Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Five - Verse Eight


Bhana Darsana, verse 8


         Where there is awareness there is an object of awareness;

         where there is no awareness there is no object of awareness;

         thus, by agreement,

         and also by difference, certitude comes.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


Where consciousness (exists) there the

Object of consciousness (exists); where

Consciousness exists not, its object neither.

Thus both by agreement and difference certitude comes.


         I thought I should do some preparatory work with this verse, and found much of interest in An Integrated Science of the Absolute. Unfortunately it’s just too arcane for our purposes, so I’ll summarize the main points. Nataraja Guru wrote that while Narayana Guru titled the chapter Vision Through Consciousness, he himself calls it Normalization, because the previous chapters attain to “the extreme limits of negativity in the notion of nature revealing the potentialities of the universe full of possible varieties.” He saw the present chapter as a balance: “Such a balancing implies a double correction enabling the extreme negativity to cancel itself out into normality by finding within the Absolute a corresponding numerator factor.” (These are among his simplest sentences in the entire chapter.)

         This is brought to our level of understanding in the summary by Swami Vidyananda in Part II. Briefly, agreement refers to the simultaneous manifestation of consciousness and its objects; difference refers to the absence of objects when consciousness is absent. Nataraja Guru explains this beautifully. The verse says that when these are taken together, certitude comes. This is the crucial factor. Yoga is the dynamic combining of opposites, which Nataraja Guru sees as the key to revealing the Absolute. He says:


The double method of agreement and difference has a structural implication with the same four limbs [wakeful, dream, deep sleep, turiya] where the alternating pulsations of reasoning take place within consciousness and move along a logical parameter alternately revealing the interlacing of vertical possibilities and horizontal probabilities. This eternal alternating process when fully normalised within consciousness helps us to attain to the Absolute. It is the point where consciousness alternates that is most important and not its secondary horizontal elements or features.


Essentially, the horizontal is where there is awareness and its objects, and the vertical is where there is no awareness and no objects. The vertical is pure potential, which actualizes in the horizontal. The insertion of the Absolute, or what we might call the doorway to higher consciousness, occurs when and where the two aspects interpenetrate.

         Part of my homework included taking a look at the class notes on the same verse from ten years ago. I’ve added some of it to Part II, but this is helpful right now:


Bill asked for some elaboration on the exact meaning of the verse itself, which is surely arcane. The short version is that according to the Bhana Darsana, consciousness and its objects spring up together; they are of a piece. The world is not built up of little bits that combine to make bigger and bigger bits, which eventually get big enough to miraculously spring to life. It begins with consciousness and proliferates out of it.

   Awareness and its objects are the horizontal, while “none of the above” is the vertical aspect. Together—and not separately—they bring full certitude. It’s related to neti neti (not this, not this) and asti asti (this, and this), the former denying all things to attain the emptiness outside of thingness, and the latter affirming all things as integral parts within the Absolute.


         Ordinarily we think of higher consciousness as something far off and extraordinary, and limit ourselves to horizontal thinking: “How do I get from there to here?” We imagine that we have to leave the horizontal to attain the vertical. This is perhaps the ultimate impediment to realization. Narayana Guru is bringing us to the moment of truth, literally. By releasing ourselves into the conflation of the horizontal and vertical aspects of the total Self, we allow for the fadiance of the unbounded consciousness epitomized in the tenth verse as sat eva tat. In Nataraja Guru’s words:


Perfect self-identity is attributed to the ontological Self having attained to its own self-sufficient and absolutist status. This marks the limit of the chapter as well as the first half of the work. It is important to note the final phrase sad-eva-tat, ‘That is Existent’, is the mahvkya (great dictum) though stated in reverse syntactical order.


It is crucial to remember that awareness is our individuated fourfold perception as we register it, whereas consciousness as used here includes the entire gamut. It can be confusing since we often use consciousness to merely mean awareness. Consciousness can either be absolute or the complement of unconsciousness. Here it is referring to its absolute status.

         This probably sounds confusing, but it is mostly a semantic problem. If we can surrender our defenses, the longed for interaction of horizontal and vertical takes place naturally. All we  are doing is learning to stop blocking it. Unknowns are always scary for humans, naturally. Nitya acknowledges our reticence, citing Sri Ramakrishna:


How many know this is the peak they are looking for? Even such a great soul as Sri Ramakrishna shuddered at the thought of it. He preferred to live as though a bee sipping at the honey in preference to being drowned in honey. It was not that he did not know the highest state. He knew it indeed, and described it as a doll made of salt diving into the ocean to measure its depth.


In the class we affirmed that much of the literature makes realization sound like a one-way trip to individual disintegration, but the Gita and Darsanamala moot the possibility of integrating all and nothing, being and nothingness to make for a life of involved expertise. We aren’t losing anything except our garbage and binding chains. The problem is that we’ve come to feel quite comfortable with our nests nestled in piles of impediments. The Guru’s gentle guidance is intended to wean us out of such dependence. Yet as Nitya mentions, “The hesitation of God-lovers to move into this white heat of realization is humorously described in The Conference of the Birds of Attar.” The 2007 class notes draw the parallel between that book and Rene Daumal’s Mount Analogue, where most of the people invited on the expedition to the world’s highest peak find a rainbow of excuses to decline to participate. Nitya read the same tendency in the obsessions of the modern world:


Although this is the highest spiritual truth, all around we see the marketing of aids and techniques which claim to produce it within us. Across the world the whole field of spiritual endeavor is being degraded by the so-called Mahatmas and Yogis. Doubtless we shall soon even have “Mr. Yogi of the Universe” contests, or perhaps a contest to discover the Mahatma with the longest beard. In the U.S., “Wah Guru Chew” is a favorite candy. The truth is not to be found in slick marketing techniques, nor in the fervor of countless devotees seeking to find an antidote to meaningless and mediocre lives. All that these show is our utter ignorance of the spiritual worth of the “nothing, nothing, nothing” that the Masters have been glorifying.


Sadly, Wah Guru Chew is no longer gracing our shelves, so you may not know the reference. Here’s a bit about it from the old notes, starting with a summing up of the meaning of the verse:


Let’s just aver that certitude comes from contemplation of what is true, and not from the juggling of intriguing ideas. It requires a total engagement, not a lukewarm interest.

  Which leads to the concluding section of this very powerful single page commentary by Guru Nitya, in which he decries the commercialization of spirituality. One day when we went to the local food co-op he spotted Wah Guru Chew candy bars and became highly incensed. After railing about it for days and upbraiding all of us (whether or not we craved those delicious little tidbits) it found its way into his Darsanamala book. He never could bear the cheapening of spirituality, which he took deeply and wonderfully seriously, and of course that is a prime reason we love him so much. The modern world is drenched in the false claims and lurid come-ons of advertising, and the Gurukula has always steered clear of it. We are happy to share, but not happy to make claims. If by salubrious accident someone walks with us for a while and is benefited, it is a wonderful thing.


         I cited Yuval Noah Harari in the book Sapiens once more. He observes that the old way of thinking was that those in the know knew everything, and most religions still hold to that. Usually the claim is more or less that realization bestows universal knowledge. Harari notes that around the 16th century the scientific revolution introduced the idea of ignorance, that we didn’t yet know everything, and with it came the idea of progress, that we could know more and more, and reduce our ignorance. Ignorance and progress are actually two different states of mind, but they are pitted against each other in a lot of thinking. Yet both are valid within certain contexts. It is certainly an important ego restraint to be aware that we don’t know everything. Yet the “total awareness” is a different kind of mentality and does not refer to a piecemeal accumulation of facts. In any case, Harari does not know enough about Indian philosophy. Nitya cites one instance where the Upanishads decry the megalomania that some fall prey to:


In the Katha Upanishad, the claim “I have experienced” is said to be merely the prattling of an ignoramus. This is because where there is bhana (basic consciousness) operating as a personal awareness, it is of necessity circumlimited by an object or subject of interest. To that extent it still belongs to the individuated consciousness, which is held together by the mutual coherence of incipient memories. When this last vestige is gone, the individuated awareness is gone also.


The class chewed (Wha Guru Chewed!) on this for some time. Jan wondered what we are to make of an excursion into something like the greater awareness of St. John of the Cross’ Nothing, Nothing, Nothing. She wondered if we could possibly come out of it with no recollection of what occurred. She thought we could hardly help but feel transformed, and that’s quite right. Deb said that we remember, but we also know we can’t accurately communicate it. Being tongue-tied is a famous aftermath. Jan could see that it would be difficult to integrate it, since it was indescribable, and however you tried to describe it would be limited by your point of view. Certainly all the wise seers cited in the commentary explained what happened to them in terms of their background. The Christians never talked about Allah or Krishna—it was Jesus. If we don’t take this fact into account we will be deluding ourselves. That’s how you come up with “Jesus is the only way,” or “Allah or nothing!” That kind of thing. Again, knowing this is bound to prevent some egregious errors.

         The key is to know that totality is inexpressible—every time we put it into words we limit it and therefore are offering a convenient substitute. This is where silence is truly golden. To access what is not available via verbiage we have to shut up. We can tiptoe to the edge using our familiar thinking to some extent, and sip some honey there, but to truly drown in it we have to let go of our reluctance and take the plunge. On coming back out, we can say wow that was refreshing, but we should be very careful of building a well-defined idol of our experience. If we do we are merely restoring the bondage that we briefly relinquished. The Gurukula would be remiss in proclaiming, “This is what we have to offer!” It’s a terrific sales technique, but its patent falsity makes it impossible to endorse.

         There is always more to learn. Realization doesn’t end the growth process, it accelerates it. It enables it. It is by no means the ultimate hiding place, where we are safe from doubt at last. It’s simply being fully alive in the present. After such an experience, ego-oriented thinking seems more like an affliction than a valid strategy.

         Paul asked if Nitya was dissolved in the way the salt doll that plumbs the depths of the ocean is. Again, it’s not that the unique qualities of the individual are destroyed in the process, though it’s often written that way. All the realized people mentioned in the commentary (and all the unmentioned ones too) are still who they are, but they no longer cling to selfish, narrow interests that alienate the rest of the universe. Vedanta’s claim is that we are all realized already anyway. So Nitya was always Nitya, the difference being he was acting in a global manner.

         Paul praised the brain for its ability to make coherent designs out of chaos, and that’s a process that continues whatever happens to our surface awareness. He talked about it in terms of memory: our memories shape how we see the world and interact with it, and therefore the present is a form of memory. (I would put it, the present as we experience it is a form of memory. We rarely if ever experience the actual present.) Knowing this is a key to liberation. If we simply believe that what the brain is presenting to us is unalloyed reality, we will be taken in by our own prejudices. Knowing that we are unconsciously interpreting and shaping the ongoing welter of input gives us that momentary pause to consider our thoughts and actions. Neuroscience has upheld Aldous Huxley’s analogy of the brain as a reducing valve, selecting the most salient aspects of the nearly infinite stimulations we are bombarded with constantly, so that we can intelligently focus on what matters most.

         Deb recalled a time when Nitya said to us, “You all think of yourselves as solid, but when I look at you, you are all transparent.” Honestly, we could feel it. I always felt naked in his presence, not my body but my soul: my inner most secret thoughts were in plain sight to him. It was disconcerting, yes, but it taught me to be more aware of myself as well. I couldn’t just hide my isolationist thinking from myself, it was up there in lights whenever I was near him.

         Normally, however, our default settings are invisible to us. Karen shared how she was sailing along through her life feeling free and unattached, yet when her beloved dog was hit by a car and killed it threw her into a miserable state of grief for many months. She hadn’t realized that she was in fact attached to the outer world in the form of her dear pet. Sadly, it’s the tragedies that are more likely to wake us up. When things are going well we take them for granted in any number of ways. Philosophy suggests we can prepare ourselves by thinking more broadly about possibilities, but more often it’s heartbreak that opens our minds. I’m not recommending it, it’s simply how it happens.

         Deb read a lovely excerpt from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, famous for the brilliant sentence, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” He also recommended, in keeping with the spirit we advocate, “Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.” I’ll tuck the excerpt Deb read into Part II, along with a memory of hers about Nataraja Guru.

         Jan mused that all this garbage interfering with our relationship to the transactional world makes us highly inefficient. She has recently been in a long-running conflict that never seems to get anywhere. She wondered if realization might increase our ability to get things done effectively. Regardless, the chaos has made her see how important it is to be humble: it’s hard for anyone to do anything well, so we shouldn’t expect too much of them. And this understanding makes her more tolerant of others, and consequently of herself.

         The call for efficiency reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut, in Timequake I believe, who talked about chatting up strangers in the interminable post office line, and concluding, “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.” In other words, rather than chafe at the molasses we slog though in everyday life, we could accept it as the norm and look around and make friends. Efficiency does seem to be a Northern European obsession, and could at least be accompanied by some offsetting relaxation and humor, which is I think what Jan was implying. I threw in a quote by John Lennon, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” Don’t miss it! Life, I mean.

         So once again we took a verse that didn’t seem like there was much to say about and wove a fascinating class that will have to be continued next week. The ninth verse is closely related: Narayana Guru is prying our minds open so we fully appreciate the crown jewel in the center of his masterwork. One, two, skidoo!


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary is actually enlightening this time and next time too (the two verses go together):


         Agreement is when we appraise the fact that wherever there is consciousness there is also the object of consciousness. Agreement (anvaya) is defined as the inseparable association of ends and means. Here the ends are the object of consciousness while the means are consciousness (itself). By this method of agreement and difference we should understand that only where there is consciousness there is the object of consciousness, and conversely, wherever there is an object of consciousness there is also an accompanying consciousness that goes with it. Difference (vyatireka) is defined as non-existence: that is, the lack of concomitant associative link as between ends and means. Where there is no object of consciousness there is no consciousness either. This is called difference or absence of agreement. Here the absence of ends is the absence of the object of consciousness, while the absence of means corresponds to the absence of consciousness (itself). By this method of difference we come to know that where there is no consciousness there is also no object of consciousness, and vice versa (thereby attaining to unitive certitude).


*       *       *


         Deb typed up an excerpt from Suzuki’s book, actually a quote from his disciple Trudy Dixon, and included a recollection of her own afterwards:


A roshi [or guru] is a person who has actualized that perfect freedom which is the potentiality for all human beings. He exists freely in the fullness of his whole being. The flow of his consciousness is not the fixed repetitive patterns of our usual self-centered consciousness but rather arises spontaneously and naturally from the actual circumstances of the present…. His whole being testifies to what it means to live in the reality of the present. Without anything said or done, just the impact of meeting a personality so developed can be enough to change another’s whole way of life. But in the end it is not the extraordinariness of the teacher which perplexes, intrigues, and deepens the student, it is the teacher’s utter ordinariness…. When we are with him we feel our own strengths and shortcomings without any sense of praise or criticism from him…. When we learn to let our own nature free, the boundaries between master and student disappear in a deep flow of being and joy in the unfolding of Buddha mind.



I will add an anecdote about Nataraja Guru. The one time that I met him was in 1971 in Shastamcotta, Kerala, at the World Parliament of Religions. Days were busy and I was often very tired at night from talking, going to meetings, seeing and listening to so many others. One night as I came back to the bungalow where I was staying with other students, I saw Nataraja Guru sitting out in the evening dark in a field, surrounded by students listening to his stories and asking questions. He seemed invigorated and happy, though he too had had a long and busy day. I marveled: how does he do it? It was then I realized that he was never outside him Self, he was always that true and natural beingness that we all have (but often lose) and so did not tire of the unconscious social roles we continue to play.


*       *       *


         The old class notes are a nice addition. You can read the whole of them here:

         The entire chapter of the notes is in one document, so you have to search down to the date 1/9/7 to access the eighth verse. I’ll clip in a little bit of it here that I think will be helpful:


Nitya’s comments are very brief, as befitting our arrival at the universal source of All. Mostly he lists the epitome of what the masters of the past have taught as the ultimate realization. He was always particularly fond of St. John of the Cross and his assessment of climbing Mount Carmel: “Nothing, nothing, nothing—on the Mount also, nothing.” When bhana, awareness, manifests there are many things that appear as objects of awareness. When one reduces awareness to the zero point, there are no objects. This may fill us with dread at first, but the fact is that the resultant emptiness is a shining void, filled with potential, ceaselessly producing world after world of delight and absorbing interest. We don’t need to charge in and have our psyches shattered; we can sit quietly and gently allow ourselves to merge into it. And we can always retreat to our world of objects whenever it becomes too intense to bathe in nothingness.


I included the lyrics to Across the Universe by the Beatles (Lennon) and said this of it:


The double entendre of the refrain (Nothing’s gonna change my world) expresses the paradox of the present verse perfectly. It sounds like Nothing is going to do anything, but the secondary implications is that Nothing is in fact the driving force behind all change, and while called by many names It remains beyond all names and forms. It is No Thing, hence nothing, because any thing can be specified and is therefore limited. To blast beyond all limitations we want to take a break from studying and interacting with things, and just drift across the universe for the nonce.

 And, as the Beatles so well knew and taught, traveling in the company of your friends, gathered in the “Yellow Submarine” of a living room with a warm fire blazing, is almost unbearably sublime.


Fun to reread this, and see that our meeting was good the first time, too. When we started the new class Beverley suggested I not read the old version, and I have mostly adhered to that. When I have peeked back I found lots of input from the various participants, which has mostly died out, sadly. Plus, there is a lot of value that we haven’t touched on this time, so at least I can feel it’s all been worthwhile on some level. We could probably do this forever and still come up with new ideas.

         The old verse 8 notes include this excerpt from a letter to Prasad in L&B, from August 9, 1977, when Nitya was working hard on both Darsanamala and Atmo. It serves as a reminder of how important Nitya and Nataraja Guru felt Darsanamala was, when grasped in its entirety:


There is now no doubt in my mind that Darsanamala can be the basis for the first ever expounded psychology of a healthy and normal mind that is in the process of unfoldment and growth and which will finally arrive at its ultimate realization. This possibility is so very inspiring that I don't want to lose the opportunity given by God. With this intention I am fathoming the depth of every word Guru has written in his Integrated Science of the Absolute, and am concentrating my best soul force (cidshakti) to do full justice to Darsanamala.


Part III


         In my editing work I just ran across a helpful excerpt from Nataraja Guru’s ISOA, page numbers from the upcoming edition:


The reader will notice that we are here standing on a very subtle ground to be understood only, as Sankara said, by those persons endowed with the quality of uha-apoha or the special type of intuitive or imaginative mind capable of going backward and forward in a double process of dialectical thinking. This two-sided corrective mechanism is not unlike the feedback arrangement or retroaction understood in the context of modern cybernetics. Such a double-sided method is also sometimes referred to as properly belonging to the combined method of agreement and difference known to Vedàntic logic. It is very basic in its methodology, being much favoured by Vedàntic speculators like the author of Pancadasi. The technical name for such a method is anvaya- vyatireka. Here the reasoning moves very subtly and imaginatively, going first to possibilities which are vertically arranged in a mesh or matrix, as it were, and then backwards to the corresponding horizontal counterparts which represent the total field within which probabilities have to establish themselves.

         When we say something is probable we imply at once that certain other things belonging to the same context are improbable. Thus, there is a negative and a positive probability, as well as a negative and a positive possibility within the `matrix' system and, when looked upon as a logical matrix, scientific thought is obliged to look up or down, inductively or deductively, yielding whatever certitude it is possible to obtain within the four walls of this structure. (62-3)


Scott Teitsworth