Sutras II: 21 & 22
The very being of the seen is for the sake of
alone. Although it becomes non-existent for one whose purpose has been
fulfilled, it does not cease to exist because of being common to others.
Nitya characterizes these snippets as being less important than the rest,
between his comments and our class discussion we explored a very valuable
aspect of spirituality. During our early development we are focused primarily
on the world we perceive, and so there is a tendency to project our normal
self-examination outwards. Where we should be assessing and disciplining
ourselves, we may instead become caught up in analyzing and complaining about
the behavior of others. These two sutras remind us to turn the arrow of our critical
analysis toward ourselves.
points out us that Patanjali’s intent is to help us disentangle ourselves from
psychological bondage, and it would be a mistake to take sutra 21 as a final
word on the overall nature of the universe. Sutra 22 demonstrates Patanjali’s
awareness of the limited purview of his instruction. He wants us to take care
of our own spiritual needs and not be distracted by the chaos through which we
move and breathe.
Book of Genesis, among other scriptural visions, is often ridiculed for
presenting a flawed cosmology. Unfortunately this had led its votaries to try
to defend it on the same grounds, thus pitting one illusion against another.
Nitya’s first guru, Dr. G.H. Mees explains this conundrum very well in his
introduction to The Key to Genesis:
first Chapter of Genesis has been generally assumed to present an account or
theory of the creation of the material universe and of the evolution of life.
For that reason it cannot be a source of wonder that modern man, with his
knowledge of material processes in the universe and of biology, has tended to
look down upon Genesis as a poor product of an ignorant mentality. No doubt the
people who knew the meaning of Genesis in past ages would have shaken their
heads if they had come to learn of the modern way which tends to take
everything at its face value alone and to interpret spiritual scriptures as if
they were textbooks of astronomy, physics or biology. For Genesis does not
describe cosmic and biological processes. Its purpose is more profound.
aim of religion is to make man happier and to help him find peace and bliss,
within himself and in his relation to the world without. It does not make
anyone happier to know how the material world is created (assuming that such knowledge
is possible at all) and how the physical processes take place and can be
controlled. In connection with many aspects of science the world has learned to
its cost to what extent control of matter can endanger and destroy peace and
happiness. Atomic bombs and clouds are now looming in the sky threatening to
shatter man’s peace altogether and to cloud his horizon for evermore.
man has largely lost interest in “established religion”, because its dogmas,
based almost wholly upon a literal interpretation of Scripture, offend his
intelligence. He has become convinced that the great astronomers and physicists
of these days have something to tell us that is more intelligent than the
superstitious and outworn traditions which are contained, according to his
belief, in Scripture. And who can blame him, as long as he does not know the
deeper meaning hidden in the fundamental teachings of “Genesis”?
is really astonishing how much we all get caught up in being our brother’s
keeper, instead of addressing our own needs and faults. The famous phrase from
Genesis itself has even become an exhortation to make that very mistake, that
we should be our brother’s keeper, although that is definitely not the original
intent. ‘Keeper’ is another word for ‘jailor’, by the way, and that seems to be
the subterranean motivation surfacing ubiquitously these days. Let’s put
everyone under lock and key, and that will solve all our problems.
often tell the story of a friend who was going on and on to Nitya about some serious
troubles in Africa. Nitya listened for awhile and then said, “If that is how
you feel, you should start walking there right now.” The friend immediately got
the point: what use is obsessing over some faraway malaise, which the world is
always filled with, when you have so much to work on right here in front of
you? “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone,” and all that. At
least our local problems have more substance to them than the distant ones that
are made up mainly of partisan news reports and imaginary simplifications.
members often figure into our most pressing problems, because our attachments
to them often go so deep they seem to be indistinguishable from us. Jan talked
about her disappointment with her brother, with whom she was once very close
and now is emotionally estranged. At some point she had to stop trying to
repair the relationship and let it go, which helped her to free herself from a
painful mindset. The very act of trying to let go caused her to face some of her
own issues that were tied up with him, and as she worked through them she felt
much lighter about how it had turned out.
also continues to wrestle with her disappointing relationship with her brother.
She was extremely close to him for a very long time, much more than most
siblings, so the attachments are all the harder to release. Family ties are
probably the most deeply lodged of all, and the solution has often been to cut
them off entirely and walk away. Sannyasa in one sense means dying to your blood
family, and that has come to be seen as a keynote of spiritual exploration. But
yoga is more about using our problems as illumination and inspiration for our
ongoing work. Nitya says that specifically here:
that world of psychological significance, and to the study and evaluation of it
in terms of a person's happiness or misery. That is why it is said that the
perceptual world of nature is what is given to the individual spirit to
experience for its own meaningful search and progression into ultimate
In other words, what we encounter is like a
reflection of our own developmental needs, and we strive to decode the mystery
with penetrating contemplation of the situations in which we are embroiled. We
should welcome life as an ongoing revelation of who we are.
this reason, the challenges of life are characterized as blessings in disguise,
and without them we would stagnate. They press us to seek for answers and
adjust ourselves to their demands. But as Deb said, we’d prefer to do without
that kind of blessing. The tamasic parts of our brain would just as soon be
spared any challenges. Spirituality is not possible without intentionality.
There is a widespread belief that simply ignoring problems is spiritual, but is
the proverbial ostrich with its head buried in the sand the epitome of wisdom
or simply ludicrous?
key point here is that we may not be able to correct anyone else, but if we are
brave enough we can allow ourselves to be corrected by our own intelligence. If
our problems are detached from reality, our fantasy life may lead us into
craziness. Just as work keeps us grounded, the world continually blesses us
with innumerable challenges to keep us ever awake and attentive.
the light of this insight, Bill quoted poet Gary Davis as saying, “There is
nothing to be done. So let’s get started!” I mentioned the parallel Thai adage:
“Life is short. So we must move very, very slowly.” Haste makes waste, as does
vapid inactivity. Any impatience we feel is generated by our hopes and
expectations bouncing off the world around us, distorted by the imperfections
of the mirror. But if we can settle into a grounded state within, we will be
more effective in everything we do, because the flaws of life will have lost
their ability to hold us back.
The conjunction of purusha and prakriti is the
cause of the
apprehension of the essential nature and powers of both.
the theme from the previous two sutras, Patanjali tells us that awareness
itself is a byproduct of spirit and nature being conjoined. The wording makes
it sound like two separate things are brought together to produce
“apprehension,” but the Vedantic notion is that one oceanic source is divided
into two aspects, which then can interact. It is the interaction itself which
produces awareness. As Nitya puts it, this is one of the major mysteries of
life—and it actually may be the prime mystery from which all others flow.
we have “taken sides” and identified our self with the purusha half of the
divide, we tend to think in various terms of reuniting with the other half. The
secret is that the harder we struggle to accomplish that, the more stubbornly
the schism remains in place. We are directed to instead turn to the One Beyond,
or better yet, the One Within, attaining which the duality naturally ebbs away.
had found a relevant stretch of That Alone that explains this very well, from
verse 56, which she couldn’t locate during the class, but is included here. Actually,
the entire commentary is very helpful, and the end is among Nitya’s most
poignant and powerful statements anywhere. I recommend rereading it sometime
ocean and its waves analogy dealt with in verse 56 is a more unified version of
the purusha/prakriti duality. Nitya says:
factual world should find a place in existence, but the possibility of arriving
at an absolute should also be there. If you can combine these two into one
total vision it is called samvit. Is samvit cosmic consciousness? Yes. Is samvit matter? Yes. Is samvit pure Absolute? Yes. Is it God?
Yes. Is it the devil? Yes. What is it not? ‘Is’ and ‘is not’ are both samvit. It is dynamic, and in
dynamism innumerable possibilities are happening.
Out of the ocean of samvit. two possibilities emerge that are of general
One is the mind that perceives and the other is what is perceived. One is not
the cause of the other: both are only consequential factors. It is not that the
ocean is more real than the wave. The water and its agitations are both
products of a total action situation.
Nitya adds an important corollary a little bit
To deny the wave and the ocean together,
if you can, is wisdom. But if you then sit on what you have rejected, saying “I
have realized; this is my realization,” you have only made a new slab of
ignorance called “my realization.” I don’t know if I am making sense to you.
The very moment you realize that this is truth, you have falsified the whole
thing. So where is the grace and where is the joy of the Absolute? It is all
this. Don’t be afraid: it’s all still here.
What he means is that thoughts asserting “I
am this” or “I
am that,” no matter how sublime or excellent, identify us as a purusha distinct
from prakriti. Therefore we should never take pride in our attitude, or any
value it might have contained is instantly erased. If we are enchanted enough
with just being alive we won’t have time for pride, or any need for it either.
reminded us of the classic idea that purusha is immersed in prakriti in order
to know itself, or in Western terms, God created humans in order to have
something see him in all his glory. Either way, purusha/spirit is the
transcendent and prakriti/nature is the immanent. Their conjunction creates the
classic analogy uses light and darkness. Purusha is pure light, prakriti total
darkness. In either one, nothing is perceivable. Only when light mixes with
darkness do distinct features become evident. This recalls the first book of
Genesis, where light impregnates the dark womb of the firmament and an entire
universe springs forth. There they are called heaven and earth, respectively.
Once they are separated, the flow of time begins.
prakriti and purusha are conjoined, life is artistic in the broadest sense.
Even the most mundane details are delight-filled. I always think of Kurt
Vonnegut’s image of the dead waiting in long lines to get back into a body, any
body: black, brown, or white; male or female or even animal. Being dead is utterly
boring, so they are desperate for a
chance to live again, and will take anything they can get.
wanted us to remember this while we are actually alive, but somehow soon after
we are born we are convinced to defer living until after death. So we go back
and forth across the divide between here and hereafter, searching for
resolution exactly where it isn’t. The longing for a perfect afterlife is
actually a devastating blow to our spirit, and an utter waste to boot. We would
be much better off to long for our present life, and attain it and enter into
came to my mind because Scotty had been at a show of his artwork, and he heard
a lot of people muttering about how they didn’t have a creative bone in their
bodies, couldn’t do any art, etc. etc. He finally got fed up and accosted two
people, to let them know that everybody can and should do something artistic. He told them that everybody has so much
experience that they all are capable of some form of creativity. Our lives are
so rich compared with some other periods of history! Too bad we don’t give them
their due. Scotty wondered where we learn that we are powerless and that the
important things in life are all done by others. This is a terrible though
unintentional effect of a belief in a distant god who runs the world. It
permeates society as a pernicious foreboding that we are inadequate and
inferior. Scotty wanted, like Patanjali, to intervene on our behalf, to
convince us we are perfectly wonderful. All we have to do is pick up the ball and
we look at nature as the whole story, we feel cowed by its magnificence. If we
imagine our spirit or soul is the only thing that matters, we will devastate the
environment. Nitya presents the inner secret here, that neither extreme is where
we should be directing our energies:
states: being bound to nature or being free of nature. These can also be termed
as transcendence and immanence. Both are only of partial value, so far as
individuated beings are concerned. The ideal state is when the individual is
conversant with both immanence and transcendence….
of bondage and liberation become evident
through the comparison and contrast of the two sets of norms with which we are
equipped. One set of norms is given to us to play effectively and pragmatically
in the world of empirical facts, the world of relativity or relativistic
values. The other set is to reveal the falsehood of relativistic experiences so
that we may have a unitive understanding.
What this means is that just because the world
false in the sense of being an arbitrary construct, it is a beautiful and
fascinating place to play out our destiny. How could there ever be a created
place that wasn’t arbitrary? So lighten up and break out a smile. But we should
definitely use our transcendental perspective to reduce the inherent falsehood
to the minimum. Falsehood isn’t monolithic: it starts as only a tiny
inclination, but we magnify it beyond all reason, and then we’re really unhappy.
got into a discussion of the astonishing complexity and utility of prakriti,
and Deb mentioned the new idea of solar roads. You can learn about them here: http://wimp.com/solarhighways. It
certainly appears that nature is endlessly bountiful and adaptable. There is no
reason for us to despair because we’ve reached the edge of where our
imagination has so far taken us. It is only a failure of imagination. The
universe has plenty more options we haven't thought of yet.
Its cause is nescience.
continue our brief survey of avidya
(nescience) prior to arriving at the ever-popular eight limbs of Patanjali’s
yoga. Though brief, commensurate with the minimalist sutra, Nitya’s comments
make a banquet of food for thought here.
word nescience, meaning not knowledge or not science, was consciously chosen by
Nataraja Guru to supersede the more common translation of avidya, ignorance. A
great deal of what we imagine to be truth is actually our (not very well
considered) opinion about details of the world, or prakriti, and thus is very
far from truth. Humans readily become aggressive about their opinions, but
truth needs no defender. Its inherent validity makes it “a fortress unto itself.”
The section on avidya is one more opportunity to really examine our own
certitudes with a courageous eye. Patanjali wants us to cleanse our minds of as
much junk as possible before we begin practicing the eight limbs.
itself is hampered by all manner of prejudices masquerading as facts, and
strenuous measures are taken to purge its experiments of bias, which are
well-known to affect the results. Yoga is no different, and yet the quantity of
absurd ideas taken for granted by its votaries makes it more resemble a
pseudoscience than a science. Wishful thinking is fine, but when strenuous
efforts are made to convert fantasies into reality, they cultivate a breeding
ground for frustration.
take on nescience is somewhat at variance with the Gurukula/Gita idea expounded
by Nitya here. Patanjali’s version is absolute: any contact between purusha and
prakriti causes ignorance, which can lead to the attitude that prakriti is a
kind of pollutant that the purusha should avoid stepping in at all costs. Such
a schism is fraught with peril.
take is that the interaction of purusha and prakriti is a happy miracle, and it
should be reveled in, enjoyed and appreciated. Ignorance is when the purusha
forgets itself and is so mesmerized by the prakriti that it is totally drawn
into the drama. It comes to believe that only the play of nature is real, and
so it is buffeted by the ups and downs of temporal existence. Reclaiming vidya,
then, is by remembering our true nature as the indwelling spirit. Avidya impels
us to try to “fix” prakriti for our own or its own salvation, but that leads us
into an endless morass of actions and consequences. Once we realize that
prakriti is just like that, we may still offer our help and love to those
around us, but we can more easily relinquish the urge to fight, to pit one
aspect of nature against another.
worth reprising the Gita’s take on this question, from Chapter III. Krishna
refraining from initiating activities a person does not come to have the
attainment of transcending action, nor can one by renunciation alone come to
even for a single instant can one ever remain engaged in no action at all. By
virtue of modalities born from nature, all are made to engage in action helplessly.
who sits controlling the organs of activity while ruminating mentally over
items of sensuous interest—such a lost soul is said to be one of spurious
on the other hand, who keeps the senses under control by means of the mind, then
commences unitive activity while still unattached—he excels.
engage yourself in action that is necessary; activity is indeed better than
non-activity, and even the bodily life of yours would not progress
satisfactorily through non-action.
of activity with a sacrificial purpose, this world is bound by action. Even
with such a purpose, do engage in work, O Arjuna, freed of all attachments.
likes to give Patanjali more credit than I do, that when he says “Yoga is the
cessation of mental modifications,” he really means “extraneous mental modifications.” Perhaps
some scribe accidentally
omitted that adjective, but I doubt it. Patanjali’s very reasonable idea is
that to know the purusha absolutely we should utterly turn away from prakriti
and sit with only our purusha, our soul. (Purusha only became a single unitive
spirit later in history.) He can believe this because he sees purusha and
prakriti as two separate things. Nondualism has it that they are merely two
ways of looking at the same thing, so you don’t draw a thick line between them,
but move to their common ground.
Huxley, in The Doors of Perception,
spends a lot of time on this same question. The book is really a delight to
reread for those interested in these matters. Huxley took a mescaline trip, and
the book is a review of his insights. In this excerpt, he was entranced by a
trio of mismatched flowers:
it agreeable?” somebody asked….
agreeable nor disagreeable,” I answered. “It just is.”
Istigkeit—wasn’t that the word Meister
Eckhart liked to use? “Is-ness.” The Being of Platonic philosophy—except that
Plato seems to have made the enormous, the grotesque mistake of separating
Being from becoming and identifying it with the mathematical abstraction of the
Idea. He could never, poor fellow, have seen a bunch of flowers shining with
their own inner light and all but quivering under the pressure of the
significance with which they were charged; could never have perceived that what
rose and iris and carnation so intensely signified was nothing more, and
nothing less, than what they were—a transience that was yet eternal life, a
perpetual perishing that was at the same time pure Being, a bundle of minute,
unique particulars in which, by some unspeakable and yet self-evident paradox,
was to be seen the divine source of all existence.
reiterates a key point in his comments, that those who live in balance “see the
relativistic imperfections of the given world but at the same time see how
beneficial it is to use all the faculties of this body/mind complex and enjoy
the vast changes of this world. They want to live in the transcendent and the
immanent at once.” There is a veiled implication here that it is very important
to accept the shortcomings of prakriti, which is unabashedly the field of
dualism. If we are caught up in prakriti, we can become obsessed with
rectifying its defects, which can lead to conflict with others who see things
differently. Often to promote our side we demonize others, with the result of
becoming more and more trapped by the clinging vines of insoluble dilemmas. To
reclaim our freedom we should step back and view the apparently dire straits of
prakriti with a sense of humor or lightness. This is not easy to do, because
prakriti is a master of entrapment. Patanjali says, flatly, “Stay away!” Nitya
goes with Narayana Guru: “Sit there in contemplation, enjoying the world but
keeping an eye on those vines, because they’re pretty sneaky and catch you
precisely when you least expect it.”
main point in Nitya’s commentary, though, is that there are two distinct ways
to look at life, but they are not mutually exclusive as some believe. We can
make plans and take steps to carry out our plans, or we can live in the
present, plan free. The Western mania is for implementing plans, which is why
eightfold paths and eight limbed yoga are more popular than loosely organized
philosophies like the Gurukula’s. Sometimes yoga is taken to mean living
without any conscious direction, channeling fate so to speak. But that is a
recipe for what Nataraja Guru called being a misfit, where the ego subtly
inserts itself into the position of dictator or saboteur. Those whose lives are
ruled by plans and laws are another kind of misfit, overly rigid. But there is
no reason not to take the best of both sides, where our life is permitted to
have shape and meaning, but it is nonetheless flexible enough to be open to new
possibilities. If we can remember the purusha and step back from our ferocious
attachment to prakriti, it isn’t too hard to do.
that regard, visitor Eric has been doing vipassana meditation, and he told us a
little about it. It involves ten day retreats with no talking, where you
concentrate on every inch of the body from head to toe and then back up. Eric
found that it released vast amounts of energy trapped in his body, and
unleashed some powerful feelings. After the storms passed, he felt he could sit
quietly and watch his mind engage in its furious machinations without getting
drawn into them. Eric was taught that the reason for the meditation on the body
was to defeat the abstraction of the process by the intellect. In terms of
yoga, the mind is the essence of prakriti, while the calm witness is the
purusha. It is equally important for the yogi to subvert intellectualization by
performing actual activity and not just “mailing it in” mentally.
reminded us of Suzuki Roshi’s famous statement, that those who sit in Zen do so
not to gain anything, but because it is their true nature. Likewise we
“practice” yoga not for some future payoff, which is speculative at best, but
to become more alive to the present. Restored, we arise from our seats, full of
the joy of life, to chop wood and carry water.
The absence of the conjunction of prakriti and
through the elimination of nescience; its absence is the liberation of the
any study of nescience it is especially valuable to be yanked out of our
prevailing egoistic state of certainty, which allows us to open up to new
possibilities. Nitya’s commentary filled the bill, helping us to sit together
in a state of abject confusion and bafflement. As Charles said to me later,
listening to classes in Malayalam for six months while he and Brenda were in
India taught him to accept being totally unaware of the purport of what was
going on around him. I think for most of us, last night’s class might just as
well have been in Malayalam!
good news is that the one final sutra on nescience should help clarify the
subject again, and then we will begin studying the most straightforward part of
Patanjali’s yoga: the eight limbs. The fact that Patanjali is so practically
oriented contradicts the escapism implied in sutras like this one. In any case,
the sutra is a kind of baptism by fire, where our comfortable conceits are at
least singed if not consumed by the flames.
have noted before, many times, that Patanjali’s teaching is dualistic. It seems
he identifies us wholly with purusha and treats prakriti as nothing more than a
condition of bondage. The more unitive approach of the Gurukula is to integrate
the two sides, to realize there is only one state, ever. Rejecting the
environment is fraught with multiple perils. As Deb said, we will dispense with
prakriti when we are dead; in the meantime it is an ever-present part of being
alive. Functional MRI studies confirm this: even yogis in meditation and people
in deep sleep and even comas have continuing brain waves, only quieter than
when they are awake. The mind being part of prakriti, it would have to cease
functioning entirely to meet Patanjali’s criteria.
should probably give Patanjali more credit, and fault the words he had to
employ. He may not be leaning exclusively toward purusha, but toward a numinous
state beyond both aspects of manifestation. That is definitely how we should
take this, in order to get the most out of it.
sutra II:23 we were instructed that the conjunction of prakriti and purusha
allows us to apprehend “the essential nature and powers of both.” Here in sutra
II:25 we have the opposite: their disjunction. Liberation in these terms means
no longer apprehending either purusha or prakriti. Having recently been in just
such a disjoined state, I have to say it is very, very far from anything we
imagine as a comfortable—or even a spiritual—state. Nonetheless it is our
destiny, when this life comes to a close.
again my study at the Yeilding Online Institute (YOI), where we have just
revisited Letter Fifteen from the Appendix, dovetails well with this sutra.
It’s a most excellent summary of the scope of yoga, well worth another read.
The following excerpt throws light on the question we wrestled with last night:
you aspire to live the disciplined
life of a yogi you should have a clear picture of the alternation of your
personal consciousness back and forth between the compulsive behavior of an
animal and the detached, repressive withdrawal of a conscientious person. Both
of these aspects are symptoms of having no control over your life and remaining
as a slave to the forces of circumstance.
What is expected
of a yogi is to become the master of the
situation under all circumstances. Between your myth and your physicality there
is a neutral zone where your witnessing consciousness is seated. When the
witnessing consciousness also assumes the responsibility to will, the volition
becomes more and more freed from irrational forces. Instead of leaving the act
of restraint to the whims of your neurotic fears, all intentions can be carried
out in the floodlight of your fully operating awareness.
“Compulsive behavior” takes place
when we are caught up in
prakriti, and “repressive withdrawal” is the flight into purusha. The way to
escape these mirror-image forms of slavery is to discover the neutral zero in their
midst and establish a dynamic, witnessing consciousness there. False
spirituality imagines it can escape its own shadow with more and fiercer
efforts; Krishna laughs and says, “No. It’s easy. Just go to the middle.”
Vedantic view is that purusha and prakriti arise together, as the plus and
minus of bhana, awareness. Thus, the
harder we try to cling to one side of the situation, the more exaggerated the
other side also becomes. To make it go away we have to move back toward it.
related how thinking about complicated things sometimes brought him to an
impasse or a dead end, and he learned a lot about which direction to take from
this. At least he learned where not to go. This is a yogic version of “nothing
ventured, nothing gained.” Curiously, in some spiritual paths “nothing
ventured, nothing gained” is taken as a positive recommendation…. We are not on
such a path in this class.
some respects, prakriti is the presentation of the new, or let’s say the
present. Screening it out, then, is a kind of resistance to the unfolding of
our natural abilities. Again, Patanjali urges us to burn all our vasanas, while
the Gurukula Gurus and the Gita say foster the best and only toast the rest.
another synchronous discovery is a section of Carl Jung’s The Stages of Life, dealing with the transition
from youth to
adulthood. The following quote from it fleshes out our discussion, supporting
what Nitya calls in Letter Fifteen “becoming the master of the situation under
all circumstances.” We can see that Jung is also a dialectician, as well as a
are all familiar with the sources of the problems that arise in the period of
youth. For most people it is the demands of life which harshly put an end to
the dream of childhood. If the individual is sufficiently well prepared, the
transition to a profession or career can take place smoothly. But if he clings
to illusions that are contrary to reality, then problems will surely arise. No
one can take the step into life without making certain assumptions, and
occasionally these assumptions are false—that is, they do not fit the
conditions into which one is thrown. Often it is a question of exaggerated
expectations, underestimation of difficulties, unjustified optimism, or a
negative attitude. One could compile quite a list of the false assumptions that
give rise to the first conscious problems.
it is not always the contradiction between subjective assumptions and external
facts that gives rise to problems; it may just as often be inner, psychic
difficulties. They may exist even when things run smoothly in the outside
world. Very often it is the disturbance of psychic equilibrium caused by the
sexual instinct; equally often it is the feeling of inferiority which springs
from an unbearable sensitivity. These inner conflicts may exist even when
adaptation to the outer world has been achieved without apparent effort. It
even seems as if young people who have had a hard struggle for existence are
spared inner problems, which those who for some reason or other have no
difficulty with adaptation run into problems of sex or conflicts arising from a
sense of inferiority. (392)
we try to extract the common and essential factors from the almost
inexhaustible variety of individual problems found in the period of youth, we
meet in all cases with one particular feature: a more or less patent clinging
to the childhood level of consciousness, a resistance to the fateful forces in
and around us which would involve us in the world. Something in us wishes to
remain a child, to be unconscious or, at most, conscious only of the ego; to
reject everything strange, or else subject it to our will; to do nothing, or
else indulge our own craving for pleasure or power. In all this there is
something of the inertia of matter; it is a persistence in the previous state
whose range of consciousness is smaller, narrower, and more egoistic than that
of the dualistic phase. For here the individual is faced with the necessity of
recognising and accepting what is different and strange as a part of his own
life, as a kind of “also-I.” (392-393)
essential feature of the dualistic phase is the widening of the horizon of
life, and it is this that is so vigorously resisted….
would happen to him if he simply changed himself into that foreign-seeming
“also-I” and allowed the earlier ego to vanish into the past? We might suppose
this to be a quite practical course. The very aim of religious education, from
the exhortation to put off the old Adam right back to the rebirth rituals of
primitive races, is to transform the human being into the new, future man, and
to allow the old to die away.
teaches us that, in a certain sense, there is nothing in the psyche that is
old; nothing that can really, finally die away. Even Paul was left with a thorn
in the flesh. Whoever protects himself against what is new and strange and
regresses into the past falls into the same neurotic condition as the man who
identifies himself with the new and runs away from the past. The only difference
is that the one has estranged himself from the past and the other from the
future. In principle both are doing the same thing: they are reinforcing their
narrow range of consciousness instead of shattering it in the tension of
opposites and building up a state of wider and higher consciousness. (393)
Sutra II: 26
The unbroken discrimination between the Self
non-Self is the means of eliminating nescience.
last session on ignorance presaged our promotion to the grand finale.
clarifies an important issue: that we eliminate ignorance by engaging with our
life and not running away from it. Being fully involved in our life doesn’t
mean losing ourselves in prakriti, much less losing ourselves in escape, but
rather retaining our discriminative wisdom so that we can relate to everything
with expertise. The idea made for a lively discussion, with some excellent
insights into how it can be put into practice.
did not drive a car, so he uses the analogy of driving to indicate the
heightened awareness a yogi needs to live an expert life. To a non-driver, it
seems like you are always on the edge of some fatal disaster, so you must be
almost hysterically wide awake to survive on the highways. Real drivers know
that most of what you do is semiconscious at best, and those at the wheel,
being the normal people they are, have to struggle to stay alert, with the
stupor of an automatic pilot never far off. But we have to forgive Nitya’s
misapprehension as being perfectly understandable.
point Nitya makes is well taken, though. There is a widespread belief that
retreating from prakriti is the spiritual high road, but yoga means engaging in
it intelligently. Everyone and everything is the Absolute, so our picky
attitudes of “this is okay” and “this isn’t” just wrap us every deeper in a
of the miracles of life is that the Absolute continually presents itself to us
as the world we live in. Yoga does not mean rejecting the invitation, and
turning away to find some other, better reality. This is it. There is no
greater blessing. But we shouldn’t just be passive reactionaries, either. We
are invited to discriminate the real meaning below the surface play, and to
engage dynamically with it.
well remember from back in my school days, that you were defined by your
beliefs, your likes and dislikes. We all felt like we were nothing other than
our ideas, and the more sharply held and disdainfully expressed they were, the
more real we were. Our beliefs also defined our cliques, who we hung out with.
Looking back, it seems like a travesty, the opposite of yoga, where everyone
isolates themselves from everyone else and prepares to butt heads, mainly over
ideas that are transparently fictional. No wonder we were all so miserable in
was moved by the excerpts from Jung in last week’s notes, and talked about how
we cling to childhood, afraid to accept the terrifying prospect becoming
actually free and making our own decisions. She was particularly affected by
the last bit, which bears repeating:
Whoever protects himself
what is new and strange and regresses into the past falls into the same
neurotic condition as the man who identifies himself with the new and runs away
from the past. The only difference is that the one has estranged himself from
the past and the other from the future. In principle both are doing the same
thing: they are reinforcing their narrow range of consciousness instead of
shattering it in the tension of opposites and building up a state of wider and
I suppose this is the psychological subtext
of why we clung
to all those poses as we struggled with whether to become adults or remain
talked about how much of society provides ways for us to relinquish our
sovereignty and so remain in a perpetual childhood, perpetual witnesses of
someone else’s drama. Everything is prepackaged for our “convenience,” not only
consumer goods but jobs, attitudes, politics, even art. We can check out as
independent thinkers and simply react to the passing show of prakriti, which
permits us to remain wrapped in our womblike baby blanket until we can exchange
it for a funeral shroud. But Patanjali is begging us to step out into the open
air and come to life. Life wasn’t invented so we could simply sleepwalk through
kind of spiritual program that withdraws from the world is in many cases merely
tamas in sattvic clothing, a static and self-ratifying dead end. We need the
continual buffeting of life to jolt us awake. Problems are thus seen as
blessings and not as anti-spiritual impediments.
that regard, Deb recalled something Andy said about his father at his recent
gallery talk. His father taught him that an artist often makes mistakes, but
when they happen you should work with them. They are a way that serendipity
emerges into our plans, and so are a blessing rather than a curse. There aren’t
really any “accidents,” they are ways the unconscious joins forces with our
conscious intentions, and the amalgam can be very artful.
thought I had on reading Nitya’s comments is that they are germane enough as
they stand, but there is an additional aspect that those who didn’t sit in on
his classes probably wouldn’t pick up on. Almost all of Nitya’s books were
dictated as darsanas—wisdom classes—to a live audience of truth seekers. We’d
be sitting there on cushions in what was called the prayer hall, wrapped in
sweaters and blankets, and Nitya would go into a deep meditation and begin
talking. He spoke slowly enough that one or several people could take down his
every word, which would later be transcribed and collected into a book.
was a master at explaining a verse of text to a roomful of students while
subtly weaving in helpful suggestions aimed at certain individuals, who if they
were awake enough could take the hint. The subtext here is Nitya teaching
people how to act like dignified yogis instead of cooped up wild animals
enjoying a temporary holiday from a rigid society.
wondered if going to a guru wasn’t a rite of passage for Indian kids, a way to
add a spiritual aspect to their grueling academic and moralistic upbringing.
That’s true, and you can imagine that spending time in a relaxed atmosphere
like the Gurukula’s would be an unbearable relief for many of them. It was
especially a time when you could commune with members of the opposite sex
without the evil eye boring into you, and for young adults that’s too rare a
chance to pass up on. Here we can sense that Nitya was gently redirecting some
of that unleashed energy toward yoga study, while not being in any way
dictatorial. He was an expert at walking a fine line between guidance and
constraint, well knowing that for real change to happen it had to spring from
within a person rather than being codified for them by any authority figure.
The gist of his veiled explanation is given in the second paragraph:
In relating with other
the wakeful world, the yogi exercises two complementary aspects of
discrimination. On the one hand the yogi recognizes the unity of all things in
the Absolute and that he or she is not different from others. What is seen as
beneficial to the self is seen as being beneficial to others also.
Consequently, the yogi will not deny another's access to what he or she aspires
to. Secondly, the yogi will also recognize that, as physical entities, all
bodies are distinct and each person is a sovereign principle enshrined in a
particular body with likes, dislikes, and preferences that should not be
How much of our energy is spent in criticizing
people’s preferences, which are so obviously inferior to our own! Nitya always
held that such an attitude was pure egoism, as well as a way to avoid
confronting our own prejudices, and he stood against it wherever it raised its
a real art form for a preceptor to know how to advocate a radical change in
orientation while simultaneously respecting the present condition of everyone.
His practice in counseling thousands and thousands of seekers over many years
made him a rare paragon who knew just the right pressure to apply. I know he
felt that early in his teaching career he maybe pushed too hard for the
untrained modern sensibility, and later on he pushed much less. His measuring
rod was to respond in commensurate intensity to the legitimate desires of the
seeker. Sometimes that can resemble a mental bullfight, with the toreador
deftly stepping aside from the charge of the enraged beast while keeping its
attention fixed on a diversionary red flag. Anyway, we aren’t going into all
that here. I only want to point out that if you read the commentary with that
aspect in mind, as practical advice for those present at the time, it adds a
whole extra dimension. We can imagine one or two students shifting
uncomfortably in their seats, while some others gaze on with fixed smiles,
their minds preoccupied with last night’s rendezvous….
that’s the point of nescience: it takes our mind off the present and carries it
elsewhere, and so we miss what’s right in front of us. We may never appreciate
everything that’s happening around us, but we can certainly upgrade from one
percent to five or even ten percent, and that will make our lives five or ten
times more interesting. All we have to do is discriminate between what matters
and what doesn’t, and why.
Sutras II: 27 & 28
Wisdom is the final stage of its sevenfold way.
By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities
destroyed, and knowledge arises, which leads to discrimination between the Self
and the non-Self.
we have wrapped up our study of ignorance and are now fully prepared to enter
the eight-limbed path, the familiar part of Patanjali’s Yoga Shastra. Lip
served in “yoga” gymnasiums everywhere, the eight steps will be getting a
significantly revised reading from the Guru.
concluded a major thrust of the work, we shared our thoughts of what we have
learned in the more than two years of the study, which began on October 21,
2008. Interestingly, most everyone felt that they had changed only a little
bit, mainly in the direction of reacting less intensely to provocations and
having ready recourse to their inner strength. A couple of people expressed it
as having increased faith in themselves. This is testimony to the subtlety of
the course of study, because those are very powerful transformations, but no
one felt like the earth trembled or volcanoes erupted, so they didn’t realize
the immensity of what they have accomplished.
my perspective, it is easy to see that this group is the most centered and
advanced we have ever had since we began holding classes in 1978. Together we
have grappled with a quite radical perspective, and it has seeped into our
bones without blowing our minds. An interesting journey indeed.
the most part, assessing ourselves isn’t something we should do much of. It has
the potential to freeze us in place, make what we have learned more static. But
it is good to occasionally acknowledge the value of what we’ve gathered,
because this is not a “sexy” program—no “beautiful people” stretching in
spandex, no levitation, no spirit knockings. It’s very basic in a way, and yet
it produces genuine spiritual progress.
common theme of what people described was that in problematic situations they
were immediately able to access the strength they have developed in the
classes. Where before there was often doubt that impelled them into a defensive
posture, with consequent upset, they had more confidence, more faith in
themselves, and so did not need to prove or defend their position. This allowed
them to deal with the situation in a most balanced fashion. As we will see,
Patanjali will continue to harp on this as a major achievement of yoga. So
although everyone felt but little changed, they have actually been brought
farther than they imagine by Patanjali's incremental program of unfoldment.
well recall how important it was as a child to defend myself against just and
unjust accusations alike, not only to avoid punishment but to uphold my honor.
Kids are always called into question when anything goes wrong, and many of us
suffered painful retributions at times. So we learned to defend ourselves, and
if we were indefensible we could still see the benefit of inventing a plausible
denial. It seems we carry that talent into adulthood, and are always ready to
prove ourselves before our accusers. Several of the class came from that type
I was unjustly accused as a child, I knew very well that I hadn’t stolen the
cookies or taught my neighbor to smoke cigarettes or what have you, but no one
else could be sure. In those cases I could have faith in myself even when the
whole world was against me. Now it is good to see class members reclaiming the
same kind of faith in themselves. As Nitya concludes: “When such a clarity is
established, the yogi is considered to be stabilized on the irrefutable
foundation of Yoga.” From that solid foundation, we don’t need to be either
offensive or defensive; we can deal with things as they really are, from a
neutral pose. Honestly, if we gain nothing else from the study, this is a
superior achievement, and one that is attained only with great effort and
trials. Good job, everyone!
Moni pointed out, she picked up a few principles from the study, but she put
them into practice at work, and that was where the real transformation took
place for her. That’s how it works. Ideas that aren’t practiced are little more
than smoke. Moni has made huge strides in the past couple of years especially,
and most of it has been through rising to the challenges of her work situation.
It is yet another paradox that we learn detachment through involvement, and not
from severing ties to the world or scrubbing away all its imperfections.
key idea here is to remember that “destroying impurities” doesn’t mean
polishing the mirror or becoming sattvic. It sounds like it, so we have to know
in advance that the three gunas—the essence of prakriti—are the so-called
impurities in question. This is not exactly a program of refinement or
purification. Patanjali states that practicing the limbs of yoga leads us back
to our true nature as a purusha, and the impurities are destroyed as a result.
That is not the same as destroying impurities and hoping their absence will
reveal our true nature. As Narayana Guru used to say, you cannot wash the
lather out of soap, so don’t bother trying. It is the nature of soap to produce
lather. If you don’t want lather, just put the soap away on the shelf and leave
began and ended the class with the suggested exercise, of locating
consciousness in the vishuddhi (throat chakra) and maintaining a neutral
witness there while observing the ingoing and outgoing breath. It makes for a
deep and calming meditation. Linda wondered why the fifth chakra was dubbed the
purificatory center, and Deb said that it is the place where the Word emanates,
and words are the messengers of spiritual transformation. I added that the
first four chakras are associated with earth, water, fire and air—material
substances—but the fifth is connected to akasha, space. Space is non-material,
but it bears a relation to material elements by providing the space for them to
exist. As such it is the essence of the material world, and thus a kind of
purified version of it.
strikes me that limbs are referenced instead of a path to reduce the linear
orientation. Limbs radiate from a central focal point, while a path is often
conceived as progressing stepwise. A linear progression thus pushes most stages
away into a hypothetical future, allowing the ego to postpone reckoning with
them and wallow in its present condition.
word translated as “limbs” has several shades of meaning, though it primarily
means limbs of the body, or “a woman with well-rounded limbs.” There is also a
sense of walking and a place for taking a walk, which brings it closer to a
path. An implication in rhetoric highlights the secondary nature of limbs,
supporting as they do the core of the head and torso. This tells us the eight
limbs should be treated not as ends in themselves but as means to the end of
samadhi. The most accurate definition for our purposes is simply “division or
to the Christmas holiday, we will initiate the eight limbs beginning next year.
The ancient Greeks and others saw the movement of the sun through the year as
resembling a golden, celestial swing. The swing has almost reached its
southernmost point of its arc, and will begin swinging back one week from
today. The ancients viewed this as a momentous occasion to celebrate the
potential of the whole cycle. May yours be rich in insights and bountiful in
Self-restraints, observances, posture, regulation
forces, withdrawal from distraction, holding the focus of the mind,
contemplation, and absorption are the eight limbs of Yoga.
commentary is a fine example of his genius at saying a vast amount in a very
few sentences. In a mere two pages he epitomizes each of the eight limbs of
Patanjali’s Yoga, including correcting false notions about them. It is as if we
are still sitting at the feet of the great master, striving to soak up as much
as we can from each pearl of wisdom he utters. Aum.
we will be taking all of these eight categories as a separate class, including
each of the five restraints and five observances, we only touched on them last
night, but it still led to a lively gathering, much energized by the holiday
break. After next week’s class I will be in India for four sessions, during
which time Deb has agreed to take notes, and I’ve asked all participants to
preserve any special thoughts or questions that come up for them, so that when
I return I can reconstruct some of what transpired in this very important
segment of the study. This is after all what most people think of as Patanjali’s
whole yoga program.
course, Patanjali wasn’t just blowing smoke with the previous 79 sutras of
preparation. We have cleared away a lot of garbage so that we can get the
maximum benefit from what lies ahead. Each term will now be full of meaning and
connections, as we will surely see.
valuable preparatory step was offered by Scotty. He has been thinking that his
art was the main activity in his life, and the Gurukula yoga study and his
qigong work were other interests that, while enjoyable, were drawing him away
from his dharma, so he only made room for them when he wasn’t consumed with
painting. Lately he has come to see that, far from being disjunct interests,
they are all building blocks of a single artistic flow, which for him has its
actualization in painting, but can easily include all those other aspects
without conflict. Instead of having to decide between one thing or another, he
sees it all as one process, like the growth of a plant with several branches.
This is a very important realization, one that will allow a more wholehearted
participation in whatever he finds himself engaged in. Yoga study is not meant
to be separate in any way from what we do in our lives.
a similar vein, Deb opened and closed the class with a visualization she had
that the eight limbs were not arranged like a ladder, but really were like
limbs. She pictured an egg-shaped core with eight radiating arms arrayed around
it. Such an analogy is quite valuable, allowing us to remember that this is not
a linear sequence, but all eight stages take place simultaneously. They are
somewhat tangential to a central meaning, which is the Absolute, or perhaps our
soul or spirit.
sequential training everyone receives in their schooling reinforces linear
thinking, the idea that one thing follows logically from and is built on
previous steps. In one sense realization is the process by which a linear
sequence is converted to an operating gestalt. The class explored this idea in
specific types of activity. Susan mentioned playing the piano as one example in
which all eight limbs take place simultaneously. You have to set aside a chunk
of time free of conflicting demands, then as you sit down you assume an optimal
posture and breathe regularly, tune out distractions, maintain focus, have a
contemplatively insightful relation to the music you are playing, and let
yourself go into a kind of transcendental state that doesn’t have to
consciously think of any of these separate elements. The result is an excellent
performance, even if you are a beginner and you have very far to go yet to
become a great musician. Acting with expertise merely allows you to evolve, to
grow, at whatever stage you may be. Whenever one or more of these limbs are
disrupted, the growth is much less. For instance, if your mind keeps being
drawn away by extraneous thoughts, you will make plenty of mistakes. Clearly
this applies to whatever endeavor a person chooses to devote themselves to, and
not only music or art. So please don’t think of the eight limbs as resembling
grades in school, where you have to graduate from one to pass on to the next.
All are to be gathered into your core, your soul, to enrich your life at all
recommend reading Nitya’s entire commentary at regular intervals during this
part of the study. Much of what we have been through is very complicated and
dense, but here he has sketched out the highlights, which can spare us a lot of
unnecessary toil and trouble. For instance, pranayama
is epitomized as balancing our energy expenditure with its restoration. There
is a universe of specialized breathing exercises and arcane multi-year
practices out there called pranayama, but what if the whole point was simply to
harmonize our work and rest periods, our food and exercise, stress and relaxation,
and so on, in order to feel good? This is something we aim for every day. When
we feel harmonized, life is joy, ananda.
asana, posture, has been expanded
into a vast enterprise of “yoga” schools and gymnasiums. Recall from Nancy
Instead of the comprehensive,
holistic way of life expressed by Patanjali’s Yoga
Shastra, Yoga [is] typically packaged—most often
commercial product—as merely a form of exercise, a series of stretches,
postures, and breath control, with an occasional nod toward meditation. All of
this can be very beneficial of course, and it certainly must answer a need, as
Yoga has not only become very popular, but also big business…. But the theory
and practice of Yoga offer much more in the way of invaluable guidance.
The result is millions of people diligently
muscles and dreaming of it leading mysteriously to enlightenment. Well, the
dream keeps ‘em paying. But again, what if the point was simply to feel good so
that your life is pleasant enough that it doesn’t prevent you from actualizing
your abilities? What if you should just exercise and stretch enough that the
body doesn’t disrupt your focus? Maybe there are important things we are
leaving out of our philosophy. Maybe we are more than our bodies.
class loved Nitya’s description of asana as the position a cat takes when it is
preparing to pounce on a rat. If the cat were to do a series of stretching
exercises first, the rat would easily escape. She just gets ready, and an instant
before the rat expects it, she springs. I can hear Nitya alternately chuckling
and melodramatically intense as he describes the scene. He is really speaking
to our inner selves, exhorting us lazy bums to have a goal as engaging to us as
the prospect of a battle for a hearty meal is to the cat. The mental quicksand
that surrounds us in a corrupt society saps our strength and blurs our vision,
threatening to turn us into zombies content to serve our masters. Yoga is a way
to wake back up and reclaim our vital self-consciousness, a way to be filled
with zest for life.
defines pratyahara and dharana as the process by which we
discover what our true interests are and pare away all the junk that impedes
their development. Without this simultaneously elementary and exceedingly
complex understanding, all the rest is just spinning our wheels, a waste of
time. Pretence. This is where the bulk of our energies should be directed, so
the rest has meaning. Instead, we often gravitate to something simple and well-defined,
like following prescribed rituals. Muscle stretching. But you can do that for a
very long time before it will reveal your true nature.
who you are and what that means about where you should put your energy, leads
naturally to dhyana, contemplation,
the deepening of your relationship to your life. And as you release yourself
into that life and are able to discard ideational incentives, samadhi, sameness, comes about as the
unitive realization of who you are. As Nitya puts it, “Once the mind has
attained the tranquility of a non-modulating state, the intellect is no longer
deputed to act upon the bid of the ego to examine the external world. Instead
it becomes fully established in the blissful state of the Self. That is
indicated here as samadhi.”
this is not a linear program, we all have moments of samadhi when our life is
harmonized, yet certain of the eight limbs are emphasized at different times.
We go in and out of them regularly. They all impact each other and have
relative prominence or quiescence, but all are present and even essential all
must have said before, but it bears repeating, that we are conditioned by an
inheritance of three billion years of survival mentality, in which our whole
attention has been absorbed in trying to reproduce before we were eaten. At
long last we have evolved a measure of safety so that we can begin to entertain
thoughts beyond mere survival and reproduction. Yoga is an invitation to grow
our spirit in new ways and discover what else is possible. It is foolhardy to
imagine we have anything more than a vague notion of where we are going, but an
infinite potential is there for us to begin to colonize, and every contribution
enlarges the community’s sphere of knowledge. Each of us will tread a unique
path, but since they all intersect at various points we all welcome reports
from the front lines of our fellow adventurers. For all of our sakes we wish
each of you an intrepid journey!