Karma Darsana, Introduction and verse 1
The Self alone, through maya,
action by assuming many forms,
though detached and self-luminous,
like the taijasa in sleep.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
It is indeed the Self, tho’
And detached, that through
Does action bearing many forms
Like the dream-agent in sleep.
beginning of the Karma Darsana is immediately adjacent to the radiant center of
the entire work, so it is no surprise that it commences with luminosity and notes
how it permeates action.
commentary with its interpenetrating cones reminded Deb of the spinning
two-dimensional image of Taoism—the venerable yin-yang symbol—and that’s very
appropriate, because the cone was Nataraja Guru’s attempt to make a 3D image to
supplement the 2D ones, and the dialectically-arranged cones were (I’m pretty
sure) Nitya’s upgrade. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.
downside of an image on paper is that we can hardly help seeing it as separate
from us, as something distant. The gurus’ invitation is to not only visualize
the concepts in three dimensions but to internalize them as living realities.
Nitya is asking us to meditate on an infinite world that tapers down through
our very being to be focused at the singular point of our wakeful I-sense, or
ego. Simultaneously we perceive a vast manifested world, which is reduced from
that perspective to a semi-awareness in dreams and an unconscious unawareness
in deep sleep, tapering to a point of singularity not unlike the one that
supposedly initiated the most recent big bang of creation. In meditation we do
not need to take recourse in a two-dimensional scheme—we can vivify these ideas
into a living reality. Unless we are determined to keep the teaching
externalized and remote, this is where to go from here on. Supposedly in the
first half of Darsanamala we have overcome the impediments to such a living
expression, bringing ourselves back to life, in a sense. Now it’s time to wail
have actually been able to copy Nitya’s diagram into the notes—a miracle of
modernity! I include it here in hopes it will be taken literally to heart.
[Diagram did not reproduce--no
first thing to notice is that it looks like there are five categories when
there are actually only four. Deep sleep and the world of incipient memories
either overlap substantially or are the same, what we usual think of as the
vertical negative or sushupti. They
are separated here (I’m guessing) because there are two cones. The one
shrinking from infinity to the ‘I’ passes through incipient memories as the
stimuli for action, while in the other the world of outer manifestation is
reduced through deep sleep to the point of nothingness. In meditation the names
aren’t crucial—maybe even inimical—so see what you find when you poke around on
your own. Be sure to go both directions, inward and outward, and try to blend
them together. Playing with the geometry is not necessarily verboten.
according to Vedanta incipient memories are the primary cause of our actions,
I’ll add a smattering of helpful review material about them in Part II.
just getting started grappling with action, so Nitya’s introduction to the
darsana is a bit of a review. Most of it reprises the idea of consciousness as
a mirror that reflects objects based on its shape and defects. Unless the
defects are dramatic, we humans get used to the configuration of our own mirror
and just assume that’s the way the world is. If nothing else, Darsanamala
should have made us a little cautious of defending our own limited perspective.
Man acts and reacts, or so he
universally thinks, and therefore it is only natural that he understands all
perceived changes in terms of action and reaction, cause and consequences. When
the presented phenomenon is commented upon, two major errors are unconsciously
committed. The commentator forgets that he or she is only describing the
representative image and has no access to the original. Further, the verbalism
involved in cogitation restricts the expression to a conceptual level which is
entirely the product of the culture of human intelligence. In other words,
every experience is a confection of the observer and the observed.
Spiritual effort is that which aims to extricate us from the
complications of self-limiting views. Nitya clues us in to Narayana Guru’s
revolutionary intent in this regard:
Both physicists and philosophers
have tried various explanations to account for the world of flux, which
bristles with all kinds of conjunctions and disjunctions, integrations and disintegrations,
and formations of compounds of all sorts. But here Narayana Guru is asking us
to look at the entire field of action from the side of what is termed as the
fourth, instead of looking at it from what is described as the wakeful
consciousness of the individual, who is confronted with the otherness of a
vision of the universe which stands in contrast to the subjective consciousness
of the “I” as its irrefutable, objective world.
have just been rereading Nataraja Guru’s excellent section on the failings of
science when it is based solely on induction, where he makes an irrefutable
case against the assumption that totality is revealed by the sum of its
identifiable parts. It turns out to be an initial assumption and also the
conclusion, which is nothing more than a circular argument or tautology.
Anyway, the point is that we can not become realized by piling up examples or
images: they are of a different order entirely. Narayana Guru knew this, knew
that we had to make a quantum leap to embrace the All before it would be
possible for the myriad separate expressions of maya to enjoy a coherent
relationship. And we cannot even begin to realize this if we aren’t conscious
of the ironclad impossibility of fixing the Absolute as a mirror image of any particular
quality, much less as a confabulation of particles.
Vedanta affirms this realization is eminently possible for anyone, given enough
dedication. It is only impossible if we insist of retaining our limits. In the
face of such a daunting task, we do tend to fall back on our familiar framings,
however. For now, Nitya wants us to acknowledge that while we can upgrade our
framing significantly, linear progress by itself does not “reveal the
Absolute.” Karma yoga (unitive activity) is what’s required, not simply “good”
karma. How tough is it? Nitya tells us, “In the present context, maya stands
for the mystery of being both existent and nonexistent at the same time, giving
possibilities of being viewed diversely.” Only the turiya or fourth state
transcends these limitations to be come existent and nonexistent
Here we are facing a paradox of
the worst sort. From the description of the fourth which is given in the Bhana
Darsana, there is no likelihood of it ever becoming interested in causing
anything which has the quality of the other or the non-Self. It is free of the
duality of the world of cause and effect. We have also made a summary dismissal
of the wakeful world of phenomenal forms and names as the potential causal factor,
because they are only the consequential resultant of some other causal factor.
Thus spirit as the basis and matter as the basis are both discredited from
being instrumental in making action of any sort.
I threw in a few of the Gita’s verses on this same
impossible dilemma, which is only impossible to describe—it is possible to experience, or else all
guru transmission would be irrelevant. These are from Chapter IX:
By Me all this world is pervaded, My form unmanifested; all beings have
existence in Me and I do not have existence in them.
And further, beings do not exist in Me; behold My status as a divine mystery;
further, Myself remaining that urge behind beings, I bear them but do not exist
in them either.
6) As the great (expanse of) air
filling all space has its basis in pure extension, thus you should understand
all existences as having their basis in Me.
Perfectly paradoxical, eh? The Absolute pervades everything,
and yet does not have existence in any of it. Beings exist in it and do not
exist in it. All this is to defeat our insistence on pigeonholing the
transcendental, which in practice turns out to be yet another way of dismissing
as if to prove the assertion of this section of Darsanamala that there is more
in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophies, I picked up an old
copy from the shelf of Nitya’s Gita to read those verses out of, one that I
haven’t opened for a very long time. I never leave a jacket flap on an inside
page, because it deforms it and speeds wear. But this copy had the front flap
tucked into the middle of the book, and it happened to be on the exact page
where those verses appear. Hmmm.
closing paragraph is really beautiful in the way it cozies up to the mystery:
The pure Self in the present verse is
compared to the sky and the sun.
The sky is the universal concept of the void. When the Buddhist school of
Nihilism compares nirvana to the great void, sunyata, it agrees with the Vedantin’s concept of the
non-qualitative Absolute, the nirguna.
It has no function. It simply radiates its effulgence. Yet as far as we are
concerned so many things are caused by the sheer presence of the sun, such as
the formation of the planets, their motions, the earth becoming habitable, and
the solar energy and moisture getting into various kinds of alchemy to produce
life of all sorts on this planet. In the same way, the mere presence of the
Self initiates many actions without taking upon itself the agency of action.
was tickled to note the similarity of this idea of the sun’s influence with a
current book she’s reading: A Sand County
Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. In it the role of the sun in various animal’s
lives are put forth in poetic effusions. Each animal gets something different
and appropriate to itself from the sun, and yet the sun is doing the same thing
to all of them, just pouring out its energies. The sun as the source of all
life is in one sense a common idea known to thinkers everywhere, and yet may
also be a profound and esoteric insight that can melt our rigidity of mind when
realized in its full magnitude. It made me think of the supercilious academics
I have known who sneer at pagan sun-worshippers, as if they were just
superstitiously taking an inert ball of fire for the supreme deity, the fools!
Sun worship means meditating on everything the sun means and allowing yourself
to be uplifted by and grateful to it. It doesn’t preclude worshiping or
appreciating other things. Quite the reverse. A true sun worshiper might well
pity those who strip the beauty and soul power out of existence, who denature
nature, unable to worship anything. As Nitya shows, worship can be quite
class talked about some of what this means for our everyday life, that we need
to relinquish our dependence on egotistical plotting and planning to more fully
enter the blissful tide of existence. I should say our sole dependence on those things, because we do have plenty of
to do in the transactional world. Yet we can and should make room for the total
whole to participate in our life, and that requires a very different kind of
plotting and planning. If we are aware of how much we cordon off from our
purview, we can humble ourselves and allow it to stretch our horizons for us.
It is, after all, us. It is who we are. We aren’t inviting anything alien to
come in and have its way with us. We are simple being aware that that tiny
little tip of one of the interpenetrating cones in our diagram is not the whole
enchilada. It’s just a dab of salsa. We call it ‘I’ or ‘me’.
shared a yogic/Sufi saying he recently ran across, in Attar’s Conference of the
Birds, that if you can liberate yourself from what you know and from what you
don’t know, only then will the ego disappear. Or as I would prefer to say,
become its right size. The ego is an essential part of human functionality, but
readily subject to exaggerations and distortions, obviously. Also, any
undertaking that professes to do away with the ego is going to unintentionally
inflate it. The ego thrives on that kind of subterfuge. Which is why yoga is
necessary, karma yoga in this case. The ego-baffling dialectic compression of
opposites synthesizes a state where the ego is not able to make up its mind,
permitting psychic expansion if done correctly. Done incorrectly, it brings
about contraction. We’ll be revisiting this principle a lot in the weeks ahead,
so don’t sweat it.
talked about Wislawa Szymborska’s poem, Possibilities, which she recently
shared with her prison dialogue group. It’s an intriguing list of I prefer this
and I prefer that. As egocentric beings, we are shaped by our preferences, we
often believe they define us. Deb’s idea was to use the poem to get some
distance from that: would I be the same person if I preferred something
different? Being attached to our preferences goes far deeper than we imagine.
Deb brought it up here because our preferences dictate a large percentage of
our actions: we busy ourselves trying to actualize our preferences. What would
happen if we preferred whatever came along, and followed it as far as we might?
has just read Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness
in my Mind. In it a man does just what Deb was wondering about: he expects
one thing, is infatuated with it and tries to make it come true, and yet
something else intervenes. He is eventually able to let go of the one fantasy
and embrace the next, which turns out to be—dare I say it—preferable. And
that’s the deal: letting our whole being weigh in on our actions turns out to
be frequently preferable—often dramatically so—to picking and choosing based on
our ego preferences. Bushra took this in the context of acting without
intention, an idea that appeals to her immensely. As well as being not as
simple as it sounds. She was well aware that our intentions limit our
possibilities, which as I pointed out has both a positive and negative side. To
bring valuable things about we have to reduce the possible to the probable and
then to the actual. To free ourselves from stuck places we have to let go of
the actual to introduce new possibilities. It’s this second option many of us
need more practice with.
added that once we practice acting without (or with less) intention, we will
see how beneficial it is, and we will have more confidence in it. She noted how
Narayana Guru was a karma yogi, because he did everything he needed to do, and
yet he remained unattached in the midst of all his activities. He had a lot of
experience-based faith in the unknown.
recalled a saying from Zen in the Art of
Archery, by Eugen Herrigel, (a lot of books came up in this class!) that
even when you are in the 99th mile of a hundred mile journey, you
are still in the middle. Scotty thought this meant that usually at that stage
we’re thinking of how close we are to being done, the end is near, gosh I’m
tired, I wonder what’s next, and all that, instead of admiring the unique
beauties of where we happen to be. This inspired Deb to recall a pithy idea
from the poet Anne Carson. When she was asked what advice she would give to
prospective writers, hers was “Start in the middle.” It doesn’t have to be a
linear narrative from start to finish. Begin with what you are excited about,
right in the middle, and let it grow out from there.
yes, we are always in the middle, often imagining we are somewhere else. We act
to reclaim or claim what we aren’t or don’t have, and seldom allow ourselves to
be where we already are. Which may account for the futility of so many of our
didn’t get around to talking about the taijasa
of the verse, so I looked it up on the computer in my wealth of Gurukula material.
Nancy Y’s version from a recent Brihadaranyaka Upanishad lesson is the gist: taijasa is the shining principle
from the generative source; dream consciousness. Also, Nataraja Guru’s comments
on Gita X, 9 include (with the verse):
9) I am the holy fragrance of the
earth (divinity) and also the brilliance of the luminary (presence), the vital
principle in all beings, and the (essence of) austerity in all ascetics.
The term vibhàvasu (luminary) is not a specific or
actual object only. It is
also a presence, a hierophancy, and can connote fire, moon and the sun. The
object of the author is to refer here to the holy presences suggested in all
bright objects, including fire. The light itself is referred to as tejas (brilliance) which is related to
that aspect of consciousness called taijasa
(the brilliant) which is at the basis of dreams.
Indian philosophy frequently equates maya and her universe
as a dream. Vishnu is lying on the endless snake Ananta and dreaming up
universe upon universe. “Life is but a dream” is more than a nursery rhyme.
Narayana Guru uses the image to remind us of the unreal aspect lurking behind
the appearance of reality that our actions can and often legitimately have.
Paradoxically we become more ecstatically engaged in living effectively when we
back off from micromanaging our lives.
then the bell rang, and class was over. As we have nine more verses ahead, we
will have plenty of time to develop these incipient ideas into full-fledged
the Self, like the sky, is without taint and because it is self-luminous like
the sun, it cannot be reasonably thought of as capable of any action. In
reality the Self does not do any action. If we now examine what it is that
acts, we have to say it is màyà,
because it is of the order of inert matter. It is not capable of any action
independent of the Self. Therefore, because it is only capable of acting by the
presence of the Self and is not different from the Self, and because for accomplishing
any action there is nothing else, what effects all the various forms of action
is the Self. That is to say, it is quite legitimate to think that it is the
Self that effects all actions through màyà.
In the state of sleep it is within everybody's experience that the subtle
dream-agent is able to accomplish all the action without possessing any outward
organs of action. What the dream-agent accomplishes is experienced as if it is
real as long as the dream lasts. It becomes clear when coming out of the state of sleep that the work
accomplished by the dream-agent is not real but only apparent or virtual. The
term bahu-rupa-dhrik (bearing many
forms) is intended here to include within its scope all possible forms of
action, the purport being that there is no action that is not attributed to the
Meditations on the Self, (MOTS)
likely our next study, Nitya relates the basic concept of incipient memories:
I know I’m a product of
the past. In me are lying hidden hundreds of latent habit traits or incipient
memories, called vasanas. In fact
every modulation of the mind has in it the waking up of an incipient memory.
Even good vasanas can drag us into the behavioral chain of desiring, seeking,
manipulating, acting, reacting and getting further conditioned to repeat the
same experience with added zest. Such being the case, who would still want to
open Pandora’s box after learning it contains deadly germs like cholera and plague?
Vasanas are the seeds of karma. Everywhere the wise who are aware of
the octopus-like tentacles of karma are
seeking ways to burn away its seeds so they aren’t forced to begin old chains
of behavior over and over again. (ch.
We cannot deny the fact that there are certain areas of
conditioning which are beyond the pale of our rational mind. Grief, pity, fear,
sex-fascination, curiosity, and a number of other basic instincts originate
from the inconscient seedbed of incipient memory. The slightest provocation
from the faintest stimulus can cause the sudden upsurge of a latent habit
trait. Very often we don’t realize how much we are provoked before reason
belatedly comes to our rescue. This is a tragedy to which even kind-hearted
people of altruistic motives succumb. We need not, however, continue to express
the distortion of a conditioning when it might just as well be deconditioned.
ourselves is not easy. Resorting to inaction is not very helpful. Repression or
withdrawal may even turn out to be pathological. Only by unitive action can one
effectively cope with nature’s demand for action. Even an absolutist
renunciate, who is said to transcend action, has to perform action even though
he doesn’t own the agency of any action. The action of a renunciate is what we
refer to as non-action in action. (ch. 43)
And from Bhana Darsana, verse 5:
It is not difficult for one to stand apart from the
mainstream of mental events and act as a witness, listening to the arguments
and counter-arguments going on in our intellectual sphere, until the
volitionally bent intellect passes a resolution to be ratified by the
I-consciousness, which either promotes the incipient memory or suppresses it as
a matter of expediency or prudence.
From the May 2017 issue of National Geographic, an idea that
resonates well with our study:
Who is a Genius? by Claudia Kalb
Scientific breakthroughs… would
be impossible without creativity, a strand of genius that Terman [one of the
creators of the Stanford IQ test] couldn’t measure. But creativity and its
processes can be explained, to a certain extent, by creative people themselves.
Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute in
Philadelphia, has been bringing together individuals who stand out as
trailblazers in their fields… to talk about how their ideas and insights are
kindled. Kaufman’s goal is not to elucidate genius—he considers the word to be
a societal judgment that elevates a chosen few while overlooking others—but to
nurture imagination in everyone.
discussions have revealed that the aha moment, the flash of clarity that arises
at unexpected times—in a dream, in the shower, on a walk—often emerges after a
period of contemplation. Information comes in consciously, but the problem is
processed unconsciously, the resulting solution leaping out when the mind least
expects it. “Great ideas don’t tend to come when you’re narrowly focusing on
them,” says Kaufman. (42-3)
You may recall the work of Charles Limb was cited last year
in Darsanamala class notes 2.6. He is featured in the article for his work with
brain scans of improvising musicians:
Their scans demonstrate that
brain activity was “fundamentally different” while the musicians were
improvising, says Limb. The internal network, associated with self-expression,
showed increased activity, while the outer network, linked to focused attention
and also self-censoring, quieted down. “It’s almost as if the brain turned off
its own ability to criticize itself,” he says.
may help explain the astounding performances of jazz pianist Keith Jarrett.
Jarrett… finds it difficult—impossible, actually—to explain how his music takes
shape. But when he sits down in front of audiences, he purposefully pushes
notes out of his mind, moving his hands to keys he has no intention of playing.
“I’m bypassing the brain completely,” he tells me. “I am being pulled by a
force that I can only be thankful for.”…. His creative artistry, nurtured by
decades of listening, learning, and practicing melodies, emerges when he is
least in control. “It’s a vast space in which I trust there will be music,” he
The concluding paragraph contains practical advice:
The quest to unravel the origins
of genius may never reach an end point. Like the universe, its mysteries will
continue to challenge us, even as we reach for the stars. For some, that is as
it should be. “I don’t want to figure it out at all,” says Keith Jarrett when I
ask if he is comfortable not knowing how his music takes hold. “If someone
offered me the answer, I’d say, Take it away.” In the end it may be that the
journey is illuminating enough and that the insights it reveals along the
way—about the brain, about our genes, about the way we think—will nurture
glimmers of genius in not just the rare individual but in us all. (55)
question above about the origin of the interpenetrating cones analogy was
answered by Nataraja Guru himself. In my editing I’ve gotten just to here in
the Preliminaries of ISOA:
28. A Structural Model with
Absolute Status Already in Use
Conics is a branch of geometry
much favoured by ancient astronomers, because of the various curves, shapes, or
lines it accommodates within its scope of study. These features are
particularly favourable in astrology and cosmology. The circle, parabola, and
ellipse can all easily be thought of in terms of conic sections. When two cones
have their circular bases juxtaposed we have a structural model. Such a model
is used nowadays by paint dealers who probably adopted this model primarily for
reasons of utility and have taken to its use as if by chance in their efforts
to link names with numbers or letters or other monomarks of a graded series
referable to all possible colours distributed conveniently in space, with an intrinsic
or absolute structure of its own.
As you would expect, the entire chapter is quite a mouthful.
Here at the beginning we have two cones with bases juxtaposed, but it is
eventually converted to the two vertexes converging at a point representing the
resolution of paradox, which reveals the Absolute. You can read about it in
ISOA if you’re interested, or I can send you the chapter if you don’t have a
refined this further in bringing the cones together, as shown in the diagram.
This reduces the degree of duality in the figure, and would likely have found
Nataraja Guru’s approval, though probably not that of paint dealers. When you
encounter references to the color solid in his writings, you can access the
background here (beginning p. 109 in the upcoming edition).
sent another poem that also resonates with the class:
by Jim Harrison
Back in the blue chair in front of the green studio
another year has passed, or so they say, but calendars lie.
They’re a kind of cosmic business machine like
their cousins clocks but break down at inopportune times.
Fifty years ago I learned to jump off the calendar
but I kept getting drawn back on for reasons
of greed and my imperishable stupidity.
Of late I’ve escaped those fatal squares
with their razor-sharp numbers for longer and longer.
I had to become the moving water I already am,
falling back into the human shape in order
not to frighten my children, grandchildren, dogs and
Our old cat doesn’t care. He laps the water where my face
used to be.