Adhyaropa Darsana Verse 5
mind-stuff alone, in the beginning
accomplished, as if a painting,
the picturesqueness seen here,
Lord, like an artist.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
In the beginning this world
Which was in the form of
mind-stuff, like a picture
Achieved with all this
Like an artist, the Lord.
full moon night as we approach All Hallows Eve, also known as Halloween, the
one night of the year when evil spirits are unleashed upon the land, formed a
backdrop for this deceptively simple verse. And we were 13 resolute souls,
supposedly an unlucky number, unless framed as a baker’s dozen, when it’s extra
nice. Which it was. The commentary even bore a connection to the impending
night of the dead:
the darkness of night, when a man passes by a graveyard he may be fearful that
some ghost or goblin will confront him. His mind will people the cemetery with
spirits of the dead, and such is the negativity of the human mind that they
will be seen as malevolent. He knows this to be a self-induced fear, and will
do his best to reassure himself that there are, in fact, no ghosts. But deep
within his mind lies a stratum of paranoia, and because of this he does not
easily yield to rationality. If he sees the stump of a tree or hears a strange
sound, his latent fear will cloak it with the vestments of a ghost. Then he
will either flee or faint. In this case the man is hypnotized by his own latent
fear. We can find examples of this form of self-hypnosis in every area of human
experience, in the painful and the pleasurable, in the benign and the dreadful.
conclusion to Verse 42 in That Alone recounts the basis for Nitya’s
understanding of this innate dread, and touches on the antidote:
a person is contemplative, he should have a detached mind so that he knows that
even when he is relating to many things, they are all born of one
consciousness, called ‘this’. Then we will not be caught in the magic that we
We are strange kinds of magicians
that create a magic which we then get caught in the snare of. We need to be so
clever that we create, but only amuse ourselves and do not get caught.
Once I painted a demon on one
the walls of a house where I was living. At night, I became so afraid of it I
couldn’t go down the hall where it was. I had done it with chalk, so I took a
cup of water with me and when I passed by it I threw the water on it. Then I
couldn’t see the chalk while it was wet, so I could go past. The next day I was
not afraid, but again the next night I did the same thing.
Like that, we are always creating
demons out of our own minds and getting afraid of them. Narayana Guru says to
not get caught in this delusion.
The conclusion of the commentary makes the cure specific:
In the Upanishads it is said, yad
dhyayate tad bhavati, which means “whatever is meditated upon, that one
becomes.” Yogis meditate upon the Lord or the Absolute. Identifying themselves
completely with the Supreme, they can then participate in fashioning or
altering aspects of the cosmic picture.
The trick is, we don’t realize the extent to which we are
meditating on self-limiting ideas. When they pinch us it should tip us off, but
it takes a philosophical reduction in order to begin to deal with them. We are
more likely to believe the pincers are real and coming from a hostile outside
world, than that they are reflections of our own misunderstandings. Verses 7
and 8 will elaborate on how our delusions can terrorize us. Narayana Guru is of
course guiding us away from living in fear, if we are brave enough to hear his
recently shared an article by author Marilynne Robinson titled Fear, from the
New York Review of Books, where she offers a Christian equivalent to the Guru’s
message. She is a voice crying in the wilderness for sure. After affirming that
America is a self-professed Christian nation:
There is something I have felt the need to say, that I have
about in various settings, extemporaneously, because my thoughts on the subject
have not been entirely formed, and because it is painful to me to have to
express them. However, my thesis is always the same, and it is very simply
stated, though it has two parts: first, contemporary America is full of fear.
And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind….
There are always real
dangers in the world, sufficient to their day. Fearfulness obscures the
distinction between real threat on one hand and on the other the terrors that
beset those who see threat everywhere. It is clear enough, to an objective
viewer at least, with whom one would choose to share a crisis, whose judgment
should be trusted when sound judgment is most needed.
Granting the perils
of the world, it is potentially a very costly indulgence to fear
indiscriminately, and to try to stimulate fear in others, just for the
excitement of it, or because to do so channels anxiety or loneliness or
prejudice or resentment into an emotion that can seem to those who indulge it
like shrewdness or courage or patriotism. But no one seems to have an unkind
word to say about fear these days, un-Christian as it surely is.
The whole essay is here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/sep/24/marilynne-robinson-fear/
this business, as in every business, balance is the key. When we separate and
make every nuanced difference distinct, divorced from its unitive context, we
lay the groundwork for fear. Yet paradoxically, making no distinctions also has
its downside. Nitya knew this personally from his travels, and he was speaking
about himself when he said, “If an
Indian should go to China, Africa, or Europe, he would find it difficult to
distinguish one person from another in the country he was visiting.” He well
knew the value of recognizing the individual he was relating to.
explained how this had once impacting me. I spent the fall of 1970 in Nitya’s
Bhagavad Gita class, including various field trips and directed meditations
together. In the fall of 1971 I was present for the inception of the Portland
Gurukula, where I naļvely asked him to be my guru. He immediately began
blasting me, without the reassurance of saying “Sure, I’d love to!” Anyway, we
wrestled and tussled for a couple of months, with him first throwing me out of
the Integrated Science of the Absolute class for being too stupid, and then
insisting I get out of the Gurukula, for a number of other failings. As I
gathered my few belongings and took them out to my car, he invited me into his
room for the last time. “Since you have decided to leave,” he began, “I should
tell you the three things I have been attempting to teach you.” The first being
how to live without a crutch. Suffice to say my psyche was shredded, but the point
here is that we had had a long and intense relationship.
the next year I performed a ferocious self-examination, wondering how I could
have failed so utterly with the finest teacher and human being I had ever
encountered. The next fall Nitya returned to Portland again and taught some
courses at Portland State University. I slipped into the back of his classes,
and was again amazed and uplifted by their magnificence. Eventually I got up
the courage to ask to talk to him again, and he invited me into the room where
he was staying.
professed how I had been working very hard to rectify my psyche, and I was
willing to work with him again, and see if I could do better. There was a very
odd sense that he wasn’t paying much attention to what I was saying, a coldness
and distance, and I felt weirder and weirder. Eventually I took leave. He had
been polite, but also the epitome of a guru who doesn’t even notice his
disciple. For me it was a profound rejection, and it impelled me to two or
three more years of suffering with self-doubt.
the pain got almost too intense to bear, in desperation I wrote to my former
girlfriend Deb, who was one of his main disciples. Eventually she got back to
me. She had asked him about my visit. He remembered meeting a young man at the
time, but hadn’t recognized me! He told her, “I thought at the time that this
fellow was somewhat Indianized,” because I’d called him Guruji. Otherwise I was
just another anonymous student as far as he was concerned.
easy enough to see that pretty much everything in my experience was my own
projection, and so in the long run it was an exceptional learning opportunity.
But it was tough going! Even knowing that he really hadn’t recognized me took a
long time to sink in. Years later, when he owned up to his inability to
recognize foreigners, I knew exactly how important that skill was. Not everyone
is a disciple, so even gurus need both distinctions and unifying insights
together for optimal functioning.
yes, I’m sure there are a few exceptions. I can only talk about what I know.
There are stories about great gurus who act totally spontaneously at the behest
of the Divine, but I’ve never met one.
essence of the verse is that the world is like a painting. It has just as much
reality as a painting does. Nitya emphasizes the unitive nature of the
this verse, the artist Narayana Guru has in mind is none other than the Supreme
Lord. He is certainly unlike any other artist. This is because his art, or the
manifestation of which he is the creator, is not to be considered as composed
of distinct and separate entities.
However, I pointed
out that we do intuitively recognize the unity of a painting or a film or a
musical piece. We certainly take note of the individual parts, but we always
see them as included in the greater reality. We scrutinize, but then we step
back: a grand dance of getting to know our environs. The world is a reflection
of our own mental state. Andy talked about the relevance of the great dictum prajnanam brahma to this picture, and
will add some about that in Part II.
talked about one of Andy’s paintings we have, of a solar flare, and how it is
like the verses themselves, eruptions arising from a central source, taking on
a distinct shape, and then falling back into a potent uniformity. There is a
real sense of that in this darsana especially, starting from a point of origin
and elaborating more and more. Deb reminded us we are still in the framework of
understanding how this world and our consciousness arise.
reprised a number of familiar ideas in relation to the verse, how challenges
elicit responses and are so often invitations to growth and the paring away of
impediments. (Some people get pedicures, some of us get impedicures.) Andy
noted how these are recurring lessons, and every moment involves some letting
go, to which Deb added that it’s not just letting go but being open to whatever
comes at the same time. Often this is painful. Deb appreciated that we have to
take the good with the bad. Nitya shows that right knowledge easily and
essentially includes them both together:
We usually choose to forget that the same God created the
In Indian iconography these contradictions are meaningfully conceived by
presenting a delicate picture of the beautiful Sarasvati seated in a white
lotus, playing melodies on a stringed instrument called a veena. To complete the total picture, the serenity of Sarasvati
has as its counterpart the terrible figure of Kali, standing on a corpse and
holding in one hand a scimitar and in the other a decapitated human head. If we
can see all this as the aesthetic expression of an artist, then this may enable
us to view the world in the same way, giving us a comprehensive viewpoint which
will resolve many seeming paradoxes.
issue of ignorance played a role in the class, based on the quote from Sankara
that maya is “that which projects
various and variegated impressions which are beginningless and of the form of
ignorance.” Ignorance is a tough concept, because we tend to take it as wholly
negative, yet it is meant in Vedanta philosophy as a neutral condition. As Deb
said, it’s hard to think of the world as ignorance. In fact, when we think of
it that way we most often demonize it, and then it afflicts us. That’s why
Narayana Guru emphasizes knowledge, which after all is the dialectical
counterpart of ignorance. He wanted to counterbalance all those centuries of
obsession with ignorance and imagining we were in the dark no matter what. In a
way, knowledge is ignorance and ignorance is knowledge, but we can make more
headway when we frame the world as knowledge-based. With knowledge you can
change what you know, but ignorance defeats you at every turn, almost by
definition. Aligning well with the Guru, Paul wanted to support the practical
value of all the things we call ignorance, when properly considered.
asserted that the yogi who identifies completely with the Supreme or the
Absolute does not experience ignorance. Yet, since we all fall short of that ideal,
what Narayana Guru wants us to know is how to manage our ignorance, how to
accept it, and even occasionally trade it in for knowledge. At times, imagining
perfection helps us to focus, but it can also undermine our determination,
because we know we can never live up to a pure ideal. The way Nitya describes
reexamining the painting of the snake is exactly what’s optimal here. Throw
light on it, and see that it can’t really bite you. It’s actually kind of
lovely, in its own way. You could even learn to admire it.
thought this was related to the epochal Verse 9 of Atmopadesa Satakam:
Growing on both sides, in a
is the one vine which has come,
spread out and risen to the top of a tree;
remember that hell does not come
to the man dwelling in
contemplation beneath it.
For Andy, this emergent display of nature is absolutely
normal and acceptable, and we become befuddled when we treat it as illusory.
Indeed, our gurus repeatedly urge us to take it seriously. Andy said we have to
accept an eternal division between the observing self and what is observed. Deb
agreed that the illusion was in the way we treat everything as separate. Susan
sewed it up by noting how in meditation we go back and forth between the whole
and the divisions. Paul wondered how to unite these aspects. How can yogis not
leave that state of total identification? Don’t they have to eat and wash just
like us? Again, the identification with the Supreme is wholesale, not
piecemeal, so it persists in the midst of whatever we happen to be doing. This
should give us a healing glimpse of how we divide these things in our
conceptualization, but they are not actually divided in themselves.
key is to find the beingness within yourself. You don’t change the world,
except as an aftereffect, or, say, by mistake. The painting that is the world
is reflecting our inner being for us to observe, but as long as we imagine our
happiness is dependent on the image before us, we will keep losing touch with
it. We have to locate the ground of our being within ourselves. I gave several
examples of hating something or someone and then finding out how nice they are
later. I remembered our daughter Harmony, who was a very picky eater as a
child, absolutely refusing and carrying on about some delicious dish we were
trying to get her to taste. Once in awhile I’d persist enough to poke a little
into her mouth, and was treated with her face going from anger and rejection to
startle to delight in a matter of seconds. Of course, not everything tastes good,
but we seldom give anything the chance to taste as it really is: we decide in
advance how it’s going to taste and what we think of it. Deb agreed that it was
a profound reorientation wanting our satisfaction to come from outside and instead
seeing it coming from yourself and subsequently seeing it everywhere.
concluded that the yogi is indeed a full participant in life, by making a
reconnection with the wholeness. I affirmed that these gurus are not speaking
of some magical attainment when they talk about yogis becoming co-creators with
God or, as here, that “they can then
participate in fashioning or altering aspects of the cosmic picture.” This
isn’t about manifesting a watch with someone’s birthday on it, or a car in the
driveway. This is about being a radiant lover of the world, who people come to
for succor and to get a taste of peace. Nitya was practical, strictly avoided
fantasizing, and his gifts did not fly in the face of science, but thousands
came to him with their woes and found their questions poetically and
intelligently answered and that they were being nudged toward the perennial joy
of higher values. It was partly what he said and partly his presence, because
you can definitely feel it in your heart when someone is as grounded as he was.
His gifts suited each person in the way that they understood best. Andy waxed
rhapsodic about the benefits of association with a guru, and paraphrased Ramana
Maharshi: “hanging out with the wise is a great way of potentiating your search.”
We all shared his feelings, and inwardly gave thanks for the rare blessing of
hearing the sublime words of wisdom that we are privileged to have come in
contact with. Aum.
Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:
terms sankalpa (willing), vąsaną (incipient memory factor),
and shakti (potent power), have been
employed so as to be considered equivalent (vertically), each in itself to the
mind (manas), which occupies the
central position in this verse. This world was merely of a mental status before
creation. Just as an artist creates in respect of his painting, so the Lord
also accomplished all this artistic variety (seen in the world).
creation this world remained in the form of (virtual) mind-stuff. If it should
be asked how, we say, it remained like a picture in the mind of an artist,
before the picture was accomplished. In the same way it was in the mind (manas) or the willing (sankalpa), of
the Lord that all this
potentially resided. It is possible for an artist to produce works of art with
many and varied elaborations. Similarly, the Lord has the ability or the power
to produce a world with any amount of elaborations or varieties. In short, the
entire manifested world is only an (artistic) expression of the mind of the
That Alone commentary for verse 85 throws a lot of additional light on the
subject, being also about the world as a painting. I recommend reading the
entire chapter, but here are a few of the most salient points.
the verse, which Nitya describes right off the bat as very important:
No shadow exists independent of an actual form;
as there is no original form anywhere for the existing
it is neither shadow nor substance;
everything that is seen is like a snake painted by a
some highlights, after a reprise of the pot analogy:
should we bother so much about a pot and its beingness? Why is this important?
This question only arises when we do not know the subject we are dealing with.
Many of our experiences are of a lesser degree of reality than the pot’s. If
you cannot establish the beingness of a pot, how can you establish the
beingness of your husband or your wife? At least a pot can be seen; it has a
certain form. But concepts like wife and husband, or friend and enemy don’t
have any form. You can’t point out the wife in a woman, so how is it
determined? Unless you establish the beingness of your wife, there is going to
be great trouble. The solid foundation of the family, society, practically
everything is built on top of this fictitious thing called husband and wife.
Very many of your expectations in social life are based on notions which have
their root in a wife image and a husband image. People are always looking for a
images are the shadows the Guru is speaking of in this verse. He says ezhum ulakengum. This is not just
dealing with one object but with whatever people consider to be empirically
valid or transactionally existing, in other words where there is a so-called
objectivity and subjectivity. The world where there are conventions, customs
and moral principles is called ulaku.
This word appeared in an earlier verse with the special connotation of the
world we perceive when we are earth-bound and mundane in our interests.
is this world we perceive an image or not? If pot is an image, wife is also an
image. We have already seen the difficulty of establishing the beingness of a
pot, and if the beingness of a pot cannot be established, the beingness of a
house or a car will also be hard to determine. This brings the very idea of
form itself into question. All forms are images—images of what, we do not know.
difficulty begins as soon as we accept the world of perception. In the world of
perception we see form. For us to see form it must have existence and we have
to have knowledge of it. In other words it must have beingness. But the place
of its beingness is already occupied by the existence of another entity: the
unmodified Absolute. Therefore it is suspended in midair, so to speak, without
a footing. This is the crux of the problem.
does Narayana Guru explain it? He says that when an expert paints a snake and
the painting is placed in dim light, it can frighten a person. The dread can be
so great that the person might even collapse and die. So the painting can
function as a snake to some extent, but as soon as it is closely examined it
will be found to be only a painting.
it turns out to be a painting, it does not cease to be. The snake doesn’t
disappear. It continues to be what it always was—a painting done by a master.
What changes is your reaction to it. You no longer react with fear but with
great admiration. You say, “Look how lifelike it is! It’s wonderful!” You might
want to possess it: “Let me take it home. It’s a terrific picture!” Once you
accept it, it is no longer a snake. When you were dreading it, it was also not
a snake. It all came from the mind’s projection.
let’s go back to the idea of ‘wife’. The original clay is there: some flesh, a
body. On it you project your dear wife, just like the potter projected the idea
of pot onto the clay. The process is of course a little different. Here, a
greater potter has done the first part of the work in fashioning the woman, but
it only becomes meaningful when you project the idea of ‘wife’ on top of her,
so to speak. Does this idea have validity or not? It has validity. Has it full
validity? No. It is valid only until you telephone an attorney to effect a
doesn’t only refer to the husband-wife business but is a handy way of
understanding something general in life, where people get infatuated with so
many things and then after some time effect a separation from them. Marriages
and divorces are going on all the time between people and their relativistic
values. They aspire to something, but when they get close to it they no longer
want it. They think it is not what they were looking for. That’s because the
beingness of those things has the same status as a painted picture. The
painting is done from within. Is it real or unreal? The Guru says you cannot
say it is real, nor can you say it is unreal. It’s simply a wonder.
apply this in your life, you have to look for the being which cannot be
other kinds of pots I am speaking of, like husband and wife, friends,
neighbors, enemies and so on, are fashioned out of an already transitory
substance called the life process. The stream of life is moving, changing and
transforming all the time. On top of this ever-flowing process you are making
other suppositions. So there is every possibility that in the flow your
suppositions will be dislocated. What you think of as permanent is really an
impermanent fixation superimposed on an already impermanent substance. But that
impermanent substance really does reside in a beingness which does not change.
percent of your suffering is imaginary. You sit there and imagine what must be
happening to your father or mother, or your wife at home, or someone else
somewhere else. While you’re sitting there, from your last chakra or synergic center, something goes to the next
and then the next. Then the whole thing burns inside.
verse is not of merely intellectual interest. It has a great spiritual import.
To those who meditate on it and want to take benefit from it in their life, it
gives so much. It is just like Jesus saying, “Come to me, those who suffer.
Unload all your burdens on me.” Why should you carry them around in your head?
The whole thing is a supposition—leave it where it belongs. Feel right. Be
You bind yourself so much with
mere suppositions. It is those suppositions and images, called here nizhal, shadows, that you should be
dealing with. Then alone can life become a harmonious flow. Otherwise it can
has just completed the wonderful verse 51 of That Alone in his online study
group with Nancy Y, and was struck by how the meditation on the mahavakya (great dictum) prajnanam brahma related
to our class.
Here’s what I read out from That Alone:
Upanishads give us another dictum to meditate upon: prajnanam brahma, “The external world is presented to you
knowledge of it.” To you, you have no other way of apprehending it; the
external world and your knowledge of it are the same. Its existence is in the existence
of your knowledge. Now, if there is not a one-to-one correspondence between
what is out there and what is in your knowledge, you are bound to make
mistakes. So, if the snow is cold you should know what that means. If the road
becomes slippery when it is icy, you should know that. The truth that is in you
is also the truth that has become manifest out there.
just call it maya and dismiss it. Of
course the whole thing can be an error, but it is not a piecemeal one. If it is
an error it is wholesale. You are within that wholesale error now. Do not
mistake something wholesale for something piecemeal. As long as you are within
the frame of reference called the transactional, you have to give full
validation to every item in it. It is here that the spiritual life of some
people fails, because in the name of spirituality, in the name of philosophy,
or in the name of realization, they belittle the validity of transactions. This
ontological error is a big problem. To correct it, prajnanam brahma is given, to remind you that what is out there
your experience is born of the same reality that has produced you and your
mind. Not until you realize this can you be at ease with the external world.
this is in preparation for a final search, a search for the meaning of your own