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Darsana Six - Verse Four


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:


From the Self not different from itself

There exists a certain undefinable specificatory power.

By that (power) all actions

Are falsely attributed to the actionless Self.


         Nitya’s 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 misapprehensions.

         One 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 to 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.

         It 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.

         Deb 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 popular attitude.

         So 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.

         We 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 visible.

         By 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 mind.


         This 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.

         Due 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 alternative.

         Jan 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 culture.

         I 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 an exercise.

         It 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 out.

         Jan 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 putting it.

         Andy 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.

         Again, 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.

         Nitya 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 are 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:


In 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 our 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 shadow.


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.

         Nitya 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.

         Bill 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.


Part II

         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         The 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.


*         *         *


         Here 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.


         Chant “AUM BHU.”


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:

         that which you are and that which creates that beingness

         what you experience and the cause of that experience

         your individuation and that which fashions your individuation

         things 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.


         Chant “AUM BHUVAH.”


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 and


         Chant “AUM SVAHA.”


Corresponding to these three you have three disciplines. The first discipline is bringing maximum 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 to 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.


*         *         *


         Andy 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.

Scott Teitsworth