Beyond the tangle of words

Dr Shastri used to give before a spiritual meeting the practise

-just a touch between the eyebrows, just bring the attention to this point for just a few seconds.  So if you would like to try now just touch there and use the after sensation to bring the mind to this point.



The text, the holy text, on which our teacher based much of his instruction is called a Bhagavad Gita.   He translated some of the important verses for the commentary, it is on the book store ‘Teachings from the Bhagavad Gita’ by Hari Prasad Shastri. Now one of the verses of chapter two says, in rough translation, ‘when you begin to pass beyond the tangle of illusions you will get adverse to, our teacher said sometimes you will get sick of all you have been told and all that they are going to tell you, the tangle of words, and then you will turn away from words and you will bring your mind within and then you will bring it to a stationary unmoving concentration called samadhi’. This is in verse 52 and two verses later the disciple Arjuna asked ‘what is this man like who has brought his mind to steadiness and who is practising samadhi?’  That last phrase often gets left out, they often say ‘what is this man like the man who has brought his mind to steadiness?’ and they don’t say he is practising samadhi?  Then the words form a tangle because they form a chain of associations, just as we can’t do a simple action.  In Zen they say ‘yes, it is to eat when you are hungry and rest when you are tired,’ but people don’t just eat when they are hungry, they eat and they are boiling with thoughts of revenge, or jealousy, or spite, or inertia, or resentment, or what they are going to do, or where they have come from, or where they are going to, and they don’t just lie down to sleep and when they do get to sleep after all those thoughts they start dreaming about where they have come from, where they are going to, what they should have said and all those things.  So the thing is to cut down the thoughts and cut down the words.  Our teacher said ‘I beg you to use as few words as possible.’

For instance words form a tangle, we are given a single sentence – practise contentment with things as they are.  But that gets tangled up and that is read, don’t try and change anything be content with things as they are, but that is not what is said.  If you are building a little wall you lay three rows of bricks in the evening and then you are tired, now you have laid the three rows of bricks and you are content with that you have done it well, but it does not mean you are not going to lay some more bricks.  To be content it doesn’t mean to leave things as they are, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go on to something else, and in this way words form a tangle and they attract other words and other feelings, and then one can get drunk on words people can say in the morning ‘all efforts at yoga are simply assertions of egoism. 

It stands to reason we are in illusion we are given instructions on yoga but because we are in illusion we are ruled by egoism so we shall perform the instructions on yoga in a spirit of egoism so we shall be strengthening egoism the very thing that yoga is meant to uproot, so it is a great mistake to do any practise of yoga at all, we should leave everything to the great cosmic spirit,’ and the example sometimes given is like little kittens which make no effort they just hang from the mouth of the mother as she lifts them to the more desirable place, but people are drunk on words and quite soon when they finish saying that they start making breakfast and somebody says to them ‘surely you are not going to make breakfast would that not mean an assertion of egoism, that would be your individuality would it not?  Should you not be waiting for the cosmic power to feed you?’  Well the people who have been drunk on words sober up very quickly and they say ‘you have got to be a bit practical you know.’

Words can have power.   In a book just out there is an account of an operation for extracting a wisdom tooth, well one of the effects is it is extremely painful.  After the operation there is a big swelling and as a result of that quite often it is impossible to close the mouth by the reaction. Now they have been experimenting the various ways of trying to reduce these consequences, one of them was to use ultra sound produced by machine, well they tried in various ways but just to read the conclusion of one experiment he gives:

Next they tested whether the massage was having the effect and trained the patients to massage themselves in the way the doctor moved the machine.  This self administered massage had no effect up to this point they had shown a typical placebo effect in which a doctor in a white coat massaging the face with an impressive machine had a marked effect irrespective of whether the machine was turned on or not.  Furthermore there was no effect if the patient applied the machine.  The pain was reduced by doctor applied treatment.  They went further and the swelling of the face was markedly reduced and the ability to open the mouth was improved.  This placebo effect was the same as that of a substantial dose of anti inflammatory steroid.  The reason for choosing this example for many is that the effect was not only on the pain, which unthinking duellists would say is only mental, but also on the swelling and on the muscle spasm, evidently this placebo response required a doctor in a white coat with an impressive machine and this combination improved not only the patient’s subjective rapport but two objective signs of inflammation that are usually assigned to mechanical body processes.

One of the things he says there is with all an……. the expectation of the patient is a big factor in the final effect and he also says that when the attention is drawn to the pain by a negative suggestion this is terrible, it makes the pain worse and he says all these painful situations are either made better or worse by the way our mind attends to them and the best remedy for them is distraction of the mind.   Now words can have power and some people say, Don Cupitt is one, that the words are everything and that you cannot think except by words ‘you think in words’ and so he says that words like God they are simply words, simply thoughts, they correspond to no reality.

Could you read…

Nothing extra mystique can be meaningful or can be understood, we think in language and we understand only language.

We think in language and we understand only language.  Now I’ll just ask you to listen for a very short time and think how you would describe this in language.

Plays music.

Thank you.

The fact is we have no words at all.  A trained musician has words he can visualise the score and he can describe it to some extent but for most of us there are no words whatever but that does not mean we can’t think about  music and be profoundly moved by it.  So some of these philosophers, including Professor Honderich who has wrote several books on philosophy but has never thought of this,  it was put to him from the floor, he was putting forward the view of ‘we think only in words’ and it was put to him from the floor ‘no, we can think of a Chopin study and we are not thinking in words,’ and he said ‘he hadn’t thought of that and he was going to think about it.’

The Gita consists of words but it is to take us beyond words to an actual experience which is beyond words and cannot be put into words but words can lead us there with a text like the Gita in studying it, there are different ways of studying a text, scholars simply look at the text as a whole and they give a sort of catalogue of the contents and they pick out some things which they think are significant for the dating, or the authorship, or the current of ideas, but there is another way of studying -the spiritual way of studying, and that is to look and find out what the commentator says is the central part the central theme of the holy text and Shankara in places sums up the teachings of the Gita and in one of the places he says it teaches two paths.  The first is the preliminary path of Karma yoga in which actions are done not for selfish purposes but by discarding, with a discarding of the selfish purposes, but nevertheless done as a duty and as a offering especially to the Lord, as a result of this there is a purification of the essence and then that leads to the rise of knowledge and that is pathed up to the rise of knowledge and including the rise of knowledge, this is the preliminary path. 

Then the final path, deliberation, consists in establishment of that knowledge, the word for establishment of knowledge is jnana-nishtha,  it comes fifty times in Shankara’s commentary on the Gita and unless this point of what is meant of establishing knowledge, unless this point is met, we can’t say that Shankara’s exposition of the Gita has been really understood and presented.  It has to be noted that the Great Shankara wrote the Gita commentary by his own choice and the Gita is a commentary on yoga for Kings, that is to say for people who have great responsibilities in the world, it is not for monks primarily, and the Gita itself said this in chapter 3 that yoga is being transmitted by a King to someone in a royal line in order to give strength to the forces which can protect the world and we should notice carefully this is what the Gita himself says and what Shankara himself comments. 

It is argued, it is said, that oh Shankara has to follow the text because he was commenting on this text and he was saying things he didn’t agree with, but this is a very poor argument. Shankara chose this text.  If you get a well known singer who joins the Bach choir, now outside these concerts he doesn’t sing Bach much so you can say he doesn’t really like Bach you know he hardly ever sings it outside the Bach choir and in the Bach choir he has got to sing it, doesn’t he, he hardly ever sings it but why has he joined? So we can’t say that Shankara’s commentary on the Gita represents anything that he didn’t fully agree with because he himself chose to write on this holy text and he wrote one of his most important commentaries on it and it is to say a path for Kings, that is to say the King was the hardest working man in the kingdom, he only got 3 hours sleep. 

In the laws of Mano his programme is given and he only gets 3 hours sleep he has to be up at 3 a.m. listening to reports of the intelligence officers who come, he has got to review his troops, he has got to dispense justice from the throne, he gets three hours recreation in the afternoon, and he gets three hours for  his religious practises, but he is the hardest working man in the kingdom so this Gita commentary is meant for people with responsibilities who are in the world, not for people who are running away from the world either into a cave in the Himalayas or into a comfortable flat, but for people who are undertaking responsibilities and are carrying them out.

Then a feature of the Gita commentary is that the world illusion is called Mire and it is projected  by the Lord and that it is beautiful although it is a source of suffering to those who misunderstand it.  Again and again in Gita in chapters 7, 9 and 10 Mire is shown as most beautiful.  The Lord says ‘I am the glory in the glorious things. I am the beauty in the beautiful things. I am morality among the successful. I am the austerity amongst the aesthetics. I am justice among the kings. I am the light, the moon and the sun. I am the pleasant fragrance of earth after the rain.  It is most beautiful, and this is a feature of the presentation by our teacher Mire he said, and he quoted the Gita verse, ‘this Mire is divine, daivi, it is divine.’ Those who misunderstand the illusion can suffer from it but the illusion, the Mire, is a conscious projection by the Lord and it is in itself beautiful, but if it is misunderstood as absolutely constricting and real then it can be a source of suffering.

There are two presentations in the Verdant one is that the world illusion is something it is an unfortunate accident such as when we are walking along in a dim light and we see a rope and we believe that it is a snake and we get a shock.  You get a worse shock if you have lived in India and you open a cupboard and a belt which has been rolled up and has come partially unrolled and has been leaning against the door and when you open the door this thing shoots out.  Now then two people in the presence of an accident like that, one has lived in India and the one who has not does not react at all, he just picks up the belt and puts it back, but the one who lives in India he jumps.  It’s a snake, they do hide in cupboards and they do come out. 

Well we can think of the world illusion as something like that, something as an unfortunate accident which can lead to suffering and the sooner it has got rid of the better, the other is the presentation of the illusion as Mire, as a presentation by the Lord, which is meant for a divine expression but if misunderstood it can be a source of suffering. Well what would be the nature of this favourable Mire?  Well our teacher often gave the example of a conscious illusion, an illusion consciously set up, and he gave the example of a play.  If we take the play as absolutely real then a scene like in Lear when Jostler’s eyes are put out in front of us on the stage, it is appalling.  If we saw that happening in real life we might not recover from the shock of it for many years.  There are people who have seen things like this and they don’t recover, sometimes they are haunted it by it but when we see it on the stage it is partially accepted but it is not ultimately accepted and so we pay our money to go and see the play King Lear although we know it will  have this terrible scene in it but by the genius of Shakespeare the whole picture is made something beautiful and we can see this illusion on illusion. 

In Shakespeare’s time women were not allowed on the stage so all the parts like Juliet were played by boys, they were rehearsed and their voices were not yet broken, but in some of Shakespeare’s comedies especially there is a tendency for the girls to disguise themselves as boys, like Viola for instance in Twelfth Night, she disguises herself as a boy.  So there we have a triple illusion, first of all we have some people on the stage pretending to represent, and convincingly representing, a different age and time and place, then we have a boy pretending to be a girl and then that girl character pretends to be a boy in the play, of course that fourth illusion is very convincing because it is actually a boy, it is a boy pretending to be a girl pretending to be a boy. Well these illusions are known to be illusions and yet they are accepted partially, they are a source of joy and in the Gita we can see these hints a typical verse is ‘renouncing all actions by the mind alone’, self control.  The yogi sits happily in the ‘city of nine gates’, that is the body sits happily witnessing the world.  This is the first stage of enlightenment where the independent pure self is seen in the body it is experienced first in the body later on it will be experienced as universal but at first it is experienced in the ‘city of nine gates’ and it is experienced as happiness not as suffering. 

Then we are asked to look at words again which take us beyond words, for instance, the word ‘jnana’ – knowledge. Now in the Gita it comes with its ordinary meaning the prompts to action are knowledge and the occasion and the various activities of the agent, knowledge, there is used as Shankara said to mean knowledge of things but there is a higher knowledge and Shankara calls this ‘samyag-jnana’ a higher spiritual knowledge, there is the higher knowledge by which he knows he sees the one all pervading reality through in all the apparently divided things, undivided things, undivided in, then the apparently divided things.  Now this he says is the highest realisation text, this is in 18.20 by which a man sees the one indestructible reality in all beings in separate in the separated that knowledge known as sattvic.

Now Shankara in his commentary says this peak of knowledge is ‘samyag-jnana’ his highest term for knowledge.  It can never be theoretical but still it is a matter of sattva, it is still a mental operation.  Now in 4.25 the Gita leads us, it says ‘now there is a sacrifice by which the self is sacrificed by the self in the fire of Brahman, the universal self, the individual self sacrifices itself in the fire of Brahman,’ and he says ‘this means it is dissolved.’  It is quite a strong word in sattvic’s in Brahman, in reality, and this means that it is beyond the mind, it is beyond thought, it is being, it is knowing by being not knowing as an object.  Now he gives the text Sattyam-jnanam-anantam this is a tentative description of Brahman as truth, knowledge and infinity, and he comments at length in the taittirna unpanishad on this text where knowledge it cannot be to a knower an object of knowledge because in infinity there aren’t these two things.  It is knowing by being, by pure existence, and in a way we can think of little parallels. 

People who have been in prison for about a year, say perhaps through no fault of their own, when they come out they are free but they are constantly thinking about it. ‘I am free, I am free,’ and sometimes they get even a little bit drunk on it ‘I am free to go this way, no I’ll go that way. I can do anything I am free,’ but after about a week that passes off now they no longer think I am free, they are free by being.  In the same way health.  People who are not healthy they can read about health and they can practise to get health but somebody who is really healthy doesn’t think I am healthy they simply get on with life, they are health by being it not by thinking about it or supposing it.

Then finally he will say ‘little by little reduce the thoughts and the words and give up the thoughts of the external and then give up the thoughts of the internal and finally think the unthinkable, which is think nothing, rest in the consciousness of the self which is not a thought, which is beyond thought.’  Gita will say this again and again giving up little by little, let him think nothing at all, resting in the self, and this comes in the prologue to the Gita in the Zen, it is called ‘put down your thoughts, as they come up throw them away,’ and then you will see your original face which you had before your father was born, before your mother was born, before heaven and earth was born, before the universe was born, your original face you will see it.

Now there are two distinct methods given in the Gita, one is to throw away.  It is done first of all by throwing away purposeful ideas, purposeful planning, to practise in meditation, the ideas will come up.  ‘I could do this, or I want that,’ and to throw them away, and words are often translated as renounced, but renouncing has got a sort of reluctance about it ‘oh well if you renounce your rights to so and so there is a kind of implication of compulsion or reluctance’ but the original sattvics are to throw away and our teacher even used the words ‘chuck’ said ‘chuck it,’ so it is more of a joyful throwing away of things which are unnecessary, but just the same people say ‘sometimes you throw it away, but sometimes you find your feet are still tangled up in it.’ 

So there is another method given and this is it can be called ‘consigning’ or ‘giving up’ and it says that it is easier to make over the thoughts to the Lord or to Brahman, the word is something like depositing, depositing  all the actions with Brahman and the results of the actions, offering the actions and the fruits of the actions to the Lord, and gradually by practising, especially with the fruits of the action which are nearest to ourselves, by practising, it is easier to give it up, some say when there is another who will take it.  So both those methods are given to reduce the taittirna of the thoughts and to give them up Patangelese says ‘the idea of stopping the thoughts,’ and the objector says ‘well if you think of stopping thoughts well that is another thought isn’t it?  So it will never come to an end and people experience this when they want to go to sleep.

There is a famous story of a golf championship where there had to be a play off between two players the next day  and one of them sat up playing cards with his friends and one of his friends said ‘shouldn’t you ought to go to bed? Lilly went to bed early you know,’ and he said ‘he went to bed early but he is not asleep.’ If we think well, we have got to get to sleep.  You won’t go to sleep, you will not get to sleep because the very thought – I must get to sleep, must, will  keep us awake and so the remedy that is given in that school is to lie down and think I don’t care whether I sleep or not I am just going to have a rest that is as good as a sleep and the next thing you know is the alarm bells are ringing in the morning.  So Petangelese says ‘it is like a flame and the flame will go out.  It is a flame up to the very end and when there is no more fuel.  So give up the fuel which are the purposes and the desires and the hopes and the fears and give them up just for the time being and then the mind will settle down in calm and then has it is said ‘the original face will show itself.’  So the teaching there is that there is an illusion which is created but in the teaching account given in the Gita which our own teacher followed that illusion is not an evil thing but nevertheless if we take it as absolutely real we shall suffer from it, so it must be realised to be an illusion and for this reason the name of the school, although Shankara does not use this word in his Gita commentary really at all, ‘advita’ but it means not to and why you say is it called not to, why not just say one.

Oh well, if you say one you see that implies there might be two, why use even one?  Well the reason for saying not to is there seems to be two and therefore the expression is needed that although there seems to be two there is only one. There seems to be two, if we have a candle there is one but if we are asked what it is we don’t say there is one candle we just say that is a candle, but if there is a mirror put now there seemed to be two candles, now it is sensible to say there are not two because they seem to be two.  Now in the same way with the ultimate reality and the illusion of the world there seemed to be two but actually this projection of the world is not an attribute, unfortunate attribute, but it is the very nature of the Lord as the Gita says and as Swami Mangalnath from his own experience, it is the very nature of the Lord to project these illusions and to enter into himself and they are forms, they are manifestations of beauty.  Then the Gita says this that we can become independent we can watch as the Zen poem says, which our teacher often quoted in his ‘Echoes of Japan’, ‘we sit by the window looking out.  What a joy to see the seasons changing.  The autumn red and the spring the green.  What a joy to see it,’ but he is witnessing as the Gita says giving up the actions by the mind alone he sits happily in the city of nine gates.

Well thank you for your kind attention.


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