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Darsana Six - Verse Two


Karma Darsana verse 2


I think, I speak, I grasp, I hear –

all such forms of action are done

by the Supreme Self

through the agency of consciousness and the indriya-s.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


“I think, I speak, I grasp, I hear,”

In such forms whatever actions, are accomplished

By the Supreme Self (which is also),

Assuming the forms of pure reason and the senses

         Yesterday I ran across a helpful section in Nataraja Guru’s An Integrated Science of the Absolute (ISOA), where he is explaining the structure of Darsanamala, which he uses as the basis of his monumental work. I clipped it out and put it in Part II, and then later in the day read this in Nitya’s commentary on this verse:


Nataraja Guru, in his exhaustive commentary on Darsanamala, reminds us that in this chapter we are relating the Self to the non-Self, rather than the non-Self to the Self.


This is actually very important to our grasp(!) of the material, and you can read below for a more thorough picture of the overall plan. Essentially the changeover we’ve made between the fifth and sixth darsanas is the transition from physics to metaphysics, or say, outwardly directed to inwardly directed consciousness. Here at the beginning of the Karma Darsana, Narayana Guru is establishing that where we formerly thought of ourselves as individuals struggling to put together our understanding, we now know we are just one humble feature of a vast flow of life.

         Jan appropriately asked for a practical example of the difference between those outlooks. In the former case we assume total responsibility for our actions, which are the product of our various schemings, severely limited by what Andy called our massive ignorance. We seek to accomplish certain things, and have been given certain skills to carry them out as isolated individuals, but we don’t know very much of how it will transpire. (This kind of ignorance is actually a good thing, often enough.) Because of the difficulty of accomplishing what we hope for, frustration, anxiety, anger and so on are possible outcomes. We are never sure if we are on the right track, or whether we will succeed.

         If we can envision instead that the universe as a whole is acting through us and with us, we can retain our role as an individual and yet feel grounded in a natural flow inclusive of everything. We can accept that a tremendous amount of unasked-for assistance is given to us before we even begin. Then in place of anxiety we will be bending our ear to hear how we are to proceed. The motivation is that this is exceedingly blissful, in the highest sense, as well as frequently successful, also in the highest sense.

         We’re not talking about hearing voices and acting on them, as Bushra affirmed. We are the Absolute. It is not something remote running our life—we are it. We simply have to give up the fantasy that we are lone gunmen facing the evil enemy on a fake Western stage set. Sheriffs against the bad guys, a movie played over and over in our psyches as gullible consumers, now featured in theaters worldwide. The isolationist fantasy is demonstrating its toxicity on a colossal scale these days.

         The class lamented that the Absolute was not in any way accessible: it is not an object of awareness. Again, this is a good thing, if you can accept it. Why convert yourself to an object? Just be a living reality instead. We reprised verse 9 from the last darsana:


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.


Because we are the Absolute, it is not anything “out there” to perceive, just as the eye does not see itself. We are the Absolute as witness. Everything we see is an object of our senses, and therefore the non-Self, by definition. This is hardly cause for lamentation. We are sitting with an impeccable set of gurus drinking in inspiring insights about this whole situation. Hard to beat.

         At this stage of our study, Narayana Guru has turned our perspective 180 degrees, from divergence back to an all-inclusive ideal. He has made an impeccable case for it in the previous five darsanas, if we have been lucky enough to be paying close attention. He and Nitya are going to keep at it.

         Andy lamented that the isolated ‘I’ was a powerful habit to overcome, that it is a mistake to think “I grasp,” and so on, and yet how else can we frame it? We have to meditate deeply that the world is not a product of our thinking, and that there is a notable difference between thought and pure consciousness. The universe exhibits an overarching logic. He was cautious about admitting we could even experience it, but we can surely meditate on it. (I would say these are not two things, but shades of one.) Andy thought we should meditate on our massive ignorance, of how much was unknown to us, to open our hearts to the greater world we are a part of. We benefit from so much that we don’t even know exists, like the workings of our own bodies and what’s around the next bend. Well, we may know it abstractly, but it doesn’t affect us in a way we are normally cognizant of.

         I added that the benefit of meditating on our ignorance is not to make us feel small and stupid, it’s because we are even ignorant of our ignorance. We have no idea how ignorant we are, because we’re playing a game of “Look how clever I am.” Who are we fooling? Our ignorance is not a void, but is filled with the harmonious workings of a spectacularly well-adjusted universe. Its running does not depend on our ego-fantasies, but part of its harmony does include our unique being. We contemplate our ignorance to mitigate our hubris, to bring our ego down to its proper size.

         We are creatures of instinct much more than we realize, not unlike the “lower animals” we humans tend to pity as being less sentient than we are. Humans are diligently trained to shut off our “automatic pilot” of harmonious instincts and “fly blind” instead. Just me and the runway ahead. Will I make it through in the way I’m supposed to? The truth is, nearly 100 percent of our action propensities are animated by instincts. Science is now trying to make it 100, but we Vedantins reserve a reasonable role for the I-consciousness, so make it 99―. Our egos cozy up around the remaining half percent and feel pretty darn smug. Nancy put it nicely—we have these gigantic brains. What are they for? We are weaving patterns we don’t even realize.

         We got to talking about a certain humble Japanese puffer fish in a BBC video, well worth taking a few minutes to check out: This is pure instinctive action, but what does that mean? There is incredible intelligence involved, passed on from fish to fish without words or demonstrations. They just do it. There has to be some invisible, undetectable connection. Impossible not to be. It can only mean the Self acts through its extensions in what we call the real world. And yes, instinct doesn’t apply to everything in the universe except humans. Guess what? We operate the same way. It’s just that we have developed a unique inhibitory faculty that usually works quite well, but occasionally overdoes it. Society keeps cheering us on to build stronger inhibitions, which often damage the psyche and cause it to veer away from optimal functioning. Without reinforcement of a connecting awareness, we may drift into tamas, darkness. Nitya epitomizes the situation quite clearly:


As the Absolute Self is not directly known to the self as an item of awareness, the reasoning self goes on taking upon itself all agency of action until the psychophysical embodiment of the individual falls apart as a demolished instrument.


In other words, we assume the reins of our psychic horse and turn a deaf ear to our inner promptings of which way to go. We apply random, fitful tugs on the reins and are stupefied as we are taken for a wild ride. We don’t trust the horse and we’re not sure about our self, either. We only give up the hallucination of control when we die.

         I wondered what great things might be possible if we stopped inhibiting ourselves before we die.

         Self-control and consequent self-inhibition is what imposes the three gunas on a harmoniously functioning psyche, spinning us down through sattva and rajas to the dark pit of tamas, until we find a way to break free and ascend to relative clarity with another burst of sattva. But this is an endless cycle we are called to transcend entirely. Nitya nails it:


From the study of earlier chapters we now know at least vaguely that returning to the Self in its purest form is the sure path of regaining our happiness. What seems to obstruct our path is the continuous hindrance caused by unavoidable propensities that make us act or react.


Those propensities are the gunas. He adds:


Pure consciousness in Sanskrit is called cit. However pure it is when it lends itself as the only existential reality that can give meaning to mental or sensual operations, it is bound to be delimited and stained with the triple modalities of nature: transparency, translucency and opacity. As a result, the awareness becomes either a positive recognition of a partial manifestation of happiness, or the denial of this positive value in a given context in which an individuated organism is coming into relation or encounter with other forms of specific manifestations of like or unlike species or order.


This last sentence made me realize we should decode the more complex ideas in these commentaries. Here what Nitya is saying is that pure consciousness is the abode of true happiness, and that when pure consciousness is divvied up into the three nature modalities it becomes a less-compelling version. It becomes happiness we have to go looking for. We either chase after momentary happiness, or lose out to other people or situations that block us off from it. Either we get to eat that delicious chocolate cake, or the dog runs in and eats our piece before we get to it. As we well know by now, in Vedanta dependent happiness is called pleasure, and is not considered happiness at all.

         Two other sentences beg for clarification. First:


Three ways of understanding the Absolute are the recognition of the irrefutability of the existence of beingness, the appreciation of the intensive and the extensive possibilities in terms of awareness, and the meaning of appreciation centering around a value stemming from an unalloyed state.


Eagle eyes will see this is an elaboration of sat, chit and ananda. Then we have:


How can the base, devoid of any urge, prompting, desire, or latent possibility of action, remain ever unrelated to the perceiving mind and the organs of action, when they are dependent factors on this one basis, without which nothing can exist?


Nitya is describing his double cone figure from the previous verse, so the base is the absolute ground. The apparent schism between the totality and our limited individual perspective is the unbridgeable gap that at the same time cannot be a gap at all, because everything has to be connected. We have wondered elsewhere how the all-knowing Absolute could hide from itself, even temporarily. It’s perhaps the second greatest miracle, after existence itself. Or maybe they are one and the same miracle.

         We were all fairly perplexed by how you proceed in the face of the impossibility of attaining the Absolute. Deb remembered Nataraja Guru once saying that you can’t wait for it to come to you, and you can’t go and wrestle with it and capture it. Another way is needed, or maybe a fortuitous blending of the two.

         We had a very rich class and were gratified that we can continue this exploration in the next few verses. Before signing off today, we still had to defend against the urge to negate the individual in favor of the Absolute. The idea will likely never die, but Nitya is unequivocal:


The point where action ceases altogether is described by the Buddha as nirvana, nibbana. Some of his disciples have even gone to the extent of describing nirvana as nothingness or the pure void. According to the rishis of the Upanishads, the transcendence of all action as well as the causal urges to act is moksha. Moksha is not equated with nothingness or the void. It is the rediscovery of beingness. In this context beingness is equated with the Absolute.


Remember, sat in the earlier quote means the Absolute is “the recognition of the irrefutability of the existence of beingness.” Nitya adds elsewhere, “This riddle can be solved only by tracing the common source of all bodies to one unified or unitive reality or beingness.” Beingness is the opposite of nothingness. Only in the very broadest sense are they the same.

         We are coming to life, not slinking away from it. This is our fleeting moment of glory. Don’t pass on it! Live it to the hilt. Bushra was really in the spirit of it—we are the Absolute already. We don’t have to reconfigure ourselves to conform to it. This wisdom should fill us with ecstasy, and empower us to do excellent, wonderful things. It is very exciting to see the glints of luminosity bursting through the cracks here and there around the room. Let’s have more!

         Nitya’s first two sentences also make a fitting conclusion:


We are not tired of calling the attention of the reader to the fact that this is not a book to discuss hydraulics, thermodynamics, or electromagnetism. We have to keep before our mind the purpose of our pursuit: discovering our lost treasure of happiness.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         When action is accomplished it is the Self that remains, and as the inner organs and the motor organs, accomplishes all works. That is to say, it is the one Self as the reasoning Self (cittātmā) that accomplishes acts of thought by saying to itself, “I think,” and in the form of speech accomplishes the act of saying, “I speak,” which is action, in the form of the spoken word, as the Self of the hand accomplishes the action of taking, which is of the form of grasping, and as the Self of hearing accomplishes the work in the form of “I hear.” By reference to actions such as “I think,” etc. we have to take it that all functions such as rising, falling, contracting, expanding and moving are also to be supposed. Because there is nothing other than the Self and because it is impossible that anything that is inert can accomplish any action, it is the ultimate Self (which by assuming the form of the reasoning mind and the senses), that accomplishes all actions as expressly intended to be understood in this verse.


*         *         *


         I’m now editing the part of the ISOA preliminaries where Nataraja Guru talks about the structure of Darsanamala that provides the framework for his magnum opus. This is a useful way of understanding what we’re about:


For purposes of convenience the chapters of Darsanamala can be divided into four parts…. The first three chapters can be considered as forming one group where the attention of the reader is still directed outwards to the objective, or at least the phenomenological world about us. The last three chapters, on the other hand, have an axiological unity of content between them. They strictly belong to the mystical rather than to the scientific approach. Out of the four chapters remaining, which are more or less logical or psychological referring centrally to consciousness, as understood with its innermost implications, we can again think of a subdivision, as between the fourth and fifth on the one hand, and the sixth and seventh on the other. They also have an inner symmetry between them. The fourth examines the overall possibility of negative error in the context of the neutral Absolute, while the seventh proposes how to overcome error positively through the training of the reasoning will, and thus to leave the error behind.

   Further methodological or epistemological implications of these chapters will become evident when we come to deal with them. For the present it suffices to remember that the two central chapters, the fifth and the sixth, cling close together giving unity and continuity to the total knowledge-situation understood schematically or nominalistically. (132-3)


And later:


One more word about the treatment we are going to give to these various subdivisions: We shall give due place in the beginning to modern scientific knowledge of an observational order, while trying to balance such knowledge with speculative observations so as to round them off and fit them into the overall context of the present work. In the second half, especially in what pertains to the last three chapters, Vedantic speculation will receive sufficient counterbalancing treatment as against the observational aspects emphasized in the beginning. Brahma-vidya or the Science of the Absolute as understood in the authoritative source books will be fully respected at the end. The four intermediate chapters will represent the part of the work where the subtle transition between physics and metaphysics will take place. (134)


*         *         *


         Deb shared a lovely insight that I can’t fit into the flow of the first part, but feel it must be included, for those few who read past the asterisks, at least. Tibetan Buddhists are always talking about overcoming demons, and we tend to think of them as monsters, dragons, ghosts, super-aliens and the like. She always feels that she can easily beat those. But one day she realized: when my feelings are hurt, I turn back into a crying ten-year-old girl, and gather myself around my hurts, nurturing them in a way. And THAT’S my demon to overcome. It isn’t a monster, it is whatever catches and holds me, keeps me from being fully alive to the encircling situation. They are precisely what we don’t want to admit. We can all find demons like that within ourselves, but we can’t fight them off with weapons. They require skillful handling. They require admitting our own weaknesses. They are shameful, and nothing we can set ourselves apart from. They are the shape we have grown into. Until we deal with them, they will continue to terrorize us.

Scott Teitsworth