Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Three - Verse Ten


Asatya Darsana verse 10


The One is real, not a second;

the unreal indeed appears to be real;

the sivalingam is stone alone,

not a second made by the sculptor.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


One (alone) is real, not a second:

What is unreal indeed seems as being real;

The Siva-lingam is stone itself,

Not a second made by the sculptor.


         Over the years I have developed a good habit of writing up the class the morning after it takes place. Due to unavoidable demands this week I have missed my rhythm, and will have to cobble something together long after the glow of the class has faded into the background. What’s more, I don’t have Susan’s excellent summations these days to draw on. Too bad, since the Asatya Darsana has turned out to be so powerful and essential. But I’ll give it my best shot.

         We are now in the stage of spiritual search that most of us are content to consider already over and done with. Hey, we get it, so let’s move on to the fun stuff. Whether or not we really do get it, the problem with this attitude is that it dualizes spirituality into a process with a before and after, which is precisely what Narayana Guru is scrupulous to avoid.

         The Guru has no specific program he wants to inculcate, since we do not need any predetermined pathway to become the spark of truth we already embody. This is what is meant by Bill’s frequent invocation of Zen master Suzuki Roshi saying that we don’t sit in Zen to accomplish anything, we sit because it is our true nature. Spiritual programs lead to being stuck, to being “secondary” in the terms of the present verse. Direct involvement is primary. Once you have a fixed program you are outside the essential reality, as the histories of religion and science teach us. What was once firmly believed is now viewed as an absurd anachronism. Learning a specific skill is another matter, and that’s where programs of development have their place. But we’re after something else here.

         All so-called evolutionary steps are integral aspects of a unitive event of heightened awareness. We don’t self-examine and then move on to Elysian fields. Everything is already taking place within the Elysian field. The self-examination is the way we open ourselves to our complete reality, sometimes called our true being. If critical questioning stops, we are likely to stagnate. What is heralded by the ego as spiritual growth may turn out to be nothing more than a new way of giving up and going back to sleep.

         And no, it’s not just Scott being a jerk again, as usual. In any case, I’m not the original jerk. Daniel Pinchbeck, in his most excellent book Breaking Open the Head, salts his work with a couple of pithy quotes that could adorn the gates of eternity. First, a sweet one from author Joseph Conrad: “One must explore deep and believe the incredible to find the new particles of truth floating in an ocean of insignificance.” Then there is this classic from Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections:


Whenever there is a reaching down into innermost experience, into the nucleus of the personality, most people are overcome by fear and many run away…. The risk of inner experience, the adventure of the spirit, is in any case alien to most human beings. The possibility that such experience might have psychic reality is anathema to them.


Astonishingly, Jung’s observation is just about as true of spiritual seekers as those who believe only in superficial realities. The primary difference is the method of denial.

         The class began, naturally enough, with an examination of the sivalingam icon. We passed around a group of pictures of them found on the internet, for those unfamiliar with the ubiquitous image from the Siva temples and central to Siva worship. Narayana Guru himself was grounded in the Saivite tradition. While having extremely complex implications, the essential sculpture consists of a conical, rather phallic stone rising out of a stylized vagina-like receptacle. As with much traditional art, there is little variation in how it is realized. Nitya provides essential background in his commentary:


In India the sivalingam is an icon carved out of stone by a sculptor, which is used as a protolinguistic expression of the omnipresent auspiciousness of everlasting, existential beauty. Just as children may see a motorcar, a dog, or a man in the piece of wood, adults also use the crutches of icons as pegs to hang their ideas on.

   In the previous nine verses of the Asatya Darsanam it was clearly shown to us that our notion of the world is eidetic. In the sivalingam there is neither a phallic emblem nor the auspicious Absolute—it is only a piece of stone, but the sculptor can visualize the indescribable Absolute in it.


         I likened the sivalingam to two prominent symbols we all use without a second thought: the numerals 1 and 0, the one thrusting through the other. Interacting fruitfully, these genital-like numerals can be made to produce a digital universe that is hard to distinguish from an analog one. In the twenty-first century we worship the digital icons far more than any supplicants in a Hindu temple ever could admire a sculpture. One and oneness are visually as well as conceptually related.

         Zero also indicates undifferentiated unity in another way, described by Buddhists as sunyata, the shining void. In this study also, we are invited to substitute nothingness for our false beliefs. Surprisingly, this does not lead to despair, which is all modernity currently offers as the fruit of deconstruction, by taking away our security blankets while providing no tangible substitute. In Narayana Guru’s perspective, we contact the fullness of the depths of our being by first popping the balloon of our provisional hypotheses, otherwise known as our ignorance and stupidity.

         Bill recalled our good friend Thomas P. as waking up each morning for many years with the thought, “Up till today I have been foolish. From now on I will do better.” A simultaneously humbling and energizing affirmation. Science itself is a continuum where surmises are examined and found wanting, and so upgraded to new and better surmises. This is a vast improvement over clinging to outmoded surmises. Yet each dog has its day.

         Jan wondered why and how this tenth verse is the culmination of the chapter, a worthy question as there is a definite direction to each darsana. As noted earlier, these last few verses are segueing into the next group, the Maya Darsana. This is a good place to affirm that the One is real and all representations of it are unreal, at least in terms of how accurately they represent oneness, and that’s precisely what this verse does. This conundrum is the essence of maya, and the key to the entire deconstructive process we have been undertaking.

         Deb responded to Jan that the Asatya Darsana undercuts everything, so here at the end Narayana Guru reaffirms the uncuttable essence. (Recall Gita II. 23-25: Weapons do not cut This, fire does not burn This, and water does not wet This; wind does not dry This. Indeed it is uncleavable; It is non-inflammable; It is unwettable and non-dryable also—everlasting, all-pervading, stable, immobile; It is eternal. It is undefined, unthinkable is It, as non-subject to change is It spoken of.) Moreover, the lingam is the most important visual element in Siva worship. In the history of Asian art, one of Deb’s specialties, she noted there is a deep root that produces the manifold expressions: their exuberance is all tied together by oneness.

         I have often wondered if the verse was expressed wrong somehow, that the word not should be deleted and it should read: “the sivalingam is stone alone, a second made by the sculptor.” Certainly the sculpture is not the entirety of the Absolute, it is only a symbol signifying the Absolute, and therefore secondary, which is the main thrust of the Asatya Darsana and Nitya’s magnificent commentary on it. No one was able to make a case for it in the class. Perhaps you can send us one….

         In any event, the stone’s identity as a sivalingam is intrinsically meaningless; we have to penetrate to the reality it represents before it can have any value for us. Let’s bow to Nitya’s trenchant elucidation:


The main operational meaning of linga is the application of a conceptualized idea expressed through the medium of a protolinguistic ideogram, such as a sign or symbol, or through the metalinguistic expression of a name. When we understand the full implication of linga in this way, the word sivalingam as a phallic emblem of Siva turns out to be a narrow meaning. Siva stands for the indestructible reality without beginning or end, which by its own nature is awareness through and through, and which is peaceful due to its having no modifications whatsoever. Even the term “unnameable” is a name; the qualification “indescribable” is already a description. When the indescribable is indicated with a sign or symbol, it becomes sivalingam.


So it seems to me that Nitya is already bumping the verse up to mean that the sivalingam isn’t even a symbol for most of us, it’s just an oddly shaped stone, period. Unless you are steeped in Indian iconography, it won’t tell you anything about the Absolute at all. There is nothing within the shape that says “Absolute.” Since we are engaged in deconstruction at this stage of the Darsanamala, it sounds like this is indeed what the Guru is after. Wow. Intense. Iconoclastic. It’s almost blasphemous; it certainly is from an orthodox perspective.

         If this is true, the sculptor can never make an adequate symbol for the Absolute. All our creations are doomed from the start to be unreality masquerading as reality. It’s scary. Happily, later on Narayana Guru will be reconstructing a bare bones essential framework for a harmoniously functioning universe, which gives due credence to the existent miracle of our harmoniously functioning universe. But first he has to strip all the flotsam and jetsam out of the way.

         Nitya credits the artist as knowing the limits of their craft, which is nice of him. Most of us do what we do out of a conviction we are channeling reality. We think our version is better, more beautiful or whatever. The thirst to depict something excellent is what impels the artist to create in the first place. In some respects not being inhibited by a wise philosophy allows creativity to blast through all barriers more readily. Nitya depicts how the meditative artist, by contrast, goes about creating beauty:


Before the sculptor begins to work on a stone he conceives the idea of the symbol that is to represent for him and others the idea of the Absolute. He knows pretty well that the attributes of the Divine, such as timelessness, omniscience, and omnipresence can never be adequately presented through his craftsmanship. These eternal values in his mind belong to the vertical order. The medium and the craft used to convert the medium into a message belong to the horizontal order. In the sivalingam, which he carves out of a stone, he combines his vertical value parameter and the horizontal craft and medium into a single holistic expression.


         This is a crucial insight, and a perfect use for Nataraja Guru’s Cartesian coordinate analogy of the vertical and horizontal. Our unfoldment as human beings as well as artists is an invisible vertical process that is only roughly indicated by the ways we express it in actual horizontal terms. What we see and show is always an analogy for the entirety of what we are. This evoked in Deb the image of the river, always flowing, even as it produces an endless variety of gorgeous temporary patterns.

         Of course, we continually relate to the actual products of our efforts as if they were eternal and universal. This is fair enough, yet our partisanship may lead to dreadful consequences, such as wanting to eradicate alternatives to what we consider worthy. Nitya cautions explicitly against this:


There is always the possibility of people of lesser intuitive perception missing the message and looking upon the material artifact as a reality in itself. The great crusade made by the Prophet Muhammad and his followers against idolatry is in its truest purport a call to recognize the essence. Yet even in such a noble endeavor, fanatical enthusiasts missed the message and have come to the same level as the idolaters in looking at the artifact as an object of hatred.


It is only fair to include the rest of us as potential transgressors:


This kind of protolinguistic ideogram is not confined to the followers of Siva. In the Christian form of worship such symbolic expressions are used extensively. In C. G. Jung’s Man and His Symbols we can see the extensive use of symbolic representations by people belonging to all cultures and times. Metaphors, similes, and other allegorical expressions used in language differ from the stone-wrought image of the sivalingam only in the medium selected by the exponent.


         So in a way we are condemned to live by analogy. Yet with Darsanamala we are being led to include more direct experience at the heart of how we express ourselves.

         Deb concluded from this that the wise love each other for what they are, not for what they believe. We argue when we are attached to our favorite images; the wise are not.

         Paul was brought up in a fundamentalist Christian environment. He remembered young girls in tears because they had been bawled out for not wearing the requisite old-fashioned dress on a Wednesday night—a perfect example of the absurdity of beliefs. How in the world could choosing one type of clothing over another influence your relationship with the essence of the universe? And yet we fall for more sophisticated versions of such lunacy all the time. We choose all kinds of window-dressings because we are assured they are going to make us a better person in one respect or another. Foolish. It keeps us busy, at any rate.

         Luckily for us, mistaking an image for reality, while nearly inevitable, is functionally efficient so long as we are aware of the discrepancy. Paul noted how images do help us to input the beyond, so are necessary. This is the essential paradox: we need them and they work, but they are not eternal, and so not ultimately real. We have to be prepared to continually modify and upgrade our imagery. Even recognizing our perceptions as imagery instead of “truth,” “reality,” and so on, is an important step. Our mental framing is always inadequate. It works for a while, then gets bogged down and stuck. We lose our flexibility. We have to let go to avoid tragic fixations.

         While Nitya has made the connection between art and idolatry perfectly clear here, he has continually added affirmations throughout the study to help us deal with the ferocity of the material. The idea is that by stripping away our dependency on metaphors, we may access something solid beneath the façade. Since we are timid souls, we need to have faith in an essential solidity to help us move forward. Without it we may come to a grinding halt in confusion, or even lash out in anger, as religious fanatics are wont to do. This is a risk we take if we wholeheartedly enter into the mystical power of Narayana Guru’s teachings, which is why we have spent so much effort in assuring a global, all-inclusive, loving attitude is in place before we begin breaking down the barricades. As an anonymous friend recently wrote, it is wise to have a staunch friend at our side to reel us in if we go off course. Nitya agrees:


It is with the best of intentions that one begins to set out in the search for truth. As the search is directed by a finite mind using the finite doors of perception and the limited concepts of word images, sooner or later the seeker is likely to confine their final summation of truth as a fixed entity visualized by the individual’s mind. This is in no way different from the sculptor deciding to express his visualization of the Absolute in the form of a sivalingam. It certainly helps him and another person of identical vision to sense the Absolute by extrapolating the meaning of the symbol beyond the scope of the manmade artifact, as well as by interpolating into the medium the purest of notions that can never be confined to any form or name.


I read out a relevant part of my Gita commentary that I think makes this kind of framing more explicit, and will append it in Part II. I use contemplative words as my most creative art form, where others prefer music or visual imagery and so on. Nitya wants us to always remain humble that no matter what our chosen medium we will never achieve the unachievable, and affirms that there are always pros and cons in every endeavor:


We began this chapter by saying that all that is, is the mind. Unless one transcends the conditioned operation of the mind he will again and again come back, through the back door as it were, to the same world of ignorance that he is trying to escape by adopting one device after another. Empirical perception can be erroneous or valid, but in either case it comes under the category of relativity. That is why modern scientists like Einstein, Planck, and Heisenberg are discrediting the possibility of attaining any final version of truth. The rishis of India are not pessimistic about the realization of truth. They do not identify the Self with the mind. By knowing the Self one becomes truth. This point is going to be elaborated in the next chapter.


         This is the ultimate paradox of our position as sentient beings. Art both indicates the One and pushes it away. Neither aspect is adequate by itself. We have to dynamically combine both together to be fully alive.

         Finally, Nitya leaves us with a few words of summation to what the Asatya Darsana has been all about:


This chapter is mainly to focus our attention on sifting the unreal from the real…. Even after making such a rational assessment of the several pitfalls that we may come across in the world of names and forms, there is no guarantee that such knowledge will spare us from conditionings.


Conditionings are after all an integral and unavoidable part of how our body-minds function. We can work to rewire our conditioning to optimize it, and keep aware of its influence. Beyond that, we may be fortunate to have moments of liberation when our conditioning loosens its grip and we can catch our breath in freedom. Our well-directed efforts help align us with that possibility.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary strikes me as inverting or at least convoluting the verse’s sentiments:


         It is the Self that alone is real. Anything other than the Self is not at all real. The unreal world merely has a semblance of the real. That which seems like the Siva-lingam (i.e., the phallic emblem of Siva) is really the stone itself. As for the Siva-lingam it merely seems as if it is a reality independent of the stone. What is real is the stone and the Siva-lingam is what is supposed on the basis of what really exists. The Siva-lingam is not one that the sculptor made independently of the stone. It is the stone itself. The stone is real and the Siva-lingam is unreal. In the same manner the Absolute is real and the world is unreal. The unreal world (only) seems real.


*         *         *


         Here is the poem Deb read out, which eloquently expresses the spirit of our present contemplations:


In Memory of Joseph Brodsky

by Mark Strand


It could be said, even here, that what remains of the self

Unwinds into a vanishing light, and thins like dust, and heads

To a place where knowing and nothing pass into each other, and through;

That it moves, unwinding still, beyond the vault of brightness ended,

And continues to a place which may never be found, where the unsayable,

Finally, once more is uttered, but lightly, quickly, like random rain

That passes in sleep, that one imagines passes in sleep.

What remains of the self unwinds and unwinds, for none

Of the boundaries holds – neither the shapeless one between us,

Nor the one that falls between your body and your voice. Joseph,

Dear Joseph, those sudden reminders of your having been – the places

And times whose greatest life was the one you gave them – now appear

Like ghosts in your wake. What remains of the self unwinds

Beyond us, for whom time is only a measure of meanwhile

And the future no more than et cetera et cetera ... but fast and forever.


*         *         *


         My Gita commentary excerpted from VII, 3, in keeping with the spirit of the verse, aims to nudge us out of our habitual complacency:


3)         Among thousands of men, one perchance strives for perfection. Even among the striving who have attained, one perchance knows Me according to proper principles.


         The first thousand under reference are the multitudes that busy themselves with mundane matters—getting and spending and all that. Only the rare individual wants to know the meaning of life, and how to detach from all that ceaseless and circumscribed activity. This is not at all surprising. It is the rarity of the second order of magnitude that makes us wonder.

         Many of those who “seek the havens” (Tolkien) or “dance to a different drummer” (Thoreau) initially feel superior that they are “far from the madding crowd” (Hardy). Unfortunately, the vast majority are merely looking to replace an old, outdated formula with a more modern, up-to-date one. Or a more ancient and venerable one. They believe that by learning a few rote phrases or ideas or following some prescribed practice they have accomplished all that is possible. But Krishna assures us that the Absolute cannot be reached by any formula. Only the rare soul who dares to step outside all artificial barriers has the potential to meet it face to face.

         There is a world of difference between the rare individual in touch with their dharma who truly marches to the beat of a nonconforming drummer, and those who only read about it and then fantasize and dream about different drummers in a romantic way, but timidly stick close to the tried and true. The latter make up the 999 of the second thousand who don’t know the Absolute according to proper principles.

         A brief survey of history will show us that even the most perfect formula quickly becomes a stale cliché. Humanity preserves the best formulas the longest, but over time they lose their meaning and become empty strings of syllables. The second thousand is mainly made up of repeaters of improved slogans, but who are not striving to learn their meaning. There is really very little to separate them from their mundane brethren. They want a code of laws to cling to. They are not interested in real matters of the spirit, “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (Jesus)

         One in a thousand thousands is one in a million, the very phrase used today to indicate maximum rarity. If it were as common as one in a million, there would be almost 7ooo enlightened humans on earth at present. Probably the true figure is more like one in a billion. But Krishna is trying to teach something more than simple rarity. He wants us to avoid the easy pitfalls of spiritual egotism. We must ask ourselves if we are simply acting out our old habits dressed in fancy clothing, and thereby disguising our shortcomings from ourselves. Can we dare to stand naked in our own candid assessment? Or must we always dwell in a “culture of make believe,” (Derrick Jensen) in order to validate ourselves in the eyes of others? Who will dare to make their life real?

         If there is any scripture that should be viewed as not peddling a formula but recommending transcending all formulas, the Bhagavad Gita is it.


Part III


         I might have mentioned in passing that the river Deb mentioned is an ideal symbol of the horizontal/vertical coordinates. The flow of the river is its vertical aspect, while each ensemble along the course is a horizontal component. The nice thing about the analogy is how easy it is to accept both aspects simultaneously—how could you have a river with only one axis or the other? They quite naturally go together.


         I’ve also been thinking about Ramana Maharshi’s advice to ponder the question “Who am I?” We live in a world obsessed with getting the right answer and being done with it, and much spirituality bears the stain. Ramana’s question has a well-known and simple answer: I am the Absolute; we are all the Absolute. But the answer is meaningless without mulling over the question. That’s where all the understanding comes from. That’s what transforms us. Being the Absolute can mean anything. What it does mean is whatever we put into it by contemplating it with our whole heart and soul.


*         *         *


         Amara was in synchrony with us, and sent her imspiration, implying that the sivalingam activates or is activated in the seventh chakra:


Last night I was reading aloud Verse 9 in the Saundaryalahari.

The last line of the verse strikes me as referencing the deep symbolism of the sivalingam.


“…You do sport with your Lord secretly in the thousand-petaled lotus.”


Nitya opens his commentary of this verse by saying,

“ In this verse we are given a functional structure for the relation of the personal self to the universal Self.”


This verse in total reads…


The earth place in the muladhara, water in manipura,

Fire in svadhisthana, air in the heart, with space above,

And amid eyebrows placing the mind,

while breaking through, You do sport with your Lord secretly

in the thousand-petaled lotus.


Scott Teitsworth