A string of pearls, is an image used in the Gita

A string of jewels, a string of pearls, is an image used in the Gita. The fact is that if pearls individually and scattered all over the place in dusty corners, have no beauty.    They are of no ornamental value, and of little other value.  But when they are brought together in a string they make a most beautiful necklace. They can be strung together in various ways.  If you see black pearls they are very valuable especially the big ones, but they look horrible. They look like ordinary pearls rinsed in ink, but they are very valuable.  Sometimes the necklace has a big black pearl and two or three ordinary pearls and another black pearl, sometimes all the black pearls are put together and are arranged in gradation of size.  There are many such ways of arranging them on a string to make a necklace. In the same way, …

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Fatalists twist the doctrine of karma

My teacher, Hari Prasad Shastri, brought out particularly strongly that we must not be fatalists.   Some holy text can be used to support fatalism, to make people members of apathetics anonymous. “Whatever will be, will be”, they echo the rich gentry and aristocrats in the last act of the Viennese Opera Die Fledermause. These are people with the false serenity of the rich who feel that whatever will be, they will have the financial resources to meet it. “If God is busy, I have my cheque book”.   They feel, too, that they are especially worthy of their favourable circumstances: “Call me a philosopher if you will, but what I say is, if we didn’t belong on top, we wouldn’t be on top.” These fatalists twist the doctrine of karma to excuse themselves from making efforts.   In the famous case presented by Jesus, a Jew coming down from worshipping at the …

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The human weakness of trying to cover up failure

Dr Shastri  used often to cite Confucius, who said ‘when the archer misses the target he doesn’t blame the target, he blames himself’.   A humorous extension of this is the idea, ‘Yes, I did miss the target, but the target was not worthy of my arrow.’   It can be even further extended: the bad archer whose arrow does not get into the target but sticks into the ground half way there, rushes up to the target, pulls it off, makes a hole in it and drapes it round the arrow.   Then he says triumphantly:  “Look, I’ve hit the bulls-eye.” These charicatures illustrate the human weakness of trying to cover up failure by pretending that it has not been failure after all.   Instead of striving to attain the goal the self-deceivers adapt the goal to their own-hearted efforts.   It is a parallel process to a religious fatalist’s: “We are not meant …

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Dharma refers to the practice of karma yoga

Dr. Shastri used to quote verse 40 of Chapter II of the Gita. “Even a little of this Dharma relieves from anxiety”. Here the word dharma refers to the practice of karma yoga and the word translated here as anxiety is bhaya, fear.   But he said that little bits of yoga must not be practised merely for some worldly gain.   One example he gave was of a man who used to use the rosary while lying in bed.   He seemed a pious person but when he was asked ‘why do it in such an unusual position, why not sitting up like everyone else does?’ he answered, ‘I have found it helps me to get to sleep.’   This is misusing a yoga technique for a purely personal benefit. There is a Chinese proverb. When the crows come down to pick up the seed you throw stones at them, and this is …

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Look for extraordinary inspirations

Another point brought out by our teacher, not stressed in the Gita itself, though is there, was: creativity.   Yoga must make us creative.   He used to give examples from the history of science and literature of extraordinary inspirations and told us to look out for them.   One  such, which happened after he died was a great discovery by the physicist Enrico Fermi.   His name is commemorated in the famous Fermilab in America and a fundamental particle is named after him, the fermion.   In an interview with Chandrasekhar, another noted physicist, he said, “I will tell how I came to make what people say is my greatest discovery, the results we were getting from the path of neutrons were not making sense.   And then suddenly the idea came to me let me put a bit of lead in front of the path of neutrons.  So I had this idea but I …

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Bringing Christian morality

This is about doing good and this accusation is often made by missionaries that ‘you Westerners bring your Christian morality even when you are not believing Christians any more, you bring your Christian morality with you and then when you study yoga, or Buddhism, or something like that, you assume that there is Christian morality.  Then there is the yoga doctrine, or Buddhist doctrine, on top of that when infact the morality isn’t there.’  Now to make a point in Chapter thirteen of the Gita verses seven to eleven there are twenty qualities which are given to acquire knowledge they are themselves called knowledge because they are the means of knowledge.  Now if we read the list, we’ll just read it now, and notice where does it ever say in this list do some good to somebody: This is to acquire knowledge. Now our teacher compared this to a school …

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Samādhi

You are the light of life the son of sons, the ruler of the universe, the Lord of lords, the true self Well this is the result of the experiment he is saying not that every ideas of God are contracted into a tiny space as Mephistopheles said ‘trying to stuff the seven days of creation into a little portion of the mind, instead of opening the lotus of the mind out so that it becomes one with the cosmic,’ well our teacher gave this as an example. © Trevor Leggett

There are three Gunas in the Vedanta and the Yoga philosophy

Patanjali in his commentary deals with the Gunas at length. As you know there are three Gunas in the Vedanta and the Yoga philosophy which consist of tamas which is the Guna of darkness, inertia and a sort of confusion. The River Thames is the River tamasa ,it comes actually from that word tamas dark ,it’s the dark river. Then rajas which comes originally from a word meaning red to redden and it may be connected with our word rage. It stands for passion struggle. A man of tamas is a man of inertia he just wants somehow to survive he doesn’t sort of so much meet the shock of life as try somehow to take refuge and get by. A man of rajas throws himself into the battle of life with enthusiasm and joy But his every action is for his personal advantage or the advantage of his family …

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Still Water, Bright Mirror

When we look into a pool of clear water and it is agitated into little waves, of course we can’t see through to the bottom. In human terms, this corresponds to the mind, agitated by desires and thoughts that prevent us from seeing through to what is at, and beyond, the basis of the mind. But if the water is perfectly still, then it is like a bright mirror. As the Chinese phrase says: ‘We don’t see through to the bottom of the pool – we see instead reflections of ourselves and the surroundings.’ So, someone like David Hume, while claiming to look within the self, said: ‘I see nothing but my ordinary mental activities and mental states.’ But he was seeing a reflection of himself; he was not seeing through to the bottom – to the depths of the pool. It is just so in the lake. If you …

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Even a little of this Dharma relieves from anxiety

Using jewels to stone the crows My teacher used to quote verse 40 of Chapter II of the Gita. “Even a little of this Dharma relieves from anxiety”. Here the word dharma refers to the practice of karma yoga and the word translated here as anxiety is bhaya, fear.   But he said that little bits of yoga must not be practised merely for some worldly gain.   One example he gave was of a man who used to use the rosary while lying in bed.   He seemed a pious person but when he was asked ‘why do it in such an unusual position, why not sitting up like everyone else does?’ he answered, ‘I have found it helps me to get to sleep.’   This is misusing a yoga technique for a purely personal benefit. There is a Chinese proverb. When the crows come down to pick up the seed you throw …

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Achieving release from illusory bonds of identity with body and mind

Classical Yoga, which was commented on and formulated finally by Shankara about 700 AD, and Buddhism, which in its form of Zen took root in China round about 500 AD, and these two are both based on meditation experience combined with a particular form of daily life, and they both aim at release from what are regarded as illusory bonds of identity with body and mind and things we worship. The experience can’t be conveyed by words. A book on music can’t tell what something’s going to sound like, but it can tell you what to listen for and a book on music can be an encouragement for your own practice and it can help you to notice some things, perhaps in performance of the great music classics, which otherwise one might not notice. In the same way the words of the religious texts, they can’t actually give you experience …

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The yogi is not asked to give up anything real

The Sanskrit word is sanga, which often has an intensified meaning of ‘sticking association’. But basically it is just taking things together. Our teacher used to illustrate its force in yoga practice by an incident at the court of the intelligent Emperor Akbar of Moghul India. Akbar took a crayon and drew a horizontal line on a wall in the courtroom. Then he challenged anyone to make that line shorter, without touching it. Finally a minister, Birbal, picked up the crayon and drew another, longer line below the first one. The Emperor accepted that he had succeeded: Birbal had made the first line a shorter line, by associating it with a longer one. And when he rubbed out the longer line, the original line would lengthen. We know that such changes are unreal. Still, they happen: the first line does come to look shorter. One of the commentaries on the …

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Interpreting yogic experiences as merely psychological experiences

The accusation is often made about missionaries that ‘you Westerners bring your Christian morality even when you are not believing Christians any more, you bring your Christian morality with you and then when you study yoga, or Buddhism, or something like that, you assume that there is Christian morality.  Then there is the yoga doctrine, or Buddhist doctrine, on top of that when, in fact, the morality isn’t there.’  Now to make a point in Chapter XIII of the Gita verses 7 to 11 there are twenty qualities which are given to acquire knowledge – they are themselves called ‘knowledge’ because they are the means of knowledge. Now our teacher compared this to a schoolboy who wants to do good but he can’t do good; he can do a little, but if he studies hard and becomes a skilled engineer then he can offer his services to his community and …

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Is Ishvara Illusory? Is God an illusion?

In the Brahma Sutras (II.1.14) Sankara, in answer to objections, does seem to admit that Ishvara, the Lord, is on the same level as the creation which he made and rules and destroys. Theoretical Vedantins use this and similar passages to argue that from the highest point of view there is no Ishvara, there is no Lord to whom devotion can rationally be offered. Admittedly, they say, devotion is everywhere in the Gita strongly recommended, but in the end this is an illusory worship of an illusory Lord. By these arguments they confuse and often discourage those who follow the Gita doctrine of devotion. The argument seems strong, even conclusive, but it is based on an equivocation. A word such as Creator, like many other nouns of agency, has two meanings: relating to specific action and relating to habitual action. A drummer does not make a noise all the time, …

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We are told sometimes to accept the events of our lives as the will of God

Question: We are told sometimes to accept the events of our lives whether as karmic consequence, or perhaps the will of God. Now, I find that very often I cannot do this.  An illness or an accident – yes, perhaps with a struggle I can try to accept these things; but when it is a vicious unmotivated attack, and especially be someone whom I have helped, I cannot find it in myself to accept that calmly as karma or as the divine will. I suppose I have a combative nature, and I don’t agree with just being trampled on. Answer: Then let us find a response suited to your combative nature. Take it that cosmic Ignorance has motivated these attacks on you. Then immediately hit back at that Ignorance where you can most easily reach it, namely within yourself. When one of these things happens, use the energy of the resentment to tackle …

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An outline of Adhyatma Yoga

Adhyatma is a Sanskrit word meaning relating (adhy-) to the self (atma). It is defined by Shankara in his commentary on Gita VIII.3 as Brahman the supreme Self, immortal universal consciousness, seemingly (1) related to each individual body/mind complex  (2) manifesting as the Self of the Lord omniscient and omnipotent, and ultimately  (3) Brahman-without-attributions, Supreme Self in its own glory. Adhyatma yoga is a method of realizing Brahman, not merely knowing by the mind, but knowing by being. It is an expansion of consciousness from individuality to the Absolute, not merely an intellectually or emotionally satisfying background idea. The method normally has two stages: Karma-yoga, or yoga of action, for those whose actual living experience is: “I am doing this and feeling this, in this world of real things”, but who nevertheless have an intuition that there is something beyond. There are three main practices: (1) Independence: calm endurance of the inevitable ups …

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Why do I have to study Sanskrit words and Indian ideas?

Question: Why do I have to study Sanskrit words and Indian ideas in order to practice the traditional yoga? It claims to be an experimental science and method and experiments should not depend on any particular language. Answer: One answer is to look at the example of Western instrumental music. Music is something direct, which does not depend on any particular language. But the fact is that the first substantial developments were in Italy and the basic technical terms such as allegro, staccato and sonata are internationally understood technical terms. If every composer wrote the musical directions in his own language (Wagner tried it) there would be confusion.    The second answer is from medicine. If you have distressing symptoms of thirst your doctor may diagnose diabetes and prescribe treatment. To follow the elaborate directions you have to learn words like insulin and you have to study the essential points of the various dietary and …

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The basis of morality in yoga is different from that of humanism

The basis of morality in yoga is different from that of humanism. It cannot be derived from reasoning, nor from the development of universal fellow-feeling or compassion. Dr. Shastri made a comment on the Buddhist Jataka stories, where for instance a Bodhisattva walking along a cliff sees at the bottom a starving tigress with her two cubs, and throws himself over, to feed them: ‘The whole thing is based on cheap sentiment. The purpose of life is realization of Brahman, not feeding tigers!’ I had been aware, from reading H.G. Wells at an early age, and then Whitehead and Eddington, that science could not tell us what to do, but only how to do it, and that in very limited fields. Pasteur had killed a few sheep painfully by injecting massive doses of anthrax bacteria, but his research saved millions of others, and many men as well. It created the …

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Four short pieces on the sun/moon reflected in the water

1. The merchant quoted the illustration of the sun in the water and said that he had used it to develop the Way of the Merchant There is a story that illustrates several of the points. A high official in a traditional Indian State government came to know a merchant, and was impressed by his character. He said to him: “When we have big changes in the government it is an anxious time for everyone. If things go one way some will be promoted and others disgraced; but if they go the other way it will be the reverse. It does not depend on simply whether one has done a good job or not because luck can play a big part. We all get harassed at these times of crisis. But I have watched you in similar situations in your line – when markets were going up and down and …

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Action should be calm, well-directed to a right objective, and efficient

‘Act, but do not re-act’, Dr. Shastri used to tell his pupils. He taught that action should be calm, well-directed to a right objective, and efficient. But it was not to be accompanied by reactions. Sometimes, in the very midst of an action, we find ourselves reacting to the situation: How am I doing?  Is anyone watching me?  I hope this will come out right, and what if it doesn’t?  This will show them they can’t ignore me! – and innumerable other reactions go on, as a background to the action itself. The thoughts are only half-formulated, but it means that the action does not get full attention, because part of the mind is taken up with them. They create tensions not needed for the action, which impede it. The Gita in Chapter II says that actions must be performed in evenness of mind, and especially in regard to the …

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Austerity has to be practised in small things at first

It [austerity] had a wide meaning: the central idea is training to become independent of all circumstances, outer or inner. It has to be practised, in small things at first. In the end, when the independent Self is realized, it is a natural effortless fact. It is not the same as an external self-control with seething passion within. In application it means, to be able to act without reacting. This cannot be done till the internal passions have been thinned out. They are in fact based on illusion; when that is realized consciously and vividly, not merely intellectually, passions no longer enslave. He often spoke of the madness of Romeo and Juliet. He pointed out that the play makes clear that Romeo was falling in love with other girls before he met Juliet. The love would not last long; he would soon be attracted elsewhere. They knew nothing of each …

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The meaning of Vairagya or non-attachment

He makes a picture of things as he would like them to be, however unlikely, and then says: “This is what I am asked to give up.” But no. He is giving up pangs of jealousy, of being thrown over, pangs of failure in ambitions etc. Why think: “I am giving up being a superman” when one would simply turn out to be very ordinary if one went to the world? Cats are not giving up being lions when they give up worldly life as an animal.

The infinity of knowledge free from all veiling taint

Sūtra IV.31 Then, with the infinity of knowledge free from all veiling taint, the knowable comes to be but a trifle Then, knowledge is freed from all veils of taint and karma, and there is infinity of that knowledge. Knowledge-sattva, which is infinite, (when) overcome and obscured by tamas, in places is set in motion by rajas. Thus stimulated, it can perceive. When it is freed from all veiling taints, there is infinity for it. With the infinity of knowledge, the knowable is but a trifle, like fireflies in the sky. Then, with the infinity of knowledge free from all veiling taint, the knowable comes to be but a trifle. Then, with the Raincloud samādhi, knowledge is freed from all veils of taint and karma, born of rajas and tamas, and there is infinity of that knowledge, which is pure Knowledge-of-the-difference between mind-sattva and Puruṣa. How is it so? Knowledge-sattva, …

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Succession of the gunas

Sūtra IV.32 With that, the guṇa-s have fulfilled their purpose, and the succession of their changes comes to an end With that, the guṇa-s have fulfilled their purpose, and the sequence of their changes comes to an end. For having fulfilled the purposes of experience and release, they cannot maintain themselves even a moment longer. With that, the guṇa-s having fulfilled their purpose, the succession of their changes comes to an end. With that, with the Raincloud samādhi as cause, the guṇa-s of mind have fulfilled their purpose. Sattva and the other two are situated in the mind, and though they are impellers of body and senses, now their purposes have been fulfilled, for the purpose of Puruṣa has been fulfilled. These guṇa-s have fulfilled their purpose in the form of the stream of birth and death, and the succession of their changes comes to an end. For having fulfilled …

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Transcendental Aloneness is withdrawal of the gunas

Sūtra IV.34 Transcendental Aloneness is withdrawal of the guṇa-s, now without any purposes of Puruṣa; or it is the establishment of the power-of-consciousness in its own nature That Transcendental Aloneness is withdrawal of the guṇa-s, whose essence is cause and effect, now that experience and release, the purposes of Puruṣa, are achieved and done with. Again, it is Puruṣa’s power-of-consciousness established in its own nature, no longer bound up with mind-sattva, and alone, isolated: its permanence in that state alone is Transcendental Aloneness. OM. Withdrawal is the flowing back from conjunction, and reduction to their cause, of the guṇa-s, now without any purpose of Puruṣa, though they are naturally ever-changing by assuming the nature of cause and effect; isolation of Puruṣa from being bound up with the guṇa-s is Transcendental Aloneness. Or, it is the power-of-consciousness established in its own nature. Puruṣa’s power-of-consciousness, not bound up with not involved with …

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