Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Two - Verse Two


Apavada Darsana Verse 2


         Apart from the cause there is no effect;

         therefore, all this is unreal;

         for the unreal, how can there be an origin?

         Of the unoriginated, what dissolution?


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


Other than the cause the effect cannot be;

Therefore, all this is non-existent:

Of what is non-existent, how can there be any origin,

And of something unoriginated, how (can there be) re-absorption?


         Now 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 Self.

         Nitya’s 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.

         Nitya 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.

         Nitya 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.

         Opening 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 underlines this:


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.


         The 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 many) that preceded it, making it an effect, and every effect is the cause of further ramifications.

         This 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.

         A 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.

         So, 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 knowledge:


as freedom is a breakfastfood

or truth can live with right and wrong

or molehills are from mountains made

–long enough and just so long

will being pay the rent of seem

and genius please the talentgang

and water most encourage flame


         Engaging 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.

         Karen 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.

         Karen 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.

         Susan 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 Part II.

         Susan’s 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.

         Nitya’s 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.


         He 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.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         There 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 or future.


*         *         *


         During 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:


Persistence of Melody


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’ pulse,

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.


*         *         *


         Michael Gazzaniga’s full article, more than what appeared in the Sunday Times, is here:


         Here’s 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 story.


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.


         A 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. His conclusion:


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.


Part III


         Mike wrote:


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 are That.


*         *         *


         From 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


         In 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 true.


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 fulfilling.


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 before.


There are of course many corollaries, but right now I’m looking at only the most essential building blocks of my world view.


Part IV


         Dipika sent an appreciation:



I've always suspected we make up stories to link our happenings


this needs to be read again and again

how easily we forget

Scott Teitsworth