Asatya Darsana verse 8
alone is the primal cause of the
by that which is none other than the
wielder of maya
all this is created,
like the unreal effects of psychic powers.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
Maya itself is the prime
Of the world; what is no
Created itself as various
unreal magical effects.
night was a special gathering, honored by the attendance of Tyagi Swami, next
in line of the Gurukula parampara to
succeed Muni Narayana Prasad as Guru. Tyagi, who some of us knew as Giri before
his promotion to Swami-hood, has always been a cosmic giggle incarnate. As a
younger fellow his response to many a question was to laugh and leap straight
up as high as he could, hands held prayerfully together over his head. Now he
keeps his feet on the ground while making invisible leaps of spirit, which are
most definitely contagious.
is a stroke of genius in Nitya’s analogy here of maya as a kind of refractive
index, producing a distortion that can be decoded by scientific examination. He
begins by describing the pencil in the water glass experiment that every
schoolchild knows, adding “There are certain fallacies which can persist at the
optical level, and these can only be detected through a process of deduction.”
The pencil looks bent every time it is slid into the water, and it continues to
look bent even when we have an accurate theory of why that is. Our knowledge
does not make the maya—the refraction—disappear, but it does allow us to get
over believing the pencil is bent when it isn’t. If we don’t apply the
principle we will remain deluded. You may even know some people who
dogmatically cling to their illusions and refuse any suggestion that there
might be a simple explanation leading to an alternative conclusion. That can
we in our study are willing and even eager to reduce the burden of illusions we
lug about with us. As Deb said at the beginning of the class, each situation is
presented to us with its own twist or bend, so Narayana Guru is reminding us
that within every situation is an abiding being, a stable truth, that can be
accessed by employing our intelligence. The pitfall, I added, is that we often
unintentionally substitute a new refractive index for the old one due to
half-baked beliefs. The problem is by no means as simple as it sounds.
course, we are using an optical illusion as a symbol for all of our illusions.
Nitya bridges the gap to put our task in plain terms:
At the time
of experiencing the illusion it
looks real. Being an illusion it cannot remain the same way all the time, so
that one soon discovers the fallacy of it. On discovering the fallacy, the
impression of reality vanishes.
My only quibble here is the word ‘soon’. The more important
fallacies are rather more complicated than pulling a pencil in and out of
water. In the case of the pencil, we can see the before and after states and
compare them. With mental refraction it is very hard to attain the “unbent”
state. It is not noted in any physics textbook, and the claims of scripture
often contain their own twists and turns while professing perfect straightness.
A stretch of contemplation is in order.
noted that maya is the primal cause of all this confusion. It is our old
perspective of bentness, and in the individual it is known as ignorance. I
added that maya is the way we understand the world, and that’s how we “create”
it. Jay sent in a very nice meditation on maya that you can read in Part II.
moves to the general point of his analogy in this way:
The principle of refraction is
one of the many laws of nature. What we call “nature” here is nothing but the
sum total of several such causal factors which produce similar effects on the
minds of people, and even on the people themselves. These various effects can
produce the joint effect of an apparently stable state of things, and we are
impressed by this “factual” consistency. As a result it gains a transactional
verity. But, as in the case of the optical illusion, apparent actuality can
prove to be fictitious when a careful scrutiny is made.
So the world holds up just fine. It all “works.” There isn’t
much of any incentive to resolve the confusion unless it pinches us.
Nonetheless the universe is pretty clever to pinch us in stimulating ways that
should impel a search for truth, yet we have learned any number of compensatory
strategies to make our uncomfortable position tolerable.
summed up the best of these imprisoning strategies as “the world is wrong, not
me!” Deb took Michael’s phrase a step farther: “You’re wrong; I’m right.” The
problem is in the pencil—it is clearly bent—and not in my understanding of
what’s going on. In other words, we don’t take the trouble to examine our role
in refraction, because the problem is so obviously “out there.” And we can
easily find an affinity group that will agree with us, proving we are right. This
does sound like the ego’s default position, doesn’t it? When will we dare to
stand up to it?
stimulated Deb and Tyagi to note that we are the very wielder of maya mentioned
in the verse. Peter defined wield as to use effectively, as in wielding
weapons. We wield our maya effectively, sort of: we use it to forge a distorted
path through the tangled jungle of our impressions. If it works, as it often
does, we may wrongly conclude we have found ultimate truth.
through this section the words of Nan Shin, the Zen nun quoted a couple of
classes back, ring true: “By not quite accepting, because they do not please
us, things that are so, we spend our
entire lives making meaningless gestures somewhere next door to reality.” She
is preaching acceptance. Not of acquiescence, as Jan worried, where we simply
capitulate to what is going on, but rather by being willing to face up to our
challenges instead of trying to escape to an imaginary oasis.
analogy continues to speak to our spiritual search:
have now compiled an index of
refraction, so that they can understand and deduce from that index what medium
is causing a certain refraction. In the same manner, maya is to be treated as a refractive index of the degree of
deviation in the erroneous transactions of life. In this way a realized person
can deduce from the collective effect of the world consciousness the only
reality, which is that of the Self. Then the transactional world loses its
power of compulsion, and one can attain freedom from what appears to be the
empirical world. In such a state one knows that there is no world other than
invited the class to give examples of how the “refractive index” of maya might
be used to rectify a problem. Not necessarily to achieve the Absolute but to
throw understanding onto what we are confronting. I gave an example from my
experience. I went to visit an old friend who invited me to come to his new
place. I was looking forward to a nice reacquaintance, but when I got there, he
was strangely cold and distant. I couldn’t figure out what was the matter. I
wondered if I’d offended him. Was it something I said? Was there some history
he was upset about I couldn’t remember? I tried a few gambits but the
atmosphere remained leaden, even on a walk through lovely countryside. Then it
dawned on me: he was high on some drug, probably pot. Aha! Pot naturally makes
you cautious if not suspicious with people who are not sharing your mental
state. Once I realized that, everything fell into place. Plus, I knew from
experience how to handle it better. I stopped trying to come on as an old
friend and allowed for more distance. After a while he relaxed some, and likely
came down as well. Later on our visit became decent anyway. It was a good
lesson for me not to jump to conclusions and to start slowly in such cases. I
had another “law of nature” to add to my pile of refractive indexes for
decoding unexpected behavior.
was struck by the importance of the phrase that if we can penetrate the veils
of maya, “the transactional
world loses its power of compulsion.” We are being compelled to do unfortunate
things—and fortunate things as well, let’s admit—by our misunderstandings. If
maya only caused mistakes, we would be in a terrible pickle. But it works and
it doesn’t work, so we bumble and stumble forward at its prodding. As Andy
reminded us, maya is sat-asat, both true and untrue. That is its secret power.
Jan mused that we need to find a balanced mental state so the compulsion
doesn’t blindly drive us. That balance would be found somewhere in the neutral
ground between sat and asat. After all, the pencil is both bent and straight at
the same time. It would be wrong to say it isn’t bent, but that’s not the whole
wondered if there was any distinction between this compulsion and our
legitimate inner drive, which is something we’ve been advocating for all along.
He’s right: these are two entirely different things. We have certain potential
abilities that are our best contribution to the whole of creation, and we
languish when these are not given opportunities for expression. Nitya called
this our primary drive, and encouraged us to free it from the impediments that
hold it in chains. We learn to bottle it up, and there it remains, like a
mythical genie. By contrast, the compulsions of a distorted view of the world
are not in accord with our inner genius, they are foisted on us by tradition
and social pressure. In a way, they are the bottle. In our analogy here, we are
surrounded by a chorus of beliefs that the pencil is definitely bent. Can’t you
see that it is? Traditional sexual roles that diminish a woman’s power to act
freely are a perfect example (men suffer similar diminution but less
obviously). You really shouldn’t do
those things, only men are capable. Can’t you see? That’s the way it is.
Several friends in the class are busily stripping away some of those sex-role
impediments thanks in part to the encouragement of Narayana Guru and Nitya.
there is an outer pressure to avoid our innate talents (“transactional
conpulsion”), and an inner drive to bring them out despite the opposition.
Mental health and happiness are dependent not so much on ignoring social
dictates willy-nilly, but rather reducing our responses to their compulsion in
favor of discovering our true identity with the Self. The Self is us, what we
truly are. The beauty of the Gurukula message, and Vedanta in general, is that
the truth does not lie elsewhere. It is our very nature.
class members are suspicious of Vedanta, and of directed effort in general. One
asked Tyagi if Nataraja Guru even was a Vedantin. Tyagi responded with
definitiveness that Nataraja Guru was an absolute Vedantin, that by defining
himself as an absolutist he was affirming his agreement with Vedanta. Another
wondered if Vedanta was a comprehensible belief system, and I responded that it
was not so much a fixed system as a tool for deconstructing false beliefs.
Vedanta emerged in response to the ossification of Vedic beliefs into a
imprisoning hierarchy that benefitted only those at the top. It reintroduced
the Absolute Self as common to all, and critiqued the myriad ways the psyche is
caught and dampened. Human history contains a repeated motif of bright ideas
becoming fixed and dead, and needing fresh insight to break free again. Vedanta
is one of those tools for regaining freedom. Where it has become an outmoded
set of beliefs it no longer serves its purpose, but at least the version
espoused by Narayana Guru is vividly transformative, if one takes it seriously.
Vedanta is certainly the closest philosophic system to what the Gurukula is
supposed to be sharing, though of course even such a liberating institution is
never free of tamasic tendencies that try to nudge it back into a stupor.
asked Tyagi how we are to find connection beyond maya, and he responded that
all transactions are within maya. They are
maya. The very Self is the subject here. The gurus are not rejecting, not
denying the world.
wondered about the line “the unreal effects of psychic powers.” What exactly
does that mean? I reminded him that he often retold a story of Nitya’s about
that very concept. Ah, yes! He knew what I meant, and recounted the tale,
helped by Peter, of the yogi who spent 20 years beside a river learning to walk
on water. His dedication eventually paid off, and one day his old guru came
along, looking for a ferry across the wide expanse. The yogi boasted that he
had learned to walk on water and could carry him across himself. He picked up
his guru and strode on top of the waves to the other shore. He put him down and
looked at the guru with prideful expectations. The guru gave him a dime, the
price of a ferry ride, thanked him and went on his way.
must be better ways to employ our precious time than to endlessly struggle for
an unattainable end that in the long run is virtually useless anyway.
asked the Swami if Narayana Guru had psychic powers. He said it was never about
that. The Guru was down-to-earth, proclaiming that the Self was all there was,
and not titillating people with promises of rare abilities. We already have
everything, so bring your life to that awareness.
talked about an ashram up north of us, run by a “star being” 40,000 years old.
Something like that. They spend their days learning to levitate. You could
spend your whole life learning to do something impossible, and check out
without contributing a single iota to the welfare of the world. But why? Of
course it would feel great to float up in the air. The bliss might last an
hour. What are you going to do, float forever? B-o-r-i-n-g. The real reason is
the ego’s endless search for attention and admiration. Poof. Narayana Guru
suggests we get over it and do something worthwhile.
might be a good idea to have a brief review of some of Darsanamala’s key
points, because we never seem to get them anyway. First, we should note that
Narayana Guru is talking about the unreal effects of psychic powers. Not
that there aren’t psychic powers, only that the effects are suspect, and don’t
meet the Vedantic definition of real anyway. I mean, playing the piano in top
form is an incredible psychic power, but we don’t make a religion about it. At
least not these days. Anyway, let’s look at our history in Darsanamala to date:
Like potential yogic power,
the beginning this was nature indeed;
like a yogi, the Lord of the World
his magical powers. (I.6)
The Lord is the magician who as maya creates the entire
world. The whole thing is a magic. This stage of evolution marks the
distinction between pure unconscious nature and sentience.
He from whom this world manifested,
a fig tree from a seed—
is Brahma, he is Shiva and Vishnu,
is the Absolute, he alone is all. (I.10)
In the present verse we have “Maya alone is the primal cause
of the world.” That’s the same as the “He” in the above verse. Maya is how the
Absolute comes into being. There is no piecemeal way to transition from nothing
to something. It has to happen all at once, like magic.
That which has no origin or
none other than the supreme Absolute;
maya the confusion arises that there
and dissolution in the Self. (II.3)
This which is unreal, being an
a cause; it is not the world,
the Absolute alone that is real,
a dull mind wrongly imagines to be unreal. (II.5)
Now in the second darsana, these two verses are a step
removed from the pure creation of the first darsana, and address how we project
unreality onto reality. We are still the wielders of maya, the Self as multiple
selves, broadcasting our confusion. Doesn’t that make us identical with the
When all parts are separated
by one, then one sees
as consciousness alone—
from maya—and not any other. (II.7)
alone, not another, shines;
there is nothing other than consciousness;
does not shine—that is unreal;
what is unreal—that does not shine. (II.8)
The reduction continues, as appearances are resolved into
nothing more than consciousness. Remember, Nataraja Guru’s overall picture of
the structure of Darsanamala is five darsanas at first deconstructing our false
orientation to arrive at the “pendant jewel” in the very middle of the work:
That alone is real. Then five more darsanas build a positive edifice back up on
top of this real-ized ground.
gist is that we already have a false structure in place, so if we just play
games and ignore it, it doesn’t go away. We have to pull down the old before
rebuilding a better outlook. Sure, cosmic inspiration can break through at any
point, but the ego is clever to use that idea to ensure that its comfy nest is
leads us nicely to a poem that Susan contributed in absentia, as she is now on
leave for several months. This is from Oregon’s best-known poet, William
Stafford, and demonstrates his affinity with what we’re bathing in here:
You Reading This, Be Ready
Starting here, what do you want
How sunlight creeps along a
What scent of old wood hovers,
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift
for the world
than the breathing respect that
wherever you go right now? Are
for time to show you some better
When you turn around, starting
here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry
all that you want from this day.
The interval you spent
reading or hearing this,
What can anyone give you greater
starting here, right in this
room, when you turn around?
a perfect poem, and a fitting close to our evening musings! The key to the poem
is that to fully experience the present we have to “turn around,” which is
mentioned twice so we don’t miss it. What could the poet mean?
thought patterns are grounded in what Stafford refers to as “waiting for time
to show you some better thoughts.” There is an expectation that the future will
exceed the present. This cannot help but make the present seem less than
perfect. Unreal. We have given our hearts away—a sordid boon, as some dead
white guy once said.
we showed that ideas like “you are wrong and I’m right,” or “the world is at
fault, not me,” are the self-binding beliefs we are asked to turn around from.
We are the very wielders of maya. Only if we focus on our own shortcomings,
then, will we be able to fully realize our dire condition, and begin to access
the ecstatic alternative of being fully alive in the present.
Guru and the poet both insist that there is intelligent effort involved in
bringing ourselves back to full aliveness in the present. Not so much academic
intelligence as intuitive, inspired intelligence. We hardly realize the degree
to which we have sacrificed our presence to wishful thinking. In place of the
poet’s rhetorical plea: “What can anyone give you greater than now…?” we make
promises for what we hope to have or what we will become in the future. Over
time this has settled into a state reminiscent of “making futile gestures somewhere next door to reality.”
Being bold enough to enter the present frightens us mainly because it is so
real, so brimming over with ananda.
Guru is taking his time to carefully instruct us, so we can cut to the chase
and dedicate ourselves to gifting the world our “breathing respect.” We can
honor everything we encounter for what it is, not what we’d prefer it to be. We
can respire the truth of our environment, breathing it in and slowly letting it
out so we can breathe it in again. There is a subtle extra implication here
that we should do this while we are alive and breathing. We may not be of much
interest to our fellow beings when we’re dead and no longer exchanging air. So
let’s live like this now, giving everything our best no matter what. When we
do, it begins to look like what comes along is always an essential teaching and
an extraordinary blessing. And we’ve been unintentionally turning our backs to
it. Let us swivel around and greet it with open arms. Aum.
Maya is what does not exist at
all. When we say that the non-existent maya
is the prime material cause of the world it goes without saying that the world
is not real. Maya is not other than
the Self and the resulting world which is its effect is not different from the maya-maker
which is the Self. The
various unreal magical effects are none other than their Author. Even, thus,
they are unreal. In the same way the world is none other than the Lord,
although it is non-existent.
reading the text, Jay sent this:
Interesting analogy of Maya (asatya) with the refraction.
The refraction is produced because of the difference in the composition
(density) of the media through which the light passes. Similarly Maya is also
the medium which Jivatma experiences. When the difference disappears the refraction
ceases. This also is true of Atma and Paramatma (or of Maya and its creator).
Thus the journey of this life is to eliminate the difference between Atma and
if not eliminate, at least compensate for the disparity
some more thoughts about Maya, Jay later wrote:
Maya as such is not bad. How can it be bad when it is
created by the creator (Shiva). As a matter of fact she is the other half of
Maya becomes illusion? In Gita Krishna has said,
Ch2, verse47 = Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana.
says your duty is to do your Karma, don’t get attached
It is this attachment, is the pollution which changes
nature of Atma. This we may call the change in refractive index.
very fact that we all go through the cycles of birth
and death is this karma principle.
Now let us look at the benevolent aspect of Maya. Maya is
also Shakti, the same creative force of Shiva. This is the fundamental
vibrating principle of life. It is present in each and every one and in all the
living and not living in the universe. It is the unifying principle in this
universe. In human being this Shakti allows us to express and experience
everything. We in physical or biological sense generate Shakti (energy) by
assimilating and metabolizing the food we consume. The energy coinage in our
body is ATP. This is produced in subcellular organelles called MITOCHONDRIA. In
humans mitochondria are inherited from mother only. Father does not contribute
them. Also as we know mitochondria have their DNA. Hinduism is the only living
religion that worships God in the form of woman. Thus this Shakti worship has
philosophical as well as scientific sense. For someone like me every day is
been thinking more about the index of refraction in psychological terms, as it
strikes me as a very useful analogy. Today I recalled a political version that
I have found very helpful in understanding the machinations of the US
government at home and around the world, and thought I might as well share it.
It may be applied to other entities around the world as well.
Machiavelli well knew, most humans have a trusting attitude about those around
them, especially their “superiors,” and this can readily be exploited. Most of
us presume that the motivation of everyone is just like ours: toward peace and
calm, sure that war and cruelty are terrible things that should be avoided
whenever possible. This natural mindset is reinforced on all levels of our
education by parents, schools, and places of worship. So why is it that the
policies our country undertakes so often clash with those ideals? Why is it
that so many efforts backfire so badly? The pencil dipped in political waters
is radically bent, to the point it makes no sense.
the index of refraction in this case is quite simple, but it goes against our
deepest convictions, and so we have a hard time considering it is even
possible. Briefly stated, in some circles conflict is seen as either a good
thing or a necessary evil. Our economy is based on war, so war is the goal.
Peace doesn’t generate income, but war makes it pour from the heavens. So the
policy is to generate enmity and then combat it, while being careful not to
extinguish it. It may be disguised with democratic and religious terminology,
but once you see through the disguise, once you accept that the direction of
policy is to develop moneymaking opportunities on a vast scale through creating
enemies that must be fought with expensive weaponry, the pencil becomes
straight once again.
well remember the sickly green faces of the US Establishment in the early
1990s, after the Soviet Union resigned from the Cold War and turned its
attention to privatizing the wealth that its idealistic citizens had
contributed to their commonweal for three quarters of a century. You could
clearly see their perplexity: how can we keep the economy burning red hot
without an enemy? It wasn’t long before a new one was conscripted, and they
could relax. Muslims would be the new face of evil internationally, while
blacks could continue to fill the role at home. The threat of peace and justice
was averted yet again, and everyone’s job was secure.
seeing these workings doesn’t do much to bring them to a halt. At least a
person can stop supporting shark-in-sheep’s-clothing types of political
candidates, stop praying that they really are sheep after all. Most yogis like
to comprehend how things work, if only to avoid becoming further entangled in
samsara, and sometimes there are opportunities to actually support true peace
and justice initiatives. I am very fond of two quotes especially from Nitya’s
Patanjali book, Living the Science of
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)
Yoga is not a passive way
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
I suppose this implies that a moral conscience is not
absolutely necessary, but many of us are cursed to have one. Anyway, each of us
is entrusted with one soul to try to keep from causing more harm than is
inevitable: ourselves. The Portland Gurukula is dedicated to that ideal.