, incipient memories, have gotten a bad rap. Yes, we should stand clear of them when we can, but they are both good and bad, both flowers and weeds. We can pull the weeds to promote the flowers, providing inspiration to all who pass by. But we need to remember that all our best urges, including the ones that lead us to seek wisdom, to sacrifice for the greater good, and to nurture our fellow beings, also come from vasanas. These are the flowers we might want to leave in the well-tended ground of our being. Narayana Guru consciously retained a bit of his vasana. There is a quote from him on page 12 revealing this, which is beautiful to read many times over.

  It will help to realize that vasanas are now called genes. The rishis in ancient times didn’t know about genes, but they studied how people worked so closely that they could see their effects, so they postulated vasanas. Genes may well be a late stage in whatever process creates the shape of beings, but they are as far as we’ve yet uncovered with modern scientific investigations. Anyway, vasanas are either expressed through genes or are the genes themselves. So who ever claims they have to get rid of their genetic makeup? It is very much who and what we are. We can wish all day long but we are not going to turn into birds and fly up in the sky, or be able to dive into the ocean like a fish and breathe water. So please, think of vasanas as your genetic inheritance or your innate talents, and not as some affliction to be cured of. When the gurus ask us to stand above them, or even metaphorically speak of roasting their seeds so they won’t sprout, we have to be sure we understand what they mean. Wisdom is the fire that roasts the seeds. Vasanas operate at a very deep level, and can easily carry us away with them. We need to bring our enlightened intelligence to bear on our actions so that their upsurging energies are directed into healthy channels, and are neither suppressed or magnified.

  One in a million may want to try to do away with all genetic motivations to be able to exist in complete and utter freedom, but the vast majority are more interested in harmonizing their lives to bring joy to themselves and others, provisionally accepting the shape that naturally surrounds them. Again, this is something that should be appropriate to a person’s dharma.

  In this verse, Narayana Guru advises us to work on reforming the ego with yoga. What he means is that right in the midst of the dance of the vasanas we are to step out of our habitual framework and go into our core. This will strip away all the excess baggage that we cloak our “God given” urges and abilities in, all that stuff that Nitya describes as intrigues in which the ego and intellect, heart and mind, collude. Heretofore we have hitched them together in the service of all our petty desires fostered by ignorance, and now we want to redirect them to more noble ends. But we don’t have to wait until the urges are quieted and conquered to know peace. Yoga takes us directly to the realm of stillness, and the chaotic noise rolls away into the distance. Nitya says:


An aspirant yogi has to become vigilant in stopping this unhealthy alliance between ego and intellect, which are bent on aiding incipient memories. This is achieved by making the light of pure spirit prevail upon heart with a discipline that constantly diffuses the ego’s craving for power, glory and pleasure. Until this is accomplished, yoga is not achieved. When the heart has known the undisturbed depth of the silent spirit, yoga is achieved. (404)


  We concluded the class with a brief excursion into the stillness of the pacified heart. There is much more to learn about this, and we will be hearing of it in the coming weeks.


Part II


  I guess we haven’t discussed vasanas adequately yet. The other night as I settled into a hot bath I got a real good feel for one aspect that may help give a clearer picture.

  Imagine you are your vasanas. You pack a billion years or more of accumulated power in potential seed form. After a long and possibly frightening or uncertain transition, you have regained a new body. How wonderful to have another opportunity to strut your stuff! What you want to do requires real existence. But—waaah!—you have to begin the game as a baby that basically can’t do much of anything. Patience, patience. Soon you will be doing a few things, each of which is supremely ecstatic and satisfying. Much more to come. The possibilities are endless! The energy is virtually infinite!

  But before you can even get to your best and most coveted activities, the people around you start to curtail what you want to do. Mostly this is done without offering any alternative: just stop that! You become confused. You came here to play with everybody, and they don’t want to play. They are very serious, and would rather you weren’t even there. Of course, they can’t curtail everything, so there are still moments of bliss. Then one day they take you to school.

  Slowly and carefully your little package of vasanas is taught to suppress all its urges, creative or destructive, and substitute a long term learning program designed to convert it into a cog in the wheel of the motor-carriage of society. The central tenet is how to put those urges on hold until later, which is the same as forever. They always have to be put off. But they don’t go away, so they are first hidden from others. After awhile they even disappear from your awareness.

  But they have not lost their true character as very, very potent urges continually seeking expression. If they can’t get out they are going to throw tantrum after tantrum until they shatter their container somehow. Their keeper has to be ever vigilant to guard against their surfacing in public, which can turn into an anxiety neurosis and eventually a psychosis if the steam is not let off somehow. That of course is the key to staying sane. Crude urges are never going to be acceptable, but if they are sublimated into creative outlets they can become extremely beautiful means of expression.

  Too bad you aren’t going to be taught anything about how to handle your vasanas, but even mentioning them is sinful. We pretend they don’t exist, that good little children don’t have them, only bad ones do. Double and redouble that attitude and you are fit to become an adult.

  Adults spend much of their free time medicating themselves so they can accept the misery of having their talents squelched. TV, shopping, drugs, busywork, can fill a lifetime and almost eradicate the suspicion that something is seriously amiss. After all, that’s what everyone else is doing, so it must be okay.

  Pretending we’ve laid all our ghosts to rest is psychic castration. But no matter what we do, underneath the surface calm all that energy is boiling and fretting and fuming. Oh, that long and painful struggle to become human, with the greatest potential for expression in the known universe, and then to discover all the doors are locked shut! Wait until you get to heaven, or your next life, to do what you want, to have fun. Not here. Not now. No way. Never.

  When depression, or worse, settles on your soul like a dark blanket, you are hearing the rage and frustration of stifled vasanas. They will do anything, even drive you insane, to try to force you to DO SOMETHING! This cannot be papered over. Our modern world, with its endless rules, prohibitions, lack of privacy, armed guards everywhere, and all the rest, is dedicated to crushing all our genetic potency, levering it into the procrustean bed constructed by the smallest, most unimaginative minds among us. No wonder the incidence of mental illness is skyrocketing. Well, we can quell that with some stupefying or tranquilizing pills.

  What we should be doing instead is expressing our abilities and—yes—desires and interests, and grappling with them with the full measure of our wisdom and intelligence. We can be honest with ourself and with others, and tolerant of variety. That would make for a very fulfilling life. So go out and promote one of your favorite vasanas today!




Part II

Oh my God! Proofreading Nitya’s commentary on verse 32 of Atmopadesa Satakam (That Alone) for the next issue of the magazine, I discovered a passage exactly parallel to what we have been talking about in the Yoga Darsana. For those unfortunates without their own copy, I’ll tack it on here:


         The other day we saw how we can affiliate ourselves with body consciousness and the social ego. These two affiliations can cause many modes of thinking and judgment within us. What we call our meditation is no meditation at all. It is only certain body postures; it is being self-conscious about many of our physical aspects such as breathing, sitting in a certain way, or imagining a certain part of the body. We think that directing the mind inward means actually looking inward at such and such a place, which is essentially an action. Thus we are doing an exercise, not meditating. Sankara asked, “Why do you call it meditation? It is fun. It is some physical exercise. At best it is a psychological exercise. Even so, it has nothing to so with the Self.”

         Real meditation is not very easy. First you must drop from your mind all the names that you know, including your own.. Drop not only the names of persons and things but also names of ideas, such as compassion, patience or whatever. I don’t believe you’ve given up all names, but let us tentatively suppose you no longer know any nomenclature. Nomenclature means a label which you give with a sound or an oral or written sign.

         Now drop from your mind all memories of forms. You should now not be able to say “Deborah” or recall a form which conforms to Deborah. Forget the distinction of past, present and future. Efface your location, such as Hall Street House, Portland. Next throw away all directions: north, south, east, west, and above and below.

         When I ask you to give something up, you suddenly think of just that. It was not previously in your mind. You poor people are not thinking of your breathing at all until I say to forget it. Breathing is an action. Along with breathing, give up the whole world of action, any kind of movement. Now cancel away the duality of cause and effect. Forget that you are capable of knowing, feeling, breathing. Erase the distinction between ‘I’ and ‘the other’. Make the usage of ‘I’ totally meaningless. In short, all the injunctions I have been giving you are not to do anything, but to do away with everything. You are not asked to think, but not to think. You are not asked to recall, but not to remember; not asked to win, but not to win.

         Suppose we have achieved such a state, even though we clearly have not. It is evident that even in this ideal state there will be a presentation of consciousness. You can do away with virtually everything, but still a residual space and duration will remain for your awareness to exist. It is an irremediable impenetrability.

         Kant says this has a categorical nature, a persistence that is unavoidable and universal. He argues two necessary conditions to go along with the quality of a priori judgment. One is universality, and the other is that it is imperative, categorically imperative. Sankara quotes the Upanishads which say that to meditate should not be taken as an injunction. If you take it as an injunction you are merely thinking of a bodily function. How can knowledge be, other than by being knowledge? This is apprehended through what is called meditation.

         The two qualities which Kant mentioned--the imperativeness of knowledge which is luminous through its own nature, and the universality which operates in and through all forms of manifestation all the time--roughly correspond to the images used by Narayana Guru throughout this work. At the core of all is the karu, or the manifesting yolk which is shining both inside and outside as the supernal sun shining in the firmament of consciousness; as the one light that enables you to think your many thoughts, wake and sleep, eat and mate; as the one which is sitting as a witness beneath the tree of manifestation; as the one identity when two people say “I”; as the one ocean which floods and fills the vast desert of our lives, turning every grain of sand into a pearl of priceless worth.

         All through our study we have been seeing this one light which is us. But as soon as we act, we miss it. We pollute it with our sensations, with our body consciousness, with names and forms, time and space, cause and effect. In fact it is the most spontaneous thing, happening without any effort on your part to sit cross-legged, to concentrate on your heartbeat, or to breathe in a way that tortures your nostrils. It is always there by itself. You don’t have to do anything. Yet it is the most difficult thing to know because you are already caught in the grip of the competitive world where body, mind and senses are focused on values which are extraneous to your own Self. To reclaim yourself from that feverishness, to bring you back to the pure, spontaneous happiness within: that is the only reason you have to sit cross-legged, turn inward or regulate your breath. It is all so you won’t run into the marketplace again and again and hit your head against things which have no value for you.

         First you imagine a certain necessity. It begins to haunt you. It comes like a devil and catches you. Then you get caught in the frenzy of it. Karma is waiting for someone to say there is a necessity, then it pounces upon them..

         Not being caught up in action is not an excuse to be lazy. Please try to understand what the Guru is saying here. It is almost impossible, since for at least the last one hundred years in European universities the poor minds of every man and woman have been put on the anvil of conformity and beaten into the shape of the empirical religion. This verse looks so simple, so innocent, but in a way it makes all the difference. So at least for a fraction of a minute, enjoy the great freedom of your own Self by throwing out all this garbage called name and form, cause and effect, obligation and society.



All this name and form is Brahma indeed. Thus, in the Absolute, mind always merges well. That is ascertained as yoga. (IX, 3)


  The meaning of the verse is fairly straightforward. Everything we encounter, although it is invariably cloaked in the guise of names and forms, concepts and percepts, is in reality the Absolute. It is no wonder that we can attune so readily with the Absolute, since it is not at all far off. It is right here with us. The only catch is it is morphed into shapes and colors, as well as our ideas about them. When we get snagged by shapes and ideas we can easily forget what they are made of. We become mesmerized by the surface play. Yoga is simply the process by which we reaccess the veiled depth all around us. With a fair amount of instruction and a modicum of effort in the form of paying attention, we can merge right back in to the unitive Source of the multifaceted world we inhabit.

  This doesn’t mean we drop our contact with the surface world and strive to remain ever beyond its reach. We add the universal perspective back into our temporal and spatial adventures so that each enhances the other. We become less likely to be mesmerized and fly off the handle if we know the universal ground of everything that is transpiring. And by living our life fully and with care we give expression to the inexpressible.

  Jan gave us a wonderful example of how this can work. Her son has struggled with serious medical problems, and because of the steroids he has been given he has grown very little. Lately he has been having persistent terrible nightmares. Giving sympathy is well and good, but sometimes clear instructions can accomplish what nonverbal support cannot. One night before bed they talked about how he feels trapped and haunted by his dreams. Jan explained that everyone has nightmares, and that when we have feelings we are afraid of looking at, our fears can turn into monsters in our dreams. The words were well timed, and Louis understood them. Vague and fearsome forms were given names and became somewhat comprehensible. The other night he had a dream where the monsters were small creatures attacking him in a cave. He realized that they just wanted to be bigger than him, and he let them. Once he did they stopped assaulting him. This is a beautiful example of how our ever-creative mind can picture our fears in symbolic conceptual terms so they can be dealt with, if we are brave enough.

  Anita shared two examples from her recent experience. She has been visiting her son and his wife, members of an exclusive religion. She sat up late one night talking with the wife, struggling to get across to her why she, Anita, had left their church. They were unable to get through to each other. Where both people had the best of intentions, they were unable to bridge the gap because of the younger person’s rigidly held concepts. It takes real wisdom to step out of our preferred framework of mental pictures, of the names we use to describe and buttress our world view. When we are unsure we cling all the harder. Anita’s feeling was that if she had been able to say the right thing, it might have worked. We can but try, but this is a perfect instance of words becoming an impregnable fortress. Nothing can get through until the person on the inside decides to open the gate.

  Anita’s second example was a positive one, maintaining proper balance. She was reclining in a chair reading That Alone, with her pet cat curled up on her chest. After awhile they sank into a meditation together. First Anita was conscious that their hearts were beginning to beat in synch, and then their breathing became more and more gentle and also synchronized. She felt that there was no longer a separate and distinct cat and woman on a chair in a room, but only the numinous Absolute as a looming benign Presence.

  This is exactly what Narayana Guru was getting at by saying that the mind always merges well. We need to peek right into the heart of name and form to discover the Absolute. We begin with occasional scraps of reconnection, and these gradually seep into our everyday awareness to become a continuous normalizing factor in everything we do. It takes a certain kind of effort. If we don’t do it, it won’t happen. But the joy it brings makes it an easy effort, not in any way drudgery.

  Adam told us about meeting Zachir Hussein, the tabla master, in Poland many years ago. He was invited to a gathering to learn drumming from him, and went dressed in his tough guy leathers. The party was hosted by a spiritual group, artsy and vegetarian. Adam felt very out of place, felt that he was being judged negatively. Then Zachir Hussein arrived. He was warm and unpretentious, and made Adam feel completely at ease. Soon Adam's spirits were soaring and he was laughing unselfconsciously. Even though he had no desire to become a drummer he had a lot of fun trying it.

  Wouldn’t this be a wonderful world if we all could be this way! The judging comes from our attachment to concepts. If we can see the humanity beneath the faulty conceptions—that everyone without exception harbors—we will be very forgiving. More than that, we won’t even need to forgive, because there is no sense of transgression to begin with.

  Late in the class we examined how we are prone to take a saint of our favorite religion and dress them up in our prejudices and conceits. We don’t have the slightest idea what Narayana Guru or Shakespeare or Jesus or Buddha was like, but we build a whole universe out of our imaginary projections about them. Then we bow to our concepts and call out names to proclaim our fidelity to our imaginary graven images. If whichever saint was present they would be disgusted at our ignorance, at the total disconnect between the image and the actual person, but since they aren’t we can continue the charade as long as we want. Usually there are fellow worshippers around to egg us on.

  As Deb reminded us, our job is not to reform other people. Our task is to reform ourselves, to drop the names and forms and go straight to the core, without imagining what we might find there. It is always greater than what we imagine, so why ever do we limit ourselves with paltry concepts? If we can let go of them we will evince a tacit invitation for our fellow beings to do the same, and that is as far as our evangelizing should ever go.



By the modulation of consciousness which is unbroken as in the streak of oil, what incessant rejoicing is in the Self. Such is yoga—this is the recognition of yogis. (IX, 4)


  The most common meditation of human beings, because it is so effortless and natural, is on the flame of a fire. In ancient times as religion became codified, the fires were brought into the temples in the form of candles or oil lamps, where they helped bring consciousness to a state of attention. Although the flame’s constituents of oil, air and wick are never the same from moment to moment, they produce a seemingly stable result, and one that radiates light and warmth. In a way this is like complex life forms such as human beings: we are made up of agglomerations of cells that work harmoniously to produce a sum of parts of a far greater order of magnitude that is vastly different than any individual element. All of us wobble and gutter at times, especially when the winds of fate blow us, but we eternally seek to regain the peaceful condition of the steady flame as soon as we can.

  In a flame the movement is upward, symbolizing the hierophantic urge in humans to reach up toward a state of divinity. To preserve yogic or dialectical equipoise, there must be a descending flow in compensation. Thus we should also meditate on the symbol of oil being carefully poured out of an oil lamp and into a receptacle. The divine is the lamp and we are the receptacle, by the way. The hypostatic descent of grace exactly equals the upsurging impetus of striving to produce the unlimited joy of the Self. If the oil is poured out too fast it may overwhelm and extinguish the flame, while if it is overly meager the flame will starve for lack of fuel. You must have seen how the flow breaks up into tiny droplets when it is too thin, which then can blow all over the place. But when it is done just right there is a continuous stream that appears as steady and solid as the candle flame, like a honey-colored ribbon. Where the flame is the factor that gives off the light and heat, the oil is the Source that will eventually be transformed into those results.

  Precisely in the manner of oil lamps, some of us give off more light and some of us smolder and fume away as through a glass, darkly. It depends as much on the influence of horizontal winds as on the proper relation of the integrated parts. Charles talked about Alfred Adler’s theories of damaged egos, which produce what he called the inferiority complex and its resultant compensations, such as aggressiveness, defensiveness, self-pity, the urge to prove oneself by conquest, and so on. It seems that the thwarting of the ego—which always wants to win or dominate, but is rarely allowed to—produces the driving energy that most humans live by. Unfortunately, because the impetus comes directly from the damage inflicted on the ego, it tends to go into serious tangents. It is the task of the yogi or other healthy individual to act instead from a revised and reexamined state of mind, based on intelligent appraisals, in place of being driven by sublimated misery and resentment.

  Nitya teaches us that we can take the little bit of Self-realization we experience in our best moments, and try to extend those into all the occasions of our life. Not that we tune out from problems, but that we can tune in all the better. The more we become familiar with our steady ground, the more it remains under our feet in all circumstances.

  I’ll give one practical example of how this works. Youngsters, boys especially, are vulnerable to a surge of anger when they are insulted. Someone sneers at you and you hit them. Generally you will get punished and the sneerer goes free, to sneer again another day. So injustice is piled on insult. Then in kindergarten you learn the mantra “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” Now when someone insults you, you chant the mantra instead of hitting back with a rejoinder or a fist. Soon you achieve a degree of detachment, so you realize that other guy has the problem, not you. You might even feel compassionate. You aren’t upset. You might even wonder what made him do it, whether it was jealousy or unhappiness or what. The disasters of adulthood and our reactions to them are not always so different from this simple situation as we might like to believe.

  Each of us has known tragedies in our lives. Our initial damaged feelings may be that we are hapless victims. We might want to cry and feel sorry for ourselves. The yogi is like any healthy adult, who then brings another level of intelligence to bear. There are other people involved in the accident or whatever it is, who need help, counsel, first aid, or just plain friendship. In place of wallowing in self-pity, you rise to the occasion. You do what you can to alleviate the situation. And as they say every time you fly in a plane: “Be sure to put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping other customers.”

  Charles related that according to Adler, the ego is an organ, like any other part of the body. It is invisible, but it can be damaged just like a foot can be broken. If a broken foot heals improperly, the person will be lame for life. Likewise with a damaged ego, call it a broken heart or what have you, the soul may be permanently thwarted. A healthy philosophy “sets” the broken ego in a proper alignment, so it can become whole again. Unfortunately our unexamined beliefs are likely to be inimical if not downright destructive, which is of course why Socrates insisted that an unexamined life was not worth living.

  The commentary on this and the next verse is possibly the most practical part of the entire magnum opus of Darsanamala. We want to make the occasional droplets of happiness in our lives become a steady flow of unending bliss, and the yogi must bring his or her best efforts to bear to accomplish this. Nitya instructs us that a healthy ego is essential to yogic evolution:


The Self, for its alignment with the non-Self, has to do its interlinking through the good offices of the ego. The ego is therefore to be equipped with the right orientation to the goal; a favorable mood by which it can amicably exercise its empathy even in the most unforeseen situations; a philosophically enriched disposition of positively wanting to perpetuate love, compassion, fellowship, and cheerfulness; and a vivid comprehension of the total meaning of every passing moment. This comes through an act of samyama, which can be somewhat approximated to a creative form of contemplation by which a possibly miserable autonomous presentation of the ever-fleeting phenomena is substituted by a consciously generate theme of a favorable psychodrama, which gives ample opportunities for the ego, in perfect harmony with the Self, to induce a high degree of the numinous in all details of the phenomenal. (409-410)


  It is right at this point that a healthy psychodrama, as Nitya humorously calls it, can be substituted for an unhealthy one. For most people, the psychodrama—the narrative streaming along inside the head—is that God or Muhammad or Jesus or Nature or The Government or whatever, is in charge, and the individual is helpless. This is especially exacerbated in self-styled “Christian” societies, where the instruction is particularly intense to give over the guidance of your life to an external divine parent. Forget that Jesus taught that we ourselves are to seek the kingdom of God, the true message nowadays is that you are a sinner and fatally flawed, so you must appeal to divine intervention for your salvation. A very great amount of the endemic depression of Christian countries is lodged exactly here. Where people should be diligently striving to heal their damaged egos, they instead wait helplessly for the cure to happen to them from somewhere “out there.” When it doesn’t, there is disappointment, even rage, that must be bitterly swallowed and stifled, lest other pretenders see how great a failure they are. It may be masked as piety. Yet as we know, the suppressed rage eventually surfaces in an overwhelming flood of violence, directed either internally against the supposedly sinful self, or externally against purported “enemies” who are equally imagined to be the cause of the misery.

  Our healthy psychodrama of the Gurukula includes that we are working to open our hearts to the beneficence of the Absolute ground of all existence, that we are all one within the multiplicity of the multiverse, and that disasters and inconveniences that happen are part of an educational inherence in the structure of life itself. Perhaps we will agree with Henri Bergson that the universe is a machine for making gods, and we are one of the raw materials. If we are healers of ourselves and others around us, we can see we have an endless wealth of opportunities to ply our craft. We are spectacularly rich in both potential and means of expression, and there is no shortage of need. If any god wants to save us they are welcome to, but meanwhile we have a lot of growing up to do, and we are eager to get on with it. We aren’t going to wait around for any imaginary events to become actual.

  These are just a few samples of positive psychodramas that many of us share. You are free to make your own list, not based on wishful thinking but on what you really believe in and know in your heart. Then you bring them to bear when the chips are down. As Narayana Guru assures us, this will gradually bring us to yoga, which is incessant rejoicing in the Self.



To whichever mind goes, from all that this should always be restrained, and should be united in the Self—this is yoga. In this should remain united. (IX, 5)


  Once again we are treated to one of Nitya’s most excellent commentaries. I even borrowed part of the last paragraph to explicate a primary thrust of Darsanamala in the introduction (page 15). Here’s how I framed it, in my first big writing project, now twenty years old:


The Psychology of Darsanamala makes unusual demands on the reader, not through any exterior coercion or threats of damnation, but through “reason, steadily applied.” Such a tool can be quite effective in unmasking the depth of one's being, which is well guarded by fear and psychological defense-mechanisms. On page 413 we read, “To those who are constantly under the spell of their ego-infatuation, forgetting or forgoing the ego is wrought with the fear of being destroyed. Such a prospect always brings to them a plaguing sense of insecurity. So they always prefer to have some sense object to be associated with, or other paranoiac people to make friends with. This emotional dependence and sense indulgence keeps the mind always at the periphery of consciousness, and it becomes incapacitated either to dive deep or to fly high.” While it is quite proper to keep the bliss of the Absolute in mind in our goal-orientation, we should not forget that part of ourselves may be wholeheartedly opposed to the success of our quest.


  The ego infatuation in question is constructed around objects of interest. We peer out of the “windows of the senses” and become fixated on what we experience. All our psychic energy is directed toward influencing and being influenced by the disturbances appearing in those windows. All this “getting and spending” is how we “lay waste our powers,” impoverishing ourselves as we turn away from our own innate treasure house of the Self to the flux of the ordinary. Narayana Guru is through laying the groundwork. From here on we are called to “turn off the TV” of the senses and redirect our vision to the Absolute. This requires an initial holding back from our customary indulgence as the focus of consciousness is realigned, until the bliss of our nature floods us and irrefutably demonstrates the poverty of an unalloyed fascination with sensory surface matters.

  Possibly because Narayana Guru mentions restraint here, Nitya’s commentary makes an excursion into Patanjali’s yoga, with its well-known observances and restraints. That “old fashioned” template is unabashedly dualistic, and so the comments are an attempt to unify the duality. They do succeed, but the terminology tempts us to think in terms of outmoded habits, so we must take care not to fall back on any unhelpful notions.

  One of the most unhelpful and curiously popular interpretations of yoga is that we should especially restrain ourselves from what brings us joy. Yet in our study we have decided that the joy of the Self is the norm upon which our philosophy is grounded. The conflict between these two directions turns yoga into a sterile and useless, if not potentially destructive, activity.

  A much better way to look at it is that we are to restrain ourselves from the myriad sources of negativity that we have been examining in detail throughout the Darsanamala study. Nitya reprises a couple of major categories here. He notes that the chimerical ego derives a sense of existence through conflict, because it is not trained to appreciate the validity of peace. If peace is merely the absence of conflict, it is nothing, and nothing has little appeal to the ego. It is always searching for something. Even if it finds nothing, it has to trumpet it as something. So we have a tendency to create conflict to ratify our existence. Since it is impossible to ratify something that doesn’t actually exist but is only a floating hypothesis, the tendency is to create more and more conflict to reinforce the appearance of existence. This trend finds its apotheosis in the politician, but we all share the tendency, so let’s not feel too self-righteous!

  Nitya describes the most essential pattern of negative involvement with the senses on page 412:


The contact between the senses and an object of perception is like pressing a button in the mind to recall a whole bunch of memories. Once the memories are aroused, the urge to actualize a hidden desire gains momentum, and libidinal energy is instantaneously generated for the purpose of actualizing the conscious or unconscious desire. The even flow of consciousness is at once disturbed. A veil of oblivion is immediately cast over all objects other than what is relevant for the mind’s immediate pursuit, and also over other latent desires which are lying in wait to be actualized at an opportune moment. This veiling enhances the highlighting of the interest. The sudden release of libidinal energy makes the mind infatuated with the possibility of actualizing the desire [which can be either positive or negative]…. Infatuation has a blinding effect on the intellect’s normative vision of the Absolute. Only an intensively purposeful conscience of spiritual awakeness can prevail against the moral blindness that afflicts the mind with the irresistible compunction to behave in a certain way.


Since this is the normal way our bodies work, we have to have recourse to a preceptor who can help us out, help us see the Self in the midst of all the chaotic involvements. It helps to have some form of yoga or meditation to break the spell, the thrall of the particular.

  In reviewing Patanjali, Nitya mentions that we should restrain ourselves from erroneous steps in the path of chastity. This can sound silly to a modern mind if chastity is taken to merely mean sexual abstinence. The path of chastity is brahmacharya. I’d like to quote Nitya from his commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which may someday be available as a separate book, but for now can only be accessed in old Gurukulam Magazine issues from the early 1990s. There he defines brahmacharya as “adhering to uprightness in life”:


  When a person is born he is said to be of very little knowledge. The path to perfection is to become conversant with the omniscient, the omnipresent and the omnipotent. Movement from the small world of little knowledge to the infinite world of omniscience is a logarithmic spiral in which the microcosm and the macrocosm become harmonized. The unbroken growth of persistently relating the individual to the Absolute is indicated by the word brahmacharya. Many have missed this point.

  As brahmacharya is intended to provide an aspirant a fully enlightened path that will ever lead them from finitude to infinitude, brahmacharya is identical with the prayer given in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: “Lead us from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality.” From the first cognizance of the inflow of stimuli through the five senses to the final merger in the all-transcending imperiential unity of the Absolute, brahmacharya is the only path that one has to tread….

  The restraints given by Patanjali include brahmacharya to caution the aspirant that there are false paths and temptations from which one should recoil. If one truly understands what brahmacharya is, one has already attained the highest mark of discrimination, which justly qualifies one to be an enlightened person. With that wisdom insight, one confers on oneself rishi-hood, Buddha-hood, Christ-hood and the peace of Islam.


  We spent the class time brainstorming how restraint works in actual practice. Susan noted that she obsesses and gets very anxious about her daughter, who is on the threshold of adulthood. She is powerfully drawn to worry about all the millions of terrible things that might happen to her, which is precisely what Nitya means by infatuation. So she has to consciously restrain the impulse to fret, and remind herself that the young woman has plenty of savvy and will have to solve her own problems in any case. The worry accomplishes nothing positive, and on the downside it communicates fear and mental blockage to the child. What Susan really wants to communicate is love and support, but she has to yogically take herself in hand to do it properly, because her buried memories are forever clamoring to present their unhappy take on things.

  This struck a nerve with the class. Apparently very many parents have similar issues. It is a real art form to be close and protective with the small child, and then gradually relinquish the protection as the child learns to act on its own recognizance. Anita noted how hard it is to stop mothering, which is such a deep and profound and satisfying urge. There is nothing wrong with mothering per se. But children need to get distance from it to learn independence. The best thing is for the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters of the world to redirect their love and care to others who need it within the greater human family, as they gently wean themselves from the guidance of their own children’s lives.

  I gave the example of how busy my life is, and how I have to say no to certain activities or else my life would be frittered away on minor indulgences like dinners, concerts, chores and errands. These are all good things of course, but still I consciously chose to hold back on some of the possibilities that present themselves. That allows me to actually accomplish some things of more lasting value, including improving my musical ability and editing books of word wisdom.

  I also noted how for guys especially, it is easy to sit around and complain and disdain all the stupid things in the social world. This can be a full time occupation for many of us. Fire stations are rife with it, so I speak as an insider. But it is an empty exercise for the most part, accomplishing nothing, unless you feel somehow pumped up by the failings of others. Vedanta teaches us that those failings we perceive tend to be our own faults projected outward, in any case. So it behooves us to restrain from indulging in such obvious trivialities, and find a more meaningful outlet for our intelligence.

  Anita mentioned how she deals with an obnoxious coworker. She used to get very upset by her passive aggressive shenanigans, but now she doesn’t take the snubs and insults personally, but thinks about them compassionately. She sees the underlying unhappiness in the woman, and, while it doesn’t make everything into a Big Rock Candy Mountain, it helps take the sting out of disappointing exchanges. This is a very healthy form of restraint, overcoming hurt feelings to offer consolation instead of responding with another hurtful remark. It initiates a cycle that opens the door to peace instead of escalating the cycle of petty warfare.

  So there are a billion circumstances where we could indulge our surface consciousness in reacting to this or that stimulus, that tweaks this or that vasana or samskara and disturbs our peace of mind, but we have decided to resist the temptation. With the help of wise friends and wise words we can continually bring ourselves back to a healthy state of mind. We cannot possibly catalogue all the ways we go off course, or stray from the path of chastity. We just know we do. And so we join hands to grope our way back to balance. As Nitya concludes: “Gaining that union and not losing it again can be effectively achieved only with the continuous exercise of detachment from the untrue and the unwholesome, and the emphasizing of the mind’s union with the Self constantly and forever.”


Part II

  One more category of thoughts worthy of restraint that we bandied about in the class: “I’m inadequate.” “I don’t fit in.” “I should just hold back and stay out of the way.” “Everybody’s got it together except me.” “If I join in, I’ll offend people.” “I’m different.” Or, by slight contrast: “I’m better than them.” “They’re not my kind of people.” “Those guys are stupid.” “I don’t like those (fill in the blank) types.”

  From such thoughts, when one is freed, one gains release.

  In other words, many of us indulge in thinking like this, and frequently base our actions on such thoughts, often without realizing it, but the yogi examines their basis and realizes they are inverted and exaggerated forms of egotism. Baseless generalizations. By identifying with the Self which is the Absolute which is bliss, the yogi is delighted to let go of all such ego-reinforcing ideas. They really do pinch the soul as well as cause conflict, and what is the upside? A thicker barricade to hide behind. A yogi is not attracted to such crutches.



Sankalpa—the cause of all disasters of mankind—along with projections, should be uprooted, and incipient memories restrained in the atma. What is seen has not the perceived reality, because what is seen is the seer itself. Who is thus united in the seer, he is the best among yoga knowers. (IX, 6 & 7)


  Deb started us off with a review of sankalpa from back in the Asatya Darsana, verse 5. Although a little long, quoting it will throw some light on this verse, and also demonstrate the unity of Narayana Guru’s overall approach:


Sankalpa is somewhat equivalent to the drawing of a blueprint in consciousness which will lead to the actualization of an event, the attainment of a state, the acquisition of a desired object, or to the establishment of a new relationship with oneself or with another person at some time in the future. These do have an element of will implied in them. That is why sankalpa is usually translated as will.

  Sankalpa carries with it a probability factor, and it is most likely that the desire to actualize it may bring it about. But it is also possible for desires to arise in consciousness which by their intrinsic nature are highly improbable. The ignorance of the individual, coupled with a rational myopia caused by infatuation, may easily convince him that what is willed is not at all improbable. In spite of this improbability, a person may try hard to actualize a desire and will fail to achieve it. In this aspect, the desiring imagination of the person is called vikalpa. Both probability and improbability are promoted with the desire to actualize, whereas the person sees nothing but probability due to his infatuated imagination. The infatuation is directly related to one of the many incipient memories, which we have referred to earlier as vasana. Thus, both sankalpa and vikalpa are born of vasana. (177-178)


Unfortunately, most of us are motivated by personal gains, and are so veiled by our personal ignorance that we draw thick ego boundaries and separate ourselves from the rest of the world phenomena. As a result of this darkness, the “other” can assume a fancied image which makes the individual hanker after it and thus become subject to infatuation. This brings about false hope after false hope, like that of a thirsty man going from one mirage to another. Such an unfortunate person runs after shadows, which results in mounting frustration. The “other” can also assume a demonic form, engendering in the person an element of fear. The fear grows from moment to moment until it becomes a paranoia that can assume gigantic proportions. (179)


  Narayana Guru is uncharacteristically unequivocal in claiming that sankalpa is the cause of all the disasters of mankind. How can he say that? If he was unlimited in how much he could put in a verse, he might also have said that it is the cause of all the good things mankind accomplishes also. But for now we are stressing restraint and centering, as opposed to good works. The Vedantic notion is that when you restrain yourself, the impulse which remains is in tune with the Absolute. Following Absolute impulses is the essence of spirituality. The distinction is of course subtle and open to blundering whenever the ego cloaks its desires in the guise of spirituality. Let’s draw on one more paragraph from III,5:


Although the world is generally treated as unreal in Vedantic literature, again and again there come exhortations from the great masters to do good to the world and to maintain the harmony of world order. Both in the Bhakti Darsana and Nirvana Darsana, the Guru tells us of the necessity to relate to the world in a meaningful way. Great masters like Krishna, Christ, Buddha and the Prophet have all desired peace on earth and fellowship between human beings. These good works are also sankalpas, but they are qualified as satya sankalpa, desirable imagination that can be true in all probability. (179)


  Anita once again cut to the chase. The verse can sound like you aren’t supposed to do anything, just stay home and meditate. If everything that comes up emerges from vasana, and we aren’t supposed to follow our vasanas, what options are left to us? She gave the example of sitting at home and surveying her surroundings. The weather has been awful, and she found herself becoming depressed. So instead of meditating she went next door to talk with her neighbor, and the interaction with another sympathetic human made her feel much better. After all, aren’t we supposed to be gauging our way forward based on joy?

  That’s right. Joy or bliss is the measuring rod we use. This is not a sin-filled religion where you have to suppress what you feel. It’s not a bitter medicine of crushed sensibilities to honor a capricious or vengeful god. Parallel with an external god whose dictates we are striving to follow, we can think of meditation practices we are supposed to follow to achieve the result of happiness. So we suppress ourselves for yoga just as we suppress ourselves for Allah. Our sankalpas line up behind what we think we should be doing, whether or not that's the best thing for us. That’s why Narayana Guru says that we are to restrain our vasanas in the atma. Atma is Self. It is not outside. Anita did the right thing, even though she was dubious about it because of not fully understanding the Guru’s teaching.

  Atma guides us with joy, and we share its bounty by going out and interacting with friends. Most of us already spend too much time weeping in a quiet corner. We need to carry our hearts out to meet other hearts. Anita’s sankalpas were telling her to sit inside and meditate when a friend was just outside. Sure, this is merely a mini-disaster, but from it we can extrapolate bigger disasters. Luckily, she also allowed herself to be guided by an inner conviction that led her to a happy outcome. We restrain our conditionings precisely so we can hear this “still small voice.” (1Kgs.19,12) It’s a tricky business, because “doing yoga” or “going to church” or “praying to God” can be freeing if done in the right spirit, or deadening if done out of a sense of sankalpa-born duty. Our ego tends to clasp onto the sankalpa orientation and believe that’s the path, which keeps it from seeing the true path that the atma or the ananda or the Absolute is trying to reveal. This is why we need to listen instead of rushing off half cocked. We are too easily fooled.

  What is it about humans that we are so attracted to joyless mechanical acts, and wary of “dancing beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free”? (Dylan.) Why do we imagine the former bring liberation and the latter are to be avoided at all costs? It must be a hangover from the medieval times when monks lived in stark cells and wore hair shirts. Did all that self-abnegation produce enlightenment, or just the Inquisition and the Albigensian Crusade?

  Deb cautioned that we can delude ourselves by catering to the ego’s simplistic desires and thinking of that as bliss. It feels good when we please our egos. But we want to go deeper than that, to discover the universal norms of bliss that transcend our personal prejudices. That’s why the Gurukula uses the idea of value in place of bliss. It’s harder to be misled by values than by pleasure. Values give lasting bliss, while ego indulgences are transient.

  Deb also admitted to being fooled herself, on occasion. When she was a new student of Nitya’s he asked her to read out Dante’s Divine Comedy to him. After a few pages she threw it across the room in a fury and shouted that it was the stupidest book ever and she wouldn’t touch it. (Nitya was particularly fond of Debby in part because she wasn’t reverential, towards him or anyone else.) Thirty years later she was reintroduced to it in a poetry class, saw that there was something else of great value below the surface, and fell in love with it. Somehow in the interim her norms had expanded to include ideas from a wider range of sources.

  The feeling I had when preparing for the class was, what keeps us from getting up from our meditation as a different person than the one who sat down? We could be a new person when we get up in the morning. So why do we always reactivate our bad habits and ridiculous attitudes, instead of starting fresh with the wisdom we read and ponder so much about? Those habitual conditionings are exactly what sankalpas are based upon. We want to make certain things happen, and what we want to have happen is what we expect and what we are comfortable and familiar with. We limit our possibilities by channeling our psyches with our will. We are too timid to dare to be great. Sure, those habits also give continuity to our life, and continuity gives meaning. But if we want to improve the meaning of our life we may have to reorient the direction in which our continuity is aimed. We want to raise our life above the petty buffeting we are constantly receiving, to stand on its own ground as a pillar of strength.

  Luckily, Anita and Deb both overcame their disastrous sankalpas, one sooner, one later. Once you see the principle, you can look for similar blind spots in your own psyche, and strive to avoid the disasters before they happen. Practical examples like this are always helpful.

  We finished up with two more examples, from Brenda and Eugene. Brenda’s father has just died, after a long illness. She struggled hard to have a relationship with him. He always tried to make her upset, so she stood firm and kept her cool. She knew it was partly due to his illness. His death is part of a sea change in her life. She and Charles are quitting their home, which has been very important to her, and heading off to Mexico, with the intention of starting fresh on their return. So the pets are gone, furniture sold or in storage, the house an empty shell. Mother is near death and father gone. Brenda is in a whirlwind of change, but she regularly finds her center where the blasts are less ferocious. Because of her good attitude, she is learning a lot about letting go, as well as how even the best of things can hold you back. In terms of this verse, her sankalpas beg her to cling to home and the mothering role she does so well for the whole world, but another voice is calling her in a new direction and she is heeding it. The possibilities have thus become much wider for where she will go from here.

  This stands out starkly from a woman I visited the day before. She was a lot like Brenda, being a mother to everyone and throwing herself wholeheartedly into the role. But there was no doubt and no backup. Six months ago her husband abruptly left, and she utterly fell apart. Everywhere she looks there is only darkness. Her life is ruined, and she doesn’t have the strength to begin to reconstruct anything. So both women have had their lives stripped suddenly of all the familiar trappings. One is taking it like a yogi, and the other like a hapless victim. One has turned to the Self, the atma, and one simply longs to rekindle her favorite vasanas. Such choices are the most important moments for us to steer the course of our lives. A healthy philosophy prepares us to make the most of them.

  Less drastic but more of a typical example many of us face all the time, is Eugene’s dilemma. He has a friend who wants to manipulate him into being like her. She wants him to work more and contemplate less. He feels fine in the path he has chosen, which definitely seems like his svadharma, but whenever his friend nags him it hurts his feelings and upsets him. He wonders how to respond, and if he should just give up on her. The relation to the verse is that it sounds like the Guru’s advice is that maybe he’s being selfish and egotistical without realizing it, and that the outside world is always giving us input we should heed, so maybe he should take her advice. It is very easy to fall into a trap of doubt like this. We definitely do need to be available to criticism and take it seriously, but we also have to be skeptical and deflect unhelpful advice, with which the world is filled to the brim. Again, a healthy philosophy is our best ground here. But Eugene is bugged partly because he has a good philosophy, and he has already decided that his friend is importuning, but it still bothers him.

  First off, the world does not give us unerringly positive messages. We ourselves have to be the judge of that. Just because the ‘other’ is the Absolute doesn’t mean it isn’t filled with charlatans and propagandists and all kinds of manipulators. Narayana Guru’s point here is that what we see “out there” is who we are “in here.” All that stuff out there is us, but it’s the ‘us’ that needs pruning and tending. Opening ourselves up to nothing but outside influences is a recipe for insanity. But seeing it all in proper context is a recipe for wisdom. In this case, a yogi would wonder why the woman is so driven to try to change someone already making great strides in his chosen career? A conclusion might be that she resents his freedom, and like so many Puritan Americans wants him to spend all his time working. “Idle hands are the devil’s playground!” The really upsetting thing here is that she is a good friend, but caught in a vicious circle of neurosis that continually projects her anxieties onto him. She imagines that him changing will solve her own problems, but of course that’s absurd, so absurd she’d even deny it if he mentioned it. So there is a feeling of helplessness on Eugene’s part.

  Back in the Sixties, we hung out on the streets a lot. It was a much more social time. And most of us were working, then as now. Nonetheless, there were angry conservatives who would drive around in cars and yell at us, “Get a job!” and then speed away. So the Calvinist hallucination is still alive and well: work like hell or go to hell! Needless to say, the Gurus ever advise us to stop and think, and give ourselves enough time to know ourselves. Maybe someday we will even be able to help our friends to relax and enjoy life, too.

  Such conflicts as this one always call to mind a profound letter from Nitya to Debbie back in September of 1971. It’s in Love and Blessings, on a page that should be dog-eared in everyone’s copy. The last paragraph reads:


You should not be saddened about anyone unless your sadness has a positive or negative impact on him to jolt him out of the impasse and set him right. I may observe a fast, or cry, scream, slap myself and roll on the floor like a mad dog if only I see the ghost of a chance to pull the other to the right track. If that is not possible, I prefer to walk away with a prayer in my heart.


  Eugene is young, so he’s still at a deferential stage of life, and older people often feel like venting their frustrations on them. It’s like the parent who wants to vicariously be a champion through his or her offspring and pushes them to go out for sports or whatever. Unfortunately, age does not automatically confer wisdom. So here Eugene has to walk a razor’s edge between firmness and friendship. He is already more mature than some of his older associates, but has to respect their feelings all the same. Finding a balance in such conflict really does bring wisdom, and that’s exactly how the outside world best fits in to our spiritual birthing process.


Part II

  Sorry to write even a little more, but I just came across a wonderful paragraph by Nitya that bears on our studies, and I wanted to share it with you. This is from his Gita commentary, page 241, in answer to a question on how we know that we spiritually progress:


Situations presenting themselves to us, without any initiative on our part, and as a result of our most natural and correct behavior, should be taken as the will of God. That very feeling will give us a sense of our togetherness with God. Even though a situation looks difficult and beyond us, this trust in the Highest will give us new hope and courage, and unsought aid coming from all directions will enhance our trust in God’s grace. When this trust and consequential fulfillment increases day by day, we know we are on the right track and we progress. In such a case no one will have any doubt in their mind of what is happening.


And just for the hell of it: I just added the 42nd person to the class notes list, all of it extended by word of mouth. I even hear from a few of you occasionally! The list now goes, in addition to all corners of the US, to several parts of India, plus Sweden, England, Portugal, Germany, Poland (when Adam’s there), and Mexico. Very cool!



When mind, the bumblebee, sips the honey-like sweetness of one’s own bliss, fluttering ceases and is drawn into union by yoga vayu. (IX, 8)


         The bumblebee metaphor is well known in Indian teaching stories. No one knows the origin of the word bumblebee, but I like my dictionary’s stab at it as a combination of the words bungle and stumble. The seeker of truth sets out as a half-aware tourist, sometimes more like a hobo, who bungles and stumbles through life until, wafted on a gentle spring breeze, a delicious scent arrives. Quickly the attention is focused on the fragrance. Where does it come from? The bumbler craves to discover its hiding place. A few steps in a likely direction—no it’s getting fainter. Another try—not this one either. Down a well-worn path—no, just dust down that road. Back this way—ah! the scent is getting stronger. This is the way to go. Tentative steps are taken in the right direction, but before long the allure is so strong that you are practically rushing ahead. You are no longer a bumbler but now know your calling. Other bumblebees are converging on the Source, and you may finish your search in company with some of them. And at last, the flower! Or, as the Gita has it, the One Beyond is sighted.

         It is a silly bumblebee indeed who turns back at this point, returns to the crossroads, and begins selling maps of how to find the source in your own spare time at home. Or who boasts about his adventures to timid bees who smell something but aren’t sure what it is or whether it would be okay to go look for it themselves. Or who builds the Temple of the Holy Fragrance to have regular talks about it. A proper bee dives into the flower and sips the honey and revels in the pollen. What happens next is not its concern. What will happen will happen. First, get the honey!

         The Bhana Darsana talked about the fluttering of our minds, the electrical pulsation fluctuating between subject and object that produces the illusion of an actual world. Now we are prepared to let it cease and see what else there is. The Guru has instructed us that the ‘else’ is the Self, which is the same as ananda which is the same as the Absolute. Allowing the fluctuations to cease is almost unbearably simple, so simple that we embroider it with all kinds of activities that prevent our sinking into it. This is abetted by those enterprises that owe their existence to catering to superficial attractions at the expense of a solidly grounded inner happiness. Nitya mentions a few: trade, commerce, therapy and religion, all of which use various techniques to externalize human interests. We go along because the fluttering also produces our ego sense as one more illusion in the house of mirrors, and we're kind of attached to it.

         Isn’t it odd that this ego, an epiphenomenon of the fluctuations of awareness between subject and object, becomes such a stern taskmaster, deflecting all attempts to deflate it by becoming peaceful and centered? The game would be relatively easy if the ego would only play along, but it is fearful, profoundly fearful. We cannot detach it from its illusions by a head-on assault or any charge of the light brigade. Narayana Guru recommends becoming absorbed in some delightful involvement, so that our progress is natural and positively reinforced. This engenders less resistance from our superficial side; in fact, the whole program can be easy and fun. The fragrance of the Absolute draws us gradually in via our natural affinities, otherwise known as our svadharma. Like taming a shy deer, it can be accomplished with patience and love, and force tends to be counterproductive. Nitya puts this very well in his comments:


The peace that comes when the mind is no longer distracted… is the enjoyment which a yogi seeks. Such a rasa can come only when the mind is fully drawn to the most lovable object. Man loves nothing and no one more than his very Self. Even when a man kills himself it is because he pities himself. So the most stable of all rasas comes when mind is guided to the discovery of the sweetest of all ecstasies that lies buried in the Self. However, the mind is like a brute. It is to be tamed and educated, controlled and disciplined. Any discipline involving threat and suppression will be reacted to by the mind, which in its bitterness and sourness becomes neurotic and psychotic. So it is to be disciplined with great care and with healthy incentives. (420)


         It is not just in matters of the spirit that the ego resists discipline, it is in every aspect of life. Tragically, it may well develop a mind set in which the world is the source of unfair discipline and it is the lone hero resisting for all it is worth. Then, even when there is no negative stimulus the mind imagines it. It internalizes a permanent state of oppression and becomes like a beleaguered city on the hill, eternally under siege. Such an attitude, very common in our modern world, reinforces the ego and powerfully resists all attempts at incursion, benign or hostile. Vast amounts of energy are expended to reinforce defensive walls and place armaments.

         In contrast to this, the class reported a number of very positive breakthroughs, which could make for a very lengthy report if I’m not careful. Anita altered her feelings of separation and distance from her family by realizing that whenever she thought of them she was with them in her heart, and the bond was much happier when she didn’t think of the separation but only thought of the love. Susan talked about how when she feels the fragrance of something beautiful she always wants to solidify it with a practical program. Now she is learning to simply accept the beauty and relinquish the urge to repeat it. She knows beauty will come, so she doesn’t have to be anxious about making it happen, which used to make her very tense. Eugene told us about riding the bus during high school rush hour, how he held back from getting aboard a bus full of obnoxious teenagers, but then steeled himself with the thought that they were after all aspects of himself. He found himself laughing at their silliness, which diffused the tension to an extent at least. All these are brave and intrepid examples of self-discipline based on brahmavidya, the Science of the Absolute. There is no need to commend them, especially, for they are their own reward. This is what Narayana Guru wants us all very much to be able to do: make ourselves intrepid based on our improved understanding of how everything fits together, drawn ahead simply by the joy occasioned by clearheaded understanding.

         Somehow we ended on an odd but helpful tack. When we identify people with their jobs, or identify ourselves with our jobs, we squeeze us all into small boxes. I suggested that instead of asking chance encounters “What do you do?” we might ask “What do you love?” or, less threatening perhaps, “What do you like?” Brenda related that when seeking caregivers for her mother over the last several years, she always asked prospects if they enjoyed what they were doing. She found that more than half didn’t like their work, many of the rest were equivocal, and only a few would say yes, they really loved what they did. Those were the ones she picked, and they always turned out to be excellent choices.

         Our Puritanical society is fixated on work, so not only do we identify with our jobs, but we don’t feel adequately human unless we are totally in harness to some respected occupation. Anne talked about going to a big reunion of her son’s class ten years out of high school. Many were lost and confused about what they should be doing, and only a few were set on a career. The ones who were doing what they loved exuded great confidence; the rest were dubious and unsure of themselves. Isn’t it a shame that unless we know our “calling,” which can only be a job, that we can’t feel like we are of any value? In a sane society, everyone would know they were sparks of the Absolute. They would be confident that whatever intrigue caught their fancy, if persistently followed back to its source, it would lead them to Self-realization. But because we only recognize a small number of “useful” expressions, the vast majority think of themselves as misfits and rejects from the in-crowd. What a waste of hearts and minds!

         There is so much need for an intelligent world view, such as the one Narayana Guru has compassionately tried to share with everyone. It is heartening to see that at least in a few cases it has touched the lives of some of our friends. May its sweet fragrance continue to be sniffed out by dear bumbling bees here and there throughout the garden!



When meditation is done with the gaze between the eyebrows and the tip of the tongue fixed above the uvula, then happens khecari mudra, which dispels torpor and fatigue. (IX, 9)


         Nine, nine is German for neti neti, “not this not this.” So if Narayana Guru stayed up late watching early German art films in the 1920s, he might have intended the pun. Of course, he probably didn’t speak English either…. All right, enough schmaltz. And after all, a yogic technique like the one he describes here is more akin to asti asti, “and this and this.” It is a positive endeavor, marking the high water line of Darsanamala. Beyond this point the Guru uses one more verse to sum up yoga, followed by one more darsana to describe the recession of life toward its close. There is no more building up, but rather an easing back.

         Through most of the Yoga Darsana, Narayana Guru described a simple and direct form of meditation. The last two verses mention first pranayama and now an extremely advanced yogic practice. Both should only be done under the direct guidance of a knowledgeable guru, because improper techniques can easily misdirect the very powerful energies involved. Moni, who has seen several yogis in khecari mudra was always cautioned that it was the last stage of yoga. The participants were all completely withdrawn, with eyes rolled up and barely breathing. Such yogis have spent a minimum of twelve years of diligent study and practice before attempting it.

         Nataraja Guru and Guru Nitya always insisted that there was no need to torture the body or the respiratory system to reach Self-realization, meaning one does not need perilous techniques like these. Simple contemplation such as described in the Bhakti Darsana and the early Yoga Darsana is more than adequate. The Bhagavad Gita is in complete agreement, presenting union as an intellectual accomplishment rather than the culmination of any practice.

         Deb started the ball rolling in the class with an excellent description of Narayana Guru’s intent in this verse—and really in the work as a whole. That is, we begin our spiritual unfoldment from a fixed point of mental orientation, and gradually move to broader and broader vistas, becoming more flexible, tolerant and open. Our understanding blossoms. When we cease clinging to static concepts we become free to see far and wide. Thus seers survey all the terrain, not just their own location at the moment. Their mentality is expansive.

         The word khecara means flying through the air; as a mudra, it refers to the magical power of flying. Literalists have therefore striven to levitate bodily. But we have learned in this class to take things symbolically, as relating to our psyches. This is about becoming lighter, about soaring in the soul. Nitya gives the example of a lark that leaves the ground where it has been sleeping in a little nest, flies high above the clouds, and bursts forth with an exuberant, heavenly song from the heart. The lark exemplifies our inner spirit. We don’t have to spend a lifetime unsuccessfully striving to get our heavy bodies to float above the ground. When Eugene brings his talent and discipline together to sing a beautiful aria, inspiring and enchanting his audience; when Anne shares her love with a dying patient, converting their sadness and regret into peace and contentment; when Brenda waves her wand of beautification around her neighborhood; or when any of the rest of us touch our acquaintances in the ways we do, we are converting heaviness and torpor into a soaring state of the joy of existence. These are examples of yoga in action, what Narayana Guru is urging us, in his quiet way, to practice.

         Just being alive is the most ecstatic thing possible. Guy Murchie, in The Seven Mysteries of Life, calculates just how rare and amazing each of us is, in his very amusing and uplifting Seventh Mystery. He begins by refuting the infinite number of monkeys on typewriters theory, the one where they eventually would write Hamlet. Using 50 for the number of possible keystrokes, what with letters and numbers and punctuation, and not even counting capitals, the first letter has 50 options, the next 50 squared, then 50 cubed, and so on. By the end of the first line this number is equivalent to 10 to the 110th power, so vast that it:


As physicist George Gamow once explained in a book, is a thousand times more than the total number of vibrations made by all the atoms in the universe since it was created. As atoms vibrate about a quadrillion times a second and there are quintillions of them in every speck of dust, the commonest of materials floating literally everywhere in space, 10 to the 110th is an unimaginably big number. In fact it demonstrates conclusively, I’d say, that not even one line of any book or speech can originate purely by chance in this finite universe. There just isn’t space or time enough. So something else has to be behind things, somehow guiding them. And that, one might say, is a kind of mathematical proof of divinity—depending of course on your definition. (598)


Murchie then goes on to mathematically assess the unlikelihood of our individual existence as about the same as this vast number. Each of us is thus almost infinitely impossible and unbearably unique. As in the Unbearable Lightness of Being, one of the greatest book titles of all time. Anything this rare is worth celebrating. And celebrating and celebrating. Just knowing how special it is makes our hearts leap with joy.

         The ancient Egyptians taught that before entering the afterlife your heart would be weighed on a balance scale against a feather. If your heart was lighter than the feather, you were admitted to heaven. If it was heavier… well, let’s not think about it. Can you say crocodile fodder? But that’s what khecari mudra signifies for us: lighten up! Be light hearted! Relax and enjoy! Damn the crocs and full speed ahead!

         It’s funny that entropy still gets a lot of talk nowadays, as if it existed or something. It came up yet again in class and figured in an article in this season's Gurukulam Magazine. It’s an excellent example of a theory designed to explain a limited and partial world view, in this case based on depression and despair. It has been entirely supplanted by new information for many years, and yet it continues to be cited as a touchstone for meaninglessness within the Big Picture.

         The opposite of entropy is called negentropy. Life itself is the negentropic principle of the universe. Or we might call it consciousness. The superficial dissipation of energy that we see on the surface of things is more than compensated for by a source that is actually adding energy to the system. The expansion of the universe appears to be accelerating tremendously, caused by some vast unknown input of energy. This has been observed for more than a decade, and will eventually cause people to revise their one-sided views. But why wait? You can revise your views any time.

         We have often mentioned the quantum vacuum in these notes as an undiminishing source of energy for the entire universe, or actually multiverse as has recently been substantially proven. Timothy Ferris is a classically skeptical physicist, author of The Whole Shebang, the state of current appraisals of the universe. Writing for National Geographic Magazine (November 2007), he offers this perfectly mainstream version of our current picture (note that dark energy comprises 2/3 of the universe by current estimates):


It may well be that dark energy is inherent to space itself. Physicists had long suspected that such a “vacuum energy” must exist, since quantum fields, which contain energy, permeate even the emptiest voids out between the galaxies. Yet when physicists calculate the amount of energy in the vacuum, they get absurdly large results, ranging from infinite (“That can’t be right,” Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg mused) to zillions of times more than is required even to account for the mighty force of dark energy. The disparity troubles them; Weinberg calls it “the worst failure of an order-of-magnitude estimate in the history of science.” Clearly, something is wrong with either the observations (but no error has yet been found, in many ongoing studies with Hubble and other telescopes) or with the consensus model of physics and cosmology, which for all their flaws stand as one of the grandest attainments of modern science.


Keep in mind that all these dedicated physicists are trying their damndest to prove that this energy doesn’t exist at all. These are not fundamentalists insisting God exists because they believe in Him. We’re talking about a phenomenon that is as real as anything in consensus reality can be real.

         So don’t worry about running out of energy in the grand sense. Locally, there could be temporary shortages. As long as we rely on physical forms of energy like food and oil we can run out. Khecari mudra and levity in general redirect us to tune into more subtle energies that are extremely plentiful. This quantum energy is right inside every cubic centimeter of our bodies. It is either unlimited or very nearly unlimited, depending on the math. We emerge from it into “ordinary” life, and remerge into at its close. What’s to worry about? From the Gita, Chapter II:


28)         Beings have an unmanifested origin and manifested middle states, and again unmanifested terminations. Where is room for plaint herein?


         Once again I feel very humble that so many people shared so many great ideas, and I can’t possibly squeeze them into the notes and still make the plane to India in two weeks. There was a very warm feeling of the group, which I believe persists for awhile anyway after everyone drives off down the road. That warmth is the lightness of being recommended to us by the Guru and reactivated each in our own life in our way. Sharing it with one another compounds the energy even better than monkeys at typewriters compound the meaning of futility. This is indeed the high water mark of our in-depth study of Darsanamala.


Part II

         Deb’s idea, that we should gradually move to broader and broader vistas, becoming more flexible, tolerant and open as we go, is one that I didn’t flesh out at all in the earlier notes, but which was the major discussion of the class. It arose especially in response to Anne’s question regarding sublimated erotics, “Well, what does that mean for my sex life, then?” It’s a question that hasn’t played much a part in Darsanamala study, which does not share the Christian notion of denial of the flesh in order to achieve godliness. However, many Hindu’s do believe in that. The Aryans brought repression with their religious and social norms, and these were codified by Sankara into brahmacharya in the ninth century. Today India is even more sexually repressed than some Christian-influenced nations.

         Nitya personally followed the sexual-renunciate program, out of preference and natural inclination or svadharma. But he frequently tempered his advocacy of it with cautions about repression, which can cause severe mental aberrations. Most people—in or out of a spiritually dedicated practice—work hard to repress their sexuality, and the result is an ocean of violence, bitterness and hostility on the one hand, or self-abnegation and depression on the other. Your chances of becoming enlightened through this method are only slightly better than those of Bonzo the Chimp writing MacBeth. Why would you even want to risk it?

         Nitya’s description of the khecari mudra is that it is erotic in the extreme, a thousandfold more intense than ordinary orgasmic delight. “Erotic energy is the highest that man can wield,” he concedes. Sublimation of the ordinary attraction to objects is replaced by a unitive focus concentered in the ajna, the third eye or sixth chakra. The more the whole being is concentrated, the more the entire psyche is harmonized. This brings “awareness without frontiers,” and “leads to the discovery of the meaning of all meanings, the peak experience of supreme bliss.” Whatever the bards may sing about carnal love, it doesn’t usually promise quite that.

         Or course, regarding sex most people think, “It’s good enough for me!” And who can blame them? Nothing needs to be forced here. Start with the easy stuff like good sex, and keep adding blissful realizations and experiences as you go along. As you become more loving and blissful, it naturally pours out of you to others. This doesn’t mean you go around having sex with everybody, like some gurus we’ve heard about. In fact, it doesn’t require any overt expression at all. Subtlety is very nice, and overt expressions often dissipate energy rather than conserve it.

         That was the class’s main conclusion, that our goal is to pull back from all those banal activities that fritter away our energy, and bring our psyches to bear on things that matter, things that promote and express beauty, truth and psychological development. We all know how it is to pour our energies into crummy relationships or stupid hamster cage trivial pursuits. Now we want to find a way to retain all that expended energy, for our own bliss and that of our friends and fellow creatures on this wondrous Earth. Khecari mudra, or “learning to fly” symbolizes this highest achievement of our fledgling humanity.



In this world yoga, in short, is of two forms—knowledge and action—thus. All forms of yoga are conclusively comprised in these two descriptions of yoga. (IX, 10)


         The Bhagavad Gita examines knowledge and action in detail and brings them together as one in yoga: “Yoga is reason in action.” Narayana Guru accomplishes the same thing over the course of the Yoga Darsana. The verses alternate an emphasis on jnana and then karma, thought and action. The overall structure is worth a look.

         Verse 1 focuses on the mind. In it “we have an image of a bipolar affiliation between the limited mind and the total consciousness, brought about through a form of restraint.”

         Verse 2 focuses on the heart. Yoga is the action of joining one’s heart with the Unknown.

         Verse 3, name and form is the Absolute, therefore the mind merges in the Known.

         Verse 4, the joy of this union is yoga.

         Verse 5, we should consciously remind ourselves that all this is the Self, which is the Absolute.

         Verse 6, willing, a form of action, should not be yoked to one’s vasanas or creative urges.

         Verse 7, we should remember that what is “out there” is a reflection of “in here.” This verse could be considered to pertain to both thought and action.

         A progressive merger of these two aspects is evident throughout the Darsana. Next they come together completely:

         Verse 8, bliss draws the mind into union.

         Verse 9, meditation brings union via subtle activity. In summary:

         Verse 10, yoga is jnana and karma together.


         Nitya, in his conclusion, surprises us with another structural revelation. In the great dictum tat tvam asi, That thou art, ‘That’ is the vertical or conceptual aspect of the Absolute and ‘thou’ is the active or horizontal. Jnana yoga releases us from the conceptual hypnosis of the Other, while karma yoga releases us from our perennial fixation on our self. “Thus, when the secret of the Self and the non-Self are taken together, it is evident there is only one yoga. It is both jnana and karma and also it is neither jnana alone nor karma alone.” (426)

         The class explored some crucial aspects of why action and intelligence have to go together. We looked into the explosion of new aspects of what is often lumped into New Age religion, such as tarot reading, palmistry, divination, crystal energies, astrology, what is loosely called shamanism and so on. The question is how does one distinguish the real from the false, the discovery of hidden meaning from the projection of wishful thinking? This is critical, because as Anita pointed out, we don’t want to limit ourselves to what we already know. That would be stasis, and few people are so bold nowadays to insist we already know everything. To what extent do these practices help and what is their potential for harm?

         If I was honest about reporting the class, I’d have to say that we were very accepting and tolerant of almost everything anyone could think of. I was pretty surprised at this. Vedanta should foster a strong sense of scientific skepticism, along with its openmindedness and compassion for all sorts of venues. To paraphrase Voltaire, while we may disagree with many things people believe, we will defend to the death their right to jump off the cliff of their choice.

         I can report, though, that no one gave any reason that any of this purportedly spiritual exploration has any value at all. Anne put it best in perspective. All these practices are like Rorschach tests, the random inkblots that reveal the mental projections and topology of the interpreter. As such they can be seen as charming, even endearing, if not manifestations of gullibility. At best—and this is often the case—they provide a format for the release of people’s intuitive insights. Intuition is the aspect of mind we most closely link to spirituality. Of course, the line between true intuition and blatant ego projection is a fine one. That’s why we are making such a detailed and careful study of how the mind works and how easily it is deluded.

         For me, as everyone already exasperatedly knows, delusion can be very dangerous. We always have the examples of our “fearless leaders” in business and government, raping and pillaging the planet while remaining within their dream of enhancing good and driving away evil. A clearcut is a “biological access trail.” Torture is “enhanced interrogation.” War is the best of all possible worlds. I brought up the example we heard the night before, of a doctor who was giving a fund raising lecture in Atlanta to bring an Iraqi child to the US for medical treatment. Someone in the audience asked, seriously, “You mean there are children in Iraq?” To the consumer of propaganda, the Middle East is all terrorists, so there is no downside to waging all out war on the entire region. Imagination is superimposed on actuality usually to its great detriment.

         We had a dispatcher in our fire department who used a pendulum to look for gold. Soon he was using it to predict all sorts of things. One day he received a fire alarm and dispatched the fire engines. I was on the call. Soon he came on the radio and said, “You can all return. False alarm.” He had used his pendulum to determine it. But there actually was a fire, fortunately not a very big one, and eventually his mistake was overridden. He was very lucky not to have been “fired” over the incident.

         So things like this can be harmless amusements as after dinner entertainment, parlor magic, but when lives are on the line they should be treated with caution. We have to ask what mechanism is involved? Do we understand it, or just hope that it will work? How much is wishful thinking and how do we distinguish truth from imagination?

         A lot of these “spiritual” phenomena have been studied, and there is always a very low incidence of provability. Yet loads of people insist on their validity. Why? What’s the attraction?

         We can use our basic Vedantic norm and ask “Do they bring lasting happiness?” Very often the interest is the product of bored and disconnected people searching for some new titillation for their hungry minds. They are hungry because what they have been consuming is “empty calories”—the junk food of spiritual trivia. Newness is attractive. The ego likes to feel it has access to hidden secrets that “ordinary” people are ignorant of. But the happiness it occasions is temporary, very short lived. Human history is littered with cast off beliefs that didn’t hold up to reason in the long run. People rush to accept and embrace the new, but when they “wake up in the morning” so to speak, what looked like the partner of their dreams reveals its flaws all to quickly. They inwardly cringe in shame that their vasanas carried them away yet again.

         Nitya headed the Institute for Psychic and Spiritual Research in New Delhi for several years in the mid-1960s. While he did scientifically examine a very few yogis who could do measurable feats, a very large percentage were simply boasting, to put it kindly. The Portland Gurukula is extremely lucky to have a few of the magazines the Institute issued, which can be perused in the Archives by visitors. Here’s a related clip from Love and Blessings, which gets to the crux of the dilemma:


When I wrote to [Nataraja] Guru of all our projects and findings he was very skeptical of the net outcome of such studies, which were motivated by simple curiosity and did not have any high purpose that could enhance the dignity of man or serve his universal well-being. Moreover he pointed out that I was committing an epistemological violation by mixing up the subject matter of Vedanta with the frame of reference of physiological psychology. As the director of a scientifically biased research institute I was being obliged to minimize the value of mysticism and take in its place only what was scientifically verifiable, limiting the scope of Yoga merely to physiological achievements.

In the eyes of a positive scientist I might have appeared to be doing the right thing, but Guru would never make any concession allowing methodological make-believe. I was literally placing myself between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea—between samsara and moksa, materialism and spirituality. I recalled Narayana Guru’s dry comment that relativism is a kind of malarial fever that can produce relapses at any time. As a Yati, a renunciate, I knew I shouldn't compromise between absolutism and relativism, yet I couldn’t fully side with the Indian sannyasins either. They were mostly old-fashioned conservatives, and I had no patience with religious rituals.

Thus for some time I was in a world of suspense, not knowing if I should quit my post or try to push the limits of science. I thought it might be possible to create a new dimension of research that could accommodate intuitive reasoning in a way that wasn’t opposed to rational norms. To shift physiological research to spiritual study would require a methodology suited to the new epistemology. With this in mind I decided to make myself familiar with the methodologies employed by a number of modern scientists as well as several of the new age psychologists who were trying to defend parapsychology as an extension of behaviorism.

     Still, I began to feel like I was caught between two worlds, the high motivation of my guru and the idle curiosity of my comrades.


         Bill told us about the days of his youth, doing psychic research in New York. He said it was fairly easy to tune into a psychic space where you could “read” many truths about a subject, past, present and future. Those were heady times.

         When he went west and met Nitya, Nitya told him a “ferry tale.” It went like this:


A yogi practiced a certain technique for many years until he was able to walk on water. He lived by a beautiful river where he could practice his craft. One day a wandering monk came to the river. The yogi offered to ferry him across. The monk agreed, and the yogi invited him to climb on his back. He clambered up, and the yogi strode across the water to the other side, where the monk got down. He handed the yogi a dime and went on his way.


Bill blinked once or twice, and then the meaning of the story came to him. What seemed like a very exciting ability really had little practical value. Even walking on water wasn’t a very big deal compared with the wisdom that could set you free in your heart. What do you want to do, take walks on a variety of lakes or find lasting happiness?

         As we’ve noted before, religious claims about siddhis are best taken as symbolic. Raising the dead, helping the lame to walk and the blind to see are all spiritual metaphors for the dawning of wisdom. Literalism is a bad joke. Do the blind regain their sight through faith or through medical intervention? When we look around, do we see people flying through the air, people walking on water, and the dead coming back to life? No. Tortillas with the Virgin Mary on them, yes. In other words, projections of mind, of wishful thinking. Lots of claims, to entertain and bilk the lost and desperate, whose mainstream religions have let them down by being patently false and absurd, whose government is deranged and whose pundits are insane. Sure, some of the games are nice and even sweet, like the Rumi divination cards we played with at a dinner the other night. But none of this equals a serious scrutiny of the meaning of life, of how everything we see is a reflection of our mental imagery. It doesn’t necessarily help us to link our hearts to the Unknown, unless we are prepared to take it to that level.

         Gunther Grass characterized the twentieth century as “Barbaric, mystical, bored.” Unfortunately, that is all too apt. Very few are willing to make a serious search. We only want entertainment to pass the time while we are waiting to die.

         Narayana Guru invites us to walk the razor’s edge. Can we dispense with all the garbage and still retain anything at all that matters? Are we brave enough to first question and then act on our intuitive realizations? Can we swoosh through life, or must we timidly follow the leader? At this point we should be beginning to know wisdom in action.

         Our little group demonstrates how much is possible with sincere dedication to something with a solid basis. We have been digging deep in this gold mine for a long time, and transformations are happening. No one is walking on water, but some are seeing life in a different, more welcoming light. Some are daring to imagine being themselves, waking up slumbering parts of themselves. Even just being able to say a few words in a closely-knit group of weirdos is an achievement. Many are giving much more than they were able to before, needing to take less, broadening their self-identification in other words. The love that is quietly shared between us in our lives is perhaps the preeminent mark of distinction here.

         None of this will make headlines or be seen on the ill-named reality television shows. Nobody is going to attract a throng or start the next fad. Well, you never know, maybe they will. But for now we are getting to know ourselves as real, authentic human beings, and that’s all the miracle we will ever need.


Part II

         I had a good walk today and thought some more about what links the diverse and curious practices of our modern, if not new, Age. I realized I do what the palm reader does, or the intuitive astrologer or whatever, when I sit down to write class notes. The practice allows the contents of the subconscious to come to the surface. Here’s how it goes:

         The morning after a class, I sit at the computer and type in the verse itself. Then shortly thereafter a thought will come, often just a fragment, and I start to enter it. As I type the idea extends itself and points to further implications, so I keep plunking away. Sometimes another thought will leap to mind and I’ll switch to writing that down, confident that I can go back and finish the first one later. An so on until a more or less coherent result emerges.

         I think I’ve talked about this process before, but I never saw that it’s the same thing as when someone sits before a tarot deck or wields a pendulum over a list of flower essences. The physical vehicle is an aid, a catalyst, that stimulates the flow of intuition. It also excuses its existence, because we don’t always trust raw intuition. We want to see an actual crystal ball or else we’ll be more on our guard.

         We usually begin in our chosen medium (no pun intended) cautiously and tentatively, but over time we gain confidence because the flow does come, and it keeps coming most of the time. The practiced astrologer, or any other kind of therapist for that matter, is legitimately more confident after years of success than on the first outing. I no longer fear to sit at the computer Wednesday mornings, I am eager to see what will leap forth on the screen. And unlike a palmist who makes a living at it, I don’t have to pretend to know what I’m talking about. I can just do it and see what comes up. Later I can use my background to decide what to toss and what to save.

         Everyone has their own preferred method of accessing the inner world. When an artist sits at a canvas, the process is the same. An idea comes, and they dab on a little paint. Inspiration then points a finger at the next move. A composer hears a line in his mind, which leads to another and another. Then all he has to do is write them down. Some start with a fully developed concept, and others just start in and wait to see what comes along. Works both ways.

         So all this talk about finding your dharma and tuning in to your true nature and all, is about finding ways to access your inner potential. There are millions of avenues available, many not yet invented. We should encourage each other as much as possible, and help each other to keep it beautiful and gentle. Some folks find it easier to let it out through violence and aggression than through kindness. That’s the norm to hold to, kindness. I may think parlor magic is silly, but lots of people feel even more strongly that philosophy and mystical contemplation is pure baloney. It’s a matter of personal preference, so long as no one gets hurt.

         Accessing our inner world is like chemistry. We don’t invent new chemical properties, we discover them. The properties are latent in the elements already. But they will stay latent if we don’t make the search and bring them to light. The spiritual search is an open-ended journey of discovery, encouraged by the many who have trodden similar paths and found surcease of sorrow and great joy.

         The science involved with reading someone’s palm is shaky at best. No known physics is involved with the pendulum reading. But the power of the mind is very much larger than we yet comprehend, and it is easy to imagine that it is capable of incredibly sensitive assessments of anything at all. It is possible, as Edgar Cayce described it, and Bill the other night in class, that there is an actual “place” where all information is stored and available to all comers.

         I have always felt with the “readers” I have consulted, that they weren’t seeing anything in what they were looking at, but they were tuning into an amalgam of their own projections and their intuitive image of who and what I was. Some place within them. The results are sometimes quite interesting.

         From this perspective, these are all activities, unusual at the moment, but basically actions. How much they are spiritual activities is anyone’s guess. The proof is in the pudding. Contemplation of the Absolute is something that transcends and yet can also incorporate these factors. Nothing in itself takes you to realization. Instead, realization takes you to all things. Maybe that’s where we go a little overboard: we insist that what we do is the way to God. No need to be so pretentious. They are simply ways. Ways we choose.


Scott Teitsworth