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Darsana Five - Verse Ten


Bhana Darsana, verse 10


         What is the object of awareness, that is superimposed;

         the non-superimposed is not an object of awareness;

         what is superimposed, that is unreal;

         what is not superimposed—That alone is real.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


What is the object of consciousness, that is conditioned.

What is unconditioned, that is not the object of consciousness.

What is conditioned is non-existent.

But what is unconditioned, itself the EXISTENT IS THAT.


         We have come to the exact center of Darsanamala, the crossover point from deconstruction to reconstruction of our psyches. We were fortunate to have several of our world-galavanting participants on hand for this essential moment. Nitya concludes his comments noting the value of this verse: “The cryptic formula ‘That alone exists’ is both the precious pendant and the secret key of the entire Garland of Visions.”

         “That Alone” is of course the title of Nitya’s masterwork on Atmopadesa Satakam, which title gestated in my mind for a couple of years before making itself known during the late stages of preparation of that book. For years I had no idea what we were going to call it, and I always feel relieved and gratified that the perfect title arrived in the nick of time, after having wormed its way past layer upon layer of my ignorance. It had always been smiling at me in plain sight! Sort of.

         I wanted to bring Nataraja Guru into our arrival celebration, and so read out some of his descriptions of the Absolute from the beginning of An Integrated Science of the Absolute, (ISOA), which I am now in final proofreading mode for a new, more accurate edition of. Not everyone realizes that Nataraja Guru used Darsanamala as the structural basis for his magnum opus. He also should get full credit for creating the Narayana Gurukula in the first place, and, at Narayana Guru’s behest, bringing the West prominently into its purview. It’s likely that without his efforts, none of us would have any inkling about the philosophy that so moves us. I for one cannot conceive of a life without the Gurukula overview to intelligently redirect my thinking from so many dead ends, and have not encountered anything quite like it anywhere else. I invited the Guru to sit in with our class through his writings, which are hard going on first hearing, and so I have posted them in Part II for review. The first stretch of ISOA lays the philosophical groundwork for everything we do in our classes and contemplations, and the new edition should be as “user friendly” as it’s going to get. So check it out in a year or so when it is at last reprinted properly.

         All through both Nitya’s and Nataraja Guru’s commentaries on Darsanamala is the unification of physics and metaphysics, otherwise known as the subjective and objective, perceivable and conceivable, etc. Often it’s called God versus Nature or Matter. Treated as surface phenomena, these are opposing perspectives, but when viewed in a total context they are identical. Nitya brings them together brilliantly here, his job perhaps made simpler by what we have already learned in our study up till now:


In the above examples, the first case illustrates the other as God; the second replaces God with matter, but the “other” remains. Whatever is conceived of as other is only a superimposition of a mental image on what is discernible. That is to say, subjective and objective notions are only modifications in consciousness; they have in themselves no validity in an absolute sense. What is thought of as God or as not God is an invention of mankind. And like all inventions, it has a psychological existence. We shall undoubtedly be confronted by the products of our own hypothesizing, but they will turn out to be as ephemeral as our own I-consciousness which created them.


I also reposted an excerpt from the Introduction in Part II, running along these same lines, featuring Nitya’s all-time great comment about calendar maxims, which have become all the more popular during the intervening forty years.

         In surveying the first half of Darsanamala, Susan noted that the engagement we have undertaken is an extended practice of neti neti (not this nor that). I added that the second half of the work might be likewise considered the asti asti (this and that), and ultimately they are to be taken together. Fortunately, part of my reading from ISOA included a perfect example of what this means:


The Absolute is not a thing, nor is it a mere idea. When the philosopher has correctly located the paradox lurking between appearance and reality, the paradox itself tends to be abolished into the Absolute. The Absolute is a neutral notion in which all real things and all possible ideas about them can be comprised without contradiction or conflict. Thus it is both a thing and an idea at once. Truth, reality, fact or existence refer to aspects of this central neutral notion, named for convenience the Absolute. (17)


The neti neti part is “The Absolute is not a thing, nor is it a mere idea.” Asti asti is found in “It is both a thing and an idea at once.” The neutral verity (truth) at the core is “The Absolute is a neutral notion in which all real things and all possible ideas about them can be comprised without contradiction or conflict.” On the very first page of ISOA, Nataraja Guru affirms, “When physics and metaphysics… are treated unitively, so that the certitude contained in the one helps the certitude contained in the other by mutual verification, we have the beginnings of a Science of the Absolute.” This expresses the essence of yoga dialectics. It also reminds us that if we experience contradictions or conflicts, we are not in an absolutist orientation.

         While demanding a moderate strain on the intelligence, this result is not an intellectual position but a transcendent one. Most of us would prefer to assume that just by ignoring the problem it will go away, but evidence is it grows dramatically when we aren’t looking. This really isn’t such a difficult concept, except that we have been trained from birth to assume a position and stick to it, therefore we expect the results of our efforts to be an improved intellectual understanding rather than a release from same. Then when we get frustrated, we hope that non-effort will produce the opposite result and break us free—but it’s the results part that’s wrong, not the effort involved.

         The Absolute does not depend in any way on our understanding or lack of it—fortunately—or the universe would have collapsed long ago. The history of thought is the history of rejection of outmoded ideas and the assumption of new modes, which are doomed to become outmoded in their turn. We are not striving for an unassailable stance but the release from the need to even have a stance. There are no unassailable stances anyway, though people are well trained to fight and pretend that theirs is. I will again reprint Nitya’s Atmo 100 commentary in Part II, as it addresses this perfectly, including “Go beyond all arguments of mind.” In other words, don’t liken the Absolute to anything. That’s a fun game we play, but every so often we would be well served to just dip into the well, as Deb called it in her poem Shards of Light, which she shared last week.

         Deb liked the idea of “the moment before” also from her poem, which just came to her out of the blue. We convert the Absolute to the relative in the moment after, and that’s where we live most of the time. The moment before is pure and un-intellectualized. The moment after is second—secondhand experience. We have plenty of that, but how much do we enjoy the undefined, unencumbered firsthand moment? Something other than memory, expectation, hope, just beingness without conception? This is the crucial location in Darsanamala to do just that, which of course is something we should do a lot outside of class at any time. Narayana Guru goes on from here to help us reconstruct a well-integrated, functioning consciousness, so he leaves “the moment before” to fit into our schedules as we can. Since it takes no space, it can fit in anywhere….

         Paul spoke (and regularly speaks) for all of us in being baffled by the apparent gulf between the transcendental and the immanent, between everyday realities and the moment before. How do they fit together? (Reconciling them is a primary thrust of ISOA, by the way, something even Nataraja Guru wrestles with at length. On page 21 he admits, in a major understatement: “The transition between the mental and the physical is a problem to which we shall be returning more than once in this work.”) We aren’t aiming to “figure it out,” but rather, to “allow it to happen.” Our brains are so quick to convert raw data into conceptualized experience that we hardly give the process a moment’s consideration, before or ever. Since we don’t normally notice we are doing it, we have to expend some significant effort to restrain our pigeonholing talents.

         Restraining our projective impulses does ask a lot of us, but whether we’re a blowhard or the humblest wallflower on the planet, we have more going for us than we give ourselves credit for. As Susan said, just seeing how we hold ourselves back out of a sense of duty or obligation is important. It is the giant step that opens the door of our cage; whether we dare to step outside is up to us. I offered that it was high time for us to stop restraining ourselves and let go of our psychological inhibitions. So much of our upbringing, and all our belief systems are presented as obligatory allegiances. Deb surmised this was why untutored people sometimes showed greater radiance than those of us who are “educated.”

         Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean we need to shut out the actual world. We are merely infusing it with its essential value content, which is sorely neglected in many disciplines. Nitya says:


From a reading of the previous verse, one might have formed the idea that the Guru was dismissing the existential reality of the Absolute by transcending the ontology of the wakeful, the dream, and deep sleep. Contrary to what might be our expectation, the Guru takes us into the heart of ontology in the next darsana.


         So yes, how are the mental and physical, thought and action, related? Bushra told us how she likes to just breathe. It helps her to not overthink things. She thinks through her breath instead of her intellect, chanting, “I breathe the universe and the universe breathes me.” It’s a lovely, simple, non-commercialized approach. There are many wonderful meditations on our planet, and all are endorsed by the gurus, but we aren’t going to say this one is better than that one, or even this is my favorite. All such describing turns the joy of being into a packaged commodity.

         Somehow I rarely hear that daily life is anyone’s meditation other than mine, and when I mention to others that I meditate 24 hours a day it usually brings a look of bafflement if not disdain. To the class I suggested that the real meditation, the real transcendental event of the evening, happened before the class even started, with everyone sitting around the dining room table drinking tea and talking amiably, filled with the trust and love of friendship, not scheming or struggling to accomplish anything, just being together in a carefree way. It was a living miracle! Thousands upon thousands of factors converged to make that moment possible.

         Ideologies tend to treat realization as a remote issue, a far-off ideal to pursue. Vedanta brings it right to us, exactly where we are. It’s paradoxical that being ourselves is much harder than living in an imaginary guise. Sharing yourself with the world on authentic terms requires the courage of self-awareness and Self-confidence.

         Being the Absolute is not anything “other.” It’s what we already are. Knowing this should, in Nitya’s words, “bring boldness and courage.” Otherness—imagining we are not in the right place, not okay, not good enough, and so on—is a major stumbling block, as he reminds us:


We mostly do not believe what is true, but rather what gives us the most satisfaction or comfort. It is always the manufacture of “the other” which deludes us.


It is an important point that crafting our world with comfortable fictions, as we are wont to do, takes us out of ourselves into a heart-shrinking world of otherness. We think we are working to improve when we are actually sabotaging our potentials. What is true is that God or Nature could not and will not substitute for us: we are It. We are the only one of us. We are created to live life to the hilt, to exemplify the Absolute in a unique fashion, and believing we should be something else undermines the flow we are designed to embody. As Deb likes to quote Nitya saying, we are co-creators with God, the material cause, you might say.

         Rightly enough, Paul thought it was a tall order to do away with the invention of the other. Since conceiving of the other makes it possible to live our lives, is this a necessary superimposition or not? This is an important issue. We aren’t supposed to get rid of superimposition—it is indeed a natural part of existence. But knowing our thoughts are superimpositions on a reality-ground changes everything. The other is still there, but now we can appreciate it much more as it actually is, instead of how we imagine it or wish it to be. The very act of defining the other, or trying to pin it down, when we do it unconsciously, causes us to interpose our prejudices and projections onto it. Then, as in current American politics among many other places, we go mad with fear of the dreadful possibilities. The hope of science is to erase all the unseen blocks to clear vision, but calling yourself a scientist does not make it come true. Scientists’ brains work just like ours. We would all prefer to think we are without blame already—it’s other people who have faults.

         Here’s the bottom line: from my experience, people who have been in our class for a while are more astute at relating to others than they were before they encountered these ideas. I regularly hear insightful, open-minded assessments about other people from them. Not that they weren’t great to begin with, but there is always room for improvement. And the improvement benefits everyone, because others are generally happier to be treated with respect and understanding. Getting rid of our garbage (which begins with admitting we have some on board) is a definite win/win situation.

         In the present verse the garbage is not realizing that all our thoughts, no matter how refined and sublime, are projections. Over and over we keep trying to dial the kaleidoscope in just the right way that all the pieces fall into place to make a stunning picture. Then we get it! Only not really. All we have is a temporary pattern, and with the least shake it will tumble into another configuration. It’s nothing to fight over—just a lovely serendipity worth sharing with a good friend, or treasuring all alone.

         As usual there was plenty of batting around of ideas in the class, but we did try to rein them in. If you can’t stop yourself even in Bhana 10 study, when is it going to happen? Andy summed it up with the Zen idea of  “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” It’s a violent culture’s way of advising us not to codify the Absolute. Compassionate Narayana Guru gives the same idea as “gently, gently merge in sat aum.” Ease down. It’s simple. If you are calling it something, you aren’t busy merging. Deb added poetically that the vibrant silence within us confirms all this.

         Taking it a step further, Nitya reminds us:


The God conceived by the individual mind is a fabricated idea only. It is as much a fabrication of values and their interactions as is a gestalt of mental images deliberately constructed from perceptual data and correlated in terms of associative ideas or objects of interest. In either case there is a subjective factor which separates itself from the “other,” and so gives rise to ignorance and falsehood.


“God” is a cipher for what we consider the central value of our being, and those of us who don’t like the word should plug in our preferred version of what we call it. All science, philosophy, religion, God, and so on, despite their utility and inspirational value, are fabricated ideas. We should know this even as we delight in how gorgeously they are fabricated. Part of the ISOA excerpts below includes Nataraja Guru Puckishly poking fun at physicists for their fabrications. I can picture him laughing uproariously as he penned, “The physicist, thus, rudely shocks and violates norms of commonsense thinking, wanting the poor ‘man in the street’ to believe in fables at least not less far-fetched than those sometimes woven by theologians.”

         This brings us to the thrilling conclusion at this most momentous moment in Darsanamala:


Each person emphasizes what they have perceived or conceived. The references are only to personal ideas concerning the nature of existence, not to Existence as such. Existence does exist as the ground for the projection of all ideas of existence. What is experienced as existence is its many conceptual modifications. Sheer existence is to be known as the Self or Absolute. Hence the Guru says tadeva sat, “That alone exists.”


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         By this darsana the conclusion arrived at is that all things that are objects given to the senses, etc., and which enter consciousness are to be considered non-existent, and the only reality is that which is not the object of mental activity and is not the object of consciousness which is not conditioned, but is the basis for all effects of consciousness, while itself remaining without any basis except in the Self.


*       *       *


Once again, here’s 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.



*       *       *



From the Introduction (written 30 years ago now, spring 1987):


In The Psychology of Darsanamala, Guru Nitya demonstrates at great length the similarities between the attitudes of scientific materialism and religious theism. How both orientations emerge from a universal ground of consciousness is examined in the very first darsana of the book. He points out:


As a result of the conditioning of the faithful by the established religions, and of the skeptics by the categoric statements of science, man has become bifurcated in his sense of his true beingness. Having thus separated him from his true ground—that substratum that gives rise to all beings—those responsible for this have largely repressed in him the sense of wonder and delight in which one who knows his true being lives all the time. Looking in vain for some religious statement or scientific formula which will neatly encompass the whole mystery of being, so that we can file it away in our box of consumer goods and calendar maxims, we have forgotten that the mystery we seek to penetrate is our own mystery.


From the absolutist perspective adopted in this book, religion and science are seen to be nearly indistinguishable in their philosophical limitations and their effects on the psyche. Nonetheless, at the horizontal level of everyday life these two systems are very much in opposition.



*       *       *


from ISOA:

Our attitude is one that avoids exaggerations and exaltations, though natural enough to the mystic. Closed loyalties to static religious forms of belief or behavior are also avoided.

         Our basic dictum is that a normative notion of the Absolute is within the reach of human understanding as given to man anywhere in the world. Such attainment of the Absolute is very natural to man although requiring intense intellectual research on his part. The a priori and a posteriori approaches to truth or knowledge have to be made to come together from opposite poles, as it were, to meet on common ground. Concepts must marry their corresponding percepts, and, in the resulting fusion, paradox is abolished. A process of normalization and re-normalization in a reverse sense is implied here. When the paradox, which could only be schematic and nominal in its status, becomes wholly transparent, the Absolute reveals itself in all its unified or unitive significance. It then becomes a powerful instrument for certitude in the domain of thought. It affords a fecund frame of reference for regulating all precise thinking, which would then gain a beauty of its own, forever and everywhere enhancing its value in the cause of human understanding. (16-17)


         All notions or entities, from the most gross or tangible to the most subtle, reside at the core of the Absolute without rivalry. They are absorbed unitively into its being and becoming. It is hard to give a definitely fixed status to this notion. Existence, subsistence, and value factors are inclusively comprised in it, and as for its own reality, the question itself should not arise once the perfect neutrality of its status is admitted. All dualities are to be dropped before the Absolute can be comprehended. In the context of the Absolute, even the faintest duality has to fade away into something which can even be said to be nothing. Whatever duality may still be suspected, it must be laid at the door of the limitations of human understanding, in its attempt to attain an ultimate notion of the Absolute. We have to admit this by the very validity of the general ideas based on human understanding which can be presupposed by us. (17)


More from ISOA:


The paradox involved here is glossed over by modern relativists who do not wish to characterize pure space either as relative or absolute in status. They prefer rather to pin their faith on light, which can be considered as something perceivable and actually visible, such as flashes of light whether in corpuscular or wave form emitted from the most distant of stars.

         Even after the failure of the Michelson—Morley experiment, revealing the astounding fact of the total absence of any ponderable ether, postulated by classical physicists as a sort of substitute for some absolute medium for light to travel through, modern physicists refuse to recognize any kind of space with an absolutist character. The above epoch-making experiment has laid bare the fact that light travels at an enormously high velocity, ungraspable to commonsense experience and, what is more, that the relative speeds or positions of the observers or the motion itself of the source of light that they observe, do not in the least affect this factor, referring to light in its power to fill all space. One hears such statements as `thousands of light years' for a ray of light to travel from a distant star before it reaches an observer on earth.13 Three-hundred-thousand kilometers per second has to be multiplied many times by time units before common sense is enabled even to think of such a supposedly perceivable physical event.

          The man of common sense has a right to object to the physicist who claims, even here, that this ray of light comes within the scope of perceivability, which is the single condition dividing physics from metaphysics. The physicist, thus, rudely shocks and violates norms of commonsense thinking, wanting the poor `man in the street' to believe in fables at least not less far-fetched than those sometimes woven by theologians. Because the physicists do not want to give an absolutist status to pure space they prefer to give more importance to the velocity of light, which they characterize by the less pretentious, yet synonymous term `constant'.

         If we come to examine impartially what this term `constant' is meant to imply to a normal man, who is neither prejudiced in favor of physics nor of metaphysics, it is easy to see, in the independent, pure, and ultimately phenomenal status of the velocity of light, the rudiments at least, of a notion participating both ways, whether as an actuality or as an analogy, bridging, as it were, the intellectual gulf separating the domain of physics from that of metaphysics. In fact, such expressions as `the light of the world' as used in theology justify such a two-sided participation or transparency between the twin aspects involved here. The transition between the mental and the physical is a problem to which we shall be returning more than once in this work.


Part III


         It’s always a pleasure to get some nice feedback. This came from Beverley:


Wonderful Class notes.... a positive tour de force! I was ever so pleased to get the quotes from the ISOA.

Scott Teitsworth