Nitya Teachings

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Darsanamala - Apavada Darsana

Darsanamala 2 Class Notes



  Just in the nick of time we finished with falsehood and moved on to truth. We have now left the Adhyaropa Darsana and entered the Apavada Darsana, the vision of how to arrive at truth through continuous refutation of the false. Nitya describes this succinctly in his introductory essay:


The systematic method of correcting a false notion is in Sanskrit called apavada. When the qualities or properties of one thing are wrongly projected or superimposed on another it is called adhyaropa. Apavada is the antidote for adhyaropa. Thus apavada is a philosophical method used to reclaim and reestablish truth. After clearly presenting various aspects of the mental projections we are prone to make because of our ignorance and the limitations imposed by our generic psychophysical nature, Narayana Guru wants now to provide us with a method with which we can eradicate from our minds all false identifications.


As we’ve noted before, limitations of a generic nature are called original sin in the western context, while ignorance corresponds to individual sin. Dialectically speaking, if an individual is going to sin, make it original, for God’s sake!

  Due to certain negative conditioning around the term sin, it has had to be abandoned in favor of more obviously neutral terms.

  Curiously, Nitya spends most of the introduction examining the similarities between materialism and spiritualism, between the beliefs in the primacy of matter or the primacy of God. We spent some time wondering why.

  On the surface, materialism and spiritualism are opposed and have often been in violent conflict. Yet once you begin to intelligently examine their core beliefs and aims, they look remarkably similar, separated-at-birth twins you might say. Here Nitya has presented us with apavada in action, paring away the false assumptions causing conflict to reveal the truth that is common to both. We are left with no impetus to fight for “our” side at all, in fact we want to embrace our opponents because we can plainly see their motivations are the same as ours. As Nitya describes it:


Both sides want truth to prevail; both want the mind to be systematically directed towards truth, so that whatever an individual does will be consistent with a truthful conviction; both hold that only truth will set man free from incorrect beliefs and wrongful conditioning; and both want their votaries to be happy. In addition, both spiritualists and materialists believe they should share happiness with others and work towards the perpetuation of peace, justice, love, and happiness for all through the achievement of the goals of their philosophies. (p. 106)


  The image from the Upanishads that Narayana Guru revived in the last darsana of a seed growing into a tree which produces a seed is an apt metaphor. Our finalized beliefs are like the branch tips and leaves at the outer edge of the tree, and they are all different. If that’s all we see, we might be tempted to argue over the differences. But all the different leaves and buds are grouped together on twigs, which are grouped together on branches, and these are connected to a trunk and root system that is the same for every part of the tree. Knowing this unites us all, while looking only at the surface variegations makes us seem to be in opposition.

  A unitive, all-embracing vision doesn’t bring all conflicts to an end. In real life, we have to be prepared for the continuation of hostilities from the other, since many people have staked their identities to being opposed to someone else. Still, if we can understand their side we don’t have to be the straw dog they are seeking, and the enmity will gradually dissipate.

  To me the most interesting aspect of this is why we want so badly to hold on to our separateness. We have developed an ego sense about our particular leaf and branch that causes us great misery, yet we insist on clinging to it and ignoring our commonality. What we claim to be truth is nothing more than a collection of fictions we have become habituated to as a “comfortable” cocoon. Our idea of who we are was manufactured in early childhood as a means of self defense. At that age we aren’t really sure of what we believe, we either accept what we’re told or put up a brave front constructed out of ideas that generally follow the path of least resistance. None of this is particularly “true” but we identify with it. It seems more true if we can posit it as being under attack from an evil enemy, and once we realize this we have a stake in fighting.

  Charles pointed out that blame was an important factor in this self-development. We want to divert the blame of hostile adults from ourselves to someone else, and if we can avoid punishment it brings powerful feelings of relief. Very often we’ll endorse a degree of falsehood to save our own skin.

  As adults we continue the process of separation by elaborating and defending a philosophical outlook. We may join a church or school or loudly support our country in order to reinforce our fictitious self-identity. Anyone attacking our favored institution is therefore attacking us, precisely at the point where we are wedded to false constructs. All too often it is easier to get angry than to wake up.

  Anita wondered how we can maintain necessary defenses while entering into the truth-seeking process. As Swami Vivekananda said, don’t kiss the hissing cobra. Mick brought up the classic image of the pond reflecting what’s going on around it. When it is calm it reflects its environment accurately, but when it’s stirred up everything gets murky and confused. Therefore, the best defense is clarity of vision, brought about through relinquishing fear and other agitations. Calmness reinforces calmness, and sitting in a somewhat calm group once a week or so is very helpful in allowing the pond to become a mirror. Faith in the wisdom of our Self is hard to beat, too.


  Having spent many years studying Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism, Nitya points to Lenin’s Empirio Criticism from 1909 as a fine example of materialist apavada. Unlike the Guru, I haven’t read the work in question, but found an excellent excerpt at:

In it Lenin is eloquently and incisively undercutting a criticism stemming from the new scientific insights of the day which would eventually lead to the uncertainty principle, i.e. that mind and/or perception is an integral part of existence. According to the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in his book “Lenin defended dialectical materialism on the chief points at issue, particularly the status and character of matter and the nature of knowledge. Opposing the view that matter is a construct of sensations, Lenin argued that matter is ontologically primary, existing independently of consciousness. Likewise, space and time are not subjective modes of ordering experience but objective forms of the existence of matter.” Reading the above excerpt I found myself in wholehearted agreement with old Vladimir, despite being absolutely certain that matter is indeed a mental construct. At the very least he demonstrates that the arguments propounded back then don’t get to the root of the question. In his apavada he eliminates a number of spurious ideas that satisfied lesser minds on more casual perusal.

  The Vedantic idea that the world is essentially unknowable in finalized form means that any well-developed philosophy can be as true as any other. The key to living in harmony is to become aware of our limited grasp of truth, that everyone’s grasp is limited. No one has the sole keys to truth, whatever they might claim. Likewise no one is damned for failing to grasp a particular slice of truth. We can all relax and breathe a sigh of relief that the persona we constructed to fool everyone else into believing that we knew truth was just a joke.

  This is just the bare beginning of our apavada study, so I don’t want to go any deeper at the moment. Nitya has introduced the topic with a tour de force, and we can be content with that. Aum.



“This world, which is of gross and subtle form, comes from consciousness; if it is affirmed, everything is existence through and through; if it is denied, it is consciousness through and through.”

  This is one of those “simple” verses that sprouts meanings like Heracles’ Hydra. Ostensibly it is Narayana Guru’s presentation of the Cartesian scheme of correlation, though translating two different word-ideas as consciousness makes it harder to notice. The first word is caitanya, (c is pronounced as ch in Sanskrit) which with recourse to the Monier-Williams not only means consciousness, but in the Gita’s day meant intelligence, sensation, soul or spirit, and in the Samkhya philosophy of earlier times the Universal Soul or Spirit, even. In the verse here it stands for the vertical aspect of existence, the overarching consciousness that includes everything.

  The second word for consciousness used here is cit (cit ghanam contracts to cidghanam). It has a wealth of meanings, including to perceive, fix the mind upon, attend to; to understand, comprehend, know; to form an idea in the mind, think, reflect upon. This is the domain of wakeful awareness, one of the four conditional states of consciousness. Cit is our mental appreciation of the world we believe we are in contact with. Thus the horizontal pole ranges from sat, existence, on the positive end (affirmed), to cit, consciousness, on the negative end (denied).

  The horizontal world contains both the gross and subtle, the objective and subjective aspects, which are a product of the overarching consciousness of chaitanya. It’s hard to grasp right away that objects that appear so real to us are actually a formulation, an idea in our mind. Coming to understand this is one of the essential achievements of contemplation, which has to overcome a lot of “common sense” resistance. Darsanamala will go into it in depth for a long stretch, so it’s premature to get worried about it. Rest assured that everything is exactly as real as it is, and what we believe won’t change that a bit. We’re only trying to come to know what is real by discarding what isn’t. Luckily too, reality can’t be accidentally discarded by us in our flailing, or it would already be long gone.

  Imagining what we believe is what is real is at the root of our personal and species-wide problems. In his commentary, Nitya gives several examples of disasters stemming from mixing up the objective and subjective sides of the equation. We did an exercise of thinking of cases where this had happened to us or people we knew of. There was a lot of rust on those gears, but eventually they started turning. The Iraq debacle leapt to mind, managed by people who claim “Reality is what we say it is.” Only the insane claim anymore that there is any connection between the motivations for war and the actual situation in the country that was invaded. Callousness to the suffering of other people is another learned attitude that is out of step with reality. So is greed, and so much more. When people insist that reality doesn’t matter and then crash and burn, it’s a caution that there is definitely some objective component to the world, that reality is much more than we say or even think it is.

  Thank God.

  We worked our way around to ways we believed certain things as children, especially during middle school age, and how those self-destructive mindsets may still be affecting our lives for the worse. This is the area where Apavada can bring much benefit, much cure. I remembered how people would say nasty things to me and I internalized the assumption that everyone despised me. I basically went through life with that as a bedrock assumption, and it warped a lot of experiences. It didn’t help that my mother’s sympathy was “Well, you must’ve done something wrong….” My kids have been raised to presume it’s the other person’s baggage of unhappiness and not necessarily their fault if someone is mean to them. I think it will make a big difference for them.

  We talked about how kids feel scrutinized by everyone in middle school, and learn to veil themselves and guard their feelings, and this is carried through life with minimal mitigation. Plenty of other places this happens too of course. Again, if I wrote down all the insights, no one would read them. The best thing is to take some time to reflect in your own life on ways you overlay the present situation with learned structures from the past. As Anita pointed out, we might decide to keep some of them, but surely some others we could allow to blow away in the wind. It’s for our own good. As Nitya says on page 111: “Despite the psychological origin of such experiences, they cannot easily be brushed aside. [They] can affect one’s digestion and appetite, and may even prevent one from sleeping.” He could easily have invoked far worse misery than this, but kept it gentle enough. We all have met someone who has internalized so much anger or become so timid that they never can have a healthy interaction with anyone anymore.


  Not too oddly, the night before this class I was reading a book that mysteriously appeared on my shelf and discovering that it was directly related to the present material. Reality Isn’t What It Used To Be, is deconstructionism presented with great clarity and not too much irritating arrogance. Turns out the Gita is a masterpiece of deconstruction (not the author’s viewpoint). There’s a very interesting section on semantics a la Vedanta, though of course these guys are inventing these ideas themselves as far as they know. Here’s an excerpt:


General semantics is another intellectual movement that emerged in the period between the two world wars, another pathway into the postmodern era.

  In 1933 Count Alfred Korzybski, a Polish mathematician living in the United States, published Science and Sanity, in which he presented what he hoped would become a new science of human communication and the key to a new era in human progress.

  Korzybski believed that there was a very poor fit between language (at least language as people ordinarily used it) and objective reality—and that this poor fit accounted for most personal psychopathology and produced endless turmoil and unhappiness in societies. He wrote: “Few of us realize the unbelievable traps, some of them of a psychopathological character, which the structure of our language sets before us…. We grope by animalistic trial and error, and by equally animalistic strife, wars, revolutions, etc.”

  At the very core of his indictment of language was one small culprit: “is.” He located our most serious semantic problem in the everyday act of naming or describing things: whether we say the earth is flat or the earth is round, we get ourselves into difficulties that we could avoid by saying the world appears flat or that we now believe it to be round.

  The word is not the thing, said Korzybski, and all the general semanticists who came after him; the map is not the territory. To confuse word and thing is to commit the act of “identification,” which in his system became sort of original sin: “Identification is found in all known primitive peoples; in all known forms of ‘mental’ ills; and in the great majority of personal, national, and international maladjustments.”


When we consider that language represents the subjective side, the horizontal negative, and “objective reality” the horizontal positive, we see Korzybski is saying exactly what Narayana Guru is teaching us: there needs to be a healthy connection between our ideas and the world, no matter what its actual status may ultimately be. Fuzzy thinking in which we project our desires and opinions on the outside world as well as on ourself is a recipe for disaster.

  Korzybski even advances to the subtle understanding of Narayana Guru which was taken almost to extremes by Nataraja Guru, that it’s helpful to include the awareness that we don’t know what anything really “is,” we have only a partial understanding. “Seems” and “appears” are more humble and accurate terms than “is.” Narayana Guru added the more general comprehension that if you say something is, it exists as an idea, and if you say it is not it still exists as an idea, while Korzybski clings to the distinctly old-fashioned belief in a concrete external reality that we mount partial ideas about. The Guru and the mathematician would both agree, however, that confusion on these matters is a rich source of conflict at every level.



  Apart from cause there is no effect; therefore, all this is unreal. For the unreal, how can there be an origin? Of the unoriginated, what dissolution? (II,2)

  My first suggestion is not to meditate on this verse too intently, lest the reality of your world evaporate. Sometimes you can get more than you bargained for. I’ve been asked to leave the family in disgrace, and will be heading off into the Unknown as soon as I can tie up a few loose ends. I trust we will all find the path that is meant to be. So on to the Darsana.

  I struggled mightily for several days to wrap myself around this verse; I couldn’t grasp how if every effect had a cause THEREFORE everything was unreal. I sought help from several sources, which brought a lot of light. Those inputs will be found at the end of today’s notes. Anyway, the key that finally opened up the meaning for me was the word ‘this’. Therefore ‘this’ is unreal. The Absolute, the cause, is as real as real can be. But all that we see, the ‘this’ of the manifested world, is unreal when taken in isolation from its supporting ground. Our ordinary awareness is mesmerized by all the “interesting” things assailing our sensory system, which we tend to take in isolation. Our practice in Darsanamala class is to add the ground back into the picture. We are not aiming to dispense with all ‘this’ as unreal. We want to infuse ‘this’ with all the life that was drained away when we got caught up in the play of lights and shadows on the surface.

  Our life can be understood as a series of still images, as when we “get the picture,” which give the illusion of motion when rapidly passed through the mind. In this sense each image is an effect of the one just previous, which is in turn an effect of the previous one, and so on back to the beginning of the universe. Even in this temporal sense, the world is the effect of a big bang or original cause or some sort. Physicists still maintain that if you could exactly determine the location and velocity of every particle in the universe, you could accurately predict everything that would happen forever. (Perhaps that’s what’s going on in the first place!—we are a program to unfold one particular structural arrangement of particles, just running its course….)

  Brenda brought in the idea of how when we catch on to certain stills, as when we feel ashamed or upset or guilty or whatever, then we aren’t open to the next thing that comes along. Our vision becomes clouded by retaining and not releasing to be ready for the next moment. This is a beautiful expression of saucham, purity, according to the Gita. To stay in the flow we have to release our hangups and fixations. Whenever we get stuck, that’s where we need to do our work, to restore our fluidity. I'll be practicing this myself rather intensely for awhile.

  The second part of the verse is simple enough, mere logic, but Nitya and we in the class came up with several great examples of how it plays out in real life, so called. You can just read the first two paragraphs in the commentary and go from there in your own universe. Highly relevant.

  I do remember that one of the key insights of being on an acid trip was that whatever was happening was going to go on happening forever. I remember lots of laughing goofballs struggling to put the insight into words: “Everything we do keeps going on and on and never stops….” It might take a week to get that sentence out. At the time we were seeing into the essence, the ground, which persists through the coming and going of temporal events. This is the part that doesn’t originate or dissolve. Only the transient play of unreal “effects” comes and goes.

  From the Vedantic standpoint, the real is what persists. Things that come and go aren’t real, though they do have their merit. How real to us now are the things cavemen said 50,ooo years ago? Where are those events? They are totally and irrefutably gone, if only to make way for the ones we’re experiencing today.

  Anita, who I’m almost certain has NEVER taken an acid trip, God bless her, described how matter and energy are neither created or destroyed, but only change form, as when the body dies and is reconstituted as earth, to become worm food, the worm then used to catch a fish, which is caught and released, eventually to die and be swept out to sea. Sorry. She only took us as far as the earth part; I’ve added the rest. Anyway, as we’ve said before, the world of atomic and subatomic particles is a fine metaphor for the Absolute, as it retains its nature in and through all the changes that take place, supporting and filling and yet not limited in the least by large-scale events and objects. Atoms are not cuttable, wettable, burnable or dryable. They persist. Recent physics has called their reality into question, however, so we should think of them as metaphors rather than the Absolute itself.

  Mainly we agreed to not try to pin down an intellectual assessment of this verse, but to take Nitya’s advice and use it as a way to really open ourselves to the flow, and follow Brenda’s lead in not holding on to our confusion.

  This is already too long, so I’ll leave you with the words of the helpers from afar. It’s a perfect verse for the winter solstice, all the limbs pulled back inside the turtle. I hope you will all continue to drink at this spring as much as you want.


  It turns out that Narayana Guru himself did a brief commentary at the behest of a youthful Swami Vidyananda, and it is found in Nataraja Guru’s Integrated Science of the Absolute. It’s bare-bones but very close to the source. For this verse it’s:


There is no effect independent of the cause. That is, when we examine it more closely all effects are unreal. Their causes alone are real. Therefore, the visible and invisible universe is unreal because of being an effect. That which is existent is what is real. It is what constitutes the one cause for everything, which is the Lord, or in other words, the Absolute (brahman). How can a non-existent world have an origin? In other words, it never originated at all. How can anything which does not originate have re-absorption? For something which has neither origin nor re-absorption there is no state of being. That is, in the Absolute this universe has no being at any time, either in the past, present or future. (p. 326)


I also called on Nancy Yeilding, who offered:

I understand the first two lines to mean that the effects (which are myriad: you, me the stars, the microbes, all our/their interactions and so on ad infinitum, in short, everything generally considered to constitute reality) are really the Absolute (like all the individual waves are water). The separate individuated existences (which tend to be all that we see of our/their reality) are, from that perspective, unreal: although a given wave may have a specific altitude, momentum, trajectory and so on, which can be observed, it at no time is anything other than the ocean or water. All “this” (this and this and this and this) is That.

  later she added:

Yes, everything is the Absolute, everything is real, BUT when the world (everything) is seen as being only the changing-fleeting-(being born and dying)-separate aspects of each and every thing (the typical worldview), that “reality” is unreal.


  Lastly, this from Therapy and Realization in the Bhagavad Gita, by Nitya:


It is by many such mental suppositions that our world is maintained. The break in a person’s leg can be easily repaired. A breaking of the faith between man and woman cannot be repaired quite like that. Thus, the reality of the so-called world in which we live is more of a mental supposition; that is all. The Hindu philosopher says the world is a supposition. He does not say that it does not exist. He says only that it is a supposition. If you suppose like that, it is. If you don’t suppose like that, it is not. If, one fine day, a husband declares, “She is not my wife,” she is no longer his wife. Or the wife may say, “I don’t see the husband in him.” Then he is the husband no longer. When the supposition changes, your world changes.


I am not usually very fond of making divisions between the East and West, but I have to make one comment here. Somehow the kind of education that is given to our children is to crystallize the “I” as different from the object; this is the subject and that is the object. Where a real difference between the subject and object is made is the flaw of Western education. Then the object is always “out there.”

         The approach in Vedanta is to say there is one total consciousness in which the consciousness of the object and the consciousness of the subject are oscillating. The subject and the object are both products of the total consciousness. The object is inside consciousness and the subject is inside consciousness. We don’t say inside the head. We say inside consciousness. You, as a person, are your own ideation within that consciousness. That is why I said the outside is inside the inside.



That which has no origin or dissolution is none other than the supreme Absolute; through maya the confusion arises that there is origin and dissolution in the Self. (II,3)

  This verse is an extension of the previous, so we sailed through with no problem. Even Narayana Guru in his brief comments deferred discussion on this idea to the fourth chapter, on maya. Still, Nitya brought out some important ideas in his comments.

  After examining the projective origin of the cosmos in the first darsana, the second darsana aims to pare down those projections to the minimum in a process of reduction, by eliminating falsehood. What’s left is to see life as lila, a divine sportive play, where all meaning occurs within the unfoldment of events just as the tree is contained in the seed. Such an attitude allows for more detachment, more ability to let go when the flow of events sweeps on from what you cherish or cling to. Again, this is what is meant by saucam, purity, in the Gita.

  Nitya’s interpretation of the second half of the verse focused on how the coloration of our minds is imparted to the “outside” world. Since we only are aware of a tiny fraction of the whole at any time, we select that fraction in accordance with our own interests, hopes, desires and fears. This is a generic defect of all humans, without exception. Aldous Huxley wrote of this idea in The Doors of Perception after realizing on a mescaline trip that the brain was actually a reducing valve, screening out most of the vast dazzling chaos of the universe so that it could deal with one item at a time. Here Nitya says, “If awareness is colored by a negative apprehension, it obscures the presence of a value. Then the natural bliss of the Self and its existential experience are separated by ignorance.”

  Knowing that this is a universal dilemma, and not just the Other Person’s Problem, opens the door to compassion and empathy. We can very easily spot our neighbor’s colorations, but our own are invisible to us in the way that water is invisible to fish. We can only strive to see our own conditionings through the feedback of our experience. Life is really our Guru, always offering instruction if we are attuned to it. So it’s good to be open to the critical statements of others while being as gentle as possible in offering the same. Leave that part for the Guru. From my experience (and behavior) it is much more common to criticize others and be very gentle on ourselves.

  This is actually one of the most important ideas to carry with us on our journey through the fields of lila. I believe that the idealism of the 1960s was derailed in large part because so many of us believed so totally in our own righteousness and utterly demonized our opponents. Turns out it was the FBI encouraging those attitudes in us naïve children. Where was Narayana Guru when we needed him?

  We wrapped up our brief class with an exercise to talk about ways we’ve observed, in ourselves or in friends, how a mindset colors the surroundings. Moni gave the best example, recalling how when Nitya was almost 16 he had already started his life as a wandering mendicant. But he was beset with doubts and second thoughts. It began to bother him that his leaving home would have made his family miserable. They were pining for him, and he would never return. He conjured up a picture of his grieving family as he took a train back to his village. He had to walk several kilometers in the dark evening to reach the family compound, thinking all the while how glad and relieved they would be to see him. As he entered the compound with aching heart, the first thing he heard was his mother’s happy laughter ringing through the air. In an instant he realized that all his thoughts were just his own projections. He picked a spot out of sight behind a building to sleep, and in the morning, before anyone was stirring, he walked back out and down the road to his destiny.

  As Little Frieda says, the tough part is to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. Ain’t it the truth! Aum.




I forgot that I said I'd include Sunita's lovely reflections on Atmo verse 14, from the Chicago That Alone class:


A great sense of wonder and possibility has come over me.  I am eager to feel  unity with the Absolute, even though it may be fleeting.  This verse has made something very clear to me that I have heretofore been struggling with.  The point is to feel the Absolute from the inside, and not solely to try to wrap my mind around sophisticated, abstract concepts.  Cultivating the truth within me is the only way to achieve union with the great truth outside of me.  Only by doing this consistently, and refining my focus and harmonizing it with my inner nature, will I have a sense of unitive understanding.   For me, writing and teaching are two activities which sustain my interest and attention in such a way that there is little chance for my ego to interfere.  They fill me with a sense of joy and accomplishment and quench my spiritual thirst.    When I fall out of a rhythm in writing, I am letting my perception of how "great" or even how "shitty" the writing is interfere with its natural flow.  The more attention I give to these pursuits, the more connected I feel with the Absolute and the more inclined I will be to maintain that connection in all moments of my daily life.   There is so much magic and mystery in a  mundane moment if it is experienced unitively, and I have access to that reward all of the time.  I don't have to wait for someone to tell me how brilliant I am.  Simply contemplating the Absolute within me has given me a sense of excitement for no reason!  As Carl Sagan said, "We are a way for the universe to know itself.  Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can,  because the Cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff."  I am not looking forward to anything. I am really pleased with the present, and I am excited about being alive in general.  As Guru says, "You have to intellectually appreciate truth and emotionally sustain it."  The sustenance is the hard part.  It's like trying to catch hold of bits of a quickly fading dream. I forget so soon.


Jan wrote:

A lovely "yes and" from Jan, in case she didn't send it to all. I hope I didn't imply we should be MORE critcal of ourselves, to match how we are with others, but that we should be more gentle and understanding with both ourself and others. Somehow there's a lot of hostility floating around, where sympathy would accomplish much more of what we want. This is what Jan is saying very beautifully. RST


Hi Scott.  I liked alot of what you said here [in the notes], and Sunita's comment.  I wanted to further try to explain what I was trying to say last night about this verse, and the idea of our colorations and projections vastly limiting and determining our experience.  I see what you said about needing to be open to the the criticisms of others, and to be wary (when we remember) of how own our projections and colorations shape our experience.  Too often, you say, we are harsh in our criticism of others and gentle on ourselves.  I think that is true, and maybe I am in the group that is also harsh in my criticism of myself.  I think as much as we open ourselves to the criticism others have of us, in order to grow, we need to filter that through the inner wisdom that speaks from deep within us.  For, as the entire tree is contained in the seed, I think it is important to see how different each seed is.  We are all so unique and that is part of the Absolute's master plan. Our life, with its own brand of projections and colorations, is our becoming and the shape and texture of our tree.  Most of us cannot ever escape that.  So I think we need to embrace ourselves alot too!  Accepting lovingly, and seeing with eyes wide open, how we again and again rise up like a wave and crash on the shores of our life. It can feel futile, relentless, out of control - because despite greater awareness, we repeat the same patterns that do not connect us to the Absolute, but obscure it.  Still, like you said last night, that is the game, and our unique way of doing it is our seed doing its thing, and somewhere, somehow we need to see the beauty of it, the humor in it, and the playfulness of it, and find that place of love that Nitya talks about.  I just love that idea of our "becoming", and seeing our life as being exactly the way its supposed to be for us, this seed doing its thing.  Enough.  Peace, Jan 



Rationally speaking, human relations are impossible. With this caveat, one should presume a kernel of truth in what other people say, and presume your own assertions are only partially true as well. Then there will be plenty of toleration.

         A big part of the struggle to get along is to decode the other’s communication by making allowances for the colorations of their mood and predilections. Similarly, it helps to subtract your own colorations, which the other person probably sees much better than you do—and vice versa. It is at this point that the ego defenses kick in to protect our own color scheme and downgrade the other’s. As long as one or both sides is convinced they are in sole possession of the truth, trouble will be brewing. Being aware of our universal intrinsic limitations is almost certain to reduce animosity.

         It may be that more often than we suspect we are less responsible than we imagine. An overarching principle or impulse can lead us into conflict, and the individuals involved are only incidental causes. As Shakespeare said, there is a tide in the affairs of men. We can stay afloat or sink with our own efforts, but we can’t turn the tide.

         As a practical matter, the degree of selfishness in each person’s version is the key to sorting things out. Narayana Guru recommends a vision which gives equal weight to everyone’s interests and tries to achieve the maximum general good. This not only involves making significant concessions from the point of view of your own ego, but also standing firm when others want to use your good will as an open invitation to take more than their share. Once again we find ourselves in need of a nuanced and dialectically balanced outlook. You must love yourself and the other in equal measure, which is easily accomplished only when the common ground of all is sighted.



Because of its non-difference from cause, how can an effect come to have existence? By that, how can there be the nonexistence of cause also? (II, 4)


         ‘Twas a long a beautiful class last night. Three people especially opened their hearts and turned on the floodgates of mutual care and love that lies all around us, though often unseen. As with our best classes, the verse and commentary were springboards into this unitive and compassionate state. Whether or not light is thrown on a problem is hard to say, but it always helps to know you’re not alone.

         Nitya’s first point implies such kind of affirmation. “There is an actuality about experiences in the world, and for the most part they cannot be avoided. If we are told that the world and our experiences in it are unreal, and if we take the statement seriously, we shall be faced with a sense of deprivation and the stability of our individual structure may be threatened.” It’s almost impossibly difficult to face a world of no meaning. When our life or our mental outlook are threatened, it is easy to lose contact with our ground.

         Nitya describes the antidote on page 130: “If we look at transactional events or experiences in isolation, the whole business of life may well appear meaningless and without purpose. But if we can relate all events in the flux of life to the golden thread of joy, which is the manifested Self, then we see only the Real ever shining in the gloom of what seem to be the constantly altering phases of real and unreal aspects of the phenomenal world.”

         Narayana Guru’s instruction in this verse is that what is presented to us is not an effect of some remote cause, in the way many religions conceive of an absentee creator god and his detached creation. It is in fact the cause itself, and that is none other than the Absolute. The Absolute takes the shape of whatever we happen to be doing at the time. Vedantins are not kidding when they say That thou art. No other conceptualization makes sense.

         Ann intuitively grasped this principle before even coming to class. Faced with numerous daunting problems, she felt she should relax into them and accept them, instead of mounting a pitched battle. Problems are as much who and what we all are as anything else; in fact, the determination to escape from them is a major cause of the schism we feel with the natural flow, the tide of the Absolute. Some minor things require our tinkering, but the really monumental events will not be swayed by anything we can employ. Easy to state, but it takes a brave soul to know when it’s time to bow down before implacable Fate.

         The attitude we have is the most important factor on how an experience is lived through. It colors every bit of the experience. That’s why we try to help each other, so the colors can be brighter.

         This was a vast class with many ramifications, with insightful contributions from everyone. Perhaps later I can write more. For now, I have some excerpts from Nitya’s Brihadaranyaka Upanishad commentary, which I’m finally wading through as part of my new unencumbered life. I’ll have a list of highlights available to interested parties when I’m done, as it’s very dense and loooong to read the whole thing. As usual, the part I read when I got home after class was relevant. We’ve been having an ongoing critique of the value of questions and the part the mind plays in a spiritual search, particularly with Mick and Anita. The following are wonderful contributions. They’re extra credit reading for everyone except Anita, for whom they’re assigned as homework from a stern taskmaster….


Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (I.4.9)

         All sentient beings have for their counterparts necessities which can be equated with hunger, pain and sorrow, and obstacles arising out of their ignorance as well as out of the inadequate proficiency they have received from their personal nature, or Nature at large. It is as if a person with intelligence, sensibility, and desire to surmount obstacles is looking helplessly at a seemingly unsurmountable wall of a prison. The world is the prison and the living being is the prisoner in it. If one found a pickaxe, hammer, hatchet or spade, one would surely pick it up and start dismantling the powerful wall that brings despair. If we are not that fortunate, and find that our actions cannot be turned against our misfortune, the next best thing is to use our ability to articulate against it. We may try all kinds of words such as prayer, abuse, cajoling and appeals; we will try to pressurize those around us to join in the fight against the impediments. Before one attains any degree of success with one’s words, one has to retire into the secret core of one’s own Self, with thoughts such as: “Where am I? How did I come to such a helpless chaos? How can I generate a spark of hope? How can I understand the thoughts and inner vision of other people? What values of friendship can I establish with others? How can we work together as comrades in arms and liberate ourselves?” Such being our nature, we come to the conclusion that whatever is to be achieved in this world should begin with thoughts. Only when there is something corresponding to our thoughts in the behavior of other people and the material world in which we are placed can we make a dent in it. Thus the superiority of thought is glorified in our hearts. That is how we set out to achieve our freedom. (p. 175-176)


(echoes of de Chardin):

         We think of persons as real. Mother is real, father is real, son is real, daughter is real, daughter’s children are real, son’s children are real, society is real, culture is real, religion is real. There is no end to this world of possibilities. Brihad means enormous. Individuated persons became parts of society. The self-founded, self-breathing atman finds its similarity with all the knowing minds of the world and can truly claim itself to be the universal mind or Self. There is no difference between the individual Self and the universal Self. Apart from our physicality and physical achievements, we human beings have grown into a world of enormous purport and dimension—with our thoughts we can reach those who live on the other side of the globe. This possibility of ever-widening consciousness, ever-flourishing language and the ever-growing power of mutuality has become the mind of all, of which the personal mind is only a fragment. It is said that we should be liberated from the confines of the physical so we will not be bound to time, space, body or institution. Then we will have freedom in all its total purport. (p. 177)


(II.3.1) read after class:

         Brahman has only two forms—gross and subtle, mortal and immortal, limited and unlimited, perceptible and imperceptible.


         Our life on earth can be considered either incidental or purposive. If it is incidental there is nothing to ponder over. In a certain sense a wind blowing, the branch of a tree swaying, a dry leaf on it becoming detached and falling and the wind carrying it across a field are all incidents. There is nothing significant in these matters of no consequence. But human beings have developed a certain attitude, especially through living with others and transacting certain purposeful behaviors with them. Therefore almost all people, at least in their wakeful life, think that life has a purpose. Of course, many people are at a loss to know precisely why they have been born and what they are expected to do in their wakeful hours.

         A person has two kinds of lives to live simultaneously. One is to live from moment to moment on given occasions, so that short term programs can be begun and ended with the achievement of certain results. Most people have not only to perform such tasks but are obliged to perform them to the satisfaction of another whose bidding they are carrying out. The non-performance of a task can therefore be a moral failure for which one may even be punished. If it is a self-assigned task, failure can still bring a sense of guilt or shame.

         This is not an occasional event. It is a recurring incident with a certain amount of implied imperativeness. One’s attitudes in life, moral integrity, and relationships with others are all squarely sitting on the honest and successful performance of one’s tasks. If there are consecutive failures, that will have an adverse effect on one’s character and satisfaction in life. So the wakeful experience of a person is a fit subject to be evaluated day after day. In dream life similar obligations and encounters are present but their consequences are not binding when the person wakes up. That means what was temporarily valid as a transaction in the dream becomes unreal after waking up. Therefore the guilt or shame of any failure is transient.

         Life generally continues over a period of seventy to eighty years, each day of which has a transactional purport. In some sense each day’s program telescopes into the next day’s program, and there is a long-term program which runs through months and years. One’s life has to consistently support a lifelong motivation. Thus experiences which lie forgotten in the past have to be reconsidered as retrospectively contributing to the general flow of the mainstream of life. That means one has not only to account for simple incidents each day but also for one’s philosophy of life and style of life. Consistent behavior all through one’s life is to be accounted for to one’s own conscience, or, in the case of a religious believer, to the ultimate judgment of the God or belief to which the faithful person is beholden. Thus we have to hold in our minds what is true in the here and now, as well as the cumulative value of everything we can recollect as having once seen. One cannot remember everything one has done or said or gone through. Besides one’s knowledge there are many more truths that only the Unknown or God knows.

         We are in a situation where simple perception or a linear vision of life is inadequate.... (pp. 430-431)


And an interesting summary:

         Instead of using symbolic logic, Vedantins have made a device of judging a superimposition in contrast to a valid ground of knowledge. They draw a distinction between the ground and its superimposition. The negation of the superimposition is called apavada, [second darsana] and the superimposition itself is called adhyaropa [first darsana]. Consequently certain admissions are tentatively accepted as real and later rejected as unreal. Here the terms superimposition, sublation, and the assertion of the unreal are all held to be epistemologically valid. Therefore, in higher philosophy such as in brahmavidya, ordinary logic is not admissible. (pp. 431-432)



  This which is unreal, being an effect, has a cause; it is not the world, but the Absolute alone that is real, which a dull mind wrongly imagines to be unreal. (II,5)


  My favorite part of Nitya’s commentary is his humorous lifting of Karl Marx’s skirts, revealing the naked nonmaterial basis of his materialistic philosophy. Yet another breathtaking example of how sharp the gurus are, with their ability to focus on the keynote or absolute hub element in vastly complex and even wordy philosophical systems. Most of us remain “baffled by the bullshit” as firemen are wont to say, meaning we get lost in the intricacies of peripheral arguments and never find the gist. So many words are expended because so many philosophers never found the gist themselves, though they often thought they did. But once you sight the Absolute you see it everywhere, no matter the clouds of confusion thrown up by hapless mortals in their struggles to get a grip. I believe it was Bishop Berkeley who said that philosophers kick up dust and then complain that it’s hard to see….

  Which is exactly the point of this verse: we get so distracted by all the specific incidents, colors, shapes, sounds, and so on, of life, that we forget it is all the Absolute and start to believe the delusion that it’s a world. The unity is lost in the multiplicity. The eternal is veiled by the transient. It’s still there, we’re just not noticing. The smartest folks around easily fall for the deception too, and so are lumped in with the rest of us as having dull minds by the guru. We are all dull because we only go half way to a total vision. It takes energy, contemplative energy, to peer through the gloom and catch the light, to discern the golden thread of truth knitting together the beads of nature’s necklace. Sometimes, often with guidance, we do it, but then we all too quickly slip back into our familiar stupor of easy acceptance of socially constructed reality, the path of lesser resistance.

  One of the aims of our small group class is to reinforce effective contemplative penetration by mutual support, so we can stand free for a brief time of the superficial side of things, which we are immersed in most of the week. We are reminding each other of the essence, optimistic that we will find it less elusive the more we dance with it.

  Anita wondered what all this demystification was going to do for life after death and reincarnation. I think the implication was if so much of our persona is based on false images and transient values, what’s left when all is said and done? Do we just disappear without a trace? Does the Absolute go on without us, or do we have a continuing part to play in the grand game?

  This is a question that only the full course of Darsanamala will be able to adequately address, but it’s okay to have provisional views in the interim. It’s good to set traditional beliefs aside, though, and remain open to new insights, and we can rest assured that what will be will be, whatever we may happen to believe. Still, I had just read a section in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad that was germane, and tossed it into the ring. It says that our earth, water and fire elements are transient and will perish in time, but that the air and akashic elements are eternal and won’t perish. So we’re 2/5 eternal and 3/5 transient. As in all fields, our anxiety for the future stems from our identification with the transient part over the eternal. We should “lay up our treasures in heaven” rather than count on those things that moths and rust eat up. Some Jewish guru said something like that about eternal and transient values.

  In case the Upanishadic symbology is unfamiliar, the earth element stands for the physical part of existence. Almost everyone agrees that your physical body is going to rot when you die, and although the elements are still around in various forms, they will never again gather together in the same form that you are in now. I learned this year that on average10,000 cells are replaced in our bodies each second, so you already aren’t the same body as you were when you started reading this sentence. Bodies are not as stable as they appear, so don’t cling to them. Generally we die when they wear out or are broken anyway.

  Water stands for our emotional nature. While we revel in many of our emotions and rue many others, it’s just as well that we treat them as passing experiences. They won’t be coming along with us when we pass through the eye of the needle. We do cling to them of course; they are intense and addictive. We get a rush out of them. But like a drug addiction they are also debilitating and stultifying, and we’re blessed that they can eventually be stripped from us by some kind of transition. Death as detox. The pain of death that Carl Jung mentions in his amazing chapter on Visions in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he thought was the uprooting of his emotional ties with earthly life. Once free of them, he was loath to re-embrace them when he was brought back from the portals of death. They are sweet on the surface but painful where the roots get into our innards. The Brihadaranyaka says they are not eternal.

  Fire represents the ordinary linear, discursive thinking mind. We identify with this part of ourselves more than any other. The ‘I’ usually hangs out here. But it’s pretty easy to see that our thoughts, like what should I have for breakfast, let’s go shopping, what movies are playing tonight, and so on ad infinitum, are not coming along. Actually, we’re pretty good at not clinging to many of them already. They slip from our consciousness without regret. Others, like prejudices and fixations, we hold on tight to, but that may be because they are reinforced by emotions. All our elements interpenetrate and overlap each other.

  So what’s eternal? Air signifies intuition, our subtle intellect that rises above petty self-centered concerns. Wisdom lies in this element. Surprisingly, the Upanishad (sorry, Brihadaranyaka is just too hard to keep writing!) says we get to keep our finest insights and intuitive wisdom. While the junk thoughts go, what we’ve truly learned and made our own stays with the soul or whatever you call the part of us which persists. It would be much better to identify our ‘I’ sense with this than the mundane, transactional thought processes we feel obliged to attend to all day long.

  And of course, akasha stands for space or spirit. It is our quintessence, the essence of the five elements. If anything is going past death it would have to be this.

  This is only one of many possible schemes, but it has a lot of merit in my estimation. The Upanishad is fairly outspoken in affirming reincarnation. The 2/5 3/5 thing is absurd of course. The eternal 2/5 is virtually all that matters, so make it 99 percent. This reminds us that numbers are not actually equal, we only imagine they are because of the rational conventions of dull minds. In this particular scheme 1 is the smallest number, 2 the next biggest, and so on up to 5, which is unimaginably vast. No amount of ones and twos and threes could ever add up to five here. So take any scheme, especially your own, with a grain of salt.

  Our meditation for the week is to always look for the Absolute in every aspect of transient phenomena. Bill has promised to have the knack by next week’s class. We eagerly look forward to his report.



  If one alone has reality, how can one experience another’s beingness? To say that the real is in the real is tautology; to say it is in the unreal is contradiction. (II, 6)


Nataraja Guru’s translation is notably different this time:

  If one alone has reality, another in it how could there be? If existence is posited in existence, tautology comes; and if non-existence is so asserted, contradiction comes.


  While Nitya is making a good point, it seems to me that Nataraja Guru’s translation is closer to the spirit of what Narayana Guru is trying to say here. The Guru has already proved to everyone’s satisfaction that there is only one reality, not two as in God and man, and not multiple as in only specific items are real and nothing else, a la scientific materialism. He’s now dialectically rounding off his point from the opposite direction: if there’s only one Absolute, how can something else exist? If you insist there is something else, then it’s a contradiction. If you insist that there’re two realities, each of which is the Total, it’s tautological, because they must be the same reality but somehow imagined to be different.

  We talked some about tautology and contradiction in a more general sense, because the majority of philosophical and religious speculation falls into one or the other of these categories. How do we know the Bible is the word of God? Because it says so right in the Bible itself! Surprise! We believe something because it’s what we think, and we think it because we believe it. It’s only because so many complex sentences are strung around basic notions like these that we don’t see the self-validating nature of them.

  Many materialists are convinced that since so much of religion is pure tautology, there is nothing true other than what is presented to the senses. That means they are also basing their beliefs on the same specious arguments. Few are brave enough to shrug off conditioned thinking and arrive at a direct confrontation with truth. Even in the Gurukula, where this problem is well known, we tend to cite the authority of one of the Gurus and feel satisfied with that. Such faith based contemplation lets us off the hook.

  Nitya wrote about Carl Jung as a modern scientific thinker who went to the very fringes of knowledge, far beyond where most others pulled back in fear. Yet he ultimately, citing the need to retain his scientific objectivity, retreated from loss of small self-identity in order to merge with the greater Self. When we read about it, it sounds like a failure, but that’s because we don’t even realize that we all pull back at a much earlier stage of the process. We would rather be comfortable with our womb-like beliefs than to “dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea,” as St. Bob puts it.

  Nitya’s Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (henceforth BU) commentary has this to say about the apparent terrible death from which we shrink: “This honey of immortality is such that when you die as a relativistic individual in the phenomenal world you die to falsehood, ignorance and death, and you stand shining forth as the ever-existent, the eternally luminous, and the truth of truth, never again to be affected by the stain of duality.” (570)

  The whole game remains: how to discriminate the real, the Absolute, the Golden Thread, from the multiplicity of what may be considered unreal because it so disguises the real that we forget it’s there. The very first thing I read today when I curled up in a chair with the BU commentary of Nitya’s and a cup of coffee was:


  In all this, the knowledge which is concretely expressed also remains unseen as an immanent substance of reality all the way to the toes and fingertips. When a sword is in its sheath, the sword is not seen; only the sheath is seen. Fire is hiding in a tree from its roots to the leaves at the tip of its branches. Even so, the Self of a person is immanent in an individual, but we distinctly see only the breath that he breathes, the words that he speaks, and a number of behavioral actions when he behaves. When we breathe, we know the vital breath and not the Self. When we see, we experience our eyes and not the Self. When we hear, we experience our hearing faculty and not the Self. When we think, we experience only our mind. These names are all assigned to the functions of the various faculties. As we are always engaged with one sensory or mental activity at a time, we have only a fragmentary knowledge about our sentience. A unitive or unified knowledge does not easily come to us because of our piecemeal knowledge. The one and indivisible knowledge of the Self remains transcendent from specific manifestations. So the Self can be seen, known, and experienced only by meditating on the totality of the Self, called brahman. (p. 602)


Two other quotes surfaced in John Spiers’ book, What Shall I Read? which will be reviewed in the next Gurukulam magazine. These are from two Chinese Buddhists, Hui Neng from the seventh century and Huang Po from the ninth:



Relating to earlier discussions, from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

“Most communications which come to a person are uncritically made by people of little understanding. One does not lose much by paying no heed to non-authoritative pronouncements. This field also includes newspapers, published books and periodicals, radio and television broadcasts, and the enormous quantity of propaganda and advertisements.” (481) It is crucially important that we only take seriously those communications which have merit. We have to use our elephant trunk of discrimination to weed out the valuable from the valueless and even harmful things we are likely to hear. This delicate process is further complicated by our ego’s petty interest in treating the valuable as valueless in order to maintain its untainted self-image.


Part II


  Since we’re going to miss a week, I’ll at least offer a little light reading for anyone interested in the meantime. Nitya ends Volume I of the BU with a heartfelt vision very relevant to our study of Darsanamala:


Many people muse on the glory of realization, and dream of someday reaching there while, as if from behind, they are eaten up by the canker of ego and the darkness of ignorance. Every religion and every philosophy is trying its best to assure us that there is a bright tomorrow when we will be in the benevolent hands of the Supreme. This is a kind of panacea where the believer is held captive by self-hypnosis. But if we can shake ourselves our of this stupor and become more wakeful and conscious, we will see that we are in the hellfire of ignorance—an ignorance that we ourselves have generated, if not during this very life, then in a previous one. It is all because we glorify the highest and neglect our existential life.

Unfortunately, our existential life is one of functioning as a masochist and/or a sadist, taking pleasure in hurting ourselves, as well as feeling the vigor of life in the blood we or others profusely shed. Although we make many hypotheses painted in numerous colorful forms that fascinate our imagination, they do not help us to come out of the quagmire of illusion. The next course for us in our search for the Absolute or Self-realization is to give time to the factual situations of life. However, this does not mean one helpless person should hold another helpless person on their lap with the two sitting together bemoaning their fate. That will not help either. We have to see our egos clearly to know which aspects are malevolent and which aspects are benevolent. We have to rigorously clear away the agony-brewing aspects of ignorance or selfishness. The selfishness which we speak of here is the bias which in every walk of life leads us away from that central benevolence to which we should gravitate every moment. (635-636)



  We took a pause from Darsanamala to honor our dear friend and classmate Kendrick Perala, who died last week in a fire. We had music from Brenda on cello and Scott on the piano that Kendrick rebuilt and kept in tune for nearly 30 years. Then we had readings by Bill from Thich Nat Hahn, and excerpts from the Seven Sermons to the Dead of Carl Jung. These latter reveal that Jung was indeed a reincarnated rishi. Kendrick had mentioned in our last class how much they meant to him. They are very much in the spirit of Vedanta and Darsanamala, and recommended reading for anyone on this journey.

  After sitting quietly for awhile we talked, mostly about death in general. Moni remembered being with Nitya after his mother died. She had never seen him laugh so much, and he laughed often, always. She thought he might have a heart attack he was laughing so hard. Also he had said to her on the occasion of her father’s death that he only worried about people when they were in their bodies; once they were out there was nothing to worry about.

  Several people who had had close encounters with dying friends and family members talked about the beauty and profundity of the experience. Anne likened it to the instant of birth, when an invisible door opens briefly and you get a glimpse of what’s Beyond.

  Throughout there was a pervasive sense of peace that held us all in its thrall. In keeping with the blissful dignity of Debussy, the soaring voice of the cello, and the concentrated meditations of Chopin, we remained in a vertical poise between joy and sadness, thought and emptiness.

  There is a forum with some info and stories about Kendrick at . Anita remembered his last contribution to our class which was to upgrade Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” to “I love, therefore I am.” A fitting epitaph.

  I’ll append the bit I put in the forum for convenience. Kendrick was known and loved by half the city, but none of his longtime friends (he was born here) had yet placed anything on the site. Most of us aren’t as clever as Chopin to say a lot well in a small space.


Kendrick was a big part of the soul of Portland, one of those who make it a great place to be. All over town there are unique, intelligent, cutting-edge folks expanding the noosphere and injecting their energies into the matrix, and Kendrick was one of the best of these.

  Isn’t it curious how someone so unprepossessing, so gentle, so vastly inward-looking, could fill so much psychic space? But from his passing we get a sense of just how extensive and interpenetrating are our lives, our bodies a mere shadow home (and playground) for what we truly are. Too, we are reminded how precious are our lives, and how we must focus on things that matter and eschew the trivial. We can never know how short our time will be.

  I have known Kendrick for nearly 30 years, back when he was enlisted to rebuild my 1894 Steinway grand piano. We immediately “clicked” and shared many good times and far flung states of mind. In all those years I never saw Kendrick angry. He could be indignant and much more, but deep down he was just too sweet to be anything other than kindhearted. He listened. Great musicians know how to listen. And he cared about everything that matters.

  Recently he had been studying Indian philosophy with me, and become enthusiastic for the writings of Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati. Many of his lifelong questions had found satisfactory answers, which then led to new and better questions. The glow we saw around him most often at his concerts was half music and half wisdom realization. A perfect blend.

  He was abashed that the Guru had a much better knowledge than he did about his own Western philosophical traditions, so he spent many months combing through an academic textbook—essentially a college course—on the subject. This was classic Kendrick. If a topic interested him he would dive deeply into it until he became well versed. He probed until he found meaning, and only then would he offer his humble opinion. Our world would be a lot better balanced if our so-called pundits did the same. Over the years he had put his energy into a wide range of such subjects, all leading back to the great questions like What’s It All About? Though he was brimming with knowledge, he was never intimidating, always circumspect and considerate. The very picture of a civilized human being.

  I’ve been looking forward to many more years of friendship with Kendrick, and it’s a shocking realization that such will never be, at least on this round. But the unselfish part of me says that this fellow got his promotion. He honed his psyche intensely yet gently, and met adversity with understanding. He became wise, and shook the very foundations of heaven with his singing. It looks like the heavens opened up and let him in, a one-of-a-kind door for a one-of-a-kind guy. When our sorrows heal we will be immensely happy about being on the fringe of such a grand and rare event. We knew and were touched by one of the great souls who move through the world with little fanfare, but who give more than all the noisemakers put together. Thanks, bro! Aum.



  When all parts are separated one by one, then one sees everything as consciousness alone—far from maya—and not any other. (II, 7)


  Here we find further support for contemplative analysis, as opposed to the mere shutting down of the mind as attempted by most religions. A favorite Vedantic example of the analytic process is cloth. I imagine that’s because cloth stands for religion: different colors of “habit” are worn to distinguish one from another. We say a preacher “takes to the cloth.” At the same time, a story made out of whole cloth is completely “fabricated” and false; we swallow the whole cloth if we agree to a social or political reality supplied from outside our own being.

  When a cloth is closely examined or pulled apart, it turns out to be made of threads. If you separate the threads one by one the cloth disappears. Likewise, unexamined beliefs disintegrate when the assumptions that they are created out of are diligently separated. They only “hold together” because one false assumption supports the next, ad infinitum.

  Then threads can be unraveled to discover that they are constructed of cotton fibers. When the fibers are laid side by side no threads can be found anywhere. At this stage the contemplative is studying the root structures of complex mental imagery, watching the process of building ideas out of the mind’s structural orientation.

  The cotton can be further reduced to organic molecules, which are akin to the vital urges being emitted from vasanas. Molecules are formed from atoms, which are almost entirely empty space but contain subatomic particles. Nature being what it is, things can always be divided into smaller and smaller components, as well as larger and larger conglomerations. Eventually subatomic particles will be found to have smaller constituents, sub-subatomic particles. On the large-scale end, physicists have recently discovered galactic clusters and are angling for multiple universes. Some day they will probably speak of clusters of universes.

  There are numerous science fiction stories that liken solar systems to atoms and galaxies to cells. One that I read had some travelers get far enough away so that they could see the universe was actually a gigantic glass of beer that was being drunk by a titanic person in a bar in some mega-universe. The fabulous “He Who Shrank” by Henry Hasse chronicles a man who is given a shrinking potion and passes down through the atomic world into the vast space of another universe, over and over. Quickly he learns to select inhabited planets to shrink through on his journey ever inward.

  The gist is there is no end to the process of reduction or inflation, but at some point one is thrown back to the realization that all is consciousness alone. Stuff is all made out of other stuff, which has existence only in consciousness. In and through all the apparent things of which our universe is comprised is the total emptiness of the shining void, the divine and mysterious Source of all. Once that is realized, the mayavic impulse of the cloth is made irrelevant. You may still think “Ah, that cloth suits that person perfectly,” or “That’s a poor fit,” and you are bound to have to wear something in public, but you yourself no longer identify with your psychological clothing.

  Most people are powerfully and even lethally identified with their cloth: their race, nationality, employment, religion, political persuasion, etc. I recall the frustration of one of my high school Huck Finn classes—Huckleberry Finn is American Vedanta—when I wouldn’t answer their question “What do you do?” I would say some of the things I did, such as take walks or play the piano, eat food and so on, but I resisted telling them what they wanted, which was my job identity. After each item, they’d ask more stridently, “But what do you DO!!??” Sixteen or seventeen years old and already bound fast to the wheel. The lucky ones may in middle age learn to opt for being over becoming, but the process of becoming—one thing causing another so you can then seek the next—is so deeply stressed in modern society that perhaps most never will.

  Moni spoke eloquently about how we shouldn’t identify with our jobs or social roles, but only with our true inner being. As Nitya puts it in the commentary, we must realize our being is “none other than Being itself, which is the One manifested as the All.” Narayana Guru’s own commentary concludes:


When knowledge operates nescience becomes abolished and with the help of such knowledge one is able to see the causal status in reality of each one of the items ranging from cloth to atom. Such awareness is a kind of everpresent and lasting witness, having an ultimate status of its own. Awareness itself is without further cause and is self-evident. All others have dependent causes, one behind the other. Therefore, it is knowledge alone that remains supreme and eternal. All other things are unreal. (ISOA p. 330)


Nitya speaks at length about Indian materialism in his comments. He very often did this in classes, to challenge us to sort out what we truly knew from what we lazily assumed. It’s a very good meditative exercise. Narayana Guru asked Nataraja Guru to meditate on the world without him in it, and at another time to meditate on himself as the lone existent entity with no world around him. A true materialist throws off memory, inference, analogy—indeed most of what we take for granted. Although likely impossible beyond short stretches of meditation, the attempt allows a person to start from scratch if it is done wholeheartedly. At the very least it can give a clear insight that what passes for materialism in the West is too often a half-baked amalgam of desires and prejudices masking contempt and ignorance, and gilded over with a veneer of quasi-scientific beliefs of the moment. A particularly itchy cloth to wrap oneself in. It is to free ourselves of such uncomfortable readymade clothing that we press on with the challenge of intelligently sitting at the Gurus’ feet via Darsanamala.



Consciousness alone, not another, shines; therefore there is nothing other than consciousness; what does not shine—that is unreal; and what is unreal—that does not shine. (II, 8)


  This verse is a summing up of the main point Narayana Guru has been making in Apavada Darsana. Awareness or knowledge is what shines. The living meaning of the perception of reality, otherwise known as saccidananda, is all there is. Even what we imagine to be other than in our awareness is still our awareness.

  Narayana Guru’s explanatory comments are especially brief, mainly that: “All that enters consciousness is nothing other than what is real. That which is not real cannot enter consciousness. It is knowledge alone that remains real. That which is both real and consciousness is the Absolute, which is none other than the Lord as consciousness. Therefore, what appears as this world is nothing other than the Absolute.”

  We’ve been here before. Yet as long as we keep forgetting, it’s good to be reminded of the unitive nature of truth.

  Skeptics say, what about things you don’t know about? Well, what are they? Give an example. As soon as something is postulated it becomes part of knowledge, indeed it’s mere postulation can only take place in knowledge. This is a truth that came home to scientists around the time of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in the mid-1920s, but for some reason we can never fully accept it. It doesn’t mean we create the world, exactly, but consciousness as a whole does bring about an awareness of its own existence, and we are an integral part of that process. New things and ideas come into existence by our becoming aware of them.

  The lure of the Unknown has always motivated people to seek—and find—new fields of knowledge, and this is a good thing. It’s the lila of the universe. But we should keep in mind that what is taking place is the imagining of the Unknown within our consciousness and not something truly external that is providing this motivation. After all, how could something that is fully unconnected to us have any effect on us whatsoever? There has to be a link, however subtle, for entities to interact. The attraction of the Unknown is our own desire to know propelling us forward through metaphoric imagery.

  Our class has already pretty much accepted these Vedantic truths, so we spent most of the time discussing a corollary aspect in Nitya’s commentary. Echoing Atmopadesa Satakam and the BU, he points out that if one fully grasps that there is only a unitive ocean of consciousness in which we frolic, then there is nothing to fear. If there is no other, there is no threat. Realization of this brings fearlessness:


The goal of the present study is to release ourselves from the perennial chain of human misery, and to establish ourselves in a state of happiness which is not transient. Turning away, repudiating, or fleeing are methods adopted to escape pain. Drawing closer, and using techniques of sharing or communication are indications that pleasure is being experienced. Pain germinates fear; pleasure brings hope. Of these two major propensities, fear and hope, it is fear that dominates both the conscious and the subconscious mind. Hope arises from that stratum of existence which is truth itself—that is, the blissful Self. Hope asserts itself again and again as the will to live, the will to seek, and the will to actualize. Actualization of the highest possible values, or the realization of the Self, dispels fear…. To become established in fearlessness in all the four modified states of consciousness is another way of stating the main goal. (146, 147)


  Most societies, including our own, emphasize fear as the most important motivator for the protection of life. Fear-based motivation tends to enclose isolated individuals in defensive barriers, thereby limiting freedom, and consequently happiness. In contrast, a hopeful attitude permits much greater freedom of expression, and so it is recommended for the temporary amelioration of fear. The true annihilation of fear only comes about from the realization of one’s unitive connection to all. As long as one is still baffled by the veiling of this truth, there is much value in intentionally adopting a liberating belief system.

  As Robert Frost said so well in Mending Wall, “Before I built a wall I’d ask just what I was walling in or walling out.” By walling out the other we wall ourselves in, and the other is unlikely to even be aware of what we’ve done on his behalf.

  Hope is similar but not identical to faith, but they both share the postulation of trust in a factor not yet fully comprehended or integrated. For instance, one can read wise books and become convinced that the universe is overall benign and blissful. Such beliefs make it much easier to let go of paranoiac and frozen attitudes and begin to look more closely at the nature of reality. And as Nitya reminds us:


Realization is not anything to be newly gained. As all individuated beings are manifestations of the Self, they do not have to go anywhere to discover it. Unfortunately for us there is a veil of ignorance which creates the illusion of a dichotomy between the Self that is seeing and the Self that is seen. All we are asked to do by the Guru is to rectify this veiling ignorance of the individuated self. (146)


  We have become accustomed to seeing the world through our personal veiling system, closely linked to fear and defensiveness. When we act with hope and optimism, we can study the veiling principle and begin to see how we color our picture of what we encounter. When fearlessness comes we may eventually discard our veils as unnecessary. Until then we can part them occasionally for a peek at unmediated reality. Once we set aside the veils we find that we are already fully ourselves. There is nothing that we lack.



Ananda alone shines as real, not anything else; therefore, everything is ananda through and through; apart from ananda nothing else is known.


All is indeed existence, consciousness, and pure happiness; in this there is not even a trace of the many; he who sees this as many goes from death to death. (II, 9 & 10)


  Narayana Guru winds up the Apavada Darsana with two very simple and straightforward verses. Perhaps because of this, Deb led us into a discussion of an interesting corollary aspect mentioned in Nitya’s commentary. She wanted us to consider how truth and beauty are related. Nitya says:


Here in these two concluding verses of Apavada Darsana, Narayana Guru wants us to recognize that truth is nothing other than happiness. Happiness is that which sustains the value of everything in life. When life is permeated with happiness it is the same as saying it is beautiful. The beauty of the Self is its unalloyed bliss. This bliss permeates the knowledge of the Self. (150-151)


Deb started us off by asserting that truth comes from living in harmony with one’s dharma, and that a life expressing dharma is intrinsically beautiful. This precipitated a lively exchange of ideas.

  We wanted to know if beauty was true, was ugliness also true. This question arises when we mix up vertical truth and beauty as eternal values with their horizontal expression. Truth in Vedanta is that which persists. Horizontal truth is better called actuality or fact truth, and is subject to continual change. Because such events are true momentarily and then are not any more, they are described as being sat-asat, both real and unreal. Likewise beauty as a vertical value is an expression of the happiness that is the nature of the knowledge of existence. Horizontally, beauty is paired with ugliness, and is primarily a sensory impression or is descriptive of temporal occurrences. That beauty is wholly in the mind of the beholder. Even though most of our minds are conditioned alike so we tend to agree on what constitutes beauty and ugliness, that doesn’t make our opinions vertical or particularly true.

  Horizontal factors that continually change are impossible to pinpoint exactly. Even if you could describe something accurately, which is highly dubious, it is already different in the next moment. One can never securely know the truth of things that are seen from different perspectives and which transform from moment to moment. Exploitation of this relativity of “facts” allows politicians to flimflam the public and literally get away with theft and murder. To a lesser degree and often unintentionally, we live our lives behind a screen of untruth in which we hide from others and simultaneously cease to know ourselves.

  In a consumer world where horizontal factors are manufactured constantly to overwhelm and allure us, we are greatly in need of an anchor of sanity to keep us from being swept away in the torrent of crap flooding our awareness. What might have been optional in a pastoral and quiet world of the past is essential in the chaos of the present day. Nataraja Guru’s scheme of horizontal and vertical correlates is extremely helpful in sorting out truth from Truth, good and bad from Good, beauty and ugliness from Beauty, and so on.

  Nitya agrees that despite our true nature being happiness, “This proposition does not correspond to our everyday experience. Again and again we are caught in the grip of painful problems which we find hard to resolve.” In our darkness we project threatening or fearful imagery onto the other, and then suffer far more than we would if we took things at face value (whatever that may mean). Deeply ingrained though it is, the anticipation of imaginary problems should be gently relinquished.

  Nitya concludes, “If truth is hidden and untruth is veiling it, one can never reach the truth without first removing the veil of this ignorance…. The very knowledge of falsehood is the most efficient method to eliminate it.” It would also work to meditate on truth, but our minds are so constituted that what we imagine to be true is generally as false as anything else, and we end up meditating on falsehood and calling it truth. The imagining of what something is is the very veil itself. We are making a serious effort through this study to break free of the veiling imagery of our conditioned outlooks to know the Absolute as it truly is, both as unconditioned and as the substratum of all creation. We don’t have to do away with anything. We only need to know the eternal that permeates the transient, the transcendent that fills the immanent increments of our lives. It is right here, all around us. Our ideas about the Absolute invariably become part of the transient flux, though, and thus are the veils we intend to set aside through intensity of tapas or effort.

  This resolve leads us naturally to the next Darsana, Asatya, for a close examination of falsehood or nonexistence.

Scott Teitsworth