Maya Darsana verse 1
What is not known, that is maya;
it alone shines as many forms:
vidya, avidya, para,
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
is not real, that is Negation
by itself, as science-nescience,
darkness and prime potency
Nature, in many forms, looms.
first verse of the Maya Darsana is basically a list of the topics we will
examine over the entire course of the ten verses. Its first half is an
exceptional definition, as Deb pointed out, one that practically equates maya
with the Absolute: maya is what is not known, but shines as the many created
forms of existence. Isn’t that exactly how the Absolute is described elsewhere?
Guru lived in a time (don’t we all!) when maya had become a cliché for the
problems of life, the intrinsic opposition posed by transactional encounters;
what my father called “the obstinacy of the inanimate.” Something to curse, a
hostile force pitilessly pitted against us. The Guru felt we should appreciate
maya’s absolute necessity and wonderfulness, counterbalancing the negativity
with a positive spin, and aiming ultimately for neutrality of course. If we are
going to be free of maya’s heavy pressure, we have to seriously realign our
attitude about it.
that end we had a very fruitful discussion in the class. There was fruit all
through, starting with the frosty juice of our backyard apples and grapes that
got us off to a roaring start, moving on to fruit ripening as a perfect metaphor
for the evolutionary process.
ramped us up by pointing out how all the aspects of maya listed in the verse
are in a sense negations of the unsullied Absolute ground of being. Whenever
something exists, it at least appears to be separate from the ocean of pure
potential that spawned it. Actual existence is invariably limited. All the
eight words stand for negations in the sense of not being eternal conditions,
and they cover the whole of manifestation.
is essential to remember that negation is by no means an evil. I noted how the
idea of evil is a projection, and a selfish one at that. The modern mind is
obsessed with good versus evil. “Maya is an evil. Ignorance, tamas, all evil.”
It’s essentially a clever ego ploy. If we view evil as external to us, we can
blame others for everything and conveniently ignore the area where we actually
could do some improving work—in ourselves. I recalled that the original Aramaic
words that were translated into good and evil in the Bible, during a
particularly brutal period in European history, originally meant ripe and
unripe. I’ve said this before, but it finally seemed to click with the group
how liberating that idea is. We are not pitted against an implacable enemy
dedicated to evil, just someone who has more to learn. We are all in a slow
process of ripening, and all of us are at different stages of the process. In
order to make things better, we can help each other and be supportive of the
ripening that’s going on, instead of trying desperately to eradicate that
terrible other fellow, and in the process putting our own ripening on hold too.
idea of yoga is not to defeat ignorance with knowledge, for instance, but to
see how in every situation we evince an admixture of knowledge and ignorance.
They go together, inextricably. By despising ignorance we merely polarize our
psyche, creating a schism where there doesn’t have to be any. Compassion isn’t
just a kindness, then, it is a way of healing all sides of the equation, and it
has to begin with a global understanding.
wanted to know how this teaching could be actually applied, always a critical
element of the study. I suggested that we are used to making plans and carrying
them out, but especially when changes are in the air, we are better off to
restrain our desires to have things turn out in a certain way. This philosophy
recognizes a total context of harmonious unfoldment that we are an integral
part of, and we cut ourselves off from it to some degree when we selfishly push
our personal agenda. Of course, tough times are just when we feel most pressed
to come up with solutions in our own best interests, but that is just when we
should restrain our enthusiasms. If we have a measure of confidence that
ripening is taking place, we should give it plenty of room to happen. Holding
on to a fixed idea of what will make us happy is bound to cause anxiety, while
an optimistic openness invites all sorts of unanticipated potentials to join
the dance. The attitude might be “Let’s see how this will turn out,” in place
of “This is what I need to have.”
way this can be accomplished is by reframing your enemy as a fellow human being
looking for happiness just as you are. It might be possible to work toward a
common goal of happiness in place of believing your happiness depends on a
diminishment of the happiness of the other. That person may well believe that
you’re playing a zero sum game, with winners and losers, so you have to be
alert to such problems even as you advocate for compromise and mutual accord.
our expectations does not mean restraining our participation. We still have
much to do; only it is open-ended. Flexible. We don’t entertain worries and
fears, which fill the void where the ocean of potential needs to be freest to
operate. Jan did like the ocean image here, by the way:
When we survey the events,
situations, and existential experiences of life, we can see that it is a
continuously changing pattern of mysterious emergences and equally mysterious
remergences. Life on Earth can be compared to a vast ocean, over whose surface
roll the emerging waves of birth and remerging ripples of death. Birth and
death, heat and cold, pain and pleasure, victory and defeat, fame and disgrace
– all such dual aspects of life come as ceaseless agitations of our objective
and subjective consciousness.
Standing back far enough to see the overall patterns of
emergence and remergence leaves room for all kinds of new possibilities to fill
the void. (The book has a typo here: “the re-emerging ripples of death,” which
makes no sense. The ripples of death remerge, not re-emerge.)
every situation is an opportunity to fine-tune our outlook, and life is always
kind to furnish us with chances for improvement, so long as we don’t cop an
attitude that we are victims of oppression and therefore helpless. We are
brilliant beings that have barely touched our vast potential, and our
challenges are goads to wake up and be more fully alive.
are conditioned to demand and expect success, but one of the best insights of
our class was how failure should be embraced as a tremendous positive factor.
If we have limited expectations, success means we will remain glued to our
tunnel vision. Failure may well cause us to expand our parameters dramatically.
It can be a force to break our tamasic mental cocoon, and consequently open
doors to renewed sattvic possibilities. In a society that shuns failure and
insists on success, we are well trained to deny this key element in evolution.
Hostile public opinion is precisely what makes ripening so difficult. We
struggle to put lipstick on our failures to make them look like successes,
rather than admitting what went wrong and trying to do better.
has developed a new respect for failure, and is now framing it as a
deconditioning aid. He noted how so many times we walk down the same dead end
streets, getting nowhere, yet pretty soon there we are again, unconsciously
making the same mistakes. It’s hard to stop doing what we are so thoroughly
trained to do, unless an awareness of failure somehow seeps in. Failure gives
us the incentive to change for the better, opening the door to creative
Deb’s previous day at the prison dialogue group, they talked a lot about
failure, how to accept it and use it as an opportunity for growth. One of the
inmates knew Pema Chodron’s book on the subject, which I will put excerpts from
in Part II. She says very similar things to what we discussed about maya, so
it’s well worth a look. At one point she mentions James Joyce:
Someone gave me a quote,
something from James Joyce’s Ulysses, where
Joyce wrote about how failure can lead to discovery. And he actually didn’t use
the word “failure”; he used the word “mistake,” as in making a mistake. He
said, that mistakes can be “the portals of discovery.” In other words, mistakes
are the portal to creativity, to learning something new, to having a fresh look
Many of you may remember verse 95 of That Alone, which is excellent background
reading for this darsana,
as well as one of the very best chapters of that book. I’ll clip in a short bit
from it for Part II also, where Nataraja Guru and Gurdjieff advocate for making
another example of how to work with maya. An old friend of mine has been
suffering from an undiagnosed ailment: a splitting headache that has lasted for
several weeks. Doctors were no help. My friend—a rather high-strung type—was
very worried, and fantasized about all sorts of terrible outcomes. To make a
long story short, he finally found the cause, which was essentially jaw
clenching from stress (and consequent worry), relaxed the area with massage and
pain medication, and had an explosive release of the pain. The headache then
is a perfect example of maya in action. When we don’t know what’s going on,
even if we think we do, we project
all kinds of weird possibilities, making ourselves miserable. Once we figure it
out, we are much more likely to stop abusing ourself. Telling ourselves a
falsely positive story may help a little, but it turns us away from finding the
actual cause of our problem, so we may ignore a treatable condition. The best
outcome is full comprehension.
bottom line is that, particularly in matters that disturb us or cause us pain,
we need to dig in and find the true cause. Otherwise the problem will continue
to plague us. We may soldier on and get used to the thorn—we often do—but
wouldn’t it be much better to remove it?
describes the situation this way:
In any experience in which there
is an element of mystery there are two functions. One is the emergence of
something out of an unknown factor. The other is the disappearance of what
seemed to be factual into another unknown factor. In either or both the
emergence and remergence, we experience the positivity of pleasure or
negativity of pain.
key is that with diligence we can decode the mysteries of maya, and spare
ourselves and our associates much unhappiness. Looking back to the Apavada
Darsana, verse 7, Nitya notes, “the Guru says a close scrutiny of the apparent
reality of things restores all individuated objects to their primeval status as
the Absolute. When viewed from this standpoint, maya becomes irrelevant.” Going back to the very beginning of
work, he says:
It may seem to us as if maya functions
in a magical way, yet one who understands how to perform magic is no stranger
to its secrets. The magician is the master of his mysterious world. As there is
a secret to be mastered in the practice of magic, so also there is one to be
penetrated if we are to understand the mystery and power of maya. (I.2)
Really there isn’t much to distinguish between this attitude
and ordinary consciousness. Only this: for most people, things exist in
isolation, but for yogis there is a conviction that there is a unifying ground
that ties everything together. That idea by itself makes a world of difference.
Unfortunately, since the ground is not manifest, it isn’t as obvious as all the
material things that so captivate us. Many (unripe) people are content to ignore
thee unifying principle and stick to what they can perceive with their senses.
It usually takes a colossal failure of some sort to open the mind to the more
complete picture. Paul quoted a favorite bumpersticker: We are here to
eliminate the illusion of separation. My addition: illusion can’t be
eliminated, but it can lose its grip on us. Then “maya becomes irrelevant,” or
at least less pressing. Less demeaning.
wields some Vedanta in his commentary, listing the four main types of
negativity according to Indian philosophers. Number 4 got a laugh:
atyantabhava – In a lump of granite there is no trace of milk. Here we have
a negation arising from the total absence of one thing in another.
It reminded me of our daughter Emily, when she was nearly two
years old, asserting that the family dog was not a candlestick. That also drew
idea of negativity was the most fruitful stimulant for the class. Scotty
recalled how his qigong instructor always spoke about creating space. Scotty
thought of it as zooming to zero, dissolving into nothingness. His friend Uma,
who graced us with her presence, was taught that you have to create a void to
promote change; she felt it was a crucial idea. How can change happen if we are
diligently following a fixed program? We harked back to Nataraja Guru’s quote
from last week: “If you are brave enough to create a vacuum, nature abhors it,
and the vacuum will immediately be filled.” But let it be filled—don’t hastily
fill it yourself.
is the reason that desire is considered a hindrance in spirituality. As soon as
you are able to create a little space, which is hard enough, you rush to fill
it back up with what you want. Your desires have a lot of power to move you.
What’s really needed is to restrain yourself from filling the void prematurely,
and instead remaining open to what the greater environment will supply. This is
where we often fall short, since we are hardly ever aware of how our wants and
expectations block every creative avenue instantly and unnoticeably. And
resisting desires takes courage, because the outcome is not known, so we
this our positive desires are the hardest to resist. We want good things for
the world, and for our loved ones, not to mention ourself, and we are
disheartened by the tragedies that abound on all sides, much amplified by the
media. We are being spoon fed a very negative take on life, because it is
commercially profitable. People are drawn to downers and pay little attention
to things that don’t have any tension. Who wants to watch happy, wise people?
Boring. We may begin to feel like failures because we have so little impact on
the ongoing disasters around the world. This is actually a crucial issue, and
Uma and Scotty spoke eloquently about it. We don’t want to withdraw or content
ourselves with wishful thinking. Instead we should be confident that our every
contact with the world around is an opportunity to shed more light, to be more
kind and caring.
again, that sense of failure can either cause a resignation from participation,
or it can stimulate us to do something worthwhile. We should accept that we
only affect a very small slice of the universe, so we shouldn’t judge our
success on whether the world is healed but only whether we have done anything worthwhile
in the normal course of our day. I quoted Ramana Maharshi, “Your own
Self-realization is the greatest service you can render the world.” By working
on yourself you are contributing to the well-being of the greater milieu. Only
a happy person can teach or share happiness.
quickly reminded us that this didn’t mean withdrawing and becoming isolated.
According to Narayana Guru, our happiness is bound up with a sense of
community. Preferably the broadest possible community. We work out our
betterment in interactions, which are multifaceted, and not so much by linear
practices in seclusion. She added that mere tolerance is a closed and
condescending attitude. We have to make it real. But how?
point is that we have one person, and one person only, who we are most
responsible for, and who may actually listen to what we think. That would be
us. We have the potential for sharing joy and wisdom, and lending a hand where
somebody is reaching for one. Doing so can help us to feel valuable even as we
are aware of the myriad tragedies that fill our place in space.
think we were all astonished at how germane the Maya Darsana is shaping up to
be. As Nitya ends that famous verse 95 of That Alone: “This is a happy day for
us, being with maya.”
Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:
The term maya refers
to what is not real. What really does not exist but seems to exist in practical
life is what is to be understood here. It is this same maya which is not real but in practical life seems to us to
basis of science, etc.
is part of Pema Chodron’s book on the fine art of failing, titled Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice
for Leaning into the Unknown. The first is likely from her Introduction:
In her commencement
speech at Naropa University, Pema Chödrön explains that if there’s one thing we
all need to practice, it’s how to fail well.
When Naropa asked me for the topic of my talk, I decided not
to give it to them because I thought if I did, they wouldn’t let me do it! My
talk is inspired by a quote from Samuel Beckett that goes like this: “Fail.
Fail again. Fail better.” I thought if there is one skill that is not stressed
very much but is really needed, it is knowing how to fail well. The fine art of
There is a lot
of emphasis on succeeding. And whether we buy the hype or not, we all want to
succeed, especially if you consider success as “it works out the way I want it
to.” You know it feels good in the gut and in the heart because it worked out.
So failing, by that definition, is that it didn’t work out the way you wanted
And failing is
what we don’t usually get a lot of preparation for.
I think if there is one thing that prepares you for having
some idea of how to work with the rawness of things not working out the way you
want them to, it would be contemplative education. You have gotten a lot of
instruction and encouragement and support for feeling how things impact you—not
just going down the tubes with it but actually taking responsibility for what
is happening to you and having some tools about how to work with painful
feelings, raw feelings.
So fail, fail
again, fail better. It’s how to get good at holding the rawness of
vulnerability in your heart.
A nice series of excerpts from the book is here: http://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/fail-fail-fail-better-lean-unknown/
That Alone, verse 95, on mistakes:
verse is for all people to become light-hearted. We should see the light side
of life rather than becoming so grumpy about everything. If you make a mistake
it’s because Mother Nature wants you to make it. So don’t have any sense of
guilt, make your mistakes gladly. If you don’t make little mistakes, God will
call out to you: “Fool! I gave you a chance. I sent you to the world, and you
didn’t make any mistake. Stupid! Get out!” If you are here in this world, make
some mistakes. Maya is sitting there and asking us to do all these things.
Nataraja Guru used to tell us in the Gurukula that we should make interesting
mistakes, not stupid or clumsy ones. Whatever mistakes you make should be very
clever and interesting.
Peters tells a great story about Gurdjieff. At his school one time he had to be
away for a few days, so he put a trustworthy woman in charge in his absence. On
his return she showed him a little black book in which she had kept track of
all the offenses the students had committed. It was quite a long list. To
everyone’s surprise, Gurdjieff took out his wallet and started giving each one
money, paying so much per offense. Fritz had been at the top of the list so he
got the most money, but he was ashamed to spend it, feeling the old woman had
been let down. She had carefully chronicled all the crimes, and now Gurdjieff
was giving everyone presents for their mistakes. But Gurdjieff said life was
like that, and if you didn’t make mistakes life would never be interesting.
here you are being given an invitation to make mistakes. And what kind of
mistakes is maya causing you to make? Her mistakes are not freaks of nature.
She has a system. We can see how comedy and tragedy come in such a way that
over time they balance each other out.
Sanskrit words in the verse are given valuable definitions here. For the most
part, the Sanskrit word-by-word definitions have been left out in this digital
version, but these are especially important. Keep in mind these are selective
definitions of words that all carry a broad range of meanings:
vidya—knowledge in the true
and absolute sense.
avidya—ignorance, in the sense
notions, opinions and conditioned reflexes.
to the reasoning
self, mind and senses; with which one discerns happiness and sorrow.
apara—the unconscious and instinctive
self that is
instrumental in carrying out all physical and biological functions.
tamah—the state of confusion
in which the
discriminative power of the reasoning self is at its lowest.
pradhanam—the prime potency,
such as of a seed to
develop into a tree or a big bang that can cause an expanding universe.
which has the tendency to proliferate, replicate, and cause endless varieties