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Yoga Sutras I: 41-51


Sutra I:41

  In 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.


         I 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.

         This 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 of life.

         The 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.

         While 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 easily upset.

         This 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.

         As 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?

         One 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.

         The 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 full-fledged participant.

         The 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.

         We 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 from.

         Our 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.

         Not 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.

         Scotty’s 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.

         I 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 embarrassment.

         We 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.

         The 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.

         Anita 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.

         Nancy 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 her.

         Bill, 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.

         Strangely, 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)

         Nitya 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.

         One 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 balanced.

         I 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 opinion.

         A 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.

         Nitya 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.


         We 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:


         The 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.

         I 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 someone did.

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.

         Then 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 you.”

         I 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)


Part II

         Hard 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.

         Not 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..

         By 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.

         Jesus 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.

         Strangely, 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.

         The 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.



Sutra I:42

In the stabilization of consciousness in an object of perception, word, meaning, and idea are commingled in confused cognition.


         Sutra 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.

         I 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!

         Anyway, 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.

         We 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.

         Those 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.

         Then 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.

         All 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.

         We 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.


         She 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 your delectation:


as 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.

         Despite 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 breakthrough.

         Reminiscent 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.

         Last 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 here.

         Parents 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.

         A 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.

         And 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.



Sutra I:43

In unobstructed consciousness, the memory is purified, as if devoid of its own form, and the object alone is illuminated.


         Once 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.

         The 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 memories themselves.

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.

         Nitya 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 crossing over.


The 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.

         The 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.

         It 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.

         Any 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.

         As 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 our lives.

         The 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.

         Yogis 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.

         Another 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 crossing over!



Sutra I:44

By this, savicara and nirvicara (consciousness with and without conceptual configuration), having the subtle for their objects, are also explained.


         What 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.

         Most 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 consciousness.

         Where 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.

         Concepts 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.

         Richard 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.

         Scotty 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 and calmness.

         Nitya’s 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.

         One 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.

         Once 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.

         Bill 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.

         One 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 wind.

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.



         Wishing 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 hypothesphere.

         My 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.

         At 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.



Sutra I:45

And the province of subtle concepts extends up to the noumenal.


         A 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.

         What 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.

         Anita 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.

         Identification 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.

         Materialists 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.

         The painting stands for consciousness. Consciousness unites all into one.

         As 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.

         The 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 their toe.

         This 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.

         This 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.

         Deb read out a wonderful poem, used as an epigram by Jim Harrison in his (excellent!) new book of poems, In Search of Small Gods:


Walker, your footsteps

are the road, and nothing more.

Walker, there is no road,

the road is made by walking.

Walking you make the road,

and turning to look behind

you see the path you never

again will step upon.

Walker, there is no road,

only foam trails upon the sea.


Antonio Machado, Proverbs and Songs, #29


         After 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 Pillow:


Night Rain at Kuang-k’ou


The river is clear and calm;

         a fast rain falls in the gorge

At midnight the cold, splashing sound begins,

like thousands of pearls spilling onto a glass plate,

each drop penetrating the bone.


in my dream I scratch my head and get up to listen.

I listen and listen, until the dawn.

All my life I have heard rain,

         and I am an old man;

but now for the first time I understand

         the sound of spring rain

                  on the river at night.



Sutra I:46

These are only seeded absorption.


         Patanjali 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 absorption.

         The “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.

         According 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.

         Going 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.

         Nancy 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.

         The 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!

         An 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?

         Patanjali 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.

         The 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.

         Ultimately, 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.

         Adults 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.

         Susan 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.


Those 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: 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.

         A 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:


         Today 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.

         I 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.

         He 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.


It’s 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.

         The 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.

         The 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!



Sutra I:47

Upon the undisturbed flow of consciousness, clarity of the higher Self.


         As 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.

         One 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.

         Religious 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.

         Deb 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.

         Jesse 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.

         Your 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.

         A 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.

         I 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.

         Eugene 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, thankfully.

         I 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.

         Arjuna 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 refused.

         Deb 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 correct.

         Paul 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 child’s perspective.

         That 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 everything “is”.

         I 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.

         Scotty 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.

         The 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 nest.

         One 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.

         We 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. Sweet.


Part II – erratica

         I guess I referred to an earlier episode in Eugene’s experience, so he sent this correction and expansion:


I 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.





Part III

  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):


Thank 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

a 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.



Sutra I:48

Therein pure consciousness, pregnant with truth.


         One 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.

         In 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.


         The 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 judging faculties.

         Susan 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.

         Verse 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 dream states.

         Thus, 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, or suptam.

         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.

         Now 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.


The 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.

         An 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:


         Two 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.


         Everything 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.

         But 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.

         In our meditations or spiritual experiences, we should also make a search for the ontologic verity of the truth of what we experience.


         Anne 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.

         Our 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.

         Sometimes 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.

         Deb 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.



Sutra I:49

It is different from word-testimony and inference, as the meaning of specific objects arises from transparent consciousness.


         The “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.

         Because 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.


Now 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 elaborately.


  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?


Every 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!

         The 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.

         Cooing 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.

         Relinquishing 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.


         Moni 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.

         We 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.


Part II

         Before 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:


Dear Scott,


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.


Happy Wednesday,



         The 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 perfection.

         Paul 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.

         Like 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.

         It’s 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.


Part III


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.


Dear Scott,


I 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.


I 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).


Which 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.


Piano 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.


Thanks for getting the thoughts churning. Feels great. The quotes from Nitya are just amazing, by the way. Thank you for including them.





Part IV

         Due 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.

         A 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 any means.

         Like 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.

         Any 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.

         It 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.

         If nothing else, keeping the mind well fed is a way to avoid boredom, as Nitya once assured me.

         It 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 on it.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         So 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.


Part V

  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:

I 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,



I am giving my heart and soul to the Spirit writing Susan's email and I am touched.


Thank you






  And, from dear Ammu/Aumm, mother of two:

Lovely. 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 here:

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


Lastly, Susan just sent a letter from Nitya to Josie she found in L&B, as a great blessing:


"The 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 of life."


Love this. It's from the letter Nitya wrote to Josie on August 31, 1977, when he was comparing a relativist to an absolutist.




Sutra I:50

Registered and preserved impressions born from truthful consciousness prevent the registration and preservation of other impressions.


         It’s 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.

         It 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.

         Deb 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.

         One 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.

         The 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.

         This calls to mind a story Nitya relates at the end of In the Stream of Consciousness:


         Once 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 human life.

         The older one asked the guru, “Sir, do you believe in God?”

         Nataraja 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.”

         The elderly gentleman pursued his point, “And what is Guruji’s definition of God?”

         Nataraja Guru gave him a slight smile and a look and answered, “That which is right when you are wrong is God.”


You can see the Guru slyly chastising the inflated ego of his questioner while presenting him with a perfect definition. Brilliant!

         Nancy 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.

         From 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.”

         This 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.

         Something 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. (290-91)


         Paradoxically, 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.

         Deb 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.

         Speaking 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:


  This 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.

  A 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.


Well, 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.

         So 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.

         These 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.

         Susan 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 attachment for 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.”

         I 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.

         Deb 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 evidencing.

         Happily, 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:


i carry 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)

                i fear

                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


                here 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)





Sutra I:51

         All being restrained, by the restraint of that also comes seedless absorption.


         A 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.

         Deb 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.

         That 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):


In my 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.

At five 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.

This 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.

As the 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.


I 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.

         None 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.

         The 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.

         Buddha 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.

         As 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.

         The 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?


         We 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.

         What 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 corpse-yogi.

         It 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 of miracles.

         We—or 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.

         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.

         Buddha 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.


         What 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 our hand.

         The 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.


         We 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.


Part II

         Some 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:


         Like 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 all-time favorites.

         In 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.

         Happily, 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:


  Steve 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?”

   Heller’s 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.

  This 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.


         If 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.

         Having 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!

         As 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.

         In 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.

         If Heller was still alive I’d be heading for his next seminar. Sadly he isn’t.

         Speaking 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.

         The 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.

         That 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.”

         Even 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.

         The 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.


Part III

  When purusha becomes entangled in prakriti, it’s called karma.


Part IV – responses


from Deb:

         Here's 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, Charles.

         To 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.


from Peter M:

I googled Siddarudha Swami.  At this link:  

it 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.


I 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. 

         I 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.

         I 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.


Chapter VI, verses 31-32


(31) 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.


         The 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 the Absolute. 

         Ekatvam asthitah (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 beings. 


(32)  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.


         The 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.

         In 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 304-305).


         The 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, verse 27.

         Time for lunch.

         With love.  AUM  Peter


Part V

Susan recommended this, from the end of That Alone, verse 6, as helpful to our discussion:


      According to 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 pleasure-giving.

         In 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:


                  Now, he who on all beings

                  Looks as just (eva) in the Self (Atman),

                  And on the Self as in all beings--

                  He does not shrink away from Him.


                  In whom all beings

                  Have become just (eva) the Self of the discerner--

                  Then what delusion (moha), what sorrow (soka) is there

                  Of him who perceives the unity!


In Narayana Guru's Yoga Darsana, he combines the positions of the Vedantins and the yogis when he says:


                  That which always unites the mind

                  With the reasoning Self, and also gets united with it,

                  And which is in the form of restraint,

                  That is praised as Yoga.


                  Where the seer, the sight and the seen

                  Are not present, there the heart

                  Should be joined, as long as incipient memory-factors

                           (are present);

                  Such is Yoga (says) the knower of Yoga.


         Although 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 present verse.


Scott Teitsworth