Nitya Teachings

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Yoga Letters - a nice intro to yoga

Yoga Letters – now an appendix to Guru Nitya's commentary on the Patanjali Yoga Sutras

 

5/27/8

Letter One

 

         Well, here we are again! Just when I think I’m approaching the end of my life’s work, more intriguing projects drop onto the pile. I imagined that the Yoga Letters would be an interim study, without much to be said about them beyond their own cogency, but last night’s class was brimful of excellent sharing, which hopefully I can reconstruct in part in resurrecting the class notes. In addition, over last weekend I volunteered to complete the index to the forthcoming book in which these will appear, Nitya’s commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The immensity of that undertaking is just beginning to sink in…. Luckily, I finished proofing Nataraja Guru’s Integrated Science of the Absolute on Monday. Funny in a way, how little I anticipated all this back in 1975, when I offered to do any tasks Nitya would like some help with. Anyway, it’s a great joy to still be helping disseminate the wisdom of that top notch teacher!

         The Yoga Letters are a perfect example of pulling on the udder of the wisdom cow, the most fitting task of the disciple. I believe it was an Australian woman, just some casual acquaintance, somewhere in the mid-1970s, who wrote to ask Nitya for an introduction to yoga. He responded with a series of fifteen letters, one a week, that are spectacular, simple and practical, and seem after the fact to be an essential preparatory course. You of the “old guard” probably have xeroxes of this in your Nitya drawer, but Nancy Yeilding has edited these nicely. Since the volume may not appear in print until awhile after we finish this study, I can send an electronic version to anyone who wishes one. You will still want to buy the book, I’m sure. (Remember, that’s the main way people can help support the Gurukula—we’re not ready to go fully virtual just yet!)

 

         The first letter could be a complete study all its own. Nitya addresses the Unknown as that which is full of grace. While enjoyed outside, grace springs from our own core, and there is a reciprocity between our inner and outer worlds. This familiar idea is put very beautifully here. It is followed by a series of simple exercises that anyone can easily practice. Taking time to do them in a group once again demonstrated the power of community endeavor.

         The first is simply to watch the flow of the mind and equate it with the flow of time, or better yet pure duration, taking note of the irreversibility of both. Then we chanted aum together and watched to see when stray thoughts broke our concentration. Chanting in a group is especially cosmic in any case. Three further exercises played with directing our attention, progressing from randomness to loveability to joy and serenity. In all cases we were looking for the transition from one item of interest to another.

         We imagine we are in charge of the flux of consciousness, and to a small degree we are. But it quickly became clear that most of what percolates into our awareness has a vastness that dwarfs our conscious participation. The relation between our volition and the “grace” of what transpires is worthy of very close examination.

         Having these specific suggestions for how to watch the mind is very helpful to keep us alert. When we hear the cliché “watch the mind” we can rapidly become dull and mesmerized by the process. We want to get up and do something interesting instead, like watch TV. Just kidding! But having a directive to follow makes it much easier to stay awake, and also to bring the attention back when it wanders. For a stretch it’s actually kinda fun.

         New participant Scott had just come from two days of Qi Gong meditation, which he found a much easier venue to achieve a state of mind free of tension. Politely, he felt the incipient yoga program we are doing brought up intimations of “monsters from the id” that he would prefer not to confront. It’s very true that such a study is not for everyone. If you can live content with suppressed memories, it could be better to leave them alone. They can be very debilitating when they come out if you don’t have a firm ground to stand on. But for some of us they are already debilitating, and bringing them to light takes away from their ability to negatively motivate us from the shadows. Whether to proceed with such a dramatic sadhana or course of study is an important decision that each seeker of truth must make for themself.

         For me, revisiting these letters after so long a time made them a totally new experience. In that period I have become established in the core to a substantial degree, and so the play of consciousness did not affect me particularly. It was easy to have detachment, and to admire the miraculous performance of consciousness as it responded to Nitya’s directions. A smidgen of intentionality was reciprocated by a whole world of imagery that far exceeded the original intent. Where does that come from? We aren’t just going to name it, we are actually going to look for it, in this class. Seeing it brings gratitude for the myriad ways the universe responds to, stimulates and promotes our being.

         For most of the attendees there was more identity with the images that the core observer. People reported zooming hither and yon on the wings of their ideation. Lots of fun when it goes well, but difficult when it doesn’t—and it frequently doesn’t, for all of us. Yoga isn’t about eradicating negativity, it’s about disaffiliating from the context of suffering, which is both positive and negative together. This class will definitely train the psyche to identify with its steady, blissful core, which simultaneously makes it easier to address the ups and downs of life intelligently and harmoniously. Detachment from suffering is a natural corollary to identification with the Absolute, that Nitya calls in this first letter “the supreme light that dwells in all hearts.”

 

Part II

 

         Happily, Susan responded even before the notes hit the streets, so part two is out early. I forward her note with the assurance that she has spoken for all of us:

 

Thanks for class last night. It was really thought provoking. Jan, Moni, and I talked about it all the way home and then I thought about it all through the night. One thing that occurred to me is that for many years I have thought that my mental parade of stuff is not such a good thing. Maybe that is what I was trying to say at the beginning of class about not being able to think of the “beauty and serenity” of my mind. Rather, I think of it as a tumultuous, stormy sea. I am standing on a tiny boat, feeling tossed around by huge, threatening waves, trying to stay dry and safe. But some of the big waves (worries and obsessions) reach onto the deck of my boat and pull me under and I am being pulled down and down, drowning, wishing for breath. Eventually I am released somehow and I swim back to my boat, weary and miserable. Sometimes the choppy seas don’t bother me but I mostly think of them in a negative way and not something to be enjoyed. When I am focused on something -- reading, playing piano, gardening, talking to a friend -- I can forget about the sea, though it continues to intrude occasionally in unwelcome ways. How interesting to think of befriending the raging waves. I like this idea! Maybe someday I’ll jump off the boat and learn to swim or float on my back. Peace, Susan

 

         It is so true that treating that stormy sea as an ocean of grace and serenity is easier said than done! The trick is that when something (especially the Absolute or God) is objectified—made an object of consciousness—it is no longer what we wish to reconnect with. And suffering is by no means a figment of our imagination, as often glibly supposed by those who are having a temporary and accidental reprieve from chaos. All the suffering is real, but it is also not the core. The study we are embarking upon (pun intended) will help redirect our awareness to that which is unwashed by the waves. Sorry to report, the waves don’t go away, they just are on a different plane from where we are at home. The Gita (II, 23 and 24) says:

 

Weapons do not cut This, fire does not burn This, and water does not wet This; wind does not dry This:

 

Indeed it is uncleavable; It is non-inflammable; It is unwettable and non-dryable also—everlasting, all-pervading, stable, immobile; It is eternal.

 

The kernel of bliss in the things we enjoy—reading, gardening and all that Susan mentioned—can grow to infuse our whole life. Nitya has taught this expertly, and I believe those who come along on this journey will find that the commonplace “siege mentality” we all are trained to have will give way to an openness and optimism that overcomes the barricades and lets in the sunlight.

 

Part III

Baird reblessed us with the following, which seems eminently appropriate.

 

Susan’s response reminded me of one of my favorites:

 

The Avowal by Denise Levertov

 

As swimmers dare

to lie face to the sky

and water bears them,

as hawks rest upon air

and air sustains them,

so would I learn to attain

freefall, and float

into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,

knowing no effort earns

that all-surrounding grace.

 

Part IV

Sometimes you just HAVE to have a third addendum! Right on! Susan writes, under the heading Wow:

 

Chapter One has been simmering in my mind for the last few days and the effect has been wonderful. This morning I woke up too early (as usual) and was trying to go back to sleep. Instead of just leaving it to chance, which usually doesn’t work, I decided to try a variation of the first exercise from Chapter One. I said to myself that I would just notice what came to my mind. This was like an invitation to just let it all be and not analyze or get caught up in anything. In a way, it felt as though I was allowing myself to just be amused. Things started coming up and I just looked at them. Some tried to catch hold of me until I noticed this and just let them slide away because I remembered that I was just going to let things come up, but not do anything about them. After a few times of letting go of things, there were some really beautiful things that surfaced -- lovely wooded settings dappled in sunlight, creative solutions to little things I’d been considering yesterday, and even some smooth as glass seas (because I did think about being on the boat again and looking out on the sea). I thought about what Scott talked about the other day when he said his friend had taught a class that was nothing but questions and how the class had to get used to this. It occurs to me that this exercise of letting things just slide by (which I now realize is not an exercise but a way of being with one’s mind, of befriending one’s mind), is just like allowing questions and not trying to find answers. This is such a revelation to me! It’s so exciting that I never did get back to sleep because I couldn’t wait to write to you about it. It’s funny that I’ve tried to meditate for years and now I realize that my concept of meditation was all contorted by my way of looking at my thoughts. I would sit quietly and something would come up. I would see it as something to get rid of -- very much like something that pops up at a shooting gallery at a fair. I would look at it (as I had been instructed) and then let it slide away, but really I was tossing it away, trying to get rid of it (trying to shoot it out of existence). No wonder I’ve had so much trouble! It is amazing to think of the things that come up in my mind as a wonder, even when they are negative. Instead of seeing the negative things as menacing and the whole parade of visions as a disease, I can for the first time in many years (45 at least) see them as a gift.

 

Thank you, thank you!

Susan

 

And after:

Hi again. I wanted to add that I just realized that I did one other thing this morning when those grasping thoughts would come up. If they wouldn’t let go and I couldn’t let them go, I would do that other exercise where you move your mind around. I would gently push off to something completely different, thinking about a tree or an apple and a whole new world would open up from there. This is different from how I used to try to think positive or try to think of something else. Effortless and very freeing.

 

6/3/8

Letter Two

 

  Class started with a review and meditation on Letter One. If you haven’t read that letter and at least Part IV of the class notes, they are perfect introductions to the study and worthy of being revisited many times. They teach us how to step back out of the river of consciousness and watch it from the shore. Once you get a little distance on the operation of the mind, all else flowingly follows.

         The bulk of the second Letter deals with the three gunas, sattva, rajas and tamas. The analogy of the clear, polished mirror for sattva, a distorted one for rajas, and a shattered or opaque one for tamas should be familiar to anyone who has studied Vedanta for any length of time. Then Nitya adds a new wrinkle that is very helpful in the upcoming Yoga study. He likens our consciousness to watching a movie in a theater. While we all know theoretically that there is a light shining through a film that is projected on a screen in front of us, very quickly we become absorbed in the play of colors and their interaction, and forget that it’s all make believe. In this instance, sattva is akin to looking on dispassionately, rajas is when we are emotionally involved and taking sides, and tamas is the parts where we are confused, lost, or else the film breaks.

         While a little less apt than the mirror image in terms of representing the gunas, the movie analogy is awesome regarding the outward projection of our being as what we call life. Consciousness is the light, samskaras and vasanas (memories and genetic propensities) are the film, our physicality is the projector with its focusing and directing apparatus, and the screen is the dharmakshetra—the field of meaning—the battlefield where it all plays out. At the outset of this study we are learning to see ourselves as sitting in the auditorium bearing witness to the whole setup rather than simply imagining ourselves as an inextricable part of the action onscreen.

         Much of the sharing in the class discussion involved seeing how the alternation of the gunas takes place in actuality. Once you are aware of it, you begin to see it all over the place! The artists provided the clearest example. First they have a vision or inspiration (sattva). Then to make it actual, materials must be gathered and skills cultivated and time spent (rajas). Soon an actual piece of art appears in the world, to instruct, inspire or amuse others as well as the artist, who after all could have been content with the vision alone. At the end of the process is the solid object (tamas), that can be hung on a wall or stored in a basement. Many factors converge to determine whether it is displayed in the Louvre to enjoy a long life or humbly retires to the discard pile. Or as Scotty said, decorates someone’s bathroom.

         Eugene stressed that the gunas overlap and appear simultaneously, that they aren’t clear and distinct very often. This is true—in a sense they are all encapsulated in every item of interest or activity. Often one dominates, but they are still mixed together. Only the philosopher or the yogi takes the time to discriminate what’s what. The value of examining the process is in not getting stuck, especially in the more static end of things, where despair and depression often lurk. While these are meant to be stimuli to a new round of inspiration, they all too often become traps or ends in themselves.

         AAll three gunas are important and essential to a healthy, happy life. The Gurukula is unusual in embracing all of them as equal aspects of existence, while also teaching the ability to stand apart as an untrammeled witness. Many schools stress becoming sattvic and minimizing rajas and tamas, which can lead to monkhood and dissociation with life. Our aim is to bring light to an active, engaged span of days. We want our efforts to have effects, and to accomplish things. There are trillions of potentials to be actualized before the universe gets boring. We are here to enjoy, not to pack up and leave the minute our feelings get hurt.

         Deb talked about how witnessing and sattva are not the same, though similar. The difference is subtle, as between an actual state and a reflected one in a mirror. But witnessing stands apart from all three gunas, as the Gita repeatedly stresses. Sattva immediately becomes rajasic when action enters the picture, but sattva is still an embroiled condition, the opening stage of yet another movie or drama. Witnessing doesn’t give birth to action, it is only a detached observer. When it joins the fray it has been caught in the gunas yet again, and is no longer detached.

         Anita led us to a discussion of how our vasanas and/or samskaras produce the artistic inspiration of sattva. She likes to make collages, and had started one with a picture with a certain structural pattern. Seemingly at random she next chose a very different picture and began trimming it with her scissors. What was the connection? She couldn’t for the life of her see any. They were totally different. She kept cutting, even though she was mystified. And then, voila! Suddenly she had cut away enough to reveal the same pattern in the second as the first picture. Her conscious mind hadn’t been aware of it, but some part of her had perceived the connection nonetheless.

         We go through life like that, only that we can go for years without seeing the golden thread of connection that our very beingness is spinning the web of our life from. Even if we don’t see the goal to which our steps are leading us, we can learn to have faith that the Mystery is benign, and that we will be much inspired by it and delight in the whole game of unfoldment. Instead of being fearful that we have to make everything happen based on our very limited ordinary awareness, we can trust in a much more vast context of which we are an integral part. Knowing this, we can participate rather than force the issue, harmonize rather than clash. From the eager discussion that ensued, it seems the group has made considerable progress in precisely this arena of integration with what we habitually call the Absolute.

 

6/10/8

Letter Three

 

         Nitya gives a final “briefing” here before we begin our yoga practice in earnest. He correlates knowing, doing, and existing or stabilizing with sattva, rajas and tamas, and then discusses how the gunas often operate in pairs, and also how one half of the pair tends to be dominant.

         Mostly importantly, we need the knowing, sattvic part to lead our parade. When it is paired with rajas, doing, it is healthiest when the doing is at the service of the knowing. Unfortunately it is often the other way around, and we tailor our thoughts and opinions to what we either want to get done or believe we are supposed to get done. Nitya tells us, “When such a thing happens, the horizon of your personal interest shrinks from being altruistic to the sorrowful state of naiveté, conceit, and self-centeredness.” He also notes something that has always baffled me, the arrogance of intellectuals, who substitute snobbery for legitimate arguments. Nitya writes, “You might have noticed the highly aggressive and conceited nature of very intelligent people who are incorrigibly egoistic. This is the case of sattva losing its game when bracketed with rajas.” Such types are so abundant nowadays that there is no need to give examples, but I’d say the right wing so-called pundits are the most flagrant of the bunch.

         The cure is to ensure that sattva holds sway. For religious people, their favorite saint or prophet can be used to always bring them back to a loving, generous, compassionate stance. For a student of yoga, their guru is the norm for them to measure themselves against.

         Most people prefer a dead prophet to a living guru. Gurus are very inconvenient: they demand that we work hard and change, and they constantly challenge our assumptions. It is much easier to nod toward a picture or statue and then go on your way, and much, much easier to have a simplistic list to memorize of what constitutes good and evil than to decide for yourself. Anita said that she left her religion when she began to suspect the trivial and superficial stories they told weren’t adequate to her real understanding. Those celebrated prophets were once living gurus—possibly the best of all living gurus, who knows? But over the centuries their teachings have been watered down and made into pablum, and they aren’t around to redress the injustice of it.

         Further into the Yoga Sutras (I:16) we will encounter this paragraph:

 

Scriptures of most religions treat their votaries as if they are immature people with animal instincts and a discrimination that is no better than that of children. Moral norms are taught with the help of anecdotes and parables, which forcefully describe how wickedness is drastically punished and good is always rewarded. Believers’ minds are fed with the lures of an enchanting heaven, a place where the most exaggerated hedonistic pleasures are lavished on those who are selected to enter paradise. In the same manner, hell is described as a terrible place of torture. Both the preachers and their congregations forget that when they die their brains and sensory systems transform into dead matter and thereafter the dead have no bodies to experience pain or pleasure. When the faithful are told that they might go to hell and be cast in the burning flames of brimstone, the fear of being scorched comes to them. Such outright stupidity is enshrined in the most adorable scriptures of all religions. Most people remain ethical in their outward life, fearing such punishments, and do good to others, coveting an honored place in heaven. Henri Bergson, in his Two Sources of Morality and Religion, exposed the dubiousness of static religion and closed morality. The alternatives are dynamic religion and open morality.

 

         The main point of Letter Three is to underline the importance of having a living guru by whom you can continually reassess your own attitudes and programs. Nitya gives a beautiful exposition of how to recognize one, with a long list of exemplary qualities that are rare enough in any age. They are found in the Buddhas, Moseses, Christs and Mohammeds of the past too, but we have seen how easily their instructions can be ignored and all kinds of deviations endorsed. If they were alive they would certainly speak out against them, but instead we put words in their mouths that suit our own convenience or inclination. One of the most dire failings of the human race is to ossify all their teachers in tamasic necrophilia and reject sattva whenever it rears its inspirational head.

         Continuing the briefing, Nitya reminds us that God is also frequently treated the same way, being made into a cheerleader for our personal “monsters from the id” instead of remaining a neutral and transcendent principle that animates all existence. The name Ishvara, often translated as God, refers to this latter unnamable, not the former “moral dispenser of justice on a doomsday.” It is crucial to keep this in mind regarding the word God.

         Lastly, and the arena where the class spent much time, Nitya describes the pairings of sattva-tamas and rajas-tamas. The first is schizophrenic or bipolar in the disordered sense, and the second is criminal, with the energy being expended in the service of static or deadly enterprises.

         Charles heard Nataraja Guru once describe a skyscraper that had all its lights on in the top floors and the bottom floors, but those in the middle had shorted out. Charles immediately understood that the Guru was describing the sattva-tamas condition, the lights in the middle symbolizing rajas. The cure in the case of the skyscraper is to call in the electrician and have the wiring repaired so that full harmonious functioning can be restored. For a disciple it means making efforts to bring rajas back into the system, by doing service to the guru or to a cause great or humble. The practical side of life can unify and moderate the ups and downs, calling forth the sattvic aspect to implement its airy visions and raising the despairing, depressive tamasic side through the blessing of work. The doing is actually the form of the cure. But it is the curse of many an estimable guru to be greatly admired while ample excuses are found for their teachings to be ignored.

         Scotty wondered if the skyscraper analogy meant one should bring more heart into one’s life. We don’t usually associate heart with activity, but well we might. The heart beats the pace of our doing, and is by far the most active part of our body, so in that sense it’s an excellent insight. But usually by ‘heart’ we mean love and kindness, as opposed to the intellect in the head. While a good idea, Nataraja Guru was unlikely to have meant this. Head and heart are two aspects of our psyche that are to be unified at all times. A belief has been sown by modern religions that the intellect is a saboteur of the loving heart, but in fact it is the energizer of it, that which gives direction and meaning to what could otherwise be insipid or maudlin. The intellect is the part of us that connects most directly with Ishvara or the Absolute. The study we are engaged in helps redirect the intellect away from opposition to loving kindness—if I may be excused a double negative—and into collusion with it, where it becomes a double assertion.

         Eugene reminded us that it is easy to have a split view of our nature, and so develop conflicts about what we are supposed to be doing, but the right thing is to ease into a comfortable attitude about this conundrum. We are not being cursed by any deity, and we aren’t going to hell, we’re just trying to gain insight and understanding. How to have a program of self-improvement while being fully satisfied with who we already are is one of the paradoxes that we will be facing in the coming months at the Gurukula. How fun is that!

 

Part II

         Deb wrote that “I think that pinpointing certain groups (right wing bigots) as too much rajas with sattva takes us away from looking at our own deficits, it introduces politics into a field which is much wider and more absolute.” Her point is well taken.

         I suppose it can’t be repeated often enough that the teachings are to be applied only to ourself. Seeing faults in others can be a good way to flesh out our ideas, but nothing is accomplished until the new awareness is applied to Number One. And certainly one of the most crippling spiritual ailments is the beam/mote syndrome of focusing on other people’s faults so we can smugly ignore our own. It must be acknowledged that each of us has a fascist dictator within, who in most cases has been trained to hang back out of sight, cloaked in our well-crafted persona or social mask. The practice of yoga is like taking the little demon to the vet for declawing and neutering, which then permits other more civilized aspects of our inner life to emerge on the scene.

         Getting into shouting matches with bigots never changes anything. Instead we need to become wise to embody enlightened unitive behavior and lead primarily by example. All visions are energized and implemented by rajas, and when they are thwarted anger and disillusion result, which accounts for the loud aggressiveness of some idealists. Sattvic ideals are those of universal love and kindness, community, spiritual growth, and so on. The social beehive lauds mostly rajasic ideals: busyness and honey gathering. Tamasic ideals are selfish and all about building defenses and wearing blinders. Shades of all these are present in virtually everyone. Yoga teaches us to implement them harmoniously and with a minimum of conflict.

 

6/17/8

Letter Four

 

         The fourth letter takes the form of an extended meditation, so beforehand I imagined there would be little to report other than infinite peace and serenity. To the credit of the class—and possibly the full moon—after the quiet time we took a penetrating look at every element in Nitya’s presentation.

         The first step is to meditate as if you are a pure flame, noting that you illuminate three things: extension in space, meaningful assessments of name and form, and duration or persistence, known as time. We are cautioned not to visualize ourselves as the flame but to be it. This is the Mother of all meditations, and the cradle of our yoga study. After some practice its state of awareness can become one’s normal outlook, beneath all the surface transactions we engage in. Certain necessities and urges call us out of ourselves and we may forget our inner poise for a time, becoming embroiled in various happenstances. The most basic discipline is to guide yourself back to this state of the witnessing flame or light as soon as you realize you have temporarily forgotten your self. The neutrality of the witness is the best place from which to ground our actions.

         In Chapter Seven of That Alone, Nitya provides a germane review of this situation. He says:

 

         Implicitly, the Guru attributes our failure in this [ability to remain centered] to the selective structuralism of the persona, which causes [a] search to be initiated on the basis of whatever incipient memory is stimulated at any given time by the changing ensembles of life situations.

         We become aware of a psychic compulsion pushing us in a certain direction only when it becomes pathologically exaggerated, such as in obsessions, inhibitions, phobias and manias. Still, the so-called healthy mind is not as free to act on its own as one might wish to believe. Even a scientist who is firmly wedded to a creed of honesty in observing facts is likely to miss negative data when he is otherwise encouraged by some positive observations. (48)

 

         Our meditation next was to expand spatially, and then return to normal, repeating this as a pulsation. This provides some distance between the meditator and the scene, by default permitting identification with the purusha, Self or Absolute—different names for pure consciousness. Then we watched as the emptiness filled up with objects and events, and our egos reemerged to relate to them. These occurrences all spring from our memories, as none of them were actually happening but only being imagined. Seeing how our world is “created” or at least interpreted from memories was the next stage of our meditation. We observed the replacement of unfettered spirit with mundane details, hopefully teaching ourselves how to reverse the process when we wish to.

         Thirdly, Nitya takes us into a meditation on loving a Beloved, in the same way a moving agent relates to the unmoved mover in Aristotle, or as the Gita puts it (IX, 4&5):

 

By Me all this world is pervaded, My form unmanifested; all beings have existence in Me and I do not have existence in them.

 

And further, beings do not exist in Me; behold My status as a divine mystery; further, Myself remaining that urge behind beings, I bear them but do not exist in them either.

 

         This led to a wide-ranging discussion of this paradoxical relationship. Anita had done some research and reported that physics is toying with the concept of the unmoved mover these days. The quantum vacuum seems to fill a similar role, with its infinite holographic density of information. Nitya tells us that because of an urge to reciprocate with the Beloved, we sometimes relate to it in beautiful ways, while at others we relate in weird and drastic ways. He sums up the point of our study: “The true science of union is to find ways by which the duality between the usual beloved and the strangely behaving lover can be effaced so that the duality will cease and the pure aloneness of the Absolute will shine forth. This does not happen by any partial method. This is a search that demands total attention and total commitment.”

         The reason for the discrepancy between a piecemeal and a wholesale approach is that partial methods are invariably dualistic, merely redefining the beloved instead of merging with it. I can’t put it better than Nitya does on page 49 of That Alone:

 

         The secret of all polarization is that the counterparts of the dialectical situation share a common value, which has made the polarization feasible or even imperative. Mother and child, teacher and taught, ruler and subjects, lover and beloved, all are examples of dialectical bipolarity. The common interest in all these cases can be reduced to the experience of happiness. The counterparts are individuals who can reciprocate their thoughts and feelings. But the bipolarity suggested in this verse is not between two individuals. Rather, it is between one’s personal awareness and the totality of Knowledge. As one of the counterparts is impersonal, the question of reciprocation does not arise. However, bipolarity makes sense only if there is a free flow of the essence of one into the other and vice versa, as in exosmosis and endosmosis.

         By giving the analogy of the inseparability of waves from the treasury of the oceanic depth, the Guru has already given us the secret of sharing one’s essence with the total, even when that total is of an impersonal nature. The example of the wave is not given to dismiss our individuality as a mere phantom, like the form of a wave, but to stress that the seeming separateness of the wave does not deprive it of its vertical relationship with the ocean. The constant awareness of this depth reestablishes one in the lost heritage of union with the Absolute.

 

         Penultimately, Nitya passes in review five main aspects of the mind, using vernacular terms that cannot be easily pigeonholed. By doing so, he makes it easy for us to have a vital understanding of those areas of the psyche. Collectively they comprise another excellent meditation, and don’t call for any explication.

         Lastly, Nitya leaves us with a very important distinction. We hear of all sorts of exciting and lurid types of seers, in various degrees blissfully withdrawn from contact with the world they abide in. It makes good reading. But for a healthy life, the Narayana Gurukula Gurus teach yoga for integration, not disintegration. This is important because Patanjali leans more toward the latter. On page 201 of the upcoming Yoga Sutras commentary, we read:

 

An image seen in a mirror is a transitory phenomenon that will not cling on to the mirror when the position of the mirror is changed. But the inner organ of a person is such that whatever image is projected on it will leave an impression that can remain in the depth of consciousness to the very end of life. Thus you are not only suffering from what is immediately projected on your senses and inner organ, but also from the stored impressions that remain with you as painful memories or inviting visions. Patañjali is of the opinion that, pleasant or unpleasant, these memories are the source of misery and should not be encouraged. According to him, all programming is to be avoided and he prescribes the abolition of the conjunction of the seer and the seen. But this is not always considered to be the greatest ideal. His two commentators—Valmiki of the Yoga Vasistha Ramayana and Vyasa of the Bhagavad Gita—give the alternative of positive programming, turning to what is good for you.

 

A very great deal of value can be learned from Patanjali, despite this key difference with the Gurukula and the Gita, which should always be kept in mind, just as we read the Nirvana Darsana of Darsanamala with caution. Rereading the book as I index, I’m excited by how terrific it is, radical and kindly at the same time. A perfect vehicle for Nitya’s darsana.

         Bill mentioned that his favorite, Suzuki-roshi, preached meditation followed by expert action with the motto, “We sit, then stand.” Krishna implores Arjuna to stand up in exactly the same sense. Nitya concludes by assuring us “The present science of union is given as an instruction to one who aspires to become a fully developed contemplative while leading a normal and natural life on Earth, both as a person and as a seer.” In the final analysis the degree of engagement with the world is a matter of personal preference. We will go through the upcoming study as a method for removing obstacles to happiness and even discarding the mirror, but then using any wisdom gained for upgraded interaction with our most precious gift of all: life.

 

6/24/8

Letter Five

 

         A beautiful, peaceful evening filled with birdsong, gentle meditations, rich sharing, and a tangible measure of healing of wounds characterized our fifth gathering around the Yoga Letters. It’s odd that these wisdom gems have been so neglected, while we’ve busied ourselves with other studies, but their inclusion in the Patanjali book is the perfect way to bring them back into the light. It makes one wonder what other treasures languish in our files, awaiting someone with the time and energy to dig them up….

         Letter Five is wholly practical, and deals with what could be called the essence of sanity. The universality of our situation is indicated with a measure of humor right at the outset, in that each of us is “placed in a world of facts, figures, and fictions, which are either ludicrous or appalling.” The fairytale world of our childhoods has given way to a so-called “reality,” with its severe challenges of coping with demented interpretations of life and interpersonal aberrations. Life is very often ridiculous or else full of misery-creating disasters in all its dimensions. Naturally we want to come to grips with this miasma and not just be buffeted by the winds of Fate. Our common desire to evolve to be better able to handle the ups and downs of existence is fostered in different ways by science, religion, philosophy, psychology, and plain common sense.

         Nitya never insisted that his way was better than anyone else’s. Whatever suits you is the way for you to go. Here he offers five broad norms against which anyone can measure themselves to see how successful their chosen method of coping is. A norm, or what Nataraja Guru liked to call a normative notion, is like a beacon in the wilderness from which you can always take your bearings. Without some kind of stable referent it is easy to get lost, or at least to feel lost. Unlike many other paths, yoga does not have recourse to any saint or hero or god, but instead relates to intangibles like light, love, unity or spirit. These are by no means empty concepts, as shown by the relevance of the five norms we’re given here.

         The first is how quickly you regain your composure after being crunched by one of the blasts of the flux. In the wilderness analogy, perhaps you have tripped over a root and fallen. Do you look to the beacon to get your bearings so you can continue on, or do you waste a lot of time kicking the root, fuming and cursing and bewailing your bad luck? Do you sulk like a victim or can you smile at the accidental quirkiness of your situation?

         Anita wondered if the sameness that is used to describe inner balance is boring and monotone. It’s true that meditation is often made out to be a turning off of interests, but that is an unfortunate interpretation by what I call damaged human beings. Their psyches are injured and so they want to escape the world. That’s a free choice, but for many of us life is to be lived in all its richness. Learning balance and equanimity helps us to be much more available to engage in life than if we are occupied nursing and nurturing (and often exaggerating) our wounds. The sameness spoken of is a grounding in happiness—what we think of as being at our best all the time. Probably we should substitute “being at our best” for “sameness” and then no one will have any problem with it.

         The second is how alert are you to be ready to deal with the many predictable encounters you will have as you proceed. Is your religion preparing you to meet your enemy with love so you can optimize the encounter, or training you to get revenge so you stay embroiled in hatred as long as possible? Does your science teach you to look down on others who don’t share your value vision, or show you how to find common ground with them? Do you know yourself well enough so you can recognize your typical reactions and wean yourself away from the detrimental ones while accentuating your positive responses? All our study and learning feeds into this norm, which demands a highly active and even proactive use of our intelligence. There is a strong push in the ambient propaganda for us to believe in fantasies and ignore reality. Many ostensibly spiritual people believe that will make us happier. Sure, you can overdo focusing on negative realities and omitting positive aspects, but the cure is to bring them into dialectic relationship, not to bury one’s head in the sand. The second norm holds a real challenge to our complacency.

         The third norm is to see to what degree you have actualized your talents and interests. As Scotty pointed out, society has little or no stake in you being you: it wants an obedient cog in the gears of its machinery. Until we wise up, we tend to docilely acquiesce in such a “reasonable” program. Soldiers, the most deluded of all of us, imagine they will be honored for their sacrifice, but a name on a stone monument turns out to be poor compensation for bottling up your “God-given” abilities. However we may cope with society’s demands, our genetic seeds, vasanas or proclivities need to find healthy channels of expression for us to be happy and fulfilled. As Nitya wrote in a letter in L&B in July, 1973, “Depression by itself is not a disease. It only shows that there are some kinds of air pockets in your personality that are not fully plugged-in with life interests.” Depression is common in societies that stifle freedom of expression, and is often treated with medication to quiet the (very legitimate) resistance. Those vasanas will just have to wait for another life later to bring their joy! Yoga on the other hand—at least the Gurukula version more akin to the Gita than to Patanjali—encourages a dynamic lifestyle full of real fun. Enjoyment is in fact the measure of your talents and inclinations. If something feels like drudgery, it’s an indication that some outside force is driving you. If you love it, and it grows more interesting as you get deeper in, that’s a sign that you have found one of your svadharmas. Every person has at least one long suit, and usually a large number of them.

         Nitya’s advice here is summed up in one pithy sentence: “The ultimate attunement is to establish a maximum coordination between your knowledge and your volition, so that your total unfoldment can be effected with perfect poise and efficiency.” A major task of ours is to root out the false beliefs and identities and redirect the wrong programming with which we have arrived in adulthood, plus to make allowances for our natural limitations, and then to cut loose.

         The fourth norm is to nourish our intelligence with learning. A personal growth program should be in place, preferably under the tutelage of some wise teacher, who can help you overcome your blind spots. Subtle depression also comes from under use of our minds, which have a vast capacity that is not often utilized. Anti-intelligent attitudes are one of the sad legacies of inflexible education. Learning is fun when it is keyed to unleashing hidden potentials and allowed to roam widely prospecting for them. Simply plugging into “adult education” without a meaningful connection to one’s soul is likely to be a waste of time.

         The fifth norm is the norm of all norms. It is to know who you are, or to know the source from which you spring. After lively discussions on the first four categories, we had a blissful group meditation to dive into the silence. Even the songbirds quieted down and tucked their bills under their wings, the midsummer evening light grew dim, and a vast emptiness pervaded our shared space. The void felt more loving and full than all the partial interpretations that had preceded it, valuable as they were.

 

7/1/8

Letter Six

 

         The commentary begins by establishing us in the center of our being. In place of the cumbersome construct we have come to imagine ourselves to be, we are an amorphous locus of consciousness pulsating between our core and a spherical universe of awareness. Once we’re comfortable remaining undefined, we can begin to see that our identities, far from giving us existence and meaning, actually screen us off from what surrounds us. They are inhibitory factors, breeding separation and consequent mistrust. Self-description is stultifying.

         Beings who are disconnected with their living core tend to congregate in groups of similarly disaffected beings. There is a specious relief from discomfort by imagining yourself to be accepted by peers. It takes your mind off of the internal disconnectedness and substitutes an imaginary wholeness. Religious and political groups, gangs and cults all draw their energy from the quiet desperation of disaffected human beings seeking an external cure for their loss of self-knowledge. But members always have to be on guard lest they fail to follow the myriad unwritten laws that define the group, and the group must excrete anyone who doesn’t play the game or at least appear to. It’s a game that time and again turns very ugly.

         Nitya offers us a sane alternative: to dive deeply into our essential amorphousness, and then gently begin to build a new structure based on intelligently chosen, inclusive values. It doesn’t have to be the best model ever, but just something you can easily accept and implement. Something that springs from within and isn’t just following somebody else’s directions. He exhorts us to put our best effort forward in meeting the next moment as it comes to us, cherishing it with a loving attitude and appreciating it for all its richness. This can transform our experience of living dramatically for the better.

         Deb started our conversation off with a story about one of Nitya’s visits in the mid-1970s, when he was traveling with Swami Baskaranya (a.k.a. Swami Baskin-and-Robbins) and a regular Indian householder gent whose name escapes us. In those days Nitya was spending a lot of time at the Center Family in La Center, Washington, which was a classic freak scene of that era, meaning something like a Puritan vision of hell and damnation: all rules broken or ignored, revolting sanitation, and experimental equality, with sex a primary spiritualizing force. There was plenty of idealism, drug-fueled and otherwise, but Harvey, the leader (and a flagrant charlatan), was busy channeling it to his benefit. Nitya felt it was a rough approximation of the Gurukula model, and struggled to reform Harvey to a more generous vision, an effort that ultimately failed. Anyway, the point of Deb’s story was that Swami Baskaranya, having an open mind about who he was, easily meshed with the scene and seemed to have no trouble participating with it. The ordinary fellow, on the other hand, was totally freaked out. He strove mightily to hold onto his conventional beliefs, which only reinforced his separateness. In consequence he was nervous and unhappy and also unable to share any of his vision with the youngsters at the Center.

         Deb’s story precipitated an avalanche of similar thoughts about how we typically feel like outsiders or insiders, depending on how we define ourselves in respect to what we encounter. Several of the stories shared a similar element, that first we have to make a clean break from our attachments before we can be truly free in relating even to what we are or were attached to. Brenda and Anita told of leaving their Christian denominations, but later being able to be friends with some of their members once the attempts to restore them to the faith had subsided. Scotty related how he one day realized that he was an outsider in his own neighborhood where he had grown up, but after he came to terms with it and no longer defined himself as an outsider, he could communicate positively with those he saw there.

         I related a story about my friend Jim, who could be called a natural yogi (he’d prefer to be called a Catholic). He was one of the guiding forces of the oral history department at the Oregon Historical Society, dedicating many years to recording and transcribing the histories of prominent labor leaders and other progressives from the state’s past. After retirement he continued to donate a great deal of time there as a volunteer. Then a couple of years back the Society hired a new coordinator of volunteer services, and she took an immediate dislike to Jim and “fired” him, even banning him from any involvement with the program. Of course Jim was rankled, but he didn’t get angry or vengeful. He accepted it in his heart and forgave the woman with his trademark elfin laugh. Eventually the interloper moved on, and Jim was able to begin contributing again, though more on the fringe than he might have liked. Then one day a woman came up to him and said, “You’re Jim Strassmeier, aren’t you?” “Well, yes.” “You are part of my earliest memory.” He had no idea who she was, so she went on, “When I was four years old, you were holding my grandfather when he died. I was there in the room.” It all came rushing back to him from many years before. Always a helpful soul, Jim had attended his friend’s death and had been holding him in his arms when he gave his last breath. Thinking back, he could just barely remember that there was indeed a little girl standing by the bedside. “Ohhhh, yes. I remember now!” They quickly became warm friends and it was clear that she idolized him from her memory. “And what are you doing here?” he asked her. “I’m the new coordinator of volunteers.”

         So sometimes Fate blesses us with a clean break, and sometimes we have to make our own Fate. We very likely have to endure what Nitya aptly calls humiliation when we stop playing the surface games and become loyal to our own realized values. But for those who can endure the humiliation, breaking out is a great blessing whatever the potentiating cause. And in the mysterious harmony of the universe, justice may yet come around to give us a big hug and a kiss, though this must never be our motivation. It can only come when it’s least expected.

         The idea of humiliation also brought up floods of memories for everyone, with stories so poignant I don’t dare relate them here. Heartbreaking, really. Everyone seems to have experienced rude shocks to their natural love of life. Those humiliating us are often doing it because they don’t know any better and think that forcing us to hide in the center of the herd will make us less likely to be eaten by the predators that they imagine are all around us. That’s true to a small degree, but milling around in the herd all we’ll breathe is dust and all we’ll see is the tails of our fellow sheep. To really find ourselves we have to break out and take a look around from a high vantage point. We find our center by being ex-centric to the herd, and we are ex-centric to ourselves when we seek our center in the herd. So dare to be amorphous, to be yourself. All it takes is courage, determination and effort, plus a sunny dose of optimism. Nitya wishes us good luck!

 

7/15/8

Letter Seven

 

         A perfect, tight presentation by the Guru led to a beautiful evening of togetherness, washed by a scintillating sunset and blessed with the presence of a distinguished visitor, Jean from Sweden.

         Bill reminded us several times that the gist of the Letter is expressed in the first sentence: “One of the greatest paradoxes that confronts us at every moment is the forgetfulness of the whole with the recall of the part.” Nitya illustrates this with the analogy of a ten by ten grid of dots on a page. As we look at this mandala, sometimes we see squares of various sizes, sometimes we see horizontal or vertical lines, sometimes diagonal lines, and occasionally we can “see through” the grid to take note of the paper ground on which they appear. No matter how we mentally group the dots, when we focus on them the ground goes out of awareness. The converse is not so true: we can remain cognizant of the dots when we look at the paper, and even attain a more generalized, global perception of them.

         Scotty had just heard a similar analogy given in a recorded talk by Chogyam Trungpa. He drew a V on a large sheet of paper and asked those assembled what it was. First they said it was a V. Then some realized it could be a flying bird. Chogyam Trungpa then told them no, it was a bird flying in the sky.

         The grid analogy, of course, is that each dot stands for a concept or an object or a gestalt. As we “mature” we tend to choose a configuration of such dots that we identify with, that we feel best represents us. If we are able to substitute a preferred set of dots for the one bequeathed us by fate, we may become satisfied that we have accomplished a “spiritual” transformation, and call it good. All religions, sciences and philosophies have their signature patterns of dots that distinguish them from their rivals, which is fine as far as it goes. The problems arise when we insist that one pattern is the right interpretation of the whole, and downgrade the others.

         From the perspective of this analogy it is easy to see that no amount or permutation of dots can ever adequately indicate the paper they are printed on, which stands for the Absolute. The immanent and the transcendent are intrinsically and inexplicably different. However, it is a nearly universal pretence that our favorite configuration is the most accurate model, and anyone who doesn’t accept it is deluded or foolish. A yogi has to acknowledge that both the whole and all the parts are essential to a holistic vision. This isn’t a game where we discard the parts and disappear into the whole. One tricky paradoxical fact is that this would be partial in its own way. We have to integrate every aspect, to live as an expert in the here and now while simultaneously floating on the bliss of eternity.

         People who think of themselves as spiritual may well have as many fixed notions as other people. To be a guru you should look a certain way, talk a certain way, act a certain way. This is what Nitya dismisses here as inferential thinking: she looks like a Divine Mother, so she must be one. At this stage of our yoga preparation, we are actively dismantling all such misconceptions, while assuring ourselves we have plenty to work with. To do this we must actively remember the sky in which the birds are flying.

         Rivalry and partisanship automatically polarize us into a tight configuration of conceptual dots, which is a prison of our own making. Instead, we are called to peacefully watch the endlessly beautiful and tragic play of the dots, laying aside all inferential thinking and argumentative reasoning. We are “not required to do anything other than witnessing and being intensively vigilant.” Scotty thought this last was contradictory, and it does bear some elaboration.

         Most of us do not spend our entire lives at peace in ease. Certain of the dots command our attention and it is as though they have grabbed us by the lapels and pulled us out of our seat. We “rise to the occasion.” These are precisely the moments when we need to examine ourselves to see if the call is legitimate or not. Are we responding to outmoded vasanas that hold us under a spell of enchantment? Or is this an opportunity to express our dharma in a felicitous and beneficial manner? If our vigilance is slipshod, we will go along with what arrests our attention more or less unconsciously, crafting a plausible excuse after the fact for what we are doing. And while all roads may lead to enlightenment, the yogi seeks to bring as much awareness as possible to the journey, playing up the good parts and zipping past the traps and sidetracks. There is definitely an element of intelligent willing involved in such an endeavor.

         One configuration that is the darling of the modern mind is our self-identity. We have learned to identify with our family, locale, sub-species, country, gang, political party, sex preference, general tenor of opinion, and so on, to the extent of becoming enraged and belligerent when these identities are challenged. Identities serve a valid purpose for the youthful mind, and are important to healthy growth up to a point, but the problem is that they obscure the Absolute ground and become a poor substitute for it. Lots of mental gymnastics are required to maintain the pretence that our identity matches the optimal configuration, (or really that which transcends configurations), and once we start to manage the process we can be carried far afield by our wishful thinking. Anyone exposing the imposture may be nailed to a cross or otherwise eradicated.

         Identity is an important issue among gays and lesbians, for example. It is certainly necessary to acknowledge who you are and contrast that with the reality of the hostile forces in society. Would that we lived in a world where society was all knowing and all caring! But people need to protect themselves, and not by the old way of pretending to be someone they aren’t. That said, if you come to be satisfied that all you are is gay, then the Absolute ground—that which gives meaningful relationships to all the parts—remains hidden, and many of your potentials will lie dormant. This engenders a pervasive sense of isolation, no pun intended. Whether this is the common lot of mankind or not, spiritual inquiry seeks to ameliorate its pain through global awareness and understanding, not through us-against-them strategies.

         Identity is also important to minority members of the human race, who of course are only minorities in certain places and not in others. Again, the ideal would be for everyone to be equal, with liberty and justice for all, just as we are supposedly created. But the actual situation is far more cruel. It isn’t safe for a dark-skinned person to exercise even nominal freedom in public in many parts of the world. They must live behind a veil as far as the society is concerned. No matter how spiritually enlightened such a person might be, they must not lose the sense of identity that protects them from small-minded and well-armed citizens.

         So our yoga study is not about abandoning all sense of identity and wandering the streets naked and unashamed. It is about being who we are in the limited context of society while remembering and incorporating the wholeness of our being.

         Susan noted how parents often think of themselves as being nothing, while their children are everything, and so the parents draw their sense of identity from them. This can be generalized. A very common configuration of conceptual dots is to see yourself as nothing, as valueless, and to derive whatever meaning can be derived from the environment. This is just as true for extroverts as well as introverts. “I belong to a church,” “I’m a social democrat,” “My child is on the honor role,” are some of the ways we express this. Because my team is a winner, I must be a winner too. The sad part is that with children especially we then—largely unconsciously—try to manipulate them into fulfilling certain desires of our own. As Bill said, it can be a noble and wonderful exchange between parent and child, so long as the adult is only offering their expertise without conditions. But one must be vigilant here especially, to look for hidden motivations that lay invisible chains on the offspring. The most helpful factor is for the parent to realize their full value in themselves, and not try to confirm their existence via outside factors. Only if they know they are infinitely worthwhile, even if no one else will ever suspect it, can they give freely to their children without any strings of neediness.

         This is the essence of the study of the Yoga Sutras. We have become mesmerized by and defensive about the dots of our world and forgotten their ground, which is our selves, which are none other than the Absolute. We will be learning to turn our attention from the outer play to the inner panoply. The world offers us a splintered and fragmentary view of who we are. It is much easier to see ourselves when we look directly at ourselves.

 

7/22/8

Letter Eight

 

         …is a fine example of Nitya’s expertise as a teacher. Instead of baldly describing the fourfold structure of consciousness he leads us through it as a sequence of thoughts, so we can know it without knowing we know it. Although we may be daunted by the initial complexity of Vedanta, when a great teacher takes us by the hand and leads us it becomes easy and even thrilling to walk its avenues. It is impossible to overestimate the value of such a guide.

         Nitya offers us yet another superb analogy here, comparing the intellect to the rays of the sun. Just as the sun radiates a vast spectrum of energy, including light as a small fraction, our nature radiates awareness in the form of intelligence. In both cases the energy travels invisibly through spacetime, only becoming manifest when it encounters an object. The object itself reveals only a tiny jot of the total potential of the intellectual radiation, from which we can begin to infer the whole if we are so inclined. Usually we are so fascinated by the part that we don’t even think of the whole, but the yogi wants to know the source of the partial revelation in the same way that the physicist does not forget that we only perceive the fragment our limited senses are capable of revealing to us. The intellect is thus “the most active link between the nucleic person and the objective world.”

         The essence of yoga practice is given at the end of the Letter. Reference is made to the process by which we interpret sensory stimulation, the questioning, memory linking, identification and value assessment by which we convert the unknown into the known. The question is posed, what happens if we refuse to engage in the process? If we are chained to our habitual reactions by memories, what happens if we break the chain?

         When we meditate we can hold our attention on a concept or object and it’s like clinging to a rock in a flood. The mind presses to do its duty and sweep the meditator along in a conceptual torrent, but the yogi holds firm and doesn’t give in to it. The presumption is that when our vast subconscious potential is no longer embroiled in mundane matters, it becomes free to dive deep and soar high. Making claims about where this will lead us, as do most of the popular spiritual schools, converts the infinite potential back into a mundane object of consciousness, thus defeating the purpose in advance. We have to keep our mind open, and not be lured by any tantalizing chimeras.

         The very first sentence of this Letter instructs us that any intentionality we have, even the most salutary and sublime, comes from our ego. If we want to meditate, that automatically makes meditation an object of consciousness, not a process of liberation. If we want to become enlightened, that makes enlightenment an object of consciousness. Even our sense of self is an object of consciousness, and something we can well do without, at least when we’re disaffiliated with the maelstrom. We are who we are no matter what, so we don’t need to continually affirm what we imagine ourselves to be. We don’t need to mount any advertising campaign. As Nitya puts it, “Paying attention to the ego or personal self is as much an objectivization as that provoked by objects.” The kicker is that our imaginary personal identity is very small compared to our true nature in all its glory, just as the entire energy emanating from the sun far exceeds the light that illuminates a single flower in our garden. By relinquishing our small identity our total Self becomes accessible, at least in principle.

         This led to a bit of a semantic argument on whether we create the world or only create our understanding of it. Of course there is a lot of overlap between these positions, but it is generally agreed that there is actually a universe we inhabit, that not everything is solely located between one’s ears. This is impossible to prove, so it remains axiomatic, but it is a safe bet. The alternative can lead us to spend vast amounts of energy trying to accomplish the impossible, like levitating or growing younger, which is a waste of our precious time in the body.

         We can and do affect our surroundings, but we didn’t create the whole ball of wax. The idea is that our memory linkages and value assessments color the world we encounter, and very significantly. A dog makes a fine example. It exists on its own, independent of anyone’s opinion. Yet each person has a different experience of it when they meet it. One is touched with loving feelings; another gets a jolt of fear; another is indifferent. At this stage of our training we are asked to imagine what would happen if we didn’t grab hold of our previous opinions, and just let it lie. That doesn’t make the dog disappear, only our reactions it to it. Would we then be nothing? Or Nothing? Reaction is essential in a dog-eat-dog world, but we are crafting a haven from the storm so we can safely make a voyage of discovery into strange new worlds. That means setting aside reactivity insofar as possible.

         It is important to take a vow to use one’s unleashed potentials—whatever they may turn out to be—for the good of all, otherwise they can do a lot of harm. Part of yoga instruction, shared by virtually all religions, is to convince the student of the supreme value of ahimsa, of non-hurting. Psychic potentials are a byproduct, not the goal of yoga. The ego stands ready to co-opt any and all powers to its glory, and this proclivity must be annulled in advance. One doesn’t need to battle the ego: merely canceling the memory linkage de-energizes the chain of events that culminates in an ego.

         We closed the class with a few moments of not engaging any memory links and letting them go when they spontaneously arose. A deep twilight beauty enfolded us.

 

7/29/8

Letter Nine

 

         Being and becoming now take center stage. Being is the Absolute within us, the Self, our pure unmodulated consciousness, while becoming comprises all the modulations and our identification with them. As “mature” humans we have become enamored of the sequence of developments that we cumulatively call ‘I’. This is only natural. But yoga invites us to take a break and allow our being to shine forth for a time, which weakens the hold the torrent of becoming has on our psyche. As we are better able to witness our life from a step back, we can choose to discard at least some of our less healthy attachments and transfer that energy to projects more worthy of our efforts.

         At first, being is like a myth. We’ve heard of it but it is simply conceived as one more aspect of our becoming. It is imagined as a goal to be reached, and humans love to put energy into pursuing goals, especially for self-improvement and/or to benefit the abstraction called the world. The main reason the Gurukula remains obscure is its unwillingness to present realization as a far off laurel wreath to be garnered through a series of stages, the pursuing of a path, by being good, being righteous, following eight steps, or five or twelve. It doesn’t have the appeal of the Three-Minute Manager or the Ten Habits of Highly Successful People. All such programs are forms of becoming, and being is not the product of becoming. Quite the contrary, being is eternally obscured by becoming. As the Gita puts it, “The all-pervading One takes cognizance neither of the sinful nor the meritorious actions of anyone; wisdom is veiled by unwisdom; beings are deluded thereby.” (V, 15) Here, obviously, wisdom is equated with being and unwisdom with becoming. Becoming comprises knowledge, valuable enough in its own sphere, but wisdom is something that stems from being and is overcovered by knowledge as a tree is subsumed in clinging vines. As Narayana Guru tells us in Atmo verse 9, hell does not come to one dwelling in contemplation beneath this tree, only to those who are ensnared by the twining vine.

         Speaking of hell, Anita has been thinking that it is a state in the present, not in some far off future, and it comes from having unresolved issues. Resolving issues is one way of allowing ourselves to simply be, and unresolved issues very much interfere with our enjoyment of life. They make up the bulk of becoming. The thing about becoming is it doesn’t quit, it keeps piling one thing on top of another until we’re quite overwhelmed. Like Giles Corey in The Crucible, a play about the Salem witch trials, our punishment sentences us to be pressed to death beneath heavy stones. Our stones are made of obligations and expectations, weighty matters of our past and future. And like the Hydra, when you resolve one issue by symbolically cutting off its head, two more spring up in its place. The notion that we can finish with our problems by taking care of them one by one only gets us more embroiled in them, as several class members have testified. Hey, we can all attest to this! We believe we’re being good citizens by taking care of all our obligations sequentially, but there is no end to them. They even proliferate. Somehow we have to permit ourselves to make a clean break.

         Instead of wading deeper and deeper into becoming, the solution is to discover our hidden beingness. To accomplish this, Nitya’s recommendation in this Letter is to take a good hard look at who you imagine yourself to be. We have constructed ourselves out of nothingness, out of memories and imagination, hopes and desires. We believe we are the end product of everything that we’ve done and that’s happened to us, but we are in reality so much more than that. We are in fact the Absolute. We have to admit that even our best friends know almost nothing about us. Indeed we ourselves know very little of who we are. We are walking myths, crazily reflecting our sense of continuity to the expectations of our surface persona and other people. But that isn’t who we really are at all.

         All of us have a sense of self, and that has remained unchanged for as long as we’ve been aware of ourself. This is why we imagine all our life that we’re still only 23, or 14, or 6. Those numbers mark the moment we became fully aware of ourselves, and that self-awareness has persisted through thick and thin ever since. If we can accept that sense of self without definition, we will begin to know our being, and it is connected to and even identical with the total Self, the total Being. But both we and our friends pressure us to describe what that self is, to give it a name and a form or forms. We of course choose the best description we can manufacture, and assert that that’s who we are. We may not be so generous with our fellows in our descriptions of them. The wise course would be to not call being anything, to not describe it at all. We are That, and that’s that. That’s It. But oh, my friend thinks I’m such and such. My enemy says I’m so and so. Fine, those are their projected mental images. I’m not going to put my energy into conforming to their expectations, I’m going to use it to relinquish all static notions, my own first of all.

         The popular path of ignoring problems and fixations in hopes they will go away is fatally flawed. Both Deb and Anita talked about how appealing the idea is, but it doesn’t work. Life—or Fate—keeps reinventing situations to present the unresolved problem, and upping the ante each time. Like an unfriendly orgasm, there is a buildup to an explosion of anger or hatred, after which a temporary calm is restored. We read all the time in the news about the outbursts that result in the supreme calm of death or imprisonment.

         Usually we won’t attend to a problem until it causes us substantial pain, and by then it’s built up some serious momentum. We don’t act until we get a taste of the hellish mental states that samskaras and vasanas can produce when they are really frustrated. And then we may act poorly and under duress, warped by false imaginings. As far as problems go, you can run but you can’t hide. The human species desperately needs a healthy solution to “static buildup” short of violence.

         All that’s required is for us to examine ourselves without favorable prejudice, in other words, without blaming other people for our problems. We want to shift the burden onto our handy friend or enemy and hope that will make us free. It’s our favorite form of ignoring the problem: it isn’t actually our problem, it’s someone else’s fault. So once we get over that, we have to watch how our mind works. We watch how memories shape our mental picture, and see how insubstantial and pliable they are. We watch the figure-eight movement as we cycle through optimism, reality check, pessimism, hope; optimism, reality check, pessimism, hope, over and over. The flowing form of becoming.

         As we watch, we remember that we are much more than this game. We are the consciousness that sees it. We are even something undefined and undefinable. Definition sets limits; undefinition is unlimited, infinite. As Nitya puts it, “If you continuously involve yourself in the careful scrutiny of changing consciousness, you will soon come to appreciate the feedback of a memory, which can give you the idea of a past that is regenerated again and again as the immediate present and the only experience that you ever have. The intuitive understanding of the myth of the past can cause a dent in the opaque screen of becoming through which you can visualize your Being.”

         Class ended with a subject that has touched several class members, suicide of a close friend or relative. Anne talked about her brother, who is still moiling over their father’s death some 50 years ago. She herself was eventually able to let go, with understanding and forgiveness, but her brother is still tormented. This is one of the most if not the most acute forms of memory, our connection with our parents. Suicide leaves no possibility of redressing the issues, and leaves a heavy burden of unresolvable guilt on all the dear ones. So it is a tragic but excellent example of what we’ve been discussing here. If you ignore it and try to bury it, it will continue to eat away at your vitals, even for a lifetime. Wracked with sorrow, you have to face the monster and wrestle with it before it will leave you alone. Small sorties into being in order to escape will only be met with misery when you resurface. Often, alcohol or other medication serves as the substitute for being, and addiction is the outcome. So it is a paradox once again. We have to pay attention to become free. The popular hope that we are freed by turning away from our legitimate problems fails time and again, but we have a hard time giving it up.

         Class ended with a quiet session where we dispensed with all memory links as they arose. This is easy to conceive and hard to practice. The little buggers keep commandeering consciousness, slyly and subtly. Before we know it we are remembering something. But the group effort, following a pointed discussion, lent extra intensity to the meditation, and fleeting glimpses of Being may have been the result.

 

Part II

  Jean just sent a thoughtful response to the above. She wrote:

 

         I may be getting caught up in semantics, or reading like a devil’s advocate, but some things didn’t seem to equate.

          In “new physics,” you discuss the ideas of causality which, as you say, can also be called “directedness”, “a slightly positive pressure”, the will of God, or creative emergence. How about the word “intentionality”, too? It almost seems synonymous. Yet in 7/22/8 class notes, intentionality gets cut down to the quick, as coming from the ego-- “even the most salutory and sublime” of intentionality.

          (To plug this in to my own personal experience, I came to Portland with a cause-- an intention-- primarily to exert a creative positive pressure, to get that apartment cleaned up. I also had intentions (plans) to visit Gayathri, Anita, Nancy, and your class. It took planning, energy, help (much help), but everything got accomplished according to the original vision. I’m not even going to ask where ego played into this! But I can see God working this way, too, having a plan, laying the pick-up sticks in a way they can all get picked up, even when they are lying in total logjams. I’ll bet that even random “randomness and chaos” is part of the great plan! It’s a comforting thought. It’s like Dalai Lama’s thought, that “sometimes not getting what you want is a great stroke of luck”.)

          In the next paragraph of 7/22/8 notes, we read, “As Nitya puts it, ‘Paying attention to the ego or personal self is as much an objectivization as that provoked by objects.’“ Yet in 7/29/8 class notes, you write, “We have to pay attention to become free.” I understand that better.

 

         Let’s be clear: the only point made in those citations is that intentionality comes from the ego. This isn’t a terrible thing at all: the ego is the part of the mind that registers and energizes our conscious intentions. Vasanas and samskaras energize our unconscious and semiconscious intentions, respectively. When we pay attention to the ego we objectify it. We move from being random, haphazard egos lurching through the night to being cognizant of our actions, mindful of our actions. This can often redirect negative energy to positive ends, or at least de-energize our negativity. It’s not that randomness equals spiritual, or that intention equates to it either, but the latter opens the door to being if it’s open enough. The former? Well, true randomness is rare to the point of nonexistence. Mostly it’s a cover for negativity.

         So yes, our intentions come from our egos. Whether our motivations are selfish or altruistic makes the difference between growing or shrinking. In the references to paying attention (a form of intention), we don’t allow ourselves to be deluded that our intentions come from divine inspiration, and so whatever we do is blessed by God. That’s the old rationale for bloodletting. We look and see where our motivations arise within our own self, and this frees us from being driven blindly by our immediate desires.

         I agree that intentionality is problematic for humans. Hopefully not so problematic for the universe as a whole, whether operated intentionally by God or Nature or Accident. The primary difference is that the universe includes everything, while a person tends to be somewhat more limited. Therefore the latter has to make peace with the former somehow, or else endure a lot of extra conflict trying to squeeze the universe down to human conceivability. I suppose it is a matter of opinion whether we accept the universe’s intentionality or not. Maybe the whole thing is a bad idea, full of birth and death and all kinds of sudden changes. It makes one giddy! But we’re pretty much stuck with it, and we’re not likely anytime soon to be able to reinvent its laws.

         It cannot be repeated often enough that spirituality should not mean inhibiting or destroying the ego or ceasing activity or abstaining from intentions. This is a widely held belief, however, and I notice that however often we preach about healthy egos in class, people nod and smile and then consider how best to crush them. Selfishness and ego are not the same, though they may be bedfellows. The Gurukula teaches discarding selfishness and embracing the whole, and we embrace it with our ego. The ego includes what we glibly call our heart and our mind. The ego should not be crushed, it should be made healthy and expanded to include as much as humanly possible in its purview. We need to look to the total situation and take our cues from that, not just “what’s in it for me.” We know we are one valuable little smidgen of the whole, so selfish behaviors tend to separate us from who and what we are, ending in disasters great and small. Generous behaviors tend to enrich our environment, and therefore go well for ourselves and others. I don’t think I need to quote Atmo 23 yet again, because you all know it by heart by now.

         By this measure, Jean was acting “spiritually” by donating time and effort and even money to cleaning out and sprucing up her mother’s living space. This would not have gotten done by someone who believes that spiritual life means withdrawing from participation in mundane matters. Those people sit in their cells and meditate on holiness, and that’s fine, so long as they don’t go mad. Many of us need activity to keep us sane, and actions provide just the proper field for spiritual growth. Real growth, not imaginary growth. The Gita is filled with urgings to act intentionally but dispassionately. For instance, it reminds us, in III, 8: “Do engage yourself in action that is necessary; activity is indeed better than non-activity, and even the bodily life of yours would not progress satisfactorily through non-action.” And in III, 23 and 24: “If I should not remain active (in principle), never relaxing, men in every walk of life would take to my (inactive) way. These (various) worlds would fall into ruin should I refrain from activity, and I would become the agent of (evolutive) confusion, killing in effect the peoples.” In other words, if she doesn’t clean up the apartment, it’s going to “fall into ruin.” Her ego decided to do it, and it made a good decision that had many beneficial repercussions for a number of people. Moreover, it was a problem she didn’t have to go looking for, it was right there in front of her. Those are the right ones to attend to. If the ego has to go fishing for problems, it should suspect ulterior motives like proselytization or ego glorification. We have plenty of “stuff” in plain sight. If we accept the universe’s intentions, dealing with what it presents us is perfectly adequate.

 

8/12/8

Letter Ten

 

         The tenth Letter is densely packed with ideas, several of which could easily take up a whole evening’s discussion. It’s also hard to read, because a lot of previous knowledge has to be brought to bear on it. Happily, group contemplation opens up avenues that unveil unforeseen aspects and wind up being extremely helpful. Last night was one of those occasions when once we got started there was some beautiful and germane sharing and exploration.

         We read the last paragraph first, because it reveals the gist, particularly the last two sentences: “We live with the ambivalence of identifying with the rationale at one time and then shifting the identity to the procreative at another. Yoga is attained only by extricating the discerning intelligence from the continuous drama of recurring modulations and their incentives.”

         Nitya uses the term rationale uniquely in this Letter to mean the proclivity for knowing, and likewise the word procreative indicates the proclivity for doing. When our knowing falls short we encounter doubt, and when our doing is disrupted it is revealed as hesitation. Doubt and hesitation in this sense are serious impediments to a unified or yogic life. As Nitya puts it, “Just as doubt inhibits the full illumination of knowing, hesitation inhibits actualization.” Paradoxically, extricating our psyches from being engrossed in “the drama” allows us to bring our best effort to both knowing and doing. We don’t turn our back to it and walk away, but get it in perspective, exactly as Krishna advises Arjuna when he wants to flee from the battlefield.

         Anita grokked the idea in terms of a recent conflict with her daughter, which we can think of in general terms. Her feelings were hurt, and in the past this would have led to a lengthy exchange of barbs and pleas, lots of semi-satisfactory back and forth, but this time she took into account her daughter’s side and was able to rise above her personal feelings to attain compassion, both for her daughter and wonderfully, herself too. It made it easy to forgive and let go—well, easier anyway. These things are seldom easy, but the improvement they bring validates the struggle to extricate “the discerning intelligence from the continuous drama of recurring modulations and their incentives.”

         Charles asked for illumination of why we fall short of unitive action and become mired in doubt and hesitation, so we used his fairly typical childhood as an example. He was expected by his social milieu to play football and go to church, but his inner promptings (samskaras and vasanas) longed for a far different path through life. Charles responded to the conflict more bravely than most, sticking doggedly to his own lights, so to speak. Most people become seriously confused at this point, and if they aren't confused yet pressure is applied until they are, as their inner light is overwhelmed by social directives. They learn to believe they should go to church and play football, and their odd feelings to be unique or unusual are buried, shut away in shame. Even if they are strong enough to wave their freak flag and be themselves, the social pressure provides ample fodder for doubt and hesitation that they may struggle with for many years or even decades.

         Brenda said that one especially tragic outcome of this conflict is that the individual often has to push against the impinging social forces with all their might, and in the process becoming permanently established in rebellion. It’s hard to regain one’s balance in the midst of a game of tug of war. As a third party, she has had some success in healing this type of wound within her family, and it seems like this is a situation where a more detached person can be very helpful. She could see that at heart everyone wanted to love each other, but they had become entrenched and dogmatic about their differences. Again, the samskaras of familial love are being subverted by the contradictory demands of religion and social duties, and the result is tragic. It takes some form of guru, something to remove the darkness, to bridge the gap. Happily, Brenda overcame her hesitations long ago to fulfill just such a role.

         Deb admitted that early in her work with Guru Nitya, he characterized her as having chronic hesitation, so she was a bit of an expert on the subject. She realized it was all those contrary voices, our superego as Freud would have it, that grab you just as you are about to act and hold you back. It took many years for her to gain confidence in her own beliefs and motivations. She is finding her new avocation as a singer a way to feel that empowerment in her core. She was always inhibited to sing, due to childhood traumas of the usual sort, but now she is trusting that her body knows how to do it and if she just lets go of the doubts, beautiful music emerges. She is fortunate to have a teacher who knows this too. Not all do. And presumably learning to let go and sing can be carried over into every corner of the arena of life.

         The Gita concludes a discussion on doubt in IV, 42: “Therefore, sundering with the sword of Self-knowledge this ignorance-born doubt residing in the heart, stand firm in the unitive way, and stand up, Arjuna.” This is the call the Gurukula wants to echo, the call to be ourselves and live life to the fullest.

 

         As we’ve noted before, the small classes tend to embolden the shier members to step up to the microphone. This time we looked directly at why people hold back even in a very supportive setting. Brenda related that she always resolves to sit quiet and just listen, because she doesn’t want to be humiliated in front of all the knowledgeable people in the class. Probably this is the dominant feeling with 4/5 of the attendees, and is precisely a kind of doubt Nitya is addressing here. We sit in a roomful of people who all believe that they are less worthy than everyone else. Heck, we live in a society where a large proportion feels that only other people matter, that they don’t measure up and so they should just stay out of the way. They don’t readily notice when they say something and all those supposedly “superior” others find what they say enlightening. In fact, reality isn’t the problem so much as negative samskaras that cause us to live in the past.

         Several of us recalled sitting in early schoolrooms and being humiliated, laughed at, told we were wrong and so on. It doesn’t take too much of that before we decide to hang back on the periphery more or less permanently. The smaller number of bossy kids learn they can pretty much push everyone else around, and they rise to the top in a structure that rewards aggression.

         It’s true that all of us have some degree of aggressiveness in our personality, but class is in part a training ground for how to interact on a respectful basis, with no need to fight whatsoever. With rare exceptions I think we do well in this respect. We take to heart Narayana Guru’s admonition to share knowledge with the aim of uplifting everyone, rather than arguing to win. Those who harbor dark urges to hurt other people’s feelings don’t find the Gurukula enjoyable enough, and they move on.

         Anyway, the Letter teaches us that full knowledge dispels doubt, and a full commitment to a well-conceived action program overcomes hesitation. We got to practice the preaching on site last night. Knowing that the doubts come from past hangovers and not present circumstances, allowed everyone to speak with confidence. The class ended with very good feelings of fellowship, exemplifying the ideal of yoga.

 

Part II

         Believe it or not, a few of the farflung email recipients actually read the notes. Sometimes just a friendly acknowledgement is better than anything. This evening’s exchange:

 

Scott,

What a truly lovely session

and such eloquent notes to boot.

My whole being is smiling.

Makes for quite a nice evening!

Sending love your way, always,

Peg

 

Dear Multiple New Grandma Peg,

  Thanks for the feedback. It's so nice to feel a wide net surrounding our little gathering, linked by beaming thought waves of love. All together now! Scott

 

Part III

         The most dramatic psychic attainment of all, better than ESP, teleportation, shrinking, expanding, and all the rest, is the ability to see things as they are. What with relativity, the uncertainty principle, and the findings of neuroscience and psychology that what we see is colored by what we believe, arriving at a clear understanding of a situation is a supreme achievement. Anything less leaves us wreathed in doubt. Nitya hints at this when he says, “The partial dysfunction of the discerning intellect that results in doubt is caused by the non-apprehension of the distinguishing mark, lakshana. The fragmentation of the field can be caused by external as well as internal reasons.”

         Yoga is not a ratification of naivete, but many of its adherents seem to believe it is. It is a way of transcending the drama so we can see clearly. The drama is partly our own hysterics, and these we have addressed repeatedly in our studies. However, a significant part of our confusion comes from the intentional disruption of the field by external forces. Followers of Machiavelli, Leo Strauss, and other pragmatic philosophers, not to mention ordinary advertisers and propagandists in general, have a stake in manipulating perceptions in their favor. All are aware that the typical human is very generous in giving the benefit of the doubt to others and trusting in their benign motives, and this very trust is their best friend in perpetrating swindles great and small. Tremendous energy and planning goes into disguising the ripoffs as being patriotic or even divinely approved. A true yogi can intuit the real intentions below the flimflam, and resist being taken in. Sometimes serious meditation and fact finding are required to get to the bottom of it. The facts about the use of propaganda are abundant, but many seekers of truth choose to ignore them as being causes, rather than solutions, to problems. Many dogs can be let lie, but anyone who is going to become fervent in a cause should carefully examine the motivations and vested interests of their leaders.

         The childish ideal of “ see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil,” allows people to be led into all sorts of heinous blind alleys, and produces an ugly form of insular attitude that is the opposite of compassion. We should be very careful to not go off half cocked, based on half-baked thinking, but to hold off until the distinguishing marks, the lakshana, have been ascertained. This often requires being open to ideas that at first hearing appear to be outside the range of acceptability, because that range is almost always the product of well-planned propaganda in the first place.

         The most critical factor here is that matters often appear certain when we should still be in doubt. We only know a little bit, but presume the rest based on good faith and all that. If our certainty is a hallucination based on wishful thinking manipulated by composed imagery, we may charge off to war against everyone’s best interests. As Thomas Merton warns in Faith and Violence, “Our idols are by no means dumb and powerless. The sardonic diatribes of the prophets against images of wood and stone do not apply to our images that live, and speak, and smile, and dance, and allure us and lead us off to kill.” Doubt is an honest condition that keeps us reined in until all is known. We can’t know everything, but it is relatively easy to know a lot more than we do. Until then, we should be glad to hesitate to act rashly.

 

8/19/8

Letter Eleven

 

         The eleventh sortie into yoga exegesis applies a reduction to what we’ve already learned, and by doing so places us on the hotseat of the wisdom sacrifice. We know our perceptions are affected by millions of associations, both genetic and individual. On top of this we are shaped by the environmental conditions erected by the society in which we find ourselves. Over these enormous and implacable forces, we seem to have very little control. What are we to do about them?

         To students of the Gita we can see Arjuna in just this conundrum as he looks about himself on the battlefield of life. The ordinary responses are either to go along with these titanic unconscious and social pressures or to resist them. We “go along to get along” or else become rebels, drawing our identity from the appearance of rejection of those same forces. Yet yoga offers us a third alternative, which permits us to transcend the context of these eternal battles entirely. Happily, many of us have already made substantial strides in this matter, so this was mainly a review and a stock-taking.

         Nitya hints at the third method in his conclusion: “Yoga is the difficult task of disciplining this individuated aspect of the conscious self so as to give it a transparency to the overwhelmingly large area of altering consciousness in which an unconscious and a collective compulsion are perennially active. This is the enormity of the problem before the aspirant.”

         When we are attached to certain selected aspects of the Whole, we cannot be said to be transparent. Through our substantial efforts we come to have a transparency of vision, where “sticky” parts of our psyche let go of their neediness and allow things to flow without disruption. For this reason, in meditation we examine precisely those events that cause us upset, because they locate our hangups for us. The upset can be positive or negative. Or, as Nitya suggests here, we can simply look around the room and watch what mental links we make to common objects.

         For example, Jan brought us a beautiful flower bouquet from her garden, and we all had a nice uplift of our spirits just by seeing it. We thanked her and she felt pleased at bringing us joy. There’s nothing wrong with any of this as social and intellectual occurrences within the transactional realm. Then we put the flowers on our “altar” where they could serve as subjects of the meditation, which was particularly nice since we were directed to look around the room and note the objects in it. Now we’re doing yoga, not transacting. There is a bundle of shape and color sitting there, in the midst of the gestalt called the Gurukula or Scott and Deb’s living room. With a transparent vision it is just that: a bundle of shape and color. From our memory banks come associations like “Oh aren’t those beautiful!” “They make me happy.” “How thoughtful.” “How sweet.” And finally, “That is a bouquet of flowers.” Nitya reminds us, “The finality of every perception comes when it is appropriately named.” He doesn’t quite call it a nail in the coffin—only that, like dimes and pennies, a name allows a concept to circulate and be exchanged. The dead part is that names become substitutes for the original, and before too long we discard the source and only trade in names, in symbolic tokens. Naming is akin to dismissing. We think, "Oh, Jan's flowers," instead of truly seeing them any more. It gets really complicated and conflicting because each of us has a different set of associations with every nameable item. Some of them make us very unhappy and even prepare us to fight.

         Our memory links have become tyrannical over the years to dictate our state of mind. Here is where class members have shown a lot of maturity in gaining their freedom. Quite a few stories came out about how they were really noticing their reactions to situations now, and simply by noticing they were more able to transcend the traditional bonding effect.

         Deb told us about an art class Suellen gave to a group of non-artists. Everyone was struggling to draw a still life, and doing a lousy job. Suellen told the class it was because they were all painting what they thought an eggplant should look like. They were mediating the process with ideas about it. Instead, they should try to look clearly at the object itself. When they did this the results were much more artistic and lifelike.

         Jan told us how she had gone camping with her family and being outdoors helped her to feel wonderfully open. Then, when she returned home she was able to retain the openness for much longer than usual. Instead of linking with all the negative associations of chores and responsibilities around the house, she stayed transparently in her native happiness that had been restored by contact with nature.

         Bill told of one of the Roshis who directed his followers that there was an interval between every event and our reaction to it. If we attend to that moment we can preempt our tendency to make associations. That brief time span was where to look for the Zen Buddhist equivalent of the transparency of vision.

         Scotty related getting heavily into chanting mantras to Krishna, and pushing himself to call on Krishna to respond to his pleas. It got more and more intense, and then he heard a voice say to let go. When he stopped trying, and stopped conceiving of a particular deity and projected outcome, he was suddenly able to drift into a new state of mind that felt much freer. Tingly, too.

         Susan has been going to her special cabin in the mountains all her life, and has the best associations with it. So much so that every time she leaves to return to “real life” she gets depressed, sometimes pretty severely so. This year, though, she looked out at the river and the trees behind the cabin in just the way Nitya directs us in this Letter, noting that how she feels up there is very much a part of who she is, and that the molecules and atoms that make up the scene at the cabin are exactly like those she sees out her windows at home. She is the same person wherever she might be. And it worked: she didn’t get depressed this time. No tears, no regrets. It took effort, but she was able to bring herself to a neutral state of transparency. Now she can see that the depression isn’t caused by the transition, it’s part of the oppression of her memory banks.

         Anne told us of attending the funeral of a young man who she has been caring for for six years. While chronically ill and dying of liver cancer, he never complained, never asked for attention, and continued to teach young adults carrying their own burdens. Until his condition became obvious, his students had no idea he was wasting away. His transparency was to know that every minute spent complaining was wasted time, and he didn’t have any to spare. He lived to his maximum potential and remained optimistic to the last, to the degree that his funeral took place on what was to be his wedding day.

         Since we have examined social impacts often enough in past classes, we didn't talk much about those. And it seemed superfluous to say anything after Anne’s example. When we realize how easy and happy our lives are compared to those who have real troubles, sometimes we can cast off even more useless baggage and truly appreciate just being alive. Paradoxically, the more helpless we realize we are, systematically reducing our imagined powers to affect the world and ourselves to their minute actual size, the easier it is to slip between the cracks to escape the impact of social and mental bandage.

 

Part II

         Deb attended a workshop with Lucille Clifton last month, a couple of whose poems are perfect for the themes of our class. The first shows that transparency is not static but dynamic, and is written to Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego, the second of two such in The Book of Light, published by Copper Canyon Press in 1993:

 

further note to clark

                          

                           do you know how hard this is for me?

                           do you know what you’re asking?

 

                  what i can promise is to be water,

                  water plain and direct as Niagara.

                  unsparing of myself, unsparing of

                  the cliff i batter, but also unsparing

                  of you, tourist. the question for me is

                  how long can i cling to the edge?

                  the question for you is

                  what have you ever traveled toward

                  more than your own safety?

 

Additionally, I thought these few lines summed up the impact of social conditioning rather better than an acre of prose:

 

the photograph:  a lynching

 

is it the cut glass

of their eyes

looking up toward

the new gnarled branch

of the black man

hanging from a tree?

 

is it the white milk pleated

collar of the woman

smiling toward the camera,

her fingers loose around

a christian cross drooping

against her breast?

 

is it all of us

captured by history into an

accurate album? will we be

required to view it together

under a gathering sky?

 

(from Blessing the Boats, BOA Editions Ltd., 2000)

 

8/26/8

Letter Twelve

 

         Nitya begins by distinguishing cognition from re-cognition. Cognition is the assimilation of new knowledge, primarily during the early years of life when the brain is building memory and functional connections, but continuing through life. Anita and Fred wanted us to know that every input is new until it is recognized, or re-cognized, as an identifiable correspondent of memory. Much of our Gurukula study is aimed at enhancing the appreciation of the newness of every experience. Recognition is largely automatic in a healthy brain, and is a very useful function unless it is allowed to overwhelm and substitute for cognition.

         The main point of the Letter is to distinguish the horizontal from the vertical, though as Deb asserted, when we are living an artistic, flowing life these are integrated and invisible. It’s only when we’re seeking to understand that they are useful, like the concept of the Absolute itself. As Nataraja Guru admitted in his Integrated Science, these concepts don’t exist as such. They are normative notions that help us to balance our psyche.

         Regardless, in the model we have recourse to, fantasy or subjectivity is considered the negative horizontal pole, while actuality or objectivity is assigned the positive pole. Realization is the vertical essence where these are normalized. Without realization, the horizontal can and does careen all over the map. It is unduly influenced by outside forces and inside memories in the shape of samskaras and vasanas. The vertical is thus like the eye of the hurricane, an oasis of calm in which we can take stock and prepare for the next blast.

         Fred took issue with Nitya’s phrasing that a diseased mind fantasizes while the ordinary mind actualizes. He felt it was normal for all of us to do both, and that’s right. Indian gurus tend to have a severe attitude about fantasy because of its discrepancy with actuality. They believe the subjective should correspond to the objective or madness results, and they have a point. But Nitya himself put it much more gently at the beginning of the Letter, saying only that when we are passive we fantasize and when we are active we actualize. As long as these remain in rough correspondence we live a healthy life. Yogic realization does not happen in a vacuum, as is sometimes imagined, it occurs in relation to horizontal actuality.

         Sometimes the passive, fantasy life far outpaces any actualization, though, and this tends to cause pain to the psyche. Instead of pain-reducing drug medication, the happy choice of the brave new world, the best solution is to temper one’s fantasies on the anvil of actuality. The pain comes from the futility of our inner urges to find expressive outlets, because we’re too lazy to put them into practice. Their dynamism just fizzles out, and we have a profound feeling of dissatisfaction and unfulfillment. We need to do things, real things, and not just at random but in keeping with our value visions, and the act of doing relieves the pain.

         There is a third option, that of the yogi. The yogi opts for realizing over fantasizing or actualizing. This means performing the “wisdom sacrifice” of examining the situation and coming to a neutral comprehension. While we stop and look, the inspiration of realization comes mysteriously as if by grace. Whether it is imagined to come from a recondite part of the brain or a quantum field or a god, it comes from beyond consciousness to shed light on our dilemmas.

         Both Fred and Anita wondered if artistic inspiration didn’t come from personal fantasy and then get actualized, as is commonly thought. There is a subtle distinction here. Inspiration is vertical. It may be promoted by fantasy but is distinct from it. Great artists hone their skills, certainly, but their inspiration pours out of the depths, often unbidden, and floods consciousness with its beauty. Their job is to actualize the inspiration. No amount of fantasizing will produce great art, though it produces commercial art in great heaps. It may be hard to distinguish them from the outside, but inwardly we know there is a difference. The two books I'm reading about music right now, Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks and This is your Brain on Music by David Leavitt, are filled with vernacular and scientific tales of oceanic inspiration that dwarfs the pools of consciousness of the artists that experience them.

         In Timequake, the writer Kurt Vonnegut joked that some people, him included, had radio receivers in their brains to pick up broadcasts from somewhere else. He wrote a story about a mad scientist who studied brain after brain, and finally found the little blob of matter that must have been the receiver, because only scientific and artistic geniuses, great writers and poets and so on, had it. He got ready to present his findings, which he was sure would garner him a Nobel Prize. Then he realized that he couldn’t take credit for the discovery, because by his own theory he must have one of those radio receivers himself, and committed suicide instead. The implication being that although we all want to take credit for what we do, we should temper our self-importance by admitting that our ideas come from the depths of pure consciousness and are not as much our own creations as we might wish.

         Nitya traces inspiration from said pure consciousness, cit, through the actualizing consciousness, caitanya, and into the mouths of poets and philosophers, as exemplars of inspired living. Without the transformative efforts of an individual being, however, the unlimited potential of cit remains untapped. The minute we acknowledge an inspirational Source, we can turn to it and become inspired according to our own predilections and abilities.

         Anita had a typical (if I may use the term) yogic inspiration during a music lesson with Eugene. She suddenly realized that her lifelong reticence and self-consciousness about singing was due to wanting to please her father as a little girl. He was difficult and often AWOL, and sometimes she could attract his attention and sometimes not. But she tried hard to reach out to him through performance, one of the few avenues children have to do so in many cases. The fact that at times it drew praise and other times had no effect was deeply confusing to Anita, again typically of children. The deep memory of that confusion continued to color Anita’s ability to make music for her whole life, until the combination of contemplation and musical release provided the flash of realization. This will have a positive impact on her self-confidence in performance.

         We can’t make revelations like this come at our beck and call, but we can be more open to them and accepting of them, which should increase their frequency. Contemplation invites them in, and quiet times like meditation allow their whispers to be heard. Treat them like wild birds, be very still and quiet, and they will sometimes come near enough to eat out of your hand. Yogic realization sounds like a big brass band event, but often means just what Anita experienced, insights that liberate our psyches, and in turn lead to new insights.

         It is well worth repeating the bulk of the last paragraph of the Letter, as it holds the most valuable instruction for the yogi and artist:

 

A yogi is careful to avoid both these realms, that of fantasizing and that of actualizing. The yogi’s goal is to realize. In a negative sense, realization is the avoidance of the unreal that is perpetuated through the composition and retention of various imageries that cannot be validated as real. Hence the yogi terminates associations of ideas whenever an unprofitable memory is seeking a chance to reenter the focus of consciousness. Here the witnessing element assumes the role of the grand discriminator. The incentive for this grand discriminator is nothing other than to visualize one’s own true form. This motive is again and again sabotaged by the seeping in of memories, either from the threshold of factual retentions or from the threshold of the phantom-weaving mind. The experiential essence of realization is Being.

 

         Bill returned us to the essential teaching here again and again: to visualize or realize our true form. We are trained to think of ourselves as this or that, and doing so puts limits, sometimes severe limits, on our true form, which is unlimited. Scotty offered his own response to the limiting question “Who are you?” to whit “A being in continual transformation.” He also shared Rumi’s answer: “A soul within a soul within a soul.” My motto puts it, “Self-description is stultifying.” The thrust of the teaching is to stop feeling obligated to shrink ourselves to fit the mold of the current paradigm. No matter how wonderful our self-definition, it is a horizontal confabulation of wishful thinking and actualized behaviors in a historical format. No horizontal package, however attractive we make it, adequately embodies our true form. Sure, it’s “us” but only for the moment. We don’t want to get stuck on it. Nitya tells us in no uncertain terms that our memories are saboteurs of this liberating motivation. We don’t have to carry them around like Santa’s pack to be who we are already. They can serve us rather than dictate and truncate our life.

         The latest brain-imaging studies of the frontiers of neuroscience are confirming the wisdom of the ancient rishis garnered through contemplation. Just as physics has undermined the absolute nature of appearance, neuroscience has discovered that our sense of self is a mysterious, nonmaterial entity, influenced by all sorts of programmed behaviors. Everything they can study about the brain seems to be a conditioned factor, so the question is what is it in us that feels free to choose? Who are we, really? Are “we” in charge, or are we nothing more than an endless recombination of recycled information? Is our certitude about our existence illusory? If nothing else, it shows the importance of striving to wriggle out of the grasp of preconditioned states. Science won’t speculate whether there is any “true form” beyond the confines of our historical nervous system. That should always remain beyond the grasp of material perception, though one never knows. But these studies inspire us yet again to go beyond all limits. In the words of Krishna in the Gita (VI, 46): “The yogi is greater than men of austerity, and he is thought to be greater than men of wisdom, and greater than men of works; therefore become a yogi, Arjuna.”

 

Part II

WOW! So fluidly this song is sung,

artistically realizing everyone.

We cultivate lost and we are found,

like "losing myself" in the river's sound.

 

Invisible wind that moves the leaves,

the wind is real though we cannot see.

We know it's there, and so are we...

by losing our selves we're free to Be.

 

From here the baby lives and breathes.

From here the artist paints with ease.

From here illusion falls away--

and this is "Livin'!", if I do so say!

 

Thanks for singing, Everyone!

 

xoxo Peg

 

 

9/2/8

Letter Thirteen

 

         Nitya opens with a meditation that he expanded on many times, that of sorting out exactly what you experience while sitting from what you imagine is happening. You start off thinking, “I am sitting down for a meditation on a chair in Scott and Deb’s house.” But as you look closer, what you imagine as ‘you’ dissolves into a vast emptiness, and what you imagine as ‘chair’ and ‘house’ become fictitious as well. All you feel is a tiny bit of pressure in your derriere, almost nothing. Yoga meditation to reduce the vast panoply of projected images to their origin helps us to sort out the false from the real. Life being tough enough without adding to our burdens, we can free ourselves from toting the same old stuff around as our personal albatross.

         I looked up the version of this meditation that appears in That Alone in greater detail. The one on 339-40 is worth revisiting, and a slightly different version without the seat appears on 70-72. The spit bug reference on 197 humorously portrays our urge to pad the ego with projections or ejections.

         Nitya concludes the Letter with a summary of the various states of samadhi or equipoise, in his inimitable vernacular that demystifies the whole business. We will study these in depth in the upcoming Yoga Sutra classes. The most valuable part of today’s lesson is to distinguish the false from the real, which automatically brings release from bondage and thus leads to samadhi. There is a virtually infinite field in which to use our insight and our friends’ perspectives to pry off these chains, and that’s what the class spent time doing. One person’s foibles can easily be extrapolated to the next person’s, so the sharing here can be especially valuable. The only problem is that the most valuable examples are rather personal and possibly embarrassing, though I find that most folks are relived to find out that they are not alone in being tricked by their samskaras.

         To keep the class from becoming too fearful, I gave a couple of lighthearted examples. “Chance” provided a perfect, neutral example. As we finished the chanting, someone saw a flash of headlights outside and said “Oh, Scotty and Eugene are here.” We rearranged the room and put two more chairs, and then sat expectantly waiting for them to appear. They never did. Whether or not there was a car outside, everything else was imaginary. We live largely imaginary lives, constantly rearranging our furniture to suit our expectations, and being disappointed when they don’t pan out. A lot of that effort is unnecessary.

         Then a silly example. A friend I was staying with let me use her computer. We went into her office to see how it worked, and I hit a random key to bring it out of sleep mode. She was horrified, and gave me a stern lecture to never do that again! I could break her valuable computer! Somehow she had come to believe that the only way to wake a computer safely was by tapping the space bar. When I tried to explain that it didn’t matter in the least what key you hit, she got angry. She knew I was wrong, and no explanation or evidence was going to change her mind.

         One of the class participants even defended her. Maybe she was right, and I was wrong. It’s true that in many cases it is less obvious where truth lies, though in this case it was pretty easy to establish the facts. The point is that we often become doctrinaire about false beliefs, and self-examination means taking an honest and assisted look at those very things. Admitting we might be wrong opens the door to the process.

         Lots of people also know that other races, castes, sexes, religions, and so on are stupid, inferior, dirty, ridiculous, dangerous—you name it. No amount of facts are going to dispel these beliefs if the belief-owner is bent on retaining them. When we mix up the actual and the imagined, as we so often do, Nitya reminds us “the result is getting caught again and again in situations that spell contradiction and drawing conclusions that are absolutely baseless.”

         As children we unconsciously adopt our parents’ prejudices, and it may take a profound event to break us loose from them. Jan gave the most poignant example of the evening. Growing up, she was led to believe that disabled people were no good, the dregs of society, hateful. Now she has a disabled son, she sees the human side of the equation, and her compassion easily extends to others also. Disabled people are just as precious as any of us. She has taken this further to realize that the hopes she may have harbored for what her son might accomplish are precisely that: her own hopes. Her son has different hopes and dreams, more in keeping with his capabilities in many respects. She knows to let him deal with those and not add her own worries and disappointments to his already heavy load. He is fortunate to not be burdened with at least one of the prejudices laid on Jan when she was in her formative years.

         Our discussion about this brought Susan to say how she realized that her children conceived of the world very differently than she did. Adults often have a powerful urge to enforce their personal vision on their kids, but sometimes the kids are right in having a different perspective. We might well wonder what tortures we put our kids through in the name of socializing or taming them “for their own good.”

         Fred related a time when he was around ten or twelve years old. He was taking guitar lessons, and his teacher wanted him to learn to read music. He kept making excuses for why he couldn’t or wouldn’t, until one day she told him, “If you keep making a case for your limitations, you’ll never get over them.” He thought it over for a couple of weeks, then went back to her and agreed to go ahead with his learning. He also told us he has a sign in the room where he gives guitar lessons now. It reads, “Never start a sentence by saying ‘I can’t’ unless you end it with the word ‘yet’.” As in, “I can’t do that hard thing… yet.” After class we were talking about his own struggles and he said in no uncertain terms, “I know I’ll never get over that.” I was obliged to use his own logic and insist that he rephrased it to end with ‘yet’. Better to leave the door open than nail it shut.

         Vyasa and I had talked earlier of the nearly universal feeling in the Gurukula class that everyone else is very wise and we are just a dummy. It keeps people on the sidelines or makes them go away without even tasting the bliss of class participation. In truth, we are all wise and have much to offer, even if we don’t yet know the specific semantics of a particular milieu. We should dispense with the false beliefs that set others above (or below) us and participate as equals. All of us have led rich lives and thought about many things. “It is evident that everyone has truly experienced,” as Narayana Guru puts it in Atmo 48.

         Yoga in one sense is thinking things through so the false notions attached to them are dispelled. So simple, yet often totally impossible. Often the breakthroughs come as an act of grace, but we have to make the effort. There are many techniques, but nothing so efficacious as joining in a group examination where there is mutual respect and circumspection in letting everyone have their say. We look forward to more examples being emailed as they occur to you out there in the hypothesphere.

         We needn’t remind everyone these simple examples are the tip of icebergs that can sink titanic ships. Wars, politics, injustices of all kinds, are rooted in socially sanctioned falsehoods. It would be a lot simpler to find the few examples where we don’t project…. But that’s a totally different meditation.

         Nitya offers us an important caveat to all this self-examination:

 

In spite of the vast dimension of the subjective realm involved, the happenings of the external world are not to be overlooked and minimized; becoming overly preoccupied with the interiorization of the whole phenomenon is likely to alienate you from the ongoing process of the perennial flow of life in which your greater reality lies.

 

In other words, this is not about transcending the world and our participation in it, it’s about living life to the fullest. Our environment teaches us, sustains us, and gives us opportunities to practice what we preach. It corrects our false projections and ratifies our true insights. It helps us to stay centered.

         Anne’s earlier example of the boy with a fatal cancer is apt here. He had every reason to descend into a nightmare world of self-pity and resentment of his fate. Instead, he engaged with people and situations around him, blessing their lives and his in the process, and serving as an inspiration and helpmate to everyone.

         We aren’t so different as Anne’s friend. We all have a fatal prognosis, and it is up to us whether we embrace life or dither away our time in meaningless preoccupations.

         Yoga means the harmonization of objective and subjective states, which reveals the numinous. The numinous is not revealed by endlessly scrubbing to erase all subjectivity, or worse still, by trying to disregard all objective elements. Ignoring actuality is an all-too-common fault of spiritual persuasions, and it is madness-making. As an antidote, we are struggling to link a beautiful value-vision with the real-life world in which we can express it. This is the route to samadhi laid out by yoga.

 

9/9/8

Letter Fourteen

 

         The shortest Letter of all has only two paragraphs, but they pack quite a punch. The first is:

 

Vyasa says, “Yoga cannot be achieved without burning away the dross and cultivating the finest intuitive ability to see and function with precision and harmony.” According to him, we stink with the prejudices and unwholesome habits that have been formed during our exposure to unexamined environments and recourse to blind reactions. Endless negative conditionings of karma have taken their deep-rooted seats in the series of interests that rise in our minds. To release the mind from them, cleansing is required. Tapas cleanses.

 

         We’ve been doing just this in class for nearly forty years now, scouting for negative conditionings and getting over them. Endless is right! But pulling out poisoned arrows is way more fun than leaving them in. Plus, after awhile their residual poison gets flushed out of the system.

         Deb dug out a perfect quote from our dear old friend That Alone, near the end of verse 13. She only read the first two sentences, which sum up spiritual life about as neatly as it can be done. I want to add a little more:

 

You are not asked here to withdraw from everything, but to transcend everything. This is accomplished by spiritualizing, by seeing everything as divine. A sense of reverence should come and fill your whole being…. When you see that union it is no longer a discomfort, it is a devotion. You are not bound. Otherwise you feel obligated and bound to everything to which your senses take you. Now it is glorious that you are given an opportunity to be with your own real being. With that reverence which comes and fills you, your work becomes a devotion. It is a service, an offering, a dedication.

 

         The class had a plethora of examples of meeting ordinarily hostile situations with a nonpolarized attitude as the way to “spiritualize” them. It’s very gratifying that the teachings have already had a positive impact on people’s lives. The upside is infinite.

         One thing we didn't talk about was how when you put energy into a specific place, it builds up over time. This means if you meditate in one spot, or write, or read there, it becomes more and more conducive to the activity. That's why meditating in bed tends to become soporific, and is not usually recommended. That’s also why I can sit at the computer keyboard where I've been writing for twenty years and words start to flow with almost no effort.

         Tapas means heating up. It isn't so much the habit of repetition, which can be deadening, but the cumulative energy expended that raises the psychic temperature. If you aren't very interested in something, we say you are lukewarm about it. If you aren't interested at all, we call it being cool or cold. Performing tapas means becoming hot for something. You do it because it matters to you, because you want to. This is the state where positive transformation is not only possible, it is natural. You are drawn to learn and grow because it turns you on like nothing else.

         Tapas is often thought of as forcing yourself to do what's “good” or what's “right” in opposition to your normal inclinations to laziness and selfishness and so on. I find this kind of a cheesy interpretation, though I suppose it has its place. But if force is required there's something missing that needs to be examined. It should be easy and fun to enter a spiritual state of mind. You are ready for it when mundane matters lose their grip on your imagination and the quest for truth becomes supremely attractive. For this reason, most people who are trying to spiritualize their lives have already shrugged off the obvious faults and are ready to expand their consciousness. They don’t have to be bludgeoned into certain behavior patterns.

         I hope the joy of a yogic attitude will eventually light a flame in each heart, so that it is not drudgery but a delight to work these teachings into daily experience. At the beginning, you need to set some time aside to review the meaning in your mind, and see how it applies to you specially. It doesn’t take too long before it becomes ingrained—though this isn’t instant pudding! We learn best alone, after getting some guidance from wherever it arrives from. This is private learning, the flight of the alone to the Alone…. But a soupcon of outside input helps a lot.

 

         Several people have wondered, “What next? When do we get to the next level?” It’s very simple: you get there when you put the teachings into practice.

         Just like those who take music lessons and only “practice” during the lesson and not in between, some people come to the class and call it good for the week. A little like punching your card on Sunday at church and then “sinning away” the other six days. Sure you get something out of it, but progress is slow. Worse, it never gets the chance to permeate into your soul.

         Digression: I can use the word soul unapologetically now, because Kurt Vonnegut rediscovered it around the time he was president of the Secular Humanist Society. He said that human awareness was a new thing in our part of the universe, a very special and unique thing. So special it could be called… soul. Near the end of Timequake he asserts that awareness travels at, “conservatively speaking, a million times the speed of light.” He goes on, “ Your awareness… is a new quality in the Universe, which exists only because there are human beings. Physicists must from now on, when pondering the secrets of the Cosmos, factor in not only energy and matter and time, but something very new and beautiful, which is human awareness.” He pauses for a literary moment. “I have thought of a better word than awareness…. Let us call it soul.”

         Vonnegut was quoted in an LA Times book review around the same time as saying, “I’m free to do art, and presumably to keep my soul growing, by finding something else to do. Participation in the arts—drawing, dancing, and all that–makes the soul grow. That’s why you engage in it. That’s how you grow a soul.”

 

         The ego is like the weather: everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it. Yet unlike the weather, the ego is eminently susceptible to our transformative efforts, and actually can be modified extensively.

         As often noted, the aim is to expand the ego to be coextensive with the Absolute, not to destroy or damage it. To avoid the collateral problem of hyper-inflating the ego through such an association, it must be trained to know its humble place in the overall scheme of things. It must bow down in a sense to the greater reality, acknowledge its condition of absolute dependence, just as life on Earth is wholly dependent on the Sun. But life doesn't sit around kowtowing to the Sun. It uses its influence to maximize life itself. By living fully it is offering the most perfect worship possible.

         From the ego’s perspective, yielding its control to a greater awareness is as threatening as being invaded by aliens. We take great pains in the class to revalue the apparently hostile forces as beneficent ones, to make the expansion easier to undergo. But this is the moment when the seeker has to take themself in hand. The ego will never admit that it feels threatened; it is much more clever than that. Instead, it paints the teacher or the teaching as stupid, irrelevant, or even manipulative. Dissatisfaction sets in, at first in a vague way that is barely noticeable. Where once you imagined you saw the unalloyed light of truth, now you begin looking for faults. Little faults can be made into huge transgressions with a little cosmetic imagination. Very subtly, the ego convinces you to pack up and look elsewhere for your enlightenment, so you can go back to square one, introductory and unthreatening to it.

         The ego is magnificently well defended, and love or harmony or wisdom dissolves its defensive barricades, which it views as the ultimate threat. It cannot fight these peaceful forces head on, so it finds an escape hatch out the back, in a manner of speaking.

         This problem is why so many pass from one school to the next, drawn by lurid expectations, but essentially avoiding getting down to cases. There are plenty of charlatans out there peddling amusement park spirituality, and like hawkers at a carnival they are intriguing for a moment. Then the glow fades and it’s time to visit the next freak show. It’s one of the biggest industries on earth, mesmerizing the gullible with quasi-spiritual mumbo-jumbo while picking their pockets. So if you are lucky enough to find a sincere and dedicated teacher of a superb philosophy, you should hang on for all it’s worth. Chances like this don’t come very often.

         A teacher has to walk a fine line between encouraging the seeker and letting them discover their independence. The seeker should be aware of the crucial role of an outside adviser to assist them over the hurdle of superficiality, and must actively seek such help. The teacher is waiting for the invitation because, ego or no, the initiative has to come from the seeker. That way there is no possibility of developing an unhealthy dependency.

         Nitya’s second paragraph inspires us to stop being sloppy about our growth, frittering away our time on silly indulgences:

 

Ice does not melt unless it is heated. Steam is not generated unless water is boiled. Lethargy prevails until energy flows. Listlessness and disorientation hold the mind back until enthusiasm wells up. Enthusiasm comes only when initiative is taken. So you should buck up and get ready. You cannot spring to your feet when you are weak and feeble. All crutches and hang-ups should be thrown away and the old tarnished system should be given a good flushing. Let the day begin with a new resolve to live a clean life. Ask the incentives and urges to lay bare their cards before you. Pick up the healthy ones and tidy your habits.

 

         The key sentence here is that “Enthusiasm comes only when initiative is taken.” The well-disciplined child in us is waiting for a substitute mommy or daddy to tell us what to do and how to do it. We can wait for a whole lifetime, obediently. But we are adults now. It is up to us to jump start the old jalopy, and as the old fairy tales put it, set out to seek our fortune.

         When I pulled the earlier quote of That Alone from my files, I couldn’t help but read the final two paragraphs of the verse 13 commentary, which echo the message of tonight’s Letter. When you spiritualize your life:

 

         The world becomes much better. A demonic world is now transformed into a divine world. A bound person has become a free being. The worlds of interests just come and go like dreams. They are enjoyed, as dreams are enjoyed. You know that it is only a passing show. Even a passing show should have its merit, so you give it that much credit. Then you own the world, and along with it you become one with the Divine that is behind all that. Right in the world of immanence, you see transcendence.

         This is the theme for today’s meditation. When we leave this place we will become involved in several worlds of interest. Each time a world of interest is created, watch how you come to it and what the central interest is. Then see how it wanes and you get into another one and another one. Each time you enter a world of interest, relate its central value to the Divine, to the one reality behind it all. This is your pilgrimage. In the evening, examine the pattern that flowed and unfolded through the whole day. The spirit of this is to become a continuous living reality. Call it back to mind again and again.

 

9/16/8

Letter Fifteen

 

         The Yoga letters class swept to a close on a perfect evening, warm, and radiant with the orange glow of a sannyasin moon. We are all well-prepared and eager to plunge ahead with the full Patanjali study in the not too distant future.

         In The Tin Drum, Gunther Grass famously describes the twentieth century as “barbaric, mystical, bored.” The Gurukula studies are aimed at converting this dominant paradigm to “compassionate, transcendental, turned on.” By moving to the central core of the horizontal, that which we call the vertical, such a transformation becomes possible.

         Our life is energized by myths. Nitya begins with a brief survey of some of the most impelling. Expanding on his idea: we modern humans have been trained to see ourselves as stuck, victims of fate, or genetics, or inadequate education, or whatever. Neurobiology attempts to prove that we are mere puppets manipulated by our memories and conditioned responses. Popular media sneers at every attempt to escape from the quicksand of consumerism and mediocrity. Myths such as these can keep us bound for a lifetime, running in place on a treadmill supplied by shopping malls. Our first task is to dig beneath the surface to rediscover the myths that can energize us to become fully alive. These are all over the place, but are often tarnished by misinterpretations and misunderstandings. Like rusty suits of armor, they won’t help us until we clean them up and oil the joints.

         We have many myths about gods and spirits, but what they symbolize is mostly forgotten. Therefore they don’t help us, they have become rote formulas or at best quaint anachronisms. In their place we have adopted other less obvious myths, without being fully aware of their impact on us. Somehow, we have to learn what our own myths are, before we can see whether they raise us up or smash us down.

         Unfortunately, the wording of the first paragraph is quite confusing, without knowing in advance what videhis and prakritilayas are. We will study them in the Yoga Sutra class. Videhis are not bodiless spirits. In Sutra I:15, Nitya has this to say about them:

 

The thoughts and deeds of most people are in the form of reactions to the encounters to which the body and its sense organs are exposed. They strongly identify with their bodies. Like a musician who tunes her instrument to sing an appropriate song in a given situation, people who have deep body consciousness think that they are always called upon to look and appreciate, to listen and admire, to touch and feel elated or excited, to taste and enjoy, to smell and appreciate the shade of fragrance presented to the nose. After long years of discipline and through proper understanding, some people, like Janaka, become oblivious of the ego-body relationship. The yogi in such an instance is called a videhi.

A videhi may breathe, eat, drink, and function like a normal person, but he is always oblivious of his physical state. It is not pain and pleasure that decide his behavioral pattern. In heat and cold he behaves as if he is not aware of the heat and the cold. The body may have sensations but the sensations do not connect with his value-cognizing field where he prefers one over the other. In the matter of hunger and thirst, he does not go in search of food or water. He partakes of food and drink only as a routine course and does so only when his attention is called to it by someone else. He experiences no strong attraction or avoidance. It is not that he suffers or tolerates whatever is happening around him. Instead, the witnessing consciousness becomes more strongly established than the reacting consciousness.

         A videhi does not shun community or his natural station in life. He doesn't do anything peculiar. While being very normal in his disposition to everything around him, he sets a model for others of not exaggerating one's physical body ownership. For such a person, there is no entertaining of pleasurable situations. Buddha considers the root cause of all human sufferings as the unavoidable thirst to satisfy one's desires. When a person is not hungry and not thirsty, he is perfectly poised and is not assailed by a sense of need. This lack of lust or any sort of thirst is the main mark of a videhi.

 

Prakritilayas, by contrast are

 

those who have merged into nature. They treat their bodies as part of this world. The Sun, Moon, stars, mountains, and rivers all exist in the world and they think of their bodily selves as part of the same phenomena. They behave somewhat like lower animals that have no norms of ethical behavior, but act upon the pressing needs of the body. However, instead of becoming indulgent as animals are, they drift away from the externality of their nature (prakriti) to the witnessing consciousness within (purusha). You may find a prakritilaya person sleeping under a tree or dwelling on a riverside, walking naked or eating raw food. They don't mind if other animals also come and share their food and they are not bothered by what others think of their nudity or seemingly uncouth behavior. In spite of such external crudity, their minds dwell always in the serenity of the pure consciousness of purusha.

 

Amusingly, Nitya likens materialists to this latter group. Self-styled materialists of the modern era, as already mentioned, tend to be motivated by all sorts of unacknowledged myths and a priori beliefs, and are highly influenced by what others think about their behavior. That’s not really materialism at all. Neuroticism might be a better name for it.

         Regardless, the essential point for us is that we are motivated in all aspects of our life by myths and legends, as well as by physical urges and needs. It is crucial for a yogi to examine both their bodily life and the mythical pursuits they are prone to. Nitya gets to the nub of this right in the middle of the commentary:

 

If you aspire to live the disciplined life of a yogi you should have a clear picture of the alternation of your personal consciousness back and forth between the compulsive behavior of an animal and the detached, repressive withdrawal of a conscientious person. Both of these aspects are symptoms of having no control over your life and remaining as a slave to the forces of circumstance.

      What is expected of a yogi is to become the master of the situation under all circumstances.

 

Most of us get educated only as far as repressing our natural guilelessness, and take refuge in the pinched state of the constipated, “civilized” human being, peaceful outside but raging within. As so beautifully taught in the Bhagavad Gita, yoga means moving beyond both extremes to effect a synthesis that transcends them both and liberates our spirit to walk freely on the earth. This is accomplished by moving to the witnessing state of the vertical and establishing a bipolarity with the Absolute in that windless place.

         Witnessing is dynamic, and not necessarily passive. The yogi places their orientation at the negative pole of the vertical axis, called the alpha, and imagines (in the best sense of the word) the teacher, the guru, or the motivating myth at the omega. I’m going to quote Nitya a lot here, because he was such a poetic genius. Every time I paraphrase him, something gets lost:

 

We are not alone in this world. Norms of right and wrong and good and evil are handed down to us by the great ones who have gone before us. People are impressed by the example of those whom they hold in veneration. If a preceptor is an enlightened person, fully established in the understanding of the Absolute, the very bipolarity with such a person creates a continuous state of osmotic exchange and the student derives strength from the personal example of the preceptor. Although there may be some sentiments developed between the pair, their relationship is essentially based on the constant prevalence of a high form of intelligence. The core of this intelligence is the power to discriminate between what is essential and nonessential and between what has perennial value or only transitory allurement. Without raising your intelligence from its ordinary power of cognition and reasoning to a higher state of alertness and intuitive sensibility, you cannot fully appreciate the teaching of a master.

 

The last sentence here means that without a quantum leap occasioned by yogic bipolarity, you remain stuck in the old miasmal mist. To “fully appreciate the teaching of a master” is just a gentle way of saying “get the point” or “become enlightened.” It does not mean in any way that you become an admirer of the teacher per se. As Nitya acknowledges, there may well be sentiments (transference and countertransference) between teacher and student, but these are sublimated by an intelligent orientation to the eternal aspect that is merely symbolized by its temporary embodiment. It's a sweet thing, when kept in proper bounds. Nothing to be ashamed of.

         (In case some of you don’t know the poem The Hippopotamus, by T.S. Eliot, check it out. It relates in a tangential way to this discussion, and concludes with the untutored hippo rising to heaven “While the True Church remains below / Wrapt in the old miasmal mist.” Thus the reference.)

         In conclusion, spiritual transformation and growth occurs when there is a vertical relation between you and what you seek, which at its best is represented by an enlightened master who can personally instruct you. Sadly, even these sages are often treated as myths instead of being embraced as real factors in our life: we keep their effects at a remove by worshipping them instead of learning what they reveal about ourselves. But examining yourself with an attitude that is simultaneously critical and sympathetic, you break the grip of both instinctual behavior and horizontal allurements. You realize that nothing on the horizontal plane, all of which is doomed to pass away and in any case has dissatisfaction as one of its foundational building blocks, can be crafted to suit you for very long. Your heightened awareness of how you are caught allows you to clear a psychic space where you can begin to know the peace that surpasseth horizontal conceptualization. In this first phase of detachment, you can consciously select healthy alternatives and implement them.

         Nitya concludes his nonpareil survey of traditional yoga with the exciting possibilities of what can happen when you set out to become the master of every situation in your life:

 

What were previously experienced as physical or biological urges now become transformed into a continuous flow of libidinal energy that is exposed to the light of corrective purification that comes from your master’s teaching. When this happens the quality of life changes. You have within yourself the feeling of having found your true way. This wholesome transformation is very often recognized as a spiritual conversion. This is the second and superior phase of the highest kind of detachment. It goes without saying that there should be great yearning and zeal on the part of the aspirant to achieve spiritual conversion.

 

         Isn’t it paradoxical that enthusiasm and zeal have to be unearthed from their graves: that they aren’t already exciting us at every moment? Yet until they kick in, yoga is just another boring, mystical and possibly barbaric activity to be grudgingly followed. Only when it begins to transform your life does it get exciting, and even then the ego may still reject it as a threat. So there is effort and vigilance to be exercised for a long time. Attraction to a teacher can be a positive factor at this stage.

         There was a lot of sharing in the class of ways that our studies have indeed had an impact and improved our lives. Anita had another couple of revelations over the weekend, where she found herself as a neutral witness instead of being embroiled in certain subject/object and pain/humiliation situations. She was surprised to find herself there, because it seems so natural, and yet is in fact a very big stride ahead on the path. Over time that surprise will be replaced with familiarity, the kind that breeds contentment rather than contempt.

         Susan realized that her darling daughter, who is now in high school, was bombarded with so much input all day long that it was only reasonable for her to rush to her room and slam the door when she finally got home. Susan disciplined herself to allow her more space, and the result was that they went for a walk together over the weekend and Sarah shared all kinds of thoughts with her. There is a myth that we have to put pressure on kids all the time or they will misbehave or who knows what. Susan consciously relinquished that toxic myth and replaced it with one that gave this other human being the respect she deserves. The result was improved communication and good feelings for both.

         Scotty talked about the inspiration he drew from the ass-ended masters (not sure what he meant by this), that filled him with loving thoughts and guidance. All such people, whether they once existed or not, are as myths to us now. We only know of them through stories, but their examples give us so much instruction and delight. We aren’t alone in our quest, and don’t have to invent everything from scratch. Scotty also told us about a class he took, from which he derived a mythical saying that “It feels safe to not know.” We are made neurotic by the myth that everyone but us knows what’s going on. Once we realize that we are all in the same boat, we can relax and enjoy. We may still want very much to know, but we aren’t driven by neurotic impulses any longer. Curiously, this mantra accords with something that Susan’s daughter’s science teacher suggested for her last year, when she was unhappy in school: “If she can just sit with the discomfort of not getting it, it will sink in.”

         Deb shared a poem from Li-young Lee that everyone wanted to see in the class notes:

 

The Hammock

 

When I lay my head in my mother's lap

I think how day hides the stars,

the way I lay hidden once, waiting

inside my mother's singing to herself. And I remember

how she carried me on her back

between home and the kindergarten

once each morning and once each afternoon.

 

I don't know what my mother's thinking.

 

When my son lays his head in my lap, I wonder:

Do his father's kisses keep his father's worries

from becoming his? I think, Dear God, and remember

there are stars we haven't heard from yet:

They have so far to arrive. Amen,

I think, and I feel almost comforted.

 

I've no idea what my child is thinking.

 

Between two unknowns, I live my life.

Between my mother's hopes, older than I am

by coming before me, and my child's wishes, older than I am

by outliving me. And what's it like?

Is it a door, and a good-bye on either side?

A window, and eternity on either side?

Yes, and a little singing between two great rests.

 

         We dive deep in our little class sessions, so that we don’t just waste our time quietly mumbling between the two great Unknowns that bracket all our lives. We don’t sit like we’re waiting for an afterlife before we can begin to be alive. We don’t sit like a battered child, waiting for the next blow. We don’t spew garbage, imagining it will raise us above our fellow beings. A little singing, a sharing of beauty, a love that invisibly reaches out to surrender to our dear ones who so briefly hold us in their arms or come to sit awhile in our laps.

         Scotty shared an African proverb that touched everyone’s heart, and is a fitting conclusion to our class:

 

 Let your love be like the misty rain.

                                                                       

                                                                  

Falling softly,

                                                                       

                                                                 Yet flooding the river.

 

Aum. 

Scott Teitsworth

rsteitsworth(at)yahoo.com