Their modifications are to be removed by pure
to show us
how to overcome the afflictions that clog our lives with unnecessary hassles.
This is one of the most critical sutras in the entire oeuvre, and Nitya matches
it with a brilliant commentary. The class was inspired to particularly deep
contemplation and mutual reinforcement, which is a delectable method to
penetrate the mysteries and paradoxes of our afflictions: the unhealthy
entanglements we welcome, foster and may even defend to the death.
we have noted before, afflictions are a lot like clothing for the psyche. We
are born without them and enjoy that unfettered state briefly, but our
caregivers rush to bundle us in them. Before long we are uncomfortable without
them, and “wouldn’t feel right” in their absence. In fact, if we are caught
without them, like being naked in public, it feels like a real
emergency—ranging from mild anxiety to full blown panic—until they are back in
I have been perusing a new book on relieving chronic pain in the body, Pain Free, by Pete Egoscue. The thesis
is that structural “dysfunctions” and misalignments cause chronic pain, often
at remote locations that do not appear to be directly connected. By normalizing
(as Nataraja Guru would put it) the orientation of the musculoskeletal system,
the pain disappears rapidly and with minimal invasion. Egoscue opens his
Introduction by saying, “We are different in height, weight, and possibly
gender. But our common possession is the body’s inner power to heal itself and
to be pain free…. Being pain free takes personal effort and commitment….
Episodes of pain are aberrations that can be easily treated if the body is
permitted to do its work. Unfortunately, many of us don’t understand even the
most basic features of this magnificent ‘machine’.” He goes on to point out
that most medical interventions address the radiated effects rather than the
root cause, thereby offering temporary relief at best.
makes a quite similar claim for mental pain. We are drawn to the imposing
largeness of our disturbances and miseries, which are in fact the referred
effects of hidden causes, and we medicate those instead of going to the root
and realigning our understanding. It should come as no surprise that the
miseries persist, since their causes are not addressed, and that they will
often reappear as soon as the medication wears off. The rishis insist we should
stop looking outwardly for our salvation, and instead bring to bear intense
“personal effort and commitment” to relate to the Absolute principle within us.
this in his
assessment of diksha, or initiation.
We go to a teacher imagining that they will provide us with a cure, that they
will initiate us into a program that will raise us to the heights. But the
impetus must come from within us. Nitya says, “Actually, initiation is from the
side of the initiated rather than from the side of one who is initiating. The
person who is seen to be ritualistically giving an initiation is at best only a
witness. Absolute dedication has to come from the initiate.” It should be self
evident that it isn't the guru's job to motivate the disciple, but it’s not.
is an interesting word, whose root di
means either to soar or fly; or to shine, be bright, excel, and so forth. Time
and convention have modified this into a formalized discipleship initiation,
but the essential idea is that we are fully capable of shining forth and are
only prevented from doing so by our afflictions.
reversal of the normal conception of initiation is of such critical importance!
The major proportion of seekers are looking for someone to lead them, and they
are content to be willing followers. Most successful religions and cults play to
this affliction, making a virtue out of docility and subservience. Many people
come to our class wondering what they are expected to do, and they leave
baffled that doing and expectations are not in the mix. They will seek until
they find a suitable shepherd, and then if that scene becomes too threatening
to their comfort they will throw it away and move on again.
yogi, on the other hand, is expected to be their own shepherd. A guru waits
patiently for that rare one with the mettle to make their own way, humbly and
without egotism, only needing honest feedback to see what they cannot see for
your own deep interest is of critical importance, otherwise the whole spiritual
game becomes a snare and a delusion. Instead of an absolutist polarity based
around truth and wisdom, the poles are then based on appearances and
trivialities, with the teacher trying to meet the expectations of the seeker
and vice versa. Barring a wholesale brainwashing or forced dedication, such
relationships are bound to dissolve before long.
means that one important form of contemplation is to examine your motivations,
to really see why you are doing what you are doing. Almost everyone has some
high motivations mixed together with some erotic attractions and puerile
expectations. Moving toward the former and away from the latter is the
purificatory process Patanjali is urging us to practice, here and everywhere.
the robes the teacher wears signify their willingness to act as a guide, or are
we attracted to a certain look that we imagine is holy? Is it the philosophy or
the beautiful brown skin and the flowing beard that calls to us?
once confronted this issue by shaving his head and beard. Frankly, he looked
awful, and all those who were staying with him because of his good looks took
off, never to return. He found their fickleness vastly humorous, but then he
found a lot of our foibles so.
is conceived in the Gurukula as the active mental work involved in reducing our
ignorance, while contemplation is alignment with the Absolute, also called God,
the higher Self, and many other names. Chapter VI of the Gita examines this
distinction in depth. In my introduction to this chapter I quote Nitya, from page
368 of his commentary on Narayana Guru’s Darsanamala:
In our own times,
contemplation are used as synonyms: both the terms have lost their precise
connotation and have become vague in meaning. So it has become necessary to
revalue and restate the terms ‘meditation’ and ‘contemplation’. Sequentially,
meditation comes as a prelude to contemplation. The way to know something, as
Henri Bergson puts it, is not by going around it, but by first entering into it
and then being it. Meditation is an active process of applying one’s mind to
make a total ‘imploration’ of the depth of whatever is to be known. The state
of actually being it is what is achieved by contemplation. It is a passive but
offered a good analogy from “real life.” As he was driving out to the class, he
was busily mulling over a number of problems in his life that caused him
anxiety. Then, about 2/3 of the way here, he more or less automatically
switched from meditation to contemplation. He felt himself come into focus in
the present, which featured beautiful clouds and serenity of mind. It made him
wonder if beauty was the main ingredient of truth, and just what was truth,
anyway? His insights led to an interesting exchange about how we know truth.
experience of beauty can be eternal and substantial, or it can be a delusion
based on the laziness of an ego that prefers habit and creature comforts to
freedom. Ideas can also seem convincingly true even when they are not. This is
the arena where we need outside input, so we don’t fool ourselves into a kind
of spiritual miasma. This is one of the key paradoxes in the search for truth.
As Deb said, we have to give ourselves to it, let go of our guard. And yet,
surrender must be done correctly or it is more like giving up. Is it detachment
or simply tamas? It’s hard to know for certain, and our friends are there to
help us make the distinction.
poems are like friends, and Deb paraphrased two fine ones that bore on our
discussion, which I will append below in Part II.
or contemplation is a lot like being in love. We should be in love all the
time, and the afflictions that pull us out of that state should be addressed
and defanged. Not ignored or palliated with medication. Band-aid solutions mask
our love along with the pain. In her gentle but passionate way, Jan poignantly
affirmed how working along these lines has been an uplifting part of her recent
life. Often the effect is unconscious—in other words, she doesn’t try to change
her state of mind intentionally—but she finds that it naturally happens once in
awhile and makes her feel good. This isn’t purely by accident, because she has
thought deeply about yoga and contemplation, but reflects the natural way in
which happiness can infuse our life even when there are many external challenges.
This is a sweet triumph of an expansive heart, one that knows how to love.
as to not get us too bogged down in this fascinating subject I will add a bit
of my own take on contemplation in Part II. Also there you will find the Merwin
poem and the Keats excerpt referenced by Deb.
rights these excerpts should have been woven into the first part of the Notes,
but the account was so long already I thought we should append them afterwards.
It’s truly amazing how much terrain can be covered in a short time when keen
minds come together in an open and trusting environment. Much more has been
left out than has been added in, but there is no way around that limitation of
here are the poems Deb used to amplify her point that a relation with the
Absolute or initiation into yoga isn’t just about a stereotyped lifestyle that
could be labeled spiritual. Any activity that is of absorbing interest to us
qualifies. We talked a lot about the role of meditation in sorting out the gist
of a subject, while contemplation is the total immersion in it. My comments at
the end expand a bit on that idea.
What is a Garden
by W. S. Merwin
All day working happily down near the stream
light passing into the remote opalescence
it returns to as the year wakes toward winter
of rain in a year already rich
in rain with masked light emerging on all sides
new leaves of the palms quietly waving
time of mud and slipping and of overhearing
water under the sloped ground going on whispering
as it travels time of rain thundering at night
rocks rolling and echoing in the torrent
and of looking up after noon through the high
fine rain drifting across the sunlight
over the valley that was abused and at last
with thickets of rampant aliens
bringing habits but no stories under the mango
vast as clouds there I keep discovering
beneath the tangle the ancient shaping of water
the light of an hour comes back as to a secret
and there I planted young palms in places I
had not pondered
then I imagined their roots setting out in the dark
knowing without knowledge I kept trying to see
bend of the valley in the light that would come
And here's the beauty and truth quote, from
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
my own commentary on Chapter VI of the Gita, dealing with dhyana, or
depending on the results of action, he who does necessary action is a renouncer
and also a contemplative, not he who has (merely) given up the sacrificial
fire, or who (merely) abstains from ritualist (or other) action.
chapter begins by repeating the gist of what has been heretofore taught. The
golden mean of yoga is achieved by the one who takes care of the requirements
of life as they arise, but who is not pulled off center by expectations of
the Gita was written, rejection of Vedic ritualism and overthrow of caste
distinctions were in full flood. Brahmin-led ceremonies centering around the
fire sacrifice were abandoned by the new radicals. Krishna cautions those who
feel that simple rejection of the old is an accomplishment in itself, that it
is not enough. It is an excellent first step, but truly unconditioned action
can not be based solely on rejection of conditioning. Rejection removes the
fetters, but it still remains for the contemplative to dive deep or soar high.
which people call renunciation—know that to be yoga, O Arjuna; one who has not
given up his willful desires for particularized ends never indeed becomes a
at heart is the union of the individual with the universal. The way to bring
this about is for the individual to relinquish the sense of agency of action.
All the “elusively subtle” instruction of the past three and a half chapters is
meant to guide the seeker to thoroughly yet safely abandon the particularizing
beliefs “I am the doer, “I am the knower,” and “I am the enjoyer.” When this
happens in the correct way, the universal impetus is conjoined with the
individual person, bringing a flood of bliss and a harmonized direction to
finally found time to read the class notes from the last two sessions, and
wrote a helpful response which I’d like to share in part:
I’m finally reading the class notes from
three weeks ago
(Sutra II:10). This is amazing stuff and it seems quite relevant to where I am.
At first I thought the sutra meant something completely different when it
mentioned “regressive reemergence.” I thought it meant that we need to go back
in time and figure out the origins of our afflictions — kind of like talk
therapy. But then after reading your notes, I figured out what it meant and how
it related to Nitya’s commentary. It all became clear. The sutra is talking
about reemerging or more correctly re-merging with one’s true self as the key
to getting rid of afflictions: “flooding your interior with the true light of
your own nature.” This is so different from going back to the roots of
afflictions in order to get rid of them. It does seem that the more I stand on
my own two feet (recognizing more and more my own two feet), the more clearly I
recognize the afflictions for what they are. Sometimes they seem not to be
afflictions and maybe that is also a reason why we are comfortable with them. I
know so well the feeling of clinging to these and just giving lip service to
the transformation. It is hard to really dive in but wonderful and relieving
when I can. Growing older is an especially good way to have to confront some of
these things. Such a humbling process. Along with all the ways one’s body
doesn’t work as well, look as good, or feel as good, one is confronted with the
things that one has held onto for decades that should have been long ago
discarded — various feelings of resentment, pride, superiority, modesty,
outrage, etc. It’s quite a clearing out time, it seems. And I’m really wanting
to see it clearly. At the moment I feel in a cloud. I am excited about dealing
with my afflictions but it is also overwhelming. (very interesting definitions
sent by Nancy by the way — in the second part of the notes).
And as for the guru relationship that is mentioned
commentary, what exactly does that mean “absolute bipolarity” between the
master and disciple?
Now I’ve just read the notes (I and II)
from this week. So
much in all that! Wowie zowie. So much to ponder. The poems are heavenly and
your Gita notes too. It’s all very inspiring. Did you do the exercises? Very
interesting. Reminds me of the alternative school that Sut’s daughter attended
two years ago in Vancouver BC. She had to do a lot of repetitive drawing and
somehow it really altered her brain in a positive way. She went from being
terrible at math to first rate and improved in all of her other subjects too.
It was like a realignment somehow.
Nice to spend time thinking about all this!
reading/listening, as always,
And my response:
should definitely answer your question about the absolute bipolarity between
master and disciple. The words are Nitya's, in his comments on II:10, and they
are a key Gurukula concept. In II:11 he adds “The Sanskrit term diksha is very important because it
suggests absolute bipolarity and continuing attention being given wholeheartedly
to the persons, things, and events with which you are involved in the situation
of your search.” So the bipolarity isn’t only with the guru, it’s with
everything you meet. Instead of confronting the world from within a defensive
bastion, firing shots over the walls, so to speak, the disciple demolishes all
barriers to openness (afflictions) and meets life heart to heart. Because the
world contains many dangerous and even deadly elements, it is essential to work
with a trusted friend to develop that kind of openness in safety before
applying it on the greater stage. I suppose that’s the theory behind
monasteries too, so long as they don’t become an end in themselves.
is not well transmitted when the recipient filters it through their defense
mechanisms and extracts only what they already believe in. They should be open
to new input. Therefore there has to be the brave and often humiliating mindset
of standing psychologically naked before your guru, and accepting criticism
without indulging the natural urge to make excuses. Obviously trust has to be
well established before this is even a good idea, much less actually possible.
Not everyone can handle such a corrective role with the proper balance of
accuracy and gentleness.
written quite a bit about trust in various forms in my commentary on Gita IX, 1
You might reread it if you’re interested, but I’ll excerpt a little here:
IX begins with a key secret regarding the bipolarity that reveals the Absolute.
Krishna addresses Arjuna as one who does not mistrust him. In order to
assimilate the pure teaching of a master, all possible misunderstandings and
mistrust must be overcome. If there is the slightest doubt remaining, the
seeker’s ego will always divert their attention when the chips are down. Doubt
is a dual state of mind, and thus wholly inimical to unitive awareness.
trust is an exceedingly rare state of affairs. History is filled with the
tragedies of those who trusted where they should have doubted, and were
subsequently led to their doom by exploitive so-called gurus and political
leaders. It is more than a cliché that trust must be earned and not granted
gullibly. But for those few who have achieved that very unusual perfect bipolarity,
direct wisdom transmission is possible. Arjuna is now on the brink of receiving
an oceanic vision from Krishna requiring absolute attunement between them.
tales still need to be brought in, as the ancient rishis must have been as familiar
with the perils of surrendering one’s sovereignty to another as we are in the
present. Indeed, one of the most central themes of the Gita is Arjuna’s
realization of his loss of dharma through social pressures, and his struggle to
reclaim it. He trusted where he should have doubted, and got into serious
trouble, as his life became confining instead of liberating.
relationship of guru and disciple must weather many storms. The seeker is
treading the razor’s edge of questioning everything the guru says while
maintaining good faith. Having an underpinning of trust means that when the
teacher says something that hurts the disciple’s feelings, instead of thinking
the guru is cruel or stupid, you presume there is meaning in the apparent
madness. You accept the rebuke, then turn to yourself and examine how it
applies and why it hurt, with an eye to making necessary improvements. The
ordinary response is to guard the wound and defend it, and since it is the ego
that gets wounded, that is also what is defended. Then the teacher is rejected
as an assailant, and the learning process comes to an end. In Gurukula parlance
this is known as disadoption.
has already worked through the tricky business of establishing real trust with
a true guru by his pointed questioning throughout the first half of the Gita.
His legitimate doubts allayed, he is ready for what is to come. Little does he
know that he is going to be terrified to the depths of his soul when he gets a
peek at Krishna’s true nature. It will require every bit of trust he has in his
heart to stand firm and not run from the sight.
Thank you for asking an important question.
bipolarity is a Gurukula cliché that we usually read right past without
thinking. Respectfully, Scott
root causes of the afflictions in the reservoir of conditioned or processed
impressions of action are experienced in life in a visible or latent manner.
completed our survey of the afflictions, we begin to dig down to the next
level. In the last two sutras dealing with the afflictions, Patanjali has
directed us to a “regressive remergence” into their origins and their removal
by pure contemplation. Once this is fairly accomplished, we discover their root
cause in a region called the karmasaya,
the repository of samskaras. The karmasaya cradles the accumulation of all
actions, whether good, evil or indifferent. These provide the growth medium for
the afflictions that define who we are in the outside world of manifestation.
likens the course of our life, impelled as it is by the continuous supply of
samskaras from the karmasaya, to a river. Rivers have a certain momentum and a
well-defined channel. While they flow with great beauty, there isn’t any
freedom to choose where they’re going. They can only fulfill the requirements
of gravity, topography, volume and so on. The river flows past scene after
scene along its banks, noting each but never tarrying to become a part of them.
This classic metaphor of the ancients anticipates the modern scientific
understanding that consciousness resembles a piece of flotsam floating
helplessly on the surface of a sea of deep and invisible motivations. The idea
of free will has been almost totally discredited as a laughable delusion. What
we imagine to be free will is the pleasure we experience from making the
correct (and wholly predictable) selection that we have been previously
programmed to choose.
yogi doesn’t like to feel bound like this. Like the New Hampshire state motto,
“Live Free or Die,” they want to discover if free will is possible, and not
just take some half-baked neuroscientist’s word that it isn’t. Their hope for a
cure is to dive down into the realm of root causes, and even into the growth
medium nourishing those roots. Mental modulations are the expressive bubbling
of the upwelling urges as they burst on the surface. They cease (the goal of
this Yoga) when the yogi goes beneath the root and into the reservoir, and
possibly beyond the reservoir itself.
randomness is merely the flip side of bondage. Real freedom does not mean chaos
as opposed to cosmos. It doesn’t necessarily dispense with the general
topography arbitrarily. It is simply disaffiliation from the context of
suffering, the ability to sit unruffled and unmodulated in the midst of the
unfolding paradigm of your life.
the expression of mental modifications is beautiful and inspiring, but much of
it resembles the current Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, a raging plume of toxic
darkness. I just got off the phone with a young woman struggling in the frying
pan of her samskaras. Her case reminded me that the analogy is unfortunately
very apt between our unconscious proclivities and the hidden caches of
high-pressure oil pockets under the Earth’s crust. Either you should leave them
well enough alone and live an ordinary life frolicking in the waters or you
should be prepared to drill intelligently all the way down to the root of your
individuation. A partial penetration with inadequate preparation can release so
much pent up pollution that one’s entire ocean is poisoned. As the well is
drilled you have to be prepared to deal with what is likely to erupt, which may
well smash all your best plans, burn them, blow them up and send them to the
bottom. But drill you must, if freedom is what you seek.
more often happens is that we dabble a little bit in yoga, just enough to
release the tamasic cloud, and then reel back in shock and horror at what we
have unleashed. We then try desperately to ignore what has burst forth as though
it didn’t exist. We pretend it isn’t there and hope everyone around us agrees
to the charade. Since they are very likely playing the same game, you can fool
pretty much everyone pretty much all the time. The success of this strategy
depends on fooling yourself too. And there’s the rub: you can’t delude yourself
without closing down your self-awareness, and then who knows what will happen?
You might have to pray that some divine being will come and pick up the pieces
is not an option of yoga, sorry to report. Nitya implies this eloquently in his
The general behavior
of the various
life forms that we see in nature is said to be guided by natural instincts. In
Sanskrit this is known as prakritam.
When the same is sophisticated, refined, cultured, and presented in a manner
acceptable to others, it is called samskara, a refined outcome or sublimated
end result. The ethos or cultivated behavior of a regional culture can appear
quite refined to the people of a particular geographical area or religious
context. But the yogis are not thinking of social norms that please some
particular group. They set their goal of refinement on the model of the purest
of the pure Self, which is in no way contaminated by the physical, physiological,
psychological, and sociological requirements of an individuated life.
delusion is the more common path, but a yogi is one brave enough to face
situations as they really are, and wrestle with the demons released by their
Deb said, these tremendously powerful motivations are tough enough to handle
when we pay attention to them, but they are many times more powerful when they
are ignored or otherwise unnoticed. Patanjali just tells us that visible or
invisible, the root causes of afflictions are experienced in life. He assumes
that a word to the wise is sufficient. His optimism was undoubtedly based on
firsthand experience of what he was talking about.
long as the root cause is there it must fruition as a class programmed for a
certain duration and experiences.
discourses were often long, involved dissertations that captivated the minds of
those assembled, yet there was also a sense that an additional transmission of
wisdom or knowledge was taking place under the surface. Afterward, the feeling
was of a glow, as though a potent seed had been planted, watered, and bathed
with sunlight in its snug womb of our heart’s core. The present commentary is
reminiscent of those wonderful days that those of us privileged to experience
with him will cherish forever.
the planting of invisible seeds is undoubtedly the most valuable aspect that cannot
transmitted by the written word alone. At least in a class reading accompanied
by meditation, a faint echo of that radiance might possibly be heard. Or, if
you have experienced it somewhere in the past, it may still call to you faintly
even as you read the dry print on the page.
the bliss of wisdom instruction reverberates in your psyche still, it is
because it has become a samskara, a cultured impression.
sutra speaks of vipaka, fruition, and
Nitya mentions trivipaka, threefold
fruition, coming from the karmasaya or the aggregate of all samskaras brought
over from the past life, in other words, the vasanas. The three aspects that
are collectively called the karmasaya are that it:
manifests at birth
determines the body’s lifespan
produces experiences of pleasure and pain
are the official definitions, but they are misleading. The idea that the
karmasaya determines our lifespan comes form the hope that we can fulfill our
karmic destiny in this life. But that is seldom the case. The impetus to be
reborn—such as it is—comes from unfulfilled samskaras that have not had the
opportunity for completion in the present life. Moreover, seeded potentials
mostly do not manifest at birth; they come into play at the appropriate age for
their expression. However, the expression of samskaras definitely does embroil
us in experiences, which usually have pain or pleasure as their outward
manifestation. Because of this, the negative ones in particular need to be
dealt with drastically, lest they circumscribe our lives and lead to great
bottom line is this: the seeds of the past will sprout sooner or later. They
have a necessary length of time for their expression, and as they develop more
and more fully they produce experiences with good and bad consequences. We can
sense their invisible operation in the way that the world conforms to our
needs. The feeling of grace, destiny or fate comes from those seeds arranging
our life to make their sprouting and growth both possible and fruitful. As
Nitya puts it, “The priority of a certain karma
to perform comes more as
a reciprocal polarization between incipient memories and environmental factors
that are conducive to the performance of the required action.” Those
environmental factors are choreographed by the busy, busy action potentials
lodged deep in our unconscious.
all samskaras are to be tossed on a funereal pyre. The healthy ones are to be
watered and tended, and revisited every once in awhile. It’s likely that after
the passage of time they will be hidden in the rampant weeds of everyday life,
so some of those entanglements need to be uprooted and the area around the
beneficial samskaras cultivated anew. Then they can thrive and grow into
something beautiful and substantial in your personal garden.
the other hand, the afflictions—which after all comprise a very large chunk of
our lives—are to be negated: pulled up by the root and tossed on the compost
pile to become fertilizer for the rest. In the crucial paragraph of his
comments, Nitya writes:
cause for conflict resides as a dormant tendency in the karmasaya, it will mature
in the course of time. To abort that possibility, the nucleus of that cause
should be squashed. If wheat or paddy rice are husked, they cannot germinate
again. A fried seed also loses its potential to germinate. Such is the
relationship between the potencies of impressions laid by previous actions and
the conflicts that arise from the maturity of those impressions. Nescience,
ego-identity, attachment, hatred, and infatuation should be carefully discerned
and rendered impotent with the practice of opposing energy channelization.
knowledge is the means to destroy these negative forces.
class spent much of our time pondering what “opposing energy channelization”
meant. Actually, it describes what we do as a matter of course in the Gurukula,
which is to try to counterbalance our exaggerated tendencies with their
opposite in order to reestablish equipoise. In science as well as yoga, this is
most often done by bringing right knowledge to bear on the situation. But right
knowledge is very hard to determine, and in the interim we can postulate the
opposite of what we believe or feel, and this provides a temporary quiescent
basis from which to strive for a better awareness.
have talked about this program extensively over the years. Here Patanjali wants
us to adopt it in earnest before we attempt to go farther in our studies.
Merely paying lip service guarantees that everything which follows will be mere
pretense as well. Unacknowledged samskaras and vasanas constrain our lives to a
much greater degree than we realize. Like water for fish, they are the ocean in
which we swim through our lives, and we take their topography for granted,
until for some reason we stop and call it into question. Usually we do that
only when the water begins to boil and cook us, but we could be proactive about
usual, many samskaras are rather personal, and it isn’t always easy to share
them in class. We solicit them from the brave, because they are common to all
of us, but they can be worked on in private too. Samskaras can often be
accessed consciously with some effort, while the deeper vasanas are out of
reach, except by a wholesale realignment of the psyche. Still, the one can lead
to the other, or prepare the ground for it.
started the discussion with one thing I’ve been working on over the last year
or so. In my regressive imaginings I came to realize that I had learned in
childhood to feel worthless, that my presence spoiled other people’s enjoyment
of their lives and I should just stay out of the way. Of course, that’s
some of the time, but not always. It’s an extrapolation that kids make when
their natural enthusiasm is rebuffed by their family or friends, for whatever
valid or invalid reason. Certainly each person has their own needs and
programs, and the rambunctiousness of children can easily throw a monkey wrench
into their plans. Instead of being mature enough to temporarily defer to their
needs and pull back, kids train themselves to pull back all the time, and their
energy and love can be permanently thwarted.
seemed that many in the class could see some similar type of self-restraint in
themselves, once we had talked about it for awhile. For instance, Susan’s dad
had yelled at her that her timing was always off, and she struggled through her
whole life trying to figure out what her personal fault was that she had such
bad timing. She had no worse timing than anyone: kid’s timing is different from
adult’s, that’s all. They want to love or play or tell a story when they feel
like it, and adults might have some other program at that moment. The common
feature is that children don’t react like mature adults. They become wounded,
and then become martyrs of their wounds, valiantly preserving them even in the
face of contrary information. As Paul put it, the crutches we adopt are often
more terrible than the original injury. Indeed. We move from crutches to
mummy’s shrouds, actively and cumulatively repressing our natural instincts to
love and share and make life joyful.
was raised in a very strict and oppressive religious community. Children are
damaged enough by the accidental good intentions of their caregivers, but how
much more by the intentional battering of religious zealots? Where parents tend
to want to encourage happiness and love in their offspring, those dark and
damaged true believers actively strive to stamp out the natural ebullience of
the newcomers to this planet. Sad. Criminal, really.
with the best of intentions we can injure our children, and much of the damage
they suffer is unintentional and we don’t even realize it’s happening. For
instance, I recently learned from my daughter, now in her early twenties, that
I “ruined” her life when she turned six. I had told her six was the best age of
all, and rhapsodized about how wonderful it was. In my mind I was telling her
how much I loved her and supported her. What she heard was that this was the
peak of her life and it was all downhill from here on. She imagined all the fun
was about to end, and it was my meanness and cruelty that was taking it away.
So you never know.
yogic cure is to oppose all those afflictions with right knowledge. In my
daughter’s case, though, she wouldn’t listen to my side of the story, that I
was trying to share my love and exuberance with her and make her feel good
about herself. She is holding tight to the misunderstanding she had at six, and
still resenting me for it. If she becomes a yogi (or scientist) some day,
perhaps she will be able to let it go. Or it can be a lifelong affliction.
Ultimately it's up to her.
if we only could have a global vision to see the whole picture, it would be so
easy! But we are always limited by our sensory apparatus, as well as those
pesky conditionings. To come closer to the ideal we can put ourselves in the other’s
shoes, and try to bring a broader awareness to bear. Susan had heard a great
suggestion, that we put ourselves back in that thwarted place in the past and
try to imagine a better outcome, what we’d really wished had happened. Doing so
can relieve a lot of frustration and lead to insight about the whole business.
Every person has their unique perspective, and it’s close to impossible to be
perfect from any perspective.
my example of feeling—nay, knowing—myself to be worthless, now when I have that
instinctive urge to slip away and not bother anyone, which comes with an acute
pain in my heart region, I recognize it as a samskara. First I recall to mind
that I have actually made a positive contribution to several people’s lives,
which channels oppositional energy into the darkness. Fairly quickly that
brings a measure of balance and clarity. Then I ask myself, what does the
present situation in itself call for? What’s really going on here? Sometimes I
would actually be welcome, or at least tolerated. It may well be that I’m not
welcome, and that’s okay too, just so long as my action is based on the needs
of what’s happening now and not on some internal regulation laid down years
kind of work is slow, but it produces gradual changes in a positive direction.
The more you do it, the more you recognize the invisible promptings and the
less you are compelled by them. As Deb said, we have to let go of the
obligations we were led to believe we had to carry forever.
should not cast our temporary needs in stone and then worship them. We are
aiming for expertise in action, which means maximal flexibility. Nitya
additionally recommends that we affiliate ourselves with a great visionary,
because they have found their way out of bondage and can impart that freedom to
us by a kind of osmosis. We can work on our afflictions and also experience the
rush of afflictionless living in between our bouts of hard work. The next sutra
will give us another chance to explore this important stage in depth.
Anita has kindly agreed to share her
response to this week’s notes, which cover an experience common to many of us,
and Deb has offered to let me include her new poem, which she claims has
nothing to do with the class but strikes me as the perfect yogic attitude for
shedding samsaric afflictions.
though I have not attended the Gurukula class lately, I read with interest the
class notes each week and miss the class very much. This week, I feel prompted
to send you a note about my experience of my personal samskaras.
have been interested in Tarot cards for some time and have several decks which
I have studied from time to time.
For the past several months, I have been doing a daily reading for
myself using a deck that has 'glyphs' taken from petroglyphs found in mainly
the southwestern US. A small book came with the cards that offers the 'wisdom
reading' for each card. I write these down each day in a small journal. But
rather than write the word for word reading, what I do is display two cards,
read the words from the book and then ask the 'greater consciousness' to help
me interpret and understand how I might use the wisdom to lead the best life I
can for the highest good.
a message comes immediately to me. I often recognize the validity or truth
being offered although I don't always like it. When a particular glyph appears
often in my daily readings, I know I need to pay attention.
my reading this morning, the message I got was that I need to face my fears
before I can make desired changes. I was also reminded that there may be
childhood fears still driving my beliefs/actions. No surprise I guess, as
childhood is such a tender impressionable time and deep seated beliefs are
often imbedded at that stage.
I relate this to your class notes about samskaras, I realized that one of my
earliest memories was of being shunned or excluded from a small group of
preschool girls. I can't remember all the specifics, but the overwhelming
feeling of shame and hurt is still easily accessed by me in my 'honored elder'
years. This belief, that there was something undesirable about me or that I wasn't
good enough or whatever... has no doubt played its role behind the scenes over
and over in my life. It has, for example, made making friends a major stressful
activity. It has caused me to 'hold back' many times and observe or watch and
not be my true or whole self. While in the Gurukula, I feel accepted and
therefore much more myself, in other arenas, I often shy away from the very
relationships I desire because of the fear of being rejected, shunned, or
judged to be undesirable.
that's one of my more predominant samskaras. Now, to learn to negate it or diffuse
of the most damnable things about our afflictions is how easily they become
established but how long lasting and tough they are to dislodge, and one of the
best reasons for having a loving and tolerant attitude is that it helps
compensate for that negative history that lies heavily on pretty much everyone
you meet. Not to mention that it helps us shed our callous “skin.” Here’s Deb’s
Through the Desert
snake winds his body
off the slough
life now too tight,
unable to breathe
winds and pulls,
into open breath,
has added a very important point. Thank you for this valuable contribution:
Scott and Readers, I would like to add a small something to our last class
discussion and to Scott's notes.
I talked about in class was the interplay between recognizing what happened to
you in the past (i.e., what was "done to you") and accepting what is
our part in any situation and moving forward. The first step, of course, is to
see where our hurts and difficulties are, to not ignore or repress them in the
hopes they will go away. In fact, when ignored they gain in intensity. But this
recognition is only a beginning.
we widen our view of any situation, look at who the people were, their
histories, what our original misunderstandings were...then our past becomes
wider, more neutral, and less like "when bad things happen to good
people." Someone may have hurt us in the past but if we keep revisiting it
and giving it energy (without a compassionate resolution), it is we ourselves
who are recreating that event.
the third book of her memoir, Lit,
Mary Karr writes in her introduction that all the while she was trying to
protect her son from her own mother's alcoholism and craziness (without
understanding for her mother), she herself became that crazy, drunken mother
for him! I think this is why forgiveness and compassion are so important in
spiritual disciplines: without it we continue the karma of blame and hurtful
his poem Archival Print, William Stafford describes the stuck situation of
excuses and blame perfectly (this is just the third stanza here):
Now you want to explain. Your mother
was a certain—how to express it?—influence.
Yes, And your father, whatever he was,
you couldn't change that. No. And your town
of course had its limits. Go on, keep talking—
Hold it. Don't move. That's you forever.
the essence of Patanjali's sutras is move out of this stuck cage and into a
wide world of understanding and acceptance.
response to the last notes about Anita’s feelings of rejection from childhood,
another person wrote about how they felt that they were kept on the periphery
by one or two people within the Gurukula itself. I wrote back that I was very
sorry that even the Gurukula doesn’t always live up to its ideals. The
complacency that can come from being part of even an open-minded and
universalist (dis)organization can permit ugly attitudes to breed unchecked.
There has to be a commensurate attitude of self-criticism in place to ward
against this tragedy. That’s what separates the yogis from the boys, so to
is something that everyone experiences to a greater or lesser extent in their
lives, and we all have better or poorer skills in coping with it. One part of
our brain is a highly attenuated defensive apparatus to detect and protect
against injuries of all kinds, whether psychological or physical. Excessive
sensitivity to rejection is a negative affliction impacting almost everyone we
meet, and it means that many humans will be quick to react to hostility and
relatively slower to warm up to friendly overtures. Moreover, they can become
stuck in overreacting to the strangeness of a new situation until it becomes
familiar. If we understand their (and our) negativity in this light, we will be
more tolerant and forgiving without any special effort.
my early experiences with Nitya especially, I was conscious of a sort of inner
circle that I felt very much on the outside of. Oddly, almost everyone had the
same perception, so it was more a mindset than a reality. Nitya was a towering
figure whose very existence brought our veiled neuroses to the surface. Sure,
there was plenty of jostling for the Guru’s favor, and plenty of jealousy
stirred up in those who felt they received less attention than someone else.
And there was gloating by some of those who had momentarily secured a front row
seat. For his part, Nitya worked very hard to remain neutral and unprejudiced
toward the whole sorry lot of us, and he often railed against our petty
attitudes that were creating the specter of an in-crowd. As we adjusted to the
unfamiliar terrain, we learned that only by relinquishing the whole imaginary
setup of in and out crowds, of beliefs in divine favoritism, could we be still
enough to approach the Guru in a meaningful way. All the jostling was
essentially counterproductive. Looking back, those smug ones who felt like
insiders missed the boat. They had physical proximity but not very much
some people probably look on me as an insider of the Gurukula, but I know it’s
mainly a matter of perspective. There is really nothing for us to be inside or
outside of. The world is open to all. If we don’t play games of comparison,
assigning ratings all the time, then everything will have an equal—and
superlative—value. To paraphrase Bishop Berkeley, we close doors and then bang
on them in despair. If we would only leave them open, the problem wouldn’t
arise, or at least it would be much less drastic. Our calling remains to gather
the courage to walk through the aperture once we realize it is unblocked.
our individual uniqueness, the integrity of some perfectly legitimate groups
does come under attack sometimes, so it isn’t sensible to trust everyone
blindly. I’m thinking especially of native tribes who welcomed European
newcomers with open arms, only to be wiped off the face of the Earth. A number
of religions (one in particular) along with their votaries are famous for
sabotaging alternative communal setups. They are certain God is only on their
side and not anyone else’s. Definitely a case of lethal derangement.
newcomer is like a foreign body entering the bloodstream of the existing group.
The “immune system” of protective awareness should check it out and determine
if the foreign body represents a threat or is in fact a new source of
nourishment. If the immune system attacks its incoming sustenance, that person
or group probably won’t thrive for very long, and if it fails to repel a
hostile invader the host will likewise have a shortened or diseased lifespan.
It’s quite an important issue.
class of newcomers, those who enter a group in order to manipulate it from
within, resembles psychoactive drugs more than food or illness. Such people can
have a major impact in scrambling or redirecting a system. This may be good or
bad, depending on how honorable their intentions are and how badly in need of
reform the group is. It takes significant analysis for the host group to
process the new input and either excrete or incorporate it.
organizations that are eager for new followers are like hungry dinosaurs, eager
to gobble up whoever comes along and transmute them into their own flesh and
blood. Those outfits are better left alone if you want to retain your
integrity. Their attractiveness resembles the fake worm dangling in front of
the anglerfish’s mouth or the cheese in the mousetrap. Because of this unsavory
potential, the Gurukula intentionally refrains from recruiting. Occasionally offering
classes is about as sinister as we get.
are two distinct types of welcome that a group can employ: the hungry jaws of
the carnivore—like the television evangelist with his donation phone number
always on the screen, slick operators standing by—and the genuine love and open
arms of fellow human beings. Needless to say, the Gurukula intends to always
adhere to the latter modality.
religious and other organizations often come to feel they are immune to any and
all injustices, and tend to treat criticism as evidence of a lack of faith and
a cause for expulsion. At that stage we can rest assured the spirit has
evaporated from the organizational puddle in question. An inability to tolerate
doubts and an often vicious hostility toward those with their heads out of the
collective sand is nearly ubiquitous when patriotic or religious fervor holds sway.
As often noted, the Gurukula welcomes criticism of all types, so long as it is
in the spirit of wisdom sharing and not just a form of jousting or warfare.
of the real and imagined threats to their existence, groups are naturally and
often unintentionally exclusionary, but when threatened they become
increasingly defensive and doctrinaire. Especially when people have to struggle
to join a group, they can become the most ferocious defenders of the faith they
hold in common with their newfound family. The more insecure a person is in
regard to their position in an organization, the more protective they will be
in guarding the “purity” of the faith. This is baldly apparent in childish
cliques like the one Anita remembers hurting her feelings so. Behind the
aggression and nastiness is the fear that any member might fall out of favor at
any moment. To an immature mind, meanness can be seen as a proof of loyalty.
grade school my kids attended had a motto for the playground: “You can’t say
you can’t play.” Although it required some effort, it proved quite easy to
teach kids to be inclusive of other kids. If someone wanted to join a game in
progress, they had to be allowed in, and very soon everyone would be having fun
together. That works fine until the kids get old enough to mask their games
behind false fronts. Hopefully we can remain young enough at heart to avoid
the Gurukula does not have any turf to defend. Its “property” if any, is almost
exclusively in the metaphysical realm of ideas. We want everybody to play.
Because of this, we should be gentle and considerate to all newcomers, and go
out of our way to make them feel unthreatened. They aren’t coming to steal our
entitlements but to learn. There has to be an expectation of a few bumps as
adjustments are made to accommodate the newcomer to the extent they care to be
involved. If it is a bad match, that will become apparent before very long, and
an amicable separation can take place. Anger comes from frustrated desires, and
is evidence of failure in a spiritual fraternity.
we have gleaned from the Patanjali lessons, the best thing when faced with any
difficulty is for us to work on our own feelings and bring them to a highly
realized state. If we are in a position to exclude or marginalize another
person, this means we need be on guard to transform our belligerence into a
welcoming attitude. We might have to focus on our own insecurities and laugh
them away. In the case of being excluded by someone else, it would mean
understanding that person’s unfortunate attitudes and not letting them spoil
our enjoyment of life. Walking away in a huff isn’t always the best tactic. So
this is a very complex issue. Resolving it isn’t easy, but it is doable, and
its accomplishment will bring a lot of satisfaction.
(the seeded carriers of action propensities) have joy or sorrow for their fruit
in accordance with virtue or vice.
important thing to realize about this sutra is that it does not advocate being
virtuous and avoiding vice, it merely notes that they are correlated with
conditioned activities. The seeds of action—vasanas and samskaras—sprout and
develop into appropriate channels of expression, and these bring about varying
levels of enjoyment or misery without fail.
checked out the two words used here for joy and sorrow. The unfamiliar term hlada, meaning refreshment, pleasure,
delight, and possibly in the old days a cry of joy, is the source of our word
‘glad’. Paritapa has a long list of
fiery definitions, including “burning, torment, suffering great pain, torture,”
and yes, “afflicted.” The root is the same as tapas, the austerities which burn
away the accumulated junk of our lives. Both words underscore how intense our
experience of the seeded action propensities can be.
religious thinking breaks its head on what it means to be good, but yoga is
concerned with a deeper level entirely. To Patanjali, as Deb pointed out,
affiliation with the afflictions brings sorrow, and freedom from them permits
the true joy of the Self to manifest. While that is true, joy and sorrow are
lumped together here as delusory effects of being caught and held captive, and
the true joy transcends them both. Being good or bad lies squarely in the
domain of the afflictions. Think of all the anxiety, doubt, punishment, anger,
and injustice (among many other things) tied up with our behavioral decisions,
and it becomes clear that such matters contain a plethora of confusion and
stumbling. Pleasure can lead us to stumble faster and more thoroughly than
pain. To wit: “The satisfied, the happy, do not live; they fall asleep in
habit, near neighbor to annihilation.” ~Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life, 1913.
and evil are relative, so pinning them down can trap us in endless dilemmas.
Anne paraphrased a quotation attributed to Mark Twain: “Half of every good act
has bad consequences, and half of every bad act has good consequences.” I
haven’t been able to locate the source, but the point is well taken and sounds
like authentic Twain. Part of his inspiration in writing Huckleberry Finn was
to convincingly demonstrate that always telling the truth could be disastrous
and lies were often superior to straightforward honesty.
philosophers have long realized that being “good” in order to secure a selfish
end like admission to heaven undercuts the value of the act. Authentic goodness
has to be spontaneous, based on the appreciation that it is worthwhile of its
own accord, for its intrinsic value, and not for any personal gain. So
religious claptrap about parading into paradise on the wings of your good deeds
is paradoxical at best. Unitive action detached from karmic pressure is the way
his Yoga Letter Twelve, which we studied so long ago, Nitya speaks to this
central aspect of our study:
While a diseased mind indulges in fantasy,
a person of
average normalcy engages himself in the pursuit of actualization. A yogi is
careful to avoid both these realms, that of fantasizing and that of actualizing.
The yogi’s goal is to realize. In a negative sense, realization is the
avoidance of the unreal that is perpetuated through the composition and
retention of various imageries that cannot be validated as real. Hence the yogi
terminates associations of ideas whenever an unprofitable memory is seeking a
chance to reenter the focus of consciousness. Here the witnessing element
assumes the role of the grand discriminator. The incentive for this grand
discriminator is nothing other than to visualize one’s own true form. This
motive is again and again sabotaged by the seeping in of memories, either from
the threshold of factual retentions or from the threshold of the
phantom-weaving mind. The experiential essence of realization is Being. (364-5)
secondary implication of the present sutra is that the determination of what is
virtuous is that it brings joy, while vice causes sorrow. This is a subversive
attitude in a civilization where being miserable is often treated as a virtue
and being happy may be frowned on as diabolic. Certainly, short term pleasures
can equate with long term miseries, while what is pleasurable in the long run
may require some serious struggle at the outset. John appropriately asked, what
is the time frame here? Which counts more, the long or short term happiness? Of
course, we are searching for the joy that doesn’t come to an end. These things
can be appraised at every stage, but we are not really trying to rationally
determine the best course and then follow it. Patanjali is reminding us here
that seeded propensities flower into pleasant and unpleasant experiences, but
we are aiming to find a witnessing zone free of their ever-proliferating
influences. We are looking to drop out of that game of compulsion and into
class spent most of our time pondering the kernel of Nitya’s commentary, which
have done a
great disservice to the study of karma by oversimplifying the course of action,
conceiving of it in a linear manner and restricting the cause and effect
relationship to be of one-to-one correspondence. Karma is not linear. It
propagates its energies in different directions. It has a vertical implication
as well as horizontal modifications.
key question was asked, what exactly is horizontal karma and vertical karma?
The short answer is that horizontal action is what is happening now, the action
of the moment, while the coherent thread that links actions together over time
is the vertical aspect. We have a fair amount of control over our horizontal activities,
and very little in respect to our vertical unfoldment. We grow in predetermined
ways whether we like it or not. But this doesn’t represent an evil fate, it is
a harmonious expression far beyond our conscious capabilities. Nitya mentions
that the animating energy that propels every aspect of our being is a pulsation
emanating from the spirit. His favorite example was the way a fertilized ovum
grows into a fully formed and perfect being possessing many talents and
inclinations, without any direct tinkering by anyone. It is a perennial source
gave a specific example. All through her life she has had a drive to help
others. This vertical propensity has led her to do many things as specific
expressions of that innate urge. She is now working with Open Hearts Open Minds
on its prison project, helping with a fundraising sale. Her horizontal
involvement demands that she arrange to pick up donated items, line up
volunteers and vehicles, find storage space and a venue to hold the event; in short,
she has to do all the legwork so that the sale will actually happen. Sometimes
she feels embroiled in karmic necessities, and sometimes she feels the
exultation of doing what she does in an expert fashion. All this intentional
activity is an expression of the horizontal aspect of karma, but none of it
would happen without the pulsation of energy that infuses her very soul. The
vertical pull of the future sale, which impels the present and future film
project, which in turn hopes to bring a reduction of sorrow to many suffering
individuals, permeates and energizes the horizontal necessities.
the horizontal and vertical karmas have to be integrated and work together for
meaningful action to take place. In a way they are not even two things, merely
two aspects of a single life drama that is unfolding before our very eyes.
Unlike some systems of thought, Vedanta is not about dispensing with the
horizontal and retreating into the vertical. Each pole is meaningless without
the other. Deb wouldn’t be arranging a yard sale if not for the greater
motivation of what the profit is going to accomplish, and without her action in
the present nothing of the proposed project would ever happen.
wondered if the effects of karma are cumulative. Yes, certainly, and that is
why it is both difficult and mandatory to slip out of their influence. We are
the product of four billion years of evolution, and all the constraints of all
those multitudinous creatures are building blocks of our magnificent present
edifice. Those constraints were incremental steps in a long process of
liberation from absolute bondage and total ignorance. The excitement felt by
yogis and others is that evolution has finally arrived at a stage where true
liberation is beginning to be possible. We no longer have to live like worms,
slaves to necessity. The tragedy of much of humanity is that, despite being
equipped with the means, most humans are so saddled with coping with the
requirements of their daily needs that they surrender without a fight. It may
be that some day a liberated state of mind will be our birthright, but at this
early stage of development we still have to work at it. Happily we have
guidebooks like Patanjali’s Yoga Shastra to help us navigate this less
well-known terrain of expanded consciousness.
the close, Anne offered a quote from Goethe on the
Remember the Enlightenment, now so far in our past? They were tuned in to the
same spirit of the ancient rishis. Some of it lives on today in valiant hearts:
I have come to the frightening conclusion
that I am
the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It
is my daily mood that makes the weather.
I possess tremendous power to make a life
joyous. I can be a tool of torture, or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that
whether a crisis will be escalated or de–escalated, and a person humanized or
If we treat people as they are, we make
them worse. If
we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable
those with unitive discrimination all is misery on account of the pain
resulting from change, anxiety, and the registration and preservation of
impressions, as also on account of the conflict between the functions of the
triple modalities of nature.
II:15 and 16 are among Nitya’s most masterful expositions, and round out the
lengthy discussion of the afflictions with profound insight.
noticed the secret plan of Nitya’s commentary and made it explicit for us. What
we still call the West, though it is no longer localized anywhere, is a linear,
pragmatic and highly simplified attitude about cause and effect. It strikes a
thoroughly positivist pose that allows its votaries to steamroller over
people often have a negative attitude about life, that it is a vale of tears
and the abode of suffering. This leads to withdrawal and a lack of coherent
action, a knuckling under to fate in place of taking fate into their own hands.
Nitya, probably in part to make a point to his audience at the time,
characterized this attitude as Indian. He later mitigated its racial sting by
describing that type of negativity as a search for truth.
of his commentary dealt with the traditional Chinese appreciation of yin and
yang, the positive and negative aspects of life, as being equal in the overall
analysis. Although many of us tend to exaggerate the negative and minimize the
positive, in a dispassionate view they are well balanced. Again in a veiled
criticism of escapist tendencies within the Gurukula gang, Nitya says, “The
Chinese people are not afraid to face the enormity of the challenge of life and
they are therefore willing to accept each situation as a paradoxical coming
together of two opposites.” He adds that they are humble enough to have open
minds, which abets a healthy way forward.
citing of the West, Indians and Chinese is a neat trick to catch people’s
attention through their identities, but the underlying subtext is positivity as
a thesis, negativity as an antithesis, and their blending as a synthesis. There
is a dialectic thread running through the whole commentary. Despite the way it
is sketched out, each of us embodies all those possibilities, though we may get
stuck on one or the other due to habits of mind.
all of these is Patanjali’s yoga, which in the ultimate analysis is detached
from all practical considerations. As Nitya puts it, “The model given in
the aphorisms of Patanjali goes very much with the Vedantic notion of treating
this world as illusion and therefore the resolution sought is one of
transcendence rather than living the given life in the here and now.”
wonderful thing about attending a guru darsana is that the audience is led to
inwardly experience each stage of this development. To those of heightened
attention, there is a mystical training of the inner being operating in parallel
with the words being spoken. Unfortunately, in reading a book we can only infer
this subtle aspect.
analyzing the words alone, some of us were brought up short at the idea of
aloneness, which has become synonymous in modern usage with separation and
isolation. ‘Alone’ is actually a contraction of ‘all one’. The state of oneness
is what is meant by the assertion that aloneness is the final goal of
Patanjali’s yoga. Where there is only one there is no other. While we have come
to depend on others to make us feel complete, all of that is truly within us.
Oneness enables independence, along with the termination of separation and
‘atonement’ has come to be a punitive term implying recompense for sin. Yet it
is a contraction of ‘at one-ment’. Restoring our state of oneness eradicates
the errors of acting selfishly. Nitya writes:
In pure spirit, there
specific. The projected specificity of each gestalt that is presented to
consciousness not only hides the unitive reality of the Self but also alienates
us from our absolute nature and brings us into encounter after encounter in
which the time sequence is very pronounced.
In addition, misery and suffering are pronounced
self-alienation. Restoring all-oneness with a transcendental understanding
brings misery and suffering to a close, which is the true meaning of atonement.
contrast, if we rely on nature to provide our happiness, we find that sooner or
later it fails us. The side of us that comes from nature is doomed to fall
apart, suffer pain, and by recycled in death. In addition, clever people have
found ways to sweep the bounty of many into their own pockets, causing a severe
imbalance between rich and poor. This is not possible with spirit, because our
true being cannot be sequestered or stolen, but it is with nature. This is what
Nitya meant when he shocked most of us in the class by saying, “Between
the changing structure of the external world and the reciprocal disturbance
happening in the human brain, many truths are annulled, many lies are added,
and the poor organism has to contend with what is allotted to it by the
niggardly provision of a step-mother-like nature.”
happiness and true Happiness, joy and true Joy, we should also distinguish
between nature and true Nature. Our language hasn’t yet developed separate
terms for these absolutely different concepts. The nature that is opposed to
spirit is not the same as our true nature, which is the beingness that
transcends the duality of spirit and nature.
take on the stepmother reference is that Mother Nature does provide beautifully
for our needs, but as man has assumed the role of the allotter of goods, he has
become stingy and partisan. You have to play along to claim your reward, and if
you don’t you are sentenced to a life of misery and endless toil. Where nature
is egalitarian, human schemes are almost always partisan.
his life and especially at the time the present commentary was being dictated
in classes, Nitya was very much in tune with what is called communism. The term
has been poisoned by the propaganda of those in the catbird seat, but it is
essentially intended as a way of equalizing distribution and reducing the
extreme disparity between the haves and the have nots. A new book entitled The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes
Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett,
inequality negatively impacts all aspects of society, including those best off.
As the American Empire self-destructs in a blaze of ignominy, this would be
obvious but for the ceaseless disinformation preached by every mass media
choir. It’s like watching a plane crash and blaming the stewardess, and best of
all having near universal agreement that she was the cause. To suspect the pilot
or the mechanism would be unpatriotic. Unfortunately, such hubris doesn’t help
avoid the crash. At the heart of our studies is a deep commitment to become
honest enough to bring our own jets back into level flight.
I had mentioned how Nitya would very subtly criticize and energize his audience
without anyone being aware that he was doing so, as in this commentary, Anita
wanted to know exactly what he wanted us to do. What is the “doing” of a
dedicated disciple or other interested party?
we are called upon to do is pay attention, listen carefully and with full
attention, and then relate the teaching to our own self. This is harder than it
sounds. The mind likes to wander, and we prefer to reflect how the teaching is
about all those other fools and really, we already have got it down. Only we
haven’t. We have to look hard at the meaning and at ourselves and see how they
fit together. The guru stands as an open invitation to enter the magic circle
of self-discipline and gradual transformation, but all us blushing brides are
embarrassed to accept it most of the time. Who knows when we might take the
Anita had not one but two stories about how she was surprised to find that the
teachings had transformed her without her consciously realizing it. This type
of wisdom transmission is subtle, even invisible. Doing calisthenics, praying,
following rituals, counting 10,000 beads, all that stuff is obvious and easy to
keep track of. You measure your “spiritual progress” by how much of whatever
program you perform, and no one has to question whether it has any real effect
or not. (Answer: it mostly doesn’t.) A guru’s wisdom instruction is not
tangible or measurable, and so it is easy to think of it as a waste of time.
But if you sink into it, some very good things may happen when you least expect
them. Nitya himself describes this, as usual without making it explicit: “The
subtle veil that hides reality is magical; it operates without giving any
glimpse of its interception. As a result, we are almost oblivious of the
numinous that shines forth as value in everything.” The guru stands for and
expresses the numinous, directing into the hearts of those present.
found herself recently in two situations that in the past would have left her crying
and very upset. In both she kept her cool, and because of this she was able to
assess both herself and the actions of the other people more clearly and
dispassionately. The best part was that she realized how different that was for
her, and that the teachings apparently were having a transformative impact
after all. This is a true measure of worthwhile progress. It isn’t always easy
to see the point of all this thinking, but there it is: less misery and
confusion, and the ability to be a pillar of strength in a world in flux.
pain that has not yet come is to be avoided.
the past month and a half without holding classes has been busy and full, it
became increasingly obvious to me how crucial a periodic gathering for extra-deep
exploration is for the psyche. I began to feel its absence quite strongly. As
Nitya says in his commentary, “A drug addict
looks for drugs, an
alcoholic for drink, and a lover of books for a library.” He meant himself as
the third type of addict, of course. For me, I’d say that an explorer looks for
things to explore, and there is no more fertile unclaimed territory beckoning
than the mind and its mysterious relation to its environment. Last night’s
class was not only a terrific sutra and commentary: the presence of dear
friends who have stood together for a long time, dedicated to a penetrating
search for truth, was palpably wonderful and uplifting, not to mention
began by acknowledging that this was yet another of Nitya’s commentaries that
“said it all,” that we could just read this each week and it would be enough.
We are coming to the end of the section of the study dealing with the
afflictions with a generalized stock-taking. Overcoming the afflictions would
most definitely be enough to align our lives as they ought to be, and all else,
even samadhi, can be considered gravy.
orientation to the words of the sutra is that by being aware of what we would
prefer to ignore, we obviate many problems. He says, “Although a situation is
unavoidable, it may be possible to improve it…. You can use your intelligence
to mitigate the suffering coming from unavoidable situations.” By ignoring
something we don’t necessarily make it go away, because all our faults—no
matter how ridiculous—look perfectly sensible to the ego. Our mind is very
clever to clothe its dementias in plausible outfits. Of course, the costumes
are often outlandish and ill-fitting, but we have learned to admire them and
make believe that they are the latest fashion. If you’ll forgive me, it gives a
whole new meaning to being caught by the modes….
take on the sutra was almost the exact opposite of Nitya’s: she pointed out
that we often anticipate problems and so cause them to happen, or at least we
suffer from them as if they were real. If a pain has not yet come, why do we
make such a big deal about it? And if we can stay focused on the here and now,
future pain will never arrive. While there is a value to dispassionately
anticipating obstacles so they can be avoided, chronic worries about
hypothetical monsters are definitely afflictions that can and should be
avoided. Susan’s unique take on this sutra highlights the genius of Patanjali’s
bare-bones koans: they can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and most of
those ways are actually helpful, while none are the last word. They are jumping
off points for those who aren’t afraid of heights.
back to Nitya’s perspective, we are taught to step back and examine the events
of our life as they happen, because only when we detach ourselves from our
incestuous self-infatuation can we begin to evidence an unbiased attitude about
ourselves and our surroundings. In the way we swallow our own beliefs and
regurgitate them we resemble a snake swallowing its own tail, rolling down the
road in a continuous repetition of the same cycle over and over. Or like a dog
chasing its tail as it stays tantalizingly just ahead of its jaws. The
difference with us there is that the dog eventually catches on and stops.
adds a dimension here to his earlier metaphor of being seated in a movie
theater, likening the egg we spring from to a throne, and the sperm to the king
or queen who sits on it. During gestation the two aspects become riveted
together, fused into a single being. Soon the thoroughly bound entity enters
the theater of the world, without realizing that the screen it is entranced
with is within its own mind. The show is so realistic that each of us is taken
in, often for our whole life, by what Indian philosophy calls our basic
ignorance, avidya: the inability to separate ourselves from the projected
action, to know we are more than what appears on the screen. Only if we can
somehow come to understand that we are glued to our seats in a theater of the
absurd can we ever begin to grow in any meaningful sense of the word. Otherwise
we are stuck fast.
class spent a lot of time in rueful acknowledgment of Nitya’s sentence, “Each
of us creates our own world and then complains about the environment.” We love
to grouse about the other and its faults, and many of us dedicate our whole
lives to sparring with our own shadow in this fashion. It’s as though we ratify
ourselves by denigrating the other—too bad the other is in fact us! If a rishi
were to insinuate that we were battling chimeras and in the process splitting
ourselves in two, we would run them out of town or nail them to a cross: our
projections are that convincing and the mitigating of them is that frightening
of the mysterious subtleties here is that we are most definitely projecting the
world, but that doesn’t mean we can have a direct effect on it. Learning what
actually has an impact is a very tricky business, requiring diligence and an
ability to think outside the box. Literally.
world’s existence is amazingly complicated, and like a film unreeling before
our eyes, much of it is prerecorded. Since the movie is already produced, there
isn’t much we can do once it is playing other than defacing the equipment,
which is a popular enough activity for frustrated souls. But to have a
beneficial effect we need to get back into the editing room and study the film
itself, and also learn some good film technique that we can actually put into
practice to get better footage.
flip side of believing that we are capable of altering the movie after it is on
the screen is that we believe we can make it disappear if we withdraw into
ourselves. We may shut our eyes tight and pretend there is no movie, but it is
still playing to a packed house. In some systems, the tighter your eyes are
closed, the more “spiritual” you are. But Nitya counsels us to keep our eyes
wide open, because our work occurs in relation to the movie, not in spite of
it. Seer and seen go together. Yet because the film is at least partially our
projection, we can make positive changes by working with it. We cannot just
fervently hope for the film to be different and expect it to change, but we can
engage with it and transform our experience for the better.
isn’t about wishing for a fancy car and having one appear, or pretending a
problem doesn’t exist and having it go away. Don’t laugh: these are very common
attitudes. Too bad they miss the point.
Deb explained, there is an actual world for us to contend with. The idea is
that how we interpret that world makes all the difference in our internal
state. We can be ecstatic or miserable over the same film clip. But despite the
hopes of many scientists and politicians to isolate an utterly determined world
without any possibility of free will, we do have a role to play, and knowing
how and where to put our energies is a key to a fulfilling life.
revealed that she has been realizing over the summer how relevant these
seemingly obscure sutras were to her everyday life. Of course, relevance is the
main thrust of the Gurukula’s orientation. As Nitya concludes, “Yoga does not
offer a solution after death; it is showing us how to live in the here and now.”
Jan was surprised that something so amorphous could be so helpful to her, and
that the normal programs of most institutions, specifying in elaborate detail
the permissible prescriptions for every occasion, actually fail to be helpful
and instead are binding and lacking in soulful nuance. This is why Nataraja
Guru equated the Absolute with maximum generality. The more general a concept,
the more inclusive it is; the Absolute is the concept that is wholly inclusive,
with nothing whatsoever left out. We bring specific instances of the general to
life as we experience them, but it is a failure of imagination to project the
specifics back onto the general and assume it is an adequate explanation. The
proper orientation in this instance is called gratitude.
Bergson had the same idea in mind when he spoke of the gold coin which no
amount of copper pennies could equal. Pennies are specific items of limited
value, while the Absolute is of unlimited value. It is a common mistake of our
materialistically educated brains to believe we can tote up a big enough pile
of pennies and have it magically produce infinite wealth. The two are
serial tragedies of history, both individual and global, can be comprehended
from this perspective. You get an idea you like, and then you want to destroy
anyone who hasn’t come to the same conclusion. Where we should, like Jan,
embrace the amorphous Absolute as our inspiration to energize our life,
endlessly expanding its boundaries, our default setting impels us to substitute
trivial and transient notions and fling them onto the screen of the ineffable.
Then we really have an environment to complain about.
reminds me of the atheist poster Baird passed along this week:
Morality is doing
what is right
regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told regardless
of what is right.
Yes, I know it’s an oversimplification,
but it has a nice
ring to it.
to life is possibly the deepest of all the afflictions. From the moment the
royal sperm came to be firmly attached to its royal seat of honor, we have been
bent upon experiencing this world. We take it for granted in every cell of our
body. But it doesn’t take a yogi to foresee that we are going to drop out of
this game eventually. Patanjali’s advice here is to get used to the idea in
advance, because it will lessen the pain when the time comes. It’s not at all
easy. It means giving up what you love as totally as what you are happy to be
rid of. I often think of a friend’s grandmother, a Texas holy-roller who went
through life absolutely certain that she was going up to heaven after she died,
into the arms of Jesus. Like many passionate “religious” types, she entertained
not a shred of doubt. Doubt was a crime in her world view. But when death came
knocking, all her certainties fell away. She spent her last two weeks bathed in
terror, inconsolable. Undone. Most of us cling to similar but more subtle
versions of the same theme. Patanjali very kindly wants to spare us such a
tragic ending, so he does not offer any fairy tale about what comes next.
close with a reprise of Nitya’s simple and elegant assertion: “Although a
situation is unavoidable, it may be possible to improve it…. You can use your
intelligence to mitigate the suffering coming from unavoidable situations.” The
gurus have bequeathed us a rich banquet of methods for overcoming our
afflictions and gaining our freedom; all we have to do is take them up and put
them into practice.
Susan elaborated a bit on what she was thinking,
addition, thank you:
Nitya explains Sutra II:16, "The pain that has
come is to be avoided," by describing the five miseries which commonly
torment us. Through his commentary, Nitya explains how we can avoid the pain of
each of these miseries by working to correct/adjust our perspective and perceptions
of the world and ourselves.
When I heard you read this last night, I was
my own tendency not only to be caught by the miseries but also to anticipate
their pain. Nitya touches on this when he says (near the end of the
commentary), "You can keep emotional stress states from creating
compulsions in your behavior." The stress states can cause me to look at
the glass half empty and assume the worst. That is my compulsion. I feel the
pain before it ever has the chance to arrive, because I am imagining the way
things will be. I guess it's like seeing a preview of a movie. Not only am
seeing things as they are projected in my mind and forgetting that they are a
projection, but I imagine the bloody murder scene even while the film is still in
the bucolic introduction. I guess this means I have a kind of double layer of
baggage/projection to become aware of and release.
This resonates well with Nitya’s line,
“Nightmares come out
of you because you have irrational fears lurking in your mind. By going deeply
into the areas of the mind and illuminating them with the inner light of the
Self, this darkness will go.”
The cause of that
which is to be
avoided is the conjunction of the seer and the seen.
celestial factors converged last night, intersecting with some delicious
snacks, which made for a most memorable convocation. A beautiful sunset ushered
in a nearly full moon moving into alignment with Jupiter, the planetary Guru,
at its closest position to the earth since 1963. All this on the threshold of
the fall equinox. With so much energy, it was hard to quiet the giggles so we
could mount enough seriousness to begin chanting together. Once we did, though,
we covered a lot of ground crucial to our study. I apologize for a very long
write up, but this is a subject that should not be slighted.
included in the reading of the commentary an important paragraph from way back
in I:13, which I am studying this week in the online study group I’m doing with
Nancy Yeilding. It felt almost like a disembodied Nitya was bringing this back
to my attention because of its relevance to our discussion:
Advanced yogis isolate
the agent of
illumination from the object that is illuminated. In other words, they focus
their attention on the light that falls on an object rather than being carried
away by the effect of light and shade that suggests phenomenological forms.
When a person acquires the ability to see only the light and not the
illuminated object, nothing separates the light of consciousness from the
external light that consciousness illuminates through the act of reciprocation.
Thus the seer sees the seen in a union in which the seer, the act of seeing,
and the seen do not have separate identifications.
Along these lines, I have lately been pondering
from a new perspective. We commonly picture “empty” space as dark. But the
truth is, space is filled with light. Light passes through it from a nearly
infinite number of directions, coming from billions of stars in billions of
galaxies, spread out in all directions. What this tells us is that light in
itself is invisible or what we think of as dark. Only when it strikes an object
does light become visible, and what we perceive is the portion of the entire
spectrum that bounces off the object. Colorwise, then, we are seeing exactly
what the object is not. More important is the realization that light is dark,
that we cannot see it. Our mental apparatus requires objects to illuminate the
invisible sea of light for us. So naturally our attention goes to the objects
rather than the light. Yoga calls our attention back to the light.
Vedantic idea is that the subject and the object arise together out of an
underlying oneness. When we are fascinated with objects and think “I am
perceiving this,” we separate the subject from the object and enter a state of
duality. The classic yogic technique is to remerge the two sides and return to
unity. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. One is to meditate on the
seen until the merger takes place. Whenever the idea “I am…” intrudes, we just
drop it and return to the unified state where there is no I.
talked about the way we as seers try to hold on to the seen, and wondered how
we could be more present by not trying so hard. The repetitive practice of yoga
includes continually bringing ourselves back to the present, as soon as we
realize we have slipped into the past or are fantasizing about the future. It’s
quite a challenge, because when we look hard at some idea, it is in the present
for an instant, but then it quickly flows into the past. Most of our thinking
is remembering, in other words, based on memory. We have to simultaneously let
go of the idea and hold onto it, if we are to develop any subject past its
surface gloss. This quality of the mind inspired the famous last line of The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott
Fitzgerald, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly
into the past.” Its evidence in psychedelic drug experiences led the Merry
Pranksters to try to accelerate their psyches to warp speed to see if they
could keep up with the flow of the present. That approach produces a bright
fire, but eventually reaches burnout. The rishis knew that it was nearly
impossible to stay in the moment, so their advice for us is to do our best, and
learn how to recognize that we have slipped out of a concentrated state into
sidetracks, and then gently and patiently bring ourselves back. Given enough
repetitions, we can learn to catch on early and bring ourselves back with
alternative is to wander aimlessly, following the random impulses of an
undisciplined mind. While this may pass for spirituality, it isn’t yoga, and it
may well lead to emptiness and futility in life.
union of the seer and the seen or scene sounds very mystical, and indeed it is.
But recent neurological discoveries may have revealed what those wise old
rishis were trying to communicate in an age without much technology. It now
appears that our brains assemble the available input into a kind of Swan
Theater of the mind, where miniature replicas strut and fret and perform in
real time, and that that is what we are actually working with. The play our
brain stages looks perfectly like an outside world to us, but that is simply part
of the illusion: a very important illusion because it allows us to respond more
or less accurately to the world, avoiding lethal incursions, charming potential
mates, sharing knowledge and joy, and so on. When we mentally run from a
sabertooth tiger, our actual legs churn too.
more perfect this imagery is, of course, the more “in tune” we are with the
world and our life in it. Unfortunately, the images are tampered with by a
whole host of what we have been calling afflictions. The more afflictions, the
less accurate is the correspondence between the perception of the world and our
conception of it. Therefore, to achieve union, we incrementally work toward
harmonizing the two sides of the dilemma. If we merely insist that what we see
is “the truth,” and fend off all contrary indications, we subject ourselves to
potentially serious delusions. We get bent out of shape by the undeniable fact
that other people's versions don't match the one we insist is the truth.
Clinging to our preferred version, we can go very far afield into derangement,
and the effects of that can be readily observed almost anywhere.
brings us to a major point of divergence between Patanjali and folks like
Narayana Guru. Patanjali says it is pointless to try to match our mental image
with reality, while our gurus consider it well worth the effort. Patanjali
seems to be positing another reality that we should retreat to, away from this
one, while the Gurukula favors an integrated approach. Nitya concludes his
comments by making this clear:
The inner organ of
a person is such
that whatever image is projected on it will leave an impression that can remain
in the depth of consciousness to the very end of life. Thus you are not only
suffering from what is immediately projected on your senses and inner organ,
but also from the stored impressions that remain with you as painful memories
or inviting visions. Patanjali is of the opinion that, pleasant or unpleasant,
these memories are the source of misery and should not be encouraged. According
to him, all programming is to be avoided and he prescribes the abolition of the
conjunction of the seer and the seen. But this is not always considered to be
the greatest ideal. His two commentators—Valmiki of the Yoga
Vasistha Ramayana and Vyasa of the Bhagavad Gita—give the
alternative of positive programming, turning
to what is good for you.
in the Gita that Arjuna wanted to run away from the terrible battle, but that
Krishna insisted he stick around and face the music. This is the revaluation of
“positive programming” Nitya is referring to.
67 of Atmopadesa Satakam of Narayana Guru also speaks to this same issue, and
it is well worth reviewing Nitya’s comments on it in That Alone. I’ll quote it
at length here, because it is so critical to our development:
[Narayana Guru] said that by exposing ourselves to great anguish and by
struggling we cannot achieve an identity with the beyond. This secret is known
to the truly wise. The wise person does not struggle, but lives in harmony. Is
this a great thing? It's a very great thing.
you read all the literature passed off as spiritual, and learn about the many
techniques and gimmicks sold in the marketplace, and if you study the various
kinds of exercises and disciplines people are trying to impose on themselves,
you can see the importance of this caution. Contrary to popular belief it is
not through any physical, mental or psychic struggle that we become endowed
with wisdom. The Guru asks us not to look for it within the world of our
thoughts or memories. Don't seek a reality other than the two mentioned here,
the ordinary and the Absolute. You may read about psychic phenomena which
excite you and charm you to run away from these two stable grounds—the
transactional and the transcendent—and look for a third reality. It is the
search for a third reality that puts you through endless struggles….
Guru speaks of three wrong places in which many of us search. One is within our
own thought sphere: taxing our brains to find a third reality. Another is
living in wait for a vision to come, since we have so often heard of such
visions coming to others. The third is striving for attainments. If you consult
the Theosophists, for instance, they can give you the whole plan of aspiring to
attain an astral body and fly to the seventh sphere. There are plenty of groups
in the world with complicated plans for your life, but their ideas will only
drag you into fruitless searches.
then, is this spiritual power or spiritual insight we are speaking of? If the
Guru discourages us from seeking in all these places, where do we get it? It
happens as simply as the little child getting breast milk from her mother, or
the apple tree producing flowers and fruits in its proper season. It's as natural
as that. If you don't think of yourself as only a creature of transaction, and
if you keep yourself open to the greater ground in which the transactional
occurs, something like an osmosis between your transactional world and the
transcendent ground takes place.
told a story that taught him the same lesson. He was watching a little child
crawling along in the grass. Perfectly “ordinary” grass. But the child was
screaming with delight. Paul realized that the grass was a new thing to him,
and he was totally getting into it, and this meant that if we truly paid
attention to all the ordinary things that surround us, we could be in ecstasy
too. Every last bit of life is a superlative miracle. Thoughts that there is
something somewhere else of greater value leads us to devalue what we know, so
it becomes dull and lifeless, and that’s a tragedy.
we trip ourselves up is that we only know a small amount of the ordinary realm.
Most of it is still unknown to us. So we fantasize as to its potential, which is
after all infinite. Plunging into the unknown is a fine thing, but if we have a
preconceived notion about it, it isn’t truly the unknown but only a mental
postulate we have prepared in advance. Then it becomes the “third reality”
Nitya warns us against. To uncover more of the unknown ordinary realm, we need
to relinquish our expectations and cultivate more openness. The gradual
discovery of more consciousness and its concomitant knowledge is what makes
life thrilling and evolutionary.
thoughts such as these led us to really dig into the gist of the paradox here,
and the class did it justice: what work is legitimate, and what is the purpose
of waiting for inner guidance? What I wrote this week on I:13 covers the matter
fairly well. After describing the efforts a yogi makes to regain balance, Nitya
concluded his commentary there with an important summing up:
the body remains still and the prana is
harmonized, the mind can be frequented by chains of thoughts and other forms of
mentations. To get rid of these inner irritations, we have to tune to our
higher understanding of consciousness and apply that knowledge to devalue the
entertaining of thoughts, ideas, and memories that are unwholesome. Here
knowledge is used with advantage.
thoughts are controlled there are blockages that
stop us from going beyond the pale of consciousness; these blocks are
constituted of thoughts that are made up of words. A breakthrough at this level
is bound to be mystical and non-verbal. After going deep into such states of
consciousness, we come to a state of waiting in peace and receiving light or
guidance from within. Thus the field of pacifying consciousness and remaining
in serenity is enormously vast. In one lifetime it is not possible to explore
all the paths and employ all the methods. What is most appropriate for a person
to know and practice will be given in chapter two.
I now want to say
a bit about the
recommendation to “Break through the verbal to the nonverbal; then wait in peace
and receive light or guidance from within.”
linking memory associations to our present outlook helps us to attain to a
nonverbal state, and there is no doubt that many of our conflicts stem from how
we interpret our world with verbal conceptions. But nonverbal stability can
imply either peace or stupor, depending on several factors. This is a very
subtle and easily misunderstood part of the practice. Waiting without having
first made a significant effort will not produce any result, unless we are
going in for that thirty-years-in-a-cave kind of spiritual practice. I believe
the rishis are offering us more rajasic types an activist path as efficacious
as that purely sattvic ideal that sounds so romantic but in actuality would be
titanically boring, like a living death.
must not ignore the context: Nitya makes this recommendation for those who have
already done a lot of work, along the lines of the yamas and niyamas we will be
studying later on, and which make up the musculature of Patanjali's Yoga
anatomy. But in our fast-paced culture, we may sit quietly for a spell, but
then we are busy secretly expecting some inner guidance to magically appear,
and so of course it doesn't. The guidance doesn't come from naïve or trivial
input, but from a deep, committed study….
There is much more
to be gained
by a sincere effort than by a casual dabbling. Nitya and others like him are
prime examples: they have put their whole being into what they do, and they are
the ones who are guided by a profound inner light. We go to them because of
that light, because we can intuit its presence within them.
the other hand, even if we haven't made much effort at all, we should still try
to bring ourselves to a peaceful state and open ourselves to inner instruction.
our degree of commitment, one eternal question we face is, after waiting for
guidance in a nonverbal state for a period of time, how do we distinguish
between our ordinary mental jabber and valid insights? What are the sources of
these two very different types of thought, and how do we tell them apart with
confidence? To make the distinction we need to know just what it is we are
accessing. Then, for these insights to have an impact, they have to be formed
into concepts which are then described in words. Otherwise, if they remain
nebulous and unexpressed, what can they really do for us, or what can we do
with them? We wind up acting the way we wanted to all along based on our
conditioning, and the whole business is pointless.
A friend in that group is a prime example of
the reason in
action that is yoga at its best. She has found herself in the midst of a major
family crisis, acting as a mediator. As in the Kurukshetra of the Gita, barbs
and arrows of venomous intent have been flying all around, but somehow she has
managed to remain in a neutral state right in the thick of things. She is as
surprised as we might be to discover that the work she has done is paying off.
It hasn’t made the conflict disappear, but it has made her able to survive and
even blossom within it.
we are attached to the outcome, or favor one side of a conflict, we can hardly
help but become deeply embroiled, roasted on a spit so to speak, and
emotionally buffeted. Remaining neutral is our salvation. But it is so hard,
especially with close friends and family! Really though, how can we develop
that kind of discipline away from the battlefield? Such challenging events are
our “graduate exam” in practical yoga.
awareness helps all levels of conflict, even minor ones. Jan wondered how to
deal with her son who is entering the age group where he wants to hone his
skills in verbal combat and criticism. Her example: a tiff over how much to
feed the dog. Her son didn’t think Jan was giving her enough food. “Mom, either
you can starve the dog of she can get fat, which do you want?” With a question
like that, you have to realize that the ostensible reason for the argument is
tangential, merely an excuse, but the person may not be aware of what their
real motivations are. Our ordinary response is to argue back, in which case the
polarization increases dramatically, and a youngster with a lot of energy will
win over an older, more sedate person every time. The yogic response is to
anticipate that most people like to argue, whether or not they hold a grudge,
and in any case this whole scene is within your head, so you decline the
invitation to battle. You might probe what the other person imagines the needs
of the situation to be, or simply say something like, “Yes, I’ll think about
your suggestion.” Or you can treat the disease rather than the symptoms, by
lavishing love on the needy one. That way you can retain your peace and still
find a solution acceptable to the other.
was canceled this week because so many were on vacation. Sutra II:18 is so key
we want to be sure to have as full attendance as possible. Happily Susan, who
is in California, sent some of her excellent thoughts about last week’s notes,
and she is far enough away I can post them with impunity…. This is the kind of
meditation that must make Patanjali’s old bones sigh with satisfaction: we can
easily say words like Light, Love, Absolute, God, but what are we really
talking about? If we cannot perceive their essence, how do we have access to
them? Asking such questions with determination opens the gate that divides the
possible from the impossible.
It is a quiet early morning time here in Truckee.
reading your class notes again. They are brilliant, by the way. There is much
to think about in them. I am still struggling with the light thing and the
coming together of seer and the seen. Even with all the examples and exercises,
the feeling of what you are saying eludes me mostly. There are glimpses but not
full understanding. This doesn’t really bother me (as it might have 7 years
ago) but I it is curious. Here is a question. What is the light? Is it the
light of the sun? I think it is and it isn’t. We perceive things with our
senses and so we are reliant on understanding our being/individuation in this
way and our part in the play. But ultimately the light cannot be the sunlight
because that is part of the play. And then what would it mean to be blind? You
wouldn’t see the light. This made me start thinking about how one sees the
light in an auditory or tactile way (as we talked about briefly in class) --
how to bring together the heard and the hearer? It’s a crazy thing to
realize that (at least for me at this point) one needs to dip in and out of
duality to make sense of things. I think about the first verse of Atmo and the
words “with the five senses withheld.” Those come back to me often when I am
trying to figure out the sutras. We need the senses for our part in the play
but then we must somehow let go of our reliance on those in order to feel all-oneness.
I can explain this and I can probably do it but I can’t get from one to the
other intellectually, if you know what I mean. The good thing is that in
“working” on this and thinking about it, I learn so much and feel less caught
in the play; more able to disentangle myself. This is such a relief and helpful
in making the most of every moment.
Here is a part of your notes that I particularly
perfect this imagery is, of course, the more "in tune" we are with
the world and our life in it. Unfortunately, the images are tampered with by a
whole host of what we have been calling afflictions. The more afflictions, the
less accurate is the correspondence between the perception of the world and our
conception of it. Therefore, to achieve union, we incrementally work toward
harmonizing the two sides of the dilemma. If we merely insist that what we see
is "the truth," and fend off all contrary indications, we subject
ourselves to potentially serious delusions. We get bent out of shape by the
undeniable fact that other people's versions don't match the one we insist is
the truth. Clinging to our preferred version, we can go very far afield into
derangement, and the effects of that can be readily observed almost anywhere.”
I think you are talking about two things —
first, the play
that we are creating in our mind and that we see before us and second, the way
in which the afflictions distort the already distorted. It seems that we have
to be aware of both. But then I suppose the play that we create is also made up
of the afflictions over time. What a mess! No wonder we get so stuck. Your last
lines are so key. I think people are very uncomfortable letting go of the
“truth” they see before their eyes. We are used to “seeing” in this way. It is
threatening to think that it might not be solid, unchangeable, dependable.
Funny that we can get caught up in a whole make believe scenario of religion —
it is just a story that we make into our reality (what you mentioned as a
“third reality”) — and yet we can’t see that we have done the same thing with
our personal life belief system. It is more a belief than reality. We don’t
want to let go because we will be alone and scared or we will go insane or we
will not be invited to the party. But if we do start to chip away at the play
and our afflictions, it really isn’t so terrible. It is very difficult at times
but I think one is able to embrace uncertainty and the lack of solidity a bit
more. I am of course still working through a whole swamp of afflictions and I
do get caught up in my version of the play very often but when I come up for
air and let go of these things, I no longer feel anxious. It’s a really good
It’s funny that I hadn’t read the
end of your commentary
when I wrote all this. I just finished reading and I feel as though you are
responding to what I wrote! Funny, isn’t it?! I’m glad I didn’t read the whole
thing before I started writing because it gave me an opportunity to do some
deep diving and it felt wonderful. I am not going to start berating myself for
neglecting to do this every morning, however! It’s just good to remember that
deep diving is powerful and maybe it wouldn’t hurt to devote more time!
With gratitude for your notes and your willingness
like some positive feedback. It’s so gratifying when we can accomplish what
should be simple, but takes a long time to become so. This is a yogic success
story from Jan:
I wanted you to know that the insights I got
from my last
class about dealing with Louis really helped, and after a couple of days of me
trying to not engage in discord and step back from his attempts to do so, he
and I somehow found our way to a nice time again. He miraculously seemed appreciative of me and wanted to chat
about life and other people's relationships and that felt great. Jan
The seen consists of the elements and sense
organs, is of
the nature of illumination, activity, and stability, for the purpose of
experience and liberation.
started us off with a crucial point regarding Nitya’s interpretation of the
last part of the sutra, that the seen can be directed by our involvement with
it either toward experience or toward liberation. According to Nitya, “Patañjali
says we are equipped for two opposing reasons. We can experience the world and
bind ourselves to it or we can free ourselves from all its knots. It is up to
us whether we want to be free or stay in this world of happiness and sorrow.”
usual interpretation of such an assertion is that we can either be caught in
the world or make our escape from it. Deb’s idea was that by characterizing the
bondage as being to happiness and sorrow—in other words to polarity, duality—what
Nitya intends to tell us is that we can live our lives either way, but live we
must. We can live as liberated beings or as those embroiled with the inevitable
ups and downs of manifested existence. The choice is up to us, but there isn’t
any option to simply abandon the game. We can free ourselves from the knots,
but that doesn’t mean we can dispense with knots. We encounter potential
situations all the time in which we can become bound or remain free, and how we
treat them determines which way we will go.
is of course a most important difference between the Gurukula’s philosophy and
majority opinion. It is easy to read this as recommending complete withdrawal
from the seen, and that is a common fantasy held by millions who in fact have
no intention whatsoever of relinquishing their existence. Nitya makes a
passionate plea in his commentary for us to release the untapped energy bound
up in us. This can be channeled toward the goal of liberation, but that comes
thorough active engagement, not forced suppression. Nitya says,
Many people's energy
frozen. Most people do not know how much energy they have because they don't
know how to have a goal-oriented life and how to direct their pent-up energy to
their goals. Many young people in India, eighteen to thirty years of age,
suffer from depression. Their energy is pent up and they do not know the
magical power within them. They need to know how their essence can be brought
into conjunction with their motivation to bring that essence out as actions and
then stabilized as a seed bed for future occasions.
Too bad that more of us than young Indians suffer
depression of not being able to express our true potentials! Needless to say,
this advice is meant for everybody.
reminds me of a favorite letter excerpt from Nitya’s Love and Blessings,
written in July, 1973: “Depression by itself is not a disease. It only shows
that there are some kinds of air pockets in your personality that are not fully
plugged-in with life interests.” It’s a shame that somehow we have become
convinced that not doing anything will solve our problems, so we hold back
harder and harder as the fountain within tries to burst forth into expression.
Instead we should throw off our clothes and leap in, to splash and frolic in
the sunlight. As Jan reminded us, that fountain is our real self, and becoming
aware of it and permitting it to flow is precisely what we are called to do
Prakasha, kriya and sthiti, or illumination, activity and stability, are close kin to
sattva, rajas and tamas. Being detached from the three gunas does not mean they
stop being important, only that they are no longer our masters. Nitya spells
out their value:
knowledge, programs you to feel many things—anxiety, curiosity, urges,
drives—that make you restless. This restlessness is not a disease to be cured.
It is needed for all the activities of life. Once you are disturbed, you are
stimulated to accomplish and experience.
He goes on to say that accomplishing what you
are driven to
do brings stability, the third of the practical virtues or modalities.
the mind’s eye it is possible to visualize Nitya’s passion as he dictated this
commentary to a roomful of very respectful, but largely spiritually thwarted,
listeners. (At least in India they know enough to go to a guru….) He wants to
use the bare bones of the sutra to transmit passion to these bright souls
wearing heavy, dark garments hung on them by their families and societies.
Direct exhortation is too intimidating to such delicate souls, so accustomed to
their anguish that they barely notice it. Nitya is speaking in parables, the
parables of an ancient science, but through them he is blowing as much power as
he can muster into those deflated beings. Behind the quiet words is a brilliant
flame, a solar flare, an impassioned plea for waking up and coming alive.
heart bleeds every time I think of that great man, whose inner fountain was
gushing in a full flood all the time, being so gentle with us “stupids” who
heard only such a very little of what he was laying out for us. How can he
inspire us to make progress? Pushing harder doesn’t usually work, it tends to
breed resistance, an opposing force. Not pushing at all doesn’t do anything,
either. It’s a mystery how to get it across, which analogy or gambit will
finally spring open the doors of perception. This is something the wise
teachers all have to adjust to. If they want to succeed there will be plenty of
frustration, and if they don't care at all there will be no teaching, period.
Somewhere in between is the golden mean. Nitya found it by commenting on the
classics while inwardly visualizing the needs of his audience and sending out
invisible healing energies. When you were in Nitya’s presence, there was a
feeling of transmission worming its way through your own density, although
there might not be any outward indication of it. When reading his books, we
just have to imagine it, but that has some residual power too.
is a very large, ancient tree near here that whenever I’m in the vicinity I pay
my respects. I press my forehead to its thick bark and spread my arms as far as
I can to embrace it. They barely begin to reach around its curve. The tree
doesn’t actually do anything, but I can feel a tremendous strength in it.
Something very powerful flows into me, a sense of majestic peace and dignified
stability. As Tolkein’s Ents, the giant walking trees would say, we are such
hasty beings! Who knows what will open us to our inner guidance system, where
we can dare to let go of our blocks and afflictions? Only when we release
ourselves from our petty amusements can we begin to admit the gigantic power
lying latent in our depths.
intentionally translates the sutra as experience and liberation. He could have written experience or liberation, but he didn’t.
together. They are not mutually exclusive.
the right frame of mind, then, Nitya’s words leap off the page to grab us by
the lapels and shake us, to rouse us from our stupor. After briefly describing
the immense accomplishments of Narayana Guru, whose inner fountain was volcanic,
Nitya sums up:
So much came
from one man, like radium that goes on
radiating. Such great geniuses change the world. We need to begin with changing
ourselves. If we find the unperishing truth within us, we can go on tapping
In this sutra
Patanjali is drawing our attention to the
pradhana, the power we have within us, and asking us to perfect our lives and
bring our potentials out to finality.
Can you hear the call? I don’t know how
it can be put more
learned a very interesting thing this week from recent EEG studies of infants.
Apparently, the deepest parts of our brain control us until around the end of
the second month. At that time the cortex begins a tug of war which it almost
always wins, but there is a period where the infant goes back and forth between
the two. The EEGs show first the old brain stem and limbic system, and then the
newer cortex taking turns in calling the shots. It may be that the original
guide is reluctant to turn the helpless person it has been caring for over to
such a poorly informed entity. Scientists now think the loving stares that
babies lavish on their caregivers at this age are really caused by the
changeover taking place in their guidance system. Anything to take love out of
the picture! I read it as perhaps a fond farewell of the old wisdom, aware it
is fading from the picture, offering a final blessing before being subsumed in
the chaos of yet another life. Who knows if the new owner will ever remember
this part of itself? The fountain of joy and direction we each possess may
languish unheeded for the rest of our life.
this is a really exciting discovery, that our early life is confirmed to be
guided by an inner genius that maintains our basic functions but also directs
our development. Here is the visible intrusion of the Absolute, the intelligent
force that protects us from chaos until we are ready to begin to assume
conscious control ourselves.
in our history, our conscious mind wrests the steering wheel away from the
instinctual part of us, and off it goes. To our misfortune, our conscious mind
loses contact with this inner genius, and in its stead learns to steer by the
light of the darkness propounded by other conscious entities. Spiritual
enlightenment may be nothing more than recovering conscious contact with this
primeval part of ourselves. Geniuses may be those who have retained the
connection all along. This is the inner fountain source, the Absolute potency
that bubbles up in everyone. It is not some subtle intangible nothingness, it
is real. It’s just that we have covered it over with a speculative blanket
which we then sit on as heavily as we can, while the fountain gushes up,
striving to find an opening.
fountain source of the Absolute pours out from a point source within every
living thing, including atoms I suppose. Animals that live by “instinct” simply
haven’t developed enough cortex to override their inner fountain. It serves
the water that is the same in every fountain on earth, notwithstanding the
chlorine, coins and garbage that often find their way into them, the Absolute
information program that powers all of us is the same, but it is tempered and
shaped by our individual genetics and unique environment. The universal becomes
particular as it is expressed. If it is carried over correctly so it can infuse
the cortex with its instinctual intelligence, that may well be the source of
genius. A partially successful mix may produce degrees of autism and other
any case, spiritual perfection or yogic accomplishment then means that we
reconnect our detached superficial consciousness with our dharma-voice residing
in our most ancient parts, and the two learn to work together. This illuminates
the familiar Gurukula premise of the transcendental and the immanent
interpenetrating each other. Our conscious mind is concerned—quite rightly—with
immanence, with all the stuff happening to us. Our deeper brain/mind houses the
transcendent factor that gives coherence to our life over time, the unfoldment
of our potentials and all that. We optimize our life by bringing them together.
we have often thought of as a right brain-left brain dichotomy makes more sense
in terms of new brain-old brain. Barring injury, the whole brain is turned on
pretty much all the time. This is a very exciting perspective, and we can
discuss further implications in future classes. But for now, it reinforces the
message of the sutra: we must yoke our energies to a meaningful course of life.
class members were surprised about the goal orientation in this sutra, but
remember, Patanjali is goal-oriented. His is not pure advaita, nondualism. The
goal of liberation is to rediscover the transcendental and infuse it into the
immanent. The goal of experience is to uncover the transcendental joy through
participation with immanent activities. In practice, there is little or no
difference between these paths. When the seemingly incompatible sides of the
equation are brought together, there is only one thing left: a holistic life.
Our conscious and unconscious hum in harmony.
help release the vast potential energy frozen in our psyches due to the schism
between who we are and who we think we are, Nitya presents a fresh perspective
on the chakras, well worth a read. Suffice to say here that in the Western view
the brain stem is the oldest part, regulating essential unconscious processes.
In the Indian picture, the transcendental energy resides at the base of the
spine, and it can rise up through the chakras to couple with the higher
conscious centers through certain kundalini yoga exercises.
choosing sides, the class closed with a wonderful group meditation where we
dropped our outward focus and sank back into the deepest regions of our brains.
It didn’t matter which came first, spinal cord or brain stem, we just allowed
ourselves to sink back into it. We want to welcome the fountain of truth back
into our conscious lives, to bathe in it and revel in it. But it is very shy of
stepping out into the mad world in which we perch. The meeting has to be deep
in the crypt. There was such an intense feeling of bliss in the room, no one
wanted to bring it to a close. Eventually, though, the call of immanence roused
us from our reverie, and the class dispersed into the night.
the triple modalities of nature are the particular, the universal, the
differentiated, and the undifferentiated.
primary focus of the class was examining the differentiated versus the
undifferentiated. Moni recalled a talk by Nitya where he stood at a white
board, which represented the unconscious. Then he made a small vertical stroke,
like the number 1. That was the conscious. If his mark had bisected the whole
board, it would have also defined duality, by creating the perception of two
reveals a key idea of our continued progress in the Yoga Shastra. We have been
dealing with bringing about a balance between what we might call the left and
right sides of the board, which is a horizontal duality. Our class has
developed expertise in that kind of balanced thinking. But there is also a
vertical duality: that between the mark (line), and the unmarked (the white
board). This is a tougher nut to crack.
favorite elucidation is that what the ancient scientists intuited and we now
understand more concretely is that there is a more or less undifferentiated
universe of particles in which everything takes place. If you only perceive
that, it is like an ocean in which everything is made up of the same few
elements. The wall, the air, and the people in the room are quite uniform, and
it’s almost impossible to differentiate them on this level. But our brains
perform a magical feat. They convert impressions of this vibratory universe
into a coherent four-dimensional image in which each part is distinct. In the
theater of our mind’s eye, people, walls, and the space around them become
discernible, they take on names and forms. This is by no means a bad thing! It
enables us to interact, to play with each other and work together.
supreme achievement is that an Absolute which is everything can veil itself
from itself in order to take on the appearance of limitation and separation.
That aint easy! Almost seems a shame to work so hard to undo that seemingly
our mental images are like the mirage analogy that every Vedantin is familiar
with, and which Nitya employs here beautifully. The world we see is formed out
of nothing, or a sea of not very much, and yet it is so convincing, much more
convincing than the undifferentiated “grains of sand” on which it is projected.
This is yet another impossible feat.
brought up the essential problem here: are we then to turn away from our
differentiated world and attend to the undifferentiated, or is there something
beyond them both that is the true reality? The Gita’s Chapter XV addresses this
ultimate conundrum, that has plagued philosophers forever. In it Krishna
explains there is a manifested Absolute and an unmanifested Absolute, but
beyond these is a transcendental Absolute that is the ultimate, paramount
Person. Three Absolutes that are all absolute. It is a lot like the Holy
Trinity, where the One is really Three, and all are the same and yet different.
Impossible. And yet, irrefutable. That’s paradox for you.
of paradoxes, I learned an amazing thing this very week, despite having paid
attention most of my life. Catholics don’t believe that Protestants are
Christians, and Protestants insist that Catholics are not Christians;
therefore, according to Christians there are no Christians, and thus no such
thing as Christianity! What a relief to finally find this out!
can deconstruct all our reality that way, and it lifts us out of the morass of
insisting we are right and everyone else wrong, or vice versa.
noted how being able to realize that what we see, and even what we know, is
provisional and therefore not the whole story, has helped her so much in being
able to let go and not get overly upset by events. At the same time, she is more able to appreciate the beauty and
wonder of those same events, not to mention the whole game. Talk about a
paradox! And yet it’s true. Being utterly convinced that appearance is
reality—as even eminent scientists continue to assert, as if they were no wiser
than religious nutcases—regularly deludes us into falling on our face, because
appearance and reality are only minimally related. Having at least a sneaking
suspicion that what we are perceiving might be an impeccably staged passion
play in our mind permits us to remain upright even in the midst of a raging
storm. Upright is a better position for enjoying the storm than cowering from
it in terror.
Deb has been drawn to the classic Vedantic image of two birds on a tree branch,
one eating the fruit and one watching, symbolizing the duality of actor and
witness. Nataraja Guru writes about this in Unitive
Philosophy, pages 145-46, and includes the original quote
Svetasvatara Upanishad (IV.6). For those interested in delving a little deeper,
Nataraja Guru’s chapter Favourite
Examples in Vedanta deconstructs several analogies of
what he there calls
appearance and reality. In terms of our present study, appearances are how we
view the world with our mental imagery, and the reality is the ocean of
particulate building blocks.
agreed she was only a mirage, and that when she died the mirage would be gone.
Then later she told a story of something that caused her to feel regret over
and worry about. So, if we think “I am a mirage,” it is no different than
saying “I am such and such,” or “I am me.” You can even say “I am nothing.” All
are equally assertions, statements of an ego-mirage attempting to define
itself. To get the point of where this is taking us, we have to relinquish all
Nitya nor the class discussed the relationship between the modalities and their
universal or particular states, which is after all what the sutra expresses.
For a definitive discussion, see That
Alone, verse 88, especially pages 623-625. (If you don’t
have access to the
book, I can email you the chapter.) The gist is that sattva, rajas and tamas
are the manifested (differentiated) aspects of sat, chit and ananda, which are
more like an unmanifested template. Sat and sattva, even as words, are very
similar. Chit and rajas are thought and what carries out thoughts, still close.
The widest divergence is between tamas and ananda. Being caught in the
manifestation of appearances, instead of preserving our joy as we hope it will,
is more likely to kill it. And there’s the rub.
paradox can be unified with intelligent reasoning, but vertical paradox
requires penetration into the depths beyond the reach of thoughts. We sat
pondering the mirage image of a lake in the desert with the brilliant sun
reflecting into our ajna chakra, our third eye. We invoked several “gateway
ideas” to take us to the edge of silence: Who or what is this ‘I’? Is it only a
false image constructed out of nothingness, destined to dissolve? And if so,
are we it? Does who we are go away with it, or does it persist? Is our core of
certitude equally as false as its immersion in outer appearances? If everything
is the Absolute, how did it come to be housed in an individual body that
imagines itself to be limited? What does it really
mean, that we are the Absolute?
sat immersed in samadhi for a long time, gently letting go of all intrusive
thoughts, beyond perhaps the eternal question Who am I? to bounce us back into
emptiness. It was clear that we are not our physical or mental characteristics.
What we are is indefinable, but we could sit in it, together. It was; it was…
Sutra II:19 continued
second part of the Sutra deals with the scheme of aum, which is familiar to all
Gurukula students. The commentary is dense, but if read with the scheme in mind
it becomes more readily comprehensible.
admitted to being somewhat confused around the horizontal/vertical duality and
how that squared with non-duality, so that was our major area of discussion.
The subtleties are not immediately obvious, and this is a very good time to get
these core ideas squared away in our heads, as we approach the grand finale of
Patanjali’s yoga. First off, it is important to realize that non-duality takes
duality into account, that it is a resolution of perceived duality into unity.
Without duality there can be no non-duality. That is different than pure unity,
which can hold no shade of anything but itself.
Patanjali is frankly dualistic, where the Gurukula’s core teachings are less
so. The exercise of unifying dual concepts is the essence of yoga, and it is
enjoyable for the seeker because it brings an enlightened perspective into
their life. When things “make sense” in a valid way, they tend to be much less
threatening or frightening.
to review the aum-scheme, we begin by visualizing a set of Cartesian
coordinates. Aum’s A stands for the wakeful, objective aspect of the world, and
is placed on the positive side of the horizontal axis (by convention, to the
right of the vertical line that bisects it). U is the dream or the conceptual
complement at the horizontal negative, to the left of the vertical axis. M is
the pole of deep sleep or unmanifested potential, located at the vertical minus,
and the silence at the end of aum stands for the transcendental fourth state at
helpful way to conceive of this is that the horizontal represents space and the
vertical, time. Time and space go together; one without the other is
incomprehensible to us. Our spiritual heart pulses at the point of intersection
of the coordinates, meaning that space and time, the here and the now, meet
story of our life is to proceed over time from pure ignorance or pure
potential, up the vertical axis toward wisdom, or total knowledge. Along the
way, at every interval a horizontal world is spread out around us in three
dimensions, initially very small but continually expanding as our mind expands.
The scheme we’re using constrains us to visualize our world as a flat image,
but it is better contemplated as something like an hourglass on its side, with
our vantage point in the middle: the objective world surrounds us on all sides
and we are centered in a narrow transition zone of sensory input, which
connects it with an equally vast, though virtual, inner world. However we think
of it, it is very important to not be content with any schematic drawing, but
to translate it into the actuality of the world as we experience it.
accuracy of the correspondence between the objective world and its conceptual
images is critically important. If we wander from our center, we become
eccentric. But it isn’t as easy as it sounds to remain grounded at the
intersection point of the horizontal and vertical. In a world where objective
demands for the basic necessities of life are predominant, there is fast
feedback if our dreams don’t match our needs. But the modern world has freed us
from much drudgery, so we can live in imaginary worlds of our own construction
without immediate conflict. What we may not realize is that by losing touch
with the objective world we are also moving off our center. An inner discontent
sets in, and we may not even know what causes it or how to cure it. We are
likely to move farther off center, searching blindly, exaggerating the
preferences that led us astray in the first place. When we thoroughly lose
touch with our vertical spirit, we enter a state of depression.
other things, this is addictive behavior. The ego mistakes the cause of our
malaise for its cure, and so repeatedly reinforces it. It’s as if it wants to
test how far out “on a limb” it can go. The answer, discovered by millions:
very far indeed. Unfortunately, when we move out of our vertical center, the
progress upwards is inhibited, and eventually can even stop or be reversed.
This is why addicts who can “turn themselves around” and rejoin their center
begin their development again at the mental age when they abandoned their
example from the class doesn’t require addiction, at least to any substance.
Religious people often move away from “the world” and into fantasy lands,
exaggerating the horizontal negative pole. Materialists and hedonists may revel
in the objective world at the expense of their mental discrimination,
exaggerating the horizontal positive. One says the outside world is evil and
the other says that that’s all there is. Such polar opposites may drive each
other to extremes, because their votaries imagine they are enemies instead of
reciprocal elements of a single cosmic game. In any case, we move away from the
vertical core whenever we exaggerate one side of the equation. Yoga is all
about regaining our lost balance and easing back into our vertical destiny,
causing us to soar upwards, exercising and refining our talents.
horizontal realm is very complicated and full of attractions and repulsions. It
can bog us down in our unfoldment no matter how well we deal with it. Happily,
our system naturally epitomizes our experience as ananda, reducing it to an
essential value or principle that is much more portable. To my (very limited)
knowledge the Gurukula is unique in recognizing ananda as value or meaning,
rather than bliss. Bliss is static; value is dynamic. Bliss has a dual counterpart
in misery; value is unitive.
isn’t to say that we should constrain our lives to mere vertical essences and
shut out all horizontal “temptations”; only that our sorties into the
horizontal need to maintain symmetry around the vertical, which is our true
inner nature, our essence, or what have you. The objective world and our
understanding of it need to be in close correspondence. When they are, learning
and experiencing on the horizontal plane make us rich in knowledge and
expertise and connect us with our fellow beings. When paired with the vertical
urge to progress to realization and wisdom, we can see how the horizontal and
vertical feed into each other and support each other. Here is where true
satisfaction is to be found.
been doing some heavy labor this week, and while I was whacking away at
blackberry vines I realized I had left out the most important way we exaggerate
the horizontal by far, that is, in relation to work. Work is all about dealing
with the objective, actual world. Some religions tout continual work as the
sure path to heaven, and most political systems insist on its priority over all
other concerns. Both camps have a tough time legitimizing “unproductive”
thinking, lazing about, undirected meditation, and all those kinds of
unmeasurable pleasures of life that do so much for our brains as well as our
general well being. The only official excuse for rest is to recharge the body
so it can do more work, etc. etc. Productivity is the only thing that matters,
and everything else is subservient to it. So keep your nose to the grindstone
and never look up from it. What an unhappy philosophy that is!
the workforce is the modern day equivalent of Arjuna standing on the brink of
the battle of Kurukshetra. The mayhem looks impossibly threatening, and
retiring to a monastery is an appealing alternative. Really, a capitalist, dog
eat dog workplace is a lot like a battlefield, with honored winners and bitter
losers, and plenty of back-stabbing and bloodshed. Fight or die! Conversely,
Arjuna’s battlefield is like many jobs, in that everywhere he looks he sees
friends and relatives, familiar folks all, and they are daring him to come
right in and join the fray, or else. Yikes!
tells Arjuna to hold on a minute: the secret is not to either run away to a
cave or become just another indistinguishable part of the slugfest, but to
merge into the state of the Absolute. Don’t remain horizontalized, but
integrate the horizontal and vertical to become an optimized participant in the
play. And it can and does happen right in the middle of whatever you are doing.
terms of the horizontal-vertical axes we are talking about now, work is mainly
treated as a positive horizontal activity, thoroughly objective, and only
having meaning in terms of material matters. The subjective component on the
negative horizontal pole centers on accumulating knowledge and understanding
for work. Even what you imagine has to be tied its objective justification; if
it goes elsewhere it is “wool gathering” or antisocial time wasting. Depending
on the kind of work you are doing, this could lead you into a real intellectual
desert, with little or no positive impact on your spiritual development, which
some very legitimate people consider the actual
main point of life. But if your work is reasonably close to your dharma, to
your calling, then aligning its requirements with your mental orientation is a
key to excellence both spiritually and materially.
also has a vertical aspect, which is its goal orientation. The most maddening
parts of work are when the horizontal activities you are asked to perform are
not much related to the vertical goals of the job, or if those goals themselves
are corrupt. In the fire department, where I had my career, there was lots of
“make work” to “kill time.” It was boring or worse, a kind of mental torture.
But the department did at least have a clearly defined goal orientation to save
lives and protect property, and preparing for and executing those complex tasks
could be exhilarating. When it wasn’t, at least it made sense.
of material life uber alles like to
make work sound spiritual, waving the flag for it and scorning those who don’t
enlist in the good fight. Sometimes work can be spiritual, but often it isn’t.
That’s why Vedanta emphasizes finding your dharma, finding the right fit
between what you do and where your inner light is leading you. In other words,
bringing your horizontal activities—which may not always be that pleasant—into
harmony with your vertical trajectory through life. Such an outlook doesn’t fit
in very well to a mass-produced state of mind. A healthy political or religious
system should make room for individual inclinations, but for some reason that’s
an anathema. It spoils the monochrome appearance bureaucrats crave.
scheme of aum can really throw some light here. We need to keep our horizontal
life in tune with our vertical impulse, which is the really spiritual, or at
least evolutionary, part of us. If we are made into hapless servants of
unmitigated materialistic greed (i.e. someone else’s horizontal interests), it
can suck the life right out of us. It’s important to at least know that the
vertical part of us exists. We should be advocates for it, even.
not uncommon for people to mistake their horizontal fantasies for vertical
insights, and wander off into strange tangents. The blessing of participation
in practical work is that it grounds us, preventing our fantasies from tugging
us off into meaninglessness, or worse. Like physical exercise, the pairing of
the horizontal poles through work helps ameliorate a number of mental ills that
build up when there isn’t an actual outlet for our energies.
sum up, the yogi’s process is to balance and equalize the horizontal pluses and
minuses—actuality and its comprehension—while remaining attuned to a value
vision of a life of maximum evolution, however that might be appreciated. Often
the vertical unfoldment remains on an intuitive level, only realized after a
pattern is discerned in past events. If we make the vertical intentional, it
becomes horizontalized. That means if we cast ourselves wholeheartedly into a
meaningful lifestyle, our true nature will guide us from within, like a flower
bud blossoming. We don’t have to force the issue.
my observation, the reverse is also true: attunement with the vertical leads
people to suitable applications of their talents. That means if you are looking
for work, paid or volunteer or simply to engage Necessity, look first to your
core, your vertical interests, and all else will be added unto you.
The seer is consciousness only; even though
20 goes right to the crux of life and its unbearable paradox. To wit: our
witnessing self, purusa, is unaffected by and unable to interact with prakriti
at all, yet as it looks on it becomes identified with the quasi-illusory ego,
which is affected by and does
interact with what goes on. We may intuit an immortal quality to the witness,
but the ego is definitely short-lived, and its brevity imparts a degree of
anguish to what should be pure delight. The original mahendra magic show.
used a perfect metaphor for how the witness is thrown off balance by the ego.
He pictured a blind man with a seeing-eye dog on a leash. The dog is capable of
only a few very helpful functions, but the man imagines it is totally in
charge. When the dog sees a squirrel it tears after it and drags him all over
the place. Soon it is out of control, zipping hither and yon in a mad dash. In
one of Paul’s favorite phrases, the ego/dog makes an excellent servant, but a
very poor master.
image that came to my mind was of the spectacular milk splash caught on camera
back in the 1950s, looking for all the world like a royal crown. You can see
similar ones on the net if you wish. Milk makes the effect more visible, but
water acts in much the same way. Picture a puddle you are looking into. A
raindrop falls in and a gorgeous splash flies. For an instant you are captivated
by its beauty, and then it merges back into the puddle or the lake it came
from. Our ego is just like the splash: breathtakingly amazing for the duration
of its brief existence, and then gone. We identify with it at our peril. It
would be better to admire its existence but also keep in mind we are more than
individual splash begins with the physics to be a symmetrical and stately
crown, but in actual life our puddle is filled with millions of splashes going
off all the time. It’s a monsoon deluge! The splashes overlap and impinge on
one another, so the shape they are bumped and blasted into is deformed, or at
least becomes much more complex than any simple form. No matter, we can’t seem
to help thinking that the splash is who we are, until we raise our vision from
the puddle and look around.
mentions that our intellect is not actually in contact with the reality we seem
to perceive, that we are only dealing with a replica constructed in our mind’s
eye. This ancient insight has been confirmed by modern science. Despite this,
we all carry on as if we are seeing and interacting with reality as it is. Few
are the yogis who take into account the possible discrepancies between our
mental images and whatever reality lies beyond them. The images are so
convincing we are easily deluded.
wondered why knowing this mattered. Paul’s image is perfect: we are being
dragged all over town by a mad dog, driven insane by its own limited
understanding, its kneejerk reactions and unbridled desires. Once we get a
little distance on the situation, we can calm our doggie down. Doing so makes
us more, not less, capable of taking a wise course through our life.
keeping with the mystical side of our study, which is rapidly deepening, we
closed with a meditation on the Gayatri Mantra, from the wonderful class
captured on tape and converted to CD by Sraddha. She might still have some if
you are interested. For a brief spell our flaring splashes settled down and we
merged back into the ocean that is the source of all.