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:
to action it is the Self (that exists);
is nothing else at all,
the Self by its own negative principle
itself is accomplished (all) actions.
rhubarb pie was the soma to energize a heartwarming examination of creative
living. It left everyone “in the pink.”
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.
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.
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.
that’s what unitive action—karma yoga—is all about: getting the whole way into
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.
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:
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)
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
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.
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
He was afraid. Therefore one who is alone
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
commentary from DM 1.7 again:
this verse it is pointed out how, because of the absence of right knowledge (avidyą) 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 (nąma-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 (ątma-vidyą) 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 Shankarącąrya 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 adhikąri
(a person fit to study this science), and that the subject-matter of this
present work is ątma-vidyą (the
Science of the Self). Furthermore, between ątma-vidyą
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
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.
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!