Nitya Teachings

Home | Overview | My First Book | My Second Book | Gurukula Books | Book Introductions | Bhagavad Gita | Hercules | Magazine Articles | Misc. Articles | Class Notes - 2004 to 2012 | Class Notes - That Alone | Class Notes 2015 to 2018 | Class Notes 2018 on | Lynx
Darsana Four - Verses Five and Six


Maya Darsana verses 5 & 6


The senses, mind, intelligence,

five vital tendencies and such – that by which

they are specifically created as the subtle limbs

of the reasoning Self is para alone.


Adopting these limbs, the reasoning Self

by its own maya becomes deluded,

as if happy or unhappy;

in truth there is nothing at all.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


The senses, the mind, intelligence and the five

Vital tendencies, what creates

That is the transcendent indeed even (they being)

The subtle limbs of the Self that is consciousness in essence.


Adopting as its own these limbs, the Self that is consciousness in essence

By its own negative base of error imagines,

(Itself) as if happy or suffering;

In Truth there is nothing at all.


         We realized in mid-class that verse 5 is kind of mysterious without the additional information of verse 6, so we wound up combining them. Both deal with the para, which is counterbalanced by apara only in verse 7.

         Beverley suggested that I not read my old notes from the previous Darsanamala class (2005-7, almost exactly 10 years earlier). For this one I finally took a look, and found them to be very helpful and even consistent. I’ll clip in some of it in Part II I think you’ll enjoy. Temporal highlights mentioned included Nancy Y’s final preparation for publication of Nitya’s Patanjali book, the tsunami in Indonesia 1 years prior, and Harmony just having left for college that morning. A whiff of twenty-first century ancient history!

         There are several key points to address here: limbs, the Beyond, and the homogeneity between them. We talked first about the idea of limbs, how all the knowable parts of our being are like extensions out of a unitive depth that is their source. What this implies is that we are ordinarily attending to the outermost fringe of our whole being, and only more or less accidentally in touch with the other 99% of who we are. The creative source is mysterious and remote enough to our ordinary awareness that it appears to be the Beyond even when it isn’t.

         The limb reference brought Karen and me in mind of the latest National Geographic Magazine’s feature on octopuses (November 2016). Octopuses are zooming up on the neurological respect scale. They have almost as many neurons (500 million) as cats (700 million), and way more than rats (200 million) and mice (80 million). For invertebrates they are in a class by themselves, with honeybees and cockroaches in second place with only around 1 million neurons per capita. The coolest part is that their brains only hold about 1/3 of the neurons, the remaining 2/3 are in the arms (limbs). They taste with their arms, among many other talents. They are a celebration of limbs.

         Narayana Guru is picturing our neuronal makeup, with all its complexity, as virtual limbs that reach out to interact with the environment. His limbs are extensions of the reasoning or thinking Self, which resides in the core from which they emanate. Our neurology doesn’t have any more bones than an octopus, so it should be equally flexible. Is it, though? From the article: “Being boneless, an octopus can extend any arm in any direction at any point; unlike you or me, it’s not limited to moving at shoulder, elbow, or wrist. This gives the octopus an enormous range of possible movements; also each arm can be doing something different.” (80-1) It seems that octopuses can be another kind of guru: acharyas of flexibility.

         According to this verse our limbs, with all their subtlety, are created by the reasoning Self. The aspect of the Absolute that generates beings is called the para, the Beyond, and the awareness fixated on (or in) the limbs is the apara or immanent aspect.

         Bushra asked for a clarification of immanence. We can start with Nitya’s explication:


Consciousness is called immanent (apara) in an attempt to explain the mystery of the physical organism behaving as though it was permeated with consciousness; and, moreover, to explain how subtle, non-material ideas can be articulated through that organism. So far as transcendence (para) is concerned, it becomes meaningful only when it refers to a reality which transcends all requirements of the flux of becoming in the space-time continuum.


Immanent means what we can perceive and conceive, what we can touch and otherwise sense. Immediate. In this context, although birthed by the beyond, immanent elements make up the relative. This is the same paradox that required the Gita’s fifteenth chapter, with its three Absolutes: an immanent Absolute, a transcendent Absolute, and an utterly beyond Absolute. The Vedantic holy trinity. The key point is that we shouldn’t mistake our image of transcendence for actual transcendence. Bill said it well in the old notes: the para within maya is not the true para, but a reflected image of transcendence based on the limitations of our psychophysical system.

         Deb called the golden disc images we substitute for the source half-truths, an apt term. They are true as far as they go, but they don’t go all that far. We humans are all about the limbs, the extensions, the half truths. We are mainly attending to the periphery. It’s a survival thing, but some of us are ready and eager to evolve to a more dynamic level than mere survival.

         Nitya often compared this predicament to sitting in a movie theater looking at the screen, and not remembering that it is an illusion projected from behind by a bright light passing through a colored film. Everything within the theater is in a sense a limb created to make the projection possible. At the moment we are learning to turn away from the screen occasionally so we can get to know the projecting mechanism.

         We’re not dealing with anything new here, it’s just that we have to keep reminding ourselves because we forget. The movie we’re watching on the screen is captivating, in more ways than one. We love its excitement, so we voluntarily surrender to its immanent appeal. Only when a ghastly scene terrorizes us do we look for the exit. Nitya puts our dilemma in perspective:


Compared to the complexity and immensity of the cosmos, the individual is a negligible, tiny speck. Even so, we seek to understand the nature and mechanics of the cosmos. The seemingly infinite universe is understood in terms of such qualities as our small, though penetrative, consciousness can conceive. There is only one absolute consciousness, and that is the universal; yet there prevails a homogeneity in consciousness that is common to both our personal consciousness and to cosmic consciousness.


         The homogeneity between the macrocosm and microcosm, or the individual and the whole, is an amazing feature to ponder. Most of our training emphasizes their disconnection and limits itself to the differences. The gurus urge us to look for the common ground. We are separate entities at the level of immanence, but united by our transcendence. Transcendental insights can only be accessed intuitively. They are not scientifically describable, in the way you can pin a butterfly to a display board, and never will be.

         Against all these odds, Nitya strives to make us understand:


The individual consciousness is called jiva, “the living one.” The cosmic consciousness is called brahman, “the all-inclusive, all-comprehensive totality of consciousness.” Although the pure aspect of absolute consciousness is necessarily transcendent, it operates, so to speak, as if by an inherent negative principle whereby it can project the individuation of consciousness.


And why does this matter?


Because of the homogeneity of the individual consciousness with the transcendent Absolute, it is possible for the individuated self to intuitively know its original and true nature, and to raise itself to the same transcendent level. The word para used in this verse should not be confused with the pure transcendent, which is identical with the Absolute. The Guru is referring here to that aspect of maya which operates as a negative potential force even at the level of transcendence.


My experience with Nitya’s classes is that he would regularly strain our brains to the utmost, which drew us away from attaching pre-digested fixed notions to what he was saying. We had to continually let go of the urge to pigeonhole it and water it down, while striving mightily to maintain attentive focus. I believe something like that has to be in play for a meaningful transfer of this kind of vision. So the fact that we cannot precisely delineate how this might work is a good thing. Being baffled and yet tenaciously attending is an excellent mindset for word wisdom to penetrate our psyches. The practical outcome is an opening up to our unperceived depths. It’s a bit like stretching a rubber band. For a while the band can snap back to its original shape and size, but eventually it loses its tension and becomes bigger and less shapely. Bad for rubber bands, with their strictly transactional role to play, but just fine for minds seeking expansion.

         The verse is all about homogeneity, as Andy pointed out. Just as the self and the Self are not different in Advaita Vedanta, the levels of para—both within the transactional and unaffiliated with it—are a continuum, or simply one thing seen from two different angles. The Guru even goes so far as to unify the immanent with the transactional, giving us a true unified field theory.

         Nitya provides a statement based on this that isn’t clarified until the next verse, perhaps one of his tricks to get us to do some of the thinking for ourselves:


It is clear, then, that this aspect of maya has the power to take us to the sublimity of transcendental heights, and also to bog down the individuated consciousness with all the wretchedness that is characteristic of the physical anomalies of the embodied state.


And how is it that para or transcendence can make us wretched? Let me reprint Bill’s excellent quote: “the para within maya is not the true para, but a reflected image of transcendence based on the limitations of our psychophysical system.” We have ideas of transcendence, and these undermine the possibility of achieving transcendence. We each have a unique version of what transcendence means, so we have to extrapolate lessons from the examples of major religions, which embody the general dilemma all too well. In this area Nitya is eloquent and relentless:


All theistic religions – for example, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Saivite and Vaisnavite religions of India – think of an unblemished and divine Supreme God as being the first cause of everything. According to religious theists, the world is created by the most perfect God; yet, as anyone can plainly see, it is strangely full of imperfections. Our life on Earth is sometimes pleasurable, sometimes painful, sometimes ludicrous or boring. For most it is certainly conditioned, restrictive, and without freedom. If the first cause is good, pure, beautiful and peaceful, then how can such a God produce something which must be in disharmony with his own nature?

   Everyone who subscribes to the idea of a benign God also hopes or believes that one day, usually after death, the worshiper and his God will be together in some imagined heaven where all is peace and goodness. Even non-theistic religions, such as Buddhism and Marxism, further the aspiration that man can one day achieve a state which is devoid of physical and social bitterness.


Even non-religious types prefer to imagine an ideal world without problems that we are diligently working toward. We believe our relationships should be perfect, or they are somehow wrong, invalid. Nitya does not want us to fall for the folly of presuming this is merely someone else’s problem, so he widens the net:


The little spark of consciousness that arises in us must have come from the purest of all sources of consciousness. This source is called “God” by the theologians, “the Absolute” by philosophers, and “a mysterious intelligence” by naturalists. If our own consciousness is part of the universal inheritance of the purest source of consciousness, what is it that pollutes it? This question, which is anxiously asked by the religious, generates the imperative necessity to account for all the negative experiences of life.


Speaking from experience, I have a hard time accepting the glitches in my relationships (as common as stars in the heavens), and spend a lot of time trying to resolve them. I sometimes wish I could work on a global scale as well, but then I wake up screaming. It’s not such a terrible thing, but it seems that most of us are striving to avoid conflict and make things nice. There is a hint in the teaching that this is a skewed attitude, a resistance to accepting the shadow side of creation. I do know that we tend to learn more from conflict than from placid exchanges, yet I’m still prejudiced in favor of peace and amity. Can this be only an echo of religious narrowness? Or vice versa: is religious narrowness caused by our universal desires to make good? Two major portrayals of this prejudice are given in the commentary:


The Semitic religions, in an effort to answer this question, have created and adopted a hateful satanic principle as a counterpart to balance the benevolence of God. In Vedanta, the negative principle inherent in the First Cause is assigned to phenomenality. Although maya – the nescience which is the phenomenal – is sometimes personified as a feminine principle, when it comes to discussing it at a metaphysical level it is treated as being a negative counterpoint to the transcendent Absolute. At the level of transcendence there is no experience of pain or pleasure, but there is a pulsation of manifestation in that state of consciousness.


The revised attitude this implies, a classic easier-said-than-done proposition, is spelled out by Nitya:


We should maintain a state of equanimity in all situations, knowing that everything is transient and in a state of continual change, including ourselves.


Ha! Hmmm. Well, I’m sure we’ve all gotten better at it over the years, yet perfection is an ever-receding chimera. As you know, I amend Nitya’s assertion to read that we should regain our equanimity as quickly as we are able, after getting knocked off our perch yet again. It’s not that we shouldn’t react to stimuli, only that we shouldn’t be undone by them. Our perpetual failings are given a simple antidote here:


In this and the previous verse, what puzzles our minds is locating the cause of the phenomenal in the transcendent, which is called para.


Back in 2006 I wrote of this: “Perhaps para is where the term para-dox comes from, because this is the biggie: how do two seemingly absolutely antithetical aspects meet, overlap, or coincide?” Now I would put it, “How can we realize they aren’t even antithetical aspects, but one event taken from two antithetical perspectives?” We’ll be doing more work on this topic as we proceed.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary is actually somewhat helpful this time, and lists the five vital tendencies or pranas too:


Verse 5:


The upward vital tendency (prana), the downward vital tendency (apana), the equalising vital tendency (samana), the outgoing vital tendency (udana) and the evenly spread vital tendency (vyana) are the five vital tendencies (panca-pranas).

All these are the subtle limbs of the reasoning Self (which is the same as the vital principle). Both the subtle limbs and the Absolute together form the thinking Self.

When the limbless Absolute comes to have these subtle limbs, it is called jiva or vital principle. So, in this manner, the Absolute without limbs is that factor which created limbs causing the erroneous consciousness of a living being; that limbless aspect of maya is called para or the transcendent.


Verse 6:


When the vital principle (jiva) has happiness or suffering of a sensuous character, it considers them to belong to itself, and that there is an agent behind such happiness and suffering. (It also) erroneously considers itself to be happy or suffering. But in reality this happiness and suffering are only presentiments and, therefore, unreal. The vital principle which is the Self that is consciousness in essence is ever free from happiness and suffering. It is maya which is the transcendental (para) that is at the basis of this wrong assumption.


*         *         *


         Here are some sections from the old class notes. First verse 5:


         Para is one of those words with a whole column to itself in the Monier-Williams, plus pages of combined words made from it. Basically, para is the Beyond, in all its implications. The transcendent. Nitya mentions that para as used here is not the pure transcendent, which is the Absolute, but a relative transcendence opposed to apara, immanence. He elaborates, “So far as transcendence (para) is concerned, it becomes meaningful only when it refers to a reality which transcends all the requirements of the flux of becoming in the space-time continuum.” In other words, this type of para is established by apara, and vice versa. As Bill pointed out, para within maya is not the true para, but a reflected image of transcendence based on the limitations of our psychophysical system.

         What I feel Narayana Guru is getting at here is that while we once had strongly fixed notions about objectivity and actuality, if we really look at them they become misty and vaporous. The solidity on which we bang our head becomes an evanescent picture in the mind, and the mind itself is a picture in the mind. We have now arrived at the moment in Darsanamala when the outside world is so far along on the process of dissolving that its nonobjectivity becomes an integral part of our operational awareness.

           This is a verse to meditate on rather than think through. We are asked to sit and observe the workings of our mind and senses, and as we do to realize that what appears to us as a harsh and universal reality is a chimera of scintillating illusions with all the earmarks of believability. We must certainly act on what we perceive, and that is well and good. But the seeming immutability of what appears to be no longer drives us to act compulsively. It has become subtle.

           This verse, then, must be coupled with the next [actually v.7], defining apara. Transcendent and immanent have to be together. It is not that, like many religious programs, we are trying to leave the immanent and move to the transcendent. We are expanding out of our fixation on the immanent to rediscover and include the transcendent aspect. When both of them are brought together unitively, we have an accurate take on whatever we encounter. Immanent and transcendent are merely two complementary perspectives on a single existence.


Verse 6. I had just summarized Nitya’s movie theater image of the psyche that you all know, which he reprises on page 335 of the Patanjali book, Living the Science of Harmonious Union. We are sitting watching a projected movie:


         Although the bright light is our true source of awareness, we have turned away from it and become engrossed in watching the action on screen. We are so totally engrossed, in fact, that we have forgotten our true nature and now imagine that we are players in the movie itself. When something sad happens we cry and when something funny happens we laugh. We say we are sad or happy, depending on circumstances. In truth there is nothing at all: we are part and parcel of the entire metaphoric situation, story, projector, audience, light, building, and even its place in space and time. Patanjali’s recommendation, as I recall, is to turn 180 degrees away from the hypnotic screen, back to the light. You begin the process of your own liberation by seeing the captivating play of lights and shadows for what it is. I think this image parallels the present verse rather closely.

           We’re having a practical exam for this awareness today at the Gurukula, since Harmony just flew out this morning to attend college. Deb and I are filled with an emotional intensity that could be considered sadness, and also feels like bliss. It brings tears and surges of memory. But it is in essence nothing at all, only the continuing, natural flow of life taking its course. If properly viewed, every moment would have the same intensity, and it is to be embraced and cherished and then released. Holding on would be morbid, but appreciating it is the joy of living.

           A significant part of Nitya’s commentary spoke of the way religions personify natural processes, often divided into a benignant deity opposed by a malignant master demon or devil. This takes Narayana Guru’s happy and unhappy to its logical extremes, where due to delusion we presume there is an absolute good battling an intractable evil for ultimate supremacy. The entire theology is a fictive mindset, an anthropomorphic superimposition that converts the unitive unfolding of life into a dualistic nightmare. In the Chinese image of yin and yang, which one will win? It’s an absurd concept. Both arose together and couldn’t exist in isolation for even a nanosecond.

         We talked about the tsunami of a year and a half ago, when all the Christian fundamentalist “pundits” weighed in that God was punishing those people for being Muslims, and many anxious hand-wringing souls wondered how God could permit such a terrible thing to happen. The “nothing” that was going on was the natural movements of an evolving planet, within which relatively tiny adjustments can have a devastating impact on the life forms clinging to its surface. There was no demon or angry god with an invisible lever prying Sumatra a little to the left. The Guru wants us to leave all such superstitions and come out of our caves.

           We segued into how the demonizing mindset leads to wars. Instead of accepting that each person sees the world from their own perspective, and that it is “right” from their point of view, we somehow imagine that our angle is right and the other’s is way off base. The light of consciousness in every case is the same—there cannot be two truths or two Absolutes. “My God is bigger than your God” is a deranged kindergarten belief, though recently espoused by a top American military officer in Iraq. Nancy sighed out loud at how simple and obvious it all was, and yet somehow the fighting goes on. She wanted everyone to admire and respect everyone else’s opinion, instead of wanting to punish them because they didn’t agree with their own.

Scott Teitsworth