Chit Happens

In late October 2002, I decided to take a little break from my run-of-the-mill, predictable life. Even though I had forged a somewhat tantalizing and edgy existence (as a Carlos Castaneda reading, guitar playing, yoga instructing, qigong practicing, esoterically entranced Sufi studying various shamanic practices) out of the red dirt bedrock of my North East Texas upbringing, I longed for a real adventure. A client suggested I head off into the sunset, literally, and travel to Thailand. He would even donate the miles. I asked if that would include a stop over in Hawai’i for a couple of months on either side of my Southeast Asian debut. He said “Why not both?” So I took him up on the offer.

The crew I fell in with while on the Big Island enjoyed a ritual full moon rendezvous with Pele, and they invited me to walk out at sunset across the pyroclastic, obsidian black swirls of jagged virgin earth, so that I could drop my vodka bottle wrapped in a tea leaf into the radiantly glimmering lava pool. The sun was setting and the moon promised to be a glowing beacon of white light. One thing I had not realized at the time was that these guides, photographers from the Big Island, would do anything to get the perfect shot. Thus, when the rivulet became a gusher the size of an orange glowing Pacific Northwest River, and ran its fingers over the edge of the 75 ft. cliff into the inviting tumbles of surf below, their logical response was to scale the side of the jagged cliff’s edge to get some never before seen pictures of lava cascading down from above. The lonesome hike back to the truck with nothing to guide me but the stars was an opportune moment for reflection.

Chitta is the single most important psychological concept employed by yoga. The word chitta stems from the verbal root chit. Chit refers to pure awareness, as in Sat-Chit-Ananda, it means to "recognize, observe, perceive" and also "to be bright," as in "to shine." The mind-complex manufactures chit. Its tripartite construct is constituted by Ahamkara, literally the “I-maker,” Buddhi and Manas. It is that part of the individual which observes, and perceives, not only phenomena of the external insentient world reality (Prakriti), but also the individual's true transcendent Self (Purusha).

According to Georg Feuerstein (1980), in the fourth chapter, Pada, of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains Chit from five points of view. These five points of view are: (1) the all-comprehending potential of the individual's chitta, (2) the similar origin of varying chitta, (3) the plurality of different chitta, (4) the mechanism of the individual's chitta, and (5) the utility of this mechanism. As in Yoga Sutra IV.23: "Provided that consciousness is colored by the `seer' and the `seen' it can perceive any object." In other words, chitta is the relationship, how and where they mesh into each other, between the transcendent Self-Awareness (Purusha) and the insentient world-mechanism (Prakriti). It is "colored," conditioned, by the perceived objects, although in essence is truly the immutable, transcendent Self. Hence, chitta is not a product of Prakriti, nor is it of Purusha alone. This is why chitta, which is at the same time incarnated in the ephemeral form of a mortal creature, potentially comprehends all.

The beauty of that two-hour hike back to the truck I had never seen before and have only witnessed since along the same route. I have returned to pay homage to Pele’s destructively creative force seven times. Something keeps calling me back. I see her as a Siren smiling coquettishly, a Polynesian Goddess similar to the Indian Shiva, suggesting that there is a lot more than meets the eye. Each time I have ventured out not knowing if I would make it back. Searching for my personal moment with the creation of earth, along with whomever is up for joining, brings up a lot of chit. Shiva is the “Lord of Destruction,” I have been told. I see him as the incarnation (the embodied representative) of the destruction of one’s karma. Out there, chit happens because nothing else is there to distract one’s attention away from being in the moment. One is left with nothing but the wakefulness one carries, and all that this subjective set of suppositions signs one up for. Hardly ever does one meet another wandering soul except for at the destination site, which changes dramatically and violently on an hourly basis. Each step in the journey must be attentive. There are no direct lines to follow. Signs indicate that the traveler has journeyed outside of the boundary line for the United States. Indeed, the metaphor always reads to me that I have traveled outside of my own boundary lines into the great unknown, beyond the frontiers of chitta towards the light radiantly beaconing this craft forward.

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