verses are like Zen koans, each of them a potent seed for contemplation. Here
are a few of the fertile ideas Narayana Guru wanted to share.
I. Adhyaropa Darsana – Cosmic Projection
first darsana is titled Cosmic Projection. Cosmic projection refers to how we
project the world in consciousness, not how the universe may have been
projected in its putative beginning. Narayana Guru is not presenting a physics
treatise on the creation of the universe, he is speaking of the dawning of personal
awareness. It doesn’t help us to evolve to know how the world was created, but
it does to know how our interpretation comes to appear real to us.
is hinted at by his saying that in the beginning the world was like a dream filled with vasanas (latent
memories), which are what we nowadays call genetic potentials. If dreams and
memories are present, the ultimate beginning must have already occurred, if
there ever was one, but the beginning of our awareness is brought about by a
kind of vital urge or a will to actualize that causes those potentials to begin
to manifest as an individual being. The process by which our sense of self and
our world view emerges from an unformed state and becomes fixed and useful is a
vast study in its own right.
Guru does not accept that consciousness is somehow a product of inert matter.
However it came to be, the world springs into existence when it is cognized by
conscious awareness. Whether or not something was present before there was
consciousness to perceive it is irrelevant: a meaningless theoretical exercise,
like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
consciousness is seen to be the basis of creation, as held by Vedanta and
agreed to by Narayana Guru in the Adhyaropa Darsana, then psychology precedes
physics, and is the proper domain in which to search for a unified description
of the universe. Later, in the Bhana Darsana, consciousness and world are seen
to be created simultaneously, and from that perspective consciousness and
matter, or metaphysics and physics, are coexistent, dual aspects of the same
eternally seeks for a cause to unify all the myriad effects we perceive.
Perhaps someday it will work its way up to consciousness as the first cause.
It’s halfway there already, what with relativity, quantum indeterminacy, and
perceptual uncertainty. Neuroscience is beginning to find evidence for ideas
espoused for millennia by India’s rishis.
the Unformed takes a form, whatever the benefits may be, it becomes limited,
relative. One important lesson we can take from this is that each individual
has their own perspective, and none of them is absolute. All are partial,
products of the selective structuring of their neurology. In this first darsana
Narayana Guru gives us seven analogies that epitomize how the unmanifest
becomes manifest, which we can use as keys to decode the workings of our mind,
and in the process free up much more of our apparently limitless potential.
have estimated that there are about 100 billion neural connections in each cc
of the human brain, roughly equal to the number of stars in our galaxy, and
they are continuously hard at work below our conscious radar. We could be
getting measurably smarter every day of our lives and still barely scratch the
surface of the vast intelligence we possess but are unaware of. We can instead
make a quantum leap by realizing the nearly infinite power residing in our
brains, respecting it, and inviting it to teach us.
is a useful methodology to treat this unknown part of ourselves almost as a
foreign entity and make an appeal to it. This is how nonreligious types can
come to grips with terms like God and Lord: they represent our unknown depths,
and calling upon them can open us up to their domain. Since it is unknown, we
can’t be sure what we are reaching out to. Divine images are a symbolic way of
acknowledging we know very little and would like to know more. If we think,
“Well, there’s obviously none of that, no God,” we will remain isolated in our
petty egos. The discomfort we feel in addressing an imaginary god is simply our
ego refusing to accept its true, much reduced amplitude. Whenever we substitute
a prepackaged concept, we run the risk of remaining closed off to our inner
wealth. Of course, God and Lord can easily become prepackaged concepts also.
That’s why the Guru prefers the Absolute, because it eludes definition. The atman or capital S Self is meant
indicate the Absolute as it manifests, including within the individual.
avoid solipsism, we must posit an Absolute or unknown ground from which all our
limited manifestations arise.
are plenty of ways we can open up to our vast potential. What spoils the game
is when we—intentionally or unintentionally—bow to a prefabricated idea of what “the Lord”
or “Nature” has
to offer. That’s what fundamentalists, both religious and materialist, do, and
it’s called superimposition. When we superimpose comprehensible concepts onto
the mystery of totality, we inevitably get into conflicts over them with those
who have superimposed different concepts. These concepts are our idols, and
Narayana Guru would like us to admit they are limited and allow for the
existence of other attempts to describe the indescribable. If we can still our
mind, with its propensity to superimpose concepts onto the underlying reality,
and simply listen—contemplate—we will not only be more available to
intelligently assess the present, we can begin to intuit new and valuable
insights. Polymath and arch-materialist Isaac Asimov named the scientific
version of this intuitive process the Eureka Phenomenon, and suggested it was
the real source of scientific, artistic and literary advances.
projection means we have fixed notions that we superimpose on our experience,
which converts fresh experience into stale echoes of previous experiences. The
aim of spirituality, as well as the enlightened scientific mentality, is to
free ourselves from the stultifying conditioning that is an inevitable part of
being alive. It means that, despite being utterly convinced of what we believe,
we have to let go of that conviction part of the time. It is only useful up to
a point, and after that it becomes a hindrance, and possibly even dangerous.
pathological outcome of superimposing trite notions onto a grand universe is
indeed “terrible and empty of content, like a phantom city,” in the Guru’s
words. Tap into the popular culture some time. You’ll meet projection after
projection of meaningless “entertainment” designed to instill despair and
promote consumerism, truly hell on earth. Narayana Guru was shocked by the
rustic world of South India at the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s
hard to imagine how he would describe the civilization of our time, so much
more chaotic, ugly, degraded and heartless. He was convinced we are equally
capable of creating a beautiful and peaceful society if we choose to.
first step is to realize our cherished convictions are ultimately false. When
people lose faith in their illusions, it feels like falling into the pits of
hell if they don’t have a healthy alternative. That is precisely what the Guru
will be offering.
Guru wanted everyone to relinquish their allegiance to their phantom cities,
the belief systems they cling to out of fear and immaturity, and discover the
Absolute ground of being, which ratifies our existence with an undeniable and
benign certainty. Unless that happens, humanity will continue to be the most
destructive force the biosphere has ever unleashed, brutal to ourselves and
devastating to everything we touch.
II. Apavada Darsana – Truth by Consistent Refutation of the
of your preferred belief system, at least the world as we perceive it is an evolute of consciousness. It is a play
our brain, concocted of nerve impulses set in motion by sensory stimulation.
The input resembles an immense blast of static, like the readings of a radio
telescope or a television channel that’s off the air. The brain selects the
most salient vibrations, and structures them in a way our feeble consciousness
can comprehend. It supplies the light, the color, the shapes and sounds, the
feelings based on value assessment, and cobbles them all together into a very
convincing display that we perpetually mistake for reality.
“moving picture show” of our mind’s eye is a miracle among miracles, expertly
tailored to match each viewer’s predilections. No wonder it is so hard to
surrender! We would rather defend it to the death. But by defending it we
exclude not only other people’s perspectives, but new input that could make our
own opinions more enjoyable all around.
the rishis knew and modern science is discovering is that the world we perceive
is in our mind. Quite literally, then, if we hate something we are hating
ourself, because the thing we hate (or love or injure or ignore) is a figment
of our highly developed imagination. It is not “out there” at all. Whatever’s
out there is something else.
of the dualistic ways we have learned to conceive of things is as the effect of
previous causes. This violates the unity at the core of being. Narayana Guru
points out that from this perspective every cause is the effect of a prior
cause, and this can recede ad infinitum. Therefore, everything is an effect,
and a world of only effects must be unreal. After receding all the way to an
imagined beginning, we postulate the Absolute as the original cause.
Materialists have tried to substitute the Big Bang for the God, the Big Banger,
but now the evidence is mounting that the recent Big Bang also has a prior
cause, and there were earlier Bangs.
is of course absurd to believe the world is unreal, because here it is. We all
experience it. So we are dependent on an Absolute and immediate first cause,
whether we like to call it that or not. It cannot be distant in time, or it
would be infinitely distant. The Cause, then, is eternally present in the now.
It is merely our limited perception that interferes with the connection.
of the ills and problems that duality brings about are the false attributions
of cause. We don’t really know what causes what, but our belief systems
condition us to accept certain “facts” that are highly dubious. The course of
history is a litany of true beliefs that were shown to be patently absurd by
the next generation. The Guru’s stance is that replacing one false system with
another is a futile pastime: we should move instead to a unitive perspective
that is open and dynamic. It takes an infinite number of steps to arrive at an
enlightened perspective, so rather than approaching it via the accumulation of
knowledge we have to make a direct leap into the core of the Absolute. We
accomplish that by letting go of our false attachments.
Isa Upanishad hints at this tyranny of ideas in its mantras 9 and 11:
Into blinding darkness
enter they who worship ignorance.
And into still greater darkness,
as it were,
enter those who delight in
One who knows both of these
knowledge and ignorance,
having overcome death with ignorance,
enjoys immortality with
experience is unmediated. The intent of the yogi is to develop a transparent
vision that does not add interpretive layers on to direct experience. This
doesn’t have to be a fulltime program—it adds richness to a life that is also
mediated with intelligent interpretations. It provides the hub for our
interpretations to revolve around, keeping them harmonious. Even a little of
the practice is very helpful is clarifying our mind.
is relatively easy for us to note the absurdities in other people’s believe
systems, but much harder to critically examine our own. The Guru directs us to
forgo the easy path and confront our own favorite fallacies, based on a unitive
understanding grounded in the potent neutrality of the Absolute.
in Verse 5 Narayana Guru is politely calling us stupid if we treat our
relativist projections as absolute. More than stupid: that is how we are led to
abandon our good sense and pit ourself against everyone who doesn’t share our
delusions. Fanatics take their unexamined position as gospel; yogis turn the
focus back on themselves and their inner connection with the totality, for
purposes of liberation.
III. Asatya Darsanam – A Vision of Nonexistence
be honest, the second, third and fourth darsanas combine to describe one
powerful deconstructive effort. It is enlivened by the Guru’s perspective, as
someone who has put into practice what he is preaching. Part of the reason he
instills such confidence is that he is not a hypocrite, and his advice is not
theoretical. He is describing what he came to know by his own incisive
continue to be baffled by the human mind, which appears to have no location.
It’s only a virtual state. Narayana Guru also found no mind in his penetrations
of the Self, hence “mind is nowhere to be seen,” of the first verse.
our state of ignorance “all worlds are imagined.” If our ordinary mentality is
ignorance, what are we ignorant of? What is the truth? Obviously, reimagining a
better world will not lead to realization, but that’s the normal route. The
pitched battles of different creeds and disciplines are about their conflicting
images of the world’s structure, and even the peaceable ones are mainly
striving to perfect their definition of the world. Only a few follow the Guru’s
lead and strive to break out of their conceptual boundaries completely.
a dedicated effort, we will easily be contained within our mental parameter.
Breakthroughs are rare, shocking, and asocial, even antisocial.
true nature of the Self is bliss, ananda. This means when we are not blissful,
our true nature is veiled from us. The unhappy state is meant to be rectified:
unhappiness is the incentive for us to seek truth. Unfortunately, in the modern
world we mostly find ways to medicate or otherwise divert our attention from
this natural prompting, the outgrowth of which is chronic depression in place
of our natural happiness.
IV. Maya Darsana – A Vision of Non-being Beingness
things come and go, are born and die. When they are here they are as real as
anything gets, but then they disappear, first leaving memory traces and then
nothing. They become unreal. Maya is what is both real and unreal, in the sense
of emerging from and remerging into the primal soup. If there was no underlying
reality, life would truly be chaotic, but apparently there is something that
holds it all together. There is a continuity to the whole that defies linear
are going to learn that instead of imagining that our happiness is dependent on
the things that come and go, it is actually intrinsic to our nature, and those
things derive their apparent radiance from us. If we turn to the source within
instead of its reflection without, our happiness will become steady, instead of
fluctuating with the availability of the things we cherish. We can and should
still dance with the things we love, but our love will be vastly expanded to include
is apparently against a basic law of the universe to compose a Vedantic work
without at some point bringing in the metaphor of the pot and the clay. For
many years I would nod off whenever it came up. But if we keep in mind the
symbolism that clay represents the Absolute as substance and pot means a
specific manifestation, particularly YOU, then it is more interesting and makes
more sense. The world around us is like an amorphousness bending and twisting
into a ceaseless series of morphs, forms, which are briefly stable and then transmute
into something else. The pot and the clay analogy describes this process in
more unitive terms than almost any other metaphor, accounting for its continual
the unfurling of our life goes well we picture a benign God or Providence, and
when it gets ugly we bring in the Devil or pitiless Fate. We love to
anthropomorphize. But basically it’s inscrutable: the possibilities are
indeterminate. As the seed grows into a tree, good and bad things happen to
give it its shape and dimensions. We can retrospect and notice a lot of
coherence in our unfoldment, but we can only guess and hope as to its future
course. In the present we have a severely limited but important role to play.
balanced yogic approach means we should stay poised midway between leading and
following, open to the next possibility. We need to plan and strive and set up
programs in order for anything to happen, but at the same time too much
planning and programming makes serendipity impossible, makes new directions
impossible. This is another arena in which to find the happy median. We don’t
want to be bound by our previous decisions if they become outdated, yet we want
to accomplish and fulfill what we find rewarding.
are major events in our lives that start as a point source and grow to have
earthshaking consequences. It is valuable to take a look at them, if only to
open up to the wonder of an invisible impetus directing the course of our life.
Equally present are courses we once considered highly promising that came to
of us has many innate tendencies, called vasanas in Sanskrit. They are like
seeds buried in the manure of our psyches, waiting for opportunities to grow
and actualize their potentials. There is a mysterious mating of opportunities
and potentials that has made us what we are, and which makes the world what it
is. It is done with such finesse that it looks accidental, haphazard even. Yet
it is a seamless, flowing miracle. To participate in it is the greatest wonder.
There is no blessing greater than this. Tat
tvam asi—That is what you are.
V. Bhana Darsana – A Vision of Awareness
we begin to study the way the mind functions in earnest. There are four basic
states of mind: wakeful, dream, deep sleep and transcendental. Wakeful and
dream are referred to as the horizontal positive and negative respectively,
while deep sleep and the transcendental comprise the vertical axis from
negative to positive. The Maya Darsana dealt with “what is” and the Bhana deals
with “what ought to be.” “What is” refers to the horizontal factors, and “what
ought to be” comprises the progression through time along the vertical
parameter. Goal orientation is vertical and its actual implementation is
horizontal. Integrating the horizontal and vertical elements is the essence of
a spiritual life.
first division of awareness Narayana Guru makes is into generic and specific,
and it is here that we can go seriously wrong. The two categories should be
complementary: the generic should express the truth of the sum total of
specifics, and each specific should be an integral part of the generic
understanding. Quite often they will be found to be out of joint. Examples are
legion of the disconnect between them, but here’s one that springs to mind.
everyone agrees that education aims to develop strong, independent people, and
it is only natural that there are almost as many methods as there are teachers.
Yet we tend to believe that our way of teaching is the best, and other methods
fall short. This leads to competition and promotion of the most popular
strategies. When fixed programs are instituted, the focus turns to books and
tests and required information, and the enthusiasm of raising the level of
discourse is damped down. Programmed education becomes a straitjacket that
kills the spirit instead of releasing it to elysian fields. Therefore specific
directives should be minimized, kept subordinate to and harmonized with the
dualistic thinker believes that educational goals are achieved by incremental
steps, and argues over the steps. A unitive thinker focuses on the goal, the
joy of the subject matter, and does not employ a rigid format. They are free to
respond to their students’ interest, and their very enthusiasm draws the
students in. We all can recall those rare but exceptional teachers who inspire
us to love knowledge by the delight they themselves take in it, as well as the
deadly boredom of classes where the teacher is only going through the
generic I at its most idealized approaches the Absolute, as in “I am the Absolute.”
Specific items forever demand our attention and cause us to forget the
generality from which they spring. The pot makes us forget the substance from
which it was made, and our body causes us to forget our unlimited aspect of the
optimized I. Lesson plans cause us to lose sight of the lesson. Hence the gurus
remind us to meditate on the general and the specific and how they interrelate,
in order to free ourselves from self-imposed limitations.
we focus on specific items all the time, and this is acceptable if we can
remain flexible and disentangled. But we very often suffer a kind of
mesmerization in our relationship with things. Our outlook becomes increasingly
exclusive and fixated, and the result is spiritually disastrous.
along the line we learn to believe that a specific set of behaviors or actions
will put us in touch with reality or the divine, and all other behaviors are
worthless. Moreover, all people who use those other methods are mistaken, and
often enough are condemned to eternal torment. The very least insight we can
draw from this darsana is to become generous in our tolerance of different
methods and techniques used to approach the ideal, however it is defined. If we
take it farther, we can realize that such mannerisms have nothing whatsoever to
do with spiritual life. Our very faith in them turns our awareness away from
the present, which is chock full of love and amazement and opportunity, and
directs it into a dead realm of imaginary worshipful pleasures.
may begin with clever insights and a degree of understanding, but if we take
pride in our cleverness we slip out of the flow and are instead content to
bring up the same old insights over and over again. Almost immediately they
lose their efficacy. Living life requires presence in the present, rather than obediently
following a blueprint for well-crafted behavior.
VI. Karma Darsana – Cosmo-Psychological Functionalism
does not always have to be abstract, it should also address transactional
issues that can and do have an impact on our well being. Let me quote Nitya
from his autobiography:
Realization comes not by seeing everything as unreal but by
making every moment real enough to love and adore it. (L&B 422)
A major part of spiritual life is first realizing that we
are bound in many ways that we ordinarily don’t much think about, and then
finding ways to break free of that bondage to achieve greater and greater
expressions of freedom. As neuroscientists now know, cortical consciousness is
merely the last stage of readiness for action, and the vast majority of the
groundwork takes place before we are aware of it. If our sense of self is
merely the tip of an iceberg foolishly believing it is in charge of our
destiny, is our freedom merely imaginary? Where then is true freedom to be
sought? Free will has become an endangered species in our brave new world. Where
once they bravely advocated free will in the face of religious intolerance,
scientists are now advocates of implacable fate.
a few steps beyond current neuroscience, Narayana Guru asks us to reimagine the
world as unfolding through its own spiritual force and not as the clumsy result
of individual plotting and planning. The difference is he knows the Absolute as
a benign force and not a hostile intruder in our petty domain. Once we have
aligned with it, many good things happen. We can drop the anxiety of worrying
whether what we intend will succeed and how much we have to push to bring it
about, and become more like midwives to the natural birth of the next thing,
and the next. It’s all going to happen anyway, but we can attend it and be a
part of the fun.
benefit of changing our perspective is that we become much more open to
opportunities. When we have a predetermined course of action and hold to it,
all that can happen is the fulfillment of our expectations. But what about all
the things we don’t expect? If we dread the unknown possibilities and try to
block them out, we will choke off most of what our own unconscious is preparing
for us. Who knows how many serendipitous events have offered themselves to us,
only to be brushed aside as inimical to our mission of the moment?
the first verse of the Karma Darsana the Self is described as detached and
self-luminous, mystically evocative of the sky and the sun. The sky symbolizes
the Void, the qualitylessness of Absolute. The sun, on the other hand,
exemplifies how the Absolute transmutes that emptiness into action. It radiates
powerfully its full spectrum of benefits like light and warmth, but there is no
motivation as we understand it. It just does it. The sun does not seek or take
credit for what it does. It goes on pouring out its very essence, to the
benefit of all creatures great and small.
is highly instructive of how we should act as individuals. When we dig down to
our core, it is empty in a sense. But that emptiness is paradoxically full of
potentials, of vasanas or incipient memories. As those potentials become
actualized, they grow into abilities and characteristics which are visible and
tangible. If we allow ourselves to be who we are, we radiate those qualities
into the world as loving beams of light. What a terrific scheme of “divine
manifestation” that is!
VII. Jnana Darsana – Consciousness and its Modifications
Jnana Darsana is placed between the Karma and Bhakti Darsanas because that is
where the transition from duality to unity occurs. In karma, action, duality is
necessary and appropriate. In bhakti, conjunction with Light, duality must be transcended
for the conjunction to be possible. Jnana, intelligence, provides the bridge,
and like a bridge there is two way traffic between the opposite banks. At times
we act in the dual world of transactions and at other times we concenter in
unitive contemplation. As we go farther through Darsanamala, action and
contemplation are brought together in Yoga, until each complements and infuses
the other. Lastly, we merge progressively into the Source in the Nirvana
are motivated by the conviction that if we just understand everything exactly
as it is, it will bring about some kind of breakthrough. History is the unfolding
drama of discovery, of the gradual improvement of our awareness. Final truth
does not seem to be attainable, however. Fortunately for us, life does not
depend on our level of understanding it, or we would have died out long ago.
Still, our partial understanding marks our separation from the flow of
existence. So rather than seeing our knowledge as leading us somewhere, we
should see it as a game we are continuously playing, on a stable field.
Otherwise, we vacate our place in the scheme of things, deferring our joy until
we come to a final conclusion. Part of us is desperate to live conclusively, so
we attach ourselves to various isms that claim to represent truth. Needless to
say, this marks our downfall as independent monads of the Absolute.
spirituality is highly suspicious of the intellect, because it can be yoked to
very dubious propositions. But the intellect is also our primary defense
against the dubious propositions put forward by religious schemers. We are
impelled to surrender to something greater than ourselves, to pitch in
wholeheartedly to some meaningful enterprise. The world is filled with various
grades of enterprise, all proclaiming their superiority. Sorting out where to
put our energy should not be left to chance.
final six verses of Chapter XVII of the Bhagavad Gita describe aum tat sat as designating the Absolute.
In the tenth verse of the Jnana
Darsana Narayana Guru describes this mantra as indicating the union of the Self
and the Absolute. For this union to happen, the excess will of the ego must be
curbed. Indian philosophy distinguishes ego and intellect, while the West
generally does not. Here the reasoning intellect is the tool to bring the ego
down to its proper size, so it can be a harmonious participant rather than a
VIII. Bhakti Darsana – Contemplative Devotion
introduction to the Bhakti Darsana briefly summarizes the journey we have
undergone to arrive at this stage. His opening sentence is “Love, devotion,
compassion, empathy, and consequent rapture of mind come spontaneously rather
than as the result of mechanically practiced discipline.” One of the greatest,
if not the greatest, struggles we have in spiritual life is to stop thinking in
terms of our relationship to divine love or realization or the Absolute as
being the end product of a chain of actions or behaviors. Ends and means are to
become fused, and not separated. Horizontal and vertical factors, distinguished
for purposes of examination, are to be rejoined in an amalgam merging into a
transcendent unity. Even the thought “I just have to clear the irrelevant
details away from my life in order to have time for this” is a stumbling block
to be discarded.
course, spontaneous raptures cannot be peddled, so in a commercial environment
it’s the long chains of effort that can be profitably franchised, and the
longer the better. Our school training of studying hard to pass tests prepares
us perfectly to fall for the lures of spiritual marketing.
is a key characteristic of bhakti, whose root meaning is conjunction with
light. Shankara and Narayana Guru both describe it as continuous contemplation
on the true nature of the Self, which is light or love or perhaps best
considered a nameless mystery. We don’t have to name it except in special
studies like this one, because we are always conjoined with the very things that
attract us. Our heart automatically goes out to the lovable, the beautiful, the
exquisite, and so on. We don’t have to learn to love music, for instance,
something in us is always ready to be enchanted by it. When we fall in love
with another person, we don’t have to carefully follow any eightfold path or
twelve steps or ten thousand pranams. No effort is involved. Nitya exalts it
thus: “The most popular experience in which people can easily transcend the
sense of duality is when loving mates are overwhelmed with the thrill of each
other’s inseparable presence as the pearl of one’s heart’s sweetness.”
Bipolarity with the Absolute broadens and generalizes this experience to
include every interaction at every moment. Which of course is where we’re
headed with this.
items of joyful experience are temporary, but the joy itself is eternal, just
as music is eternal but each hearing is unique. Hopefully we aren’t so foolish
as to think that we have to reproduce certain specific conditions in order to
be happy, and yet we fall for that illusion in more subtle ways, believing we
have to structure our lives in a certain manner in order to have joy. We seek
to repeat what made us happy before. The present Darsana should be fully
convincing that joy is our “native place” and we are naturally conjoined with
it all the time. We don’t need to make bliss happen—it is always happening and
available to us. Knowing this, the ups and downs of everyday life will be
emblazoned with the radiance of our inner suns.
The idea is to attend to those experiences that are
to us, but instead of longing for their repetition, to allow them to stabilize
us in our vertical core. As we philosophically generalize the specific
experiences, the arena of our joy expands exponentially. This is the secret of
IX. Yoga Darsana – Transpersonal Union
is generally thought of as a program leading to conjunction with light, or
bhakti, yet Narayana Guru puts it after. There is a subtle correction implied
in this. As we have said, enlightenment is not dependent on any stepwise
program. Yoga in the highest sense is unitive action, the seamless coupling of
contemplation and activity, and not a graded series of techniques. After we are
restored to our true inner light, yoga naturally takes place.
is our native state. When a rift appears between our inner convictions and what
we do, it produces unhappiness. This should provide the incentive to reunite
our actions and our beliefs, but this is apparently a well-kept secret. In
place of yoga, of bringing our actions into line with our ideals, we medicate
our miseries or try to distract ourself from them with entertainment. We
abandon our ideals, and consequently the quality of our actions begins to
gets depressed. It’s a normal and natural state of human beings as we cycle
endlessly up and down, and it is one of the most important incentives to seek
truth for enabling release from our suffering. Only in the last few decades has
it become viewed as a terrifying disease to be squelched at all costs. Not
coincidentally, the drug companies that make billions of dollars peddling pills
of dubious efficacy are the prime purveyors of that viewpoint. If depression
“unmans” us, then we should find a way back to who we are, and each person will
have a unique struggle to do so that is their personal spiritual quest. The
sight of the One Beyond, meaning an all-absorbing interest uniquely tailored to
our own value vision, lifts us out of depression and even out of recession.
Yoga Darsana proper begins with a structural orientation:
That which always unites and also gets united with cidatma, which is in the form
mind, that is praised as yoga. (IX, 1)
The restraint spoken of here is in part a tip of the hat to
Patanjali, who literally wrote the book on yoga. Cidatma is the Self that is
consciousness in essence, otherwise known as the reasoning Self. So we have an
image of a bipolar affiliation between the limited mind and the total
consciousness, brought about through a form of restraint. With Narayana Guru
the restraint is not via any mechanical system of exercises, but through a
mutual attraction that naturally leads the mind to withdraw from any and all
highlight the distinction between more morose forms of restraint and the Guru’s
ecstatic version, Nitya speaks extensively of lila, divine sport, in his commentary, which is one of his very finest,
by the way. He assures us that sport is the best model of yoga. In play there
is no extraneous force involved. We are effortlessly drawn into a wholehearted
participation in what we love. While we play our games we are fully absorbed in
them, and when they are over we pass on to the next game without regret.
X. Nirvana Darsana – A Vision of Extinction
final darsana marks the progressive extinction of consciousness in the total
fullness or total emptiness of the Absolute. As consciousness enters in the
first darsana, it exits in the last. Life is not a linear progression to its
terminus, but every bit of the journey—every flower of the garland— is
important. The goal, so to speak, is to be fully present now, rather than
deferring our experience until later.
is often taken to be the goal of realization, but not here. Each darsana is
valuable in its own right. Ends and means are converged. Every effect is also a
cause. If we transpose our happiness to a future state like heaven or worldly
success, we will basically miss out on our life, which, no matter what the
claims, might be our only moment in the sun.
of the popular version of spirituality is about escape, seeking absence. There
is a powerful attraction to getting away from our problems, whatever they may
be, and for injured or abused people it may seem the only option.
of the stresses that beset us, we have to first distance ourselves from them in
order to gather ourselves back together. If our difficulties are grave enough
we begin to imagine that if we didn’t exist, life would be much more pleasant.
In any case, we have to find peace first of all. The hermit fantasy is a
familiar aspect of insular spirituality, of an unwillingness to cope with the
present. In rare cases escape by itself could produce a full cure, but not very
often. Most of us learn much more from meaningful interactions with others,
once we begin to properly know ourselves. That’s what Narayana Guru keeps
underlining: the greatest “escape” is to be here now, to find truth within
is a huge industry built around relieving suffering, or promising to. Come
away, give up your daily chores, cut yourself away from society. It’s very
appealing. But Nitya and his forebears, including Krishna of the Gita, were
also teaching presence, in addition
to absence. It may be that presence grows out of absence. We retire to develop
wisdom so we can be more available, more present. We still strive for absence
from our faults and intractable problems, but not from our value to our
surroundings. For those who have recovered themselves, the practice is to
become more in tune with the world and improve our capabilities to interact
with it. Opting out is tragic. It is the child’s immediate response to a hurt ego.
When a child’s ego recovers from an insult, they eagerly get back in the game.
But if it is battered long enough, the child’s spirit is defeated, and they
only seek surcease of sorrow. They may even commit suicide to escape the pain.
Or they continue to live, but with an unbridgeable abyss between life and self.
Guru’s teachings direct us to restore the connection: to develop presence,
heightened involvement, in whatever we do. We don’t have to follow a formula or
change our lifestyle, but only engage in what we do as completely as possible.
We aim to be as alive as we can, if only at odd moments, when our focused
attention is brought to bear.
the greatest appeal of Narayana Guru’s philosophy is that it is totally down to
earth. There is no separation between the exalted state and us: there is no
special place to go or thing to do. We live realization right where we are, in
our daily activity. He assures us we are already realized. So many great
teachers have an other-worldly air. He does too, and yet it's combined with a
fiery intensity that pressures us to wake up and live, exactly where we stand.
It’s a philosophy that can have a fantastic impact on our life if we have ears
to hear with.
(Prepared for the Kochi Conference on Metaphysics and