one whose mental modulations have been attenuated, consciousness remains
stabilized in the cognizer, the act of cognition, or the cognized, taking the
form or color of that, like a transparent crystal.
apologize for the length of this recounting of last night’s class, but this is
one of the most important sutras in the entire sewing kit, and our class did it
justice with a lively and laughter-enlivened discussion. Persevere if you are
able, and I’ll try to reproduce some of the levity along with the wise advice
we batted around.
sutra marks a major transition for the aspirant in yoga. Obstacles having been
conquered and the mind stabilized, at last a beginning on a solidly-grounded
footing is possible. As we begin to practice living relatively free of
impediments and consequently tune in more and more to our environment, our
sensitivity is heightened, but we are still moderately attached to everything
we perceive. If we aren’t careful we can be thrown off-kilter by the vagaries
sutra deals with the period when our vrittis, our mental modulations, have been
attenuated by our discipleship with wisdom. Recall that the opening statement
of the goal of yoga according to Patanjali is to restrain the vritti. This does
not mean that the vritti cease, necessarily, only that they aren’t permitted to
run away with us because we have them under control. But their influence on us
is definitely much reduced by our preliminary practice. The word ‘attenuated’
is almost exactly the same as kshina,
the original Sanskrit word, whose meanings include, according to MW:
“diminished, worn away, waning (as the moon).” The waxing and waning of the
moon is a good analogy, because in a well-rounded life our attachments grow
steadily until young adulthood, and when detachment begins to be practiced they
start to diminish.
we are learning detachment, if we continue to focus on the world as the source
of reality—-referred to here as the threefold aspects of cognition—-we become
highly susceptible to outside influences. Our defenses to them will be
attenuated, but we have not yet become sufficiently grounded in our Self to
retain our balance under pressure. We may become
condition is symbolized by the classic Vedantic analogy of a transparent
crystal resting on a red carpet, making it appear red. A crystal gets filled
with whatever color it comes in contact with. Rene Daumal, of Mt. Analogue fame,
called this the
chameleon effect. We become a reflection of our surroundings, usually without
even realizing it.
we familiarize ourselves with our natural transparency, we simultaneously open
up to the world around us. It’s like peeling a protective coating off the
crystal, or unwrapping the package you brought it home in. Initially, what
remains of our ego is even more buffeted by the colorations injected into us by
our surroundings. This is the stage when it becomes particularly important to
settle our mind regarding how we relate to others. We are not red, but other
people see us as red, and they want us to agree with what they think they know.
If we won’t agree we are red, we must have a screw loose! Nobody can see the
transparency, so they focus instead on the cognizable factors that make it
appear visible. At the present stage of yoga we are turning to the transparent
crystal of the Absolute, which is our true Self, but all that energy trying to
color it this way and that keeps us confused. It is very challenging to hold to
transparency in the midst of coloration, so what should we do about it?
time-honored solution is to retreat to a quiet place where outside interference
is minimized. Another is to quit the practice entirely, because it feels like
it has become too intense, and our sanity is threatened. The most common
response is to toughen up the defenses and push the world away, treating it
with disdain or hostility. Of these, the second and third are tragic and
terminal to yoga, though the failed yogi often pretends to still be highly
spiritual, and may well be able to continue the fašade indefinitely, given a
steady supply of gullible associates. Addiction to palliatives is also common,
as that condition may sometimes resemble heaven.
first tactic, that of retreating, should be recognized as a means rather than
the end-in-itself it often becomes. We move to a still place to grow stronger
in our sensitivity and compassion, so that we are better able to withstand the
buffeting of the everyday give and take. When mistaken for the goal, however,
it results in participation of the individual being lost to society, which
desperately needs it. And face it, detached
individuals need the buffeting to keep from stagnating. They just don’t need so
much that they are overwhelmed. But once stability is achieved, we very
much want the yogi to return to the world and lend their wisdom to it as a
vast majority of us take a fourth road. We turn to wise teachers and helpful
friends to help us retain some stability as we get bashed around by life. And
we experience plenty of ups and downs. But gradually we grow strong enough to
offer a hand rather than reach out for one. As Nitya explains here, looking for
the meaning or value in every occasion fosters such a healthy growth pattern, and eventually our
understanding gives us strength.
all agreed that it is essential to process the “zingers” we encounter, somehow.
If we simply ignore or repress them, they lurk around and zip out at a later
date to hurt someone else, and we probably won’t even recognize where they came
class was rich with excellent examples of dealing with this conundrum,
reaffirming that you don’t have to go looking for spiritual work, it comes
right to you wherever you are. Viewed from a distance, many of the examples were
humorous, though not necessarily at the time. Pierre Delattre describes this
well in his book Walking On Air: “I
am a firm believer that comedy rules the world. God laughs and plays and has
his little jokes, and who are we to catch on to them all? Certainly humans and
beasts have one thing in common: We like to get ourselves into trouble just so
we can find our way out again. Trouble puts us to the test.” At least humor is
part of the way of healing from the wounds inflicted by our troubles. When we can laugh at them
we are on our way back.
surprisingly, due to the class makeup, several examples were of artists, who
put their heart and soul on display in their art and then have to bear some
really thoughtless and heartless comments. Everyone feels they are knighted to
be a critic, and the less they know the more critical they are likely to be.
Art criticism is often the vehicle for suppressed resentments to surface that
have little or nothing to do with the actual art in question, and this is a very
good place to look for the veiled meaning behind what people are saying instead
of merely being shocked and dismayed by it.
example stood out. He paints misty and mysterious landscapes that most people
find beautiful and welcoming. Recently at an open house a woman came in to the
room where his latest paintings were displayed, and gasped in horror. In front
of a group of onlookers, she began a long rant at Scotty. “These look like
scenes from a murder! Ghastly! The trees are so scraggly, they must be
starving, and it’s so ominous the way you put them right next to that river!”
She went on for several minutes, and Scotty was never able to respond because
he was so nonplussed. Something so unexpected can’t help but throw you. What was that woman
carrying, after all? Yet it's too bad
that it usually takes us days to realize what we should have said, and so
initiate a constructive dialogue. We miss golden opportunities when our egos
are upset and our still-fragile transparency is darkened, even briefly.
recalled a most egregious example and burst out laughing, but never had the
chance to relate it in the class. During their college days, Deb and a very
dear, very outspoken friend were walking down a street together in an art
community/beach town, and stopped to admire an art gallery’s window exhibition.
They scanned this and that, and then their eyes came to rest on a tawdry
picture of a mother and her baby. Deb’s irrepressible friend burst out, “That’s
the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen! Unbelievable!” Then they realized a crowd had
quietly gathered behind them, and they casually turned to look as they
continued down the street. It was the whole family with the baby in the
picture, including the mother! They immediately fled the scene in flaming
can only hope that the mother realized they were ignorant kids who didn’t know
squat, but she probably had to wrestle with some very hurt feelings for awhile.
As Deb says, she and her friend will burn in hell for that one.
class offered several more examples of their feelings, tied to their artistic
expression, being assaulted by thoughtless people. This is normal in a world
with very little moral education, or suffering from what is called low
emotional intelligence. At least it does provide us a chance to watch how much
our ego is tied to our behavior. As we well know, unitive or artistic activity
is minimally modulated by the ego, or not at all. But
the little devil inevitably creeps in, and it's lucky it can be rooted out by
being exposed. When it is shocked it leaps into view for a second.
has had such a hard time lately she didn’t even come to class, being exhausted
and stressed out. It was one of those weeks when everything went wrong. But
talking on the phone earlier in the day, she told me how she was working on
staying detached and viewing the various tragedies in their proper context, and
her yoga practice really was making a difference. Most of us don’t have a
problem with good times, only the bad times, even though perhaps we should
treat them identically. When times are tough, the yogi gets going by
cultivating detachment and compassion, and not crying the blues. Anita hopes to be back in the fray
by next week's class.
also had a very hard week and was unable to attend, though for unrelated
reasons. She exemplifies a person who can let hostility flow off her back,
while meeting every challenge. She designed a new store that is just opening,
and there is always high tension from all sides that peaks at that exact moment,
all of it directed at her as the responsible party. She is a sutra herself the
way she stays flexible and appears unruffled even under high stress, which
allows her to cope as well as possible with the problems that are thrown at
as a building contractor, has had a lifetime of coping with similar challenges.
Just when you have done everything exactly as requested, the customer changes
their mind. Or you spend hours on a proposal, only to have it rejected. Or you
do a beautiful job, and the customer is furious with you for it. This is ideal
on the job training for a yogi, reminiscent of Milarepa.
the very unexpectedness of the assaults we experience can sometimes be a
spiritual blessing, if we are strong enough to cope with them. In fact, some
strands of Buddhism recommend doing something completely unplanned and outside
of your regular patterns as a way to shatter your habits. Planning to act in an
unplanned way is inherently tricky, if not impossible, though, so life sends us
these well-disguised blessings to force us out of our comfort zone. We can even
learn to enjoy encountering unanticipated situations for this very reason, but
again we have to be solidly grounded first. A natural way to become grounded is
to meet a number of such challenges and discover that you don’t disappear even
when you are made to look like an idiot or worse in the eyes of the world.
Revisiting Delattre, he says “Everybody knows you can’t transcend wisdom unless
you are willing to play the complete fool…. It’s someone who performs at the
inspired level of a compleat idiot we need now—-somebody willing to perform in
a way that seems entirely senseless, devoid of all good judgment.” (39)
reminds us in his commentary that from early on we are directed by all our
influential family members and teachers to watch the outer world—-cognize,
cognize, cognize!—-and it’s not at all easy to extricate our cognition from all
that conditioning. As already noted, he suggests we look for the value or the
meaning at the core of events as a way to slowly break the hold. Doing the
unexpected is another way, but again if you expect to be doing the unexpected
it doesn’t work as well. Sometimes it works on other people, though. My wearing
two different brightly colored socks stopped being unexpected for me nearly
forty years ago, but it still upsets conditioned minds far and wide, so it
would be a shame to give it up even though it borders on the habitual.
opportunity many of us have fairly frequently is to be humiliated in public and
not freak out. The class went into detail over how it is the ego that reacts
with pride or shame, and our transparent nature is not affected. Usually we are
prejudiced in favor of compliments and against criticism. But the yogi pairs
them off against each other, realizing that since we don’t even know ourself,
how could anyone else have any idea of who we are? If they compliment us we
should remember our shortcomings instead of swelling with pride, and if they
criticize us we should bring in a positive note so we can likewise remain
remember Nitya’s advice that whenever someone criticized him, he would agree
with them wholeheartedly, but then add “You don’t know the half of it. I’m so
much worse than you think.” We can all recall times we’ve intentionally or
unintentionally hurt someone. There are things that still pain me 50 years
after they happened. I wish I could go back and do
them over. Silly, relatively trivial things for the most part, but handy
to recall when there is danger of being unduly influenced by someone else’s
yogi is not taken in by flattery, either. Compliments can be as false as
criticism, and are potentially more dangerous, because they slip right past our
guard. In fact, we welcome praise! We deserve it! Yet we are much more likely
to be led astray by kindness than by cruelty. To a yogi, it just means the
crystal looks blue instead of red.
concludes with an account of life after the transition period comes to a close:
When all conditionings
are scraped off, recall and association become less frequent and stability is
established. The inner organs undergo a drastic change. The ego is no longer
paranoid about the countless messages brought in by the sense organs. For
instance, even if a person is shouting scandalous words at you, if you treat it
only as noise, then you put up with some noise and you are not provoked. In
this way the external world is nullified to the yogi. When the ego, the
questioning mind, and memory recall are all pacified, the intellect, like a
transparent crystal, reflects only the pure light of the Self. That prepares
you for emancipation from the bondage of the world.
all agreed that the ideal is to treat words as mere vibrations without meaning,
but that is a level of conditioning not even the greatest gurus easily
relinquish. Words will have their impact, but then we can readjust our psyches
so that the impact is minimized, if need be. On the other hand, some words are
so important and transformative we want to cherish them forever. Most of us
have favorite phrases we call to mind when we are down in the dumps, and if
they don’t instantly restore the light, they at least turn us back toward it.
Nataraja Guru’s words in the following beautiful story, recounted in Love and
Blessings, are a perfect
example. We concluded the class with it. It comes just after Nitya was taken to
a Christian revival meeting by a friend who was eager to convert him:
next day when I returned to Varkala, there was already a rumor in the air that
I’d run away from the Gurukula and been converted to Christianity by an
American missionary. As I walked in, Guru met me at the front door. He started
teasing me as if he really believed I had run away and become a Christian.
decided to go home. Without explaining myself I went straight to my room and
packed everything. Then I headed out to the front gate intending to prostrate
before Guru and take my leave. Seeing my bundles, Guru said I didn’t have
permission to take anything from the Gurukula. I said I wasn’t taking anything
other than my own books and clothes. He called to the other man, who I totally
despised, to call the police, since I had probably stolen some books. This made
me so furious I threw the bags down and cried, “I don’t want anything from
here! Take it all!” Then Guru said, “All right, take those bags inside,” and
I started walking down
the road. He followed me, saying “You are mad, absolutely mad. It is dangerous
to allow a madman loose in society.” I stalked on. He shouted, “Suppose a tiger
in a circus wants to run into the street, will the circus man allow it? Like
that, I am the ringmaster and you are the wild tiger. Get back in your cage!” I
didn’t see the humor of his comments, so I just kept walking.
Guru caught up with me and tenderly held my hand. “If you really are going, I
can’t let you go scot-free. I should punish you.” I agreed, and held out my
cheek like a martyr. He slapped me lightly twice. Like an ideal Christian I
turned the other cheek, and he slapped me again. Then, in a prayerful voice
full of benediction he said, “I am beating you so that the world will not beat
was still determined to leave him, and I started to turn away. He held my hand
with the utmost tenderness and said, “Wherever you go, always remember Narayana
Guru’s words alapamatram akhilam
(it’s all a meaningless sound in the air). After all, what we hear from others
is only the air vibrating. It can sound like praise or blame, but that is only
our interpretation. True spirituality is to cancel out all pairs of opposites
and maintain one’s equanimity.” My feet faltered. My anger was gone. Peace and
a sense of great blessing came. I recalled how Ramana Maharshi had asked me to
read the story of Milarepa, and remembered all the painful days of Milarepa’s
intense mortification, which had brought him so many changes. But I decided to
continue on into silence. (173)
to believe that there could be more, but this occurred to me on a walk in the
rain today. The Biblical counsel “Judge not, that ye
be not judged,” (Matt. 7.1), resonates perfectly with the Vedantic crystal
analogy. If we are silently fuming over other people’s behavior or beliefs, we
are in fact voluntarily coloring our own pure crystal nature with the very
things we reject. Someone’s ideas have a certain coloration in our view, and as
we cogitate over them our own psyche becomes that color. We might blame our
downfall on the other, but it is in fact a choice we have made on our own.
Jesus and Patanjali clearly teach us to not make this mistake.
realizing this metaphysical truth, warriors who imagine they are defending the
true faith from infidels inevitably become indistinguishable from their
enemies. They intentionally adopt the behavior of those they hate to use in the
battle, whether that behavior is imaginary or real, and they rapidly become
embodiments of the evils they oppose..
consciously fighting to change the other, we are unconsciously trying to
harmonize our own psyche through the diffraction grating of the other. This is
particularly unhelpful and confusing. A very static approach to change.
elaborates on this key idea in Luke’s version: "Judge not, and ye shall
not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye
shall be forgiven," (6.37). Here the crystal reflection is understood to
work both negatively and positively. Probably Jesus held many classes on this
very subject, but most of the content was left out of Luke's class notes, which
were written more than fifty years after the fact.
John’s later version reveals the invisible hand of empire reaching in to
pervert the original spiritual instruction: "Judge not according to the
appearance, but judge righteous judgment," (7.24). Subtly, a 180 degree
change is thereby foisted on trusting students of the scripture, greasing the
slippery slope toward holding Inquisitions.
bottom line is that we should be broadcasting the love and bliss of the light
of the Absolute from our psychic crystal radio sets, instead of inviting in the
“sins” of the world to cast a veil over that light. Only we can make that choice
and implement it correctly, by remembering that we are forever looking at our
own shadows on the walls of our communal cave.
the stabilization of consciousness in an object of perception, word, meaning,
and idea are commingled in confused cognition.
42 is an extension of the previous, reinforcing what we studied last week. Coincidentally,
this class was comprised almost exclusively of people who hadn’t been here for
the last one, so we covered much of the same, very important ground.
should warn that this is the first time writing anything on my new computer,
with a new Word program designed to frustrate simple folk by generations of
computer nerds trying to preserve their jobs by making up annoying features and
deleting useful ones. I doubt if I can keep the flow going, sorry. I will sort
it out eventually. Arrrgh!
as beginners, we ratchet ourselves into temporary stability by focusing on one
of the three aspects of outward perception—cognized, cognizer and cognition—and
I suppose this has an important role in our early development. But Patanjali is
insistently reminding us that such stability is fraught with confusion, because
every object is changeable from moment to moment and never can be more than partially
comprehended. Only the unchanging light of the non-partial Self is trustworthy
enough for us to thoroughly enmesh ourselves in. And this in itself is a
fertile source of confusion, when the ineffable whole is mistaken for an object
and thereby made partial.
skimmed over examples of these three types of temporary samadhi or
stabilization. We all know of those who become “locked in” to the outside world
(the cognized) because they believe it represents the only reality. An economic
system that values production over human needs is a logical outgrowth of such
thinking, or keeping up appearances at the expense of substance, or doing as
much busywork as possible. The mantra of such types is “He who dies with the
most toys, wins.” Or “He who makes the most money, wins.” Technologic science
that may be inimical to life is another thing pursued by the outwardly
mesmerized, oblivious of the disastrous seeds they are sowing. Stabilization is
begun for these types by meditating on a candle flame or other icon in plain
sight, because for them seeing is believing.
who revel in the subjective counterpart of objective fascination (the cognizer)
become obsessed with observing their states of mind and micromanaging them.
“It’s all about me.” “What can you do for me?’ “Okay, enough about you, let’s
talk about me,” are typical attitudes. Stabilization begins by watching the
breath or the flow of thoughts and trying to calm them down, and continues by
including more territory into the ego’s purview. These types agree that seeing
is believing, but what they see is their own opinion about everything.
there are those who like to philosophically analyze everything, to address
cognition itself. Life is reduced to examples of ideas, and the typical
meditation of these types is a study group like this one. Their confusion comes
from losing touch with actual life situations when they get caught up in the
thought mode, like an absent-minded professor. Thoughts are obviously central
to existence, but they are only part of the picture, and we should not
accidentally leave out the rest. This is why at the Gurukula we emphasize the
practical implications of the teaching, and try to never leave it as “pie in
the sky.” At least these types have come to realize that believing is seeing,
which is an important step toward detachment.
these mini-samadhis are fine in proper measure, but they have a tendency to run
away with us. Patanjali wants us to always remember that we are turning to the
light of the Absolute for our stabilization, not to objects and subjects or
even their contemplation, so we want to be sure not to get hung up on any of
these specific and partial versions. Partiality breeds confusion.
may imagine that inwardness includes healthy self-examination, and in one way
it does, but excessive self-examination flirts with narcissism. So in a sense
all three modes are outwardly directed, away from the core. If we are confused
about this, we come to believe that our happiness and well-being are dependent
on one or another of those outward factors. True
inward searching eventually transcends even self-examination, to attain to
Self-examination, or what we call union with the Absolute.
Now Patanjali is
leading us to see that we, not the externals, are the source of our experience.
We are not the source of the world, but we are the source of our experience of
it. What we outwardly love are merely specific examples that relate to our
inner happiness, not the actual producers of the happiness (or misery or
confusion) itself. As I’m sure you realize, this is one of the most
controversial and difficult notions in yoga, widely misunderstood. Yet thanks
to our very able gurus and our diligent study of their teachings, the idea is
starting to catch on in the class. Susan excitedly wrote me this morning:
I had such a moment of
clarity during last night's class. It was when you were explaining about the
"confusion" and Nitya's idea about the sunset. At the time, I was
kind of confused about what it all meant. Then you said something to the effect
of, "We are not trying to reproduce the circumstances that gave us that
good feeling," rather we are trying keep that feeling going or focus on
that internal feeling. Something like that. As you were explaining it, the
clouds all cleared away and I was going to shout, "I get it! Can we
include this in the class notes?" but it didn't seem appropriate at the
time. But I'm sure you'll remember how to say it because it's so inside you.
was referring to my recollection of the time Deb and Nitya were watching a
sunset on top of the highest mountain in the San Juan Islands of Washington, an
amazingly gorgeous setting, myriad islands sprinkled over a glowing sea at the
foot of the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. In those days of young adulthood we
fervently believed that the more we could experience of “seeing the world” the
richer we were. And again, there’s a lot of truth in that, and we are in no way
advocating living in a cave for your whole life so you don’t get confused by
events. But seeking gratification through experience can be overdone. As the
sunset faded into night in that enchanting setting, made even more sublime by proximity
with her guru, Nitya said to Deb, “How long are you going to stand here stuffing
all that into you?” Deb was furious, and it took her a long time to grasp what
he meant: that she was projecting her sense of awe and beauty into the scenery,
and so when the scenery was not there, neither would her bliss be. She was
gobbling the scene up like a starving person at a feast, and thus unwittingly making
herself dependent on it. E.E. Cummings referred to the same idea when he wrote,
“as freedom is a breakfast food.” Great poem, so here’s the first verse for
freedom is a breakfastfood
or truth can live with right and wrong
or molehills are from mountains made
-long enough and just so long
will being pay the rent of seem
and genius please the talentgang
and water most encourage flame
And yes, Deb still loves to “stuff”
a lot of variety into her life, but she has a better sense of where the joy of
living comes from. Nor, as you can see, was she ever one to humbly grovel at
her guru’s feet, unquestioningly accepting his advice. She often had ferocious
arguments with him. That was one reason he liked her so well, and why when she
learned something she really learned it.
not shouting out about her epiphany in class, Susan did reveal she was getting
the gist. She told us how driving around listening to the radio, she sometimes
hears a beautiful piece of music that makes her soar in ecstasy. (Hopefully she
pulls over when these fits are on her.) She used to write down the name and
resolve to buy a recording of it, go to the store, learn more about it, etc.
She has a whole library of CDs that she never listens to. Now she knows that
the music is activating her own bliss, and that it is with her all the time.
Writing down titles and all that is a way of pulling herself out of bliss, by
distracting her focus, and does not pave the way for more bliss in the future.
Susan now has faith that bliss will come up all the time, and she doesn’t have
to strive to reproduce an earlier version. This is actually a significant
of last week’s class, Anita told of how she had a day at work when her two
bosses were impossible toward her. She started to get sick as well as upset, a
typical reaction of put-upon employees with no chance to respond to injustice.
This time she retreated to her car and sat in its womb for a half hour,
reflecting on how the bosses’ irritability was something she didn’t have to be
brought down by. She watched her breath and calmed down, and was able to return
to work, knowing that their hurricanes were there own affairs. Her inner strength
had seen her through something that would have previously been a big problem, and she could save her sick leave for something more
worthwhile. Detachment includes not
unnecessarily taking on the burdens of others.
but not least, Susan asked me for an example of how exteriorization breeds
confusion, and I served up a couple of throwaway ones, like how propaganda is
used to stir up hostility and anger in people, how a couple of people in a dark
room can make up a plausible fiction, have it widely broadcast, and lead whole
nations into years of warfare. But I’d like to be a bit more locally relevant
have many problems with their children as they approach independence, in part
because they cannot readily relinquish their fixed ideas, brimming with fears,
about their future course of life. Life is always uncertain, so trying to make
it certain breeds anxiety in the parent. Children easily read their parents’
unspoken thoughts. They sense from the anxiety that they have lost confidence in
them, and they become insecure and begin to doubt themselves too. Then they
begin to fail to meet expectations, since the expectations are impossible to
begin with. After awhile they may experiment with intentionally failing, as a
way to make the parents stop weighing them down with the chains of their
expectations. The parents try ever harder to “fix” the problem that they
themselves have projected onto the child, and by doing so progressively make it
worse. In this example the conceptual aspect is negatively impacting the actual,
or cognized, aspect.
So, sooner or later the
kid gets in trouble, as is inevitable, and the parents freak out. Instead of
imbuing confidence by tapping into their deep love of the child, they start to
fantasize about all the terrible things that are sure to happen to them. Mass
media fuels their mania by infinitely enlarging the possible lethal
repercussions. One small step off the treadmill to success and you’re doomed!
Children, not yet being yogis, mirror the panic and begin to doubt themselves
with a vengeance. They take on the parents’ colorations and lose their
transparency, and thus their happiness. It’s extremely difficult to regain
one’s balance once that happens. Yet, it is the lot of most kids who live in
technocratic societies, and they must sink or swim. In any case, the worry
becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy before long, and the unfounded fears are
confirmed. It’s not that different from invading a helpless country, only to
discover that the people there really are fighting you. So of course the war
must have been justified.
yogi would realize that they themselves are a primary source of the anxiety and
confusion. Instead of masking their fears, which the child can easily see
through, they would dig into themselves to recover the confidence they lack
when thinking purely of the objective world. They would intentionally radiate
confidence and support from their core, and where the damage is not already too
great the child will respond by blossoming. The yogi-parent must let go of the
limited view over which they are obsessing and instead become a pillar of
support. Needless to say, this applies to all relationships, but there is none
as intense and problematic as the relationship of parent with child. Nor is
there any other with such a direct connection to our eternal fountain of love
within. We should never stop seeing the child as an extension of our loving
nature, one with us and yet separately endowed, within the ambit of the
Absolute. Once they are transformed into external objects the problems begin.
if you’re the child, flip this advice around to see why you are so unsettled by
parental influence, and how to leave their projection with them.
In unobstructed consciousness, the memory is
purified, as if devoid of its own form, and the object alone is illuminated.
again a seemingly simple sutra yielded a surprising and edifying bouquet of
meaning as we prized our way into it, a testament to group exploration for
sure. With bitter cold outside, we encircled the altar of the wood stove,
basking in its radiant warmth. It was like being inside a sphere of protection,
where openness and curiosity flowed effortlessly between us.
phrasing of this sutra is a little misleading, as we’ve already learned about
“purifying our memories” earlier on. Purifying memories is a process of revisiting
them and throwing the light of adult intelligence into the dark recesses where
terrifying or twisted fantasies persist based on partial perception. Here we
are sitting in contemplation and allowing the normal process of memory association
to pass through us or slide off of us without grabbing on to any tag that comes
up. It is actually we who are being
purified, of the influence of memories on our consciousness, and not the
Ordinary awareness is fairly choked with
associations, which tend to drag it into the past and make it fuzzy. As we
stand firm in not linking with them as they appear, it is like a clarifying
process where a pollutant precipitates out of a beaker of water. Afterwards we
are able to perceive whatever object is presented to us more clearly, more as
it actually is. Holding onto our associations is like stirring the beaker again
and again, so that clarity is never possible. This is reminiscent of Bishop
Berkeley’s famous assertion that philosophers kick up dust and then complain
they cannot see.
Remaining detached from memories is a
meditation experienced by everyone at some time. Do you recall as a child when
you would “zone out” and stare uncomprehendingly at something, lost in reverie,
with no descriptive commentary taking place? Though usually called daydreaming,
it is a kind of samadhi. Then when your young brain had completed the complicated
process of conscious registration, suddenly you realized you were looking at a
flower or an anthill or whatever, as though the flower had simply appeared out
of nowhere. Somehow, identifying it consciously made it spring into existence
in a sense. The present meditation reverses this process. We are
un-associating, easing back into that state before memories clogged our minds
with so much knowledge. As we have often noted, while memories are useful and
even essential, they can take the thrill out of life by dulling the sharp edge
of experience, converting it from “brand spanking new” to “old hat.” We are not
abandoning memories completely, but only learning the skill of disconnecting
the automatic associative process, which Patanjali assures us allows our
consciousness to be unobstructed so the object alone is illuminated. In other
words, the object is what it is, not what we want it to be.
describes this process in some detail:
The yogi adopts the
discipline of letting go of all irrelevant aspects such as any personal
relationship with that idea and with things that are unrelated to the
particular gestalt taken for contemplation…. One by one, distractions are
dropped. The external object and the internal contemplation become identified
into a single entity. Then consciousness is filled with what is presented
without being dragged into any tangent of association. Therefore, there is no
experiencing of confrontation, because the duality of the perceiver and the
perceived comes to an end…. In the yogi's sadhana (practice) this is a major
idea of dropping distractions is that as the various memories appear, they are
released back into the vault from whence they came. You don’t fight them or
otherwise resist, nor do you pointedly ignore them. You simply attend to the
presence of the object with renewed intensity and they go back into storage. It
does take some practice to get the hang of this, which is why it is a classic
form of meditation.
object-image often used for meditation is a candle flame or some other religious
icon. As you contemplate it, you discard the normal urges to identify and
describe the object as they arise, along with the more tangential thoughts that
like to tag along. This is the opposite of religion, by the way, where the associations
are the main point. Worshippers are required to agree to the preferred body of
beliefs that have been attached to the object by previous members of their
religion, and the promise is that doing so will lead them to enlightenment or
heaven. In yoga though, this is a major, indeed fatal, impediment. If you
aren’t willing to discard everything that is not germane to the experience of
the present, there is really no point to it at all.
is also unfortunate that such a static notion as meditating on an object has
taken root as if it was the whole point. In fact it’s merely preliminary
training, like hatha yoga. Meditating on a candle is fine for practicing the
relinquishment of memory attachments, but all too often the blessings of yoga
are confined to a meditation period separate from everyday life, and the yogi
believes that that’s good enough, that’s the practice. But this is a technique
that should be brought to bear regularly right in the marketplace, and its
importance follows closely on what we discussed last week about how to relate
to your child.
dear friend, and especially a close family member, is swathed by us in more
memories than any other aspect of our world except ourselves. We don’t really
see our child any more for what they are, we see an amalgam of the child
smothered in our hopes and fears, demands and disappointments. All that mental
garbage chokes them, our dearest loves, the very ones we most want to be free
and happy. It chokes our joy as well. What’s worse, the child or the friend
easily senses the memory cloud we are shrouded in, and feels it deep down as a
disruption in the relationship. A child in particular feels they are being
constantly judged (as they are), and so they have to guard their tender soul
from the harsh judgments that are cloaked in what passes for love in the allegedly
civilized world. The open connection of the early relationship becomes ruptured
by the ever-increasing mound of memories, to be replaced by a martial game of
thrust and parry. Unless we can find a way to release the grip of memories,
they continue to pile up until some kind of explosion beats them back.
Deb pointed out, it isn’t just one person whose vision is clouded with memories,
it’s everyone. It would be hard enough to untangle the ensuing snarls if they
were only coming from one place, but they are coming from every direction at
once. Every person is trapped in their own mindset. It’s no wonder that as a
species we have become enmeshed in a colossal backlash affecting every level of
yogi’s contribution to world peace, as well as interpersonal peace, is to
continually set aside the memory associations that poison the present with
prejudices of the past. These associations include, by the way, expectations,
demands, thwarted hopes, festering wounds, and all the rest of the junk that
causes us to walk around all the time in a state of frustration with the other.
This doesn’t mean that the yogi walks incautiously into the line of fire, but
only that they see with clarity what their options are.
heal themselves first, and only then are they capable of possibly providing a
curative influence on the whole situation. If you rush off half-cocked to
repair the world, your memories will taint the purity of your motivations and
make the problems worse, not better. You will only add to the confusion. But
once you can see clearly without the intervention of your expectations and
prejudices, you tacitly offer to others the opportunity to let go of theirs too.
Some will respond by opening up, and some may want to kill you over it, but it
is still the best contribution you can make to world and local peace.
important lesson we can take from this is the way we relate to a guru or other
person we hold in high esteem. Nitya liked to say that Indians placed their
gurus on pedestals so they wouldn’t have to pay attention to their teachings. If
you treat them as wise and enlightened beings, you can just bow as you go past
their statue, and pat yourself on the back that you are in their camp. This is
by no means limited to Indians, but that’s who he was talking to at the time. We
are all guilty of this. Belief and practice are two different things, but if
we’re lazy or timid we may be eager to substitute the former for the latter.
When you sit at the guru’s feet you should be
listening as intently as possible, but instead you may think “Oh, what a great
guru. Aren’t I lucky to have this great teacher here! I will be saved just be
being associated with such a wise one.” And on and on, endlessly. All that
worshipful chatter is throwing up a defensive barrier to ward off the impact of
the guru’s words. A yogi must set aside all those thoughts, however valid they
may seem to be, so they can really listen to the preceptor. It is not uncommon
to walk away from a darshana with a sense of smug satisfaction but without a
drop of new information having penetrated your comfortable cloud (or fog) of
memories. Equally commonly, you listen carefully for a few minutes, but then
the guru says something that you catch on to, and you are carried away by it.
For many minutes you mull over those immortal words, only to realize with a
start that you’ve lost the train of thought and are far away from what is being
taught. You may not ever catch the thread—the sutra—of the argument again. Your
ego has just tricked you one more time! These are not great crimes, but an
adept yogi will listen closely to the whole lecture, and only after the talk is
over go back to recall the highlights they want to ponder over in more depth.
Listening closely is an excellent meditation as well as an opportunity to
expand your horizons.
Because our brains normally work to attach
memory tags to every situation, it is a perennial task to set them aside to
take a good hard look from a fresh perspective. We cannot disconnect the normal
brain function, but we can certainly rise above it to a new level of liberated
awareness. Therefore this is one of those essential abhyasas, repetitive
practices. We can become expert at this type of detachment, but we cannot
predict if or when we will ever become so enlightened that all memories have
been permanently disconnected. Nor do most of us seek such a state, either.
These are a few typical examples relevant to
spiritual seekers, friends and parents, all of whom should be—and are—yogis to
some degree. There is no slice of life that cannot benefit from an unclouded
examination, and luckily this way of looking around can fairly quickly become
habitual if you keep at it for awhile. It is reinforced by the sheer pleasure
of being more alive and more responsive, and seeing how far the world
reciprocates your loving consideration.
We are called by this verse to surrender our
small self interest, based as it is on outdated information, and merge into the
greatness of reality as it is. No wonder Nitya describes this as a major
By this, savicara and nirvicara (consciousness
with and without conceptual configuration), having the subtle for their
objects, are also explained.
Patanjali means here is that we should use the technique described in the
previous sutra in relation to the wakeful state, and also apply it to the dream
and deep sleep states. We are now delinking memory associations not just with
objects, but with concepts, and even the space between concepts and percepts.
spiritual seekers can fairly easily shrug off the lure of material attractions,
but we are more hard-pressed to renounce our comfortable cushion of concepts
that prop up our self-image. We are yogis, truth seekers, artists, sannyasins,
or what have you, so we are okay, even special. What more do we need, beyond a
socially acceptable label? In our alternative societies, at least, these are
exquisite and honored labels.
Patanjali is asking us to discard even these
excellent descriptions as impediments to samadhi or simply being. As we sit in
meditation, we should slough off all concepts that pop into our mind as
extraneous. There will be a stream of them, such as “I am now meditating,” “I have
to do this for twenty minutes,” “This is getting me high,” “What a good boy am
I,” and so on. Instead of the ordinary linking of related concepts that is our
mind’s forte, we are looking for the space that is beyond or between the
concepts. With practice, all those conceptual configurations begin to seem
unnecessary and even damaging to the underlying purity of unsullied
conceptualization really goes awry is when the seeker becomes a partisan of
some well-established movement, such as a religion. Once syndicated, concepts
begin to take on a life of their own, and may easily become an end in themselves
rather than a means to an end. Patanjali presents them as important stumbling
blocks on the road to clarity.
can readily torpedo a promising spiritual search. As soon as something exciting
happens, we have a tendency to grasp onto it with all our might. We imagine we
are enlightened, and that the insight we just had is the whole deal. Such an
attitude brings open exploration to an end. The ego climbs back into the
driver’s seat, convinced yet again of its ultimate superiority. The evangelist
who gets a taste of religious ecstasy and then wants to sell it to the whole
world is a classic example. Their spiritual growth comes to a screeching halt,
because they are busy convincing others that the little puddle they have just
stepped in is in fact the whole ocean.
Holloway is a writer and Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, as well as a
former Bishop of Edinburgh. In yet another incidence of synchronicity, I was
reading his essay in Revelations,
Personal Responses to the Books of the Bible (Canongate, 2004), the very
day of the class. Because of the publisher’s strict prohibition against
reprinting even a smidgen, I’ll have to paraphrase his incisive introduction to
the Book of Luke. He suggests that religion should be considered dangerous to
health, because of the “seductive deceit” of substituting words for what the
words represent. This is particularly critical where words about God are treated as if they were God. The ensuing confusion opens the door to endless strife
and violence. What’s more, it can seduce us into merely talking about the great
mysteries instead of experiencing them, replacing direct experience with
descriptions, or conceptions if you will. All this is well known to
philosophers. But sometimes art, especially music and poetry, can use words or
other concrete forms to connect us with the ineffable. Interestingly, Holloway
uses horripilation—the somatic response of hair standing on end—as a measure of
artistic success, the same response Arjuna experienced both when he was cast
into despair by fate and when he reconnected with the Absolute at the apex of
his return trajectory.
gave us a perfect example of how this plays out in everyday life. The other day
he was busy doing errands all day long, and when he and his friend got home
they felt frazzled. They decided what they needed was “art therapy.” They
pulled out the watercolors and sat down with some fresh paper, and as they
concentrated on the simple act of painting they felt rapidly restored to sanity
example is to chant or sing a simple mantra to retain mental focus in the face
of an onslaught of concepts. As in Scotty’s example, as you hold fast to the
chant or the beauty of the song, irrelevant parasitical concepts, being
unreinforced, fall away and leave you in peace.
aspect of this we discussed in some depth was the fact that there is an interim
period of great vulnerability at this point of the study. When you discard all
the mental buffers with which you insulated yourself from hostile winds, you
become very open to any influences in your vicinity. This is a stage where
withdrawal from the world may be well advised. At least it is wise to practice
in seclusion until a new grounding is established. Ultimately, there should be
no difference between public and private aspects of our life, but for most of
us this is a serious transition.
you have abandoned your defenses, the void must be filled with the spirit of
the Absolute, or something less savory may lodge there in its place. A lot of
well-intentioned seekers have been sucked into some pretty ugly backwaters by
exploitive charlatans when they reach this highly suggestible state. It is
important to have a trusted advisor or guru, or at the very least a dear friend
or support group. Even a good book such as Nitya’s commentary can be very
helpful, but that is asking a lot of an object that cannot assess you frankly
or respond to your needs directly. We hear what we want to hear, and disregard
the rest. Somehow, you must find a safe haven where your foibles can be pointed
out to you for correction.
wanted us to know that we shouldn’t only be fearful of the unknown, that we
should be eagerly seeking it, and this will overcome many obstacles. It brought
to mind my friend Jim’s story. He was assisting a dear friend at the end of her
life to settle her affairs. She was in hospice care, and a couple of weeks ago
he got a call that she was near the end. He rushed down to bid her farewell. As
he solemnly approached the bed he could see she was indeed in her last hours.
She opened her eyes and said to him, her voice thrilling, “I’m so excited! I
can’t wait for what comes next!” Jim has
been beaming about her ever since.
concept we’re burdened with is that death is something sad and regretful. How
refreshing to recast it as a doorway to the infinite. That simple and painless conceptual
change causes masses of negative thoughts to dissipate and blow away in the
Deb mentioned the three Narayana Gurukula Gurus
and Ramana Maharshi as examples of those who lived publicly without any drain
on their state of mind. But while all were amazingly casual about living “on
stage” as it were, they all underwent periods of seclusion before entering the
public domain. Most of us get tired by interacting with others, and need to
pull back and rest periodically. It seems that as we are able to relinquish our
self-identity in meditation to an ever greater degree, our need for seclusion
will be lowered.
This brought us to yet another paradox: the
more you eradicate the story you tell about yourself, the more you become
yourself. Who you are in essence is indeed the Absolute, but as you become the
Absolute you don’t lose yourself, you become ever more yourself. So all of what
we think we are turns out to be a jumble of detritus blocking the fluid
expression of who we really are. We well know that other people have partial,
mostly false, conceptions of us, but we sometimes delude ourselves that our own
versions are spot on. In fact, our concepts are nearly as flawed as those who
only know us from a distance and through a glass, darkly. Patanjali, buoyed by
Nitya’s elucidation, is helping us to find ourselves by the very act of
abandoning our limiting concepts, so that we may open ourselves to the maximum
possible extent to our true nature.
everyone a very happy new year! Last night’s class was canceled due to snow, a
beautiful blanket about 12 cm. deep, the wet kind that sticks to every branch
and transforms the stark winter scene into a mystical fairyland, and made
especially charming by the multicolored Christmas lights reflected off it.
Since we live at 300 meters elevation and the roads up are steep, it isn’t safe
to hold class in these conditions. Probably though, after the bustle of the
holidays, everyone was perfectly content to stay home and sit by a warm fire,
watching the flakes joggle gaily down and communing silently via the
favorite meditation of the week is almost always Wednesday morning, when I sink
into the memories of the previous night’s class and open myself up to
inspiration based on it, so that I may be able to produce a palatable enough
report. When it works it feels like a magic carpet ride to unknown castles in
the sky, even if to its eventual readers it is perfectly mundane. The
experience also feels like being near the hub of a vast wheel whose spokes
connect with each of you, our known and unknown partners in this exploration
sprinkled around the globe.
this tamasic stage of civilizations that threaten the very life of the planet
with their inability to take sensible and necessary actions, the value of yoga
is highlighted even more than usual. Yogis exemplify a willingness to abandon
outmoded behaviors and embrace the call of the Absolute that keeps life vibrant
and thriving. We can only hope that such people as you—apprenticed as you are to
a great philosophical system featuring virtuoso expositors—will be seen as
leaders in demonstrating expertise in action, inviting in blasts of sattvic and
even transcendental energy to shatter the old molds. Aum.
the province of subtle concepts extends up to the noumenal.
powerful and important sutra welcomed us into the new decade with a healthy
dose of sharing and caring. We spent our hour following Nitya’s advice
regarding how we conceive of our world: “When these concepts
are dropped one by one the mind will go to subtler and subtler areas until it
comes to what may be called the very stuff of consciousness.” We spent a lot of
time meditating deeply, discarding concepts, and the silence quickly became
vast and all-enveloping.
appears to be a solid and incontrovertible world turns out on examination to be
a construct of our mind based only very loosely on input and mainly consisting
of our predilections and preferences. While this is fine as far as it goes, we
want to discover what other potentials we have to transcend our conditioning
and learn to see and experience the events of our lives as clearly as possible.
While we have often spoken about this in class, last night it felt as if we had
broken through a conceptual barrier to truly understand it.
had had a lesson along these lines just that morning. She likes to sit outside
on her porch, soaking up the predawn peace while her cat has its breakfast. This
time a loud cacophony screeched by on the nearby road. The cat was terrified,
and couldn’t decide whether to run or hide. But Anita quickly figured it was
only a motorized street sweeper cleaning up the storm debris, and she could
relax and wait for the racket to fade away. Wondering about the different
responses, she realized that she had a mental image that identified the threat
as something benign but her cat did not.
is our norm. We have spent our lives learning to pigeonhole and defang all
aspects of our world, because we are programmed to do it, and it is damn useful
too. We don’t want to spend our entire lives in a state of fear at every sound.
Since the inception of life on the planet, all its forms have been obsessed
with survival, and rightly so. If they weren’t as alert as possible they didn’t
live long enough to reproduce. Only very recently has one species discovered
the key to security—more or less, though we seem pretty eager to throw it away
again—and so been given the chance to explore what its potentials are in other
areas. It would be high tragedy if we were so relieved by merely being unthreatened
for a time that we abandoned the search for greater expressivity, but most
people do. To a yogi what security really means is that we can stop looking for
marauding tyrannosaurs and turn to the very stuff of consciousness, as Nitya
likes to call it. We can find out who we are, and what our talents are, and
exercise those talents. We can begin to make life more joyful for our friends
and ourselves. To do that, Patanjali is paradoxically asking us to be more like
the cat and less like the woman in the patio chair, only to leave out the fear.
of our present time treat materialism as a kind of religion. They fervently
believe in it, and bend the world to conform to their beliefs. The Charvakas of
ancient India, on the other hand, were true materialists. If they heard a
sound, they didn’t dare link it to any concept. They only accepted what they
could see and touch. They considered the next room, as well as everything
beyond it, imaginary. And they’re right. We hold those aspects of our world
that are not immediately present as concepts, as memorized images. Sure, it is
likely that there is a whole world out there, but all we know for certain is
what we perceive. The rest is all concepts, or a gestalt of concepts. When we
close our eyes in class, we imagine a roomful of good friends, a toasty fire,
rain pattering on the glass, and sleeping dogs dreaming of chasing rabbits. In
place of all that, during our meditation we pare down our imagination to as
close to zero as we can make it. The many facets of our world are reduced to a
single mindstuff. Like a painting with many elements, we can pick out different
features, but all are an integral part of the whole picture. Without even the
least of them, the picture would not be complete.
painting stands for consciousness. Consciousness unites all into one.
Paul pointed out, you can’t even say that the picture is unitive and the
elements in it are dualistic, because if you pit unity against duality, that
itself is dualistic. Duality is an integral part of unity; they are not
separate things. Only our vision is limited, not the underlying reality.
class excitedly described various ways we unnecessarily pad our world with extraneous
concepts. It looks like we’re beginning to really “get it.” Scotty gave an
excellent example. When a child bumps its head, it will look to its caregiver
to see if it should cry or not. Usually, in America at least, that caregiver
will croon, “Oh you poor thing! That must hurt! Are you okay? Ootchy-poo.”
Taking its cue, the child will start bawling. It is being trained how to react,
and it can put on quite a spectacular performance. But the whole thing is a
sham. With minor bumps and bruises, I always laugh and say something like
“Wasn’t that funny!” Or I’ll distract the child by doing something silly. And
they’ll move right on to the next thing and instantly forget they ever stubbed
is such as great example, because we have all been trained to cry and carry on
over nothing at all, by people who imagined they were being sympathetic but who
were actually inculcating poor-to-miserable habitual responses. This is the
kind of crap we most want to scrape off our psyches, and it is fairly ubiquitous.
We’ve not only been taught to rue our trivial little pains, but to fear
strangers and strangeness, follow the rules, suppress our emotions, and all the
rest. In the ultimate analysis, none of that is necessary, nor is it beneficial
to anyone. But it exists at an unconscious level which requires some serious
digging to get deep enough to root it out.
even touches on questions of immortality. Our immortal-appearing consciousness
is disheartened by the appearance of death as a permanent end. We don’t
actually know what will happen any more than we know what is making that racket
out on the street, but we have been taught that we will be terminated at some
point. So we spend our adult lives beset by doubts and sadness over life’s
insubstantiality, where we could be reveling in our very existence for however
long it lasts. I’m not saying we should replace one fantasy with a better one,
such as substituting immortality for mortality. Shouldn’t we do away with that
kind of fantasy all together? All those limitations on our “stuff of
consciousness” have negative aspects that we simply do not need and will be
much happier without.
read out a wonderful poem, used as an epigram by Jim Harrison in his (excellent!)
new book of poems, In Search of Small
the road, and nothing more.
there is no road,
road is made by walking.
you make the road,
turning to look behind
see the path you never
will step upon.
there is no road,
foam trails upon the sea.
Machado, Proverbs and Songs, #29
class she read one of our all-time favorites out to me, because it expresses
the idea of the class even better than
the one she read there. After nearly 900 years it continues to open hearts. I
pass it on to you as a shared blessing, and vehicle to carry our loving
thoughts to everyone who is fortunate enough to receive it. It’s by Yang Wan-li,
from the gem Heaven My Blanket, Earth My
Rain at Kuang-k’ou
river is clear and calm;
fast rain falls in the gorge
midnight the cold, splashing sound begins,
thousands of pearls spilling onto a glass plate,
drop penetrating the bone.
my dream I scratch my head and get up to listen.
listen and listen, until the dawn.
my life I have heard rain,
I am an old man;
now for the first time I understand
sound of spring rain
the river at night.
are only seeded absorption.
draws a line here between mere stabilization of consciousness and total
absorption, between samapatti and samadhi. Like any distinction along a
continuum, it is somewhat arbitrary. We can think of samapatti as covering the
early stages of meditative absorption and samadhi as referring to the more
fully realized later stages. After this sutra, completing the section on seeded
absorption, five sutras remain in this first Pada or Part covering seedless
“these” in question in this sutra are fourfold: stabilization of consciousness
either in an object or the absence of any object (savicara samapatti or
nirvicara samapatti); and stabilization in an object or in the absence of any
object (savitarka samapatti or nirvitarka samapatti). Okay, so maybe the
“these” are only twofold! I’ll take a minute to examine these terms more
closely. If you want to skip down a couple of paragraphs, it’s fine with me.
to the venerable Monier-Williams dictionary, savicara means “that to which
consideration is given,” while nirvicara means “not needing any consideration.”
Likewise, savitarka means “accompanied by reason or thought,” while nirvitarka
is “unreflecting, inconsiderate.” The distinction is certainly subtle enough! This
is one reason I usually soft-pedal the Sanskrit in how I interpret these works:
there is room for endless confusion and hair-splitting. We don’t have to worry
about what name some state should have. We should focus instead on what it
means in our everyday life. Our class did this most excellently last night, and
I will get to that shortly. But because these terms have an important place in
the Yoga Shastra, I wanted to clarify them here as much as possible.
to the root, vitarka means “conjecture, supposition, guess, fancy” and so on
before coming to “reasoning, deliberation, consideration.” When Nataraja Guru
speaks of speculation as a high road to the Absolute, he must have had
something like vitarka in mind. Vicara is rich in meaning, with overtones of
the judge or investigator. MW includes in its definition “pondering,
deliberation, consideration, reflection, examination; doubt, hesitation;
dispute, discussion.” This sounds a lot like our classes here at the Gurukula.
Yeilding’s own glossary for this book very much wants to make the distinction
that vicara refers to concepts and vitarka to percepts. From our structural
background this is probably a fine way to look at it, though I don’t find it
exactly reflected in other sources.
only way to make sense of this sutra, then, is dialectically. We tend to think
that if we ignore our percepts and concepts we are automatically launched into
samadhi. Patanjali considers the dropping of percepts and concepts as merely
the flip side of being absorbed in them. Samadhi then must be a synthesis that
discovers a golden mean between attending and not attending to our thoughts and
perceptions. This is going to be tricky!
analogy that makes this clearer is the metamorphosis in Lepidoptera. When a
caterpillar has munched its fill of input, it weaves around itself an
insulating cocoon or chrysalis. Inside it dissolves into a uniform mush, and
then reforms into a beautiful creature capable of soaring through the skies,
once it has burst its container. This is unseeded meditation at its best, and
we do something like it all the time. Every night we effortlessly dissolve in
deep sleep, and we strive to do the same in meditation during part of our
waking hours. Most of us, though, when we get up from our bed or sacred seat,
are still the same person. It’s like the cocoon breaking open and… the same old
caterpillar crawling out. Why is that? What prevents us from achieving the
celestial transformations we all suspect are possible?
tells us that the seeds of our habitual actions and choices will continue to bind
us until we are both willing and able to let them go. This is the “moment of
truth” in Yoga, and it can be somewhat scary. If we insist on holding onto our
self-definitions, we can have an exemplary life and “do” yoga and meditation
all we want, but we will remain caterpillars. That’s the usual choice, and why
the world is filled with spiritual pretense. Caterpillars sitting around boasting
about the flights they will someday take, over lunch.
class brainstormed an exercise where we will watch the process of waking up or
getting up after meditation to see how the seeds come and wrap us in their
false cocoon, their womb of habitual comfort and easy expectations. We have
dissolved, so this is our moment to say, “I’m a new person now. The junk that
used to be me is dead and gone.” This could happen every moment, really, if we
are willing to fend off our conditioned clothing and stand naked in the sun. We
can watch as if from somewhere deep in our gut, the old identities rise up to
claim us. And we can refuse to be duped again.
all states are seeded. Ramana Maharshi always woke up as himself. Narayana Guru
would never be mistaken for Nataraja Guru. Joan of Arc and Buddha are easily
distinguishable at all times. There is a mysterious essence that persists in
people no matter how far they go in their unseeded transformations. We noted
how babies are clearly who they are from birth, even though they are maximally
dissolved, as also the very old. Life on earth seems to have an hourglass
shape, very broad at the end and beginning but tightly pinched in the middle.
But through thick and thin we remain who we are. The ego is afraid to let go of
its conditioning, and deters us from the struggle by imagining that we will
disappear if we dare to burn our seeds. It pictures a mindless army marching
across a barren landscape that we will join if we reject our accustomed
behavioral patterns. But throwing out those accretions permits us to become
more our true selves, not less.
have a low opinion of children in our society. They don’t realize they are
divine, complete beings, but imagine they are lumps of clay to be pounded into
acceptable shapes. By the time the child is a few years old they have been
utterly convinced that this is true: they are nothing unless they conform to a
social mold. They forget their ground, thus becoming unsure and reactive,
struggling to adapt to external demands. Or they overcompensate and become
little tyrants. Either way, their core is temporarily lost.
likened this to dharma. Fools claim that dharma is duty, that you only have to
follow the rules laid down by others to be righteous. But we know that dharma
is the rediscovery and reclamation of our lost souls. It is becoming once again
who we are, daring to stand upright and live directly and honestly. Deb (who
has been “cheating” and reading ahead) read out the last paragraph from Nitya’s
sutra 48 commentary:
When all impressions of the past are flushed
away with yogic disciplines, only pure consciousness remains. It has no
impurity so it is absolutely truthful. Hence it is the ground for all truthful
perceptions, inferences, and actions. The entire yogic discipline is to purge
one’s consciousness of all its impurities and make it pregnant with a reality
that can be actualized in the here and now.
elderly people who don’t cling to their old personas undergo a natural return
to a childlike state as they ripen. I promised to include a link Peggy sent
this week about longevity, and here it is:
http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/727. I recently read an article
by this fellow that was quite good, much better edited than this talk. The
stress there was on happiness and sense of community, which is not so much
emphasized in the talk. They very often go together. Anyway, there are some
surprising findings here. The best part is the pictures of centenarians, all of
whom are alert and alive, happy and satisfied. While it’s no guarantee of a
long life, finding your dharma is essential if you’re going to have one.
friend who is reading Love and Blessings called me before the class and
mentioned the part of the Portland Gurukula Diary (Sept. 28) where Nitya asked
me if I was ready to deny myself and take up my cross. I was unsure of myself
and expressed my doubts. I may as well reprint the section here, as it relates
directly to the present sutra:
Scott read the diary and came to me for a talk. The other day when I asked him
whether he was willing to deny himself and take his cross, he was equivocal. I
saw him both physically and spiritually anemic and somewhat worn out from the
situation he had written to Debbie about when we were in Singapore, and I could
understand the kind of negative pulls and pressures that were dragging him into
blind alleys. At that time, I sincerely wished that I could some day be of help
to him. Now he is with me and can be benefited.
told Scott I didn’t give much importance to his equivocal statement. Jung says
that our external life and conscious self are only like the few leaves of a
lily that are visible outside while the bulb which forms the major part of the plant
remains buried underground. When we make judgments and take resolutions, though
such mental assertions have a relation to our inner life, these are only
insignificant expressions of the vital moods of the psyche. If we change
inside, then all the dreams we have now, all our expectations and resolutions
can be altered or annulled in no time. Consequently, I was not very keen for
Scott to take any resolve or make any pledge. I appreciated his sincerity.
said that he was somewhat afraid of me and that he was feeling unworthy to be
my student. I asked Scott not to succumb to any such degrading thoughts about
himself. According to the Gita, a man should raise his self by his own self and
should never let himself down or think lowly of himself. In all our trials and
tribulations, the consolation that comes to us is not from anyone external but
only from our own selves. Hence, the self is man’s best friend.
typical that many things pondered on the day of the class have a direct
reference to it, with the lily bulb image roughly paralleling the cocoon
analogy I wanted to use last night.
main thing my friend wanted to talk about, though, was my feelings of
unworthiness. I told him it took me many years to become even minimally
comfortable around Nitya. My fear and sense of unworthiness were not something
he was doing to me. I was doing it to myself. He was merely being the mirror a
guru always is, and reflecting back to me what I felt about myself. Much of it
was damn embarrassing, let me tell you. For instance, I was not consciously
aware that I had learned to despise myself and fear release from my prison. I
had been carrying all sorts of
self-doubt like a weight for my whole life, and was perfectly used to it. Its
oppression was “normal.” I offer this as a fine example of a seeded state. At
the time I was having great meditations, hanging out with a sublime guru,
attending classes, doing hatha yoga. But the conviction I had been handed as an
infant that I was unworthy remained to poison every aspect of my life. It took
me many years of intense work to finally be able to walk away from it. Because
it was “me.” How deeply the seeded state cuts into our happiness, and yet we
usually want to defend it tooth and claw! Even if we resolve to let it go, we
have to seriously roast each of those seeds or they just sprout right back the
minute we aren’t looking.
class closed with a resolution that each of us would permit ourselves to be the
new, free, strong being we envision, and refuse to be pulled back into our old
habitual half-alive states. May it be so!
the undisturbed flow of consciousness, clarity of the higher Self.
we enter the final leg of our preliminary study, Nitya reminds us that what
apparently engulfs us as our environment is actually a mediated replica
produced in our mind. The goal of yoga is to transcend all interpreted
versions, so we can stand face to face with Whatever It Is. We will be actively
shrugging off our labeled and managed experience to test these waters, at least
for a short time, and perhaps for a long time.
thing that would certainly kill the possibility of unmediated experience is to
name or describe what that state will be like. If we have any preconceived
notion, openness becomes impossible. For this reason, unlike religion yoga does
not posit any finalized state that we are to go searching for. We want to be
open to any and all possibilities. We aren’t looking for Jesus or Krishna,
because those expectations will blind us. Likewise, if you meet Buddha on the
road, kill him. This means if you meet an anonymous person on the road, treat
them as befits the occasion. But if your mind insists “This is Buddha,” you
have to run away from that thought, because it just gets in the way of any pure
interaction you might be able to have.
imagery will always be more popular than yoga, because humans prefer to
fantasize rather than risk direct experience. We're
not doing this because it is popular, but because we see the need.
set the theme for the evening by suggesting that we couch the world in a comfortable
story, and then bend reality to conform to it. Yoga means relinquishing our
story and trying hard to live without it.
added that stories are rigid and life is always in motion, forever changing, so
they tend to conflict. The intent is to ride the wild exuberance of life and
not always keep it penned up in the stables. A yogi needs flexibility, and stories
are not usually up to the task, though there are definitely more flexible and
less flexible possibilities. If we are going to settle for a story, at least it
should be as inclusive as we can make it.
story is like your nest, a necessary place to incubate until you are ready to
fly. Flying—movement, instability—can be disconcerting and even terrifying,
unless you have a solid grounding somewhere. It’s good to return to your snug
nest and gather your psychic forces. But don’t just stay there. Rest a minute
and get up and fly again. Eventually you can stay in the air for long stretches
without the necessity of recharging your batteries all the time.
lot of people, especially those who haven’t been taught any structural scheme
to understand what is happening to them, become frightened by the uncertainty
of continual movement. They cling to whatever provides the illusion of
stability. Medication, or self-medication, is often the route they choose. All
too often that means staying about as close to the egg stage as possible,
without hope of growing into a rare bird.
asked for everyone to share any memories they had of times when they had
realized that the world that seems so convincingly real was actually a
contrived image in their brains. Nitya implies here that this is the way to
enter into unseeded absorption, into samadhi that dares to let go of all its
moorings. This can be very frightening, because it feels like being cut off
even though it is in fact tuning in.
reiterated a story of when he was at the beach and suddenly felt all his
self-definitions slipping away. He found it unnerving and scary, and yet it
provided distance and perspective on his chosen role in life. He actually has
this experience fairly often, and it has become less frightening over time,
hate to say this, but the fear is a reliable indicator that Eugene’s experience
was the real thing. All too often we find a way to incorporate immediate
experience into our ongoing narrative story, and then it is only make-believe
immediacy, mediated immediacy. As Nataraja Guru said, the word God should make
us fall on our knees in fear and trembling. As it doesn’t, it shows that the
word is only a symbol of something else. So if we aren’t gripped by some
powerful emotion or transformative energy, we are probably only toying with
ideas instead of setting them aside to stare into the raw face of God.
most definitely went through the whole gamut of reactions when he met the
Absolute as Krishna in the Gita’s Chapter XI: fear, awe, worshipful adoration,
ecstasy. In the end he begged to be taken back to his nest, but Krishna
thinks I’m just a big chicken, and she’s probably right. Unmediated experience
should be exciting and delightful, not terrifying. It’s the letting go that’s
frightening; the actual experience is blissful. In this she’s definitely
gave us a perfect example of the joy of setting aside the ongoing narrative. He
was walking on the street one day, and he saw a 2-year-old child running, with
his dad chasing after him. Instead of putting the scene into a predictable
storyline, comparing it to his previous experiences, he simply watched. As he
did he felt a powerful sense of beauty. The child ran to a fringe of grass,
bent over and put its hands into it. Paul felt along with it the thrill of new
discovery, as if he was seeing grass for the first time. Something we take
utterly for granted is so complex and interesting and yes, beautiful, and yet
we no longer see it. As long as Paul suppressed the natural urge to narrate
what he was witnessing, he continued to experience the joy and wonder of the
is one of my favorite forms of yoga: to get down on the floor with a child and
merge with their natural openness. Don’t try to instruct them about the world
as we know it, but let them teach you about what you have lost by learning what
recalled a time over forty years ago when, as a result of smoking some mild
ganga, a friend and I had a funny and not frightening abruption of our normal
perspective. Driving down the highway, it suddenly seemed to us that we were
sitting still and the scenery was moving. What’s more, we imagined a huge giant
out of sight beyond the horizon, who was turning a crank and making the scenery
move, like a piano roll or the background of an animated movie. This new way of
seeing was laugh out loud hilarious. Thereafter we had several occasions when
the giant was rolling the scenery. It laid the groundwork for intentionally
inviting contrarian images to disrupt our normal perspective, which it turns
out is a rudimentary form of yoga practice.
expressed gratitude to Nitya for how amazing and transformative his books are.
They don’t simply offer a fresh story, they help you break free of your static
notions. He has had several teachers, and knows the feeling of beings guided
and corrected by a living human being, but the fact that he can really feel
that same profundity from a book is mindblowing to him. I’m sure Nitya would be
delighted to hear that his dedicated efforts to create living books of wisdom
have touched souls in this way. And in this
Scotty is by no means alone.
main thrust of life as it has evolved over its three billion years has been to
get an accurate picture of the environment. Perceiving outside yourself is
important for survival, for both finding food and to avoid being eaten
yourself. Sensitive areas on the surface of simple creatures have quite rapidly
evolved into specialized sense organs in more complex creatures, so now they
can have a good working image of their surroundings. This is a logical first
step in evolution. Homo sapiens has added awareness of the past and future and
several other abstractions to this continuum. But what comes next? Are we to
remain solely survival oriented, or are there other possibilities to investigate
and develop? The only way we can know is to begin to explore, to fly out of the
of the mysteries of life is that when we are ready to make an evolutionary
leap, we find that the necessary groundwork has already been laid. Somehow,
deep in the unconscious we are preparing for new abilities that our conscious
minds have only a vague inkling of. It seems that there is a universal version
of the individual’s vasanas that bubble to the surface to shape our lives, and
in both instances the wakeful mind is the last to get the news.
closed a high-spirited and well-tuned class with a group meditation. The group
has developed an excellent focus. We have no need of a “talking stick,” because
everyone listens respectfully to each speaker before offering their own
contribution. During the course of the class, this harmonizes our
consciousnesses into a kind of mega-mind. From this state of attunement we can
much more easily plunge into a deep meditation, casting off all forms and
directives to sit easily in the empty fullness and the full emptiness. Last
night it felt like we could sit that way forever. It was a manifestation of the
value-form of delight, twelve beings as one, not counting the dreaming dogs.
II – erratica
guess I referred to an earlier episode in Eugene’s experience, so he sent this
correction and expansion:
want people to know that the experience of feeling like I was somehow being
pulled deeper and deeper into quicksand happened in my house as I was doing
daily chores. It was very frightening but there was a sense of bliss, rejoicing
going on at the same time. I was crying and I was laughing and it was unlike anything
I had experienced. I felt like the "Big Coming Undone" was upon me.
Words don't really help much in this situation. The experience was TOTAL yet
the quicksand image seemed appropriate.
I expected to hear more from people on
this one, but one never knows. Susan, who likes to sit outside in the early
morning, just wrote (for those who don’t know it, Jello is a kind of
translucent rubbery pudding that vibrates mystically and so is universally
carried to church picnics):
you for the class notes. I enjoyed reading them, as always. Your ganga experience
reminds me of my meditation the other morning. After sitting quietly for a bit,
I became aware of being connected to the whole world by thinking about the air
and everything else as connected (as it really is).
It was a good way of looking at things
as though I was in a world of jello and every move I made would result in a
movement in the jello (air) and then in everything else -- other beings, trees,
grass. And then I thought how much this is like being in the womb, or at least
what I imagine it must have been like. In that case you moved a hand or a
shoulder and it was natural to feel the give and take of the universe (in a
totally tactile way). You were very connected, not only to movement but to
sound and vibration. Maybe when
baby is born, they still feel that connection but then slowly they become individualized
and even frightened of connection. One might feel as though that kind of womb
connection is claustrophobic or like being trapped in a spider's web. It might
not feel so comfortable. This seemed connected with your mention of being
frightened when one goes out of one's safe notions. But it can actually be a
lovely feeling when you get into it.
pure consciousness, pregnant with truth.
does not expect to have much discussion about pure consciousness, but the class
revealed the potency of the sutra by giving birth to a mass of insights touched
off by the three small words it contains. The words themselves are pregnant
with truth, and when watered by Nitya’s elucidation and incubated by our
meditation they sprouted into quite an enlightening hour.
his commentary Nitya briefly reiterates how the three states of individual
consciousness—wakeful, dream and deep sleep—each have impurities or aspects of
falsehood. These are associated with our conditioning as well as the inevitable
time-delay from being housed in a body with a sensory apparatus that has to
interpret the world. He concludes:
When all impressions of the past are flushed
away with yogic disciplines, only pure consciousness remains. It has no
impurity so it is absolutely truthful. Hence it is the ground for all truthful
perceptions, inferences, and actions. The entire yogic discipline is to purge
one’s consciousness of all its impurities and make it pregnant with a reality
that can be actualized in the here and now.
balancing of opposites in yoga allows us to gently nudge our way into the
vertical core of experience, regarded as the domain of truth. Horizontal
perceptions of the vertical range from reasonably accurate to wildly off the
mark. The integrity of our lives depends on accuracy in horizontal assessment,
but then if we add the additional element of reciprocal balance, it allows us
to access the core of the field. Here the horizontal winds fade into
insignificance as the immediacy of the vertical essence is imbibed. We can remain
in this truthful enclave until the mind kicks back in with its labeling and
wondered how it was possible to work on the seeds of vasanas and samskaras,
planted as they are in the sushupti, the
so-called deep sleep state. Mostly we work on them after they have sprouted,
promoting the beneficial and paring back the unhelpful ones. Gardening. But as
we sink more and more into our core, we can apprehend them in their primal
state, unsprouted. Here is where the yogi can bake them with wisdom so that
their potential to manifest is nullified. Then the yogi can act freely, instead
of in response to the ceaseless promptings of the past.
9 of That Alone has a lot of background for Susan’s important question, and
it’s worth rereading. For now, I’ll excerpt one of the most relevant bits:
We are already familiar with the four
alternating states of consciousness: the wakeful, dream, deep sleep and the
transcendental. The wakeful and the dream states are conceived horizontally,
while we think of a vertical core rising from the deep sleep state to the
transcendental. We do not know anything in deep sleep, and the transcendent
state passes unnoticed. What remains is the alternation between the wakeful and
the space of our everyday living is filled either with wakeful experience or
dream experience. Our wakeful experience cannot make any sense if the external
items are not meaningfully related to an inner consideration of their worth or
value. A glorious sunrise comes. You turn to it and say "how
wonderful!" Outside is the sun, inside is the wonder. The love for the
beautiful is embedded in us. Even when no beautiful thing is being presented,
the capacity to appreciate beauty is still within us. Everything which happens
in wakeful life has a corresponding urge, interest or value vision lying buried
in the deep unconscious. This is the causal factor which produces the effect of
what is experienced, called susupti,
Suptam is the state of the
unconscious, but it is not by any means empty. Like a seed pod, it has many
seeds embedded in it. These are called vasana.
Some of them are cyclic in their manifestations. For instance, there are
certain kinds of lilies which flower only in a particular season. You can bury
the bulb in your garden anytime, but it will lie there dormant until its proper
season comes. Then it will flower forth. There are other kinds which are not
seasonal, they just go on blooming. Whether seasonal or unseasonal, the seeds
of all our experiences lie buried in the garden of our unconscious.
let's talk about the dream state. Where do all these images in our dreams come
from? There is a myth-creating tendency within us, which is capable of finding
appropriate symbols to make a language like that of a fairytale. This is lying
buried in the same place where the urges of the wakeful state also are. It is a
common repository from which wakeful life and dream life are both manifesting.
The wakeful and the dream are both causally related to the deep unconscious,
where the seeds of all these concepts are lying in wait, seeking to be promoted
in one way or another, either as an actual experience or, if an actual
experience cannot be promoted, then as a dream experience. Freud and others
think that a dream is the expression of an incomplete wakeful experience, a
wish-fulfillment, or a prophecy or premonition of the mind.
class agreed that just coming to be aware of this structural situation was the
biggest step toward gaining freedom. Then, instead of aggressively energizing
our predilections and prejudices, we can step out from under their pressure and
live more lightly.
interesting new word used by Patanjali is ritambhara, translated here as
pregnant with truth or truth-bearing. Bhara means bearing or carrying. I can’t
find any known link to the Spanish embarazada, also meaning pregnant, but it
would be a surprising coincidence if there isn’t one. The really interesting
word, though, is ritam, pronounced almost exactly like the English ‘rhythm’ and
having a similar implication. When you are in tune with the beat you have
rhythm, and when you are offbeat you have lost the rhythm (called anrita). Ritam
means something like
“functional truth.” Because of its importance, you’ll find it indexed in That
Alone, and I’ll pull out a few paragraphs from there for your delectation:
special terms are used in Sanskrit to represent truth, satyam and ritam. Not only is there truth, but that truth is capable of asserting itself
to the extent that it cannot be denied. When it is just truth it is called
satyam. When it is also asserting itself and we are cognizant of the fact it is
true, it is further qualified as ritam.
has an innate limitation as well as enormous potentialities. Sand cannot hold
water. But sand can be melted and fused into transparent glass, which can hold
water. If you look at a handful of sand and a glass bottle, you would never
imagine there could be such a transformation. Enormous possibilities are lying
concealed in the sand.
however much you try you cannot get milk from sand, except in fairy tales. This
is the field where charlatans thrive. When you abandon ritam, functional reality, they all rush in.
"We shall help you! Now you have given up your common sense. Very good!
That's an important requirement of our path. From here onwards we will be fast
friends." This kind of spirituality is not safe.
Ritam and anritam are our guidelines here. There is a science of anritam. Even malfunctions adhere to certain laws.
If this were not true a mechanic would not be able to repair a car, a plumber
couldn't fix the pipes and a teacher wouldn't be able to correct anyone's
grammar. Diseases are all anritams, malfunctions of the body. All the materia medica, all the pathological sciences, deal with aspects of
anritam, but there is nonetheless scope for
science in them, since even with a mistake you can see how it takes a certain
inevitable course and brings a predictable wrong result. And by just examining
a wrong result you can see what kind of mistake was made to arrive at it. So
there is ritam working within the anritam. It is a universal law which guides you
when it functions as well as when it malfunctions.
our meditations or spiritual experiences, we should also make a search for the
ontologic verity of the truth of what we experience.
wondered if truth isn’t simply what we believe. In Vedanta, consciousness is
described as sat-chit-ananda, truth-awareness-value. Here truth and its apprehension
are recognized as distinct factors, with the meaning assigned being an integral
third factor. But this is a crucial question in spirituality, and it dominated
our discussion. We believe we are knowing and seeing truth all the time, but
mainly we are seeing what we believe. A yogi has to find a way to overcome our
inherent limitations to come face to face with truth.
culture is permeated with a “big lie” mentality, where as long as you are
confident in your assertions, they will appear true enough to steamroll the
opposition. You stick to your beliefs and never waver, and this does have a
functional impact. Since most people are aware of their own limits, they will
defer to blowhards and let them have their way.
the only way to distinguish falsehoods from truth is by their fruit. When a
prosperous people become impoverished or a peaceful world descends into chaos
and warfare, the ensuing disaster begs us to reexamine the principles being
employed. Likewise in our own personal lives, when we crash we can know we
weren’t fully cognizant of what we were doing. But yogis don’t want to wait
until the shit hits the fan. They find that by stripping away all the veneer
and taking a good hard look at themselves, they can know truth on its own
terms, here and now. This is much better than wistfully looking at the smoking
crater where truth or beauty once stood.
reminded us of our old friend, Long Chen Pa, with his Natural Freedom of Mind:
“Since everything is but an apparition, perfect in being what it is, having
nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out
in laughter.” We tend to be obsessed with whether we should accept or reject
something, believe it or not, or whether it is good or evil. All these are
horizontal considerations assessing a temporary flux. It is such a relief to
shrug off such grindingly miserable outlooks to sit in our natural freedom that
we may well burst out laughing.
A gossamer rain fell toward
the end of our time to cloak our quiet closing meditation in a gentle embrace,
tinkling rhythmically on the glass roof of the greenhouse.
is different from word-testimony and inference, as the meaning of specific
objects arises from transparent consciousness.
“it” in the sutra refers to ritambhara,
discussed in the previous week’s notes. Here it is said to be related to a
transparency of vision.
Deb always loved the phrase “transparency of vision” I indexed it in That
Alone. There is some excellent additional input to be gathered there. I’ll cull
out just a bit from verse 28. The whole chapter is worth rereading, for that
matter. It includes the famous bit about spit bugs (also indexed):
I like to compare the
individual to a common insect, the spit bug. The spit bug is very tiny, smaller
than a coriander seed. All the time it spits out a kind of foam all around
itself. When you go for a walk in the morning, you can see its spittle all over
the leaves and grass. It looks just like spit, but if you examine it you will
find this tiny bug concealed in it.
Like that, individuation
goes on spitting out constructs all around it. The tiny, fearful ego
continually spews forth clouds of obfuscation in order to conceal its sense of
insignificance, but its delusory images of glory appear to be no more than
unwholesome excrescences to passersby.
back to TOV. This will throw light on Nitya’s rather confusing commentary on
the sutra too:
We go to schools and
colleges and walk around with fat books under our arms, thinking we are
learning. Certainly we are learning something, but our learning is confined to
the world of agitations of the nervous system. We do not go beyond that.
Narayana Guru qualifies this as the knowledge that happens in between pure
darkness and pure light, and says that it is not worthy of being called
knowledge. If you do call it knowledge, then the funny noises the little puppy
makes when it is tied up and can’t see its mom are also great knowledge. We
have only refined that agitation or excitement or dissatisfaction more
This is the point where
the need arises to transcend the triple states of deep sleep, dream and
wakefulness. How do you know you have transcended? There comes a new clarity in
the form of a transparency of vision where you see through the past, present
and future. Your vision is not checkmated by any frontier: it is a frontierless
vision. It is not confined to name and form. It does not come under the
category of cause and effect. We cannot say it has a beginning or an end. In
fact, words that we use and thoughts that we cerebrate are all of no use. This
is the realm of infinite silence into which we can merge, where the present
faculties which are very useful to us become of no use.
Now we come to a very
difficult situation where we must go around a curve, so to speak, in our
understanding. All the conditionings which we have so far called learning are
no better than the salivating of Pavlov’s dogs. All the rewards and punishments
which you have had so far in the form of education help you only to salivate
when the bell rings. Don’t you want something better than that?
time I read this I burst into tears. Nitya’s simple query, “Don’t you want something better than that?” just rips open my heart.
What a guy!
class talked quite a bit about blissful objects that energize us to break free
of our complacency, babies and flowers and so on. But it was hard to swallow
the fact that the minute you say “Isn’t that beautiful!” or “Isn’t she sweet!”
you have given up your transparency of vision to categorize the event. As Paul
pointed out, this sets up a dualistic perspective where you and the object are
separate. The sutra instructs us that it is the merger of subject and object in
unity that we are aiming for. Any descriptive appreciation inevitably draws a
line between perceiver and perceived.
over a baby isn’t necessarily a spiritual disaster, but the way we overlay all
of existence with our petty preferences is. Every moment of life is
spectacular, unique, and transcendental, if we choose to see it that way. But
we prefer a more dismal narrative, where everything is judged and compared.
Remember, we are trying to overcome all
our mental modifications, good, bad or ugly. We usually are content to discard
the bad and ugly, but cling to the good, and therefore we never are completely
released from our conditioning.
mental modifications is not a passive process, either. We have to overcome our
inertia. I’ll call on Nitya one last time, from That Alone verse 84:
Simply saying they are all modifications does not help you. You have
to see in each piecemeal experience what kind of modification has come, what
its essential nature is, and how you can see through it. This means a
transparency of vision is to be cultivated, by which you can neutrally assess a
situation that is superficially dismal or cheerful.
gave the example of caring for her mother-in-law, where she spent years tending
faithfully to a terminally ill woman. Her husband’s family would sometimes say,
as a kind of compliment, “You treat your mother-in-law better than your own
mother.” But Moni was incensed. She thought, it isn’t a question of this person
or that person. Here is a situation where a person needs care and I can give
it. She didn’t cling to fantasies about who was deserving and who wasn’t. She
simply followed the requirements of the situation in which she found herself,
and gave it all her loving kindness. Should we reserve loving kindness for some
special occasion? Moni at least didn’t think so. Because she is loving and
kind, she wants to be that way all the time.
are rapidly coming to the close of the first part or pada of Patanjali. Chance
handed me the following paragraph by Richard Wilhelm, in
his comments on I Ching hexagram 58, The Joyous, Lake. It makes a fitting
conclusion to our most excellent group adventure:
The Joyous. Success.
Perseverance is favorable.
Lakes resting on one another:
The image of The Joyous.
Thus the superior man joins with his friends
For discussion and practice.
A lake evaporates upward and thus gradually
dries up; but when two lakes are joined they do not dry up so readily, for one
replenishes the other. It is the same in the field of knowledge. Knowledge
should be a refreshing and vitalizing force. It becomes so only through
stimulating intercourse with congenial friends with whom one holds discussion
and practices application of the truths of life. In this way learning becomes
many-sided and takes on a cheerful lightness, whereas there is always something
ponderous and one-sided about the learning of the self-taught.
the class, Paul was telling Moni about Groundhog’s Day, where a prize groundhog,
a cheerful mammal in the marmot family, is brought out of hibernation to assess
the weather. Paul did an imitation in which he seemed to momentarily transform
into the sleepy but surprised groundhog. He actually became the groundhog for an instant. Susan and I were both standing
in the kitchen, and we both noticed it. It was spectacular! To even call it an
imitation would be to undervalue it. I tell you this so you can understand the
reference in Susan’s note, which arrived even before I began work this morning.
Susan is touchy that she is the only person on the planet whose understanding
of Vedanta is vague, and she probably doesn’t want me to print this, but it’s a
relief for others to know that they are not alone. Feeling vague is far more
common that emerging from class bristling like a lighthouse. Vague feelings
sometimes incubate the ideas discussed better than sharply delineated memories,
as she well realizes:
Nice class last night. I keep thinking about our
discussion and the
wonderful feeling of being there (and Paul as
the ground hog!).
I may think of something to add to the notes
eventually but for now I was hoping that you would clarify something in your
notes. I liked that image that Paul brought up with the rock falling down to
its resting place, being shifted by the current and also having an influence on
that current. Jan, Moni, and I started talking about that right away as we were
driving down the hill for home. The thing is that we knew it was related to the
discussion but we weren't sure exactly how. We wanted it to be related because
it was such a compelling image. Moni thought it had to do with masses and
spaces. I thought it had to do with oneness and something that the class was
just discussing before that but now it has left my mind. We also wondered about
what the ground represented and Jan thought maybe it was the Absolute. I guess
we were trying to define and label and eventually we realized that even if we
didn't figure it out, it was a great image and somehow the understanding would
make its way into us. It's interesting that much of the class kind of mashes
into a fuzz for me at this moment (more than usual) but I still feel the
comfort and bliss of it. And somewhere, a deeper understanding.
idea in question is similar to one we talked about recently of Buckminster
Fuller’s. A play about him opened with him pitching pennies and watching as
they perfectly followed the optimal trajectory. “Yep, nature gets it right
every time,” he said. Each penny described a perfect arc, and then bounced
exactly in the way that combined all the various factors of weight, hardness,
speed, gravity and angles. Not like people, who mentally and physically try to
construct mechanical imitations of nature. Those calculations would be
mind-boggling, and take forever. You might easily leave out something
important. But nature does its “computations” instantly, because her actions
are in the groove, in the flow. Because of this, Fuller pondered nature for his
inspiration, to try to make his mechanical imitations more closely resemble natural
did not recall where his example came from, but it was of a pebble thrown into
a stream. The route the pebble takes to the bottom follows every nuance of the current
interacting with its shape, weight and so on. It’s a nicer image than a penny
pitched onto a stage floor, but the idea is the same. All such events
demonstrate a transparency of vision, or perhaps just plain transparency. No
thought process intervenes to disrupt the perfection of the trajectory. All
factors are effortlessly included in the result.
that, our lives are hurtling through the cosmos even when we feel like we’re
standing still. We have to follow every dip and curve and overcome every
obstacle according to its dimensions. We are like a pebble falling through a
river. If we could abandon ourselves to the flow, we would be in tune with our
natural inclination, sometimes called our dharma, and its basis in the
Absolute. And as to Jan’s question about the Absolute, the whole business is
the Absolute: pebble, river, the throw, the fact that this is only a story, the
way we understand it, everything. The pebble doesn’t attain the Absolute, it is
the Absolute passing through the Absolute, in the eye of the Absolute.
really a very good example, and I’m glad it was kept alive during the ride
home. Our flailings and carefully chosen pathways almost always deflect us from
the absolute, optimal flow of our life. We can’t imagine we could survive
without them. But in yoga, we set all that churning aside to allow for a
transparency of vision. It’s an experiment, like learning to swim: what would
happen if we stopped thrashing and just relaxed? Ah, the water holds us up!
What do you know.
Susan should get an award for two responses to
one class, a first as far as I can recall. Plus another award for hinting at a
link between transparency and trance-parentsy! Her new favorite meditation
calls to mind the ancient Chinese proverb: If you want to be happy for a day,
get some opium. If you want to be happy for a year, get a sex partner. But if
you want to be happy for a whole lifetime, become a gardener.
really appreciated your notes and comments on my note. Your notes are terrific
and really helpful. They started me thinking about other things I’ve wanted to
ask you about or tell you.
loved your comment about your reaction to “Don’t you want something better than
that?” Love that it rips open your heart. It is quite a thunderbolt for me too.
Since college I have been obsessed with learning and have often (very often)
felt inferior to those who seemed brilliant, smart, quick-minded, learned,
scholarly, full of knowledge. I have beat myself up over not having read enough
books in my life, about not being able to keep all sorts of facts in my mind.
(I know you know all this but it feels good to write about it). It is taking me
a long time to let go of this intellectual dream of mine. But really it is just
a lot of spittle. On one level, I want to have the knowledge so I can join in
more and more interesting conversations and so I can understand more and more
but of course there’s also something about ego and pride in there. I like to
impress people with my knowledge and I would like to impress the people who
impress me. I am a snob about knowledge. I guess I should be happy that I’m bad
at remembering names and places and dates in history, films, books, etc. I see
it as a defect of my brain but maybe it’s a fortunate defect. It’s a bit like
Oliver Sacks and all his stories. If one part doesn’t work, you figure out how
to function with what does work and you learn so much about reality along the
way. In the end, the intellectualism is a game — a very fun game at times, but
a game (well, it can also be a very tedious and dull and stupid game).
brings me to gardening. I have been gardening a lot in recent weeks and loving
it. I am in a wonderful trance when I am gardening and I can only think of it
as a transparency of vision because it is so absorbing. I feel at one with the
garden, with no preconceptions or judgments, and a bit like the pebble falling
into water. The garden has an influence on me and I have an influence on the
garden. We are the Absolute and we are creation. But then I come out of my
trance and sometimes think to myself (you will not be surprised by this): Is it
right that I should be working so hard in a garden that almost no one sees? Is
it right that I should be doing so much work that doesn’t help anyone really? I
am trying to find a reason to justify my actions. In the last week I have come
to the idea that gardening is a type of prayer, something like the prayers of
those cloistered monks in France. I am beginning to feel comfortable with the
idea of doing something I love and not having it be practical — I think this
might be verging on dharma. This feeling is challenging for me because of my
addiction to the hamster wheel and my love of accomplishment. It’s nice that
the garden looks more and more beautiful, the more I work in it, but when I’m
gardening, I’m only thinking about the task of the moment. Fun and
transformative. I keep tending to think --- where is this leading? What is this
doing? But it’s such a relief to think of it as a meditation, an unfolding, a
being, a prayer.
is similar to this in many ways, especially considering that I lack the skill
to attain great levels of playing. I would love to whip off pieces the way you
do and also to know so much about the music and the composers. But when I am
playing, I don’t think about these things and this is such a balm. Again, it
doesn’t lead anywhere and yet it leads everywhere.
for getting the thoughts churning. Feels great. The quotes from Nitya are just
amazing, by the way. Thank you for including them.
to some of the responses I’ve gotten, it seems Susan’s last note hit a definite
nerve. I think I should add a slight clarification, especially for the newer
members of the group, because some of it was a little off target.
couple of people felt that gardening, as an example of yogic activity, stood in
opposition to intellectual activity. Not at all. Like pretty much everything,
gardening requires a lot of intelligence, properly directed and applied. What
Susan was exulting over was her newly acquired ability to shed her nagging
doubts for awhile. A negative inner voice is not the same as intelligence, by
many of us, Susan used to spin her wheels, endlessly channeling the confusion
bequeathed her by her upbringing and the current state of public derangement in
which we are regularly bathed. After only ten years of diligent work, she can
now relegate those unhelpful states to the background, at least for part of the
time. This is a testament to her perseverance, as well as to the damnable
tenacity of the “poisoned arrows” we enter adulthood adorned with.
absorbing activity can give us an opportunity to let go of the mental chatter
that passes for the “normal” and even “intellectual” state of mind. Then our
reasoning and our activity become unified, meaning they work together in an
expert fashion. Actually, being deeply engaged in what we love is the true norm
we seek to find, and when we do it can be called our dharma, as Susan pointed out.
It doesn’t have to be just one thing, either, though specialization has its
advantages in the modern world. We can go from one task to the next, one
interchange to the next, and remain fully absorbed in what we’re doing, so the
yogic state or the dharma becomes our whole life. Generally speaking, the way
into this happy condition is through something that we simply love to do.
must be that some of us have been intellectually intimidated by someone at some
point, and are carrying resentments still. That’s too bad, but then again,
maybe we could stand a jolt to shake us out of our complacency once in awhile.
The gurus we know certainly evinced great joy in intellectual pursuits, and
were constantly inviting us to join them. In my day, I stood out as the most
intimidated and humiliated pretender by one of them.
nothing else, keeping the mind well fed is a way to avoid boredom, as Nitya
once assured me.
is possible to be an intellectual snob, and it’s also possible to be an
anti-intellectual snob. Either way, you’re still a snob. Insecure people either
try to impress others with what they’ve been taught, or they defend their
ignorance as being exactly what they want out of life. On the other hand, unity
in reason and action, or love if you prefer, dispels insecurity. True
intellectuals are engrossed in their favorite subject and if anything are happy
to share the pleasure they take in it. The false dichotomy of materialism
versus spirituality has made for a lot of sniping, but we have laid that albatross
to rest in our Darsanamala study, thanks to Nitya’s insights in his commentary
Gita, too, is definite about this. In II, 50, there is the assertion, “Yoga is
reason in action.” Further on we are reminded, “That rationalism and yogic self-discipline
are distinct, only children say, not the well-informed; one well-established in
either one of them obtains the result of both.” (V, 4). “Yogic self-discipline”
stands for gardening here.
bottom line is that most of the sneering in life is done in the early teen
years, or by those who never left their teens, no matter what their current
age. We don’t need to still be carrying that useless baggage.
dive in! That little voice inside that is telling you that you are inadequate
in some way is a liar and a thief of your peace of mind. Tell it to be quiet,
and carry on. Go dig some roots. Aum.
A hearty generic thank you to the many
who’ve written in response to Susan’s email. I love to know I’m not merely
writing in a vacuum! Behind each of my addresses is a vibrant, living human
being filled with well-considered thoughts. Many of you love to garden too,
apparently! I’m not resending most of what’s come in because it seems rather
personal or at least intimate. It helps me if you write at the bottom “Okay to
share” or “Not okay to share”, otherwise I have to go on my own flawed
judgment. But I can’t keep it all to myself.
Lila wrote, in part:
felt such kinship with Susan. I
wish I could garden all year around but I also walk in the woods, saying
prayers…. The soul needs the deep roots and loamy soil of Mother and our
planet depends upon us for its care as it comes into Being. We are the beings
who will either
destroy or be caregivers of this Earth.
I am reading John Spiers’ book [What
Should I Read?] and he also mentions that sometimes intellectualism gets in the
way of the starkness, the freshness of the Absolute blowing through our lives
in every atom, leaf,
am giving my heart and soul to the Spirit writing Susan's email and I am
And, from dear Ammu/Aumm, mother of
Thanks for this, Scott. The most important lesson I took from this came from a
phrase you casually (or maybe not) threw in there - On the other hand, unity in reason and action, or love if you prefer….
I love how you equated “unity in reason and action” to “love”. So true. All
is love when we harmonize these seemingly opposed values. And of course, I
enjoyed everything you wrote to explain why these two are not opposed to each
other. Taking care of little ones is a very real everyday example of how reason
and action are (or at least can be) synthesized.
Brenda wrote a lot, but the gist is
To be given to the pursuits
and not focused on anything but the joy of it, and to willingly share what one
has learned...that feels right indeed!... I'm off to dig some roots!
\Love and Aum, Brenda
Susan just sent a letter from Nitya to Josie she found in L&B, as a great
absolutist is one who sits firmly on the conviction that there is a functional
truth that runs all through life, sometimes obscure, sometimes pronounced and
sometimes hard to detect. He or she knows that the best way to be in tune with
this benevolent, protective, friendly, hidden truth of life is never to
belittle its glory, power, intelligence, beauty and absolute goodness. The
Absolute is neither particular nor general; it is neither an idea nor a fact.
It is the living meaning, the unalloyed value that insures the worthwhileness
this. It's from the letter Nitya wrote to Josie on August 31, 1977, when he was
comparing a relativist to an absolutist.
and preserved impressions born from truthful consciousness prevent the
registration and preservation of other impressions.
been exactly a month since the previous class. During that time I lost my mind
through illness and regained it to some unmeasurable degree. Now we’ll see if I
can present valid and valuable ideas on virtual paper once again.
was especially wonderful to gather again with dear friends and fellow
travelers. The web of loving souls in which I am tangled supported me
spectacularly as I dangled over the void. My Gurukula family is the central
fact of my life, and this became even more apparent through the invisible realm
I call the hypothesphere. Aum, and thank you all.
opened the class with the key idea of this sutra: that truth is not attained
via struggle with falsehood. Combat is not necessary. When truth is arrived at,
falsehood naturally finds no place to lodge.
classic analogy that expresses this nicely is the cave that always remains
dark. Wrestling with the darkness doesn’t do anything at all to improve the
situation. But once a torch is brought in, ten thousand years of darkness are
dispersed in an instant.
notion of the Absolute is equated with truth, as well as beauty, goodness,
bliss and so on. This gives us a symbol of truth to both measure ourselves
against and to strive toward. Harmonizing with the Absolute means attuning with
truth. While discriminating truth from falsehood is tricky, we can know it in
our bones, as the class explored. Mostly we come to know it negatively. As
Nitya points out, our false identities cause torment. Torment and misery can be
said to be the markers of falsehood, and likewise bliss or peace to be the
markers of truth. Of course, much of our misery is false, and a good measure of
our bliss is also. Slapping a label on something does nothing. We have to
really know what we’re talking about.
calls to mind a story Nitya relates at the end of In the Stream of Consciousness:
I was accompanying Nataraja Guru on the train from Delhi to Amritsar. Among our
fellow passengers were two gentlemen who were workers of the Indian Communist
Party in the Punjab area. Seeing our saffron robes and our beards they took us
for religious people, and wanted to discuss some of the fundamentals affecting
older one asked the guru, “Sir, do you believe in God?”
Guru replied, “I cannot answer that question unless you tell me what you
understand by the term ‘God’. The existence or nonexistence of God is to be
determined by its definition.”
elderly gentleman pursued his point, “And what is Guruji’s definition of God?”
Guru gave him a slight smile and a look and answered, “That which is right when
you are wrong is God.”
can see the Guru slyly chastising the inflated ego of his questioner while
presenting him with a perfect definition. Brilliant!
kindly reminded us that just as there is nothing that is not the Absolute, so
there is really no such thing as falsehood. There are only ways that we think
and behave, none perfect and none somehow “ungodly”. This is certainly true,
and yet it indicates the subtle distinction (which may not even be any
distinction at all) between Advaita Vedanta and Yoga. Yoga, at least
Patanjali’s Yoga, calls for working on yourself to achieve a higher
consciousness, or what have you. Call it an intention of turning to truth. Advaita
asks us to drop our dualistic thinking to know we are already perfect. Perhaps
it’s a little less active.
my recent experience, torment is an accurate term for the experience that
accompanies false identifications. The separation from all that I know and love
in this world was unbearably ghastly and painful. My experience parallels Carl
Jung Vision, in Memories, Dreams,
Reflections, at least the early part. Probably because of the brain
dysfunction, I never achieved his later state of equipoise, only the initial
painful part. Jung’s tale is one of the most gripping constructions of words I
have ever encountered. Here’s a snippet to tide you over while you unearth your
copy of the whole story:
I had the feeling that
everything was being sloughed away; everything I aimed at or wished for or
thought, the whole phantasmagoria of earthly existence, fell away or was
stripped from me—an extremely painful process. Nevertheless something remained;
it was as if I now carried along with me everything I had ever experienced or
done, everything that had happened around me. I might also say: it was with me,
and I was it. I consisted of all that, so to speak. I consisted of my own
history, and I felt with great certainty: this is what I am. “I am this bundle
of what has been, and what has been accomplished.”
experience gave me a feeling of extreme poverty, but at the same time of great
fullness. There was no longer anything I wanted or desired. I existed in an
objective form; I was what I had been and lived. At first the sense of
annihilation predominated, of having been stripped or pillaged; but suddenly
that became of no consequence. Everything seemed to be past; what remained was
a fait accompli, without any reference back to what had been. There was no
longer any regret that something had dropped away or been taken away. On the
contrary: I had everything that I was, and that was everything.
else engaged my attention: as I approached the temple I had the certainty that
I was about to enter an illuminated room and would meet there all those people
to whom I belong in reality. There I would at last understand—this too was a
certainty—what historical nexus I or my life fitted into. I would know what had
been before me, why I had come into being, and where my life was flowing.
I discovered that our identification with what we love is far more painful to
relinquish than what we reject as “wrong”. We willingly give up falsehood, but
resist with every atom of our being abandoning what we cherish and what makes
our life meaningful and rich. That means that these are also false
identifications in the absolute sense. This, to many of us, is the breaking
point of the entire game. We are not willing to take this final step until it
is forced on us. As a teacher I shouldn’t feel that way, maybe, but I do. I
dearly love my best-crafted false identities.
spoke thoughtfully about this issue. We are not called upon to turn away from
our lives, but only to detach from defining ourselves through them. It’s a
razor’s edge to walk, for sure. We must not become unloving and uncaring and
withdraw into nothingness; we must give our all. We want to give our all. At
the same time we know we are more than any situation or predicament we find
ourselves in. Our identity should be with the Absolute. It’s easier if we truly
come to know that everyone and everything is indeed the Absolute in disguise.
of which, Nitya continues his brilliant analogy with the theater in his
commentary. I might as well reprint it here. He describes the steps the
disciplined yogi takes to achieve the final goal of unseeded samadhi. Then:
can be followed by a question as to whether the perfected yogi becomes
incapable of functioning as a person. To this the answer is “no.” It is like an
actor who can accept the role of a king, a judge, a police officer, or a thief
with full consciousness and deliberation. Then, when the play is finished, he
can walk out of the theater without carrying with him the state of mind in
which he was for a short while. The man who acted as king knows he has no
regality when the play is over. The person who pronounced judgment knows he has
no power or authority to judge anyone. The policeman need not be rigid or
unfriendly to the man who acted as a thief. The actor who played the role of a
thief does not carry with him any sense of guilt.
yogi who has realized the Self looks upon the transactions of the world only as
the role-playing that is assigned in the drama of life, without any false
identity that can cause torment later.
sure: easier said than done. But you have to admit it is an excellent way of
looking at it. An actor is the Absolute in disguise, and that’s what we are.
the key teaching of this sutra is that we are not to define ourselves merely by
our outer activity, but to reside in our true nature as the Absolute and know
we are That. Jyothi spoke about how the infant is already a yogi, but the
society insists that it pursue all sorts of studies to become something else.
Usually the program is foreign to its true nature, its svadharma. As we grow up
we become increasingly dissociated from who we are. We struggle to force
ourselves to conform to the demands of the life we are thrust into, and suffer
to a greater or lesser extent because of it.
societal demands define our roles as actors. As Jan said, it is important to
work on our roles so that we become very good at them. And they aren’t always
exactly what we would choose. She’s right. Our ignorance is truly vast, and by
the time we need to decide how to live we have little or no idea of who we
really are. We find out gradually as we work with the material that falls into
our hands. Attaining our svadharma is therefore like attaining the Absolute. It
is something to work toward, but rarely if ever fully accomplished. Again,
there is the dance of playing your role well and also of leaping out of your
familiar ruts to embrace the sky.
told us that at a party she was asked the time-honored question, “What do you
do?” She couldn’t answer. Finally she said “nothing.” Bill told us this was
also how the Dalai Lama answered the question. The Gita agrees: “Relinquishing
the benefit of works, ever happy and independent, though such a man be engaged
in work, (in principle) he does nothing at all.” (IV, 20). Later it advises us
to think of everything we do with the mantra “I do nothing at all.”
consider asking a child what they want to be when they grow up a form of abuse.
The class probed some alternatives for all ages, like “What do you most like to
do?” “What’s you’re philosophy of life?” “What was the best thing that happened
to you this week?” Questions like that are similar, but instead of imposing a
burden they invite the person to reveal what they might wish to of their inner
interests. That’s a substantial difference.
brought us back to her opening point as being perfectly relevant here. Instead
of defining ourselves through what we do, we should trust that we are much more
vast than any specific role or talent. As we let go of the obsession to prove
ourselves to others by pretending to be somebody and doing certain things, we
can just be ourselves, and this is truly infinite. We can make it easier for
each other by ceasing to require it, and also to demonstrate it. Scotty talked
about how when you have found your svadharma, people are attracted to you,
because they secretly want to be freed of their burdens in the way you are
I was met at the computer this morning by a poem sent by Dipika that
beautifully expresses part of the meaning of this sutra. It makes a perfect
close to the notes. It’s by E.E. Cummings:
your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which
grows higher than the soul
can hope or mind can
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
being restrained, by the restraint of that also comes seedless absorption.
sweet gathering of dedicated souls paid tribute to the grand finale of the
First Pada of the Yoga Shastra. Fueled by Deb’s production of the World’s
Finest carrot cake, from Martha Lain’s grandmother’s perfect recipe, a lively
and well-rounded discussion gave shape to the impossibly shapeless and possibly
nonexistent state of nirbija samadhi, seedless absorption.
opened the class with her recall of the reclining Buddha of Polonnaruwa, one of
the world’s most magnificent sculptures, depicting the moment of easing into
the samadhi of death. It wears the most beatific smile, symbolizing that death
is nothing to be feared, and perhaps even welcomed.
led us to the gist of this sutra, and the meaning of the whole study. Is the
cessation of mental modifications the goal, or merely the inevitable end? Since
most of the yoga program may be described as learning how to make the candle of
our psyche burn ever brighter, why would the ultimate achievement be its
snuffing out? All of us are in favor of stripping off the burdens and blindness
we have inherited to become freer and happier, but what’s all this about
quitting the game entirely? Are we reading Patanjali wrong, or is there some
upside implied in this that we haven’t yet understood? The way it’s presented
made me think of a passage from Nitya’s Love
and Blessings (p. 157):
travels I went to see Siddharudha Swami in Hassan. The Swami’s ashram was a
traditional old institution where many ochre robed swamis were living. Many
were coming as well to pay homage to him. Nobody knew the swami’s age, maybe
100, maybe 200, or even 300. It varied according to the informant’s
credibility. He looked for all the world like a living corpse.
o’clock in the morning, ten disciples ceremonially came to him, prostrated at
his feet, and pulled him out of bed for a hot water wash. Before the bath his
body was smeared with turmeric paste, and afterwards he was painted with sandal
paste and clothed with a T-string, a dhoti, a shirt and a turban. Then he was
decorated with a rudraksha garland
and several flower garlands. In the main hall of the ashram he was seated on a
throne-like chair, where he sat cross-legged in padmasana. Then there was a ceremonial feeding. He did not open his
eyes or mouth, but some milk was smeared on his lips and wiped off. I was told
the swami had not taken any food or drink for twelve years.
ritual had been going on every day for a very long time. He did not pass urine
or stools. I was also told he did not perspire. There was no evidence he was
breathing. If he was dead, why wasn’t he decomposing? It was all a mystery. If
I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed the possibility of
anyone living without food, drink or breath.
Swami’s face looked like a corpse, it gave me an eerie feeling to sit and watch
him all day. The swamis there were very hospitable, and there was nothing
lacking for a visit of any length of time, but I only stayed for three days.
don’t know about you, but nobody’s going to worship me if I slid into a state
like that. They’d just toss me on the fire, or worse, into a casket. I suppose
I’d make a good Halloween decoration to scare the neighborhood kids.
of us has much first-hand experience with the cessation of mental modifications,
so we spent the time speculating about what it might mean to folks like us.
This led us to discuss at length the release from suffering, the widely touted
benefit of yogic and other attainments.
only way to totally avoid suffering is to find our way out of life, in other
words to die, so most of us agreed coping with it was the price you have to pay
to hang around. Entering nirvana, attaining nirbija
samadhi with its congruent cessation of mental modifications, and dying,
are different aspects of the same ultimate detachment from suffering. The “rub”
with all of them is you have to give up pleasure too, which includes all the
delights of this world of transient manifestation, including bonding with
friends and family members. So most of us are willing to hold off until we no
longer have a choice in the matter. In fact, having a choice would be just one
more set of mental modifications. Choice has got to go too.
made an especially big deal about suffering, because he led a sheltered life
and only discovered how miserable most people were with sickness and all the
rest after he escaped from his cloistered palace. We in the modern world are in
the same boat, living relatively pain free lives and only discovering how nasty
suffering can be when it rains down upon us individually. We have been blessed
to have big blocks of time without an endless series of tragedies. Science, with
its many medical and nutritional breakthroughs, can thus be seen as the primary
spiritual fountain source of the human race. Laying a sewage system, for
instance, which only became a widespread goal of civilization in the last 150
years, thanks to the advent of germ theory, can be seen as a prime remover of
suffering in the form of disease. Thus many very material activities are highly
spiritual. Spirituality is not just about the pie in the sky.
Anita pointed out, suffering sometimes turns us into philosophers, and may also
teach us to seek transcendence. Thus it is a (well-disguised) blessing in many
cases. At the same time, intense suffering usually blocks the ability to
entertain any philosophy or pretend to any spirituality, beyond perhaps the
ability to endure. Just as food must come before philosophy, good health is
also a requisite. It may be spiritually ideal to have a chaotic mix of
happiness and suffering, and not simply fulltime happiness.
greater part of our studies in the Gurukula is aimed at releasing ourselves
from bondage and its concomitant suffering. Since most of us are not doctors or
researchers, this means addressing mental and philosophical suffering, as Bill insisted.
This has a parallel value with the medical sleuths and caretakers, who deal
primarily with bodily ills and their causes. The widely held belief is that
when suffering is annulled, the native state of the human being is extremely
blissful. Bliss is not an attainment; it is our "default setting."
Therefore we should spend our time in annulling suffering, to leave room for
bliss. This seems logical, but is it?
ran out of time before I could relate how my recent adventures with brain
inflammation were like a protolinguistic journey through the fifty-first sutra.
Our “normal” state consists of a happy merger of spirit and nature, purusha and
prakriti. As my brain started to fall apart from the pressure of an abscess,
these poles were pried apart. Or perhaps they naturally separated. I became a
transparent witnessing spirit or consciousness looking across a gulf of
nothingness to a complex and yet dead field of quasi-material images.
Hallucinations if you will, vivid but strangely lifeless. If it had been my
time to go, possibly I would have withdrawn into pure consciousness, but I desperately
wanted to reintegrate with the field and get back to my friends and family. My
helplessness was very frustrating, but the determination was there, even in the
face of extreme suffering.
seemed clear to me then and now is that the in between state was where the pain
was most intense. Returning to life with the confluence of consciousness and
world, purusha and prakriti, was most desirable. Escape into pure purusha has
been recommended by rishis and saints forever, but was nonetheless uncertain. The
state in between these two poles was ghastly beyond belief: neither alive or
dead, lost in an artificial universe invisible to everyone else. Like Nitya’s
struck me that what I was helplessly moving toward experiencing is what
detachment really is: becoming utterly indifferent to the moiling and roiling
of prakriti. Since I was under duress, I was unable to explore where this might
lead. And I didn’t want to go there yet anyway; I wanted to get back to what I
knew, even as I saw it was made out of absolutely nothing at all. I was quite
aware of the vaporous nature of everything created. Yet I was filled with
wonder that all this could be constructed out of nothing: the original miracle
at least I—have to continue to wonder in ignorance about pure consciousness,
and whether it persists beyond death. We have the purported words of others who
have gone before, but it’s hard not to consider these speculative. Brilliantly
speculative perhaps, but ultimately unconfirmable. This is truly Unknown Territory.
Some people can accept such testimony, but not I.
have to admit to being a wimp when the chips are down. I suppose this is why
celibacy and aloneness are advised, because it’s much easier to let go of what
you don’t love. Because I’m deeply in love with the totality of existence and
all its spectacular individual manifestations, I put all my energy into
fighting back into life. With a lot of help and good fortune I made it, this
time. But the guys who make history are the ones who go the other way. At
least, their stories are told by their admirers, unless they decide to reemploy
mental modifications. The ones we know and love are the ones who “come back,”
the Narayana Gurus, Ammajis, Muhammads, even Ramana Maharshis. Jesus didn’t
come back—he promised to, but the event is still pending—but his story as we
know it is almost entirely a fiction invented by his followers.
had the best-known enlightenment of all time, but he too came back to teach.
After speaking many words of wisdom and surcease of suffering, he died with a
blissful smile on his face. Reclining Buddha statues around the globe remind us
of this, and entice us to discover the meaning of life that he knew. We want
very much to share this with our dear ones, but there is no guarantee that this
can happen. As Nitya says here:
The state of nirvana
as described in Vedanta corresponds to what Patanjali calls the state of kaivalya. The
word kaivalya is derived from
kevalam, which means “aloneness.”
Individuation comes because of the proximity of purusha to prakriti. In that
state purusha is not alone. But the aspiring yogi disciplines himself or
herself and withdraws from the impressions laid by perception.
I was relating above about my near death experience is identical to “the
proximity of purusha to prakriti.” In life, spirit and matter are happily
married. In death they separate and drift apart. It seems to me that the
purpose of the universe is to provide purusha with a prakriti to play in, and
so to withdraw from the play—the lila—is
the opposite of what we should be doing. We should integrate the two poles and
delight in what blossoms forth. Sure, eventually it will all turn to nothingness,
and we will once again be lone spirits floating through the void. That may well
be our true home. But trust me, it will take a lot of suffering before it
becomes an attractive proposition. This world is still the berry in the palm of
class agreed that the Yoga Sastra has a great value short of our ultimate
annihilation. Every bit of it is enlightening and instructive. It’s not that it
all leads up to the last sutra like grades to Parnassus. Learning to live well at
every step is also important. Most of us are quite happy to retain our mental
modifications, spending our time improving and refining them over the chaotic
ones we were previously presented by happenstance. Where and how far to take
this instruction is up to each individual.
have now covered the whole rainbow of Patanjali’s teaching. The next Pada—section
or chapter—will offer more detailed work on many aspects of mind that can bring
us a lot of freedom and healthy guidance. Before we begin, I welcome your
comments on the first Pada and the way we’ve interpreted it, and especially on
this crucial question of withdrawal vs. engagement with the endless series of
miracles that we call life. Aum.
ideas from the book Monsters and Magical
Sticks, There’s no such thing as hypnosis? by Steven Heller & Terry
Steele, Ph.Ds, were also part of the class. There are some revelations in it
about removing obstacles that even Patanjali would admire. I promised to
include my review for those interested, and here it is:
Vedanta, psych can be deadly dull or it can be relevant and exciting. This one
is a thrill a minute. I read a lot of psychology, and this is one of my
the middle of my time with it, I had a temporary loss of brain function. When I
emerged I was very touchy about reading anything with any darkness in it. You’d
be surprised how close to 100% of books contain a significant measure of
fear-inducing material to a tender mind. Despite dealing with my psychological
struggles, this book was a joy from start to finish. The good doctor radiates a
very bright light, and I will probably read it again very soon to catch what my
stuporous brain missed.
the very tight foreword by Joyce C. Mills & Richard J. Crowley, sums the
book up better than I could. This is the lion’s share of it:
Heller, together with the help of his dear friend and colleague Terry Steele,
has provided readers with a dynamic and brilliant entrance into a magical world
within each of us—a world where it is believed our true abilities, inner
learnings, and healing resources reside. Through the use of humor, metaphor,
and enlightening case examples, Heller takes us far beyond the conscious world
of what we “think” and “perceive” reality to be, and stretches our minds into
the dimension known as the unconscious.
His original, and often provocative, theories and approaches help shed new
light on the classic question confronting many of us: “Why can’t I overcome my
problem when I’m so competent in other areas of my life? Why am I continually
stuck in this area?”
views take us into a powerful
realm within the unconscious mind that not only perpetuates the problems, but
also contains solutions. It is here that Heller offers the field of
psychotherapy a major contribution: his conceptualization of the
“unconscious/out-of-conscious” sensory system finally provides clinicians with
a tangible and precise means of working with the elusive and problematic
aspects of unconscious functioning. By creatively evoking, assessing, and
utilizing the language of our sensory systems, Heller is able to identify the
out-of-conscious sensory system that is generating the system, pain, or
unwanted behavior. He then shows us how he playfully and hypnotically helps
clients enter into their own out-of-conscious sensory systems to bring back
into conscious awareness the innate resources of this pivotal area.
process facilitates the clients’ discoveries of choices in their lives, and
activates their abilities to break unwanted patterns of feeling and behavior.
What was once creating the problem—out-of-conscious sensory system—now becomes
an ally and a resource for generating growth, not only within the previous
problem area, but into other areas of life as well.
ever a book makes you want to jump for joy, this is it. Not only do you feel
like you are in the presence of genius, but it is a genius that comes in a
lighthearted and healing form.
worked with a few people on their problems, not to mention my own, I was almost
jealous, and at least seriously humbled with admiration for Heller’s
cleverness. He does admit that he selected some of his best successes, and he
had plenty of failures in his career too. But I couldn’t help but feel how
plodding, boring and dull my approach is compared to his. I’m a true Taurus,
the ultimate bovine. I can have an explanation that makes a lot of sense, and I
try to baldly convince my friend of its validity. It may be quite logical and
convincing, but it often doesn’t work in precisely the areas it’s most needed.
We may both agree that it’s the right rationalization or framework, but any
meaningful change is slow or nonexistent. I have had a tough time figuring out
why we can’t simply decide to fix ourselves and then do it and get it over
with. Cow man very slow to catch on!
Mills and Crowley point out, our problem areas are particularly resistant to
conscious intervention. We can be very convinced of a right pathway, but we
find ourselves deviating from it against all our willpower, even with outside
help. Heller in his practice could help people cure themselves in no time, and
with hardly any effort. Call it what you want, he was freeing the person’s own
psyche to do the work it already wanted to do, and even already knew how to do,
but was being blocked by a type of hypnotic suggestion.
our Vedanta studies we have talked a lot about how conditioning by authority
figures in early childhood curtails our free expression and the development of
our full potential. Heller saw conditionings as essentially identical to
post-hypnotic suggestions. He also found a unique method to speak the
personalized language of the psyche so he could cancel the debilitating
suggestion. And in many cases it worked. When you read about his successes in
releasing a troubled soul from bondage, you have to be a pretty cold character
to not want to jump up and down for joy.
Heller was still alive I’d be heading for his next seminar. Sadly he isn’t.
of which, once a certain university professor invited Heller to address his
class. The previous session he had lectured on the utter invalidity of
hypnosis. Heller agrees it’s invalid—ordinary concept of what hypnosis is are
false and misleading. Anyway, instead of being insulted by the ploy, Heller
addressed the class, but as he was doing so he thoroughly hypnotized the
professor without him even realizing it. It’s one of the funniest tales I’ve
ever read. When the prof finally realized what had happened, he became an
ardent enthusiast and regular attendee at Heller’s seminars.
title story is perfect example of how Heller’s system works. At around 3 or 4
years old, Heller’s son became convinced that the football and baseball on the
floor of his bedroom turned into monsters at night and were trying to attack
him. Heller and his wife tried all sorts of ways to convince him not to worry,
but in vain. “Logical, factual, linear, left-hemispheric explanations
accomplished the sum total of nothing. We then decided to become illogical
(some might call it creative) to solve the problem.” Out of everyday materials
they crafted a beautiful magic stick. They told their son they had been to a
special magic doctor, who had made a magic stick that would keep the monster
balls away. He had also given them some magic words to use when pointing the
stick at the monsters.
night he performed the prescribed ritual with his parents, and slept peacefully
through the night. The next night he did the ritual all by himself. One or two
nights more and he put the stick in a corner and stopped using it. After two
weeks he gave them back the stick and told them he no longer needed it. Heller
concludes, “The moral of this story is: Since his unconscious processes, based
on his belief systems, created his inner reality of monster balls, it took his
unconscious processes to create an inner reality that believed in a cure more
powerful than the monster balls to solve the problem…. Within a matter of a few
days, he not only learned how to
solve the problem… he had solved it.”
if you never intend to do any psychological investigations, this is a very
amusing and stimulating book. It’s written for therapists to work with their
clients, so one unfortunate absence is how it might apply to work on yourself.
I’ll be pondering this to see if it might work. Even so, enlightening insights
are helpful in ways you can’t always anticipate.
book has had its fifth printing from New Falcon Publications in 2009, so it
should be relatively easily to find, unless you live outside the US. The
excellent Introduction by Robert Anton Wilson is up online somewhere, and I
have copied it, so if you’d like me to send that to you I will. Just keep in
mind: there’s no such thing as hypnosis.
When purusha becomes entangled in
prakriti, it’s called karma.
IV – responses
my reply, which is mostly cadged from a conversation last night with Charles.
We talked about 3-dimensional perspective in Western art—how the vanishing
point does not exist in reality, but has to be there for ultimate reference,
because it makes the rest of what is painted cohere into a comprehensible
structure. The final seedless samadhi is like that: it is our (transactional)
vanishing point, unseen, not in the visible picture, unattainable even, but
it's hypothetical assumption makes everything else cohere and relate. I think
that is a fabulous way of looking at it and very perceptive. Thank you,
me it is like Narayana Guru's Darsana Mala: the whole field of consciousness is
shown and given a relation: from the first projection or manifestation to very
last extinguishing of that manifestation.... This is what the 51st pada is
showing us: the final point or "step" in a long continuum. It is the
same outlook as the Tibetan Book of the Dead: when you know how to die, then
you know how to fully live.
googled Siddarudha Swami. At this link:
says he died in 1929. Guru Nitya was five years old at the time. So
years later when he was traveling around India, he must have seen his undecayed
corpse as he so appeared.
have been giving some thought to the question you have been posing in your
notes; to withdraw from life or to engage with it. From my own
experience, when I withdraw into my Core I experience the peaceful, blessed,
deathless state of Pure Existence, Consciousness, Bliss. When I come out of
that withdrawal from my mind and senses, I experience the world which, as you
know, is formulated and perceived magically and masterfully by our mind and
senses. When I engage in the world of my mind and senses I am still
interacting with existence, consciousness, and bliss in the particular forms
and ways that That Almighy manifests, made possible by the self-founded,
substantiating light and energy of the Self. If I meditate on the essential
Reality of the universal Sameness as my own Self and the Self of the world, my
understanding gets corrected and becomes unitive. My ethics and actions tend to
harmonize with that Self-understanding as long as I abide in my peaceful nature.
My recent long spell of profound suffering, disbelief, and difficulty at
having to let go of a deep attachment to some particularly intimate friends is
a testament to what happens when I lose sight of these fundamentals. I
forget my Self. I have tears, heart pains, and pathetic poetry to attest to my
experience. I definitely saw and see my Self in them, but my yearning and
efforts to hold on to them when the earth shook us free so-to-speak was coming
from my ego's grasping.
think the natural way to go is to oscillate between self-referring to our
Ground, then to relate with the world in whatever way we want or need to,
keeping alive the Knowledge of its non-dual, Self Nature. Then no fear, good
fortune, and a neutral, balanced attitude to deal patiently with life's
contraries and changes.
picked up Nataraja Guru's commentary of the Bhagavad Gita last night before
going to sleep. He makes the same point on p. 304. What matters is one's
remaining affiliated with the Absolute. Then we can do whatever we want. Withdraw
drastically or gradually into the numinous, or wear the guise of an ordinary
person and keep on trucking, serving humanity with one's might and sense of
humor; enjoying the ride and the fireworks show as the numinous Itself.
VI, verses 31-32
That yogi who honours Me as abiding in all beings, established in unity,
remaining as he may, in every (possible) way, he abides in Me.
expression sarvatha vartamanah api
(remaining as he may in every possible way) is meant to indicate that this
teaching does not demand from the yogi any particular pattern of behaviour
known to the spiritual world. He is free to conduct himself, behave, or appear
as he likes. The one determinative here is that he remain affiliated to
(established in unity) lifts the subject of yoga from a form of discipline to
the level of philosophical and unitive understanding, though not merely intellectual,
because of the qualifying expression sarvabhutasthitam ( as abiding in all
beings). The philosopher must have established a living unity with all
By establishing an analogy with the Self, he who sees equality
everywhere, O Arjuna, whether (in) pleasant or painful situations), he is
considered a perfect yogi.
notion of equality between men as extended beyond human life to all beings is
the basis of ahimsa (non-injury) and
is derived from the unity of the Self as understood in verse 29. All are
brothers in the Self and unitive understanding can include the whole of
existence. There is also a unitive equality which refers to oneself,
which is a balanced neutrality between happiness and sorrow.
the yogi, we have to understand two sets of adjustments; first his unitive
adjustment with all beings, and secondly those with the great variety of situations
alternating between happiness and sorrow. The former is "horizontal" and the latter
"vertical." Where both refer to the same yogi, he can be
described as parama (highest) (page
key motivator in most human beings is the avoidance of pain and knowing and
living the happiness of our Being. We do the former by doing the latter. How? By
withdrawing the mind from the external, specific aspects of our consciousness
to taste and gain insight into our pure, blissful, internal, eternal Core that
fills both inside and out. "The practice of yoga consists of this merging
of the mind through withdrawal, in the Self" (page 301). Nataraja
Guru further addresses the ultimate and absolute nature of the Happiness that
one attains through "withdrawal" on page 301 and 302, Chapter VI,
love. AUM Peter
recommended this, from the end of That Alone, verse 6, as helpful to our
the Gita, the two constituent factors of our lives are the triple modalities of
nature, prakrti, and the
consciousness that is characteristic of the spirit, purusa. Nature is seen as being responsible for the aggregate of
cause and effect, and the consciousness of the spirit as being responsible for
the search for happiness. As the spirit is imprisoned in the body, which is
dominated by nature, the search for happiness is vitiated by the distorting and
veiling principles of rajas and tamas.
Even sattva has a tendency to create a sense of attachment to anything
the diagnosis and treatment of these defects, yogis and Vedantins hold
different views. In Patanjali's Yoga
Aphorisms, Chapter 2, Sutra 17 says: "the cause of that which is to be
avoided is the union of the Seer and the Seen." The Gita does not
recommend withdrawal or turning away from the world that is seen, but the
cultivation of a transparency of vision by which one sees the Absolute alone as
the one reality residing in all. Perceiving the Self alone in everything is
given as the ideal in the sixth and seventh mantras of the Isa Upanishad:
he who on all beings
as just (eva) in the Self (Atman),
on the Self as in all beings--
does not shrink away from Him.
whom all beings
become just (eva) the Self of the
what delusion (moha), what sorrow (soka)
him who perceives the unity!
Narayana Guru's Yoga Darsana, he
combines the positions of the Vedantins and the yogis when he says:
which always unites the mind
the reasoning Self, and also gets united with it,
which is in the form of restraint,
is praised as Yoga.
the seer, the sight and the seen
not present, there the heart
be joined, as long as incipient memory-factors
is Yoga (says) the knower of Yoga.
the nature of consciousness is to seek liberation, the instrument at its
disposal defeats that purpose. The serial order in which experience comes is:
awareness, activity, and a consolidation of the total effect as a conditioning.
Such conditioning inevitably leads to a future recurrence of the same
experience, which will be dominated by a reaction of flight or combat if the
accompanying emotion is painful, or attraction if the accompanying emotion is
pleasure-giving. Identification of consciousness with the modalities causes
forgetfulness of one's true nature. This is what the Guru laments in the