Bhana Darsana, verse 9
the eye does not see itself, even so
Self by the Self; because the Self is not
object of awareness, what the Self sees—
indeed is the object of awareness.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
As with the eye which cannot see itself
(So) the Self does not see
Therefore, the Self is not indeed the object of
which the Self sees is the object of consciousness.
Guru offers a subtly potent correction immediately before our arrival at the
midpoint of Darsanamala. Being a wise fellow, he knows we’ve been clinging to
our habitual thinking and not quite really letting go of it. It’s now or never.
Well, not really. Any time would be good. But he’s there with us now.
gist of the verse is this: any objectivization of the Absolute or the Self is
automatically not what it purports to be. Implied corollary: we waste a lot of
time and energy in pointlessly arguing about which description is the best. We
would be better served by gently sinking into the totality of our being, and
not worrying about defining it.
verse is particularly salient in terms of the modern understanding of how the
brain functions. The input of the senses is processed in regions of neurons
that until very recently we had no idea existed. They are utterly invisible and
unnoticeable to our sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste, yet they afford us
those sensations, even appropriately, as far as we can tell. Even knowing they
exist doesn’t make much difference, as they operate in secret anyway.
the first part of this study we have been redirecting our arrow of interest
from the outside world to the inner riches of the psyche, yet in the final
analysis inward is only the polar twin of outward. If we think of inner aspects
objectively—as humans are prone to do—there is really no difference between
them and ‘house’, ‘tree’, or ‘Good Samaritan’. Instead we are directed to know
we are That and accept it without calling it anything, and certainly without
defending our preferred version. Implementing this has the potential to
transform our life from a dry abstraction to a soaking wet reality.
lazy, I’m going to share a few bits from my latest Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
group response, starting with noting its similarity with where we are in
This week’s Portland Gurukula class is on Bhana Darsana
9, which reads
in part “The eye does not see itself.” For all practical purposes it’s the same
idea as Yajnavalkya’s query here, “Through what, my dear, should one know the
knower?” The parallels between the two Upanishads continue to be truly
Our brain constructs our reality in such a convincing manner
we never doubt it for a moment. That feature serves us well, as we have noted
all along, up to a point. Until big cracks appear in the edifice, as Nitya puts
it; until we realize there is a serious schism between our understanding and
our experience. Quoting myself:
It’s funny that even after studying spiritual philosophy
for years we
may still inwardly kowtow to an external judging force that determines how we
live. It is more comfortable to think that way, I suppose. It’s all God’s
doing, so don’t blame me. And it works okay some of the time, because God can
symbolize our inner truths. More often it is an excuse to relinquish our
independence and go on a mental vacation.
As humans we get used
to our miseries. Then we imagine what we learned so well as dependent children:
that pursuing our own decisions would make us even more miserable. But really,
what’s the point of studying liberation psychology if we only want to follow
orders? Spirituality is about becoming adults, becoming brave enough to be
ourselves and not capitulate with the uncritical tide of socialized demands.
Certainly that’s the version the Gurukula of Narayana Guru, Nataraja Guru and
Nitya’s Brihadaranyaka Upanishad commentary does not dismiss
the innate value of our interpretations, which would be an unwarranted
conclusion, but only emphasizes the value of refining them in the light of
what’s really going on:
The eye can see only what is
presented before it. Similarly the ear can hear only what is fed into it. Even
though it is an external image that is received by the organ of perception, it
is brought to the interior core of the psyche. There the spirit acts as an
interpreter of the highly condensed, converged and epitomized image. Its
identification and projection into a psychically devised time and space
admirably coincide and concur with the source of external energy so that the
person who experiences sense objects is not far from right in expecting a
corresponding object which acts as a source of the feeding-in mechanism. Thus
in Indian Vedanta, for all practical purposes, there is a transactional verity
in the empirical data. (504)
All of this expert activity serves us very well, but it does
not reveal what we loosely call the spirit, the seer behind the eye and all
that. That remains a mysterious revelation. Nitya’s account of how we move from
unquestioning acceptance to critical inquiry stimulated a lot of discussion:
Just as the lower animals take the air
breathe for granted, so do we take consciousness for granted. We feel no
pressing need to know from where consciousness comes. As we grow older and
encounter situations where it is necessary to make precise observations free of
any natural fallacies and erroneous vision due to personal defects, we begin to
pay some attention to the structure and function of consciousness at the
transactional level. This need has created a sound and systematic methodology
of science. When mature minds entered this field, it became imperative to
withdraw the mind from immediate impressions so that things of like nature
could be abstracted and generalized for classification under one head. In this
connection, the mind has developed the power of analysis and synthesis to a
very high degree.
felt that this type of thinking brought about a revolution of understanding,
one that allows us to resolve impossible-seeming dilemmas in our life.
asked about the exact meaning of the pithy sentence, “As we grow older and encounter situations where
it is necessary to make precise observations free of any natural fallacies and
erroneous vision due to personal defects, we begin to pay some attention to the
structure and function of consciousness at the transactional level.” It is very
important to scrutinize pronouncements like these. They read well, so we can
easily pass over them without really understanding what they are saying. I
invited everyone to please ask about such things. We have a lot of background
in the community to help throw light on them.
Nitya is getting at here is that we cannot deal effectively with other people
if we assume we are right and they are wrong. We should know by now that we
have only a partial grasp of any situation, and our adversary is likely to have
a point or two in their favor. We all have blind spots, and we will communicate
best if we make an effort to discard or discountenance our shortcomings.
gave an example of thinking about how to talk with Trump voters. I know in my
soul that many of them are good, well-intentioned people who were duped by
propaganda, but I am so furious about the beastliness they helped unleash that
my opening salvo is likely to be anger. I know perfectly well that I won’t get
anywhere with them if I let my feelings lead. So I have to take myself in hand,
and only after calming myself down will I be able to ask, say, “What did you
want that you thought Trump would give you?” And then to listen. Deb emphasized
the value of really listening, not just listening with a pre-planned response,
ready to win the day with it. To listen well, you have to shut yourself up.
Tough to do well.
example came from the day before, when I parked next to a pickup truck with a
Veterans for Trump bumpersticker. My first reaction was, How could a Veteran be
that stupid? What was he thinking? I never saw the guy, but it got me thinking
of how I might communicate with him. It wouldn’t help to assume he was like
this or that. I would have to let him tell me, and then respond to what he
said. So the first task of a concerned citizen is to subtract our pre-existing
thoughts, put them on hold for the moment. Nitya noted that science has to do
this, and that’s the kind of science he’s referring to when he thinks of
spiritual examination as a scientific exercise.
cited several examples of how stress or oppression led to communities coming
together. It made them stronger, like illnesses strengthening our immune
system. We can certainly see how President Balrog has galvanized millions of
people to begin working hard for positive causes. Perhaps humans need a
negative stimulation to get serious about their dharma.
talked about Galileo and how his day was so drenched in the Catholic world view
it was impossible for him not to contend with it. You could be burned at the
stake for going against popular misconceptions. Galileo was extremely careful
to limit his scientific arguments to absolutely irrefutable details, and still
he was censured and threatened with death by the powers that were. It took over
300 years for him to win the argument. But if he hadn’t taken reality into
account he surely would have lost.
famously likened spiritual awakening to the emergence of a chick from an egg.
From the outside it looks like disaster, where a beautiful structure (the egg)
is being broken apart, but until that happens we cannot know what is inside: an
entity that does not resemble the egg at all, but which has the potential to
manifest many new and spectacular possibilities:
The mind-stuff that has become expert
may be called the application of the subjective technology of consciousness has
not bothered to find out the nature of itself. Only after big cracks have
appeared in the foundations and edifice of the general network based on the
concepts of the functional mind in its individual and social aspects, have some
adventurous souls begun to look into the depths of the mind itself. They have
been awed and thrilled to discover that mind has a profound depth, and that
behind and beneath it is an unconscious mass. No one has dared to jump into it,
but they have stood precariously on the edge and speculated about its nature.
We have barely scratched the surface of the Self, so as soon
as we relinquish our conceit that we (or those we admire) know all, we can get
on with its exploration. As I wrote for the other group:
We aren’t just upgrading our maps
to a better version, we are supposed to be using them to actually explore the
terrain. The Guru sends us out with a map in hopes we will use it as a
touchstone, not to be ultimately dependent on it, and definitely not to worship
it. We aren’t supposed to be running around waving our favorite maps, but only
consulting them when we need to.
It’s kind of embarrassing how much turmoil humans create in
shaking their maps at each other, even though they are all varying depictions
of the same territory. Knowing this secret was how Narayana Guru could smilingly
embrace the beliefs of everyone who came to him, whether in friendship or
described our dilemma as waffling between a self-evident truth (likely to be
inaccurate) where we gain certitude and a conceptual understanding of unity that
undermines that false certitude. He advised intentionally breaking the cycle of
our habitual reactions, using humor and other nonconventional ways of looking.
added that Nitya intentionally has a double entendre in mind when he talks
about self-evident notions. The one thing that is not self-evident is the Self.
It is the non-Self that is self-evident, because the Self cannot see itself. It
sees what it is not.
recycled the familiar example of when I finally arrived back at my self, after
searching outwardly for my whole life. Details of sensory input faded into the
background, and I sat for long days in a non-differentiated state of loving
bliss. I would occasionally say just “I am,” or Love,” and the delicious words
would ripple out through the universe like the primal sound of existence,
endlessly reverberating. Just being was all there was, and all that needed to
be. It was not a state available for exploitation or syndication, at least not
until I left it behind. Once I met Nitya, not long afterwards, any urge to
promulgate my experience was discarded as excess baggage.
this study we are turning inward, but we must not take inward as a
direction—all directions are exteriorized. We just have to sink into it,
relinquishing all objectification. This got Paul and Moni talking about Sri
Ramakrishna’s salt doll that dives into the ocean to discover its parameters,
from the last commentary. Where the Buddha’s raindrop falls into the ocean and
merges on the surface, the salt doll intends to plumb the depths. As it does so
it gradually dissolves back into the infinite substance it was originally made
out of. Nitya often cited the Upanishadic version: as you reach for it, your
hand dissolves. It can never touch it. All these metaphors teach that where we are
to arrive is not anything we can obtain as an objective item, yet paradoxically
we have to intend for it, ideally in non-objective terms. Wish us luck!
held that this type of unitive experience is reflected by the aesthetic wonders
of the manifested world. It’s true that we don’t find this by blocking out
worldly encounters. It is revealed (or not) by everything that transpires. The
Self is mirrored in everything. Still the message of this verse reminds us not
to mistake our chosen delights with the Self itself. The Self is the value
source of delight, and we should be projecting it onto everything, instead of
feeling impoverished and trying to steal our happiness from externalities.
Nonetheless, a beautiful poem beats a lousy one every time…. Deb has shared a
lovely one in Part II.
concludes his commentary with a paean to the possibilities of opening our minds
as a species. Bill thought this dated his writing, and in a way it does. The
1970s were a time of tremendous optimism, in contrast to the widespread
pessimism of the present. Much of the hopeful fervor has died down and moved
back to the fringes of society, while the main focus is back to the obvious
needs for creature comforts. It does make proclamations like these seem quaint
The majestic edifices of the transactional
world have begun to seem unimportant in comparison to the buried cities of
man’s inner reality.
Don’t we wish! And:
After the recent confluence of the minds
East and West, ushered in by the advent of psychedelic drugs and the study of
parapsychology, along with a social catharsis in the field of personal freedom
and the revaluation of the existential meaning of sex, a new field of
psychology has been created in the West. This new school could easily, and to
some extent has, introduced into itself the traditional psychology of oriental
mysticism…. Although at present this field is a conglomeration of the
promiscuous mixing of many disciplines, the muddy waters will soon settle into
a clear fountain. This will be to the advantage of the whole world.
Well, yes, it does seem that society is back to trivial
pursuits. Yet it has always been the unconventional person who seeks truth, and
society has always been suspicious of them. I imagine we have more inventive nonconformists
than ever these days, though they are routinely ignored in favor of glamorous
moneymakers and pretty faces. Society is more interested in profits than
prophets. We outcasts may no longer be interested in initiating a mass
movement, but these ideas are still valuable for an individual trying to break
free of their conditioning. We can and should read this mainly as a personal
The discovery of the Self will turn our
understanding of the world one hundred and eighty degrees from where it stands
now. The world of positive transactional significance will be revalued. It will
be seen to be a negative shadow. All that has been accumulated for centuries as
knowledge will turn out to be phantom details of information. What is now
thought to be important will be seen as trivial in comparison to the one truth
that governs all life.
groups do not find their way into the state of Aloneness. It is always a
personal journey, a flight of the alone to the Alone. Alone being a contraction
of All One. While we all have our transactional lives to live up to, we are
experimenting with taking a break from its endless details and demands. Nitya
When this revolution of understanding
we shall find our way into the secret chamber of the programmer of the
universe. This reality now hidden behind the passing shadows of the phantom
transactional world is called in this verse the Self. The Self is the one seer
behind all that is seen, though it sees not itself; the one listener behind all
hearing, though it hears not itself; the one knower behind all knowing, though
it knows not itself; and the one enjoyer behind all enjoyment, though it enjoys
not itself. When the tribasic error is corrected, the knower and the act of
knowing disappear in knowledge, and the enjoyer and enjoyment disappear in a
nondifferentiated joy. With this verse the Guru has prepared our minds to go
beyond the last frontier in the world of personal awareness.
I wanted to
remind the class that by giving up our personal awareness we do not lose
anything. We are only giving up our separateness from total knowledge and total
enjoyment. The tribasic error is to distance ourselves from the bliss of the
Self, instead imagining that items out there are the sources of knowledge and
excitement/joy. Bliss is our very nature, and we are in error to project it as
a distant goal to journey toward. So we could visualize entering into a state
of fullness, rather than focusing on what we will be missing by surrendering
our petty concerns. Again, this doesn’t have to be for all time. It is an
instantaneous realization that paradoxically stays with us forever, infusing
our daily lives with courage and confidence.
called this a clarion call to let light permeate our lives or recognize that it
is permeated already. She read out the last two lines of W.S. Merwin’s poem
Living With the News, a lovely expression of how to live in truth, and a
fitting close to our evening:
endless patience will never be
the only hope is to be the daylight
is the Self that ever remains without becoming the object of consciousness, as
the one ever remaining reality, although by the mere presence of the Self all
things enter into consciousness. Although by the very presence the Self remains
alone in its loneliness as a witness devoid of all conditionings, it is without
any limitations either. In the form of Existence-Subsistence-Value (sat-cit-ananda) it is beyond all states,
without change or activity, and not graspable by the mind. There is no
consciousness of the self in the Self. To explain this we take the example of
the eye with the help of which we can see everything but (the eye) does not
help us to see itself.
* * *
passing reference to muddying the waters is explained in a long wonderful
letter to Ananda Evans that did not make the cut for Love and Blessings, so
write me if you’d like a copy. The relevant section deals with the denigration
of his disciples by a famous writer who thought he should be teaching only the
My words appear to be wise. I
happen to be listening to a wise man who sat at the feet of another wise man.
All wisdom really belongs to them. My contribution is to water down their
wisdom and sometimes make it muddy because my pigs do not like clear water.
When Valmiki wrote his Ramayana and Vyasa wrote his
Mahabharata, they did not print a thousand copies, let alone bring in a mass
production of paperbacks. My poor shallow nonproductive friends at least help
me in neatly typing and making five xeroxed copies for me and twenty or thirty
for others. I don’t think I deserve more than that during my lifetime. If these
words have the worth and dynamics of the eternal words of the Buddha or Christ,
they will rise up from the typescript and immortalize themselves without
I am not suggesting by this that I do not prize the
a wise and sincere friend like Don Berry. If the muddy waters which I turn to
my pigs who drink with relish is also to be given to noble men and ladies who
would appreciate pure and distilled water, I need someone who can filter and
remove the dirt from what I cater to people. I wouldn’t stop anyone from doing
that. I am not good at it.
The simile I have adopted here is not my own. About
fifteen years ago when I was enthusiastic in giving wide publicity to Guru’s
philosophy, I used all sorts of devices to make it look popular. Then Nataraja
Guru told me that the clear water of Narayana Guru and the muddy water of my
relativism were both coming through the same hose.
* * *
Atmopadesa Satakam, verse 100, with Nitya’s That Alone
that, nor this, nor the meaning of existence am I,
existence, consciousness, joy immortal; thus attaining
attachment to being and non-being,
should gently, gently merge in SAT-AUM.
is not through the commentaries, the meanings, the explanations that we give to
the Self, but by becoming very clear in our Self, that we attain this pure joy
that is existing in pure consciousness. Knowing that, be courageous.
this understanding bring boldness and courage, and let there not be the dual
preferences of sat and asat. Go beyond all arguments in mind.
transcending all dualities, come to that deeply touching sense of the One. Know
that to be the secret of Aum.
that, gently, gently merge, and let that silence, omnipresent, fill.
* * *
an example of sinking into the Self, Susan told us about the ending of Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett, a scene
in which two characters leave a party and go outside to sit under the eaves of
the house at night and watch the snow falling. They are older and have gone
through so much together. They retreat from all that busyness and sit quietly.
Deb has contributed a poem with the same theme of snow and centering:
Shards of Light
If this were the beginning
would call what he felt inside
silence of snow.
of straight, shadowed trees,
falling hour after hour
walks to the edge of the lake,
the snow wordless cracks in the ice,
the ice, cold currents,
world a well,
seeps from the weighted branches
his ears and eyes, his shoulders.
fills his mouth.
with shards of light.
long ago stars,
stories unraveling to him,
and dreams, all drifting,
dark currents, sparks