Karma Darsana verse 4
The Self has some kind of power,
inseparable from it, difficult to define;
by that alone all actions are
projected in the actionless Self.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
the Self not different from itself
exists a certain undefinable specificatory power.
that (power) all actions
falsely attributed to the actionless Self.
commentary is at once familiar and formidable, as he shows us how radical the
basic concepts of Vedanta really are. Mostly we convert them to clichés to make
them palatable, but in Darsanamala we are given the opportunity to take them
seriously, and in so doing relieve ourselves of any number of impediments and
of the primary reasons the Gurukula as a mystical institution will never hit
the big time is that it refuses to boil the mysteries that beset us down to
simple formulas. If you ask any participant what the Gurukula stands for, they
will almost certainly be unable to answer coherently, and this is quite likely
to be a virtuous position rather than a reflection of poor study habits. Even
Narayana Guru himself admits that this business is hard to define. The
indefinable is ever hard to pin down. The corollary is that what is easily
defined does not measure up to the requirements of thorough examination. Nitya
neatly epitomizes the paradox that in a spiritual search the more you learn the
less you know:
In the context of Vedanta, the worst paradox
which a person is exposed is when he is asked to postulate realities, the
nature of which are opposed to his daily experience, and when he is asked to
consider what is already known to him – and held by him to be self-evident
truth – as ignorance. Moreover, he is asked to seek after and experience as the
only true knowledge that which now eludes his knowledge or experience.
In the face of this, anyone who can provide a glib answer
should be considered suspect. It’s something to keep in mind.
is essential to distinguish between the transactional realities we deal with
all the time, which deserve to be clearly defined and comprehended, and the
potent source of our existence that mysteriously impels us to grow into ever
more complex beings. If we make the mistake of trying to fit the boundless
ocean of life into a transactional framework, we dehydrate and it and separate
ourselves from its bounty.
brought up Eddington’s analogy about the physical table we can serve birthday
cake on and the “true” scientific table that consists of whirring atoms and
mostly empty space, that we couldn’t possibly use in any fashion. Obviously the
point is not to stick to the “real” (useless) table, but to go ahead and serve
the cake on the false one (it was delicious). The validity of practical usage
does not in any way negate the scientific table, however. Somehow we need to
accommodate both. Or, as non-spiritual types insist: who needs the true table?
The false one is the one we use, and that’s that. This is by far the more
yes, this is an impossible paradox, or what Nitya calls an enigma:
If we take the two sides of this question
together we are confronted by a paradox which is inherent within the nature of
the Self. That is, the Self is capable of producing a state of duality: that of
the Self and the non-Self. Moreover, it can within itself cause the illusion of
mistaking the attributes of the non-Self for those of the Self. At the
empirical level this is an insurmountable paradox. The Guru calls it durghata. The literal meaning of this
term is “something of incomprehensible structure.” If the structure of a thing
is not known, we are at a loss to understand the exact nature of its function.
Be this as it may, we need to free ourselves from the enigma if we are finally
to achieve emancipation from the riddles of life.
Implied in this is that we are free to go about our lives
without taking the least cognizance of its inherent makeup. The reason some of
us aren’t content to stumble ahead blindly is that this allows all sorts of
unfortunate quirks to rule the roost. We find ourselves much less happy that we
prefer to be, and we keep making the same mistakes over and over. The solution
is not better micromanagement, it is reconnecting with our innate intelligence.
Close management screens out the bulk of our inherent wisdom. It is definitely
part of our problem.
have had lots of practice in treating the infinite mystery as a trivial
occurrence and taking it for granted. If we invite it to carry us along in its
tide while embracing it in our hearts, at the very least we will become more
cognizant of the joy that is intrinsic to it. This is not about making the
invisible visible or for that matter the visible invisible, but rather
discerning the invisible within the
now we should have had enough experience of being buoyed by the mystery to
welcome it all day long. Yet this natural affinity is cordoned off behind a
hostile societal iron curtain decorated with the demands of transactional give
and take. If we aren’t careful we may wind up giving short shrift to the waters
of life and allowing our souls to become parched. The two sides of this
paradox, or what the class discussed at length as an enigma, are our intuitive
inner feelings and our rational cortex, the former projected inward and the
latter out. Nitya describes it this way:
All our behavioral patterns are
centered around one motivation or another, and the nucleus of every motivation
is formed in the depths of our feelings. In most cases such motivation
(sponsored by feeling) has little or no relation to the rational faculty of the
problematic idea had the predictable effect of being upsetting. It turns our
normal expectations and complacency on its head, asking us to question
precisely those notions we take for granted. I suppose this is the stage where
most people abandon Vedanta for a more “user friendly” perspective.
to the disconnect between our authentic up-surging motivations and our
socialized waking consciousness, our inner impulse of instinctual wisdom is
attenuated and often shut down entirely. We become stressed out defenders of
the status quo without even realizing it, hostile to our true self and
resentful of anyone who suggests making room for a wider purview. It takes a
lot of energy to suppress the Self! We don’t dare let up for a minute. To
deflect the forces of enlightenment we adopt a make-believe version as an
talked about the importance of distinguishing between the superficial crap that
comes up in our lives throughout the day and the deep truth of our essential
nature. So often we mistake the one for the other, taking our weaknesses for
the real us. This philosophy gives us a pillar of strength to measure ourselves
by, so we can loosen the junk’s hold on us no matter how popular it is in the
thought that Jan got right to the point, and it accords with a lovely
meditation of Nitya’s on the Gayatri mantra that Nancy Y. has just shared with
the study group I’m in. It details a gentle Vedantic method of countering our
superficial focus, and emphasizes that distinguishing truth from falsehood
(just as Jan has identified them, depth and surface garbage) is the first step
in self liberation. I’ve reprinted it in Part II in case you want to use it for
is easy to get really exasperated by this philosophy, absent the presence of a
charismatic guru to demonstrate its worthwhileness. It seems to insist we
abandon our transactional expertise and just float in absentia. What we’re
really after, and why karma yoga is such a challenge, is integrating these two
aspects of our whole being. We are really aiming at readmitting a forgotten
aspect of who we are back into the familiar state of mind we live in all day
long, reigniting our inner furnaces to add zest and meaning to every action.
This only seems threatening because of long disuse, and we worry about
conditions we are no longer familiar with. Andy reminded us that this does not
require developing anything new: it is who we already are. We are just removing
the impediments we have erected—often without conscious awareness—to screen it
talked about how this involved letting go, much more than doing anything. It’s
a new skill, meaning we can’t let go by habit, it takes a fresh act of
intention. Which is paradoxical, obviously: intentionally giving up our intent.
Jan resolved this by affirming we are not freeing ourselves from anything, but
merely learning to live with all of what we are. Which is a very nice way of
mused on what a paradox the actionless self is: all actions are projected by
it. How does this differ from just plain doing actions? It’s a very subtle
business. Even Narayana Guru says it’s hard to figure out. But we have two
apparent facts: a unified whole basis and a splintered multiverse. Somehow they
must fit together. Happily, even if we can’t figure out how, the whole shebang
works just fine without our imprimatur. We can just enjoy it in wonder. The
universe is not just a total knowledge situation, it’s also a total enjoyment
situation and a total action situation.
we don’t have to do anything to be
just fine, but sadly we’ve learned along the way that we are not okay and we
are supposed to build a workable persona out of the spare parts cluttering the
attic of our psyche. So we are actively opposing our native state without
realizing it. We have never learned the acceptance of an inner core value that
is completely adequate. The letting go Jan referenced must include the letting
go of self-doubt right at the start. Andy added that this had to include
accepting our own impermanence, since fear of impermanence is a big part of
what kindles the doubts.
touches on a classic way of picturing the situation that is very helpful in
easing us into a more harmonious state. We break up the unitive reality into
three aspects, such as the knower, known and knowledge, as was explained in the
Bhana Darsana we have just completed. Let’s defer to the Guru:
Almost all the transactions of our lives
structured and modified by the three aspects of mind: feeling, reasoning, and
willing. In the expression of all or any aspect, the I-consciousness assumes
the roles of agency – such as those of the enjoyer, the knower and the actor.
It becomes a case of “I am the enjoyer,” “I am the knower,” and “I am the
actor.” For most of us these are perfectly valid assumptions, but in Vedanta
any such identifications are looked upon as mistaken identities of the self.
Knowledge, for instance, is the total context, but we (quite
naturally) break it up into I as the knower, and objects “out there” as the
known. We hardly realize how we separate our self from the other in this
process. Mostly we unravel our skein of life as a subject at odds with
innumerable objects. I might just reprint a couple of paragraphs from the That
Alone commentary on verse 17 that bear on this:
this verse, we are brought back from the high state of spiritual ecstasy to
where we fit in to this world. It is from all these actual, necessary aspects
of existence that we have to rise to that higher state. We are not to forget
that we have a body that can give us pain, a mind which can give us pain,
sensations which, when exaggerated or stimulated too much, can cause us pain,
and that we are carrying all the garbage of the past with us all the time.
These are all real.
It is on this we have to build
own joy and understanding of the Absolute. The lamp [of our being] is hanging
in the Self, in total knowledge. Within the total knowledge situation we have
both our physical and psychic selves. What we call experience is shadow, so it
is darkness; and the real is the Self. As we are so tuned in to this shadow, we
never know the light of the Self at all. We just go from one shadow to another
The shadow Nitya’s speaking of is where a subject perceives
an object, and thus truncates the total knowledge situation. There’s always an
almost panicky support for it whenever this comes up in class: isn’t
nothingness or emptiness the alternative to shadowy behavior? It may look that
way, and yes, we do have to relate intelligently to the shadows in order to
function in the world, but that’s exactly what we’re taking a vacation from in
our meditations. We’re going to see if we can reenter the undifferentiated
ground of being, and come back to the shadows later as renewed individuals. We
have to let go of all the things we’re carrying or we aren’t really entering at
all, only pretending. Doing so for real has any number of salubrious effects,
as the gurus demonstrate for us, but we have to remember there is no
contractual relationship. This doesn’t do anything we expect or demand: we
learn its effect from the way it plays out in real time, as it’s amusingly
called. Because this is something we have learned to instantly shy away from,
Nitya puts it as simply as possible: “By reuniting subject and object we regain
the total knowledge situation.” And they don’t reunite on their own, at least
while we’re meditating on shadows. Beautiful, wondrous, enchanting shadows. Yet
we have to take time out from them, turn our attention away occasionally.
does a really good job of making this clear, and it doesn’t hurt to reread this
any number of times:
It is said that the true Self has an existence
that does not undergo change. Such a view does not tally with the experience of
beingness of a person suffering the vicissitudes of birth, growth, change,
decay and death. What is considered by most to be existential is treated by the
Vedantin as an illusory experience of existence – as being not real existence.
So it is that Vedanta asks us to turn away from non-existence to existence. The
true Self is defined as pure consciousness. When consciousness is mentioned,
what usually comes to mind is the awareness of knowing things, people, events
or ideas. Knowledge is not normally available to us without the dichotomy of
the knower and the known, or so we believe. The Vedantin rejects such a view as
nonsense. To him all are the effects of the modulations of consciousness, and
as such are only appearances. At this point one may feel a sense of despair,
because the majority do not understand “what is pure knowledge” without
dividing the conscious experience into the knower, knowledge, and the known.
Thus we can see that our commonly held notions concerning existence and
knowledge are not only challenged but are rejected by the Vedantin as being of
little consequence when it comes to being truthful or knowing truth.
More of the
paradox is that we have to give up the fantasies we have of our own permanence
in order to access the deep grounding we have in something truly stable and
unchangable. Many of us believe that just by rearranging our thinking the world
will miraculously lose its negativity. But you can’t have positivity without
negativity. The world will always feature oppression and rewards, both
justified and unjust, but we are seeking our true grounding from within, not
based on the outward vagaries of fate.
led us into our closing meditation recalling how Jung would say that since God
was immutable and unattached, we ourselves are the agents of the divine. The
Absolute does not and can not act. Acting is our role in this marvel of a
universe. The Karma Darsana is showing us how to joyfully optimize our actions
by unleashing our inhibited talents as agents of the divine.
Self has a specificatory power which is not different from itself and is
undefinable. It is because of this specificatory power that all actions are
attributed to the Self. Because the Self is actionless no action can be
compatible with it. Then, how is it that we say the Self performs action? We
are obliged to answer that maya is
the cause of all action and is the specificatory power of the Self. It is also
incongruous to say that maya which is
by itself non-intelligent, is the cause of action, because it is impossible
that there is anything outside the Self. We are forced to admit that maya is not different from the Self. On
closer examination we see that it (i.e. maya)
is a non-existent principle. Thus, when looked at in one way, it has agency,
and when looked at in another way it has no agency. When viewed in one sense it
is existent and in another sense non-existent. On further analysis it is also
seen to be indeterminate. When viewed in one way it is capable of occupying a
place in the Self which cannot in principle give any place to anything outside
it, and when viewed in another way it has no existence in the Self. In one way
it is different from the Self, and in another way it is non-different from the
Self taken as a whole: as what is unpredicable and indeterminate. It is because
of these qualities that it is undefinable and unpredicable. It is this very
Self that attributes all actions to the Self which is actionless. It is also by
this very Self remaining as desire (iccha),
wisdom (jnana) and action (kriya) that the Self is made to be an
agent or non-agent of action capable of taking on all forms. When it is subject
to desire the Self is the actor. In the form of wisdom it is actionless. When
it is in action it can assume all forms.
are the notes from Nitya’s guided meditation in Hawaii, 1978:
Meditate on that which is basic in you, that which gives you
the idea of your beingness, that which has come to existence, assumed your
physical form, mind, intellect, personality, identity with name: what you feel
essentially when you say “I,” “I am.” Think of it both as a structural entity
(body with limbs, organs of perception and action) and functional entity (that
which desires, acts, changes).
Think of yourself as a candle that burns, expending energy
all the time. Something in you is burning out. A processing is going on. When
wood is burned, it changes to charcoal, and then ashes. There is no
reversibility. In you, your consciousness flares up like a flame, then fades
into memory, which is like burning embers, then becomes a residual reduction,
like ashes. As you go on, this repeats over and over again: flame, embers,
ashes, flame, embers, ashes . . . These are all happening regardless of you. It
is not with conscious programming or planning that you wake up, energy flows,
consciousness arises, interests arise, you act, you get into compulsions to
act, experience pain and pleasure, excitement and boredom.
See yourself as an eternal process of becoming, like a wave
in the ocean. The wave is helpless; it has to rise and fall. You have no power
over yourself; you are like a wave belonging to a totality like the ocean. Your
whole life is like a wave. Each incident is a wave in the wave. Each moment is
a wave in the wave in the wave. It is an eternal scheme. When you chant “AUM
BHU,” understand that as this process of eternal becoming, what you call “I” is
in a community of wave formation, a community of becoming, an “I” that is
helpless: being made, operated upon, pushed, swayed, made bright and dark.
Watch how from the depth of silence sound comes, assumes
form and meaning—shallow or deep, sublime or mediocre, intense or passing. Then
the sound merges back into silence. You are like that—your energy produces
sound and you are conscious of creating it, but you don’t know what energy
impels you, what energy gives force to life. You don’t know what energy is
behind each interest, determining how long it endures, what comes next. Try to
know that impending force that causes modification.
These aspects are to be clearly seen:
which you are and that which creates that beingness
you experience and the cause of that experience
individuation and that which fashions your individuation
lying around and the gestaltation of things into a configuration
There is a deep-seated purposiveness that is held away from
you but operates through you so that you see configurations, objects of
interest, desire to act, purposiveness to move on, time sense of progress. Try
to see all of this from within, from the seed of its operation. When you chant
“AUM BHUVAH,” go beyond BHU and see it as this great inner dynamics that is
causally related to all that is manifested.
There is a vastness into which sounds disappear, forms
disappear. It is a kind of eternal solvent, an enveloping principle, the power
of transformation. Everything gross changes to subtle. All characteristics of a
living entity are re-absorbed, epitomized, transformed into seed, to come back
in cyclic unfoldment. Day after day, when you sleep the world dissolves in you.
But when all previous experiences are submerged into oblivion, they are
re-processed, linked with other experiences, and a continuation is given, a
chronological order is established. It is like a recycling, a great fire
descending and ascending (as Heraclitus said). This fire burns everything and
recreates everything. Know this to be svaha
Corresponding to these three you have three disciplines. The first discipline is
discrimination of true and false to everyday life. What is beneficent and what
is not? What is bright and what is dark? You discriminate your promptings to
embrace the total from promptings that compel you to go into an egoistic shell.
When in ancient times a burnt sacrifice was done, the priest
needed to know for whose sake the sacrifice was being done. Like that, you
should preside over your day as the master of the sacrifice. The priest, or the
scholarly function in you, should do everything in conformity with the laws of
science (those secrets that control the continuity of nature and those secrets
that relate you to nature).
What in you is offered as sacrifice? The energy you expend,
your spoken words, the programmed actions you do. These are the samvit: the grains and flowers burned in
the sacrificial fire. See the unquenchable fire that consumes everything, your
day’s experience. You are the fire that sees, burns, transmutes, effects
compounds. When all these are accessible to your mind, conceivable, an effect
comes: that which you have never experienced before (apurva) and that which is invisible, incomprehensible (adristha).
It is this dear value in life
that creates hope in you, generating your onward movement. This is the first
part of your discipline.
In the second part of
your discipline, you realize you are not alone. There are similar entities.
There has to be sharing. You can share anger and jealousy: this is not
beneficial. You can share beauty, truth, love. There is sharing at the social
level: common, everyday, ordinary sharing. Then there is sharing that happens
only when two people have mutual confidence, love, respect, inner reverence.
This sharing comes only where there is caring. It is an experience of living
one’s true interest in the bodily frame of another. You are truly joyous when
the same joy is manifested in the other. True sharing is when the rejoicing of
the other is identical with your rejoicing.
When you extend this to as many around you as possible, your
ego-boundary fades; the “I” becomes blurred in collective consciousness. This
is the third discipline.
These three disciplines can bring you to the first stage of
development. In the second stage, the deliberations become effortless; your
habitual choice is to do the right thing. You become conscious of being the
master of the sacrifice every day, conscious of directing your life according
to law, conscious of your thoughts offered as sacrifice, conscious you are like
fire consuming, conscious of that rare value that promotes your life from day
In the third stage, you are no longer training; it becomes
your real life. You are like one who is always living in the company and
presence of your teacher, Always watched, disciplined, directed.
In the fourth stage you are that teacher. There is no
separation of teacher and taught.
talked about Nitya’s full name, Nitya Chaitanya Yati, and eventually Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati. Chaitanya is
when the chit of absolute awareness is in the process of turning outward, while
Yati implies restraint. Nitya is eternal, so the name means eternally
restraining the urge to externalize. It was a name he chose for himself. You
can read Nitya’s more detailed account of it in Love and Blessings, in the chapter appropriately called I Become
Nitya Chaitanya Yati, beginning on page 142.