Nitya Teachings

Home | Overview | My First Book | My Second Book | Gurukula Books | Book Introductions | Bhagavad Gita | Hercules | Magazine Articles | Misc. Articles | Class Notes - 2004 to 2012 | Class Notes - That Alone | Class Notes 2015 to 2018 | Class Notes 2018 on | Lynx
Darsana Five - Verse Nine


Bhana Darsana, verse 9


         As the eye does not see itself, even so

         the Self by the Self; because the Self is not

         an object of awareness, what the Self sees—

         that indeed is the object of awareness.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


As with the eye which cannot see itself

(So) the Self does not see itself;

Therefore, the Self is not indeed the object of consciousness,

That which the Self sees is the object of consciousness.


         Narayana 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.

         The 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.

         This 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.

         In 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.

         Being 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 Darsanamala:


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 astonishing.


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 upholds.


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 they 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.


         Moni felt that this type of thinking brought about a revolution of understanding, one that allows us to resolve impossible-seeming dilemmas in our life.

         Susan 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.

         What 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.

         I 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.

         My 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.

         Paul 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.

         We 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.

         Nitya 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 in what 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 hostility.

         Paul 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.

         I 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.

         I 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.

         In 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!

         Deb 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.

         Nitya 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 and na´ve:


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 of 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 invitation:


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.


Organized 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 writes:


When this revolution of understanding occurs, 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.

         Deb 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 enough

the only hope is to be the daylight


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         It 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.


*       *       *


         Nitya’s 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 elite:


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 anybody’s aid.

  I am not suggesting by this that I do not prize the help of 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 ten or 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 commentary:


                  Neither that, nor this, nor the meaning of existence am I,

                  but existence, consciousness, joy immortal; thus attaining                       clarity, emboldened,

                  discarding attachment to being and non-being,

                  one should gently, gently merge in SAT-AUM.


         It 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.

         Let this understanding bring boldness and courage, and let there not be the dual preferences of sat and asat. Go beyond all arguments in mind.

         Thus transcending all dualities, come to that deeply touching sense of the One. Know that to be the secret of Aum.

         In that, gently, gently merge, and let that silence, omnipresent, fill.



*       *       *


         As 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

of a new poem

he would call what he felt inside

the silence of snow.

Memories of straight, shadowed trees,

flakes falling hour after hour

in the northern night.

He walks to the edge of the lake, 

under the snow wordless cracks in the ice,

under the ice, cold currents,

the world a well,

the moment before.

Silence seeps from the weighted branches

into his ears and eyes, his shoulders.

Silence fills his mouth.


He turns

to the over-hanging night,

the open sky

filled with shards of light.

those long ago stars,

their stories unraveling to him,

their faint music

becoming stronger,

words and dreams, all drifting,

streaming down

in the dark currents, sparks

and the voiceless song.


Scott Teitsworth