Nitya Teachings

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Yoga Sutras II: 11-20


Sutra II:11

Their modifications are to be removed by pure contemplation.


Patanjali continues 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.

         As 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 place.

  Coincidentally, 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.

  Yoga 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.

Nitya underscores 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.

  Diksha 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.

  This 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.

  A 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 themselves.

  Initiating 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.

  This 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.

         Do 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?

  Nitya 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.


  Meditation 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, meditation and 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 steady state.


         Paul 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.

         The 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.

         Good poems are like friends, and Deb paraphrased two fine ones that bore on our discussion, which I will append below in Part II.

         Immersion 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.


         So 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.



Part II

         By 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 the form.

         First, 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 bed

   the light passing into the remote opalescence

it returns to as the year wakes toward winter

   a season of rain in a year already rich

in rain with masked light emerging on all sides

   in the new leaves of the palms quietly waving

time of mud and slipping and of overhearing

   the water under the sloped ground going on whispering

as it travels time of rain thundering at night

   and of rocks rolling and echoing in the torrent

and of looking up after noon through the high branches

   to see fine rain drifting across the sunlight

over the valley that was abused and at last left

   to fill with thickets of rampant aliens

bringing habits but no stories under the mango trees

   already vast as clouds there I keep discovering

beneath the tangle the ancient shaping of water

   to which the light of an hour comes back as to a secret

and there I planted young palms in places I had not pondered

   until then I imagined their roots setting out in the dark

knowing without knowledge I kept trying to see them standing

   in that bend of the valley in the light that would come


And here's the beauty and truth quote, from Keats:


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 all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."



         From my own commentary on Chapter VI of the Gita, dealing with dhyana, or meditation/contemplation:


1)         Krishna said:

         Without 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.


         The 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 future rewards.

         When 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.


2)         That 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 yogi.


         Yoga 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 life.


Part III

         Susan 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:


Dear Scott,


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 in the 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! Thanks for reading/listening, as always,



And my response:


Dear Susan,

         I 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.

         Wisdom 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.

         I’ve 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:


         Chapter 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.

         Perfect 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.

         Cautionary 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.

         The 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.

         Arjuna 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. Absolute bipolarity is a Gurukula cliché that we usually read right past without thinking. Respectfully, Scott



Sutra II:12

         The 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.


         Having 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.

         Nitya 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.

         A 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.

         Attempting 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.

         Often 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.

         What 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 for you.

         That is not an option of yoga, sorry to report. Nitya implies this eloquently in his second paragraph:


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.


         Well, 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 explorations.

         As 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.



Sutra II: 13

As long as the root cause is there it must fruition as a class programmed for a certain duration and experiences.


         Nitya’s 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.

         Unfortunately, the planting of invisible seeds is undoubtedly the most valuable aspect that cannot be 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.

         If the bliss of wisdom instruction reverberates in your psyche still, it is because it has become a samskara, a cultured impression.

         This 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:


1) manifests at birth

2) determines the body’s lifespan

3) produces experiences of pleasure and pain


These 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 misery.

         The 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.

         Not 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.

         On 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:


  If the 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.

  Right knowledge is the means to destroy these negative forces.


         The 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.

         We 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 it.

         As 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.

         I 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 true 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.

         It 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.

         Paul 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.

         But 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.

         The 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.

         Ah, 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.

         In 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 ago.

         This 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.

         We 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.


Part II

  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.


Dear Scott,

Even 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.


I 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.


Usually, 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.


In 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.


As 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.


Well, that's one of my more predominant samskaras. Now, to learn to negate it or diffuse it??

With love,



         One 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 poem:


Moving Through the Desert




The snake winds his body


over rocky heat,


sand pulling


on shedding skin,


scraping off the slough


of old desire,


the life now too tight,


and unable to breathe


he winds and pulls,


pushing forward,


moving into open breath,


out of constriction,


leaving behind


that last moment,


the tightness,


into this touch,


the limitless air.


Part III

         Deb has added a very important point. Thank you for this valuable contribution:


Dear Scott and Readers, I would like to add a small something to our last class discussion and to Scott's notes.

         What 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.

         When 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.

         In 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 action.

         In 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.


So the essence of Patanjali's sutras is move out of this stuck cage and into a wide world of understanding and acceptance.


Part IV

         In 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 speak.

         Rejection 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.

         In 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 spiritual resonance.

         Nowadays 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.


         Like 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.

         A 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.

         Another 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.

         Some 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.

         There 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.

         Well-established 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.

         Because 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.

         The 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 such tragedies.

         Luckily, 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.


         As 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.



Sutra II: 14

They (the seeded carriers of action propensities) have joy or sorrow for their fruit in accordance with virtue or vice.


         The 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.

         I 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.

         Much 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.

         Good 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.

         Additionally, 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 to go.

         In 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)


         A 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 samadhi.

         The class spent most of our time pondering the kernel of Nitya’s commentary, which is:


Modern commentators 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.


         A 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 of wonder.

         Deb 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.

         Clearly, 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.

         John 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.

         At the close, Anne offered a quote from Goethe on the importance of horizontal activity. 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 miserable or 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 decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de–escalated, and a person humanized or dehumanized.


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 of becoming.


-  Goethe



Sutra II:15

To 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.


         Sutras II:15 and 16 are among Nitya’s most masterful expositions, and round out the lengthy discussion of the afflictions with profound insight.

          Deb 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 obstacles.

         Religious 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.

         Much 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.

         Nitya’s 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.

         Transcending 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.”

         The 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.

         In 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 isolation.

         Similarly, ‘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 is nothing 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 within self-alienation. Restoring all-oneness with a transcendental understanding brings misery and suffering to a close, which is the true meaning of atonement.

         By 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.”

         Like 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.

         My 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.

         Throughout 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, documents how 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.

         When 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?

         What 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 plunge?

         Happily, 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.

         Anita 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.



Sutra II:16

The pain that has not yet come is to be avoided.


         Although 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 enticingly exploratory.

         Deb 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.

         Nitya’s 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….

         Susan’s 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.

         Going 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.

         Nitya 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.

         The 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 a prospect.

         One 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         Yoga 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.

         As 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.

         Jan 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.

         Henri 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 qualitatively different.

         The 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.

         This 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.

         Attachment 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.

         Let’s 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.


Part II

Susan elaborated a bit on what she was thinking, a worthy addition, thank you:


Nitya explains Sutra II:16, "The pain that has not yet 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 thinking about 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.”



Sutra II:17

The cause of that which is to be avoided is the conjunction of the seer and the seen.


         Several 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.

         I 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 deep space 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.

         The 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.

         Paul 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 minimal effort.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         This 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.


         Recall 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.

         Verse 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:


Earlier [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.

If 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….

Narayana 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.

What, 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.


         Paul 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.

         Where 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.

         Sharing 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:


  Even when 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.

  When even 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.


My response:


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.”

  Not 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.

  We 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.

  On 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.

  Whatever 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.

         If 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.

         Yogic 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.


Part II

         Class 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.


Dear Scott,


It is a quiet early morning time here in Truckee. I’m 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 liked:


  “The 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.”


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 thing!


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 to read,



Part III

         Nothing 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



Sutra II:18

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.


         Deb 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.”

         The 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.

         This 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 is blocked, 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 from the depression of not being able to express our true potentials! Needless to say, this advice is meant for everybody.

         This 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 here.

         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:


Illumination, 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.

         In 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.

         My 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.

         There 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.

         Nitya intentionally translates the sutra as experience and liberation. He could have written experience or liberation, but he didn’t. They go together. They are not mutually exclusive.

         In 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 that forever.

  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 plainly.


         I 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.

         But 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.

         Early 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.

         This 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 them well.

         Like 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 developmental problems.

         In 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.

         What 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.

         Several 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.

         To 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.

         Without 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.



Sutra II:19

The stages of the triple modalities of nature are the particular, the universal, the differentiated, and the undifferentiated.


         The 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 sides.

         This 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.

         My 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.

         The 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 impossible feat.

         Curiously, 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.

         Paul 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.

         Speaking 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!

         We 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.

         Jan 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.

         Lately 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 from the 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.

         Moni 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 self descriptions.

         Neither 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.

         Horizontal 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?

         We 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… so….



Sutra II:19 continued


         The 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.

         Paul 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.

         Moreover, 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.

         Briefly, 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 the top.

         One 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 precisely there.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         Among 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 vertical balance.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         This 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.


Part II

         I’ve 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!

         Entering 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!

         Krishna 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.

         In 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.

         Work 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.

         Proponents 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.

         The 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.

         It’s 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.

         To 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.

         From 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.



Sutra II:20

The seer is consciousness only; even though pure, it witnesses cognition.


         Sutra 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.

         Paul 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.

         The 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 that.

         Each 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.

         Nitya 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.

         John 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.

         In 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.


Scott Teitsworth