"Nitya pralaya cannot be separated from nitya sarga; continuous destruction is inseparable from continuous creation." — The Aquarian Almanac

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April 9, 2015 Theme for Contemplation: Nitya Pralaya- Ceaseless Dissolution

“Nothing in this world is static, everything is kinetic. If there is no progression, there is inevitable retrogression.”

– M.K. Gandhi

April 10, 2016 Theme for Contemplation: Nitya Pralaya- Ceaseless Dissolution

“Give up thy life, if thou would’st live.“

— The Voice of the Silence

“We shall go back to the world of the dawn, but to a brighter light than that which opened this wondrous story of the cycles.”

— George William Russell

What does nitya pralaya teach us about detachment?

April 11, 2016 Theme for Contemplation: Nitya Pralaya – Ceaseless Dissolution

“True philosophers are always occupied in the practice of dying.”

— Plato

“If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”

— Kahlil Gibran

What is the dying Plato is referring to?

Tamiko - we find this type of dying explained by Socrates in the ‘Phaedo’, by Plato.  Just to give some background for those who may be interested.  The ‘Apology’ narrates the trial of Socrates or rather his defence against the accusation of offending the gods of Athens; ‘Crito’ is a dialogue with Socrates during the month he waits in prison prior to his execution; ‘Phaedo’ is a dialogue in the final hours before he drinks the hemlock and ends his life.   Interestingly, Socrates could have escaped the sentence of death at his trial if he had just agreed to say the kind of things people wanted to hear or if he had agreed to leave Athens and go live somewhere else, both of which he refused to do.  

At the time he was sentenced, Athens had just begun a month long religious festival during which time no executions were allowed to take place.  In the ‘Crito’, his friend, Crito, tries to persuade Socrates to escape prison and thus avoid his execution.  His friends have sufficient money to the bribe the guards, and can arrange another state for him to go live in.  But Socrates refuses, arguing it would be unjust to do so.  People would regard him as a hypocrite after he had argued all his life (he is now 70yrs of age) about the importance of leading the just life. This is the second time he could have escaped death.

In the ‘Phaedo’, we see his friends sad and despondent that his death is imminent while Socrates, himself, remains calm and unruffled by the prospect.  During the dialogue therein Socrates helps his friends to realise that death is merely the separation of the Soul from the body. Further, that the concerns of the true Philosopher are not with the body, its pleasures and so forth but with the knowledge that can only be apprehended by the Soul.  In short, he argues, the Soul reasons at its best and apprehends the truth when it is by itself, taking leave of the body and having as little contact with it as possible.  If such a separation of Soul and body is what the Philosopher truly seeks, then why, asks Socrates, should the Philosopher fear this separation when it finally comes in the form of his/her death?  After all, he says, ‘…those who practice philosophy in the right way are in training for dying and they fear death least of all men.’ (67e)

This doesn’t really relate directly to notion of nitya-pralaya (eternal dissolution).  Nitya-pralaya is similar if not identical to the buddhist concept of impermanence (anitya or annica).  These refer to the ceaseless change or endless dissolution which takes place at all levels of existence (gross and subtle) whether or not we choose to live the kind of life that Socrates encourages.  We are all aware of the kind of gross changes we see around us in the world.  However, the subtle level of impermanence or eternal dissolution is not something we can easily observe. At the material or form level (subtle and gross) it is the level of atomic change.  At the level of mind it refers to the rising, abiding and dissolution of consciousness which takes place moment to moment, according to buddhism, regardless of whether we lead a spiritual life or a materialistic one.

The spiritual life might be characterized, amongst other ways,  as an unraveling of a separative sense of self.  Dying, in this context, is removing the apparatus of false selfhood, branch by branch. Removing that identification is challenging, painful and perhaps this is one reason why Plato refers to it as a dying process.  Philosophers of Plato's variety are devoted to this process of detachment. (See the Bhagavad-Gita for much more on this topic of detachment) The dissolution of a false sense of self as a practice mirrors natural patterns of destruction and regeneration found in the ideas of nitya pralaya and sarga pralaya.

Hi Gerry - yes, we could characterise the spiritual life as an unraveling of a separative sense of self, which is both challenging and painful to carry out.  That’s a very useful way to put it. Whether the effort needed to die to such a separative sense of self mirrors the natural process of nitya pralaya (eternal dissolution) is open to question.   One could put the view that either we have destroyed that separative sense of self or we haven’t.   Once achieved, do we ceaselessly have to keep on destroying/dissolving it? If so, that would suggest we didn’t really finish the job.

Plato’s teaching in the Phaedo (from which our quote comes) is not about dying to a separative sense of self, nor does it appear to be a reference to eternal dissolution.  Plato shows that Socrates isn’t afraid to die because he understands that the soul is immortal and indestructible.  We are informed that the Philosopher must learn to separate the immortal Soul from the dominance of the mortal body  - with its needs, pleasures and desires.  That is because, according to Plato, when the soul seeks for truth in the company of the body it is always deceived, hence, ‘the soul of the philosopher greatly despises the body and avoids it and strives to be alone by itself.’ (Phaedo, 64d)

According to Plato, such a separation of Soul and body is the only way for the Philosopher to fully apprehend pure Wisdom.  Such Wisdom, he explains, is also immortal and indestructible (a pointer to the realm of Ideas and Forms). Thus the true Philosopher can be said to practice in daily life what finally occurs at our life’s end -  the separation of soul and body.  This is the context for his statement, ‘those who practice philosophy in the right way are in training for dying and they fear death least of all men.’ (Phaedo, 67e)  I find it difficult to interpret this as a reference to nitya-pralya (eternal dissolution), but you and others may view it differently.    These appear to be two important but distinct teachings, indirectly related by their reference to death and dying.

In gardening we see the constant interchange of death, birth and regeneration.  It is the natural process.  In the grand scheme of things we are taught about majestic cycles of evolution and involution of spirit and matter. Broadly speaking these two arms of a cycle could be compared to the cycles of living and dying.  Neither one of which are good or bad, they are both natural. Removing the separative tendencies of our nature in this context could be seen as cooperating with nature, in the bigger picture.  Something must die in order to make room for something new to be reborn.  I would assume Plato was not  speaking literally here.  The dying of the philosopher perhaps being more of a psychological dying (separating body and persona from the field of vision). For me the exercise in question here is consciously setting aside name and form and attempting to put the mind solely onto something universal and impersonal.  This is, no doubt, a practice of a lifetime and for me a form of "dying to the self".

Thanks, Gerry - yes, I do see what you are getting at here.

April 12, 2016 Theme for Contemplation: Nitya Pralaya- Ceaseless Dissolution

“The end crowns all,

And that old common arbitrator, Time,

Will one day end it.”

— William Shakespeare

“Death cannot kill what never dies.”

— William Penn

April 14, 2016 Theme for Contemplation: Nitya Pralaya-Ceaseless Dissolution

“Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?”

— Jalaluddin Rumi

“As long as a man is the doer, he also reaps the fruit of his deeds, but as soon as he realizes the Self through enquiry as to who is the doer, his sense of being the doer falls away and the triple karma is ended.”

— Ramana Maharshi

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Permalink Reply by Clyde Grauke on April 16, 2016 at 2:35pm

By the way I really like the graphic on this one.

It seems to me that we have great flexibility in how we look at things, and I see humanity as the "meaning maker."  In that context and relative to this contemplation I think of the issue of perspective and the metaphor of a sine wave. 

If you zoom your perspective in on the sine wave until you see only one wave form from trough to trough, then it can look like there is a rising from the base line to the apex of the top of the wave (nitya sarga) and if this half is taken as an absolute to be compared to following the sine wave back down to the base line again (sarga pralaya) then there appears to be two, counter-poised, absolute but opposite processes of creativity and dissolution.  I see this as being only relatively true…due to its being relative to that perspective.  This zoomed in focus of perspective can be applied to both macro and micro cycles.

If while observing the dissolution aspects of change, we have a desire for, or attachment to, what has been obtained during the history of the creation phase then frustration or fear and a host of other negative emotions and reactions can result.  Most people have no problem with change when it is in line with their desires or interests.  It is when this heads in the other direction that there are problems, hence the high quality of the psychological wisdom provided by Buddha's promotion of non-attachment.  So in my view the attachment issue has to do with what we do with our desires and objectives while in the flow of life, but the issue of the cycles is a different concept that has to do with the arena in which human interactions take place.

Meanwhile back to the sine wave, if you zoom out so that multiple cycles of the wave form are in view, then the continuity and repetition of the cycle is a whole pattern that involves sequential movement but it is a movement that has a nature that is analogue rather than blips of binomial absolutes. 

Changing perspective yet again, if the sine waves were seen as three dimensional and rotated in different directions they might be seen to be a spiral and then maybe the spirals may be seen to enlarge and then shrink in amplitude over and over again as a form of another type of cycle…

Permalink Reply by Peter on April 18, 2016 at 9:26am

"Most people have no problem with change when it is in line with their desires or interests.  It is when this heads in the other direction that there are problems, hence the high quality of the psychological wisdom provided by Buddha's promotion of non-attachment."

What a good point, Clyde.  I can see that in myself.  Change is more than welcome when times are difficult but a pain in the butt when life is rosy.

Yes, we are 'meaning makers', aren't we.  Also we are capable of uncovering a meaning to life and events which doesn't depend on us.