Nitya Teachings

Home | Overview | My First Book | My Second Book | Gurukula Books | Book Introductions | Bhagavad Gita | Hercules | Magazine Articles | Misc. Articles | Class Notes - 2004 to 2012 | Class Notes - That Alone | Class Notes 2015 to 2018 | Class Notes 2018 on | Lynx
Darsana One - Verse 2


Adhyaropa Darsana, Verse 2


As incipient memory form alone, in the beginning,

This remained; thereafter, the Lord

Projected with his maya,

Like a magician, the entire world.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


In the beginning in the form of incipient memory factors

(All) this remained. Then the Lord

By His own power of false presentiment, like a magician

Created all this world (of change).


         Another universe of insights emerged from this simple verse. It seems that we are accessing the Garland from a deeper level than ever before. This is going to get very interesting!

         Deb set the stage by noting how we tend to think of maya as illusion, a gigantic trick or impediment. Yet properly understood, maya includes all of manifestation. Everything without exception is a projection that arises from the ground, here called prabhu. I pointed out that this engenders a very different attitude toward the world. If we think of the whole of creation as an illusion, it becomes a kind of enemy, an obstacle to accessing something preferable. This can only exacerbate the duality we feel as a sense of isolation, of being separated from our environment. Instead, when maya is treated as a natural and inevitable occurrence, we can learn to harmonize with the essence of everything, which is transformed into something to love and be loved by.

         Bill added that maya was a process, not a stand-alone entity, which is an operational hazard of personifying it and reducing it to a cliché. Deb elaborated that it is the whole that arises from the seed, and the seed is in the mind of God (which is also a principle of proliferation and not a stand-alone entity. See Part II). The seed billows out and becomes the entire universe.

         Narayana Guru is affirming that the apparent nothingness of the beginning is filled with infinite potentials. It is not an empty nothingness. It is tautologically obvious that if something comes to be, it must have been latent in the previous state where it did not appear to exist. Knowing this is a most uplifting insight! By contrast, scientific materialism has proposed a deadening alternative: a universe of pure randomness, in other words, without anything being latent in it. Its favorite image is the blind watchmaker, swirling dust around and occasionally making a recognizable form purely by accident. If such absolute randomness were in fact the case, we should expect to see a preponderance of heterogeneous piles of junk, dotted here and there with temporarily functioning conglomerations. Yet wherever we look, every bit of it is marvelously well put together. We don’t see randomness painfully accreting anywhere. It’s all a magnificently functioning interrelated whole. And from what we can tell, it has been that way since the beginning.

         Andy has been trying to recollect his earliest memories, which is also far from random, considering that it fits so well with the present study. At Narayana Guru’s behest we are contemplating the totality that supports the temporal world we inhabit, presumably because we have lost touch with it and want to reacquaint ourselves with it. There are many ways to access the pristine state we lived in before we began to become seriously conditioned, and diving into the depths of memory is a fascinating option. Andy noticed that before his earliest coherent memories, somewhere around age two, looms a dark void, intriguing and impenetrable. We wondered with him, what connection does that bear to the prabhu? Must we surrender all our psychological structuring in order to enter the mystery?

         Jan related how when she was young she visited the Greek Acropolis and other ruins of the Mediterranean region where she lived, and she can still recall the spiritual feeling they evoked. She could easily sense that there was something valuable just below the surface, or even being elicited by the surface. Until recently, civilized humans believed that architecture inspired creativity and what they might have called godliness. Sadly, the new god of Finance is better worshipped by squelching those sentiments, including replacing sinuous architectural lines with massive, unimaginative boxes. But Jan’s point was that like Andy she felt close to something profound when she regressed into early memories. It is an enjoyable and accessible route into our personal lake of prabhu.

         Susan also had a tale about the evocation of memory, in her case through exhaustion, which is central to many spiritual techniques. At the end of a long and grueling day of travels, she fell into a semi-dreamlike state where she had a clear, realistic memory of her father telling her to keep her mouth shut. She hadn’t remembered that for some four decades, but it came back with a rush, and she suspects her father’s well-meant directive has subtly inhibited her for much of that time. Having seen it so plainly, she can begin to let go of its impact and feel a little less inhibited.

         To me, just knowing about a state of unlimited potential that exists within us is a liberating concept. We don’t have to explain or otherwise determine what the mystery is, exactly, or link up with it, we can just invite it to work with us, and make ourselves as open as possible to its influence. When we do, we find that those potentials are “hot to trot.” Eager to be actualized. Like carbon dioxide bubbles in a soda, they are continually bubbling to the surface. Normally we suppress them, I guess in the fear that they might make us burp in public. This is too bad, since they are our inner genius reaching out to us.

         Andy offered himself as an example. He has been composing a spectacular (my word) graphic image for each of the Atmopadesa Satakam verses as he addresses them in his online study group. For a long time he found it an effortless process, where the insights would just pour out of him as he worked. Now he has gotten to a place where he is not so sure of himself, and is somewhat anxious about the process. Yet as he stews and muses about his dilemma, images begin to come, and before long he has done another graphic interpretation of the subject.

         The great geniuses of human history often seemed to be hard pressed to keep up with the visions pouring into them, and that is a popular ideal of creativity. On closer examination, most if not all of them had bouts of struggle when the flow was more sluggish or even stopped entirely. Very often they invoked their preferred version of the Unknown, and by so doing opened themselves even more to its influence. Sooner or later the flow was reestablished, often improved or at least redefined.

         When things go perfectly all the time, it is far too easy to become egotistical about it. Even thinking something as simple as “I’m doing it right,” may be enough to stifle the inspiration. On the other hand, doubt can help reduce the egotism and restore the openness. Certainly the humility of not feeling in total control of the process is invaluable. We should keep this in mind as Narayana Guru leads us in a serious process of deconstruction as we pass through Darsanamala. Whether or not we are exceptionally gifted, we live our lives like glowing stars, almost without noticing the myriad complexities we perform daily like master magicians. Then too, if we are fortunate, we find time to stop and examine what’s going on. We dip back into the depths of our being and emerge refreshed, ready to reassess the world with new eyes and ears.

         Andy has been doing something like that in relation to the structural image of aum that is so central to the Gurukula version of Vedanta. He experiences awe in the image’s “super-intelligent presence,” and feels that the symbolic concept is “smarter than I am.” You ponder it and don’t realize how much meaning is in it, but it continually brings up new insights. This is the type of aesthetic contemplation that Nitya was especially fond of and considered an optimal meditation, by the way.

         Jan wanted a clarification on the incipient memories of this verse, the vasanas, wondering how they were related to the prabhu. This is an important distinction to make. Are they the same or not? Almost, but not quite. Vasanas are a lot like the personal extension of the total all-pervading prabhu, in that from our conscious perspective, both are impelling us to act, and we have a hard time determining which are the more or less valuable. To make matters worse, there are two contradictory threads in Vedanta, where vasanas are either to be selectively promoted or done away with entirely. We surely don’t want to encourage the harmful impulses that sometimes surge through us, but, along with Jan, we do desire to foster our creativity for any number of good reasons. Obviously this process is not something that can be clearly delineated, nor should it be. Nitya does emphasize its importance in streamlining our interactions, however:


This potential or latent aspect, which enables one to have harmonious or discordant relations with others, and which often appears capricious to the onlooker, is described by the Sanskrit term vasana.


         Briefly, the Absolute is a state of pure potential, and therefore it does not impel anything. The prabhu is that aspect of the Absolute that does unleash the creative unfoldment that proliferates into our universe in all its details. Part of that unfoldment is what we now call the genetic makeup of all the living species that have been created. It’s a kind of successful patterning that keeps getting reused to replicate the success. In Sanskrit it’s called vasana. Most of this replication goes on species wide whether or not we are aware of it, though yogis are presumed to be becoming better acquainted with that part of their makeup. Nitya adds:


Narayana Guru attributes such potentiality to one generic, latent principle in the primeval substratum, recognized in the previous verse as paramesvara, and in the present one as prabhu. All possibilities in the universe, from the spinning of a nebula to the pollination of a flower, and including the composition of a symphony, are all latent in the prabhu as vasanas. Prabhu literally means, “that which becomes, methodically and abundantly.”


         Bill added that as individuals we transmute the pure energy of the prabhu and shape it according to who we are. This personal shaping on the deepest level is done by our vasanas, and at a more conscious level by our samskaras. On a surface level it is dictated mainly by social constraints and commonly accepted knowledge. Regardless, it is only natural that we shape our interactions with the world according to who we are. It’s when we substitute who we think we should be for who we are that we begin to get into trouble.

         That’s why the unknown is best left unknown, though it need not be unappreciated. Deb has recently noticed that, like us, physicists have been deconstructing their fixed view of the world more and more. Dark matter and dark energy are now thought to make up 96% of the cosmos. “Dark” is a term coined by persnickety scientists striving to avoid religious implications at all costs. The truth is that it’s not dark, it’s invisible. Most of the universe consists of invisible, undetectable, weightless nothingness that somehow impacts everything we know about—the lowly 4%. Such invisibility is uncomfortably close to divinity, so it gets demonized as darkness instead, which suits the Semitic religious mindset just fine, particularly certain like-minded rationalists.

         So Darsanamala is encouraging us to ease back into the unknown, not to define it but to simply experience it, and our group mind in the class is looking like an excellent way to inspire each other in the joys of the journey.

         Deb gave us an assignment: to answer Nitya’s question, “What is it that causes qualitative variations at the atomic level?” In other words, how does the quality-less Absolute become imbued with qualities? Is it all an illusion? Does it matter? The original question is about simple chemistry, about how atoms become various qualitatively different formations when combined. It brings up the question, what is a quality? How do we detect it and what does it mean? Nitya, of course, reminds us to always apply his analogies to our personal spiritual self-examination:


When we turn our attention from the mysteries of the physical and chemical worlds and focus it on a more intimate subject, that of our own personal life, we are confronted with a much deeper mystery.


So, what does it mean when we apply this analogy to our own life? You please tell us.

         Bushra talked about another key idea implied in the verse: we are making up stories all the time to conceive of the inconceivable. She agreed it was okay, as long as you realized that none of the stories you came up with were actually true. I added that we were nonetheless free to upgrade our stories to make them kinder and more joyous, etc. The sum total of these “fictions” is what makes up our conception of the universe, and they are as good as it gets, until the next more improved version comes along. That’s why we share. When you create something out of nothing, it is bound to be an imposition. And on a grand scale, a superimposition. It can’t be helped. Deb reminded us of Wendell Berry’s terrific and essential book The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, where he examines the cultural myths we unconsciously employ in the US, along with their effects on the environment and our lives. Those beliefs that go deepest and we are most sure are true are at the same time the ones that can lead us most astray, like lambs to the slaughter.

         It is interesting that Nitya uses the example of the manned moon landings to demonstrate a plausible fact that is doubted by closed-minded naysayers. At the time of writing Darsanamala, those events were universally believed without question, and yet since then convincing evidence has surfaced that points to the whole drama being staged for propaganda purposes. I have been pondering this all week in preparation for the class. It reminds me of the propaganda coup of blaming the demolition of the New York trade towers on Muslim fundamentalists. In both cases, a politically motivated belief, ceaselessly repeated, easily continues to trump clear scientific evidence of its falsity. Because I am somewhat a voice in the wilderness in calling such patriotic beliefs into question, I have personally observed the hurricane of denial that erupts whenever the tried and true is doubted. It rapidly escalates beyond mere disagreement to rancor and calumny, with a potential for even worse. This can teach us a lot about the degree to which we are bound without realizing it. It’s rather shocking, as a matter of fact.

         While Galileo and Bruno are its poster children victims, the need for society to viciously defend false beliefs has apparently not abated in the more than four hundred years of “progress” since they were brutally persecuted by the standard bearers of their day for holding beliefs that are currently beyond question. If anything, many beliefs have become even more rigidly conformist in our time, since socially acceptable attitudes are routinely amplified and reduplicated through the mass media and now reach every corner of the globe.

         An unequivocal warning tone is definitely where Narayana Guru is going with his observations of cosmic projection, as he spells out unmistakably later in the darsana:


7.         When Self-knowledge shrinks,

         then ignorance is fearful;

         substantiation by name and form,

         in the most terrible fashion, looms here, ghostlike.


8.         This is terrible and empty of content,

         like a phantom city;

         even as such, the whole universe

         is made as a wonder by the Primeval One.


         Although it is “terrible and empty of content,” falsehood has the power to move us, mainly but not exclusively because we buy into it. Nitya’s example is of those who deny the obvious because of prior-held ideas that would have to be surrendered in order to accept it. This is a ubiquitous quality of human beings, the prime reason we remain “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s immortal words.

         Anyone daring to take Darsanamala seriously should be prepared to give up at least a few of the very ideas they cling to most tenaciously, as their very tenacity is an indicator that we may be holding on to them not out of intelligence but out of fear.

         The ideas we cherish and profess make a huge difference, not just to us but to everyone around us. Whether you believe that the Americans beat the Soviets to the moon may be relatively inconsequential at this point, a relatively trivial propaganda victory, but blaming Muslims for the 9/11 mayhem was more successful: yet another excuse to wage an eternal war that is eating our planet alive, now fourteen or really twenty-four years on. The devastation is truly titanic in scale.

         Our class is not about debating what did or did not happen; it is aimed at each of us recognizing the tendency in ourselves to pad our nests with the attitudes we have been saddled with in the course of our mental development. We don’t have to hold to them, but since that is our default setting as brain-operated beings, we do have to intentionally let them go or they will persist. The very ideas that make us uncomfortable if they are questioned are where we most need to do the weeding, and if we accede to our preference for the easy route, we will effortlessly ignore the most entrenched falsehoods in our psyche. We don’t have much problem in observing other people’s idol worship, but it is much harder to look into our own. Narayana Guru, in his fierce compassion, is going to keep turning our heads back into our own being, because right behind all our garbage is where the beauty of our being resides. Recall the Isa Upanishad’s golden disc that hides the sun: a simulacrum—a false but plausible simulation—is the best place to hide truth, because we are content to be satisfied with it. Nitya often characterized himself as a gardener of the soul, helping us to see behind the faįade:


My lot is of a clumsy old gardener who cuts and prunes the bushes and hunts out the vermin and the fungus that come to destroy the delicate buds of his blossoming bushes. (L&B 371)


         Why is it so hard to disabuse ourselves of false beliefs? Lurking behind them in our subconscious, in our samskaras, is the threat of punishment. Free thinking has almost always been met with severe correction, even as it was professed as a virtue, and in the back of our minds we still fear the lash. In our reflection on our earliest memories, we can likely recall moments in the first years of schooling where our unpopular ideas were met with derision, and we hastily abandoned them in favor of groupthink. (Searching groupthink will bring up a wealth of relevant ideas. This one is very good:

         Our closing meditation was on returning to our still center, our karu or absolute emptiness, to be regenerated with a fresh approach, exactly like a caterpillar melting into a formless soup in its chrysalis before it breaks out reconstituted as a butterfly.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         At inception this visible world was in the form of vāsanās (incipient memory factors). Thereafter the Great Lord by His power, which was of a non-existent (or merely conceptual order), after the manner of a magician, created all this phenomenal universe. Before creation this world had merely the status of pure samskāras (deep apperceptive masses in consciousness). The sankalpa (willing) mentioned in the previous verse is only an active version of the same vāsanā. At the time of creation the Lord created all this by his illusory power. This is like the magician, who while remaining all alone, is able to make us believe there are multitudes of other things around him. There is in reality nothing apart from the magician, who is capable of manifesting visible things. Actual entities are not there, but only entities having the status of memory factors are to be considered real. In the same way, there is nothing in the universe which is other than the Lord. What is in the Lord is only a certain power of specification or qualification called māyā (the principle of false presentiment), having no (real) existence of its own. By the example of the magician, it has, thus, been shown that the phenomenal world is false.


*         *         *


         Deb sent this today, from Nitya’s essay she is currently typing up:


Here is a paragraph from Pranava which seems so very appropriate:


Although for religious reasons a Creator is permitted, or admitted, Indian schools of thought give no actual credence to such a Creator. Self-born suggestiveness swells on all sides with fresh and new suggestions. Every formation of growth of the embryo takes place between the presentative materials arising from the past and the futuristic design of possibilities, which are continuously carving and licking into shape new limbs for fresh operations. Thus the past, the present, and the future are to be taken as a single function where what is predominant is not the objectivity of the body that arises, but the continuous function which is proliferating with new modes of action. Sankara traces the possibility of all errors that can lead us to almost irreversible false notions, which breed pain, to this proliferation. Therefore the asva that is to be sacrificed is none other than the ever-increasing suggestibility that arises from the seedbed of an urge which has within it the dual principles of hunger and the call for appeasement.


Part III


         Susan passed along some pertinent quotes for our delectation. The link embedded in the Nietzsche section will take you to the excellent Brain Pickings site with some pithy ideas about creative inspiration from Picasso and others. Susan wrote:


I’m finding this study wonderful so far. By the way, I think this quote I sent you before is quite germane this week:


From Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, by James Hollis


Thus people worship forms of belief without struggling with the issues the forms tentatively embody or emulate behaviors without questioning whether they really serve fuller life. Accordingly, either the image of divinity is to be defended for its presumed historic claim, or it is to be summarily rejected as unworthy of a modern sensibility. In either case the world is de-souled, when what it needs is reanimation; either way, the individual is prey to belief systems that narrow into rigid positions rather than expand to opening dialogue; the mystery is banished and therefore rendered irrelevant to all. Similarly, one may attend a college in order to avoid the radical opening to real education,* go to church to avoid religious experience, and even undertake therapy to avoid the reality of the psyche. All of these practices are in fact common, albeit mostly unconscious, and result only in deeper and deeper alienation from the mystery. And all reduce the measure of life through the disregard of personal experience and deflection of personal authority.


*Education derives from the verb educe, which means “to draw forth from within.” The original teaching methods of Socrates has been largely displaced by professorial deference to received scholarly authority. By and large, our students are taught how to take exams but not to think, write, or find their own path.


pp 195-6


There’s also a great series of quotes from the website “brain pickings.” Do you know that site? Read this:


Any human being who does not wish to be part of the masses need only stop making things easy for himself. Let him follow his conscience, which calls out to him: "Be yourself! All that you are now doing, thinking, desiring, all that is not you."

Every young soul hears this call by day and by night and shudders with excitement at the premonition of that degree of happiness which eternities have prepared for those who will give thought to their true liberation. There is no way to help any soul attain this happiness, however, so long as it remains shackled with the chains of opinion and fear. And how hopeless and meaningless life can become without such a liberation! There is no drearier, sorrier creature in nature than the man who has evaded his own genius and who squints now towards the right, now towards the left, now backwards, now in any direction whatever.


Echoing Picasso's proclamation that "to know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing," Nietzsche considers the only true antidote to this existential dreariness:


No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don't ask, walk!


But this path to finding ourselves, Nietzsche is careful to point out, is no light stroll:


How can man know himself? It is a dark, mysterious business: if a hare has seven skins, a man may skin himself seventy times seven times without being able to say, "Now that is truly you; that is no longer your outside." It is also an agonizing, hazardous undertaking thus to dig into oneself, to climb down toughly and directly into the tunnels of one's being. How easy it is thereby to give oneself such injuries as no doctor can heal. Moreover, why should it even be necessary given that everything bears witness to our being – our friendships and animosities, our glances and handshakes, our memories and all that we forget, our books as well as our pens. For the most important inquiry, however, there is a method. Let the young soul survey its own life with a view of the following question: "What have you truly loved thus far? What has ever uplifted your soul, what has dominated and delighted it at the same time?" Assemble these revered objects in a row before you and perhaps they will reveal a law by their nature and their order: the fundamental law of your very self. Compare these objects, see how they complement, enlarge, outdo, transfigure one another; how they form a ladder on whose steps you have been climbing up to yourself so far; for your true self does not lie buried deep within you, but rather rises immeasurably high above you, or at least above what you commonly take to be your I.


Part IV


         Mike sent his thoughts on maya, which has the fourth darsana all to itself. Actually it has all the darsanas to itself, but it is specifically addressed in the fourth:


         Maya is only a possibility of ones’ consciousness being condensed and solidified as a confection of phenomenal elements of virtual possibilities that have manifested within the creative process, inherent in consciousness itself.  This manifestation is truly magical!  Consciousness identifies itself as the phenomenal experience of what we call life. 

         The very nature of the mind is the “Maya experience” which throws a veil over the pure consciousness and hides the truth of ones’ real being.  This is a natural state when one comes into existence as a body/mind manifestation.  Pure consciousness becomes restricted and limited with specific physical and mental energies.  The whole time it is still consciousness.

         When the mind is silent and still, with no modulations, the personal identity (Maya) ceases to exist as an object of awareness and all is absorbed back into pure consciousness.  In this state it is possible to retain an awareness as a witness or observer and the body/mind can be observed with all its manifestations of sensory perceptions and mental fabrications as they come and go, like clouds passing in the sky. 

         In this witnessing state of consciousness, awareness of ones’ Self expands to include all manifestations as ones’ Self.  There’s no distinction or separation.  Ones’ identity expands to be the collective body/mind energies of the Universe and also, to be the silent, emptiness of pure consciousness, simultaneously.  Thus the paradox – “Existence is everything and nothing at the same time”.  If one sits where the vertical and horizontal axis intersect, this neutral space reveals this paradox.  

         Life emerges from emptiness and a spontaneous flow within the stream of consciousness manifesting everything in the present moment.  The presence of this manifestation is evidenced through contemplation and meditation, but it is not dependent upon it.  A direct recognition of ones’ true being is possible at every instance.

         When hallucinations of fabricated realities subside and consciousness disassociates itself from the mind, the presence of silence and emptiness permeates existence without any actions of acquisition or attainment.   All is what it is:  the spontaneous construction and deconstruction of perpetuating cycles and nothing in particular, at the same time.

         Intellectualization is a hindrance to this recognition since it requires the mind to provide the energy of conceptualization, which is similar to that of a mirage in the desert that has no actual reality in itself.  Using Maya to see what is real is futile.   With all this said, it’s time to be quiet and let go of everything; be nothing in particular; and observe everything in silence…aum


         When I wrote back thanking Mike for his response and wondering whether I should use it in the Maya Darsana instead, he sent this:


Sometimes I don't actually respond accurately to the full content of the assigned task and take a more intuitive approach to the text in relation to what I'm experiencing in the present moment.  All relates to my spiritual awareness at the time.  I try to stay on track but there's a higher consciousness projecting what my responses will be.  This has deepened and become very intuitive.   If my responses resonate in some way to another verse, please feel free to use it appropriately.  


When I was in the Atmo group with Nancy, it seemed my responses were always more appropriate for the next verse than the one we were on.  I seemed to always be ahead without reading ahead if you know what I mean.  


I live in meditation/contemplation all the time and take several hours a day to sit in silence.  I never know who or what I am unless someone or something stimulates a familiar pattern to remind me.  Spontaneously flowing in the stream of consciousness has deepened my love for my True Self.  I have no choice at this time to be anything in particular.  It's all good.  


Scott Teitsworth