Asatya Darsana Verse 2
ignorance, which is none other than the mind,
worlds are imagined;
by this knowledge dissolution comes,
everything becomes like a painting.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
By nescience which is no
other than the mind
All this world is a
presentiment of the will;
This (nescience) by
knowledge gets re-absorbed,
Then the whole world (becomes) a
Portland Gurukula was blessed with a special evening, having two old friends
attending the class to bid us farewell, one permanently, one hopefully not
quite. Anita Carpenter, who was a regular for a number of years but hasn’t been
able to come for around seven years, stopped in with her 20-year-old
granddaughter. Anita has retired and is moving to Eastern Idaho in few days,
but it was like old times to have her in her favorite chair and questioning
every assumption that came up with her typical alert vivacity. It was a
profound gesture to close a broad circle of association, one in which she feels
benefitted by the alternative ideas she learned with us. Her granddaughter
Brooke is like a wise conscience at her shoulder, helping her and keeping her
centered as she enters a new stage of her life.
Norrby also paid us a visit before returning to Sweden. She has been here for
some time caring for her aging mother, so this was the only class she was able
to attend. With any luck she will pop in again some day.
two of the Asatya Darsana is a classic, with Nitya adroitly explaining how our
ignorance blinds and manipulates us, and showing the way to get out from under
it. One important line from the commentary: “This tendency of the mind to breed
false values into its own fantasy is described in this verse as avidya, ignorance.” Ignorance in Vedanta
isn’t just not knowing the name of the capitol of the Central African Republic,
it is imposing external factors on the natural bliss of our being and then
hoping they will hold up under pressure. Moving from a life chasing
will-o’-the-wisps to one grounded in the Self is the exciting prospect before
Guru’s present verse is quite similar to his verse 85 of Atmo:
No shadow exists independent of an
as there is no original form
anywhere for the existing world,
it is neither shadow nor
everything that is seen is like a
snake painted by a master.
It is a big help to read Nitya’s commentary there also. I’ll
put some paragraphs from it in Part II. Or you can look it up.
wondered about the painting and what it means. Basically, what we encounter is
an image depicting reality rather than some utterly absolute reality, and
therefore much depends on our personal preferences. We are free to take it any
way we like. More on this is in the Part II excerpts.
summarized the purport of the verse as desires and fantasies never achieve
lasting happiness, which is a very familiar assertion. This is a much bigger
challenge than it sounds, however. Knowing the mind is endlessly projecting
illusions, we are trying our best to go beyond it or get outside of it.
Unfortunately, at the outset of this Vision of Nonexistence we learned that
everything manifest is within the mind, in its full definition. That means
there isn’t any outside, nowhere else to go. No escape. Breaking free requires
a subtler attitude than simply foregoing desires. We have to find a way to
gently sink into a condition of abiding happiness, because it is the ground
from which all transiency originates.
argued that we have to face up to the transient aspect of life and not just try
to run away from it. She recommends an 80/20 plan, where 4/5 of the time you
are engaging with the transactional world and the rest sitting in some kind of
peaceful withdrawal. That’s fine, and we compared it with our pulsation model,
where the psyche is refreshed by regular dips into silence and quietude, but
then is brought back to full engagement with the environment. There are plenty
of religious and even spiritual programs that advocate rejection of the world;
the Gurukula suits us because it is not escapist. Narayana Guru knew that
whatever validity there is in creation exists right here with us. A nondual
orientation cannot posit a separate reality we are migrating toward. As we go
back and forth from our outer and inner visions, the imaginary dividing line
between them gradually melts away.
worried about how we can retain our sanity as this loosening of our grip takes
place, and that is one crux of the matter. It is common and possible to lose
our balance and start believing in all sorts of projections if we are not
buying into the collective hallucination. Jean’s mother has occasional bouts of
dementia that clash alarmingly with her surroundings, but she cannot tell
whether she is self-generating perceptions or actually perceiving reality. And
here we are busily undermining the beliefs that allow us to rely on received
also wondered how anyone can ever tell what reality is, since to each of us
what we see is what we believe (I’m simplifying her comments). Deb suggested
that our personal experience was not visible to others, and agreements with
outside witnesses was the only way to know that you aren’t just making things
up to suit your fantasies. As this is such an important issue, I’ll add some valuable
ideas about brain health in Part II, from the director of the Rush Alzheimer’s
Disease Center in Chicago. It is becoming clear that we can do a lot to avoid
dementia, and the kind of study we are engaged in is an excellent tactic. One
finding noted in the article is that high levels of harm avoidance, anxiety,
neuroticism and depressive symptoms significantly increase your likelihood of
dementia. Just the sort of thing we aim to ameliorate. (Harm avoidance is “a
trait that encompasses shyness, excessive worrying and pessimism.”)
Darsana of close self-examination reveals that we all have a blurred line
between registry of our surroundings and projections of our imagination. We
might be unhorsed by this realization, but Nitya suggests it can be taken in a
very positive fashion also, depending on how we frame it. His conclusion, if we
are willing to pay attention:
In this verse Narayana Guru gives
us hope to ward off frustration. A person who is endowed with the power of
discrimination will be able to learn from their own mistakes that they are a
victim of projections arising out of their own imagination. There is the
danger, even after realizing the folly of one’s situation, that when the mind
is filled with desire and craving it has the power to draw a dark blanket over
the recognition of previous failure, which could otherwise guard the individual
against making a fresh attempt in the same wrong direction.
Self-awareness not only allows us to fine tune our thinking,
it steers us away from repeating our mistakes. So why is it something that most
of us would prefer to avoid? Somehow we’ve become convinced that honest
self-examination will undermine our happiness. So strange! Nitya points out:
When we review life like this, we
can see that the world we live in is generated by our own fantasizing mind. We
live mostly in a fantasized world of values generated by the mind—a mind which
is not very clear about what is true or untrue, and what is of real worth or
not. Throughout, an element of pleasure, a spark of joy, a dream of attaining
greater happiness, operates as the dynamic for creating one fantasy after
don’t lose heart: this awareness has strong positive implications despite its
unsettling appearance. I asked the class what the antidote to being adrift in a
sea of fantasies and desires is. While most everyone paused in perplexity, Jan
read out the answer that Nitya provided in this very commentary. Then we made
her read it over a couple more times:
Finally, if it so happens that a
person discovers within themself that there is an abiding bliss which is none
other than the beingness of their own Self, only then will they see that the
world they looked upon as real was merely a creation of their mind.
other words, our true nature is abiding bliss. It isn’t anything that has to be
made or discovered, only perhaps uncovered. It doesn’t reside solely in some
special place far away. Jan finds her way into her core by looking for her
honest feelings. She isn’t satisfied with make believe feelings. She knows
people who control themselves too strongly, trying to live up to an arbitrary
ideal, and the tension they are under is palpable. It even gives some of them
squeaky voices. She echoed Bill’s earlier point, saying that the bliss we are
made out of lies much deeper than what we want, in other words, than our
desires. We can’t go there by desiring anything, but only by letting go of the
need to control. Deb agreed that our need to control distorts our psyche. It is
certainly deeply ingrained as the ego’s main tactic.
added that our expectations (related to control) limit our experience. Allowing
for serendipity opens up more possibilities for joy in our lives.
cited Nitya’s two-sided coin as an important reminder that this isn’t about
just being good or being nice, because we all have the opposite propensities in
us. Here’s what she was referring to:
Affectivity is a two-sided coin.
Love, worship, fidelity, kindness and beauty are inscribed on one face. On the
other we find hatred, anger, repudiation, lack of faith, meanness and ugliness.
It is from the same mind that both these responses arise. As the coin flips,
one may repeat again and again the mistake of thinking that the soul mate has
finally been discovered.
“Soul mate” can stand for whatever primary external factor
you have decided will make you happy. We very often apply it to our love
partner, but this is an unfair burden, and really, unfair to both. Alain de
Botton’s article in the New York Times, Why
You Will Marry the Wrong Person, takes a look at why. It’s a good one: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/opinion/sunday/why-you-will-marry-the-wrong-person.html?_r=0
essay makes it seem that coming to the realization that externals are not the
keys to happiness is a natural outcome of the aging process, and I wish that
were incontrovertible. He writes:
When old age comes, this kind of
fantasy leaves the mind, and a new awareness dawns that all the achievements of
youth and middle age were of little worth. The desire for peace and the need
for spiritual security turn the mind away from all worldly values.
It seems to me that while we do settle down some as we age,
it takes a sincere effort to apply these insights, and many people manage to
avoid them for a whole lifetime. They are not universally advocated, and not
necessarily obvious. Peddling and servicing fantasies are central to the
economy. But getting out from under them is so important! I would even argue
that awareness of our core being helps brain health in many ways, and the three
Gurus of our lineage are prime examples. All were alert and incisively clear to
their last day of life, despite suffering ailments that often cause severe
mental impairment. They naturally practiced many of the ideas recommended in
the Alzheimer’s article below.
resonated with Nitya’s example about journaling. She has kept journals all her
life, mostly facts and details about her activities, but occasionally pouring
out her heart. She admitted that reading her old journals made her cringe in
embarrassment, and she could hardly bear to do it. Nitya uses this to
demonstrate how our current thinking is not as much “us” as it appears:
People who keep journals of their
own daily moods, reactions, ambitions, pursuits, and dealings with other people
have the feeling that they are recording every day a correct version of the
world they are living in. After a few years, when they retrospect and read the
same pages, they realize how mistaken their actions were and how they looked
upon things of little value as being the most important in life.
Whether or not we keep a journal, we keep track of our life
as it unfolds. We have learned in Darsanamala that the harder you cling to your
beliefs, the more rigid your life becomes, and the more likely you are to come
in conflict with others. Even your own body and brain suffer. When we latch on
to a fiction, we have to hold tighter and tighter as it threatens to melt away
into the nothingness it is made of. Once again we are invited by the Gurus to
relax and let go of our tensions. Let the bounty of the universe seep into our
souls. Then our relationships will be as real as real can be.
is the mind that is to be considered the same as nescience. It is because of
this ignorance that the world seems to be real. For destroying this ignorance
which is nescience there is no other way than through knowledge, that is true
knowledge of the Self. When nescience is abolished Self-knowledge prevails,
i.e., when nescience is abolished and science prevails, the whole world
resembles a configuration (drawing) presented by the mind. In the same way by the
power of nescience which is of the form of mind, the whole world is willed.
Therefore, this world is non-existent. When Self-knowledge prevails the fact
that the world is unreal becomes experienced.
promised, some excerpts from That Alone, from verse 85. Nitya begins with a
masterful elucidation of the venerable pot/clay theory of Vedanta. Then he
applies it to every aspect of life:
does Narayana Guru explain it? He says that when an expert paints a snake and
the painting is placed in dim light, it can frighten a person. The dread can be
so great that the person might even collapse and die. So the painting can
function as a snake to some extent, but as soon as it is closely examined it
will be found to be only a painting.
it turns out to be a painting, it does not cease to be. The snake doesn’t
disappear. It continues to be what it always was—a painting done by a master.
What changes is your reaction to it. You no longer react with fear but with
great admiration. You say, “Look how lifelike it is! It’s wonderful!” You might
want to possess it: “Let me take it home. It’s a terrific picture!” Once you
accept it, it is no longer a snake. When you were dreading it, it was also not
a snake. It all came from the mind’s projection. (599)
let’s go back to the idea of ‘wife’. The original clay is there: some flesh, a
body. On it you project your dear wife, just like the potter projected the idea
of pot onto the clay. The process is of course a little different. Here, a
greater potter has done the first part of the work in fashioning the woman, but
it only becomes meaningful when you project the idea of ‘wife’ on top of her,
so to speak. Does this idea have validity or not? It has validity. Has it full
validity? No. It is valid only until you telephone an attorney to effect a
doesn’t only refer to the husband-wife business but is a handy way of
understanding something general in life, where people get infatuated with so
many things and then after some time effect a separation from them. Marriages
and divorces are going on all the time between people and their relativistic
values. They aspire to something, but when they get close to it they no longer
want it. They think it is not what they were looking for. That’s because the beingness
of those things has the same status as a painted picture. The painting is done
from within. Is it real or unreal? The Guru says you cannot say it is real, nor
can you say it is unreal. It’s simply a wonder. (599-600)
apply this in your life, you have to look for the being which cannot be
explained away. What is that being? It’s called existence. You should also look
for the knowledge which cannot be explained away. Such knowledge is awareness.
Existence is called sat; the
awareness of subsistence is called cit.
Sat and cit never change, but you can fashion the sat like the potter fashions
a pot, like the lover fashions the beloved, like the buyer of a commodity
fashions its value, like the admirer of beauty fashions light into a beautiful
form. The substratum is perennial existence. What you temporarily create out of
it has existence only during the time when it is valuable to you.
brings us to a third factor, the utility of a thing, its prayojana or value. The potter knows the clay will always
clay, but he sees a utility in fashioning it in a certain way so it will hold
water. Holding water is an important symbol. Every value should “hold water.”
It should serve your purpose. When it no longer holds water, when it does not
serve your purpose, you throw it away. Its existence is finished.
pot serves its purpose when you want to use it. At that point you don’t have to
say it is only clay. The pot has a transactional validity that you can accept.
But in order to not become disillusioned you should always have a permanent
notion beneath the surface operation. After all, the primary existence is not
of a particular thing, but resides in another category.
other kinds of pots I am speaking of, like husband and wife, friends, neighbors,
enemies and so on, are fashioned out of an already transitory substance called
the life process. The stream of life is moving, changing and transforming all
the time. On top of this ever-flowing process you are making other
suppositions. So there is every possibility that in the flow your suppositions
will be dislocated. What you think of as permanent is really an impermanent
fixation superimposed on an already impermanent substance. But that impermanent
substance really does reside in a beingness which does not change.
there are three levels: the changeless, the changing cosmic process, and,
within that, an individual arrangement. It is in the individual arrangement
within the cosmic setup we see what we call ulaku. If the image we see in the
ulaku were copied from somewhere else, as Plato has it, we could transfer
ourselves to that real world. But there is no such additional reality. This is
not a copy of anything. Then, is it real? No, it’s still not real at all. We
have to learn to accept the transitory nature of life and the impermanence of
all arrangements, while keeping in mind that every arrangement is valid for
just as long as the ananda aspect is reflected in it. (600-1)
other day a friend from the class said, “The last three days when I have been
sitting here and listening to the meditation, it has not been reaching me. I
wish I were sitting at home instead.” When it worked for him, he was here. When
it doesn’t work he wonders why he bothers. That is a failure of the ananda. The
existence of the image really belongs to the ananda. When the ananda fails the
image collapses. It fades out.
is it that interferes with the ananda? The whole process is a search for
happiness. What is opposed to happiness is called maya, darkness, or avidya,
ignorance. Christians call it sin or guilt, or personify it as the devil. And
how can ignorance come and take away the joy of something you have enjoyed?
Because your basis for that joy was only a supposition. If you saw joy right in
eternal existence itself, in eternal awareness itself, it would not have broken
down. But we are forever fashioning something out of that and projecting our
happiness onto this temporary creation, which is moving and changing all the
we are saying is that you should not build your abode on transitory stuff.
Jesus said the same thing: one who wants to have a strong house should build it
on a rock and not on sand. You need to remember that your experiences are
neither the original or a shadow of the original, but have only the status of a
painted picture. You have to explore how you can get from a sandy foundation to
one that is rock-solid. To do this you have to go beyond name and form, beyond
the world of your senses, the world of your imagination, beyond the world of
your fantasies. (601)
you there is a witnessing self, a saksi.
It is the big eye which watches the visions of the two small eyes, one seeing
the external world and the other the internal world. Only when that witnessing
eye is relied on will you be able to transcend the other two. Until you come to
that experience you will be alternately fearing the snake and admiring its
beauty, and also losing interest again and again and again. (601-2)
percent of your suffering is imaginary. You sit there and imagine what must be
happening to your father or mother, or your wife at home, or someone else
somewhere else. While you’re sitting there, from your last chakra or synergic center, something goes to the next
and then the next. Then the whole thing burns inside. (603)
verse is not of merely intellectual interest. It has a great spiritual import.
To those who meditate on it and want to take benefit from it in their life, it
gives so much. It is just like Jesus saying, “Come to me, those who suffer.
Unload all your burdens on me.” Why should you carry them around in your head?
The whole thing is a supposition—leave it where it belongs. Feel right. Be
highlights from the very worthwhile article Banking Against Alzheimer’s, by
David A. Bennett (Scientific American Mind, July/August 2016)
Subtitle: Research has provided a
host of clues to age-proofing our brains and making them more resistant to
Several large longitudinal
studies are offering important clues about how we can bolster our brain to
better withstand the physical changes that come with aging.
Virtually all brains in old age
contain some pathological signs of Alzheimer’s disease, but only some people
suffer any symptoms as a result. Those who do not develop dementia appear to
have greater cognitive reserve to fall back on.
Choices we make throughout life,
from learning a second language or studying music in childhood to finding
purpose and remaining physically, intellectually and socially active in
retirement, can build cognitive reserve and dramatically reduce the risk of
The brain is the most adaptable of all our organs. As Alzheimer’s unfolds, it
fights back, drawing on cognitive reserve.
Education can help secure brain
health as we age. Bilingualism seems to delay the onset of dementia by as much
as four years.
Staying active, seeing friends,
being conscientious and feeling a sense of purpose in life all appear to reduce
the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Building a better brain as we age—
Based on the results of scores of
studies, here are 10 things you can do to reduce the risk of losing cognition
and developing Alzheimer’s dementia:
1. Pick your parents well! Make
sure you get good genes, a good education, a second language and music lessons.
Avoid emotional neglect.
2. Engage in regular cognitive
and physical activity.
3.Strengthen and maintain social
4. Get out and explore new
5. Chillax and be happy. [chill
6. Avoid people who are downers,
especially close family members!
7. Be conscientious and diligent.
8. Spend time in activities that
are meaningful and goal-directed.
9. Be heart-healthy: what’s good
for the heart is good for the brain.
10. Eat a MIND diet, with fresh
fruit and vegetable and fish.