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Yoga Sutras I:31-40

9/21/9

Sutra I:31

Pain, despair, shakiness, and hard breathing are the companions of distraction.

 

         In ancient India you were supposed to cure yourself. The world was not teeming with peddlers of nostrums and quackery who have a stake in prolonging illness, the way it is today. Therefore Patanjali does not coddle us in our unease, but shows us the way out. We are passing through the portals of the preliminary material and into the serious business of effecting our own cure, and as Nataraja Guru used to say, “A drastic disease needs a drastic cure.”

         As promised, Ann brought a healthy stack of literature on depression. Almost any type of unhappy state of mind can be linked to it, with the basic determinant for clinical depression being its persistence. Environmental and biological factors are very important. The main thrust seems to be that the attitude that depressed people just bring it on themselves and then refuse to deal with it is unhelpful and even dangerous. Such attitudes are a reflection of not caring, and the depressed person desperately needs to feel that someone cares about their situation. Not surprisingly, the bottom line with depression, as with many problems, is a lack of love.

         Once we “grow up” we don’t remember what love is. We don’t know how to recognize it within ourselves; we don’t know how to give it; we don’t know how to welcome it when offered; it isn’t portrayed in the movies. When people speak of it they are usually talking of something far removed from it. No wonder we can easily become depressed and wonder despondently what the point of even being alive is. What’s worse, we are surrounded by people in more or less the same condition as we are, struggling with their own issues, and only able to offer love sporadically if at all. Disappointed and threatened, we build defenses to guard against incursions, and then are desolated when no one comes over the wall.

         We, all of us, have had the love squeezed out of our world and even out of our world view. No wonder everyone is unhappy! And once everyone is closed off from each other, living in monk’s cells of quiet desperation, all we can offer or receive is palliative medicine to ease the pain.

         This is a fair estimate of what the Buddha meant by universal suffering. It’s what Vedantins speak of as ignorance. I can guess it’s what the Semitic religions mean by sin, with its pejorative overtones. Those pejorative overtones are a particularly nasty addition to the misery already prevailing, but they’re kind of catching, like swine flu. One measure of disdain feeds on the next, with rapid escalation, until the whole point of getting back to a state of Edenic love is forgotten.

         Patanjali should not be looked upon as an uncaring tough guy who thinks you are screwed up. Nor is he a boot camp sergeant pushing you to the limit. He is (we can imagine) a gentle soul who is reaching out in the best way he can devise to bring us all into a state of happiness, or love if you will. If he didn’t care he wouldn’t have bothered to leave us his lecture notes. He doesn’t think that there are a few sick people in the world set off from a bunch of uncaring well people. We are all in the same boat. We are all traumatized and seriously—-often clinically—-confused. We need to help each other, to the best of our ability, and it’s a crying shame that instead we have an abundance of the most seriously disturbed and misanthropic people being promoted in the media, thrown in everyone’s face. They only make matters worse, by gleefully taking all the fun out of life. But that sells a lot of pills.

         It’s paradoxical to try to reach out to depressed friends, because almost anything might reinforce their unhappiness if offered at the wrong moment. It’s possible for them to view a helper and even a lover from a cynical standpoint, that they’re just doing it for their own lousy reasons and not because they really care. Any attempt to lift someone out of depression can engender resistance. But giving up in frustration proves that you really didn’t care to begin with. So you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Is there anything that will work under these constraints?

         Our motivation in the Gurukula, at its best, is the same as Patanjali’s. We try to walk a razor’s edge of sympathetic caring and encouragement in self-help. Like most people, we aren’t very good at it, but I’ve always figured that doing our best, flawed as it might be, is at least better than nothing. The Gurukula should also symbolize the possibility that we can eventually emerge from our depressed state, that recovery is possible. That recovery is difficult is evidenced by the mediocre abilities of the Gurukula caretakers themselves. But that is also evidence of our humanity. We don’t peddle miracle cures, unlike certain other religions that shall remain nameless. We offer hard work by the seeker of love combined with (hopefully) intelligent feedback by their associates. We try to foster a loving and supportive community atmosphere as a background to everyone’s diligent efforts.

         The goal of realization is not some airy-fairy, far-off heavenly state, but happiness here and now. Sometimes the terminology seems a little too poetic. In Nitya’s present commentary he speaks of transcending time and space, and Paul admitted he didn’t know what that meant. Basically, it refers to mitigating the ups and downs of life to be on an even keel, which is what we call true happiness. When we’re unhappy, every second can seem like an age, but when we’re happy the hours fly by without our even noticing them. Likewise, misery makes us feel cramped, tightly constrained, but happiness gives us an expansive feeling of immense relief. So Nitya isn’t speaking of some rare achievement of Himalayan yogis muttering in caves for twenty years. Transcending time and space is an achievement we all have many times, but then it slips from our grasp. We are striving to realign our psyches to stay longer in the wide open spaces and minimize our prison time.

         Since in this sutra Patanjali is citing the physical aftereffects of being stuck, of being held back by obstacles, much of the class was spent discussing one particular version: panic attacks. They often come out of nowhere and make a person feel like they are having a heart attack or otherwise dying. Interestingly, most of the class was familiar with them, and it’s helpful to realize that you aren’t the only one having them. With a smaller than usual class, everyone felt comfortable enough to eagerly discuss their experiences. It felt like we were slowly letting some air out of over-inflated tires.

         Interestingly, we had somehow gotten on the same subject with our friend the doctor, who was staying with us last week. Synchronicity strikes again. He told us that panic attacks were quite common, especially among teenagers, and that they usually declined with age. They are often accompanied by suicidal impulses, probably by exacerbating pre-existing thoughts. To me it looks like repressed material is surfacing without warning, with such a strong impact that it’s like a physical body blow. Many sufferers do in fact wind up in the hospital emergency room. The teen years are when we are making the transition from dependent children to independent adults, usually without much practical instruction. We struggle to craft an acceptable persona, but that requires us to suppress important aspects of our self. When these break free, it terrifies us, exposes us to ridicule and censorship. I would say it is a sign of deep inner integrity that we aren’t able to successfully turn ourselves into robotic cardboard cutouts to please everyone else.

         John felt that we older people are more familiar with life’s ups and downs, and so we don’t freak out as much as younger people when hit by a moment of panic. That first plunge, especially, into the depths is a terrifying thing. It really helps to know that you will cycle back up again.

         And while you can abet the process with your own intelligence, we don’t usually receive much useful instruction until after the fact. Moni talked about her inner voice that helped pull her out of her depressive episodes, by urging her to take a shower and go back to work, or to get out and see people. We should be trained to have that inner advice waiting, because doing things physically can really help lift a person’s spirits. One diabolical aspect of depression is that it takes away the ability to even hear any inner or outer suggestion like that, and so all you can do is “stew in your own juices” as my mother used to call it. Or you come to believe you don’t even deserve to get better. There is scientific as well as lots of vernacular evidence that activity is very helpful in combating a negative state. If nothing else, increasing the blood flow will wash out stagnant toxins much more quickly.

         Another thing to know is that it’s okay to reach out to your friends. People present a façade of stoicism, so it looks like they don’t want to help, yet some at least are longing to be enlisted as allies, but afraid to say anything. The “wounded animal” urge to retreat into a hidden nest when suffering is natural but very dangerous. So friends should tactfully communicate that they are available to their friends, by demonstrating that they value love and friendship over appearances. We can eschew our roles as well-behaved actors on a stage, and instead go to the post-performance party to mingle with our fellows, careless of how we look to the audience. We can consciously throw off the delusion that a frowning God is watching our every move with his hand on the lever that opens the trapdoor to hell.

         Okay, that’s enough for now. We have one more class directly related to these issues, and then a gradual transition toward even more intense practices. But these ideas underlie the whole field we are exploring, and we need to have them well established before we can expect to go farther. Obstacles are like lions guarding the gates. They keep out the causal gawkers and only admit those who have a serious determination to get past them.

 

Part II

         One additional point for clarification: Vedanta considers consciousness as primary, and our classes are based on that theory. The materialist view is that our state of mind is a byproduct of our electrochemistry. Vedantins believe that while we may be temporarily constrained by our electrical wiring, the chemicals are released by our emotions as communication devices, and so are more of an effect than a cause, though everything evinces an admixture of both principles. Chronic chemical releases can reinforce habitual states of mind that we may not like, but these can be altered by working on our state of mind. This approach offers a sound basis for self-improvement, whereas the idea of “consciousness as epiphenomenon” requires outside intervention. Of course, anyone is welcome to whatever works for them, because these are just ideas, and not necessarily right or wrong per se. Vedanta is very much against the tide at present, though the tide is beginning to turn. The hardest part, no matter how you look at it, is to believe you can change and to decide to make it happen, even if that merely means finding the right medication.

 

Finally, Rumi bridges all gaps:

 

Come, come, whoever you are--

wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving--

what does it matter?

Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Come, even if you have broken your vow

a hundred times--

come, come again, come.

 

Feedback:

Hi Scott/Deb/CherishedExplorers,

 

What a wonderful set of readings and contemplations.

I so value your ideas and experiences. Gratitude.

As you know, I've recently been exploring aspects of the body's role in optimal development, particularly relating to “distractions”, trauma and blocks.

 

I notice very interesting and helpful interrelationships among the various spiritual/consciousness approaches and various body/psychological processes.

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi suggests a process to consider that I find very useful and seems quite sensible when considering how to re-establish harmony.

 

When a differentiating experience occurs, whether external or internal, we basically have two paths before us:

 

1. Experience --> Integration --> Complexity --> Harmony

 

2. Experience --> No Integration --> Complicated --> Disharmony

 

An experience may be sufficiently impactful or overwhelming that we may not be ready to or know how to integrate this for years (trauma, holocaust, loss of child, etc., or other depending on age/skill).

However, often we may neglect to integrate more common experiences for various reasons, lack of priority/time, lack of understanding/skill. Neurologically, this lack of integration leaves a very complicated ”highway” in our brains, a bunch of extra parts rattling around in our engine which disrupts our smooth harmonious ride.

 

By choosing to integrate our experiences, both the present and the lingering backlog, the complicated extra parts find their place in our engine and we not only lose the rattles, but our engine increases in complexity and fuel efficiency, and runs at a new harmonious hum.

Integration actually builds a more complex neural network, increasingly able to leap tall buildings with a single bound....

 

How do we integrate?

Just as the body knows how to heal a small scrape on our finger, the brain has an equally natural process and is integrating experiences all the time. But often our body needs our help to heal so the broken bones come together, just as our psyche needs our focus so we don't rattle around.

 

Each person's integration system is somewhat unique, some more developed and efficient than others, but we all can become more fluid. Transforming experiences into language is common to most integrative processes, with “language” meaning words, sound, movement, visual...talk, write, journal, dance, paint. Plus contemplation, meditation, long walks, watching the beach sunset, ceremony, therapy, 12 Steps, The Understanding and Forgiveness Journey, supportive groups/friends, and more.

If this group was a band, I'd name it “The Integrators”.

  Much love, Peg

 

 

9/28/9

Sutras I:32 & 33:

         For removing these obstacles: repetitive practice of one truth or principle.

         The mind is clarified by cultivating friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward misery, gladness toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice.

 

         Okay, we’re into the meat of the study now in earnest. We have pried out the gross blockages of our lives, the things that trip us up, our obstacles, and we can move on to clarifying the mind. Sutra 32 wraps up the obstacle section, and sutras 33-39 suggest different techniques to accomplish this primary thrust of yoga. As we will see there is nothing arcane or bizarre about yogic techniques.

         Patanjali starts us off with the assurance that we can overcome our difficulties if we dedicate ourselves to success. We have to stick to it. One drawback to a world lacking focus and saturated with entertainment is the rapid rise in Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD), either clinical or mundane. Rising to a state of equal-mindedness requires adherence to a master interest, in other words “repetitive practice of one truth or principle.” Having some program, mental or otherwise, to return to on a daily or even hourly basis leads to one-pointed concentration, with its clarity of mind.

         There is nothing particularly mystical in this assertion. We’ve already discussed how musicians and other artists, businesspeople, sports stars, teachers, and all the rest put cumulative energy into their favorite forms of expression in order develop their expertise. Patanjali will now give a handful of suggestions for training in the art of contemplation. These should be very familiar to anyone who has hung around the Gurukula for any length of time.

         In his commentary on sutra 33, Nitya addresses only the first of the four templates, “friendliness toward happiness,” leaving the others for us to ponder on our own. There is a lot of amplitude here, and the class took delight in digging into its purport. One thing we realized toward the end of class is that these four categories of discipline can be applied both to outside contacts and our own mental processes, though not necessarily in the same way. For instance, gladness toward virtue might mean you support and praise good behavior in others, but to do the same toward your own strengths might be egotistical. A sense of gratitude or relief that you didn’t screw up this time would be preferable.

         The Sanskrit originals make it clear that happiness and misery are two sides of the same coin, as also virtue and vice. Therefore it’s worth pondering how friendliness and compassion, as also gladness and equanimity, are symmetrical as well.

         Patanjali is so upbeat it almost makes you sick! Just kidding—but he may not have too much appeal for anyone attached to negativity, which of course is a major obstacle in its own right.

         Deb talked a lot about her favorite negative reactions to the vices of certain family members (not me this time!), and how quickly they can get her goat. Once recently the claim was so absurd that she was able to laugh instead of boil in a fury, so that’s progress. But what does the opinion of a distant cousin matter anyway? If their attitude can ruin part of our day, they have defeated us. Retaining a neutral attitude about their vice, their viciousness (same root), means their gas is wasted on us.

         A lot of people agreed that neutral and neutrality are weak words in their common usage, indicating retreat and cowardliness. This is far from our intent! Neutrality within the Gurukula is very dynamic: steady, but with an intensity at its heart. It means being poised on the razor’s edge between fight and flight. The term razor’s edge gives some indication of the sharp challenge of finding the exact neutral balance point in any situation. The extremely short Nataraja Guru humorously presented the same spiritual challenge as how to mount a horse: if you don’t jump far enough you fall back, but if you jump too far you go over the other side. You have to do it just right to land in the saddle. Needless to say, neutrality does not mean ignoring the horse and leaving the barn, but climbing into the driver's seat.

         So, back to Nitya’s presentation of friendliness. What an under-appreciated quality! Chogyam Trungpa said that the spiritual journey begins with befriending yourself. And after that you are able to befriend others. If you have a hidden agenda, it perverts plain old friendship and spoils it. If you need a friend, or are after something, you will drive people away. So learn to be content in yourself, and then all else will follow. It struck me that Nitya’s advice about friendliness gave a good general description of the role, such as it is, of the Narayana Gurukula:

 

  The person who is bracketed with you in social life may seem uncouth or overbearing. If you cultivate your identity with that person, then it becomes your duty to transform them into a very likeable person. You can accomplish this not by aggressively intruding into the lives of others but by helping them to understand themselves and making common programs with them so that no one need feel that they are alone in this world without a comrade to assist.

  When you adopt such an attitude of active interest in sharing all your good moments of friendliness with another person, they gain a more and more sympathetic understanding. You are not only making a friend but helping them to be an adorable friend.

 

         My career in the fire service was excellent training for learning how to get along with people who were initially despised. There was a lot of latent animosity beneath our veneer of camaraderie, but we also had a need to work together as a team. Living in close quarters with those you looked down on previously, you begin to see their well-guarded humanity and find common ground with them. It’s not always possible, but it frequently is. Now I use the slogan from an antiquated concept of justice as a mantra: people are innocent until prove guilty.

         Moni talked about her suspicious feelings towards people she meets on the street, how she knows it is a negative attitude, but it leaps up, like the startle reflex from seeing a snake. She is trying to master it so she can connect with others, but it takes a lot of repetitive practice. So far she has worked up to being able to smile at people.

         Anita cautioned us that in psychology a negative instruction was less effective than a positive one. For instance, telling yourself not to smoke when you decide to quit compounds the difficulty, by focusing on what you are trying to leave behind, so instead you should resolve to breathe pure fresh air, for instance. Patanjali may be seen to follow this sensible attitude with plenty of positive recommendations throughout the book. Spiritual life often bogs down when it is treated as “withdrawal from” instead of “moving toward.”

         This reminded Deb and me that we resolved to phrase everything positively with our children for as long as we could. We had a “no on no” campaign. It worked well, especially since we treated the kids as wise sentient beings who wanted to please, rather than born sinners in need of simplistic correction. It was a very good ongoing meditation to catch ourselves before the habitual “no!” escaped our lips.

         Negativity may be said to be a mania in our modern culture, and the class discussed how corrosive it was on civil society. People in the US at least are terrified of one another, with their natural paranoia inflamed to bursting by a media playing on their prurient interests for disasters. Class members began to get agitated about this, because blaming others is so much fun, but we reined it in under the aegis of “equanimity toward vice.” The solution is not to get upset about vice, but to intelligently foster virtue as a replacement. And how you frame it mentally makes a huge difference as well.

         This led to a lengthy discussion about how to combat vice. Does equanimity mean ignoring evil? Hardly. Being of calm mind allows you to be much more effective in upholding justice. I recall many times that Nitya provided a terrific role model in this. One occasion in particular stands out. We were at an “Interfaith Gathering” in Ooty, with government officials and leaders from the Muslim, Hindu and Christian faiths trying to bridge their differences. There was a lot of self-serving dissimulation going on. At one point, Nitya got up and blasted everyone, calling them vipers and telling them that he was personally going to report their backstabbing manipulations to God. The air was fairly singed, and I was very happy to be sitting slightly behind him. Peeking around his robes, I got a great look at a welter of stunned reactions. Everyone in the room felt personally chastened. Afterwards there was a sincere call for everyone to work together for a better local environment. Some concrete proposals were adopted and later acted upon. Throughout the whole performance Nitya never was angry, though he might have looked it. He didn’t turn red, his breathing never sped up, and as we left he was as cheerful as ever, already on to the next subject.

         I also have a number of rather rueful memories when Nitya blasted me face to face for my failings. Only one of us ever got bent out of shape, and it wasn’t him. If he had appeared upset I could have thought he was off the mark too, but his calm and collected delivery gave him 100% of the high ground. He was simultaneously fully present and yet detached. Believe me, it's a devastatingly powerful strategy.

         Even with all these many paragraphs, we have barely scratched the surface of this sutra, so pregnant with potential. More will undoubtedly be worked into the next series of classes, so the case is not closed. Nor will it ever be.

 

Part II

Before I even started writing this morning I received this from Suzen:

 

Dear Scott,

 

I had a razor's edge dream last night -- something about balance -- but, alas, I can't retrieve it. I just remember that I woke up in a half waking kind of way and said to myself, "Wow, that dream is all about the razor's edge!" Cool, eh? I like it when class rolls right into my nights.

 

Also, on the way home last night I brought up that one part of the Sutra about “gladness toward virtue” because I just hadn't figured it out. Now my inclination is to think that “virtue” is an extreme in opposition to vice. So when someone seems perfect in every way, we will be more centered if we are glad about this rather than jealous or hostile.

 

I guess I get tripped up because I think of virtue in a more neutral way, somewhat like this snipped from the Wikipedia page on Virtue:

 

In the Nicomachean Ethics , Aristotle defined a virtue as a balance point between a deficiency and an excess of a trait. The point of greatest virtue lies not in the exact middle, but at a golden mean sometimes closer to one extreme than the other. For example, courage is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness, confidence the mean between self-deprecation and vanity, and generosity the mean between miserliness and extravagance.

 

If that is the meaning of virtue, then of course we would be glad, right? So I think Patanjali’s virtue is more like good fortune or bravado? What do you think?

 

Thanks for class. It was such a pleasure and a comfort and most appreciated.

 

Aum,

Susan

 

Part III

         We also discussed the recent neurology discoveries that accord with abhyasa, repetitive practice. We now know the brain is capable of growing new neurons at any age, though the process is very slow relative to other cells of the body. Much more quickly, though, we can forge new connections between neurons, which basically have the same effect, namely to permit learning. Daniel Tammet, in his new book Embracing the Wide Sky, (Free Press, 2009), reports on the results of MRI studies:

 

Though practice falls short in its proverbial claim to make us perfect, it is necessary if we want to obtain long-term or permanent results from our study…. The learning curve shows us that, while practice will always help improve performance, the most dramatic improvements happen first, with diminishing returns thereafter. It also implies that with sufficient practice individuals can achieve comparable levels of performance in a wide range of tasks, but only if the learner does not relax as soon as an acceptable performance is reached. Rather, expertise comes solely from a continuous process of structured, diligent study. (34)

 

In response to the undercurrent belief that you have to combat evil head on in order to defeat it, calling into question Patanjali’s recommendation to keep cool in the face of vice, I read out the following beautiful story from That Alone, pp 314-15:

 

         There is an Indian myth that a certain demon came and challenged Balarama, the brother of Sri Krishna. Balarama accepted the challenge. He went, raising his fist to smash its head. Then the demon became twice the size of Balarama. Seeing this, Balarama, who had psychic powers, grew double the size of the demon. The demon doubled in size again, and started lifting hills to throw at him. Then Balarama realized he could not overpower the demon. He turned to Sri Krishna and asked for help. Krishna smiled and said, “Brother, leave him to me. I’ll deal with him.”

         The demon turned to Krishna and found that in his hand there was no weapon. Krishna stood with his hands open and smiled. Then the demon became the size of an average human being. Krishna still stood there with his bewitching smile and said, “Come on friend.” He came close and became smaller than Krishna. Krishna patted him. He became very small. Then Krishna took him in his hand and stroked him. He became so tiny.

         Then Balarama came and said, “Brother, I don’t understand this. How did he become so small? How did you tame him?” He replied, “Brother, don’t you know this demon’s name?” “No.” “This demon’s name is Krodha, anger. When you become angry, you are only feeding him. He thrives on somebody else’s anger. When you take away your anger, there is nothing to nourish him. He becomes less and less. So when I give him love, there is nothing on which he can feed himself and he becomes very small.”

         This is also the central teaching of Buddha: with hatred you never appease hatred, but with love you win all.

 

10/6/9

Sutra I:34

Or, [the mind is clarified] by the expiration and retention of breath.

 

         A plenitude of fellow seekers filled our living room beneath a similarly nearly full moon to share the joys of impending fall and to breathe quietly together. In addition to most of the regulars, we welcomed Jean on her visit from Sweden, her sister Cathy, and Scotty’s friend Daniella.

         Of all the suggestions for how to calm and focus the mind in this section, the present sutra on watching the breath is the only one with a physical component. Breath control has even been linked to mechanical programs by some yogis. As Nitya points out, breathing lies at the border between voluntary and involuntary action, so it can be used as an entrée into the unconscious. A substantial number of techniques of breath control (pranayama) have been developed over the millennia, but Patanjali does not endorse anything specific. In Nitya’s words, it is a mistake to imagine that hatha yoga exercises and pranayama are ends in themselves. They are simply means to get comfortable and regularize the chaotic state of a typical busy life: “All that is aspired for is a steady and cheerful state of mind.”

         Nitya acknowledges that it isn’t easy to shrug off the negative impact of other people’s hostilities and stupidities and just remain cheerful all the time. Sometimes we have to struggle for it, which is why Patanjali offers breath work as the first alternative. Breath is very efficient at normalizing our state of mind.

         Adrenaline is released in any stressful situation, and it makes you become highly agitated and breathe furiously. As I have related before, at many of the hundreds of road accident scenes I attended in my career as a firefighter I was able to help crash victims use their breath to calm themselves down. Those people who had only minor injuries were often very upset, more by the strange circumstances than any actual problem. So I would ask them to take deep, slow breaths. Those who were enough in control of themselves to do it could calm down very quickly, sometimes in less than a minute. This simple technique also works for anger and some other emotionally charged states.

         The Gurukula philosophy characterizes strenuous breathing techniques as a form of self-torture, but they are widely practiced elsewhere. I once took courses from Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship, which included typical pranayama exercises. The Fellowship’s claim was that when you had performed the exercises one million times you would automatically attain enlightenment. Such notions square with a mechanistic world view and a linear education, so they may seem highly attractive and not at all as stupid as they are. Yet they direct the focus toward counting and imaginary relative stages of progress instead of anything contemplative. The kind of enlightenment achieved by such pastimes is more due to the suppression of contemplation than its release. One should not be surprised to discover a moneymaking business as the core motivation for that sort of game.

         There are plenty of non-patented ways to watch the breath, and these are all that’s needed. For instance, meditate on the ocean of energized air we all swim around in all the time, imbibing just what we need for our well being. The fresher the air, the more energy it contains. Inhale this energized, sweet nothingness, visualizing it as reaching different depths or chakras in the body. Hold briefly, and then exhale all the accumulated waste products.

         Scotty reported that chi gong also has a non-mechanical orientation to breathing, in which the breath is taken consciously but without any rigidity. Prana and chi are the same thing under different names. The goal in both pranayama and chi work is to fill the body with energy so it can be healthy, happy and efficient.

         Music invisibly shares the rhythms of breathing in its very structure, not just singing but instrumental music as well. Staying in the flow means keeping the breath flowing. Those of us who struggle with music or any endeavor for that matter will find ourselves also struggling to breathe, and occasionally holding our breath. Consciously restoring proper breathing helps us return to the flow.

         Indian rishis of ancient times believed in a close intimacy of life with breath. To them, life begins with the first breath and ends with the final exhalation. This simplifies a plethora of ideas about when life begins and when it ends, which are scientifically murky. More importantly, it leads us to consciously appreciate perhaps the most crucial thing that we often take for granted.

         Air is an excellent analogy for spirit, or the noosphere for that matter. It is a sea in which we all have our being and without which we could not exist. It is freely available to all without regard for their relative righteousness or abasement. The class visualized how in every breath are at least a few atoms breathed by all the other beings who have ever lived on this planet. Not feeling overly poetic this morning, I offer the following from Guy Murchie’s Seven Mysteries of Life as an excellent meditation:

 

  I tried to define the physical boundaries of the body and began to realize they are virtually indefinable, for the air around any air-breathing creature from a weed to a whale is obviously a vital part of it even while it is also part of other creatures. The atmosphere in fact binds together all life on Earth, including life in the deep sea, which “breathes” oxygen (and some air) constantly. And the water of the sea is another of life’s common denominators noticeable in the salty flavor of our blood, sweat and tears, as are the solid Earth and its molecules present in our protoplasm….

  Yes, life as a whole breathes and owns the common sky and drinks the mutual rain and we are all embodied in the sea and the clouds and in fire and forest and earth alike. As the God of Egypt was quoted as saying about the year 2000 BC, “I made the four winds that every man might breathe thereof like his fellow in his time….” And thus, He might have added, I made sure that all life mingles and shares the most vital elements. Indeed oxygen (then unknowable to man) is the leading substance of life as it is presently known, making up some 60 percent of the weight of the human body, surging and blowing through it in the rhythmic torrent that Sir Charles Sherrington called “a draft of something invisible” to fuel life’s flame. It is plain to see that we all breathe the same sky and we are becoming aware that it pours through our lungs and blood in a few minutes, then out again to mix and refresh itself in the world. But it is still easy to overlook the completeness of airy suffusion throughout the planet, so easy in fact that I would like to offer a few quantitative statistics to point up some of the significances.

  Did you know the average breath you breathe contains about 10 sextillion atoms…? And, since the entire atmosphere of Earth is voluminous enough to hold about the same number of breaths, each breath turns out, like man himself, to be about midway in size between an atom and the world…. This means of course that each time you inhale you are drawing into yourself an average of about one atom from each of the breaths contained in the whole sky. Also every time you exhale you are sending back the same average of an atom to each of these breaths, as is every other living person, and this exchange, repeated twenty thousand times a day by some four billion people, has the surprising consequence that each breath you breathe must contain a quadrillion atoms breathed by the rest of mankind within the past few weeks and more than a million atoms breathed personally sometime by each and any person on Earth. (319-320)

 

Since oxygen atoms persist, the million atoms figure includes those breathed by Jesus, Buddha, Galileo, Lucy, and any other of your favorite historical characters.

         If I’m not mistaken, this sutra is about as close as Patanjali comes to any mention of the chakras, the energy centers of the body. The same type of meditation counterposing inner and outer factors can be salubriously applied to all the chakras as well.

         The class finished up by sitting quietly in our mutual ocean of air for a little while. In a tight house like ours, the air had been breathed many times over by all our friends, and yet it remained fresh and clean. Such a magic! The thought that we all participated in the same subtle sea, perennially renewed, and were wholly dependent on it for our very existence, bound us together in a blissful sense of oneness. When we opened the front door to head for home, our well-respired air molecules poured out and rose into the cool night air, to be wafted by the wind to every corner of the planet and partaken of by our brothers and sisters everywhere.

 

Part II

         As an example of how breathing can get you high, this just arrived from Susan. Her experience marks a transition from knowing a thing intellectually to transforming that knowledge into a living understanding, which is exactly what meditation is supposed to accomplish:

 

Thanks for a great class. I’ve been thinking about breathing ever since and I’m finding it more and more miraculous. Though I’ve known logically for many years that we take in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, it wasn’t until last night that I really had the epiphany that air is not just making a circuit through our lungs, but rather spending time in and affecting our bodies. When we eat, the food not only travels though our digestive system but it goes into our cells and blood and is transformed and then comes out as waste. Likewise, when we breathe, the air not only travels through our sinuses and lungs but it also goes into our cells and blood and is transformed. Wow! I’ve always known it was powerful and healing to breathe in and think of white light (or some such) and then breathe out and think that you are exhaling waste, garbage, blackness (or some such). This was mentioned in class. But now I understand better why this is such a good visualization. I have a whole new respect for breathing now!

 

Part III

         Speaking of pranayama torture, I once owned a curious book about an Indian postman whose kundalini spontaneously erupted, bringing him “enlightenment.” Most of the book was filled with descriptions of the ghastly pain and suffering he underwent for the rest of his life. Scotty described some problems he has personally observed from people practicing kundalini yoga, which is an intense form of yoga that could definitely be classed as self-torture. Many of the people who do a certain forced-breathing exercise release a lot of energy into their systems, but don’t know how to handle it. It becomes trapped in their brains or other parts of the body, causing intense pain. Because of his calm demeanor and peaceful personal energy, Scotty has been able to help some of them to release the blockage and return to stability. His chi gong-inspired outlook agrees with Vedanta: since we are already the Absolute, there is nothing we need to change ourselves into. Being who we are is as good as it gets, and our search is to find out exactly what that means. Rather than being a path to glory, forcing ourselves into painful postures is more likely to be a reaction to our personal dissatisfaction, a way of punishing ourself for our perceived faults. There are other, gentler ways to correct those distortions.

 

Part IV

         I chanced across this beautiful meditation of Nitya’s while working on his new Wikipedia page, and thought many of you would like to read it. I’ve made a document with a brief index of the three volumes of Nitya’s Brihadaranyaka Upanishad commentary, with a few favorite excerpts typed in and my favorite sections starred, and anyone is welcome to a copy. Nitya writes:

 

         When the Upanishad tells us that we should listen to the mantra, make manana, and then live it, we should understand that “live it” means to live the normalization. If you go out of your room and walk, the first thing you experience is the air that you breathe, which is continuously flowing to you from far-off time and space. It comes free to all of us and waits to be breathed in by us. This is the first benevolence a person experiences in this world. If you are not cognizant of that factor, something in you is dead, benumbed. You should see how the air that you breathe brings life-giving energy to every cell, how it fills your lungs. Your respiratory system is like a tree with millions of branches on it. When breath comes it is like when the wind blows: every tree sways in the wind which flutters every leaf. The same happens in our respiratory system where the innumerable little leaf-like things that make up our respiratory tree all tremble with life. When you are aware of that, you are not a dead person; you are not in the dark; you have a sensibility to know the breath around and within you.

         Then you see the sunlight coming and fondling every leaf, every blade of grass. It fills the atmosphere with a very special texture. When you notice such things, the demon in you is raised to a state of compassion. The world is always passionately hugging you. You become com-passionate to the world when you recognize the beauty of it.

         This morning we saw the wonderful changes in the eastern sky—-how the color was changing, how brightness was coming into the dark, and finally how the sun made its appearance behind a cloud. This evening we saw the same sun behind clouds in the western sky, making the same kind of picture with the illumination of the clouds. You need to cultivate your sensibility to notice that the whole world is helping you to make yourself beautiful, to feel beautiful, to see beauty, and to resonate with the spirit that is embracing the whole world.

         When we stand on the green lawn, some of us do not even notice that there is grass under our feet. If somebody stands on our toes, it hurts, but this tenacious grass is such that even when we stand on it, it is as if nothing is happening to the very gentle leaves. They continue to be fresh and green. It’s a wonder. But to see it, you should have a heart which is mellowed with your humanity. More spirit needs to be put into the darkened aspect of your cognition. Every cognition is followed by a connation and then affection. If you are not affected by what you see, what you touch, what you feel, what you notice, what is the difference between you and a stone? (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Vol. III, 46-47)

 

10/13/9

Sutra I:35

When absolute interest is shown to a sensory experience or activity, that will bring the mind to a steady state.

 

         Once again I sit before the eye of the computer, trying to conjure up the vastness of our class experience, and hoping for a thread to lead us in to at least a few of the significant moments we shared. We had our largest group in decades, and unlike most big groups, which tend to be inhibitory, everyone contributed substantially in one of our most democratic discussions ever.

         Patanjali continues in a most practical and unsuperstitious vein, assuring us that we don’t have to do anything exotic, or change into someone else in any misguided striving for holiness. All we have to do is follow our interests, using them to ratchet up our attention. Because the Absolute is omnipresent, attending to whatever is presented to our senses is a perfectly good way to begin the transcendence of obstacles that leads to clarity and steadiness of mind. The interest can be supported by an awareness of calm, deep breathing, and the two together form a powerful tool of orientation.

         So what does this mean in practice? We all know friends who are struggling with addiction. They painfully extricate themselves for a short while, only to slip back time and time again. Unfortunately, addiction is usually addressed as something to escape from, but without a strong interest to aim toward the effort is almost always in vain. We all crave interest and excitement, and cannot bear to sit in limbo for very long. So in the absence of a creative interest the attraction of the addictive activity seeps in to fill the vacuum, and away we go.

         The perfectibility of our being is the summum bonum of interests, one which demands all our attention and expertise at every moment. Philosophies that posit humans as hopeless sinners transfer this expertise to a hypothetical other, and we are left as beggars crying out for salvation. There is no expertise of our own to develop. These techniques will either fail or reduce the practitioner to a vestigial state from which the lure of addiction is never far off. Not only certain religions, but pharmaceutical and other industries thrive on such unhealthy beliefs. As we have noted before, the huge upswing in sales of medications has been fueled by “scientific” studies proving we are helpless victims of our chemistry. Happily for them, drug companies can now play God, and bestow salvation in the form of expensive pills.

         When children are excited to grow up as fast as possible, what can they be thinking? They imagine they will be able to make their own choices and have as much fun as possible. How sad that those interests are beaten out of us long before we attain adulthood.

         Extending the practical implications of this sutra, I gave the example of having a struggle with a family member, a loved one who is pitted against you in some fashion. We all have these experiences, and they hurt a lot. When we’re hurt we want to run away and hide or else fight back with accentuated viciousness, but these are merely gut reactions. Patanjali encourages us to use our powerful interest in making peace with our friend as a means to shrug off our personal reactions and stand our ground. We will likely have to regulate our breath, along with actively restraining our hardwired reactions. But when we make this kind of effort, we can view the situation more or less dispassionately, and gauge the feelings and desires behind the anger, jealousy or what have you, on both sides. Doing so offers us the best chance to resolve the situation to everyone’s advantage.

         Needless to say, Patanjali’s advice works for large-scale conflicts as well as the local ones we more typically find ourselves in. Governments have ostensibly been instituted to bring this kind of wisdom to international relations, and obviate the urge to fight that surges in patriotic breasts in response to every provocation. The UN certainly has that mandate. It’s too bad that fighting and dominating are still prominent interests that often subvert the civilizing trend.

         We also used the example of the class itself to demonstrate the practicality of the present sutra. Those in attendance often have various inhibitions and projections that block their participation. It is less a factor without a guru physically present in the house, but it is still an important consideration. Those who succumb to such feelings don’t stay involved long. But when the value of the material catches their imagination, it is much easier to let go of the negative feelings and listen to the message within the message. Gradually a sense of comfort and acceptance spreads in to dispel the resistance, and a great deal may be gained.

         So the bottom line is: engage with the Absolute at every moment. Yoga is not about trying to go elsewhere. It means being present and available to every situation. What we have to work on is delivered to our senses regularly and without fail, so long as we are alert. This is the entry point of the universe, guarded by the demons of our own obstacles with frustrating efficiency, but standing wide open if we can but find our way past them.

 

         Carleen steered us into a discussion of sacrifice, which relates to the sutra in being a kind of interest that takes many forms, from the crudest animal sacrifice to the most sublime wisdom sacrifice. The Upanishads put an end to animal sacrifice 3000 years ago, just as Buddha and others made warfare obsolete 2500 years ago. That both continue to be practiced is a testament to the human resistance to change via intelligence. One interest many of us in fact share is how to try to implement these improvements against entrenched resistance, both internal and external.

         It’s not that religious practices can be considered wrong, and religion is out of the purview of Vedanta anyway, but when a spiritual practice is substituted for an appropriate physical one the mixing of frameworks can be disastrous. Cathy and Deb had read the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman, portraying the conflict between Hmong immigrants to Los Angeles and the medical establishment. Oregon just had another case of parents using prayer instead of medicine for their child, who subsequently died. There are many ways that wishful thinking trumps rationality, often with tragic results. Vedanta does not endorse it, except to recognize that the placebo effect is still the most powerful medical force, much more powerful than most medicines. Unfortunately it doesn’t work very predictably in reference to a third party who may not share the belief as thoroughly as the parent would want. It remains mysterious exactly how the magic of placebo is activated, so sometimes it works like magic and sometimes it fails to work at all.

         Animal sacrifice as a religious practice is relatively rare these days, but if you include backyard barbecues as a modern religion it is quite common. There the religious aspect is toned down in favor of the social aspect, but on examination they aren’t so very different. Consumption of food is the first principle of religion, after all. Only a hundred years ago, as Moni pointed out, Narayana Guru revised the widespread practice of animal sacrifice in South India. He told people if they had to do it, they should sacrifice a watermelon. He also revised the fire sacrifice to a symbolic version using grains and flowers in place of goats and chickens.

         We recalled that sacrifice means “to make sacred,” which can take place at any level of consciousness. Sometimes it is simply called “doing good.” Deb generalized the idea, saying that whenever we substitute a higher vision for a lesser one we are performing a sacrifice. Overcoming our desire to fight or flee to stand firm is a type of sacrifice. The Gita lists the main categories of sacrifice in Chapter VII, verses 16-18:

 

Among doers of the good, four kinds are intent on Me: the distressed, the seeker of knowledge, the seeker of the goods of life, and the wise.

Of these, the wise man, forever united and unitively affiliated with the Absolute, excels, for dear to the utmost limit am I to the wise one, and he is dear to Me.

Honorable are all these, but My firm opinion is that the wise one is the Self itself. He of unitively established Self indeed remains in My path, which has nothing higher.

 

When we are sick or miserable, we try all sorts of strategies to get well, as is only natural. It is impossible to predict what will work until we know what the disease is. Moreover, the cure will very likely have to be related to the awareness of the sufferer. Krishna calls this perfectly honorable. The second and third types, also honorable, are struggling to understand their place in space, and may pore over books or take classes in an effort to become sufficiently expert in some field so that they can be employed. They hope that living a comfortable life will bring them happiness. Various rituals may or may not have any impact, again depending on the person in question and their beliefs. Most people fall under these first three categories. The last type includes those who seek wisdom for it’s own sake, without any ulterior motive. They want to know life directly, and seek to cast away interpreted versions in favor of reality, whatever that might turn out to be.

         There is no reason that a person wouldn’t fall under multiple categories in the course of a life, or even simultaneously.

         After surveying a wide range of then-current sacrificial practices, and giving passing approval to them all, the Gita summarizes its conclusion in Chapter IV, verses 32-34:

 

Thus, many and varied are the sacrifices spread in front of the Absolute. Know them all as originating in action. Thus understanding them, you shall gain release.

Superior to any sacrifice with (valuable) objects is the wisdom sacrifice; all actions have their culmination in wisdom, Arjuna.

Learn this by prostration, by searching questioning, and by service; they will instruct you (duly) in wisdom—-those wise ones who can see the basic principles.

 

There was so much more to our class that I’m embarrassed to even send out these notes. Yet it will have to do for now. We enjoyed some good laughs and an overarching sense of community; there was some very intense opening up; even a bit of secret communication that transpired without the communicators even being aware of it. Our closing meditation resembled pressing the lid onto a boiling pot of delicious soup, more than letting the air out of a tire. It seemed that everyone passed back out into the dark and rain afterwards possessed with an inner assurance, a gentle inner flame that will staunchly resist going out.

 

10/20/9

Sutra I:36

Also by meditating on the sorrowless state of inner joy one can attain luminosity of intelligence.

 

         Once again a seemingly simple sutra supplied several searing suppositions. It is most delightful to sit at the inception of a class and have little or no idea what will come up, but to feel confident based on experience that some real insights will blossom forth. This is a far cry from many years ago, when the comments made were all over the map, and it was an art form to decipher how they were in any way related to the subject at hand. Nowadays our focus is excellent.

         Nitya’s commentary emphasizes that our depressed states are very real and painful, but that meditating on a joyful idea is an effective technique for extricating ourselves and bringing ourselves back to a happy state of mind. We don’t have to supply joy itself, but only counteract our negativity with a positive idea, and we will float back to the surface to rejoin our real joy.

         Deb started us off by reprising a favorite image in her mind, of the two Upanishadic birds sitting on a tree branch in the jungle, one avidly eating fruits while the other looks on dispassionately. She likened the witnessing bird to the sorrowless state of inner joy, which is always present even as we gobble the fruits and nuts of our worldly experience. A number of these fruits give us a tummy ache or leave us with a hangover, but we don’t seem to remember this when they are temptingly hanging on a bush right in front of us. The bird analogy reminds us that we always have the option of returning to our core, because it is always a part of us. We don’t have to attain any mystical state to find happiness.

         Later Deb reminded us of the similarity of the two birds to our left and right brain. Jill Taylor’s advice is when we become bogged down in misery, we should just “step to the right,” and readjust into our right brains. This should never be taken as political advice, by the way! Because the brain controls the opposite side of the body, our left arm or wing is connected to the inclusive right brain, while our right wing is directed by the discriminatory and calculating left brain. And as we have often noted, you need both aspects working in concert for optimum health and expertise. We can’t fly with only one wing.

         In any case, we study and practice Patanjali’s advice because we agree that we are capable of having an impact on our state of mind. We are not merely helpless victims of fate and chemistry, we embody some measure of freedom, and we are experimenting with yoga to see just how much freedom we can obtain. So the question arises, why do we fail? Why do we give up? From where does the certainty come that we are ineffectual at running our own lives?

         Anita mentioned the fact that drug companies have managed to convince whole segments of the populace that we are at the mercy of our chemistry, and only they can offer us adjustments via oral medication. But there is no money in promoting self-healing through mental exercises. Yoga is based on the premise that consciousness is primary, and science is beginning to agree. The brain determines what chemicals are manufactured and when. Sure, you can tinker with them using drugs, but you can also alter them using the intellect, and the side effects are much less. The key is that you have to sustain your intention through both the good times and the bad. The norm is to be content when times are good and seek medication when times are bad. Too bad the meds are engineered to have unpleasant aftereffects so that you wind up taking them as a matter of course.

         We talked about how as children we learn to make excuses as a protective shield against the incursions of adult authority. While these may start out as guarding our sense of personal integrity, they can become chronic, and before too long they will be enlisted in the defense of the ego in its willful resistance to anything outside itself. The inner voice of most people is a litany of lame excuses and pretentious self-ratification, because contact with the sorrowless state of inner joy has been lost.

         I know I for one make excuses to myself all day long. At least I have learned not to use them to delude others or myself. I shrug them off. But even after a lifetime of yoga apprenticeship, I can still hear that inner voice explaining everything I do in public to some imaginary outside authority. It’s a very debilitating frame of mind. I would like to dare to be myself, but with all the resistance afforded by the world around, it is much easier to have a cover story. I don’t use these prevarications, but the habit of such insane chatter still persists even without my active support.

         Paul summed it up psychologically by noting that we make excuses based on the perceived gap between our superego and ego, in other words, between what we think we should be and what we recognize ourselves to be. The sorrowless state of inner joy isn’t dependent on any kind of adjustment between these factors.

         Because we come to live in a world of make-believe, we imagine that pretending to be something is the same as being it. Unfortunately we are often unable to hypnotize ourselves into ignoring the gap. Then we look for a way to make ourselves real once again. Those who study yoga see it as a sound and sober way to effect meaningful positive changes in their lives. Since it is a “fringe” activity (except for hatha yoga exercises) it is not performed to impress other people and throw them off the scent of how lost we are. It’s done by us simply to rectify our state of mind, which turns out to be beneficial to our environment as well as to us.

         Ann told several stories about how she decided to not indulge in harmful attitudes, because she realized they were all in her mind. When her troubled son went away to Spain she would worry about him all day long. Then she determined the time difference so she only had to worry at certain hours. She honed it down to a single hour when he was most likely to be out on the town, and she concentrated all her crying into that hour. Then she thought, this is ridiculous! Her state of mind was based on nothing at all, and had no possible influence on what her son was doing. So she quit worrying. Once she decided to stop, she just stopped. It wasn’t an agonizing process, just a simple decision.

         Another time a friend of hers was entertaining a person who had had a very tough life, and that person turned on the radio to a right wing rant station. She could see her friend getting more and more depressed, struggling to think of ways to fix the problems the “pundit” was raving about. So she told her, “Just change the channel.” There was no need to filter all that crap through her psyche. Just change the channel. That’s what Patanjali is offering here, too.

         We forget that we started life as neutral, blissful beings, and it took many years of meditating on a series of depressing thoughts before we got to the miserable state that passes for normal. The depression we would like to overcome is the end product of a lot of effort on our part, aided and abetted by social pressures. If we put even a modicum of energy into going the other way, we will begin to recover. So what is holding us back? Why do we think that depression is our birthright and that joy is an impossible dream?

         It does take serious determination to counteract the normal mendaciousness of our ego, which has a lot of inertia behind it. When we take a determination to change for the better, it whispers in our ear that we aren’t capable of lifting ourselves, we’re not worthy, we are valueless. Materialistic science, at its zenith during the first half of the twentieth century, imparted the conviction that we are machines run by our physiology and chemistry, and that these are fixed for all time in early childhood. Such a castrating philosophy! Under it’s quasi-logical spell we learned to live as eunuchs, quietly attending to the throne and being no threat whatsoever to either the king’s power or the queen’s virginity. We missed the boat before we even graduated from diapers.

         As we have often pointed out, modern religions have also striven to emasculate and effeminate their proponents. The idea of salvation by God or a stand-in for Him means we are helpless of our own accord. Our only task is to step out of the way so He can work without interference. As long as such beliefs trump reality, they can sustain a complaisant ego. But we see how the illusions can lose their grip and the votaries descend into hatred and hostility, becoming swamped in despair as ever greater injections of raw faith are required to paper over their aching hearts.

         Happily, more recent science based on actual observation accords with yoga in demonstrating the plasticity of the human brain, meaning we are capable of changing for the better at any age and in great measure. As I told my friend who is attending college after several years off due to illness, and who is struggling to get his mind back into gear, it’s like sliding a cement block across the floor. At first there is so much friction that it takes a huge amount of force to start it moving, but then it gains momentum and becomes easier the faster you can push it. It’s easier still if a friend or friends chip in and help, which they will be happy to do once they see you making the effort. Every success contributes to heighten our confidence too.

         Our voluntary homework is to examine all the ways we sabotage our own potential for happiness. Why is it so hard to keep our minds focused on bright and beautiful aspects of life, and so much easier to dwell on the downside? We’re not after any Pollyannaish superficiality that ignores half of the coin. We already suffer from its opposite that only embraces unhappiness. Inner joy is neutrally poised between good and bad, after all. It doesn’t require us to grasp just half of the picture. We want to use specific examples of goodness to counterbalance the darkness, and so achieve transcendent equipoise. But we have decided in advance that we can’t do it, that it’s too hard, that only special people succeed. So what is it that is holding us back? By seeing that we can free ourselves to make genuine progress.

 

10/27/9

Sutra I: 37

Also the mind fixed on freedom from attachment to sense experience acquires steadiness.

 

         In the last couple of days I’ve received several heartfelt expressions of appreciation for the class notes from widely divergent sources. Coupled with the trickle that come in throughout the year, this is very gratifying. It means that we are a part of an invisible net of beings dedicated to a similar vision. Our small class is a first impulse, and the electronic salon is a much larger second pulsation, of what we like to think of as "good vibes." The notes currently are mailed to about eighty addresses, mainly in India and the US, but with a smattering elsewhere. Sometimes they are shared with friends. I believe there is a beneficial effect to the feeling of being part of a larger entity dedicated to wisdom and its application within the world we find ourselves inhabiting.

         Last night’s class actually contained an idea very like this. Nitya talked about how we are inspired and taught by the example of a guru:

 

A person who lives constantly in transcendence, such as one’s guru, is also a human being. We are encouraged to watch how such a person overcomes situations that should cause agitation. Although in the beginning it may look as if we are only imitating our model, in the course of time our choices become habitual. Then it is no longer imitation but a spontaneous adherence to higher ideals and we also become established in the tranquility of a yogi.

 

While some of us have many cherished memories of how Nitya himself handled agitating situations, to me there was always an air around him that challenged us to hold our reactions in abeyance all the time. We didn’t have to crudely imitate any behaviors, there was such a sense of beauty and perfection in the air that we were called to it as a matter of course. In a roughly parallel sense, it seems the Gurukula class is a symbol of our highest ideals, that we can measure ourselves against and also simply feel connected to.

         This is not to rule out the thoughtful application of the ideas Nitya and Patanjali are offering us. Nitya was frequently astonishing in the way he neutralized opposition and hostility. This could make an interesting essay in its own right.

         Paul wondered if Nitya was always unassailably transcendent. Sometimes he was, and at those times he overcame obstacles like a warm sun evaporating the dew. But there were plenty of times when you could see he was affected by some rude blast. Instead of leaping into a confrontation, he would sit and (figuratively) hold tight to his seat, gathering himself for a measured response. He could be polite and yet devastating, all the more so since he would be at least outwardly calm. He only employed anger when he coolly thought it was his best gambit.

         One prime example we talked about at length was after Nataraja Guru’s death, when his Western disciples made power plays to try to take over control of the Gurukula. There was a lot of serious animosity, up to the point where they accused Nitya of poisoning his beloved guru so he could take charge. It’s a long story, and one that will mostly disappear in the mists of time, unrecorded. I have compiled a rough history that runs to fifteen pages that anyone can have if they wish. Much of it was culled from Love and Blessings.

         Deb mentioned one of those letters in L&B as an example of how Nitya handled opposition. It was to Peter O. on December 7, 1973, less than a year after Nataraja Guru’s mahasamadhi: “Overriding my rights the Curran-Patrick-Freddy group printed 5,000 copies of [Nataraja Guru’s] Gita with the hope that I will see them in a court of law. I found the Gita teaching of treating profit and loss the same as a better answer to their challenge. Instead of calling in the lawyers, I am offering a special prayer for the easy sale of the books.”

         The point is that it is very helpful to have an absolutist hub on which to balance our lives, and the Absolute is a principle, not a Thing. In the absence of a personal guru, we can have a group or a tribe or a mountain stream to inspire us and help us hold our ground. For humans, with our active intellects, there is a lot that can be done, and we spent most of the class time offering practical examples.

         Often the idea of freedom from attachment (i.e. detachment) from sense experience is taken to mean suppressing our contact with the outside world. This is an unfortunate misinterpretation, and our examples helped us to see positive ways to simultaneously engage life and remain steady. Earlier in the day I had read this from Eknath Easvaran, on a pair of verses in the Gita. It could as well apply to our sutra:

 

In a sense, the words of an inspirational passage like this are not just words. They are more like depth charges, which are set to go off when they reach a certain level of consciousness. In meditation, by the concentration we give, we drive each word deep into consciousness so that it can release its potential. But when these words explode, instead of causing damage, they heal. Internal conflicts are resolved, doubts and reservations fall away, and we get the certitude that we are equal to challenges from which we used to run away. (Vol. II, 377)

 

         Nitya challenges us to go beyond all relativistic clichés in becoming grounded in our own nature, which is after all the Absolute. This is particularly important because the human mind seems to enjoy turning living reality into slogans and maxims, and dealing with them through fantasies. Relativistic clichés paradoxically set us apart from our nature, by creating dualistic versions of our unitive status.

         One example that keeps coming up in class is the fantasy that enlightenment comes from spending thirty years in a Himalayan cave. It’s a wonderfully romantic notion, but at heart it is an excuse to imagine that we can’t be enlightened unless we do something incredibly boring and strenuous for a whole lifetime. I always wonder, “What are those poor people running away from?” And yet, as Deb pointed out, sometimes it’s just the right thing to run away to a peaceful place. Then it isn’t relativistic at all. But spiritual life is filled with images of imagined special states that amount to wishful thinking. We use wishful thinking to push those states away, at least as much as to move toward them.

         Nitya unconsciously plays up a classic Indian romantic notion in his commentary, that of the transcendent being who is unmoved by events. Sure, every century there are a handful of Narayana Gurus and Ramana Maharshis who truly are transcendent. One reason they are is that they have left their families and friends behind. This is essential, because unless you are dead you will always care for your loved ones. That’s why they call them loved ones in the first place. Yet for the remaining billions and billions of us, there is no point in struggling to suppress our feelings about those close to us. We are trying to retain our balance so we can be more available to them, not less.

         Tragedies happen, and they are sad and unsettling. Plus, there are very few humans who don’t have at least one friend who is seriously ill, crazy, addicted, deranged or what have you. If you don’t, you are either very lucky or very cloistered. Or maybe you're the one who's nuts! Some of us have whole galleries of them, to the point where I think we are all in some unusual category or two. Anyway, these are people we love and care about, and it would be very selfish for us to turn our backs on them. Patanjali is not suggesting we build thick walls around our delicate psyches. Instead, we are to tune in to a solid state in our core, from which we can withstand the agitations that life is filled with. The wording of the sutra itself shows that this is a process, and not usually a fait accompli. When we stay fixed on freedom we acquire steadiness. That’s very different from saying we’re either steady or we’re unenlightened.

         Paul brought up something Moni said in the last class that had made a strong impression on him. She had talked about realizing that no one is better than anyone else, that God loves us and he also loves the person we are having trouble getting along with. Paul related this to work, where we are thrown together with a wide variety of people who we ostensibly either like or don’t like. He found that if he let go of those divisive categories, he found that he could begin to see the other person’s reasons for being who they were, and so develop sympathy. There isn't really a class system or a hierarchy of spiritual versus unspiritual people. We are all equal. The Absolute doesn't distinguish between us in the way that our emotional attachments incline us to do. A guru doesn't separate agitated from pleasant interactions, but takes them all as they come.

         In my reading of Easwaran yesterday, he put this very well. There are some very good stretches in his Gita commentary, offset by some really tedious “Lord Lordism,” as Nataraja Guru liked to call it. But the good parts are quite excellent. He was speaking of XII, 16, for which I’ll use Nataraja Guru’s much preferable translation: “He who expects no favors, who is clean, expert, who sits unconcerned, carefree, who has relinquished all undertakings—-he, My devotee, is dear to Me.” Easwaran writes:

 

I once knew a chap who was expert at card games, who had a quiet way of making the most of every hand. “A good player,” he explained, “can’t afford to depend on chance. He’s got to be able to play whatever he’s dealt.” Then he would add, with understandable pride, “Let anybody you like set up the cards—-some good, all bad, I don’t care. At the end of the evening, I’ll still come out on top.”

  He was talking about cards, but I was thinking, “That’s the way to live in freedom too.” The word the Gita uses here is anapekshah, for which “detached” is a very pale translation. Literally, anapekshah means ‘without expectation.’ It sounds negative, even passive, but it is just the opposite. Anapekshah means always ready for the unexpected—-in other words, ready for anything. It is a very daring attitude, because it means telling life, “I’m not concerned with what you send me. Good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, it doesn’t matter; I can make the best of whatever comes.”

  The opposite of this is not preparedness; it is rigidity. Most of us are subject to this, and it comes to the surface when we have to deal with unexpected problems…. In other words, to live without expectations is the secret of freedom, especially in personal relationships. (Vol. II, 391-92)

 

Once again, random readings and encounters turned out to be directly related to our Yoga Shastra study. Life is like that.

         We’ll close with Susan’s wonderful example. Her husband is Korean, and her teenage son was having a spat with her. He spat out, “You’re the only one in our family who’s a Caucasian!” She shot back, “At least I’m not a cocky Asian.” It made him laugh. He had to concede, “That’s a good one, mom.” Friends again. As Deb said, maybe we should add a sutra that recommends humor as a way of breaking the ice. Patanjali seems to be lacking in that category, but many of the Indian classics abound in it. Nitya and Easwaran are full of it. As long as the humor isn’t at someone’s expense, as it so often is in the modern vein, it can be freeing and enlightening. We can only laugh when we’re not rigidly doctrinaire, and we should be able to laugh at ourselves first of all. Thanks to Susan, we ended the upbeat evening on an even more upbeat note.

 

Part II

         So many examples! One I’ll relate is when Vicente Richards and I went into a bar in our early twenties, probably 1972. He lived next door to us at the Overton Street Gurukula, and we had become good friends. Vicente was a black Cuban who had moved to Portland a couple of years earlier, and probably growing up with less racism than the American norm helped him to have a more equal-minded attitude toward racial hostility. Anyway, we went into some seedy joint, and pretty soon a dude sitting at the bar started giving Vicente a hard time. It was unabashedly racist, and had nothing at all to do with our behavior. He was simply painting all blacks as fitting his stupid and negative stereotype. I started think, “Oh boy, we’d better get outta here, there’s going to be a fight.” Vicente was proud as well as highly intelligent, and he carried a knife.

         Then Vicente stood up to the guy and boldly told him, “You know, what you’re saying doesn’t have anything to do with me—-it’s about you. You ought to be careful what you say, because you’re just showing everybody who you are.” He appeared unruffled by the insults, and calmly turned back to me. But the other guy, drunk as he was, had been stopped in his tracks. He never said another word, but retreated back into his haze. I have recalled this incident throughout my life as a great example of how to meet hostility with calm strength and good sense. It struck me Vicente was putting Nitya’s philosophy into practice without ever having come to his classes.

 

         And this just came from Lila, one of the new members of our electronic salon. She offers a good tip for anyone struggling with the tough early part of the book:

 

All day I have been in wonder. I started to read Nitya's commentary on the Patanjali Sutras. It was tough going at first. I got as far as the sutra you just wrote about when I remembered what I used to do in graduate school. I started with the last page and worked forward. The good stuff is like desert, at the end. I read the letters, moving forward to the last sutras. Recently, I had been to a reading of Rumi by a Sufi who read and sang Rumi's poems in Farsi. He explained the language spiritual literature is written in by great saints is imbued with the “Absolute” (the Beloved, the transcendent). Reading the sutras, I found myself in deep meditation which slipped into another state where intense light took my heart and made me soar. I awakened with the book tucked into my arms.

Thank you for bringing me into this circle of Light.

Lila 

 

11/3/9

Sutra I:38

[The mind is stabilized] also by contemplating on the knowledge derived from the dream state and the dreamless sleep state.

 

         I’ve been going through life under the happy illusion that everybody works with their dreams at least at some point in life. Last night’s class disabused me of that notion. Dream work was treated as a novel concept by a significant chunk of us. Freud, for all his limitations, knew it as “the royal road to the unconscious.” Likewise, the interpretation of dreams was central to Carl Jung’s psychological insights. Patanjali isn’t giving us any specific suggestions, but only showing that these ideas existed at least 2000 years before Freud and Jung. And it was all the rage during my formative years, which I’m afraid are beginning to approach Patanjali in antiquity.

         All of us admitted to being generally ignorant of any MRI studies of the brain during dream sleep and deep sleep. At least in relation to wakeful consciousness, those have turned earlier science on its head, so to speak. Any readers who have some knowledge in this area, please write to the class and bring us up to speed. Also, since Patanjali closes this section on stabilizing the mind with the next sutra, where he says “Those are my suggestions, but you’re welcome to use anything that suits you,” we thought we would try to recall a dream during the week we could present in the next class. We’re looking for transformative dreams, ones that taught you or your friend something significant, and that you aren’t embarrassed to share. You can also tell us what Patanjali left out of his list: techniques that you have heard about or invented yourself that offer a rock to cling to in the wild rapids of the stream of consciousness. Surely there must have been new ways to stabilize the mind developed since Patanjali’s time!

         One suggestion I had is to not use published lists of dream symbols. You can read them to see what other people think, but every one of them is different, so don’t apply them rigidly to your own dreams. Each brain employs it’s own mysterious language concocted from its storehouse of unique experiences, and the same symbol might mean a vast panoply of different things to different people. To decode your dreams, you have to study them closely and learn their language. It’s a huge and fascinating field, one that can teach us much about what we overlook during our wakeful periods. Our investigations can even help us to realize that the phrase “life is but a dream,” is more than a nursery rhyme. When we speak of colorations and projections of the psyche, those mental superimpositions are like dreams impinging on what we take to be reality. The apparent solidity of the wakeful state turns out to be largely an illusion.

         John pointed out that dreams are very chaotic and seemingly random. Their imagery is bizarre and even psychotic, so a lot of folks just shrug them off as weird and meaningless. But it is widely held by psychologists that dreams are a primary way for the depths of the mind to be communicated to our surface awareness. Take pity on your brain! It is trying hard, sometimes desperately, to make you aware of important facets of your life, aspects you are suppressing, intentionally or not. It doesn’t speak English or Malayalam. Well, actually it’s kind of close to Malayalam…. In any case, if we pay attention and make a concerted effort to hear the message, we can learn a lot. The subtext of much of Vedanta is that we have buried in our minds important aspects of a whole life, and we are not fully alive until we bring them out. It’s our “true nature” that’s trying to speak to us through both sleeping and waking dreams.

         As I said, we didn’t get overly hot about dream revelations in the class. One type that several people did mention was being pursued by a terrifying figure. You run like mad away, but every time you turn back, there it is! Since it is part of your psyche, you can’t escape from it, no matter what tricks you pull. This is a classic, because we all have a smorgasbord of nasty traumas cooking inside us that turn our lives into a banquet of fearful reactions. Our subconscious is trying to alert us to a suppressed factor that is controlling our life. What that is will be difficult to determine, but it’s certain that as long as we are running away we will never find out. We have to turn and face the music squarely, and do some serious digging, but the fear impels us to do exactly the opposite.

         A lot of traumas turn out to be not so frightening once we understand them. They draw much of their power from our ignorance. Like when we’re lying in bed drifting off to sleep and we hear a bump and experience a thrill of terror. In our imagination it’s a murderer with an axe, waiting to break in the door! And then we hear it again, and it’s someone in the next apartment dropping the other shoe. Whew!

         Stabilizing the mind is something like mental chiropractic: painful at the instant of adjustment, but followed by a rush of relief as normal balance is regained.

         Another typical dream we talked about was being naked in public or in school. I remember standing naked on a table in second grade, embarrassed and humiliated, while the rest of the class, normally dressed, held hands in a circle around me. John’s version included going into a classroom and learning there was going to be a test for which he wasn’t prepared. These are quite universal. My sense is that clothes represent socialized behavior, the persona, and our inner innocence is either not covered by them or wishes to remain uncovered. We dream about being naked a lot early in the socialization period of childhood, while the unexpected test dreams are a later version. The nakedness or lack of preparation is thus very healthy and honest. The lesson of the dream would depend on how we feel about it, whether exposed, embarrassed, defiant, relaxed, prurient, or what have you.

         Bill is our acknowledged expert on dreams, having worked with Stanley Krippner in the early 1970s in the Dream Lab in New York. He told us that all of us cycle through deep sleep to dream and back again several times during the night. We start with the more restful deep sleep, and then dream more after we become better rested. Barring damage or interference by drugs, everyone dreams every night. Deb once had a friend who claimed that because he had become enlightened by meditation, he never dreamed. Yet another example of self-delusion and pretension. As Anne said, some of this sounds like it's advocating brain death. But what we're really trying to do is bring the brain more to life.

         Bill’s dream friend Dr. Krippner still holds group meetings to unearth revelations through dream analysis. There are any number of ways to recall and study dreams. For instance, we should fall asleep with the affirmation that we want to remember our dreams, and keep a pencil and paper handy to write them down the minute we awaken.

         Jan, an adept dreamer, wanted to know how we were supposed to meditate on the deep sleep state. That’s a less studied area, and we wondered what the MRI studies have revealed about it. But there are several ways to look at it that could be helpful.

         Most importantly, you have to be particularly careful not to fall asleep while meditating on anything so formless! But it is good for us to contemplate something so mysterious that we cannot grasp it, and we never will. Grasping belongs to the wakeful and dream states, and it is not available in deep sleep. Meditating on the immense depth of deep sleep teaches us that our conscious life floats on a profound ignorance that is absolute. Knowing this, we can't help being more humble.

         Secondly, if we dissolve into nothingness every night, why do we feel we have to reassemble ourselves into exactly the same being every morning? What’s to prevent us from rebuilding ourselves as less oppressed, less addicted, less intolerant, and so on, and adding more compassion, insight, openness, and whatever else we want? Sure, there are neurological bonds, called samskaras, that pressure us to stay stuck in the same ruts all the time, but every morning offers us a fresh opportunity to pry ourselves out of them.

         A really fine meditation is to picture deep sleep as a seed state. Like a plant seed, all that we are is compacted for a time into a dimensionless point, from which a new being will blossom forth in the light of the new day. A seed is a true miracle! The plant is nowhere in evidence, and yet it is fully present as a potential, and given the right environment it will spout and grow. We are filled with millions of seeds, waiting their turn to express themselves in our life. Are we going to keep them waiting forever? Shouldn’t we be promoting some of them? It is quite a paradox that something as abstract and abysmal as the deep sleep state can be the womb of everything we know and love.

         According to Bill, when Buddhists meditate on emptiness, it is an emptiness that is full of everything. This is very like a seed, or what we are here calling the deep sleep state.

         Nitya’s and Patanjali’s point with this sutra is that we are prejudiced in favor of the wakeful state, which is a tiny pinprick of awareness afloat on a sea of infinite potential. We should invite the rest in, and do some exploring. And, as Bill agreed, the turiya or the infinite absolute ground of all, is the light that sustains the other three states. When we meditate on it, it throws light onto all the states. Wherever we go, the Absolute is there with us, and this realization should make us bold explorers indeed.

 

Part II

         It seems that dreams are more popular than I was led to believe the other night. Of the sharable responses, Beverley sent two paintings and a funny cartoon that I’ll have to include as attachments. Charles and Brenda pioneered an excellent technique that others who don’t live in our area might try also. Without having read the notes I send out, they had a meditation on the sutra together at home, and then wrote their impressions. They both felt it was a wonderful way to participate, and then when they read my notes they were happy to see the connections. The best part is the feeling of evoking your own understanding without being in any way dependent on a class setting, with its multiple influences. This would in fact be an ideal way for actual class participants to prepare for our sessions too. We get a lot more out of a class like this when we’ve thought about the subject beforehand.

         Brenda wrote: I refer to ‘the light of consciousness prevailing during dream hours.’

  Not every dream is an inspired vision, and tejas doesn’t always mean prophetic inspiration. I am thinking of tejas as light of wisdom, and in the deep sleep that follows there can be clarity and resolution.

i.e. often times I will practice musical passages that I find difficult, then I will sleep and upon waking I will know these passages better.

 

  As dreams representing ones own personal mythology, pertinent case in point regarding my mother.

  I dreamt that I was carrying her out into a wide fertile plain, to her Swedish grandparents homestead, her body light in my arms, her head resting on my left shoulder, she was weary from the psycho-pharmaceutical damage that she had endured for decades. In this dream I was sheltering her, beneath the tall locust trees that my Great Grandmother Hilda had planted. As I held my mother’s fragile body, I walked assuredly, saying softly over and over again, ‘You can depend on me, you can depend on me’. She was trusting me to take her home.

  Upon waking, I shot out of bed and immediately began the process of bringing her home, to be embraced, nurtured and to recover a sense of belonging, wholeness and completion. This was manifested because I ‘heeded the call’ through the dream state. Even though the dream was the flame of the candle reflected in the mirror, what was in my unconscious mind arose in my dream, consequently my mother became a part of the dream in my waking state. All in all, it was a deeply enriching spiritual ordeal, full of joy and despair, all brought to the fore, spurred on by a dream.

 

Charles wrote: Reverie is a state between waking and dream. I can’t remember dreams but when I lie half awake before dawn, geometrical ideas sometimes appear to me which involve number and proportion. If I don’t write these down they fade in the full day of the waking state. Reverie is like the part of the ocean near the surface where reds, oranges and yellows are visible. The dream state is like the deeper parts where blues, violets and greens are visible. Deep sleep is like the deep where there is no light.

 

Charles didn’t know, but we discussed the so-called hypnogogic and hypnopompic states, those that occur in the reverie between waking and sleeping, in class as well. This is an especially fertile area for creative breakthroughs, including a number of quite famous ones. We also talked a bit about Brenda’s closely related idea, that our mental impressions are consolidated during sleep, and so we process and learn a lot, in addition to fixing our memories, when we withdraw waking consciousness from the field. This is amply supported by new scientific findings. It makes you feel like the subconscious is your dear friend and helpmate.

 

Part III

Deb sent this along. The “you” is Nitya:

 

Here is a poem of a dream I had....

 

STEP FORWARD STEP BACK

 

In an open space

a thin line

the horizon.

You walk towards me,

we recognize each other,

smile, look into the other’s eyes,

then with deft movement

you reach across your chest

and open it to me

a corporeal door swung ajar.

Nothing bloody, nothing fleshy

as I look inside, nothing.

I am you, you say,

your smile covering distance,

erasing peculiarities.

As our eyes continue to hold

you step closer and

with the same suppleness

open my torso: chest, stomach,

fluttering breath. You are me.

Still we watch, space

streaming around us.

A chirrup from the birds

in an unseen tree.

Quiet.

Your eyes.

We are nothing, you say,

We are transparent.

Transparent the line of my arm.

Nothing the shape of your mouth.

Nothing the touch on my arm.

Transparent my fingers to your face,

your lips evanescent in the startling blue.

 

11/10/9

Sutra I:39

Or by contemplation as desired by oneself.

 

         One of our liveliest classes ever seemed to send everyone home in an ebullient mood. It’s funny how sometimes the sharing is as reluctant as trying to coax a badger out of its burrow and at other times it’s like a river in flood. The prevailing state tends to be roughly similar for everybody present, which is lucky, because badgers don’t like to listen to prattle. There is definitely a tone to each gathering that we all partake in.

         One of the most germane discussions was touched off by John reiterating the classic objection to Patanjali’s assertion in this sutra, that each of us is the best judge of our own right activity. Nitya puts the idea succinctly in his brief commentary:

 

Yoga is not to be imparted like a collective drill that is given to squadrons or battalions of soldiers…. Recognizing the uniqueness of each individual, Patanjali states that the most suitable discipline for each person is that which they can wholeheartedly accept.

     In the Bhagavad Gita… Krishna [tells Arjuna] “After critically examining all my instructions, you choose to act exactly as you desire.” Krishna does not hold his beloved disciple at the leash of any obligation. The disciple is fully free to choose what is most appropriate to him. Here Patanjali also emphasizes this supreme teaching in Yoga, which offers absolute freedom to its votary, making it clear that, ultimately, everyone has to help himself or herself. Thus this sutra is very significant.

 

John thought that, while admirable, this idea empowered bad people to do whatever they want, too. Moni responded that it doesn’t ratify just any action indiscriminately. It’s for those who have already been fully instructed.

         Bad people have never had any inhibitions about doing what they want anyway. It’s the good ones who seek to model their behavior on ethical norms. The norms are certainly part of the scrutiny of all aspects of a situation that we are asked to perform prior to acting as we see fit. The key, though, is that unitive action springs from the heart and soul of each person, and following rules, guidelines, and the like is not unitive, it is mediated activity. A long discussion brought us to see the wisdom of first being carefully instructed and only after that expansion of awareness has become an integral part of us can we safely renounce outside influences. Outside influence will always be valuable for learning, but we have to learn how to act independently also. The freedom to act as our own sovereign is actually a rare and complex accomplishment, having little or nothing to do with instinctual behavior.

         Susan told us how she grew up with so many rules and laws to follow that she arrived at adulthood without a clue how to be on her own. She had to start learning that new set of skills from scratch. The adult children the world is filled with are still waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

         Anita talked about her long association and then break with the Mormon Church, the fastest growing religion on earth. A good part of its success comes from its role in doing people’s thinking for them. A lot of folks are afraid of freedom, because it’s so foreign to them and so demanding of their attention, and so they look for a safe haven that promises to care for them, here and hereafter. It’s very attractive, really. A devil’s bargain: “Sign here and I’ll take care of all your wishes.” The small print at the bottom reads: “In the end, I get your soul.” Anita was brave enough to strike off on her own, because something in her needed to find it’s own way. But the church members still reach out and try to gather her back in, partly to ratify their own decision, but also because they are so happy and want to share their happiness. They don’t understand why Anita can’t be satisfied with their ersatz paradise. Their god doesn’t want them to be independent and think for themselves. Anyone who does is doomed. As John pointed out, the Gita and the Yoga Sastra are quite unusual in advocating personal freedom. Most scriptures tilt heavily in the opposite direction, as do state constitutions, business plans, schools, and pretty much every other social institution as well.

         My head is nearly bursting trying to do justice to our long and lively discussion of this crucial issue. I wish I could just fling it all onto the page! Readers are going to have to fill in a lot of the blanks for themselves, I’m afraid. Otherwise, we’ll have a book on our hands.

         Anita noted how young children, like John’s criminals, just take what they want and use violence to get their way. It’s true there is a similar condition at work here. Criminals never had the social development to help them grow out of those early simplistic attitudes natural to children. Either wise guidance was absent, or sometimes parents intentionally insulate their kids from the natural consequences of their actions, and this is almost as debilitating. They feel they are protecting them, but instead they are cutting them off from learning what they need, and usually want, to know.

         Overprotective parents also make all their kids’ decisions for them, and then wonder why as adults they don’t seem to be able to make good choices. They never had any practice, that’s why! Making wise decisions is an advanced skill that is best perfected under the care of a guru or parent or other loved one. Most American parents these days are hyper-overprotective. We now have a whole series of generations of kids who are dependent to an unhealthy degree on someone else running their lives. Unfortunately, those someone elses aren’t always Good Samaritans. It’s no wonder the cults are full, not to mention the prisons! Susan shared a revelatory dream she had last summer on this very subject, which for space considerations I’ll add as Part II.

         Narayana Guru put his finger on the crux of the matter in Atmo verses 23 and 24, where he instructs us that selfish actions are doomed to disaster while altruistic ones promote general welfare. We start life naturally ignorant, with very limited awareness outside our self, and grow to embrace more and more of the rest of the world. When a child bites and then is bitten back, they learn how it feels to the other person when they bite, and next time they will think twice about their urge to hurt. An alert parent will underline the lesson by saying, “There! See how it feels?” By contrast, an overprotective parent will offer solace and put the blame on the other child, thereby erasing the lesson and empowering the child to continue to cause injuries.

         Arjuna’s education in the Gita, before he is turned loose on his own recognizance, is to move from a selfish perspective to a universal one. Krishna carefully instructs him how he, the Absolute, is in every bit of the universe and in every person. The critical examination he is to perform before acting is to take a global perspective so that his choice is optimal. The young child or criminal is acting on limited information, only seeing things from a selfish point of view. The parent’s job is to teach the child to think of others too. Yet thinking of others to the exclusion of our own needs is one of the errors often made. The global situation includes us too. We should not be asked for self-abnegation, but only to treat other’s needs as equal to our own. We are struggling to grasp the whole story, and only if we come close can we act with confidence that the best interests of the most participants will be well served.

         As we talked about how we can inculcate unselfish values in a world that worships self-interest, at one point Paul mentioned the “Hundredth Monkey” hypothesis. His version was an island (actually Great Britain) where a few birds had learned how to open milk bottles sitting on doorsteps and sip the cream off the top. A few learned by observation, but once a critical mass was reached, they all began doing it, all over the British Isles. Actually, the spread, carefully documented, was rapid but not instantaneous, as it was with the hundred monkeys learning to wash their sweet potatoes in Japan. (That was also on an island—could that be a decisive factor??) Paul brought the premise up in the hope that, rather than making direct efforts to teach others spiritual values, which seems to always backfire, if we exemplify them in ourselves that might be a more successful strategy. There are many pockets of spiritually dedicated souls scattered about the globe, and perhaps their efforts will produce a sudden flowering of enlightenment throughout the species.

         Of course, there are a lot of folks meditating on stupid ideas too, so we have to hope they don’t suddenly burst forth in all of us as well. It’s important to keep our eyes open!

         We held a review of the section of the Yoga Sastra we are hereby concluding, on how to stabilize the mind. We did it partly to fix in our minds what Patanjali covered, and also with an eye to adding what he didn’t, including things that hadn’t been invented yet. When you scan his list it’s obvious that there is no physical component whatsoever, at least to this part of the yoga program. The only thing that even comes close to physical activity is watching our breathing. These are strictly mental exercises done by a lone recluse, or for that matter, anyone home alone. Patanjali’s suggestions for stabilizing the mind are:

 

33: The mind is clarified by cultivating friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward misery, gladness toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice.

 

34: Or, by the expiration and retention of breath.

 

35: When absolute interest is shown to a sensory experience or activity, that will bring the mind to a steady state.

 

36: Also by meditating on the sorrowless state of inner joy one can attain luminosity of intelligence.

 

37: Also the mind fixed on freedom from attachment to sense experience acquires steadiness.

 

38: Also by contemplating on the knowledge derived from the dream state and the dreamless sleep state.

 

39: Or by contemplation as desired by oneself.

 

         Anita added music and companionship with animals. Music has become very important to spirituality since the old days. Chanting and mantras were mentioned as a way of overcoming obstacles in the previous section, and really, overcoming obstacles and stabilizing the mind are closely related. Having used music as my primary meditation technique for almost 40 years, I can only concur. Stray thoughts immediately produce “mistakes” in musical performance, so the main thrust is toward one-pointed concentration, with ample negative feedback. Even listening to music requires concentration and focus, which with music we love usually comes quite easily. Music is a perfect example of why we are instructed to gravitate to what we love or what holds our interest. Music we don’t like makes us turn it off right away. If we’re not interested, our mind wanders all over the place. But when our interest is captured we are instantly in the flow, effortlessly lifted to a higher state.

         The class agreed that companionship with pets and young children was blissful in a number of ways, one of which is their living in the present moment at all times. They help bring us into the here and now. And they love to play, so they remind us that life is supposed to be a divine sport, a lila. I added companionship with peers too. Patanjali was clearly not a sociable fellow. But we learn a lot and are at our best sometimes when we are having a good conversation. One of my favorite activities in the last decade has been simply talking with friends about issues that matter to both of us. Of course, personal interactions can be confusing and problematic too, but the potential is there for genuine stabilization of the psyche through joy.

         One pretty hip thing Patanjali did mention was the contemplation of dreams. Happily, quite a few people shared interesting dreams in the class. Pradeep emailed that the science show Nova is screening a program on dreams on November 24th on US television. Nova is broadcast at the same time as our class (are they copycats, or just competing for ratings?), and the sense I got from our class was Who wants to watch TV? Maybe someone from the outside can send us a recap of the show.

         Also, Peg sent a link to a New York Times article from the day before: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/health/10mind.html?_r=1&emc=eta1 . The article shared several new theories. One that caught the class’s imagination was the idea that we dream all the time, that it’s the way the mind operates on its own, until it is “corrected” by sensory input. The corrected dream is what we call the waking state, which floats like an empty plastic water bottle on the stream of dream consciousness (I made up this analogy). This helps explain why “life is but a dream,” and why we color so much of the wakeful state with our projections. It may also help explain schizophrenia, conceived as the inability to handle the infringement of dreams on the wakeful state. Most people feel they are in control in the wakeful state, which may be strictly an illusion, but without that comfortable illusion we can lose our ground and feel overwhelmed by chaos.

         Another theory in the article is that dreaming is how our mind prepares for the new day, like a computer booting up. A lot of REM sleep, the dreaming part, occurs right before we awaken. One aspect of this theory is to assert that some dreams, at least, don’t mean anything. They’re just us getting ready for the new day’s challenges as we anticipate them.

         The class spent a lot of time discussing dreaming, and it was clear that some dreams do have the ability to crystallize ideas we have suppressed but really should be facing, as with Susan’s dream that follows. They are how our brain communicates with us, though doing so is a tough job, identified as we are primarily with surface awareness.

         There was so much more, but my brain hurts. It was a wonderful evening. Apparently everyone went home feeling tremendously enriched by the class. In the pulsing, invisible, electromagnetic noosphere, we contributed our part, one pretty hip monkey to help some day maybe add up to a hundred and permit a quantum leap for the dawdling human race. Though we probably shouldn’t hold our breaths on that, sincere thanks to everyone in the primary class and the secondary class notes crowd for doing your bit!

 

Part II

         Susan shared a recap of the following during the exploration of dreams part of the class. He daughter Sarah had just gotten her drivers’ license and was starting to go out on her own. Susan has deep, well-founded issues with protecting her children from harm. This dream complex helped her to break out of one of the toughest fears, about the very real dangers of driving. We’d talked about gradually letting go of parental control for years, really, but it was the dream that provided, or at any rate signaled, her actual breakthrough. After the dream, Susan immediately felt vastly relieved of her persistent anxiety. Now she inwardly cheers as Sarah drives off to school with Peter, while she stays home to follow her freedom. You can’t find a better example of how meditating on dreams can help stabilize and clarify the mind:

 

Dear Scott,

 

I just had these two dreams this morning and the poem came to me as I was thinking about them. This has been a hard week. I have been sick and mostly out of my mind, struggling with Sarah about where to drive next. I let her drive to the store and then she wants to drive to school and she doesn’t even know how to keep her room clean. I let her drive to a friend’s house and then she wants to drive into the morass of 23rd Ave and she doesn’t know how to parallel park and half the time she doesn’t clear her dishes from the table. I’ve been trying to remind her that driving is a privilege and that she needs to show that she is responsible. Oh my god, it’s been a scene and [husband] Rick has been gone so he just gets an earful over the phone.

 

The dreams put it all in perspective, I think.

 

Aum,

Susan

 

I

The first scene I’m in the country somewhere and I am with a group of women. At one point there is a tiger that fixates on one of the women in our group and eventually is kind of stalking her because he wants to be with her so much. We start having to protect her from the tiger.

 

II

Small town. I am in a small bookshop with a Japanese feeling to it. I have seen a film or video that shows that the tiger is going to come after the woman/girl at this book shop and I am really terrified for her. She is in a box for protection. A big long sort of box, inside the store. [Interestingly, in her recap last night the coffin had become a cage.] I am barricading the flimsy windows and doors of the store so that when the tiger comes he will not be able to get to her. I am putting boards across openings and shoving heavy pieces of furniture up against doors except that there isn’t too much that is heavy in the shop so I feel as though it is inadequate and that makes me even more worried about the tiger. Then a big truck pulls up in front of the shop (as the film that I saw showed) and the tiger is in a big long box on this truck (kind of like the box that the woman is in). There are several teachers unloading books to bring into the store. I tell them about the tiger and how it is going to try to get to the girl/woman and that they need to be careful about opening doors to the book store because we can’t let the tiger get to her. They look at me with interest but I can tell that they don’t really believe me. They are kind of humoring me. But I know I’m right because I saw the film and tigers are really dangerous and this one wants to get to this girl and hurt her and then she will be destroyed. But I’m not sure that the film showed all that happens when the tiger gets to the girl. Maybe I just filled in the blanks. During this time of my utter panic and my walking around, trying to anticipate any move by the tiger, I notice a tall doll house in one part of the shop. It is Japanese style and with a roof that slants down in front. [Son] Peter is there replacing tiny shells that keep falling off the roof, but they are supposed to be there. Some of them break when they fall. We notice together how the lighter ones tend to make the big drop and don’t break but the heavier ones break in half or in pieces when they hit the hard floor. Peter is very calm and is enjoying playing with the house. Sarah is there too, bustling around but more as a shadow. The teachers are talking amongst themselves. I like them. I admire them. I like to hear them talk about things. But I can’t understand why they aren’t as worried as I am about the tiger getting the woman.

 

III

There is a tiger

Who is after my daughter.

He stalks her day and night

I watched the scenes on Youtube

Of him running after her

With huge teeth and sharp claws.

He is coming to get her and tear her apart

The small baby that I have nursed and loved

She is 16 and she doesn’t realize about the tiger

She doesn’t even

Think he’s a tiger

Happily would she walk into a whole street full of tigers

To be free

To be who she is

 

Part III – Bergson weighs in

I must’ve typed these up a year or two ago and forgotten them. They waved at me this morning, and they are exactly on the subject from our discussion of freedom this week. Synchronicity strikes again.

         Henri Bergson (1859-1941) was an important influence on Nataraja Guru, and source of one of our favorite quotes: “The true mystic just opens his heart to the onrushing wave.”

 

Bergson bits, from the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol I, article by T.A. Goudge:

 

 

  Freedom of action, according to Bergson, is something directly experienced. Man feels himself to be free as he acts, even though he may be unable to explain the nature of his freedom. However, we are free only when our act springs spontaneously from our whole personality as it has evolved up to the moment of action. If this spontaneity is absent, our actions will be simply stereotyped or mechanical responses. In such cases we behave like automata. Hence, freedom is far from being absolute. Indeed, for most people free acts are the exception, not the rule. (p.288)

 

 

  Since man is a social animal, his future evolution will be accelerated or retarded by the sort of group in which he lives. Bergson discussed this question in The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, where he drew a distinction between a society that is “closed” and one that is “open,” describing in each case corresponding types of religion and of morality.

  A closed society is one dominated by the routine and mechanical. It is resistant to change, conservative, and authoritarian. Its stability is achieved by increasing its self-centeredness. Hence, conflict with other self-centered groups, often involving war, is a condition of its preservation. Internal cohesiveness is secured by a closed morality and a closed religion…. Closed morality is static and absolutistic; closed religion is ritualistic and dogmatic. Both institutions exert pressure on individuals to accept the standard practices of the community. Spontaneity and freedom are reduced to a minimum. Conformity becomes the prime duty of the citizen. There is an obvious analogy between such a society and the repetitive mechanisms dealt with by the intellect. Indeed, Bergson regarded closed societies as in large measure the intellect’s products.

  The existence of a multiplicity of closed societies on the earth is an obstacle to human evolution. Accordingly, the next development in man requires the establishment of an open society. Instead of being limited, it will embrace all mankind; instead of being static, it will be progressive; instead of demanding conformity, it will encourage the maximum diversity among individuals. Its moral and religious beliefs will be equally flexible and subject to growth. Religion will replace the stereotyped dogmas elaborated by the intellect with the intuition and illumination now achieved by the mystics. The spread of the mystical spirit must ultimately create an open society whose freedom and spontaneity will express the divine elan which pervades the universe. (p.294)

 

11/17/9

Sutra I:40

The yogi's mastery extends from the finest atom to the greatest infinity.

 

         After passing through a section on overcoming obstacles, and another one dealing with stabilizing the mind, we have properly prepared ourselves to participate in the graded forms of samadhi soon to be elucidated. Obviously Patanjali intended his students to do more than quickly read through and have brief discussions of this preliminary material. Each sutra stands for a major stage of learning, with repetitive practice a must. This is the part that a sincere student of yoga should be excited about, and lacking which yoga becomes a mere dilettantish indulgence.

         Twenty-first century neuroscience concurs that changes in the brain are possible, but require considerable effort to establish as permanent. Because of the inescapable inertia of its physical makeup, toying with ideas offers the brain a glimpse of what is possible, but it quickly returns to its accustomed state of conditioning in the absence of reinforcement of the vision. In this study we are striving to decondition our attachments so that we can live up to the idea attributed to Bergson in the previous note, that “we are free only when our act springs spontaneously from our whole personality as it has evolved up to the moment of action. If this spontaneity is absent, our actions will be simply stereotyped or mechanical responses.” So it’s very important to revisit these radically transformative ideas regularly, more often than once a week.

         Most of our class was focused on ideas covered in previous sessions, including dreams, birth trauma and prenatal bliss, rebirthing, and psychedelic experience, all ways to try to have unconditioned experiences. While interesting, their essence has already been recorded in earlier notes.

         The main idea that I think is implied in the sutra got short shrift, probably because it is so radical: that consciousness is primary and what is perceived is secondary. Our ordinary delusion is to imagine we are a byproduct of material forces, when in truth they are a product of our awareness. Or better yet, that both are a product of a vast mystery we call the Absolute in lieu of a better term. The yogi achieves mastery not by learning how to tinker with the world, but by inverting habitual perception and realizing they themselves are the fulcrum on which everything turns. We are being instructed to withdraw from the play of lights and sit firmly established in our Self. It won’t hurt to recall a few related verses from Narayana Guru’s Darsanamala, from the Yoga Darsana:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

It’s valuable to revisit a paragraph from Nitya exceptional commentary on Darsanamala, from the same section:

 

Even after receiving the secret instruction tat tvam asi, “That thou art,” from one’s teacher, one may not become a yogi unless this consciousness of the union of the subject and object is continuously realized by perpetuating the retentive idea “That thou art.” This is not possible unless one empties oneself of one’s ego. Personal ego is an aggregate of memories called vasana, and it is always active to produce volitional imagery. This is called sankalpa. Sankalpa is the root cause of all human miseries. An effective step in withholding from being influenced by the vasana is returning again and again to the true nature of the Self. This withdrawal is called pratyahara. When once the Self is seen through an act of samyam, the Self can be seen in all and as all. When there is nothing extraneous to attract or distract, consciousness becomes steady and samadhi is achieved. Thereafter one does not experience the duality of the subject and the object. Such a state is praised as yoga. (417)

 

         So the mastery of the universe, from microcosm to macrocosm, does not involve doing, experiencing, or even knowing. It is our native state, and it is dissipated by our projection of it out into a putative external world. In yoga, the world (“all this name and form”) we see is treated as the Absolute. We also learn that we are the Absolute. That means all that is, is us, and we are all that. In this way we realize a unitive attitude, giving us the ability to act without a memory lag, which is a time delay occasioned by associative linking and mediation.

         We briefly discussed artistic creativity in this light. Most of our artists receive a vision from their unconscious memory storage in the form of an insight and then try to replicate it on canvas. The closer they can get to a Zen-like blast of instantaneous expression, the more joyful the process. By perfecting their art they can bring their vision and expression ever closer together, in an asymptotic approach. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they treat the vision as an external divine gift or as a gift from their own unconscious. Either way it’s wonderful and inspiring, and yet there remains a gap between the vision and the expression no matter how close the approximation, and this is true of other types of activity as well as visual artistry.

         By relinquishing the outward impulse altogether, it is possible to eradicate the gap between limit and asymptote. They are the postulation of calculus, in other words, of a calculating attitude toward the world. Mostly we live carefully calculated lives. Calculus marks the substitution of a scheme onto reality. It “works” because schemes work, but they are also substitute realities. If we can restrain our calculating tendencies, against all our training and previous experiences, we are already masters of the universe. This is precisely the direction the Yoga Sutras will now be taking us. In our own disparate and personalized ways we are already masters of calculation, but the Absolute is not a product of calculation, nor is it affected by it. As Nitya will tell us in the very next verse, “When this exercise [of restraint] is done several times, your identity with the inner reality becomes more stable and more easily recognized.” That’s all we’re trying to add to the picture.

  

Scott Teitsworth

rsteitsworth(at)yahoo.com