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Darsana Five - Verse Six


Bhana Darsana, verse 6


         “I am ignorant”—such awareness

         exemplifies the causal;

         here, what is revealed as “I am” is the generic,

         “ignorant” is the specific.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


I am ignorant – Such a consciousness

Is said to be the causal.

Here, that aspect which stands for ‘I’ is the generic,

And the specific what stands for ‘am ignorant’.


         Verse 6 is, I’m pretty sure, the last of the monster commentaries. Our classes will be more “bite-size” from here on.

         Nitya brings in so many important ideas, because we are rushing toward the crown jewel in the center of the mala, the garland of darsanas or visions. The crux of the verse is that the causal state, far from being a nothingness with no relevance to our daily functioning, is a mass of consciousness that impels and intelligently directs our life stream. We aren’t going to call the direction random or accidental. After all, consciousness and intelligence are intimately related, are they not? Randomness is not intelligent, by definition. So we reject that nihilistic hypothesis. First we are presented the basic background:


In this verse we are discussing the third aspect of the altering states of awareness. This aspect is identified with the state of deep sleep. If we think of deep sleep as having neither the wakeful awareness of the world of objects nor the mental images that are presented in dreams, then we might think of it as being a void. Indian psychologists do not hold that opinion. Far from thinking of it as a void, they treat it as being a mass of consciousness. This is why it is called prajnana-ghana, the state of being totally permeated by consciousness.


         Nitya reminds us that the full range of our horizontal awareness, including both perception and conception, is grounded in and structurally subservient to this mass of consciousness:


All images appearing in dreams and the emotional content of every such perception, together with the recognition of external aspects and the right adherence to their names and forms, can be traced to the causal consciousness.


In other words, the subjective and objective realms are grounded in the vertical essence that is the cause of our experience. This is likely the most important insight we can glean from our study, because our vertical nature is what has often been called divine throughout history: a vast, supportive, energizing, intelligent, empowering basis for existence. Religious types are prone to refer to it as something like the Lord, as Nitya notes:


If all the knowledge in dreams, as well as the power of discerning with apodictic certitude things in the objective world of wakefulness, both come from what is known as deep sleep – or a total state of ignorance – how can that state be described as one of non-knowledge? Resolving this paradox is a vital necessity, and crucial to an understanding of Vedanta. Both Gaudapada and Shankara praise this state as being identical with that of the Lord who creates everything.


Whatever you call it, having a respectful appreciation of how much we owe to the Unknown is a pivotal aspect of opening up our psyche to a greater reality. Why shouldn’t we invite the invisible to participate in and optimize our experience? In case we didn’t catch the drift, Nitya reemphasizes it:


It is no wonder the Upanishads described the mass of consciousness, operating as causal consciousness, as the Lord of all creation.


         Western psychology tends to stop short of appreciating the harmonious inner workings of the psyche, though the recent work with psychedelic medicines is pushing it more in that direction. Certainly, a damaged psyche is a serious impediment to full participation in life, but perhaps the most important aspect of healing is to comprehend what lies beyond the limits and constraints that imprison us in routine, or worse. Again Nitya invites us to enlarge our purview:


If we consider the vast and orderly creative function of the causal consciousness, both as an experience of the individual and as part of the collective universal experience in which the individual participates as an integral factor, we shall see the pathological aspect as being a mere trifle, something like a freak of nature. In Western psychology the freakish aspect is highlighted. Volumes are written about it, with only scant attention being given to the wonder of wonders which lies hidden within ourselves.


Nitya does a fine job of elucidating the structural implications of Narayana Guru’s philosophy, in the way we can integrate the part with its total basis:


Side by side with our common recognitions we experience our own personal certitude and convictions, together with our individual phobias and manias. Thus, in all states of consciousness, the universal aspect of the mass of consciousness and its individuated aspects exist as a composite whole.


Clearly distinguishing the universal and the personal, even as they blend together to make unique individuals, is the key to tolerance and amity, among other things. Religious thinking, which certainly includes political generalities as a subset, often conflates personal preferences with universal principles, producing all sorts of mayhem. The divine right of kings and all that. Giving each its due is essential for balanced thinking, as Nitya reminds us:


Such is our state that we can agree and differ at the same time. Our agreements rest on the projection of the universal that is experienced in and through us; our differences arise when we have individual angles to emphasize. Total agreement is possible when the individual can release himself from the fixations of his locus of awareness. A Guru is sometimes described as sarvaloka anurupaya – one who can enter into complete empathy with all states of everyone, transcending all barriers of convention, tradition, and structural norms.


         Moni mused how when she drops into the causal state of deep sleep she is refreshed and restored. She emerges as a new, clean person. All contact with the vertical might offer such a positive break, which is the aim of certain types of meditation as well. Of course, we don’t actually emerge as someone else, so the erasure is not total. Deb agreed with Moni, admitting that our problems are often small meanderings where we pointlessly spin our wheels. By entering the causal we are in a larger space of undifferentiated light.

         I suggested the change of focus this represents is the most central conversion a spiritual seeker can make. Instead of imagining you are ignorant and filled with sin, something inherently bad, you can just as easily conceive that you are full of glowing knowledge that is universal and driving your life. This might well convert us from timid, inhibited, unhappy souls into blissful participants in the game of life, channels of universal exuberance into the dark wells of imaginary sinfulness.

         This idea reminded Deb of Gayathri’s account of her retreat experience that we shared in class a while back, how she came to realize the generosity and goodness of that deep state, and how it encouraged her to enjoy a life without fear. Deb recognized that if you are afraid you aren’t incorporating that state into your awareness. The light of wisdom is always sustaining. Moni added that it promotes understanding between people.

         Susan talked about a pair of movies she recently watched:

Arrival and Moonlight. In her words: the message of Arrival, about a universal consciousness, is wonderful. I couldn’t help feeling, however, that the people in Moonlight would never have the opportunity to get that same message because their lives are so traumatic and their daily struggle is all they can think about and react to. How can you know what Deb called “that glowing knowledge” when you fear for your life constantly and don’t have enough to eat? This deep divide between people often shocks and disturbs me. It of course also makes me feel guilty because I have such privilege — a house, safety, family that is somewhat stable and loving. (My mind was still thrashing around with all of this until I woke up this morning and remembered one of the most important ideas in the commentary that we kept mentioning last night — that a guru is someone who has empathy for all. Knowing that we are all connected in that deep unconscious place and feeling that empathy perhaps is a starting place toward change, in ourselves and in the world’s imbalances.)

         It’s interesting that both these movies are about reaching out to something unaccepted by society and of uncertain value. And both protagonists succeed in making the connection they are looking for. They are both “happy ending” movies. Nonetheless, there is no easy route to embracing the whole, whether you are well off or not, whether you are well-behaved or not. The only thing that might help is a predisposition to go beyond our familiar comfort zone. Or a pre-decision to try, since it is rarely our disposition. Mostly humans prefer comfort over expansion into the unknown, and we have to counteract that species-wide lazy streak if we are going to liberate ourselves.

         Bill was bothered by the translation of udahritam as ‘exemplifies’: “‘I am ignorant’ exemplifies the causal.” So I looked it up this morning. (It’s one of the hard words to locate in the dikker, but I eventually did find it.) Exemplified is exactly right; also illustrated, called, named, and so on. Even simply ‘said’, as in ‘said to be’, as Nataraja Guru used. I think the sense of the whole phrase is that our conscious mind is always ignorant of the vertical parameter, which in Nitya’s commentary is taken as a contiguous whole: we are ignorant of both the alpha and the omega aspects. You might have noticed how he makes the causal sound an awful lot like the turiya:


The unconsciousness of deep sleep is not to be taken as one of the three altering states of consciousness. What is present in the particular state called deep sleep is present also when we dream and when we make deliberate transactions in the wakeful state. It is also to be understood as having a peripheral formation which is individualistic, as well as a depth wherein it belongs to the universal mass of consciousness. For these reasons it is called cetomukha, that which has its consciousness everywhere.


The part is always ignorant of the whole, as long as it remains a part. It has to give up partiality to become whole. It’s a protective barrier in a way, preventing us from sullying the mass of consciousness from which we arise with wild surmises.

         I closed the class with an example of how this wholesale ignorance plays out in actual life. I’m reading an excellent survey of humanity, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari (Harper, 2015). While quite stimulating, there are mental blocks here and there, including one that demonstrates the how and why of our perpetual ignorance, particularly the one where all previous ideas are now known to be false, because we finally have the right answer, just now. (I wonder how long that certainty will last?) In the context of the trend toward genetic enhancement, Harari writes:


A huge gulf is opening between the tenets of liberal humanism and the latest findings of the life sciences, a gulf we cannot ignore much longer. Our liberal political and judicial systems are founded on the belief that every individual has a sacred inner nature, indivisible and immutable, which gives meaning to the world, and which is the source of all ethical and political authority. This is a reincarnation of the traditional Christian belief in a free and eternal soul that resides within each individual. Yet over the last 200 years, the life sciences have thoroughly undermined this belief. Scientists studying the inner workings of the human organism have found no soul there. They increasingly argue that human behaviour is determined by hormones, genes and synapses, rather than by free will—the same forces that determine the behaviour of chimpanzees, wolves, and ants. Our judicial and political systems largely try to sweep such inconvenient discoveries under the carpet. But in all frankness, how long can we maintain the wall separating the department of biology from the departments of law and political science? (236)


In other words, the conviction is that if we can’t see something in material terms, it does not exist. Ergo, any immaterial substance or condition will automatically be consigned to ignorance. That includes a lot of very good ideas we are forced to dismiss. There are a number of important contradictions to this attitude, none of which are mentioned by the author. Nitya does touch on them in a general way:


How can it be possible for a well tutored and disciplined mind to accommodate within itself another sphere with which it is incompatible? Such paradoxes are relevant only when the non-transactional sphere of the mind is dragged into the transactional and judged within the exclusive norms of that region of the mind. There is an epistemological violation involved in such examinations.


         Nitya also exemplifies our generic ignorance in a most relevant way with the idea of God, a once beloved term that has fallen out of favor with many intellectuals:


In the same way, when someone says “I do not know God,” or “I do not know the Self,” he is categorically denying that whatever it is that he has so far known could be God or the Self. Such a statement includes a paradox: to make it he must have a weak, but still formulated, knowledge of God or the Self. In other words, before knowledge of a thing can be denied there must be an a priori knowledge of that thing. We cannot affirm or deny knowledge of something we know nothing about.


The half-baked state of our collective intelligence has gotten to the point where the metaphorical images of God revered in the past cannot be observed by telescope or microscope, so they are ridiculed and discarded. There is no Ganesha character with an elephant’s trunk sitting anywhere we can observe, no bearded Zeus sitting on any gigantic throne in the sky. But what if Vedantins are right, and our consciousness is God, or better, Godlike? Who could deny the reality of the self that is aware? Can you say, “I don’t believe in awareness—there’s no evidence for it”? It’s a contradiction. Absurd. Some scientists try to make a case by insisting we are automatons with no free will, but the tests they devise are prejudiced in advance to produce that conclusion. If we had a smidgen of faith in the coherent mass of consciousness that has produced an impressively functioning universe, we might overcome the limits of conditioned reflex behavior and rediscover true free will. And maybe have some fun while we’re at it.

         The idea of a mass of consciousness impelling our unfoldment might be taken as a kind of free-will-stifling predetermination, but it is much more than that. Our free options are to participate in what it offers, in what our biology offers, to the extent we are able. Mostly we fall far short, and when we do, surrendering to our bondage, we invariably fail to imbibe the elixir. To link up with our full potential we have to be highly creative and scrupulously attentive to our relationships. Some might call it being mindful, but we don’t want to give it a trite name, in order to avoid diminishing our attention.

         Narayana Guru is homing in on the essential truth of the matter: the universal mass of consciousness is within everyone, and it grants us our existence. It grants everything its existence. Without it there is nothing. He goes against the grain to conclude this is a good thing. It’s not a mistake. It’s the whole ball of wax. We should celebrate it and help each other to love life.

         Knowing this truth does not automatically preclude things like genetic enhancement, but it should caution us to work in harmony with the laws of nature such as we understand them. By tinkering with the existing harmony we initiate chains of consequences that we tend to pretend don’t exist until they cause untold damage. Anyway, we don’t have to address all that here. The point is, each of us is God. Tat tvam asi: That thou art. Or what we will crash into at the exact midpoint of the work: “what is not superimposed, That Alone is real.”

         This is a familiar idea of Nitya’s, expressed here in this way:


When a man says “I am ignorant,” is he admitting knowledge or non-knowledge? If he is in a total state of ignorance, then how does he relate that ignorance to himself? If ignorance is total, the awareness of the I-consciousness cannot be present. If nothing is known, then nothing is known. However, if the person has no knowledge of anything, yet knows he exists, and is also aware that his mind is neither perceiving nor conceiving anything, then he has knowledge of the state of his mind. In that case he is not and can not be ignorant.


This awareness reverses our normal way of thinking. When we look out into the material world, we are ignorant of many things beyond the reach of our senses. We are trained to believe that such ignorance is our inevitable state. But if the arrow is reversed to see the perceiver as shining a light of awareness into the darkness, then we are the very source of illumination. We are not ignorant, we are the light. We don’t want to go overboard in self-aggrandizement, but it should be a reassuring and emboldening realization.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary, a reminder that coming to grips with the unknown is very hard to put into words:


         In this verse we go one step beyond what we were concerned with in the previous verse. Beyond the senses, mind and intellect, veiling all knowledge in a certain way, there is an ignorance or nescience which has the function of revealing to consciousness what is implied in a sentence such as ‘I am ignorant’. It is this nescience that is the causal basis for both the gross and subtle consciousness as also their bases. It is because of this causal ignorance that we have the consciousness of what is implied in the sentence ‘I am ignorant’. Therefore, this consciousness is called causal consciousness. It is in the state of deep sleep that all men experience this kind of consciousness. ‘I slept well and knew nothing’. – This form of experience is well known to all persons who have experienced deep sleep. Here the ‘I’ because it is common to all people is generic and unitive in character. The more definite awareness ‘am ignorant’ applying as it does to the individual aspect of each person, while remaining infinite still, is called specific.


Part III


         This just came from Debbie, touching on a thread of the verse I didn’t include in the earlier notes:


Having edited and helped publish Guru Nitya’s commentary on the Saundaryalahari, I have many times read of tripurantaka, the burner of the three cities, and the counterpart, tripurasundari, the beautiful of the three cities. They are often symbolized as Siva as the burner of three cities and his consort Sakti as the beautifier of the three cities. Nitya has described the three cities as the three worlds we live in: physical, psychological and cosmological.

         When I read the end of Nitya’s commentary on verse 6 of the Bhana Darsana, I gained a new insight into what these descriptions or personifications mean. He defines tripurantaka as the highest wisdom which burns away “the apparent meaning of these three states.” It is the individuality, the limitation of the Absolute, that is being burned away. And then when that burning wisdom is balanced by the beautiful of the three states or cities, it refers to the inclusive and all-encompassing beauty that we can see when the separations and limiting factors become transparent. The beauty is right there, underneath and through our lives, and it is our separating and dividing that must be burned away.


*       *       *


         And from Paul:


Something happened to me on my way home today that I can’t get out of my mind. I needed to stop at Safeway for a few items. I had parked my shopping cart and was looking for my daughter Ami’s favorite ranch dressing. I heard someone behind me that seemed to lurk at my back without moving ahead. I reminded myself that I was sure I had moved my cart over so anyone could easily pass if they wanted. I found Ami’s dressing and looked behind me to see why they were waiting. My cart was definitely blocking the cart of a very old and frail black woman. I said, “God I am so sorry, I’m in your way.” After moving my cart to the side she pushed her cart right next to mine and stared into my eyes (I thought she was mad at me). In a soft tender tone she responded, “God purposely puts us in the way of each other. This is how we learn patience, and patience leads to love.” Tears instantly blurred my vision and I said that I was starting to see that now.


         Nancy Y made this comment when Paul submitted this story to his Brihadaranyaka Upanishad study group with her:


His encounter in the grocery store brought back to mind Guru Nitya’s love for the movie “Oh God.” What Guru said is that, even though it was a Hollywood production, it evoked his understanding of God as being everyone we encounter. As we would walk along the road bordering the Fernhill Gurukula, passing dozens of villagers going to or from school, work, and the market, he would say with great love, “these are all the faces of God.”


Scott Teitsworth