Asatya Darsana Verse 1
All this is a permeation of mind,
but mind is nowhere to be seen;
in the same way, like the blue and so
on in the
the world is seen in the Self.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
All this (world) is of
The mind, however, is not
Therefore like the blue and
so on in the sky
The world is seen in the
marvelous analogy of the dependent or mysterious manifestation of the world in
the Self sets us off in earnest on our search for the meaning of nonexistence.
Sky is invisible and intangible, yet from a certain angle of vision it takes on
a number of qualities, like blueness and the appearance of solidity. In the
nearly one hundred years since these verses were set down, neuroscientists and
psychologists have come to the same conclusion as Narayana Guru: what we
experience as our self is a complex image with no localizable basis. “Mind is
nowhere to be seen” is a chant of many modern materialists, and it’s true
enough. But as to what can be made of it there is plenty of room for
to the chase: on the surface, this affirmation means there is nothing;
everything is a fiction, which might well precipitate nausea and despair in a
materialist. But Narayana Guru accepts that the world is as real as a world can
be, only its basis lies in an immaterial source. It’s not any where, or any
what, but it has nonetheless produced this universe. Moreover, attempting to
erase our existence to achieve some putative other state, empty or otherwise,
is futile, like trying to scrub the lather out of soap. And why should we erase
it, when existence is a superlative, magnificent, endlessly delightful miracle?
might help to recap verse 88 of Atmopadesa Satakam, along with the beginning of
Nitya’s commentary from That Alone:
is real in itself; one who grasps the basic truth
understand all this as one;
not known introspectively,
great enmity certainly creates
such a minute study of all aspects of the Self and its indivisible aloneness,
even when we come to the eighty-eighth verse of Atmopadesa Satakam the world has not disappeared. It persists,
through all the reevaluations we have had. And we are the same people. We are
engaged in the same kinds of activities, and we still react to each other the
the world persists must it be real? Is it real or not? Does it exist or not
exist? Narayana Guru says have no quarrel—just take it for granted the world
exists. Not only this world. Whatever there is. It’s all okay. Sakalavum ullatu, everything is real.
than lamenting that we cannot pin down the mind, we might just as well revel in
the fact. Mind—the very context of our existence—is supremely subtle. It can’t
be fixed, as much as we may feel compelled to pin it down. It is always several
steps ahead of us, opening up new possibilities and inviting our participation
in them. Where a fulminating fundamentalist might sneer at the naivety of those
who follow their heart, the Guru would rather we encourage much, much more of
it. In our local arena we are capable of converting a dessicated desert into an
Edenic garden. What does it matter that the mind is not confined to a nerve
ganglion in the cingulate cortex or some other recondite corner of the brain?
Wherever it may be coming from, it is here, presenting us with a breathtaking
sequence of vastly supported development known as our life. Until you find it
and start monkeying with it with hammer and saw, there is a whole lot of living
to be had. So let’s get on with it!
succinctly states our problem in his summing up:
that the world-experience of man is illusory, but that does not help us very
much to escape from its tragic spell until it becomes completely transparent to
us in what manner the Self is veiled, and how projection manifests in all the
individual cases of the experience of entities with names and forms which seem
to exist within the framework of time and space, with inner relationships such
as cause and effect, and with whatever is treated dualistically as other than
one’s own self.
Deb was amused by the way Nitya downplays the value of
intellectual abstractions when they come at the expense of our creative
participation in life:
“Sky” as a factor experienced
as external to
the human organism is the result of a collective hallucinatory projection
described in the preceding chapter as
vikshepa. Even the scientist who knows the complex function of the brain is
not very much impressed by his knowledge when he goes to the ice cream parlor
and insists on strawberry flavored ice cream.
all this is true, we have to remember that we are just at the beginning of our
examination of nonexistence, of asat.
This verse is not necessarily the final word. But we do need to know that the
world we see and interact with is essentially a construct, otherwise we may
make egregious errors. Realizing this is quite a challenge. Bill mused it was a
very mysterious process how the Self manifests as the individual self. Fortunately
the Self’s manifestation is not dependent on our clearly understanding it, or
we would be in big trouble.
the way we interpret existence is the outcome of a unique set of developmental
forces, we are sure to have no more than a partial understanding, as does
everyone else. Again this is a good
thing. It gives us a reason for being, and plenty of room for improvement.
Humans have a curious compulsion to impress others by being absolutely right,
and often wield that hubris to the detriment of their fellow beings and the
environment. Humans are often drawn to those who claim to know all, and
frequently surrender our common sense to them, with all manner of disastrous
repercussions. By accepting our limitations, we become more tolerant of other
points of view, more flexible, and less gullible. Rigidity stems from a fixed
set of notions, and storms through the world as a conquering army. Needless to
say, this is the opposite of the open attitude of Narayana Guru and his
Gurukula, which wafts around the globe more like a fragrant zephyr.
of this, we should routinely spend some time examining our attitudes and
separating the wheat from the chaff. One of my favorite sentences from Nitya’s
book on the Patanjali Yoga Sutras is “The yogi makes every effort not to be a
howler telling untruth or a simpleton believing in something because somebody
said it or it is written somewhere.” (243) To counteract the combative impulse
and invite us to a harmonious attitude, Nitya later adds, “It is not difficult to
cultivate an awareness that is both critical and sympathetic.” (371) Well,
sometimes it is difficult, but that’s
no excuse to be unsympathetic.
asked how we go about freeing ourselves from the mind’s domination, which does
not mean ridding ourself of the mind. This is not about separating ourself from
our self, but raising our self to a more harmonious frequency. The pulsation
model we studied earlier is very relevant to this issue. Recall that our
experience begins in a secret core where only potentials exist; nothing has yet
come to be. Out of that certain proclivities develop, and are shaped by
everything they encounter, eventually taking a more or less fixed form as the
way we view the world. Since the world we perceive is a construct based on partial
understanding, we have to break our attachment to it as an unalloyed reality.
To do this the yogi withdraws from it—temporarily of course—to sink back into
the unformed depths. If this is done thoroughly enough, new potentials are
activated even as those old and in the way are de-energized. We can then resume
interaction with the world in a refreshed and renewed fashion.
is not a onetime effort, but a continuous process of vivifying every aspect of
our life by oscillating between our core and periphery.
is why we meditate—to take a break from our habitual attitudes and allow new
capacities to come online. Most vasanas have time stamps on them to mark when
they are most appropriate, and our best spiritual impulses have to bide their
time through the early stages when they are not particularly relevant. After
the periods of physical and mental development and reproduction and social
involvement have been attended to, we have more freedom to nurture the most
profound of our abilities, ones that have patiently waited for their chance to
blossom. If we put them on hold for some more time, we may die before they have
their hour in the sun, and that would be a colossal waste. All of what we have
done up to this moment has set the stage for their debut. If we continue to
replay the behavioral scripts we have gotten used to, those proclivities will
not have a fighting chance. So we have to budget some time to meditate or
otherwise bask in our source codes.
wondered whether we should bring positive affirmations into our core so as to
elicit our best vasanas, which is a common suggestion. Of course we want to be
as good as gold. The problem is that whenever we bring anything with us into
the neutral state it is no longer neutral. A yogi has to abandon—again
temporarily—all desires, no matter how salutary. Then, as we emerge from
neutrality to attend to everyday dualities, positive support can be used to
encourage our best instincts and gently weed out the unhelpful ones.
reminded Deb of Bill’s oft quoted remark of Suzuki Roshi: we sit in Zen because
it is our true nature. In other words, not to attain anything. Our true nature
is nirvana, and nirvana doesn’t have or require any additional program. Of
course, attaining nirvana is a desire in itself, so even that should be left
off as having been a necessary starting point only.
we are all aware, there are many types of meditation that can open us up to our
spiritual depths. Prabu has recently been discovering the glories of Beethoven
and other Western composed music. Art at its best resonates with our highest
aspirations, and can waft us deep into our beingness. Psychedelic medicines
famously break the hold of habitual non-reality, freeing us to cherish a
temporary freedom from fixed perspectives. Sometimes a new hobby is enough to
energize our enthusiasm. Even philosophy like the one we are pondering can wean
us away from our dead ends to give birth to renewed joy in our hearts. What do
my kids call it for the body? Oh yes, exfoliation. Like snakes, we have layers
of dead skin that need to be rubbed off to let the new skin shine. Joseph
Campbell calls the way art at its best affects us esthetic arrest. It breaks the hold our expectations have on our
psyche, making room for the new.
Moni’s and Jan’s prompting we discussed dreams at length. Jan made the
connection with meditation explicit in that we are seeking guidance from
within, and dreams are a fairly handy way to invite our deeper wisdom to
participate in our unfoldment.
recalled Nitya’s advice to enjoy the freedom from our waking mind we have
during sleep. On waking, we can try to remain without putting on our familiar
persona for a while, and this is actually very healthy. Bill, our dream expert,
added that both the hypnopompic and hypnagogic states (immediately preceding
waking or after falling asleep, respectively) are ideal times for meditation
unburdened by the demands of waking consciousness. We have increased freedom of
thought if we can remain in that in-between state, which means not thinking in
terms of “what I want,” among other considerations. Just the tiniest nudge at
most, or we will wake up.
has been keeping a dream journal, and feels that it is increasing her
receptivity. She is listening more carefully for her inner promptings, and
yearning for more of that kind of instruction.
the Portland Gurukula we don’t advocate for any particular type of meditation,
but do suggest that some form of self-reflection is bound to be spiritually
uplifting. To me, not having a fixed program is essential; for others, they
have to have something planned out or they wouldn’t do anything. It’s up to
perhaps you caught the reference to the pulsation model in the opening
In the introduction to this darsana
we have given a general idea of
the structure of consciousness. We see it as a phenomenal structuring arising
out of the mysterious depths of a primeval darkness. This structuring becomes
horizontalized as a binary function consisting either of a subject-object
duality or as a subjective state witnessed by a focus of consciousness
experienced as “I.” In either case the notion of the knower as “I” appears to
be detachable from the known.
That primeval darkness is the unitive source that expands into
the dualistic horizontal world of our conscious experience, in the process
becoming delimited. We are invited to return to it frequently so that oneness
and multiplicity are kept in harmony. Nitya reminds us:
In the two earlier darsanas the
Guru has established that everything perceived and
conceived is basically the manifestation of one’s own consciousness. But we are
still uncertain about what it is that causes perceptual images to arise as
experiences of different forms, colors, and other sensory data. We are somewhat trapped, because
mechanism available to us for the examination of how our mind works is that
very mind itself.
The mind is only a trap when it becomes overly attached to
its relationship with the horizontal. We need a constant reminder (like this
class) only because the mind is susceptible to becoming stuck. Once we
regularly use the mind as a tool for coming unstuck, it becomes a very good
friend and helpmate.
touches on a couple of Western philosophers who first grasped what Vedantins
have been saying for a very long time:
Immanuel Kant points out that we cannot
out of our mind and senses to know exactly what an object is before its image
is adulterated with the biophysical and psychochemical peculiarities of our
brain-stuff. According to Heisenberg, a physical entity cannot be scrutinized
without the act of scrutiny disturbing its structure. In the same way, we can
say that we can never perceive anything without causing agitation and
disturbance in our motor-sensory system.
broader context, however, we are capable of at least improving our relationship
to our surroundings. Functional MRI has shown that psychedelics impel the brain
to function holistically and overcome the barriers between it and its surroundings,
imbuing it with a sense of universal oneness. Listening to Beethoven’s Ninth
Symphony with an open mind can do it too, as Prabu can attest. So while we
acknowledge the isolation of the brain, mind does not necessarily suffer from
those same limitations. (I’m fond of James Fadiman’s phrase, “The mind and its
brain.”) The spiritual quest could well be epitomized as the struggle for
transcendence of our current limits. It means being aware of those limits while
seeking to overcome them. The voices that insist we have no chance of breaking
free are not helpful. If we believe them, they will be proven right. So don’t
When Schrodinger spoke of the world as
construct happening in the brain with percepts, concepts and memories, he
missed one thing, which was pointed out later by John C. Lilly in his book Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human
Biocomputer. There he asks the pertinent question: “If all we experience is
programmed and computerized by the human biocomputer, who is the programmer of
that computer?” This vital question, the most fundamental question we can ask,
was overlooked or disregarded by scientists for a long time. Let us ask it
again: “Who is programming the mind?”
Guru was careful to present a programmer before turning our attention to what
is programmed in the individuated mind. The program is the storage bank of
incipient memories. And, as far as the collective consciousness is concerned,
it is the universal Will which is the substratum of all existence, order,
development and purpose.
and the Absolute are not two, at least in the Indian perspective. Either way,
when we sink into the core their very existence evanesces. They are not
describable in any way, and certainly not nameable. They just are. Therefore
meditating on the mind is like meditating on the Absolute: when it dissolves
into nothingness, you are finally getting somewhere. Nitya tells us:
In this verse, the Guru first highlights
common experience shared by all, that is to say the existential experiencing of
generally known things and ideas. This he does by turning our minds towards the
consideration of these phenomena. After stating that all experiences, whether
seen by us as subjective or objective, are of the mind, he asks us to make a
critical search for the mind itself. When the mind looks for itself it vanishes
like a phantom, leaving behind only sensations, ideations, conceptual images,
and sensory impressions.
We are all one, and we are also separate. Separation allows
for all sorts of things that are impossible in a condition of oneness. We are
not taking sides, only seeing as much of the total context as we can.
Separation allows us to develop our own uniqueness, thus contributing something
new to the universe, which apparently is not interested in repetition. Too
boring. So, Warden, open up your cells and let go!
Vidyananda’s commentary reprises the traditional Vedantic view of reality vs.
In the sky there are no colours such as blue,
etc. In spite of this, however, we know this verity as we actually perceive the
blue colour in the sky. In reality only the sky is real, and blueness, etc.,
are fully unreal. In the same manner, in the pure unqualified Self this world
is perceived which is a presentiment of the will. It is the Self alone that is
real, and the world consisting of mind-stuff is unreal.
reread a favorite paragraph of his from the introduction:
Darsanamala, Narayana Guru is not much interested in the analysis of man’s
woeful condition of ignorance. He is interested in imparting a positive
discipline called atmavidya – a
Sanskrit term meaning “knowledge of the atma
or Self.” It is only through the acquisition of true knowledge that man can be
freed from what he sees as nauseating or sorrowful conditions which are bound
to arise during the span of his conscious life on earth. Atmavidya is a discipline of understanding evolved by seers
period of thousands of years, and they have found it to be effective in
releasing individuals from the negative conditions arising from ignorance.
Nitya wrote this to counteract the negativity prevalent in
many belief systems. Unfortunately, this can also be interpreted to support
escapism, so I want to add another perspective from Nitya’s Yoga Sutras
Yoga is not a passive way of
closing one’s eyes to injustice. If the yogi has a moral conscience, he or she
has to challenge all three kinds of involvement in violence (greed, anger and
So I guess if you don’t have a moral conscience, then don’t
bother about injustice. Nitya did. This echoes the earlier quote of his: “It is
not difficult to cultivate an awareness that is both critical and sympathetic.”
I think this hints at the balance of the yogi that achieves the neutrality of
the core, with its vasana garden of infinite potentials.
couple of loosely edited ideas based on the verse, before we head farther into
the Asatya Darsana:
is a nonexistent but apparent entity we presume to exist. Narayana Guru saw
what neuroscientists are beginning to visualize with their instruments: that
what we perceive is like a magic show produced in awareness. If we get some
distance on it, it looks like a painting or video, in other words, like an
arbitrary interpretive arrangement made to please the viewer. We never know the
scene as it is, because we are condemned to view our interpretation of it, and
everyone else is in the same pickle. Our task is to refine and normalize our
interpretation so it has a universal basis rather than clinging to our personal
this allows us to expand out of the personal and into the universal. This frees
us to be more effective, because the bonds of our limited and limiting
personality are broken.
worry about whether we can truly know a thing-in-itself, when we have hardly
begun to know ourselves? If we don’t know who we are, how can we be sure of
anything else? We are so vastly isolated within our personal conceptualizations
we have almost no clue what might lie beyond them, either in fantasy or
try to ascertain “facts” by leaving the personal element out entirely, but if
the universe is a epiphenomenon of consciousness, how can that be possible? If
you leave out the personal factor, you leave out the entire basis of existence.
We have barely begun to be aware of anything outside our immediate needs,
building gradually on worm consciousness. Forget determining the exact location
of an electron, a more important question is who is this person next to me who
I think of as my friend? Do I know anything about them? I don’t know myself,
and they don’t know themselves either. At least if we wonder about this, we may
learn to hear a faint intimation from something outside of our shuttered
awareness. If we think we know, or think knowing is unnecessary, we won’t even
try, and all we’ll hear is the reverberation of our own suppositions.