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Darsana Six - Verse One


Karma Darsana, Introduction and verse 1


The Self alone, through maya, does

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’ Self-luminous

And detached, that through negativity

Does action bearing many forms

Like the dream-agent in sleep.


         The 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.

         Nitya’s 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.

         The 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 with it.

         I 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 miracle here!]

         The 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.

         Because 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.

         We’re 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. Nitya writes:


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.


         I 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.

         Fortunately, 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 simultaneously:


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:


4)   By Me all this world is pervaded, My form unmanifested; all beings have existence in Me and I do not have existence in them.


5)   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 it.

         And 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.

         Nitya’s 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.


         Deb 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 intelligent.

         The 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 work 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’.

         Paul 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.

         Deb 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?

         Bushra 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.

         Moni 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.

         Scotty 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.

         So 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 actions.

         We 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 derived 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 vibhvasu (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.

         And 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 karma yoga.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananada’s commentary:


         Because 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 my, 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 my. 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 Self.


*         *         *


         In 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. 7)


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.

         Deconditioning 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.


Part III


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.

   These 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.

   This 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 says. (44)


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)


*         *         *


         My 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 copy.

         Nitya 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).


*         *         *


         Deb 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 friends.

Our old cat doesn’t care. He laps the water where my face used to be.


Scott Teitsworth