New Discoveries in the Yoga Sutras

(30 July 1986)

There was a big commentary [on the Yoga Sutras] written by Vachaspati.  He was 900 AD, so if the Shankara one is genuine, it precedes the first major commentary by 200 years. It extends the thought of Patanjali considerably.  The talks I’m going to give will be based on Shankara’s interpretation and reading of Patanjali. I may say that my teacher died in 1956, which was long before the Shankara commentary reached this country. He lectured for two years on Patanjali although, at the time, many Western scholars thought that Patanjali yoga and Advaita were completely separate.

My teacher, though he was an Advaitin and a great follower of Shankara, lectured for two years on Patanjali. When I compare some of the points made in his lectures, I find them confirmed in this commentary of Shri Shankara, which was discovered considerably later. So that we can say that from the actual experience, my teacher spoke on Patanjali, and it’s confirmed by what Shankara wrote long before that, but only now accessible to us.

Before I go into the actual text, there’s just one thing to say. Shankara lays great stress on these texts as of practical value in effecting our release from the pain of the illusions of life. We live under illusions mainly, and those illusions, because they are illusions, cause us great pain and suffering.  As Shankara says, we think we are born, we think we grow up, we think we grow old, we think we grow sick, we think we die. These are illusions, but they are painful illusions. The Yoga Sutras and the philosophy is a theory but it’s a theory which has a meaning only when applied to practice. Though it’s not, of course, devoid of its own interest.

I just want to make this point. I got a draftsman to draw this out for me.  It’s a diagram of an electromagnetic wave. This is the electric wave and at right angles to it, there’s the magnetic field. This is the basis of light, the basis of radio. Clerk Maxwell, the great mathematician, worked out the existence of these waves long before they were demonstrated by Hertz.  The air is full of them – sounds, music – and it can be shown, but this must be so.  The lights themselves consist of these waves, and there are many others beyond the range of light.  But, fascinating though that is, it’s really rather boring isn’t it?

[Radio tunes into music]

These are the theoretical electromagnetic waves, which theory tells us this room is full of music, but we can’t enjoy it unless we have the tiny radio set or a much bigger one as something which will be able to pick up these waves. This [radio] will be the practice. That is the theory. Both are essential, but without the practice, it’s very difficult to understand or even believe the theory. If you had told them in the Middle Ages the air was full of these electromagnetic waves, well, you would have been lucky in the West if you had not been burnt alive.

One thing more, the theories are expressed in words and figures. We find contradictions in them when we study intently. Many people feel, “Oh, well, if these things are contradictory, well, then they can’t be genuine.” One part of the contradiction might be true, then the other will be false. As the Shankara says himself, if these things are partially false, well, then the credibility of the whole fails.

I have one more picture. I don’t know if you’ll be able to see it, but it’s a very well-known thing. It’s the pyramids. I went to the Egyptian tourist agency and asked for two posters of the pyramids, and they said, “Pyramids?”  I had to get it out of the calendar and enlarge it. Anyway, these are the two main ones, the Great Pyramid, and the second pyramid. Now, supposing you read two books by two reliable authors and they mentioned the pyramids, they have a chapter on the pyramids.

This pyramid looks tall because it’s nearer, but the other one is the great one. It’s bigger. One author will say any active man can almost walk up the Great Pyramid. This is true. I’ve done that several times. Then he will say, “… and the same for the second pyramid”.  Then you read another book and the author says, “Any active man can almost walk up the Great Pyramid, but you need ropes to get up the second pyramid. You think, “What? It’s a flat contradiction. The other man said, ‘You could go up the second pyramid, just like you could the first. One of them has got it completely wrong. That means that one of those books is worthless.'”

If you go to the pyramids with this contradiction in mind, one glance resolves this contradiction.  All the stone casing has worn off the Great Pyramid; but there’s a little bit of the stone casing left on the second one. From this other enlargement, you can see it in a different light. You can see a little bit of the stone casing that’s smooth. You can’t climb up there without ropes.  It’s true you can walk up the second, but you won’t get right to the top without ropes.  So both of the statements are true. One glance of actual experience resolves the contradiction in words.

Because an author can’t describe everything at infinite length, you will get these apparent contradictions in the holy texts. They will not be actually resolved, except by a flash of direct experience. As a matter of fact, if you study the photograph very, very carefully, you can see that casing there, but it would need very, very careful study knowing what to look for.  In the same way, if the holy texts are studied very carefully, then the contradictions do disappear. But before that, there will be contradictions. The meaning is to go into direct experience and then to read the holy texts in the light of that direct experience.

What I’m saying today about the Yoga Sutras is based on the new commentary by Shankara, and also on what my teacher said from his direct experience about the meditation process and the process of release dealt with in Patanjali.  The doctrine of yoga, better to just say for the introduction, as I expect you all know this very well, is that Purusha, which is regarded as Self, is immutable, unchanging, power of seeing or awareness or consciousness (although the word ‘consciousness’ has got so many different uses in English that it’s probably not such a good one). I actually use Purusha. It means the power of vision, unchanging, apart from nature or Prakriti, which is the world.

In yoga theory, Prakriti is seen by Purusha as a play is seen by the audience. This particular illustration of the play, though it’s used in some Samkhya texts as well, is developed very much by Shankara in this new commentary that he’s written. In classical yoga, Prakriti or nature has two purposes; these purposes are for the sake of Purusha. One is experience with all its sufferings and the other is release.  One could think, “What would Purusha’s purpose be in having these painful experiences?”  An example is given of the theatre.  We go to the theatre; we go to the theatre to see tragedies. The great masterpieces are nearly all tragedies, but we go, and we enter into the tragedy. We don’t sit there thinking, “Well, these are just a team of people wearing odd clothes walking about the place, and then the lights go down and they go off.” We don’t think that. We enter the world of the play. We can see this world being created in front of us.

This is one of the new insights in Shankara’s commentary. He says the characters are bound together in the drama, their actions, their motives, they’re all bound together at the plot of the drama.  In the same way, nature is bound together. The causes and effects in nature are bound together by the purpose of Prakriti, which is to give experience to Purusha. “To give experience?”, you think. “Cause and effect in Hamlet – Laertes has the poisoned dagger, strikes and Hamlet dies. There’s a cause and effect for you – poison comes into the bloodstream and the man dies.”

As a matter of fact, all those things are free actions. Hamlet dies, but it’s a free action. Although you see it clearly as the effect of a cause, but it’s a free action. In Shankara’s presentation, a great point is made of this, that the cause-and-effect sequences we see in nature are in fact free actions, although they follow this pattern, just as everything that happens in the play follows the pattern of the play. Purpose, experience, and release.

We go to the drama to experience it, to experience some of the tragedy, but overall, the beauty of the masterpiece. Then release – we leave the theatre when the play has ended. The play only existed for us, for the onlookers. In the yoga, the onlookers, as sometimes happens in all theatres, can become too involved in the action of the play until they begin to feel themselves in the play.

An Indian boy told me that he’d seen some travelling actors and they’d come through the town and given a little play. One of them had stabbed the other. Of course, with the prop dagger, as you know, the blade goes into the handle and then the ‘blood’, the red fluid, gushes out.  But he thought he saw the man fall dead and he was haunted by that murder for some years. He thought he’d seen a murder.  He was horrified by the fact that nobody did anything. He had entered in, and he thought he’d seen something terrible happen and nobody had helped the victim.  This is an example of the yoga – Purusha apparently – so to speak, entering Prakriti and becoming one of the actors.

When we used to have the Grand Guignol, the horror plays, in London, for instance, there used to be nurses in the audience, in the wings, the galleries, and the stalls to look after the people who fainted.  In one of them (I don’t want to frighten you now, it was horrible) it ended with a terrible blinding. The girl was screaming as she was blinded by these needles. People fainted, and they felt pain in their eyes – they had entered into it.

A farmer told me, in England when he was young (of course, he was an old man when I knew him), they branded the sheep. He, as a boy, had to hold the rear legs. He was horrified by this. The lamb was branded just on the side. He began to feel a terrible pain there, where the lamb was branded, and he couldn’t go on with it.  Then he watched them.  They gave these piteous cries but only for 20 or 30 seconds. Then they’d bound off and they’d start grazing again. After he’d watched them, he realized the pain wasn’t affecting them anymore and he became able to do it.  But he had entered into this situation and it had an actual effect on him.

Something like this that happens, the pure awareness enters, so to speak, into the movement of Prakriti of nature, which is directed, which is purposeful, and has for its purpose experience and then release. We have gone, in general, too far into this whirl.  It is not a question of opting to identify with Hamlet or something like that, but of actually feeling oneself in that situation. People have only got to just lean back and feel the chair and they know they’re in the audience, untouched; but because they’re so absorbed, they feel their eyes being blinded.

The plays have their own cause and effect. Othello can’t fly, but Puck can fly. “There’s a cause and effect there – he pours that juice, love-in-idleness, and they fall in love with the first person they see on waking. That’s a cause and effect. You see it happen. You see the juice poured in, that’s the cause. They come up, they see the first thing and they fall in love, that’s the effect. You can predict it.”   But, as Shankara says, it is bound – characters, movements, the causes, the effects are all bound together by the plot of the drama.

Most of the classical plays, and some of the modern ones too, at the beginning, the characters have a sort of mania for autobiography. That’s to tell the audience where they are.  For instance, As You Like It, you see on the stage. Orlando, you see a young man, you don’t know his name and there’s an old servant. Then he starts, “As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion – bequeathed me by will, but a poor thousand crowns.”  ‘Adam’ – now we know the old man’s name is Adam. Adam’s been created. The world is being created. The past history is being created. These characters have got a past history. The young man was left a very paltry inheritance by his father.  We now know the world. We see the creation of the world.

“In the beginning, was the Word,” the Word. Prospero at the beginning, very early in the Tempest, says to the sprite Ariel, “Must I then rehearse again?” Must I tell you again who I’ve saved you from, all I’ve done for you?”  Yes, he must because we the audience need to know who you are, what’s been happening.  Then we know, then the world is created for us. In the same way, as Shankara said, there is a creation and, as the audience, we enter into this creation. The causes and effects, which form a rigid chain are the plot of the drama. They’re not real causes and effects, although we see them and we can predict.

Some of the birds have learned or had learned to get on the milk bottles left on the doorstep and peck open the tinfoil and drink some of the cream. Now to those birds, it’s a law of nature that milk bottles appear on doorsteps and one can make use of that just as we now make use of electromagnetic waves. We see these sequences and we can use them; but in yoga, they are free actions.

Now there are four illusions in yoga. One is that we believe things in the world will last, will be permanent, when they’re all changing. People exchange pledges in faithfulness forever, but it can change very quickly. Everything inherently changes, even the mathematical axioms, A is A. As a matter of fact, in the real world, that changes because ‘A’, by the time you’ve said ‘is’, has changed. That ‘A’ is not this ‘A’.  Everything is changing, but we believe that things will be lasting, even permanent. We don’t see that it’s inherently transient. We believe that there’s purity in what is impure. The modern teacher says it’s like people with a floodlight on the head, like a miner’s lamp hat. You know in the shops, they shine these floodlights down, and the most tawdry sort of tinsel begins to sparkle and shine under this very strong light with these strong reflections. You almost think that the cut glass is diamonds.  In the same way, our passionate interest shines a floodlight onto things that are fundamentally worthless and makes them glitter and shine. When we come to take them, the floodlight is shut off and we find it’s nothing.

Happiness in pain – now, Shankara, again, he gives a new reading of this and a very interesting one. Patanjali, the original Patanjali Shastra as it’s called, gives us an example of something sweet mixed with poison. You eat the ice cream; it’s very nice, but it’s got poison in it so it’s going to hit you.  Shankara says when people are beginning to wake up to yoga, they still eat the sweet thing, but knowing that it’s got poison in it. Even the pleasure that they feel at the sweet thing is tinged with pain, the thought of the pain that’s to come.  One of the things in Patanjali is that all is pain in the end because even the pleasant things will turn. Shankara extends this and he says, “When people are beginning to wake up, they will find that life is painful – even now, even in the sweet things, because we know that they will change.”

The last of the illusions is Self and not-Self. There’s the body, the mind, the senses, and there’s a deeper layer to the mind, which we’re not doing today, but it’s part of the mind. “I feel that I am that” just like the audience feels when they see that terrible scene of Gloucester’s eyes being put out in King Lear. Some of them feel, “Oh.” Or in the Cinerama, when you’re surrounded by moving waves, some people begin to feel seasick. They’re in a firm chair, but the movement on the screen, all around them, it gives an impression of going up and down and they begin to become sick.  If we enter into that, then we begin to think of ourselves as there. This is not just a passing thought or a fancy that one can throw off. It’s an actual direct experience, which can, in the end, only be cancelled by a true direct experience.

We’re wrong if we think that, when it’s said to be illusory, that is something weak. It’s not. It’s a direct experience. A direct experience of pain and of tragedy and of passing things and of beauty.  They’re direct experiences, but they’re based on this illusion and as such they are transitory – they are painful in the end, but still they attract us.  We have these latent desires laid down from previous lives, which form groups in the causal seedbed, so to speak. Every time we perform a purposeful action, it lays down a dynamic impression which seeks to reproduce itself. They form groups.

I’m aware of this. I did a lot of night duty at one time. To pass the time I used to have a cigarette every couple of hours, just to pass time, I didn’t like it. Finally, I became a heavy smoker, and then, more than 30 years ago, I gave it up. Even now, occasionally, I dream I’m smoking. I gave it up with quite some effort. I think in my dream, “Oh, I’ve started smoking again. I’m mad. I’ll never give it up again.” There’s a latent impression that has been laid down. It comes up.

This is what he calls thinned or dormant form. I’m not aware of any desire to smoke in the waking state at all. The desires are active or they’re checked. For instance, when I’m angry, I stop feeling hungry. This has got a physiological basis.  The desire for food is checked – it’s still there, but it’s checked. I don’t feel it.  Then it can be thinned – when a desire that was formerly strong has been thinned down. For instance, people can begin to realize the futility of some desire, some repetitive desire. Then they become thinned. They’re no longer compulsive.

They can become dormant, or they can become scorched.  This is a specific phrase in the Yoga Sutras: scorched. Think of Brazil when they were going to start up planting cotton there. They sent to India for cotton seeds (this was a long, long time ago).  The Indian merchants, aware that in the far distant future, perhaps, competition would rise, they scorched those seeds. They passed the seeds through an oven and then they exported the seeds. Those seeds couldn’t fructify. In the same way with wheat and so on, you can pass the germs through an oven. You can scorch the wheat – it still looks all right, but won’t fructify.

In the same way, the scorched desires are the ones which, although we can have them, they leave no trace and they’re not compulsive.  When he’s hungry, he wants to eat – but if it happens that there’s no food there, he’s not upset. He likes company, but if he has to be lonely alone, he’s not upset. The desire is there, but it’s been scorched. It doesn’t proliferate into, “Why have I been left alone? They’ve all gone. No gratitude, these people. All I did for them,” and so on. Now that doesn’t fructify into those thoughts. It’s just there as a seed.

Shankara goes a step further than the original Samkhya philosophy, which is the basis of Patanjali’s yoga. In Patanjali, nature, Prakriti, is as real as Purusha. God is a separate Purusha and never enters into illusion. God is a teacher and a helper, but He didn’t create the world; well, nothing is said about Him being a creator.  In the new commentary, this has been changed very much. The sutras say, “All thy devotion to God. It can be done.” God is a special purusha. His expressing word, his OM and its repetition is to be done and meditation on the meaning. It removes obstacles, and it produces sight of the Purusha within. Vachaspati gives perhaps an eighth of his whole commentary on the first book on God.  Now, in the Shankara commentary, that has been enormously increased.

It’s typical of Indian commentaries that, when you read them, you find they mostly concentrate on certain key points, and then they spread themselves. It’s in these very big sections that the author really wants to put across his whole viewpoint. Before that, he’s commentating on an individual sutra, so he’s held within that sutra. When he comes, as this one does, to the sutras on God, now he can expand, he can say as much as he likes. And what Shankara liked was nearly a third of the whole commentary. You can see the enormous importance he gives, as he does in his Gita commentary, to devotion to God.

The other important expansion is of verses six and seven on knowledge and illusion. Shankara wants to go further than the normal view of Prakriti as real, and Purusha as real. Shankara says that the whole of Prakriti is an illusion. It’s not just that some of the relations are illusory, but the whole of Prakriti is an illusion.  He makes God the Creator of the whole illusion. That’s to say, so to speak, it becomes nearer something like a conscious dream. One may think of a dream as having the same intensity as the waking state. Rather than the theatre, it becomes more like a conscious dream by the Lord.  Now if Jung is right (and of course, I speak with considerable trepidation) but if he is right, then the different characters that you see in the dream are all parts of yourself. That spiteful character and that arrogant character, they are parts of me. The drunken character or the mad man – listen to him, he’s speaking truth.  When you dream a drunken man or a mad man talking, that’s the voice of truth, because the voice of truth sounds mad to the ordinary personality.

Well, whether Jung said this or not, I’ll leave to other people.  But it would be the view of Shankara, that this is an illusion spread out by the Lord and he enters into it, so to speak, as these different characters.  When the dream comes to an end, they’re all absorbed into the One.  Or before the dream comes to an end, one of the characters can begin to realize, as sometimes happens to many of us in a dream, we begin to realize this is a dream. Still, the dream continues, but now we’re carefree. We still continue our role.

I looked after my old mother for about 20 years. After she died, I dreamt of her on a number of occasions. I remember once she came and said, “I’ve come back to you.” I was thinking to myself, “You’re dead.” Then she said, “You will have me back, won’t you?” I said, “Of course I will,” realizing that this was a dream. You’re in the dream but you say, “Yes, of course I will.”  Something like that, our teacher said; there’s a cooperation, so to speak.  And he used again the example of the theatre play as if one of the actors realized that the other actors had become absorbed in the play and had begun to feel that they really were Othello or Iago. Then one of them begins to realize, “No, I’m an actor. I have my own identity.” He goes on playing his part, but he’s no longer upset by that part, and he can play it well.

Shankara here gives many arguments for the existence of God. Some of these arguments, as has been said already in this hall, are now looking much healthier than they looked 30 or 40 years ago. The argument from design – it used to be said, “Oh, no, it’s pure chance that man has come to life on this planet, pure chance.”

It’s been pointed out just how many coincidences had to happen for life to be possible here.  Gradually it’s being realized – a huge book has just been published on the cosmic anthropic principle. Just how many coincidences? If gravity was just a little bit stronger, all stars will be great dwarfs.  Life would be impossible. If gravity is a little bit weaker, there’d only be blue giants – or maybe it’s the other way around; anyway, life would be impossible. Now they’re finding so many.

You say, “Well, it could still happen through chance.” People who talk like that have no idea really about chance. They say it could happen through chance, even a one in a million, million, million, million, million chances, and if it could happen by chance, then there is no creator. But they’ve never played cards.  If you play cards, and the dealer keeps getting a lot more aces and kings than average, that could happen by chance. But you begin to suspect that there’s an intelligence at work somewhere. It could happen by chance, but most of us would feel that the most reasonable supposition is intelligence, not a million-to-one chance.

I’ve mentioned that Shankara gives a very long disposition on the section on Om repetition. He says this is not just a conventional name which could have been something else – it’s the expressive word of God, not a conventional name given by human beings for God. There’s something in the sound itself, and the Om practice depends on entering the sound.  This is the theory. For those who want to go deeper into it, it has to be done in actual experience – to enter the sound.

A number of the Zen riddles depend on this point, to enter the sound. You think, “Well, what does it mean? Does it mean anything?” If we practise, we’ll find something. We’ll find something if we build a radio set with precision and care and learn how to tune it. Then we switch it on finally [and hear the music].  This radio is a tiny little thing. It’s only meant for one person and there’s lots of crackling when you turn it on.  But even if it’s a big one, a huge one filling the stage, it would only be the same as what’s here. It’ll be the same music. People feel sometimes, “Oh, so-and-so is a great Prophet. This saint, nobody’s ever heard of him!”  But it’s the same – what is speaking through them is the same.

One, a very small radio, a handy, personal thing; another, perhaps a loudspeaker in a stadium for an enormous number of people. In countries where you have typhoons, these little radios are very useful. A typhoon is coming. The radio keeps you in touch with it every 10 minutes. If it’s coming towards you, then you drop everything, take in everything, put ropes around the house, get ready to hold the shutters from inside. Then you listen to this tiny little thing. “Oh, no. It’s begun to veer off.”  A Japanese in the north was given one of these little sets by his son, who was a student in Tokyo. It was wonderful for him. He said, “This removes this fear of this terrible uncertainty of the typhoon, never knowing which way it’s going. This tells me.” Then he said to his son, “Of course, the warnings are very good, but sometimes I feel I’d like a little more detail. Do you think you could get me a bigger set?”

The truth is the same. It can be very obscure. It can be communicated by simply a gesture, not by words at all. There are people whom you could meet and they don’t say anything. You go away, and you find something you’ve been afraid of, afraid to do, unable to do, something that’s been worrying you, has disappeared. You’re able to do that thing. You’re free from that worry. They haven’t said anything, you’ve just been in their presence.

There’s a very long section in the second book by Shankara on karma. This is an enormous subject. Now, one of the things he said is that normally, karma fulfils itself in the next life, in a future life. We know this actually from experience. A rather cynical Japanese said, “Yes, do good and you’ll receive good for it. Do bad and you’ll receive ill for it.” That’s what we tell the children. It’s very good they believe in it, but it’s not what actually happens. You see the evil people prospering and the good suffering misfortunes.

Shankara says, “If the karma is intense, then it fructifies in this life.” I think, “Well, what is this intense karma?” He gives this as good deeds done with mantra, with tapas, with austerity, and with samadhi practice. If a man is practising mantra, recitation of a mantra for half an hour every day, if he’s performing tapas, he’s performing austerity, that’s to say austerity of thought, giving up dreams and endless gossiping and spite, or endless ambitions, or endless meaningless desires or meaningless laziness and trivialities, if he gives those things up, then his mind and his actions begin to become intense. That’s the first case, intense karma.

The second one is when the good deed is blessed by God or by some great saint, some great yogi. He says, “These forms of karma are actualized in results in this life.” Now, one of the things that my teacher used to say, which Shankara says here also, is that of course it’s good to give food to the starving and to wipe the tears from the widow and the orphan, but if we look around today, the people who are, for instance, putting bombs onto aircrafts and killing hundreds of people, they’re not starving, but they’re spiritually starving.  Many of them are idealists that are quite prepared to die themselves. Often rather simple people sometimes manipulated by others, they’re starving for a true ideal to work for. They think they’re working for an ideal. “Just get rid of this lot and everything will be all right.”

Our teacher said that people who have the opportunity to practice yoga, if they practise isolated in a room, they will affect the minds of thousands of people.  He gave us an example – that originally, for ideas to spread, it was done by word of mouth. They used to go to a forum or an open square, a village green and simply speak and they’d go onto the next one.  Then came printing. The change was quicker. Then came the radio. Now, the change can be quicker still. He said, “Finally, it will be done by people performing spiritual practice with intensity and they will change the basis of the minds of countless thousands of people whom they don’t know of.”  Only when this level of awareness is changed will things really improve. Otherwise, we may juggle, lifting up here, putting down there, but while our characters remain the same, things won’t alter.

We can be kind. If you give opium to an opium addict, you’re being kind. That’s what he wants, and he thanks you for it. Is it kind? It’s cruel if you don’t give it – he’s got these withdrawal symptoms then. Now, he said that we have this responsibility – we hear about yoga and have the opportunity to practice. This is a great contribution which we can make. We feel, “Oh, what can somebody sitting alone in a room do?” He said, “No. If it goes deeply and becomes intense, then it’ll change the awareness.”

Well, what I’ve tried to do is to cover one or two of the points where Shankara brings an entirely – not quite new, but a largely new – viewpoint on to the Yoga Sutras. This is very early, if it’s genuine.  And one’s inclined to think that it is genuine. I’ve consulted a number of the best scholars on Shankara.  It’s very difficult to prove that he actually wrote it; but what you can do is prove that he didn’t write it.  A lot of works attributed to Shankara have got later references in them. They’ve got references, for instance, to thinkers who were of a later date. It’s very difficult to think yourself back. It’s very difficult for us to write like a Roman. Shakespeare tried and then he started mentioning clocks. It’s small points like this, you’ve got clocks and you think, “Well, what’s the time? Oh yes, somebody says it’s six o’clock.” That sounds natural enough to us, but the Romans didn’t calculate like that.

I’ve examined the text very carefully to try to find some of these anachronisms. There are currents of thought for instance, there are Buddhist schools who arose later than Shankara. If some of them were referred to, that would be an indication of a later date, but I haven’t found any of that. So it’s very likely genuine.  If it is so, it means that the presentation of yoga is much closer to the yoga of the Bhagavad Gita than to the yoga which has been attributed to Pantanjali, where God is just a sort of extra thrown in and hardly referred to outside those few sutras.  Shankara says that the Upanishadic conception is not, ‘All is pain’, but ‘All is bliss’. He says, “When this illusion is known, then the play is blissful.” We find this. We go to these tragedies and it’s a great and blissful experience. Although it’s a terrible tragedy, it has given us experience and release.

The commentary by Shankara is full of brilliant examples, some of which, as far as I know, are unparalleled in the philosophic literature.  In one that he gives, the opponent says, “Look here. There are some experiences which are awful. No talking or chattering is going to make any difference to them.” For instance, extreme physical pain.  Well, Shankara doesn’t give this example, but we know today from mountaineering, that mountaineers choose a difficult and dangerous route. Sometimes, they get frostbite on their hands and they may lose the hand. They know they may, and the physical suffering can be very great. They say this, yet they choose it.  If it’s voluntarily adopted, it can become a sort of sport.

Shankara gives another example. An interesting one and humorous one. The opponent says, “Well, there are disgusting things out there.” Shankara gives this example: “For a man who’s in love with his young wife, even a blow of the fist by her on his head, he likes it.” It tells you something about social life in India, doesn’t it? The wives are not quite so downtrodden as we may think.

Then he gives another example, which I’ve never experienced myself, but I have asked other people about it. He says, “The father picks up his new-born son. The little boy makes a mess all over him.” He says, “The father enjoys it. He says, ‘Little rascal.’ He goes and has a bath.” Well, I’ve asked a father about that. He said, “Yes, yes. The funny thing is, if it’s your brother’s kid, still, ‘Yes’; but if it’s someone else’s kid, you say disgusting little brat.”

Shankara gives a number of examples to show how the quality of the experience changes. If these things are known to be creations, so to speak, as in the theatre, then even the most terrible tragedy changes in its nature.  My teacher added that we should, ourselves, try to remove the suffering of the whole world by practising meditation on God and giving the blessings to the whole world.   Shankara says, “God is the teacher of teachers and the helper of helpers. He will take the devotion of individuals and he will spread it. We are wrong if we think that because we’re small physically, we’re necessarily small spiritually.”

The devotion and the practice of any individual may be very great. My teacher compared it to the windmill. The wind blows, it carries dust around but through a windmill, it can grind corn. He said, “You can be like that windmill.”


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