Bhana Darsana, verse 3
here: “I am the body;
is a pot.” Thus, based on the gross,
awareness which is experienced,
is considered to be the gross.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
Lo, here, `I am the body, this is the pot'
Depending on the concrete
What looms as consciousness
is known as the concrete.
last week’s complex commentary, we are bequeathed a relatively easy one. As Deb
reminded us, Narayana Guru is going to mention the four states of mind in
sequence, starting with the concrete, wakeful state. After having merely listed
them in verse 2, they will now be framed in terms of generic and specific
qualities, or what we more commonly call subjective and objective aspects.
to Nataraja Guru, we think of the four states in terms of the Cartesian
coordinates, with a vertical axis running from total ignorance at the negative
or alpha end, known as the causal, growing over time to the positive omega
pole, representing turiya or total awareness, and known as the transcendental.
The point we occupy on this continuum of evolution in the present moment is
pictured as a horizontal axis, which is bifurcated into external factors on the
right and internal factors on the left, commonly described as wakeful and dream
or objective and subjective.
interested in the Gurukula version of Vedanta should have this image emblazoned
in their minds as a key to understanding consciousness. Nataraja Guru’s
mathematical symbol is very helpful, but we should also remember that
consciousness does not actually conform to any rigid pattern. This is a
two-dimensional image of a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted ability. We are
merely graphing the ungraspable, to help us get a handle on it.
Guru will use the next verse to address both poles of the horizontal, the first
half referring to verse 3 (gross, specific) and the second half to verse 5
such awareness as “body” and “pot,”
is the specific;
“I,” “this,” and such
to be remembered as the generic.
Verse 5 brings in the subjective side of transactional
horizontal consciousness, and then the vertical parameter makes its appearance
in 6 and 7:
senses, mind, intellect,
of interest, and the five vital breaths—
awareness which constitutes
subtle nature of its basis is the subtle.
am ignorant”—such awareness
what is revealed as “I am” is the generic,
is the specific.
am the Absolute”—such awareness
praised as the fourth;
the element “I am” is the generic,
“Absolute” is the specific.
The mysterious relationship between the transactions of
horizontal, everyday reality and the unfolding development of the vertical is
where we can discover and exalt the spiritual meaning or the authentic
expression of our life.
obvious difference between materialism and a spiritual attitude is the former
posits a universe built of inconscient building blocks, while the latter see
the universe as an extrapolation of consciousness. It isn’t that a Vedantin
disbelieves in the reality of the world, but only how that reality is
understood, as Nitya affirms:
To both the materialist and the Vedantin
is a star, the sun is the sun, and a physical body is a physical body. Both
recognize objectively perceivable entities as being the outcome of the action
of consciousness. But there the similarity of belief ceases.
Nitya is granting that materialists comprehend the
importance of consciousness in bringing awareness to bear. Without it, what
would be the point? The class discussed this idea as an excellent basis for
meditation. It is famously touched on in the tree-falling-in-the-forest koan
and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as well, where the observer is known to
have an impact on the observed. Almost everything lies outside our awareness.
We are more or less in touch with a very small purview and ignorant of all the
rest, but we fill in our ignorance with suppositions and convince ourselves we
actually know quite a bit. This is like ignorance squared: we’re not only
ignorant, but we’re ignorant of our ignorance, because we cover it over with
laments that because of our generic ignorance we glory in trivialities that are
of a manageable size, in what is in my opinion one of his finest sentences
The greatest paradox in physical science
that the scientist questions every little detail of the obvious, and takes for
granted what is absolutely mysterious and much more than a miracle.
It’s well and good to examine the details of the physical
world, but it’s not so good to leave out the mechanism of the one doing to
examining, because the effect is far greater than Heisenberg’s miniscule
quantum fuzziness. There is nothing remotely trivial about how we overlay a
putative world with all sorts of cockamamie ideas. If you don’t believe me,
just look at the current worldwide political meltdown, all of it ferociously
based in ideology. This is a fine time to reprise what Nitya said in the first
darsana, verse 8:
The world presented to us as
individuals is not the entire universe. It is a very limited environment of a
relatively few square miles in area, and which belongs entirely to the present
moment. We can perhaps give it a time-span of a few hours. The problems arising
from it are likely to be few and simple, but we complicate matters which should
only arise from, and relate to, our individual environment, by hooking on to
them the structuring of a vast and complex world. The world with which we
complicate our responses to sensory input is the conditioning passed on to us
from generation after generation. This conditioning arises from the store of
information chronicled as the history of human endeavor and discovery—the story
of man’s encounters with nature and his fellow humans. Thus, the world we think
to be real has in fact very little objective reality. It is padded out in all
directions with half-baked conceptual notions and hidebound prejudices.
In any case there is no dispute that—even though we have
almost no idea of what it is—there is something
that makes an external world. The class struggled with the duality of external
versus internal aspects, but we are trying to allow ourselves to sink into the
realization that the duality is something we overlay on a nondual reality. This
is the essential truth of the Bhana Darsana: there is one unitive consciousness
operating in us, as us. Within that we separate out an objective world and an
internal world that is out of joint with it. Often waaaaay out of joint. The
gurus’ invitation is to make contemplative efforts to more closely align our
ideology with the actual environment. Nataraja Guru called the disagreement of
thinking with actuality, madness. We are engaged in a quest to reduce our
madness. When the subjective and objective realms are in accord, life becomes
more harmonious. Instead of seeking something far away and hard to reach, the
beauty and grandeur of life turns out to be all around us, all within us. We
will at least have intimations of what is “much more than a miracle” in our predicament.
talked about her recent visit to her brother and his partner, who have a new
baby. It really brought home to her how the baby, amazing as it is, was not
doing very much, but each of the adults was furiously projecting all sorts of
their own feelings, needs, hopes and fears onto them. Deb offered that it’s not
necessarily bad, so long as you realize how much you are projecting and that it
isn’t reality as such. The class had a fruitful discussion of ways we project
onto all sorts of things.
mused that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to convert the concrete world
into our expectations. Yet, sadly, when life lives up to our expectations it
gets boring. As he put it, beauty has a problem revealing itself, and that
problem is our own predisposed expectations.
resonated with our young visitor Emma, who has noticed how she loves to walk in
nature, but when she sees something especially beautiful she immediately frames
it as a picture she will excitedly share on social media. She knows she is
rapidly reducing the vision to a small square representation. My observation is
that we don’t allow the world to affect us as much as it could, but we are
eager to try to get others to have the experience we are blocking for ourself.
We have all learned that we don’t deserve to have ecstatic experiences, so we
project them onto others. Unfortunately they are likely doing the same, so very
few of us are bothering to sip the wine of life as deliciously as we might. We
are all just hoping someone else will get high. Hmmm.
was interesting that Emma talked about seeing beauty through the camera lens,
because Vedanta teaches that we are seeing everything through the distorting
and exaggerating lens of our mind. Part of the work is to clean and focus the
lens, but the main effort is to draw back from all limiting exposures to live
life more directly, as primary experience. As we expand our lens we obtain a
more inclusive vision.
of us have been well trained to disdain the makeup of the universe and cling to
tall tales instead. Paul talked about how he was raised to think of many
simple, pleasant activities as leading him straight to hell. He remembered one
time sneaking out to go to a movie 30 miles away, and all the way home he kept
looking up into the sky, expecting at any moment the promised lightning bolt
coming to zap him and take him to the fiery pit. Guilt like that isn’t
ameliorated in a day. Pretty much all of us have something like that going on
even many miles from childhood: waiting for the axe to fall, the hand to spank,
the word to insult.
the present madhouse of the United States, billboards have sprung up all over
our city threatening passing motorists with going to hell. It’s a surefire
technique (sorry about that!) for driving a wedge between the subjective and
objective worlds, creating vestigial, dependent human beings. Diabolical
indeed. The commercial benefit is to take personal salvation out of our hands and
lodge it in the greedy fists of religious officials and even political leaders.
No wonder we’re in such a mess!
talked about the latest section of our Brihadaranyaka Upanishad study, which
includes an important hint about how to relate to the “concrete” world. The
mantra is about music:
The examples given here of the
drum, the lyre and the conch shell make a heart-touching experiential
illustration for us to go into the deeper strata of consciousness to which
music can take us. It shows us that an arbitrary renunciation and denial of
this world is neither a healthy attitude nor a feasible one. Phenomenal aspects
can be taken advantage of to arrive at the unity of things, especially in the
sphere of ecstatic and blissful rejoicings in the unifying power of music.
aside that this kind of music will surely lead us straight to hell, Nitya is
affirming that we are not meant to block out the world, any more than to treat
it as the whole story, as rational materialists do. He is telling us we
can use details of the environment to work back into our innate bliss. By fully appreciating our
surroundings we are given entrée into the depths of our being. Deb noted what
Andy (now in Mexico) told us about his vipassana meditation, how as he
consistently sank into the silence and screened out irrelevancies, the sights
and sounds around him became profoundly meaningful.
may as well include another lovely Nitya quote from the Brihadaranyaka,
beckoning us to emerge from our illusions:
These are some of the
implications of the present mantra we should be aware of so that in the name of
Self-realization we will not reduce ourselves to ignoramus persons devoid of
all insight and incapable of charting our own personal futures to make life the
most successful adventure of spirit. (483)
from being victims of external forces to being wise yogis capable of seeing
through illusions is a most liberating practice. Our very nature is the
blissful state known as ananda. The present verse is telling us that everything
we experience is an integral part of who we are. It is not something “out
there” to be rejected. Being trained to imagine happiness as a remote goal
instead of our true nature leaves us at the mercy of unfriendly interests.
Nitya contrasts Indian philosophy with the common form of materialism that
instigates so much bondage:
The Vedantin thinks differently.
For him the cosmos of each person is an extensive expansion of their own
consciousness. Nature, as he understands it, is a product of the objectivization
of the conceptual configuration of what he thinks he perceives and reacts to.
This does not mean that there is no objectivity in experience.
Surprise! It’s up to us. A
fulfilling life is one where we express (bring forth) our inner talents and
wisdom and contribute them (discretely) to the matrix. This should remind us
all of a true religious idea, from The Gospel According to Thomas, translated
by Elaine Pagels: Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you
bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what
you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
added a welcome perspective of a young person (which we’re chronically short
of), that anxiety is the outcome of egocentricity. If you believe you are the
center of everyone else’s attention, you automatically worry, and contort
yourself to try to meet their (mostly imaginary) expectations. This is a common
malaise that is hard to get over. It adds so much complication to our lives,
and for no reason at all. It’s mainly baggage from childhood, and yet we cling
to it. Our habitual fears do not disappear on their own: they have to be rooted
out. In her early twenties, Emma is now becoming mature enough to realize that
hardly anybody is thinking of her or anyone else: they are centered in their
own egos, wondering what everyone else is judging about them. It’s a very
important realization many adults never get to.
and meditation are techniques we can use to ease out of the bondage of our inadequate
mental framing. Nitya gives one example of how to convert a seemingly solid
externality into accord with our consciousness:
Both Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras and
the Bhagavad Gita insist on a sameness of attitude toward heat and cold. These
are used as examples of the concrete. In the empirical world heat and cold are
indeed concrete factors. But if these factors are seen as being entirely
external to ourselves we cannot mitigate the effects of their action, and thus
fashion, change, adapt to, and ultimately transcend their impact. For all this
to happen we must accept them as being part of our consciousness.
In my Gita commentary I go perhaps a step farther and treat
heat and cold as referring to our attitudes, and not temperature at all. I’ll
clip in a passage or two in the second part of the notes.
conclusion is an invitation to make this supremely rewarding philosophy a
reality in our lives:
What we should remember again and again
purpose of this study. The Guru has especially given the Bhana Darsana so that
we may arrive at that state of certitude that alone is valid. Instead of taking
this verse as mere theorization about the brute forces of actuality, it should
be used as a mantra for meditation. Then the annoying externality of
consciousness can be truthfully incorporated into one’s all-embracing
awareness, and the separation of individual and cosmic consciousness can be
When we bring our subjective viewpoint in line with the
reality represented by the concrete would we perceive, we restore our native
balance, opening the door for reintegrating individual and cosmic
consciousness. Seems like this should be all the incentive we need….
which is called concrete consciousness is in the form of ‘I am the body, this
is the pot’, because both derive their reality from visible concrete objects.
In other words, that which looms in the form of concrete objects is concrete
consciousness. This concrete consciousness is experienced by everyone in the
Gita commentary takes its seemingly concrete images and treats them as symbolic
of inner states, which makes a lot of sense, I think. The Gita usually pairs
opposites, to show that balance is attained by bringing polarities into
harmonious relationship, and not by exaggerating one side over the other. Heat
and cold are mentioned a couple of places, and here’s what I’ve written about
them, first from chapter XII:
who is the same to foe and friend, and also in honor and dishonor, who is the
same in cold and heat, in pleasure and pain, and who is free from attachment,
[is dear to Me].
like everyone, experience natural urges to judge and interfere with the people
they encounter. Like the startle reflex when you nearly step on a snake, it’s
virtually impossible to do away with the immediate reaction. The difference is
that a yogi doesn’t simply act on the urge, but lets it dissipate so they can
examine the problem dispassionately. The ego would have us believe that our
knee jerk responses are divinely or at least intelligently inspired, which
places them above reproach. The wise yogi anticipates that snap judgments are
likely to be tainted with a lot of personal baggage, and introduces intellect
into the mix. It’s nearly always true that first impressions are a far cry from
settled understanding. In fact, it’s a good meditation to recall some instances
where your initial impression turned out to be radically different from your
feelings after becoming better acquainted with the person or situation.
and heat do not refer to actual temperatures, though again literalists sit in
the snow or walk on coals and call it yoga practice. People have cold or warm
attitudes, and we should not be deflected from our neutral ground by how they
feel about us. If they are cold, let them walk away without trying to hold onto
them. If they are too warm, gently push them back a couple of feet, so you have
a little breathing room. And coming as it does right after honor and dishonor,
this pair also refers to our feelings about others. We should not either snub
anyone or come on too strong, based on our preexisting feelings. A yogi does
not nurse a grudge or secretly cherish anyone, either. When the extremes are
brought to the mean through yoga practice, it becomes easy to maintain a kindly
and open attitude to all, and so to treat people as they are instead of how we
wish they were.
And then this, from chapter VI:
one of conquered Self, who rests in peace, the Supreme is in a state of neutral
balance in heat-cold, happiness-suffering, honor-disgrace.
result of taking Krishna’s suggestions in the preceding couple of verses is to
allow your natural balance to reassert itself. When you speak kindly to
yourself and stop holding onto trivial events like a drowning man clutching at
straws, you are not tossed here and there, up and down, by events, and you can
become calm and steadfast. This is the attainment that allows you to finally
begin your real life, which previously had been obscured by a shadowy existence
of reactivity and conditioning. Your dharma will naturally emerge as the junk
is swept away.
and cold are usually taken literally as physical sensations, but the Gita is
seldom so trivial. This is not about attaining room temperature in your mind.
A/C specialists are not perforce the yogis of today. Heat-cold is a poetic way
of saying like-dislike or attraction-repulsion or even love-hate. When we are
ardently fond of something we are “hot” for it, and when we turn our back on it
we coldly reject it. Each of these attitudes represents a polarized extreme. A
yogi learns to be open to whatever comes along. Everything is loved and admired
in its turn, but nothing is clung to or lusted after. Nor is it despised out of
hand. Knowing that justice permeates this innately reciprocal universe,
everything will arrive at its just desserts without any additional
demonstration of personal ratification or opprobrium. Need it be added that the
neutral attitude allows for a much greater appreciation of life than being
thermally attached to one’s own opinion?