Apavada Darsana Verse 2
from the cause there is no effect;
all this is unreal;
the unreal, how can there be an origin?
the unoriginated, what dissolution?
Other than the cause the
effect cannot be;
Therefore, all this is
Of what is non-existent, how
can there be any origin,
And of something
unoriginated, how (can there be)
we begin to examine and reorient our thought processes in earnest. We are not
going to remain helpless witnesses to our conditioning—we now have the
opportunity to upgrade it significantly. As Nataraja Guru has said in his Gita
commentary, “a bad disease needs a drastic remedy.” Happily for us, the remedy
is drastic only in the profundity of its effect, not in its application. It is
not painful or torturous. It does require diligence, but the effort is amply
rewarded by a positive transformation in life experience. Bill reminded us that
Shankara and Narayana Guru both described it as continuous contemplation of the
exposition of this verse is a classic disquisition, in which he relates a
series of amusing stories as examples, and the significance of the material is
somewhat veiled by humor and a lighthearted approach. It is only by periods of
reflection that its intensity is revealed.
sums up what we have learned so far in a few words:
All experience is subjective,
though we do not usually realize it. For most people, what appears to be a flow
of experiences relating to the passage of time gives them the feeling that the
empirical world is independent of their subjective consciousness.
The “outside world” is such a compelling illusion that we
effortlessly buy into it, and often strenuously resist suggestions that what we
see is a projection. Even scientists who should know better, because they’ve
demonstrated or proved it, are prone to be fooled. Or Gurukula students who
have studied the Adhyaropa Darsana. Yet both modern science and ancient
realization have observed the roots of dilemma, at least in theory. In essence
they agree with Nitya’s affirmation that “The world is the sum total of the experiences of
our own organism
projected in such a way as to seem external to that organism.” We can argue
endlessly about how much of what actually exists beyond our experience, but it
is essentially irrelevant to our spiritual development. We are an interpretive
mechanism, and unless we deal with that we are going to remain bound by
interpretations at every level.
reviews the basics of how we were caught:
When we are small children our
parents are delighted to see us correctly recognizing objects and other people.
Parents carefully teach children the names of people and things, and how to
recognize the values in situations and events. For the most part what they
teach arises from their own conditioning, the distillation of their life
experiences, and the belief-systems structured from their hopes and fears.
Above all they teach us name and form. Again and again they repeat the teaching
to make sure we have memorized it. When we in turn become adults we are fully
convinced of the reality of a world of actuality, constituted of countless
things, each having a different name and form. But our view of the world is
really only a conditioned subjective reaction to sensory input.
We have already agreed that some degree of conditioning is
necessary for us to live safely in the world. The idea of medieval monastic
life was to minimize necessary conditioning, freeing the contemplatives who
were fortunate enough to find themselves safely behind thick stone walls, with
no dangers to worry about. But Narayana Guru (along with many others) hopes to
free us from conditioning’s negative impact while we remain full participants
in an active life. If we are aware of the dubious verity of our surroundings we
actually become much more open to a vast universe of intriguing options. This
certainly goes directly against our painstaking educational trajectory as
regurgitators of “right answers,” held over from our school days.
up to a world of invisible possibilities must be handled with care, because
both truth and falsehood look the same to our conscious mind, and we routinely
mix them up. Because of its critical importance to our well-being, Nitya
Objective empirical experience and subjective
illusory experience are both creations of the same mind. The primary material
which is fashioned into images that are both empirically valid as well as
illusory is consciousness. In either case it is the same consciousness. We make
a mistake if we suppose that consciousness in itself is of different kinds.
This can be readily understood if we consider the nature of memory. What is
experienced as an actuality in the objective world afterwards becomes
transformed into a memory. There is no qualitative difference between memories,
whether they are of an illusory experience at the subjective level of
consciousness or of an actual event in the physical world.
present verse examines the popular illusion of cause and effect. Not only is it
logically reasonable, but conceiving of it has produced many useful inventions
and transactional developments. It’s so useful that many people would consider
it axiomatic. Yet we can readily observe that virtually all other animals live
without the least regard for cause and effect. They take things as they come,
going with the flow all the livelong day, and their instinctive way of living
normally demonstrates a high level of success. We actually share that ability
with them, but have learned to suppress it very effectively, and the result is
chronic anxiety or worse. We feel we are supposed to be in charge, but our
instinct tells us we are beset by unpredictable forces. In Darsanamala we are
invited to experience life as a harmonious flow rather than a series of cause
and effect interactions. It helps that upon examination, cause and effect cease
to have any discernable meaning. One becomes the other, so they annul each
other. Nitya gets to the gist: “Cause and effect are not two entities,
they are the two poles of complementary events or situations.” Briefly, every cause has a cause (or
that preceded it, making it an effect, and every effect is the cause of further
is of much more than abstract importance. By dividing cause from effect we have
unintentionally consigned ourselves to the status of a mere effect of
implacable causes, and this has rendered us helpless in many cases. Impotent.
We imagine the true cause is Out There somewhere, either with God or the Big
Bang or the Sun, instead of within us. Once we believe such fictions, going
with the flow more resembles going down the drain. We become passive pawns in
someone else’s game. Some of us learn to like it; others are miserable. Either
way it’s a loss of soul. We are meant to exercise our uniqueness in collusion
with the cosmos.
practical example I have often considered of how cause and effect skew our
knowledge is with regard to abusive criminal behavior. Children who are victims
of abuse often grow up to abuse others in their turn. At what point does such a
person convert from victim to perpetrator? We have sympathy for the victim and
harsh sanctions for the perpetrator. Where do we draw the line? Where do we
withdraw support and replace it with punishment? Aren’t we talking about the
same person? This type of insight leads compassionate thinkers to express
boundless sympathy for all types of people, not just the well behaved. And it
is healing on both sides of the equation.
what is the value of this supremely liberal perspective? Oh not much. Nitya
spells it out explicitly here:
We might now ask, “What is the
use of knowledge?” The answer is that it dispels fear and anxiety, misery,
unhappiness, ignorance and illusion, and gives us an entirely different
understanding of life and the world and of ourselves. We understand at last
what the universe is, how it came into being, who created it and how the
“creator” came into being, how it is sustained, and the laws which govern its
manifestation. And so far as the empirical world is concerned, we are able to
see beyond its appearance of reality to the subsistent ground from which it
arises in ourselves. This brings a peace and certitude unknown to most people.
This paragraph provides a benchmark for us to assess our own
level of knowledge. If what we think is not dispelling fear, anxiety and all
the rest, then we’re talking about another, less efficacious form of knowledge:
serial knowledge. Cereal knowledge. E.E. Cummings drew a bead on cereal
as freedom is a breakfastfood
or truth can live with right and
or molehills are from mountains
–long enough and just so long
will being pay the rent of seem
and genius please the talentgang
and water most encourage flame
in a search for truth is not peddled by the Gurukula as a specific technique or
series of steps or grades to Parnassus. It’s an utterly flexible process that
meets every contingency on its own terms. We extol discovering the “entirely
different understanding of life” that emerges from discarding fixations on
useful falsehoods such as cause and effect, if only in our spare time at home.
This is one reason the Gurukula remains on the periphery: failure to pigeonhole
our aims and present an unambiguous program of action, at least for the time
being. Again Nitya puts this in as clear a language as can be imagined:
The enquiry in which we, as the
genuine seekers of truth, are engaged in is not much concerned with the subject-
or object-matter of our world experience. It concerns itself more with the
turning of the student inwards towards himself in an effort to penetrate the
cosmic mystery expressed as his own mystery. There are a number of what may be
called instruments or tools which will assist one in discerning what is true.
But the present study is not an exercise in the use of tools or methods. What
we are studying is that very knowledge which is itself the basic instrument and
expression of all knowledge.
Jan especially noted this section, because she has
been making a concerted effort to turn inwards herself, and she is feeling that
it is making a significant difference in her life. It takes a while, especially
with no actual guru present, but this orientation eventually proves itself in
daily life. Jan remains humble about its impact on her, which attitude is also
essential to healthy orientation, but she has reported that a number of her
friends are mentioning her newfound glow. New knowledge in the form of wisdom
not only ameliorates negative mental states, it fosters increased happiness
that occasionally leaks out and reveals itself to others.
wondered what could have helped Howard Hughes, the mentally ill man described
in the beginning of the verse. Nancy pointed out that a lot of geniuses are
borderline schizophrenics. I added that Hughes was closely involved with the
Mafia and the CIA most of his adult life, so well-founded paranoia was an extra
factor in his case. But it looked to everyone like his condition was hopeless.
The mind has so many defenses against being cured, once they are firmly in
place the game is over, except for the decades of suffering.
brought up a new drug in development that purports to erase specific memories,
thereby eradicating events that cause PTSD. The class was sure that this type
of approach had a dangerous downside, where mind manipulation would be possible
or even inevitable. But then again, isn’t this what our class and psychedelic
therapy are also claimed to accomplish? It is. As far as drugs go, benign,
inexpensive psilocybin has already proved efficacious with PTSD, so it seems to
me the drug companies are trying to quickly find an expensive substitute they
can market. But there is a real difference between healing and merely erasing a
memory or a mindset. Meditation and psychedelics work by restoring a person’s
self-esteem in the core of their being, so that the painful memories are
accommodated in the context of a healthy psyche. They still exist, but are in
perspective and no longer dominate the subconscious. Deb told us about a Sierra
Club program for veterans with PTSD where they go into the wilderness and work
together cooperatively, which is another way to foster healing. Leaving the
psyche damaged and simply erasing traumatic memories is likely to lead to
problems, with additional new therapies to be called upon. What if you thought
of your mother during the erasing process? Would she be gone too? Despite us
all being creeped out, you can look for this to become an approved therapy in
the near future. Caveat emptor.
next reported on a recent New York Times article about the narrative aspect of
the brain, how an underappreciated aspect of left brain ability is to invent a
story to knit all the disparate facts together. This is a critical part of the
illusion! Not only do we color objects and subjects with our prejudgments, we
invent fictions to group our illusions into perfect alibis. We have talked
about this in other contexts, of course, but it’s always nice to see science
catching up with contemplative wisdom. I’ll put a link and some excerpts in
idea led to another suggestion for meditative investigation: what are the
stories I tell myself? Have you ever sat down and listed them? It would be
quite a challenge. I suggest doing so, and sharing what you come up with. It
has to be honest, or it wouldn’t be worthwhile. You might also, like Arjuna in
the outset of the Bhagavad Gita, list the false beliefs you have been trained
to accept. The point is that we structure our lives based on the stories we
believe in. We call it framing in the Gurukula, meaning the context we encircle
our items of knowledge with. Read the article for some unexpected guidelines
regarding what to account for.
essay ends on a high note of optimism, and an assurance that there is much more
to look into in the next verses. First he touches on our old friends, the
horizontal and the vertical parameters:
Only at the horizontal level of
the empirical world do we experience the phenomenon of plurality. When our
awareness is verticalized toward the omega point of the Absolute there is only
the experience of a unitive state. In that state the experiential quality is
one of awe and wonder. And in that state the distinction of the knower and what
is known does not exist.
leaves us with a reminder that consciousness is primary, implying we should not
be fooled by appearances. We need to remind ourselves that we are directly
involved with every aspect of our world, so we can give it our best:
In the empirical world of
transactions and the subjective and illusory world of fantasy we can experience
the individualized variations arising from the ceaseless modifications of
continuing impressions. When we stand at sea level we can see the differences
in wave forms: small ripples, a choppy sea, cresting waves and giant rollers
are all plainly visible. The plurality of wave forms is caused by the unending
modifications of a body of water. In much the same way, all the things we
experience as the external world or as the world of dreams are the unceasing
manifestations of our own primary consciousness.
We work contemplatively to reestablish a far saner storyline
than what is popular these days, one that will enable us to heal parts of us we
don’t even know exist.
is no effect independent of the cause. That is, when we examine it more closely
all effects are unreal. Their causes alone are real. Therefore, the visible and
invisible universe is unreal because of being an effect. That which is
existent, is what is real. It is what constitutes the one cause for everything,
which is the Lord, or in other words, the Absolute (brahman). How can a non-existent world have an origin? In other
words, it never originated at all. How can anything which does not originate
have re-absorption? That is, there is no re-absorption. For something which has
neither origin nor re-absorption there is no state of being. That is, in the
Absolute this universe has no being at any time (either) in the past, present
our discussion of the value of a uniting story in human development, Deb shared
Laurens van der Post’s account of the Saan man who was put in prison and died
from lack of a story. The Saan believe the story is why we’re here. As part of
our discussion of the importance of a cohesive story narrative, Deb also shared
one of her poems, which touches on the Van der Post tale:
The old bard’s voice echoing down endless hallways, resonant
words of valor and sacrifice, their meter our aspiration and
as always sung, the story going on, What next? What next?
Dark and bent with hardship, another man locked in a room—
silent, no tale, and he withers from the absence,
dying from lack of language, the refrain, How does it go?
What turns and relation? What happens, What happens?
A strutting singer, weaver of tales of sorrow, he sings
and ideas change, love changes and what remains?
The song, I believe in the song, he says, the song itself,
the voice singing me, singing the world.
In morning’s lifting clouds, I hear these old stories,
stress and pattern repeated in the telling, our bodies’
our song which sings itself, my words to you
echoing, echoing down endless hallways.
Each word a carrier of meaning and music,
life a song that tells its own murmuring story,
each voice the sound of time singing its rounds.
Gazzaniga’s full article, more than what appeared in the Sunday Times, is here:
the meat of it:
In Graham Swift’s novel “Waterland,” the narrator, a history
teacher named Tom Crick, defines the human as “the storytelling animal” who
“wants to leave behind not a chaotic wake, not an empty space,” but the
“comforting trail signs of stories: As long as there’s a story, it’s all right.”
Even at the moment of death, he says, we see our life rush before us as a
Our ability to group events into a narrative could certainly
help us feel better, could help us store the events as a single episode for
later use, or could help us interact in a complex social setting. My threaded
interpretation, however, could be different from yours. For stories (beliefs)
to be useful as a technology to control groups of people, it is necessary to standardize
our interpretations, something we know has occurred almost from the beginning
of recorded human history.
This is why the historian Yuval Harari, in his book
“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” has proposed that in addition to our
personal narratives, we produce collective fictions that are a uniquely human
capacity. “We control the world basically because we are the only animals that
can cooperate ﬂexibly in very large numbers,” he writes. “And if you examine
any large-scale human cooperation, you will always ﬁnd that it is based on some
ﬁction like the nation, like money, like human rights. These are all things
that do not exist objectively, but they exist only in the stories that we tell
and that we spread around. This is something very unique to us, perhaps the
most unique feature of our species.”
Yet when Yuval Harari is talking about gaining control of
people by the use of fictions, he is talking about the kinds of abstractions
and ideas everybody can understand — money, religion, politics and preferences,
the kinds of things an interpreter is at work on all day long. As the novelist
captures the personal, the historian captures the social story within which
most of us are embedded and uniquely thrive. It is the inventive interpretive
mind first applying itself to our personal life and then to our social
existence that is our core skill. Once humankind realized it possessed this
technology, we seized on it to thrive in and control our niche on earth.
fascinating section was left out of the paper, where Gazzaniga performed a
clever experiment of right/left brain interaction. It’s worth reading about it.
That one simple observation, now repeated dozens of times on
several patients, revealed another special capacity of the dominant left brain.
We called this device the “interpreter” and have come to realize it is the
storyteller, the system that builds our narrative and gives our many actions
that pour out of us, frequently outside of our conscious control, a centrality,
a story — our personal story. It is so powerful an addition to humankind that
it masks the reality: We are, in fact, a confederation of relatively
independent agents, each struggling to be part of our narrative that is our
story. It turns out the left brain has another capacity potentially more
important than language itself. The interpreter is the thing that sticks all of
those parts together.
In response, silencing the mind turns one inward. And,
what is seen when this happens is an unspeakable presence that has no form; no
gender; no body; no ego, or personality. It reveals all that is phenomenal and
illusory. It reveals a spontaneous stream of consciousness which provides
the ground for endless potentialities to manifest from emptiness, timelessness,
and nothingness. This presence is constant. Know this as your real Self. You
me (Scott): I’ve enjoyed reflecting on the stories that undergird my
assumptions about the world we live in. Here’s what I wrote about—
My Life Stories
our Darsanamala class we have been pondering the narrative and how it shapes
our awareness. It turns out there is a faculty in the brain that provides
plausible explanations for pretty much everything, and this knits them together
in a coherent fashion. This enables all sorts of possibilities, both positive
and negative, that set humans apart. Other animals may have a similar ability
but perhaps less developed. It seems like a good time to take a close look at
some of my own “stories” since they have such an impact on the way we frame our
world, which can be inhibiting as well as empowering. I’m looking at the
broadest possible ideals that I hold as deep convictions. I like to think of
them as concepts I have personally experienced, questioned, and found to be
We are One.
Earth is a school for souls, where we learn about challenges
and how to meet them compassionately and intelligently. There will always be
travail here, because otherwise what would we learn? We have to meet problems
in order to grow.
Everything is alive and deserves respect.
There is a beneficent intelligence within our immediate
experience that regularly offers us guidance. If we are open to what it quietly
whispers to us, we will experience the optimal unfolding of our life
expression. Sometimes this intelligence manifests as a guru or wise friend, and
it can be reflected in almost anything, especially in what we love.
The world—the fact that there’s something rather than nothing—is
a most spectacular miracle. If we
take the time to appreciate it, we will find that life is ultimately
Each person has intrinsic talents that are often suppressed
but if expressed will bring them tremendous satisfaction.
The human legacy contains incredible treasures of wisdom and
artistic expression awaiting our attention to come alive and uplift our
spirits, and we live at a time when these are more readily available than ever
There are of course many corollaries, but right now I’m
looking at only the most essential building blocks of my world view.
sent an appreciation:
I've always suspected we make up stories to link our
this needs to be read again and again
how easily we forget