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Darsana Five - Introduction


Bhana Darsana Introduction


         We ended our year of contemplative gatherings with a peek at next season’s Bhana Darsana: a vision of awareness. Nancy Y. joined us, en route to the warmer Southlands, providing a sweet reminder of the comradeship of the greater Gurukula family. Such friendship reminds us that simply sitting together, under the aegis of the Absolute and some of its most stellar representatives, is a blissful, agitation-free state of sharing at its best. The philosophy is designed to lower our defenses and bring us together in amity, in which condition we may be emboldened to dare to allow ourselves a measure of inner freedom. Surrounded by a cocoon of supportive and caring friends, we may feel safe enough to relax our guard, if only for a short stretch. Last night it was very easy.

         We didn’t read out the summary, as it struck me as more appropriate to the end of the Darsana, except the final paragraph, which goes to the heart of spiritual life:


We may begin with clever insights and a degree of understanding, but if we take pride in our cleverness we slip out of the flow and are instead content to just bring up the same old insights over and over again. Almost immediately they lose their efficacy. Living life requires presence in the present, rather than obediently following a blueprint for well-crafted behavior.


         For the most part the blueprints we follow consciously are the religious (including scientific) explanations of our world. These fixed stories are the very aspects many people argue and even fight over, possibly because they intuitively realize the tales are not sustaining in themselves, so they have to rely on the sheer weight of popular opinion, where louder is better. In our contemplations we have come to realize that the very structure of our thoughts is an even sturdier blueprint, one that we follow for the most part unconsciously. Part of the deconstruction of this first half of Darsanamala is to learn to spot our unconscious blueprints and try to tear them aside as well. Who will dare to live without a well-defined program, if only for a moment? And even a moment is good. Beatitude doesn’t have to be a full time occupation. Sometimes it’s made out to be that way, and such a monolithic challenge becomes yet another obstacle to bringing it forth.

         Even our social pride and joy, academia, is hostile to individual authenticity. Academic findings have to be substantially second hand, a distillation of other peoples’ findings, and there is no credibility in personal experience, with its potential for finagling. Layers of restrictions are continually being imposed in academia, perhaps with good intent but often with destructive results.

         Nitya hints at how our presence in the present can be optimized: by entering “a field of absorbing interest.” When we are drawn into a subject by our authentic fascination, a natural flow develops that can obviate the need for reading and applying blueprints. We may unintentionally offend the guardians of conformity, but we have to discount such matters lest they impede the flow.

         Yet as Nancy Y. emphasized, the idea of being absorbed in our interests isn’t that we simply abandon ourselves to our svadharma, our careers, but that the absorption is into the depths, into what we call the Absolute. She noted that usually when we think of absorbing interest it means something like Scott playing the piano, but this is really about being invited to explore the absorbingly interesting nature of our own consciousness, which is for all intents and purposes infinite. Nancy finds that the more she lets go of her blueprints to enter this untracked expanse, the more connected she becomes in an ultimate way to everything around, allowing her to be more acutely present in her relationships. This will percolate of its own accord into whatever she does, day in and day out.

         Even knowing this—which is rare enough, given societal blindness—it takes courage and dedication to let go of our habitual supporting constructs and touch the void. This makes it likely that sincere seekers will always comprise only a tiny fraction of any given population. Happily, an even tinier fraction of those have become part of our extended (and utterly loose-knit) family.

         Narayana Guru’s empowerment of the individual is already a radical position from the perspective of society, where even the gods are anthropomorphized as external authoritarians. Blueprints are everywhere, and our task as docile consumers is to choose one and incorporate it into our persona. Or else to manipulate and swindle others with our moneymaking scheme blueprints. Not having a clearly defined raison d’Ítre makes a lot of people nervous, and so even if the shoe doesn’t fit very well, we wear it, hoping our feet will grow into the requisite shape eventually.

         Deb averred that finding an absorbing interest melds and coheres the psyche, allowing your whole world to be knit together in a sustaining way. She talked about a friend in college who was a dancer. They came to understand that though they had different approaches, whatever the interest was, if you really committed to it, it took you to the same place. The two of them agreed that by giving yourself wholly to the art form you loved, your creative life expanded into an inclusive place. To me, the subtle difference between a truly creative act and someone who is cleverly following a popular and attractive pattern is the difference between artistic and ordinary expression in any field.

         A River Runs Through It is one of Deb’s recent favorite books, and she exalted its descriptions of the relation between fishermen and the rivers they wade in. The book depicts the unselfconscious expertise of people absorbed in their lives, side by side with the tragedies that may be their close companions. There are moments of glory punctuating lives filled with sordid mistakes and bypassed opportunities. This also implies that there is something more at work than mere absorption in some form of karma or action. It’s the depth of understanding that counts, as in the I Ching’s conclusion: “Whoever acts from these deep levels makes no mistakes.” Corollary: if you are making mistakes, you haven’t gone deep enough.

         But don’t even scattered intervals of beatitude make all the difference? Without them, our lives really would be meaningless, or worse. Almost no one winds up permanently in paradise. We might not even want to. Yet “Even a little of such a way of life saves one from great apprehension.” (Gita II.40)

         Nitya notes the same subtle distinction in his typical fashion:


Mostly we live our lives in between two extremes, where either our hearts feel heavy and tears trickle down our cheeks or we are overcome with hilarious laughter that shakes our bodies and brings on uncontrollable convulsions. Yet we know there is another kind of happiness. This is the constant state of beatitude which is totally free of any agitation of the nervous system. Beatitude transcends comparison with other states of awareness.


I remember a friend complaining that she hardly ever experienced extremes like that, so what was the point? But it’s not that we are supposed to aim for the extremes or that for a good life we are supposed to laugh uproariously (or cry) all the time, as popular beliefs might imply. Note that Nitya merely says we live in between those extremes. We are usually somewhere near the middle, and that’s what passes for normalcy. Sobriety. The two kinds of happiness implied here are a reactive one—which is the focus of the surface mind, supported by most religious and social patterns—and one that is not in any way dependent on external stimuli for its existence. Beatitude is an independent expression. Sure, we tend to associate it with godly, far away dreams, the worship of saintliness in special people, and so on. But in this philosophy, any state that is dependent on a specific form is limited and dualistic, and therefore inadequate.

         Another good friend and lifelong Gurukula participant confessed to me recently that while he loved most of Darsanamala, he had no idea what the Bhana Darsana meant. While not being sure of the meaning may be a good thing, in that it keeps us from dumbing down the material with oversimplified ideas and forces us to continue pondering it, I hope we can elucidate enough of the subtleties to make this challenging chapter of value to everyone. Still, Nitya loved to lead students on with open-ended mysteries. A good example is in his last line: “In this darsana [Narayana Guru] will make us familiar with the sixteen aspects of the altering states of awareness.” If anyone discovers what he’s talking about, please let the rest of us know. The four altering states of the wakeful, dream, deep sleep and transcendental are featured in the darsana, but aren’t divvied up in any way that adds up to anything. Yet isn’t that momentary feeling of “Oh my God, I have no idea what he means, even though I’ve read it many times!” good for the soul? It’s a little wake-up call, an adrenaline producer, something a “little list,” even one belonging to the Lord High Executioner, can never engender. I think we’re better off with the worry that we don’t have a clue what this is all about, than if we are confident we do. Successful religions offer confidence and reassurance, which feel good and bring in many customers who lack those basic building blocks of a decent life. But some ideologies, like this one, add the truth of uncertainty, to open up the vast unexplored territory of the whole shebang. Such an approach will seldom draw a crowd, and that’s probably just as well.

         This is a prime paradox of spiritual life. Uncertainty presses us to think in terms of change and evolution, of bettering ourselves. At the same time, we are instructed to accept who we are, and present conditions in general, as perfect. How and why could perfection undergo change? Somehow we have to be simultaneously accepting and dynamic, else a mind-dulling stasis might prevail. Tamas looks a lot like equanimity, after all. Nitya puts this apparent contradiction in the plainest of terms:


In the mind of a wisdom seeker a distinction is made between “what is” and “what ought to be.” “What is” belongs to the ontology of existential factors, whereas “what ought to be” has a teleological reference to a goal, which the seeker tries to approximate in the present with the hope of someday achieving it in reality. The understanding we seek is mainly to help us to know where we stand at present, and in which direction we should move to further our future aims.

   In the previous darsana we discussed “what is” without relating that state to the one of “what ought to be.” Now we are confronted with the need to search for the meaning of the second state.


         It’s rather interesting that “what is” and “what ought to be” are equally products of our imagination. We prefer to think of the former as settled and beyond question, but by now we have learned differently. Both are hypothetical, but our hypotheses should be ones we can work with.

         In case we are tempted to trivialize this search, or surrender our independence to a “better” or “more spiritual” intervener, Nitya lays the job right in our laps:


The search can become fruitful only if we know both the structure and the function of the totality of human experience. Within this totality individuals are like the pawns on a chessboard. Yet there is a difference: there is no player who moves us about. The choice and responsibility of movement is on every occasion assigned to the pawn itself.


         It’s so daunting to be all-too aware of our colossal ignorance and yet know we are nonetheless in charge of directing our movements intelligently. Need we add that each pawn has concealed within it plenty of mystical kings and queens, bishops, rooks and knights, along with a whole row of additional pawns? We can acknowledge our ignorance and yet sense their presence in our makeup, and this can give us sufficient confidence to keep calm and carry on.

         Reassuring each other that we are much greater than we imagine, and sitting together so we might feel it in our bones, reflected from all the divine beings around us, are two of the preeminent blessings of fellowship. At the close of another year of amicable study, the Portland Gurukula’s 45th, and the 38th hosted by Deb and Scott, deep gratitude goes out to all who occasionally join us in the various electron shells of our intercommunication. See you again in January.

Scott Teitsworth