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Darsana Five - Verse Five

2/14/17 Valentine’s Day

Bhana Darsana, verse 5


         The senses, mind, intellect,

         items of interest, and the five vital breaths—

         the awareness which constitutes

         the subtle nature of its basis is the subtle.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


The senses, mind, intellect, interest-items

And the five vital tendencies:

By what is made conscious, this is (known as) the subtle

Because of dependence on the subtle.


         Verse five is a monster, a very long exposition in which Nitya covers some basic Vedantic premises about the psyche. It can serve as a worthwhile study for anyone who takes the time to really scrutinize it. For the class, I excerpted about half, assuming that by now much of the basics are old hat. Of course, they never are, nor should they be. We can always take a fresh look at familiar material, and in so doing make it relevant to where we are today. For the notes I’ll just give one or two examples and leave the rest of the churning to those who are interested in a deeper dive on their own.

         The subject here is the second quarter of consciousness, the subjective or so-called dream aspect. I did a quick review of the horizontal/vertical scheme so central to the Gurukula depiction of consciousness, especially for the benefit of our visitor Emma. Whatever intentionality we bring to our psychological unfoldment occurs in this second quadrant. Early in life we are obsessed with making clear coordinations between the objects of our world and their identification, in other words in naming the forms we encounter. This is a wholly horizontal exercise. After this is satisfactorily accomplished and the growing psyche is stabilized, it can address the vasanas and samskaras of the causal consciousness, incubating in the vertical minus. These respectively represent the genetic propensities and unconscious conditionings that determine the overall course of our lives. We don’t necessarily realize that these require quite different focuses than our horizontal involvements. Nitya spells out this schism quite nicely:


When we pass on from the sthulabhana (concrete basic consciousness) to suksmabhana (subtle basic consciousness), we move from the positive aspect of transactions to the negative aspect of subjective responses. The positive aspect may be called the “horizontal-plus” and the negative aspect the “horizontal-minus.” Subjective response is a two-pronged reaction. The first reaction has to meet the demands made by the horizontal-plus side of transactions. This is the field of the actualization of interests, and also of active defense against possible, probable, and actual threats. In the second reaction, the horizontal-minus is polarized with the vertical-minus as urges, drives, irrational phobias, and manias, which are all presented directly to the subjective consciousness in the form of desires of acquisition or rejection. Such attraction-repulsion dynamics gain priority when the sense data arising from the environmental factors bring with them indications of the presence of wish fulfilling possibilities.


Though only mature individuals can face the causal region of their anatomy with equanimity, that area of the psyche develops simultaneously with the more obvious scrutiny of the objective world. Most of us screen out and suppress awareness of the depths of our being as a matter of course. For the spiritual aspirant it must no longer be ignored, however: “What is important is not what we know, but the exact nature of the ground of that knowledge.” There are an infinite number of items to learn about, but their value to us is influenced by the condition of our mentality. Therefore working our way into the center of our psyche is the fulcrum we can use to cast off inertia and restore lightness and delight to our life.

         Deb started us off talking about how we selectively take in data, and observing that process can give us broad hints as to our natural predilections, which we probably should be expressing more fully. In her own life she eventually saw how her hurt or upset feelings followed a fairly strict pattern, grounded in her previous life experiences. By witnessing them she could begin to feel less impelled to respond in a predictably inadequate way.

         Emma resonated with this, and brought in the Jungian concept of synchronicity.  She has realized that everyone she meets is a kind of reflection of her internal happenings, which lends a certain dynamism to her relationships. This bodes well for her upcoming three month trip to India to study its religions. She told us she has recently broken off ties with a number of people from her generation who are spinning their wheels and going nowhere, which is an important spiritual symbol and a practical necessity for spiritual progress to take hold.

         The degree to which our causal consciousness colors the way we interpret the transactional world is a very rich area of confusion. It happens so subtly that we normally don’t even notice. We believe that what we think about a person or group, for instance, is true, when for the most part it is projected out of our own hopes and fears. We make mountains out of molehills, blowing up a storm around a minimal stimulus. The exciting truth of this is that each of us has a crucial role in construing reality in ways that can benefit both us and those we meet. As Nitya puts it:


What is important in our study is not a mere recognition of the modus operandi of the functioning of the intellect, mind, and senses, it is how the individual expresses themself in and through all these formations. We do not refer here to overt expressions which are exposed to the public gaze. Our reference is to the unfoldment of the hidden potentials which are tied up with the personal drives, urges, and concealed desires of the individual. In the present case we are not dealing with the concrete factors of what is seen or heard. Our interest is with the inner development in awareness which facilitates sense perceptions and motor responses to the best advantage of the value visions of the individual.


Of course, even these most secret machinations are eventually exposed to the public gaze when we interact with our fellow beings. Our private rectifications are the way to cure our overt expressions—not so much by intentionally crafting a superior persona, but by allowing our true nature to be released from the bondage of imposed habits.

         The way words emerge fully organized from our unconscious and crystallize our thoughts for us is closely related to how the auditory/visual world is also presented to us, and can offer clues as to the intricate workings of our brains. Nitya writes:


The process happens with such secrecy that even as we speak we do not know how the ideas we put forward enter consciousness. They arrive fully formed and clothed in a logically coherent language. How often have we been slightly astonished to hear what we are saying? If a man is “thinking aloud,” he knows his own thoughts only by the words that articulate them in such quick succession. The process is one of such natural ease that one could almost say it was shy about being detected.


Because of this “shyness” it is probably better to have faith in the intrinsic sanity of the process instead of trying to micromanage it, as our insecure egos are prone to do.

         Realizing our valuable role as interpreters of the world converts us from victims of fate to empowered participants. The world is not out to crush us, it is inviting us to respond with expertise. In his concluding remarks, Nitya repeats the invitation to upgrade our life through intelligent understanding:


Though the field of phenomenality may be dismissed as unreal, this cannot be of real help in emancipating the self, that is to say, in freeing the self from the clutches and hooks of the transactional world and the subjective world of dreams, including a wide spectrum of pathological deviations that can manifest both in the transactional world and the world of subjective fantasy. This aspect of the teachings of the Bhana Darsana should be treated with the utmost care, although the Guru gives us only a simple hint. Students of psychology can take this aspect as a challenge and, using it as a springboard, dive deep into the mystery of dream experiences.


In other words, whatever the “actual” status of the universe may be, by respecting it as real enough we can interact in it in ways that promote harmony and mutual support.

         Nitya’s Taittiriya Upanishad commentary includes a description of the beginning of an infant’s life shortly after birth. It shows how very early we are directed to the process of moving toward the good and away from the painful:


Now we can say that the moment-to-moment intake of impressions brings orientation to the organs of perception and action to get into mutual alliances so that the almost unborn mind becomes like the feelers of a snail, with its telescoping eyes reaching out to distinguish the world of forms and touches, discerning between the pleasure-giving and the pain-giving. Alternative efficacy comes to the mind to make the organism either shrink as a defensive device or else flush activating energy into the pleasure-seeking limbs to get into contacts. It is amazing how the timid mouse of humankind learns acceptance and avoidance first with an autonomic dexterity, now and then pausing for more information to maneuver its behavior. This is how the autonomic slowly allows the unconscious to transform into conscious appreciation of every element of impression that comes from outside.


         Because of the differences in our upbringing we learn to love some things and hate others. These beliefs tend to be arbitrary, rather than carefully vetted scientific considerations, and so are the essence of imbalanced thinking. Deb remembered one of her teachers telling the class “There are no boring books, only books that are boring to you.” If she had been a guru, and so free to speak her mind, she might have more directly said, “If you are boring, whatever you encounter will be boring.”

         Music is a great example, in that most people have strong preferences, solely due to their own exposure, as Nitya notes. I recalled how a few years back we heard that some American cities were playing opera recordings in bus stand shelters, and we thought how nice that was, that they were sharing culture with the masses. Later I learned that the real reason was that teenagers can not bear to be around opera music, so it drove away the gang bangers and reduced vandalism. Emma added that songs appeal differently to us at different stages of our lives as well, further demonstrating its subjective nature.

         It doesn’t really matter what music we prefer. The point is that our preferences can reveal the internal mechanism by which we block out some very helpful features of our surroundings. Think of all the delightful people we won’t ever know if we are prejudiced against a particular branch of the human family. The advice of Nitya’s essay is to judge people on the basis of who they are, not of who our samskaras tell us they must be. A “scary” person or situation evokes the fear reflex that a yogi uses for self-analysis, whereas an ordinary person uses it as ratification of their self-righteous prejudices.

         The idea here is to root out the manias and paranoias that afflict us, causing us to believe the other is responsible for our feelings when we are already carrying them in ourselves. Fear is the greatest motivator of all, and because it is unpleasant we suppress it to the point it only acts on us unconsciously. If we can ever spot any of its effects we can mitigate its hold over us.

         The US currently has all the demonstration we need to observe the destructive effects of closed-mindedness. Visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries have been illegally banned as potential terrorists by the supposed President. Let me quote Nicholas Kristof, a local Oregon lad now writing for the NY Times, in this Sunday’s op-ed:


  In the four decades between 1975 and 2015, terrorists born in the seven nations in Trump’s travel ban killed zero people in America, according to the Cato Institute. Zero.

  In that same period, guns claimed 1.34 million lives in America, including murders, suicides and accidents. That’s about as many people as live in Boston and Seattle combined.

  It’s also roughly as many Americans as died in all the wars in American history since the American Revolution, depending on the estimate used for Civil War dead.


So officially we are a country lethally terrified of a minimal danger while casual and even supportive of just about the deadliest thing around. The non-threat can whip us en masse into a frenzy, while anyone confronting the real threat is marginalized as a hopeless fool or worse. Where is the sanity hiding?

         I believe we can extrapolate this madness to apply it to our personal manias. While most of us are powerless to affect the body politic, we can voluntarily do some furniture rearranging in our own house. Indeed, the only way we can influence the greater world is by fixing ourselves first.

         Jan added that we can support our friends in the healing process, too, by being non judgmental when talking with them about their issues. She is part of a long lasting support group that gets together at least monthly, and really appreciates knowing she is not all alone in struggling to meet her challenges. She can let down her guard with them.

         Emma supplied the polar opposite case, in that she has recently found herself in a stagnant relationship that she has now terminated. She feels that her former boyfriend needs to be jolted out of his stupor by not having an enabling friend always on hand. She knows that at times pain is the very thing that catalyses healing changes. Supporting our friends is another yogic balancing act: not helping too much or too little, but getting it just right.

         As Deb said, we are a lot less conscious of what is impelling us when we are right in the middle of it. A little reflective distance is invaluable. I’d add that we’re always in the middle of it, whether we know it or not. Susan said that we are forever holding onto our preferred way of thinking, and Deb added that we are holding on to what we don’t know. Jan elaborated that we are not only damaged by negative thinking: positive fantasies can be even more pernicious, because we believe in them. It is easier to want to overcome what we see as bad. She noted how we can get caught in fairytale type thinking, which can keep us striving toward unrealistic goals that will never pan out.

         Nitya writes of the brain as a reducing valve that presents a comprehensible moving image of selected information to our surface awareness. Our unconscious works overtime to digest all the input on its own terms and present a readout we can work with:


Each sense organ is bombarded with countless millions of stimuli. No ordinary human organism could avoid disintegration if all the stimuli entering the field of awareness were to be registered and recognized simultaneously. An automatic screening process takes place, and only those stimuli relevant to the structuring of a meaningful picture are consciously recognized. These stimuli are accepted as the obvious hallmarks of a re-cognized perception. Out of the remainder of the stimuli, whatever is relevant to a specific perception is incorporated into the picture as secondary phenomena, while most remains as passive background and much is shielded away by the negative principle already alluded to as nirodha.


This naturally leads to selective awareness. Deb recalled asking friends about a new painting she noticed in their house, and they said it had been there for several years. Kind of embarrassing! And commonplace. Unlike the fictional Sherlock Holmes, we miss a lot of detail in our environment, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Autism and other stressful conditions are now being thought of in terms of too much stimulation, that the brain is doing an inadequate job of filtering out distracting “noise.” What we can notice is how what we attend to has generic similarities, and we should sort out if those limitations are in our own interest or not. Very often we have learned to exclude the very things that would make us happiest. If our decisions are based primarily on previous experiences we will not be fully alert to the glow of the present, with its synchronous feedback of our essential nature. We have to consciously set aside our habits of mind to be more fully alive in the now. The Bhana Darsana is bringing us to the culmination of that process that we began at the very beginning of this study. Its revelation is enshrined in the exact center of the work in the mantra That Alone is Real.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         The subtle consciousness is what emerges from the subtle basic consciousness. Each of the senses has a specific capacity such as the ear having the power to appreciate sound, the eye to appreciate form, the skin to appreciate touch, the tongue to appreciate taste, and the nose to appreciate smell. It is by this subtle specific capacity that we are able to appreciate a sound originating from a distance. It is by the same subtle specific capacity that other senses such as the eyes come to appreciate objects of interest as well as the mind being capable of thinking,  the intellect of discriminating and recognising for itself the functioning of the (five) vital tendencies. It is by the specific power that we are even able to feel the presence of these senses. But their real form is so subtle that it becomes difficult to fix it. It is on the basis of something very subtle that the senses, mind, intellect and five vital tendencies are brought within the scope of consciousness. Therefore, because this kind of consciousness has its origin in the subtle basic consciousness it is called subtle consciousness. It is during the dreaming state of consciousness that we clearly experience this kind of subtle consciousness. Even when the organs are not in direct relation with the objects in the dream state we have the experience that these organs are capable of appraising those objects. This is a common experience of all people in the dream state. In other words, in the dream state all people experience this subtle consciousness.


*       *       *


         The commentary includes some worthwhile background, including this appreciation for Narayana Guru’s importance:


         The Bhana Darsana is conceived in accordance with the frame of reference of the Mandukya Upanishad. Of all the Upanishads, the Mandukya is favored by the nondualistic school of Vedanta. It is considered to be an ideal book to present the case of monistic or nondual philosophy….

         Narayana Guru, who was established in the same spiritual lineage of nondual philosophy, was fully aware of all the developments that had occurred and were occurring on the Indian subcontinent. Formal schools of Vedanta became well established in the post-Sankara period. Apart from that, the growth of Saivite philosophy in South India was historically as important as the growth of Vedanta philosophy. Thus the Guru was in a position where in himself he could integrate and assimilate the awesome and penetrating visions of all those previous masters. The Light of the Absolute was again embodied as man in the contemporary vision of the Guru, and the ancient teachings were given their right and honored status.

         The result of Narayana Guru’s integrated vision of the Absolute is the composition, among other works, of the Darsanamala. Gaudapada and Sankara relied on the scheme of correlation given in the Mandukya Upanishad. The Guru has also adhered to the same scheme.


*       *       *


         The section on prana is practically a whole other subject, so I’ve brought the two most salient paragraphs about it into Part II:


         Our body and our minds are both exposed to contrasts, such as heat and cold, pleasure and pain, depression and elation, and so on. If we did not have an equalizing principle, our metabolic balance would be adversely affected and the mind thrown into a quandary. This function of balancing and equalizing, which continues without cessation, is assigned to the action of a prana called samana.


         The gross aspect of prana is the respiration of air. Its most subtle function affects the psychological and physiological systems of the organism. Prana makes those systems express themselves in the total functioning of the organism, as in the activity of reasoning and in various emotional states. These states include the appreciation of higher values as efficient tools of the individual to tap many latent psychic energies and cognize and discern the qualities and significance of sounds and colors, ranging from the most sublime to the most unpleasant.


Scott Teitsworth