Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Six - Verse Three


Karma Darsana verse 3


Prior to action the Self alone is;

nothing else is known;

therefore, actions are done

by itself with its own maya.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


Prior to action it is the Self (that exists);

There is nothing else at all,

Through the Self by its own negative principle

By itself is accomplished (all) actions.

         Homemade rhubarb pie was the soma to energize a heartwarming examination of creative living. It left everyone “in the pink.”

         Nitya includes parts of two creation stories from the Upanishads in his presentation. Religious versions are normally dismissed as creation myths, while more recent speculations are deemed scientific, despite being equally mythological. All of them are capable of throwing some light on our predicament as questing human beings beset by ignorance. We know a tiny sliver of the universe’s totality in the present, and use that to make more or less educated guesses about the past and the future, of which we have virtually no firsthand information whatsoever. We have no recourse but to rely on myths, or else affirm total ignorance of the entire subject. Which is more common than you might imagine.

         Never made explicit in our discussions was the intimate connection between ‘creation’ and ‘creativity’. Nonetheless we sensed that creation myths are not intended as academic pedagogy, but are supposed to be used to liberate our minds from static modes of thought. The fascinating thing about the Upanishadic and other ancient accounts is that they are psychological creation myths. The scientific myths of our time are more material myths. While these may be easier to make plausible—our conceptions about matter being utterly simplistic—they are also far less valuable. What do they teach us about our place in the universe and how to live in it? Not much. Only that sentient beings don’t matter in the least, being a mere accidental epiphenomenon, and on top of that everything is pointless. Garnish the dish with the conceit that anything that appears meaningful has to be false, due to the assumption that this is the case.

         On the other hand, a psychological creation myth shows us how our psyche developed from its inception, and how its shaping affects our experience, with the implication that we have a role in learning how to live life to the hilt. Speaking of hilts, Nitya even quotes the famous image from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: “He entered in here, even to the fingernail-tips, as a razor would be hidden in a razor-case, or a fire in a fire-holder.” (There’s a racier version that didn’t make the cut.) Being perfectly in tune with your life is like sliding your sword of discrimination into it up to the hilt.

         And that’s what unitive action—karma yoga—is all about: getting the whole way into it.

         The class mused over how when you are in tune with your Self, creativity flows. All we have to do is make room for it to manifest, as Nitya emphasizes in his conclusion: “Nothing stands between man and the truth that is bliss, except his wrong notions concerning his own nature and an incorrect polarization of interest.” He expects us to be fully familiarized with these foibles by now.

         An example of how creativity seeps into everyday life was that two very nice quotations presented themselves to me on the day before the class, as though Nataraja Guru and Shakespeare were making their personal contributions. While proofing the Integrated Science of the Absolute, I have just gotten to the section of the first Darsana where Swami Vidyananda’s commentary as fine-tuned by Narayana Guru is presented. The seventh verse is a direct support of our present verse. I know, I know—the whole work is basically about this, yet I find this to be especially germane to where we find ourselves right now. Please reread the whole thing in Part II. Here’s the bit I read out in class:


It is only because there is a lack of Self-knowledge that the whole of the universe seems to be the seat of all fear and suffering. When the correct knowledge about the Self prevails, all apparent sufferings and their sources (in the world) disappear. There will not be any cessation of suffering until one realizes the true knowledge, resulting from the realization of one’s own self. Self-knowledge is the most superior of all means for release. (165)


         As to Shakespeare’s offering, I was reading The Tempest in preparation for seeing the play next month, and came upon its best gem in Act IV. Prospero, a kind of Shakespeare alter-ego, is preparing to bring his magical manipulation of the plot to an end, revealing in the bargain how a play is a perfect stand-in for life itself (as in “all the world’s a stage”):


Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.


What a magnificent depiction of maya! Out of nothing a play is made up and put on: glorious, fascinating, engrossing; and then it is over, and the trappings are all picked up and taken off, leaving an empty stage in a vacant hall, without even an audience. What is reality, the temporary entertainments or the nothingness on which they are erected? If it’s both, how do they fit together? In just a few words, Shakespeare manages to pack the soul-bursting beauty of the pageant, along with the intense poignancy of its passing. I absolutely cannot read these lines without tears of joy flowing.

         Nitya lifts this awareness to a level we don’t always pay heed to. Referring to the Upanishadic creation myths, he says:


The cosmic world that is spoken of here should be understood in terms of the self-created worlds of our own interests, which primarily arise from the I-consciousness. The I-consciousness we speak of here is not to be taken as the personal, individuated “I”…. This “I” may be understood as that which impels the non-differentiated Absolute to manifest itself as the multitudinous universes.


“Self-created” can sound limited to the modern mentality, so Nitya clarifies the cosmic perspective:


The truth is that the consciousness which creates universes from out of itself is whole and complete. What is created is a projection of its own self.


Again, it is so habitual for us to imagine that all the important stuff goes on far away in both time and space. We have a hard time bringing it home to right where we stand, to know that there is no schism anywhere. This dual perspective is the confusion that continually divides our psyche and thus our heart. The Guru keeps reminding us of what this means, in the hope that eventually it will sink in:


The apparent otherness of the creator arises from ignorance and fear. The creator and the created are one and the same thing…. It is we who are the Divine, expressed as both created form and ongoing creative activity. The Self is our own Self.


This is an echo of part of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad excerpt:


He was afraid. Therefore one who is alone is afraid. This one then thought to himself: “Since there is nothing else than myself, of what am I afraid?” Thereupon, verily, his fear departed, for of what should he have been afraid? Assuredly it is from a second that fear arises.


What a liberating realization! We are being gently converted from humans conditioned to think of themselves as wrong, and desperately in need of fixing by some external force, to integral exemplars of a few of the infinite potentials of the Absolute. How else can anything be manifested except through us, through entities of all stripes? It really did feel in the class as if this wisdom was sinking in and the bliss of it was tangible. (Maybe it was influence of the divine pie.) Nitya again expresses how real this is in our everyday existence:


The seers of the Upanishads have a down-to-earth and matter-of-fact attitude when they consider the basic interests, moods, and urges which impel a person to action. The fear of loneliness, the need for delight, the search for companionship, and the emotional and physical intercourse between husband and wife – all these factors and more are not ignored as being outside the scope of spiritual wisdom. The wisdom of the Upanishads firmly rests on the existential factors in daily life, but at the same time the ultimate goal of human life is not forgotten. That goal is the discovery of the Paramount Person (purushottma), hiding in all and behind everything as the totality of experience.


That’s right: we are not being asked to give up everything and retreat to a cloistered hideout, but to live life well right where we stand, making it even more delightful for ourselves and our companions. It brings to mind the very first quote in Nitya’s “Wit and Wisdom” compilation on his website: “Realization comes not by seeing everything as unreal but by making every moment real enough to love and adore it.” This is of course from Love and Blessings. Speaking of which, Deb shared another of the great letters it contains, to Josie in 1977. Relative and absolute are used in place of conditioned and free, or say, directed and flowing:


A relativist is one who lives always calculating the future and wondering how he or she can manipulate the mind of a friend, or a friend of a friend of a relative, to get some vested interest gratified in the name of a good that was intended to be done in the past or a promise of a great good that he or she will someday be able to do. Concealing two-thirds of the truth, painting one-sixteenth of the facts and leaving all inconvenient things to be merely promised, the relativist always wants to use others.

     The absolutist is one who sits firmly on the conviction that there is a functional truth that runs all through life, sometimes obscure, sometimes pronounced and sometimes hard to detect. He or she knows that the best way to be in tune with this benevolent, protective, friendly, hidden truth of life is never to belittle its glory, power, intelligence, beauty and absolute goodness. The Absolute is neither particular nor general; it is neither an idea nor a fact. It is the living meaning, the unalloyed value that insures the worthwhileness of life.


Not bad, eh? So much of the gurus’ teachings are aimed at opening us up from the picayune obsessions of relativism to the expansive invitations of absolute confidence in our reason for being. The pudding proves itself in its deliciousness, in its own creative flow. We just have to be cautious not to reduce it to its effects, making a religion out of happenstance. Having faith in a worshipful entity is different from being afraid of it, as it encourages the flow and consequent opening up to happen. A moment of appreciation, of worship even, and then let it go so there is room for the next blessing, and the next. Don’t clog the pipes with fixed notions! Susan shared the famous quote in the same vein from Joseph Campbell: “We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Or as Bill put it, “You get attached and then miss out on the bliss.”

         Jan mused on the paradox of letting go, of intentionally giving up our intentions. It’s much trickier than it sounds! If it was just a matter of deciding to let go there would be nothing to it. But we are holding on in ways we hardly realize unless we take a good hard look. Jan admitted how easy it was to get stuck on some idea about yourself that isn’t helpful. She suggested we ask if our beliefs are reflective of the greater Self we intuit ourselves to be. I added that our studies are very supportive of that process, while so much of society and even our close friends are often staunchly opposed. Most people are timid and cling to what they know, and then they want you to be like them. It takes courage to smile back to them and then continue the process of peeling off the many layers of invisible straightjackets we are packing around.

         We talked a lot about how to allow for creative bursts in our strolling through everyday activities. We have all been taught a very limited self-definition, while the gurus are affirming we are as vast as we think we are, so we should open up and enlarge the definition. Vedanta proposes we are infinitely large, which seems about right. Anything less might leave out something essential.

         Earlier in the day I had talked with Andy about the cover he is going to design for the new edition of Nataraja Guru’s epic An Integrated Science of the Absolute (ISOA, or in Vinaya’s version AISA). When I first met with him it was apparent that he was just warming up to the idea. It was vague at best, probably somewhat intimidating, and certainly unimaginable. But Andy has spent a lifetime honing his craft, as well as drinking deeply at the Gurukula fountain. He has a well-founded inner conviction that he can do a good job. I sketched out a few general ideas, and as I did so I could see the fire kindle within him and the light of excitement grow on his features. I added a semi-hypnotic suggestion for him to imagine Nataraja Guru peering benignly over his shoulder, eager to have a worthy cover for his masterwork at last. From my experience, such an invisible boost can not be safely considered fiction. It does have a real power, no matter what its “true” status. Like maya.

         A couple of weeks back we were given a tour by Bill of the new development at the Portland Japanese Garden, known as the most authentic outside of Japan. He has been a major factor in a huge project that has added an entirely new galaxy of buildings to the site. The most visible accomplishment is that they blend in perfectly, both with the rest of the Garden and the challenging landforms. On a first visit the new buildings look very much like they appeared out of nowhere, gifts of the gods. We marveled how many, many people pooled their talents and brought forth a myriad of creative expressions to bring about the happy result. Group endeavors are no so often celebrated in spiritual lore, as though they were of a lesser value than the lone struggle. Not so! It is high art to be able to offer your best and at the same time accommodate differences of opinion, especially those that demand you surrender your favorite ideas. Bill agreed it was a kind of magic.

         You don’t have to be a fine artist or poet or statesperson to live creatively: the same kind of actualization happens all the time to all of us. It is fostered by our conscious acquiescence, by our invitation for our whole being to participate in the unfolding of our existence. Moni sits at her desk with most of her knowledge of laws and regulations stored deep in her memory banks, and when an applicant for government help comes to her the relevant facts appear like magic in her mind, and she is sensitive to communicate their meaning in terms the other person can readily understand. Jan does the same with caring for her children and doing her legal work. Bill has virtual buildings teeming inside him, but they don’t take up any space. He doesn’t notice them until someone requests his help, and then the plans unfurl. The same is true for all of us, in some way or other. We are not nearly as in charge as we think, and that’s a good thing. The actions that are in accord with our dharma pour out their glories the most readily, while we have to force the ones that do not suit us as well. That give and take is how we become aware of who we naturally are, as well as who we are not.

         Susan gave a great example from her experience. She has played the piano for many years, always struggling to make herself do it just so, so it sounds like it’s supposed to. It was seldom very pleasurable. Her new teacher is helping her to shake off that rigid approach and pay attention to the feel, of making it beautiful instead of simply right. After only a few months she feels so much more relaxed and satisfied with her playing. Her joy is way up, and isn’t that the point? We are the main appreciators of our own life. A few dear friends touch us now and then, but we are with us always. And we are not expressing life for the benefit of some distant Absolute. The expression and the enjoyment go hand in hand, right in the center of our quotidian experiences. Susan was kind enough to send me her elaboration this morning:


My new piano teacher is helping me to play piano in a whole new way that feels very much like this kind of opening up. In the past, I would practice and practice in order to make something particular happen. I had an idea of how a piece should sound. But in this new way of practicing, my teacher encourages me to try different techniques and to listen to the sounds that come. She helps me to find ways to restrain my old habits of hitting notes to make something happen. Rather I am combining the actions of my body, arms, fingers with the feelings and listening from deep inside. It’s hard to explain but suffice it to say, the difference is monumental for me.


         I semi-humorously suggested that our homework for the second half of Darsanamala is to allow uncircumscribed moments, to allow this type of unfettered action to take hold. Life is offering us opportunities for heightened expression all the time. They come like waves, and like good surfers we should choose the one that appeals to us and take it for a ride.

         Nitya was on a roll with the freeing ideas of Darsanamala. As a teacher he was superb at getting us excited about everything around us:


There is a magical quality in life. We can see it in the mysterious changes of moods, in the sudden birth of new interests and in their often equally sudden vanishing, and in the surging up of unexpected situations. All these can fill us with a sense of wonder, or one of tragic and disastrous catastrophe. This evasive, magical element that enters into consciousness, and which assigns name and form to everything, accounts for the experiencing of our world of varying interests. It is not we who experience anything – all is the experience of the Paramount Person, including its experience of itself as the individuated beings we call ourselves. The magical element is an intrinsic feature of the action-reaction complex in which the individual self becomes almost inextricably tangled.


Like a good guide he has lifted us effortlessly to subtle heights of insight, and he dares to point this out to us:


From all the above teachings of the relation between action, the individuated self, and the Supreme Self we get a clear picture of the meaning of the verse now under discussion. It should now be apparent what we meant when we said that a man is not what he thinks he is. And clear also on what man should do to find the lasting happiness he seeks. Nothing stands between man and the truth that is bliss, except his wrong notions concerning his own nature and an incorrect polarization of interest.


Susan was a bit dubious about the “clear picture” part. It is true that a book does not evince the same driving force of wisdom transmission that a living guru is capable of. In the original setting, those identical words might well impart an irresistible power that can stimulate its hearers to a formerly unimagined sense of clarity. Listening to a reading from a book conveys only abstract ideas. In our communal setting there is a modicum of spiritual energy shared among the participants, but we have to admit it is a feeble glimmer at best compared to the electrical intensity of being in the presence of the guru. It can’t be helped, but we do hope that a glimmer is better than no light at all. I have found that if you really concentrate on the ideas, they begin to take on the soul force of a preceptor. After all, we have heard that the Guru is a principle of the universe and is not necessarily confined to any particular person or place. We are suckers for a charismatic version in the flesh, though. That’s just about the best kind of guru there is.

         Bill left us with a Zen image of proper letting go. Imagine you are holding a coin in your hand, face down. You open your hand and the coin drops. But turn your hand over. Then when you open it, the coin stays in your palm. You have to think about it, but that’s Zen for you, isn’t it?


Part II

         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         Prior to action there is only the Self and nothing else. Therefore, it is that very Self which accomplishes all action through its maya. Any action accomplished posteriorly cannot possibly arise from anything else. If we say that before the tree there was the seed, is it necessary to assert again that the seed caused the tree? The Upanishads also support such a view when they say that existence was what was there in the beginning. In other words this was in the beginning the pure Self.


*         *         *


         Vidyananda’s commentary from DM 1.7 again:


         In this verse it is pointed out how, because of the absence of right knowledge (avidy) about the Self, all beings find creation to have a terrifying aspect. When such knowledge is absent then nescience (lends support) to the appearance of name and form (nma-rupa). (This plurality of) name and form (entities) seem ghost-like in a most terrifying fashion, presenting themselves as appearances.

It is only because there is a lack of Self-knowledge (tma-vidy) that the whole of the universe seems to be the seat of all fear and suffering. When the correct knowledge about the Self prevails, all apparent sufferings and their sources (in the world) disappear. There will not be any cessation of suffering until one realizes the true knowledge, resulting from the realization of one’s own self. Self-knowledge is the most superior of all means for release. In the same way as in cooking the only means is fire (or heat), so there is no salvation without Self-knowledge. This is what Shankarcrya has taught.

By this verse the man who is desirous of getting release from suffering resulting from lack of Self-knowledge, is to be considered an adhikri (a person fit to study this science), and that the subject-matter of this present work is tma-vidy (the Science of the Self). Furthermore, between tma-vidy and this work there is the relation of subject-matter and object-matter. The final release from suffering due to nescience and the attainment of the goal of full Self-knowledge, is the aim and utility of this work as required by Sanskrit convention.

Suffering and ignorance apply not only to people in this world but to all created beings, whether seen or unseen, wherever they be in the universe. In principle this applies to all of them. (It is to be remembered that) even the creation undertaken by the Lord involves the same wonderful and terrifying elements of this very kind.


*         *         *


         Jan sent a lovely note:


I was reading Mary Oliver’s Upstream this last week and her words spoke to our class notes and the topic of creativity seeping into our lives and awakening us to our cosmic consciousness.


She wrote about the three selves within her - the child that still speaks its young voice, the social self that is “fettered to a thousand notions of obligation” and that loves ”beyond all other songs, the endless springing forward of the clock….”


But the third self is altogether different, in love with neither the ordinary nor being a child, for it “has a hunger for eternity.”  She wrote eloquently:


Like the knights of the Middle Ages, there is little the creatively inclined person can do but to prepare himself, body and spirit, for the labor to come - for his adventures are all unknown.  In truth, the work itself is the adventure.


..ideas in their shimmering forms, in spite of all our conscious discipline, will come when they will, and on the swift upheaval of their wings - disorderly; reckless; as unmanageable, sometimes, as passion?

It isn’t that [this self] would disparage comforts, or the set routines of the world, but that its concern is directed to another place.  Its concern is the edge, the making of a form out of the formlessness that is beyond the edge.


As in our verse, she encourages us to allow our whole being to participate in an unfolding that is living creatively and self-actualizing.  She clearly values being in tune with this third self which “craves the roofless place eternity.”  And when I asked myself “why” she did, I had to think that beyond creating beautiful poems, beyond feeling her own connection to that timeless self, I think she would agree we also become one with that force described in Deb’s quote -  the “living meaning, the unalloyed value that insures the worthwhileness of life…” Or, as we have said in class, we become aware of being that force ourselves!

Scott Teitsworth