Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Six - Verse Five


Karma Darsana verse 5


The Self is always detached alone;

by ignorance action is done as if attached;

“I am not acting” – thus,

the seer remains detached in action.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


The Self is always detached indeed!

One performs action as if attached due to ignorance.

The wise man saying, “I do nothing,”

Is not interested in action.

         For anyone feeling confused about the purpose and plan of Darsanamala, Nitya’s commentary on this verse makes it eminently clear. It’s really quite simple, though the implications naturally generate the complexity that Narayana Guru was so remarkably brilliant at elucidating, an immense boon to those willing to take it seriously.

         The question boils down to how do we remain neutral and still act with intention? Obviously, we have to discover and practice neutrality (also called balance) before we can hope to include it in our behavior and thinking—thinking of course being just another aspect of behavior. This is the great mystery that baffles humans mercilessly, and which a few seers exemplify very nicely. We can absorb their wisdom through a kind of spiritual osmosis, as icing on the cake of dedicated learning at their feet. We are attempting to sense such an osmosis even though we have only images from the past to inspire us. At least they are vivid images!

         Another way to epitomize our predicament is how can we accommodate external promptings to action while making room for our finest internal expressions to play out? Are the two sides always at odds, or can they be brought into harmonious engagement? Deb recalled a time in the mid-1970s where she was the “cetacean expert” at the local science museum, and passionate about saving the whales from extinction through hunting—an admirable objective if ever there was one. Yet Nitya saw how she was externalizing certain factors in herself in order to make them more remote, instead of bringing the war back home, so to speak. He told her she should save herself before she saved the whales. It made her very angry at first, but as she settled down she realized the truth of it. Humans are busy killing off everything in the natural world, but until we deal with our egotistical impulses to control and dominate, we will not be able to stop wreaking havoc. We have to become detached in action, or non-motivated by any selfish urges no matter how commendable, before we can be truly effective in our actions.

         I suggested at the beginning of class that since Nitya offers two typical examples of how this plays out, we might each offer our own personal example. We actually act from a neutral place more often than we might realize.

         While we occasionally brushed against the core point of the verse, the class preferred to explore other avenues, so the prompt remains floating in the air for anyone to take on, and share or not with the rest of us. I thought sharing might make the whole business seem less daunting and much more natural, and, as with Nitya’s two examples, it would be easy to apply them to similar but outwardly variable problems in our lives.

         Nitya’s examples come from the endless line of young people who came to him for advice. Those quandaries may have obsessed us once, but we olders have largely “grown out” of them. It’s the same thing as the verse invites: we are supposed to grow out of our childish obsessions to enjoy the core neutrality that infuses life with joy and is the birthright of every one of us. We can speed up the process or ignore it and see if it “takes” on its own.

         In the 1970s in America, Nitya met with many, many young adults with relational issues. Either they were bursting with pride how they had finally linked up with the perfect mate or were admitting ruefully that the balloon had popped, leaving them heartbroken that it hadn’t worked out. He tried his best to restore them to their own ground of blissful self-sufficiency, but love interests are famously powerful, easily dominating our inclination to detachment. In this sense they are the perfect example.

         Likewise, it was an era where food fads dominated, a natural enough occurrence at a time when the traditional American diet had been revealed as supremely unhealthy, so people were casting about for alternatives. Nitya loved tasty, spicy food and was a superb chef himself, but he was chastised often by young whelps who thought they knew everything there was to know about nutrition. It was painfully embarrassing to watch kids still wet behind the ears disrespectfully lecturing someone they were barely fit to wash the shoes of. And that kind of hubris wasn’t limited to food issues by any means.

         Because of the youngsters coming into his room every day back then, That Alone has lots about the lovelorn, and leafing through it to find a certain passage I refound so much wealth I could barely contain myself. What a fantastic book! I’ll just clip in a part from magnificent verse 76 talking about relational issues, where Nitya compares the love of our core in the Absolute with our love of outward attractions:


The recognition of… homogeneity brings an inner harmony. You feel at one with all. It gives you freedom. It is not a limiting love, it is freeing. In it, all is for all. Raga, on the other hand, is a binding love. The idea of the ‘all’ disappears, and the love gets confined to a single entity, whether a person, family, group or tribe. This produces a burning passion: “Without this person I cannot live,” or, “This is my country.” This type of fixation that is often called love can be seen all around us.

   What is in the other person that is lovable? And what is in you that loves? If you see the ground of it, it is the one Absolute. But that ground is now covered by sediments from the continuous dropping of dirt, or anrita. You have to dive very deep and break through the built up deposits to arrive at your original state. The surface of the pond is your consciousness, just into the water is the subconscious state, and the dark terrain you cannot see from the surface is where your incipient memories are lying. Beneath those incipient memories is your real ground. If you can reach that real ground you can see the higher values such as love, justice, compassion and truth in their most pristine and pure form.

   Like the word ‘fire’ that represents fire but is not it, and the word ‘sugar’ which has nothing to do with sugar, the so-called love, so-called compassion, and all the other conceptual things we live in social life, are only false images. In themselves they have no value, but as they are false images you can use them to exploit each other. They become an accumulation of trash in which you live blindly.

   Some of the words used in this verse are very special. One is anrita parampara. It’s not just one falsehood: by the time you discover a certain thing is false, another comes along with its own set of alluring dynamics. I know several boys who have come to me with a girl and said, “She is precious. This is the real girl, the incarnation of love. All virtues are hers.” Then the same fellow comes back looking dejected—she is gone. But then he appears with another one: “Now finally I’ve got the real one! The other one was all wrong, but this one is right!” Then she is gone, and again some terrible nights. Then he finds another one. This is called anrita parampara. There’s not just one falsehood, they are all lined up waiting their turn. When one is gone the next comes, and so on. Where is the end to it?

   You always think the last was wrong but the next is right. When you are deceived, you make up your mind not to be deceived again, but you do not know how you are caught. Maya knows her business. It is not the first time she has done it. She has been doing it forever.


I’ll include another substantial excerpt from That Alone in Part II that also supports the present verse extremely well.

         Nitya begins his comments here with a short list of the things that catch and hold us, for handy reference:


The problems of a man are the problems of an individual who has to relate himself with other individuals within the framework of a structured society. He also has to cope with the rigors of nature when it is malevolent, and channel to his advantage the resources of nature to maintain his life on earth. Obviously, great demands are made on man by these circumstantial factors. The further demands made by his own personal urges and needs are no less powerful as they impel him to action. It is a matter of daily experience that the action-reaction situations in which he finds himself bring him to various states and shadings of emotion. Some of these emotional impacts on the organism tend toward being pathologically compulsive and inhibitory. How can we deny these as being of no consequence or suggest that they do not affect the personal awareness of the individual? It cannot be denied that they do indeed have an effect. In this verse the seeming affectivity of the individual self is attributed to ignorance.


         Prabu reminded us that ignorance in the Vedantic sense is innate, and so not necessarily a bad thing, merely a recognition of our limited awareness where so much is beyond our comprehension. The admission of ignorance is an important step in the right direction. As our study has often emphasized, the ego puts a lot of energy into denying its faults, where it would be better spent in addressing them honestly.

         Andy added that we get committed to aspects of our ignorance, and then one thing leads inevitably to another, and another, and we become stuck in an endless cycling, as with the momentum of the gunas.

         There is a tendency to treat ignorance as a monolithic enemy and give it a malevolent intentionality. The terminus of that kind of thinking is a diabolic character like Iblis or Satan. Nitya steers us away from projecting our ignorance outside and converting it into an enemy:


When we generalize the term ignorance, it may seem as though it is an entity standing apart on its own. Is there anything existing anywhere to which we can give the name ignorance, except the malfunctioning of our reason, the instability of our emotional states, or the making of wrong decisions which are not fully supported by logical and ethical data? The answer is an emphatic no.


         By minimizing these impediments we allow more of our innate harmony to infuse our behavior. While continuing to act, retaining in mind Narayana Guru’s simple mantra “I am not acting,” we can foster this attitude.

         When Prabu attends the class, the spirit of Tolstoy comes with him. Deb caught the spirit and spoke about how Tolstoy was fascinated about the individual dramas played out against the neutral flow of history. Whatever thrashing about we do has no especial effect on the tide. She took from this that we may think we are making decisions, but we’re really impelled by circumstances. Because of this, we should ask ourself what is impelling me now? In other words, what forces are directing my actions, and do I have to go along or do I have a role in taking a more admirable course?

         Bill wondered what does non-action in action mean? It isn’t easy to identify. In other words, there is no easy formula for how it would look. It appears as we live it, not as a preplanned stratagem.

         I used Bill as a handy example of how we think of ourselves as ignorant when we are already doing exactly what Narayana Guru asks, and that’s too bad, because it makes us feel helpless where we are not. He as a building contractor, and even more so Nancy as an interior designer, are in businesses where they have to be flexible and firm at the same time. They have to have a vision and knowledge of what will work for their clients, but the clients change their minds often, subcontractors fail to appear on time, available supplies vary, and so on. They both have a lot of practice of letting go of what they intend and not losing their neutral grounding in a steady state of mind and heart. We naturally develop that kind of skill as we age, if we are trying to and not giving up in some way. Being able to accept changes is not just a business necessity, it is a spiritual practice in its own right.

         Deb added that we stay neutral by not having expectations, and that certainly helps a lot, but people performing a service for others—whether artistic, practical or what have you—need to expect that they will accomplish what they are supposed to. Yet if the game changes, they need to quickly adjust to the new realities.

         Nancy agreed that you put a lot into your work, and that always has its ups and downs, but behind it all you remain in a constant state of neutrality. You don’t just go up and down, you stay right where you are, even as the drama unfolds.

         Bushra talked about her work as a teacher in the same vein. She keeps her cool even as her students have their bad days and get into fights or fail to do their work. She is detached in action because she knows their problems are not caused by her: she is there to help out. She told us she watches herself interact as if from outside, from a detached posture. Because of this she can see the motivation behind her students’ motivations, seeing as they see. She easily stays neutral and does not identify with their partisan issues. Because of this she rarely loses her cool.

         Sharing knowledge as a teacher is a form of intervention, and yet it can be done with kindness. We talked for a while about kindness as a natural outcome of being in a neutral state of mind. Kindness can be practiced arbitrarily, but when you are grounded in the neutral Absolute it becomes an effortless expression of your feelings.

         Andy remembered a saying of his father’s that become a guiding principle in his life. Whenever he was dissatisfied with what he had painted, his father would say, “Well, change it into something else.” Andy came to realize that there wasn’t a monolithic end to your expression, you could just keep working on it until it got better.

         Andy also worked with the artist Chuck Close, who always said “You need a problem.” He felt that solving problems was what pushed the artist beyond tepid levels of work. He would create a problem if none existed, but as Andy said it is problematic to make up difficulties. He might have been thinking of the Inquisition or the conservative politicians who feel that arbitrarily making life difficult stimulates people to work harder. He didn’t say. But I have found life to be kind enough to present us with all the difficulties we need, without having to manufacture any others.

         Scotty talked about being upset with his adult son for what he felt was a glaring omission, but then he reframed his position and allowed that his son may have had a perfectly good reason for what he did. That required changing his set beliefs, and it moved him from antipathy to kindness. (Scotty also mentioned a fascinating Youtube talk between Oliver Sacks and Chuck Close, as both shared an inability to recognize faces. Here’s the link:

         I promised to give my example of how the non-existent shadow of ignorance impacts our lives, which we didn’t have time for in the class,. The first thing that came to mind when I thought about it was “my country.” I suppose because almost no shred of what I once imagined still remains, it seems especially prominent right now. Anyway, it was my first thought.

         I grew up in the aftermath of World War II, when America was extremely full of itself as the bastion of freedom and the champion of “liberty and justice for all.” Modest prosperity was the rule, and it was all attributed to “the American way of life.” No need to point out the limitations of such slogans: for a child it was a very real thing. There was an entity called our country, and it had certain definite attributes. The idea provided a reassuring background to my life. I felt welcome and eagerly invited to the table, and had not the slightest idea this was not felt by everyone.

         I’m not going to have time to list all the ways this idea affected my life, both positively and negatively, but I spent some time doing it and what I noticed even surprised me at this late stage of life. Much of it I’ve gotten over, but much remains. The point is, it was always a fiction, and it had a huge impact on my life. Proof of its fictional nature is that there are likely no two people with the exact same image of “my country” anywhere on earth. I broke away from its deadly tentacles during my teen years, but I can still observe it roiling the national and international political discourse and even prompting people to kill at its behest. I am not willing to let myself be driven by a shadow concept to do terrible things, so I want to take a good close look at its effects. But I can still let it inspire positive contributions. And I plan to take more time with several of the other fictions I am inured to. Whenever I have done so in the past, it has been a liberating exercise.

         All these examples show ways that we have already learned a measure of detachment in action. If we acknowledge this, we can add it in wherever it is still lacking. It may be that pretending to ignorance is an ego ploy developed in childhood to deflect criticism: something we might dare to relinquish in our maturer years. Isn’t it interesting that we have such a glaring blind spot regarding our own development?

         Actually, our blind spot is more like pure blindness, but never mind. Whatever we don’t see may oppress us out of the dark, or if it is a good quality we may not avail ourselves of it as much as we could, which is also lamentable. Nitya mentions our blind spot (shouldn’t it be plural?) in passing:


In an earlier verse the Guru spoke of a blind spot in the self – the structure of which is not known to us. The individual mind is very much influenced and overshadowed by this blind spot.


I’m guessing the earlier verse Nitya is referring to (though so much of Darsanamala is about blind spots) is the end of the Bhana Darsana:


9.   As the eye does not see itself, even so

   the Self by the Self; because the Self is not

   an object of awareness, what the Self sees—

   that indeed is the object of awareness.


10. What is the object of awareness, that is superimposed;

   the non-superimposed is not an object of awareness;

   what is superimposed, that is unreal;

   what is not superimposed—That alone is real.


The most recent issue of National Geographic (June 2017) features an article about an experiment in virtual reality that reveals a lot about how our minds work, about how we fill in gaps in our awareness with plausible fictions. The magazine interviewed artist David Byrne about an experiment he’s running, where you are put in the body of a doll and experience the room from that perspective. Here’s the relevant bit to our blind spot:

What does this project help us learn about our everyday life?

Well, besides being a lot of fun, there’s real science behind it. Our muscular sense of where our limbs are determines how we see other things—how we see the world, how we determine where we are when we’re moving about….

  It’s also surprising to experience things that aren’t there. You know they’re not real, but you still experience them, which is a fun way to get across the idea that our perception of the world is not really based on reality. It’s based on something we construct in our heads.


Like how we see our nose.

Yeah, we demonstrate in a supersimple way that your brain is filtering out part of reality for you, because it’s decided you don’t need to see this. There’s censorship going on. You put your hand over one eye, and you see your nose intruding into your field of vision in your other eye, and your realize your nose is always there. Yet unless you really look for it, your brain edits it out of what you see. You don’t see this big fleshy thing in the middle of wherever you’re looking, but it’s there.


For a seeker of truth, the nose is the least of it. We also edit out ideas of all stripes, allowing for a less painful form of bondage, yet bondage nevertheless.

         Nitya had the highest hopes that recognizing our condition is the means of freeing us, and he concludes with another paean to the possibility:


In psychoanalysis the analyst attempts to show the patient that a mistaken notion has germinated in the patient’s psyche, a notion capable of generating a neurotic or psychotic syndrome, a foreign element that has found a place for itself in the psyche. The recognition of this alien factor that previously lay hidden from conscious awareness in the patient’s mind often brings a full recovery from the illness. In the same manner an ignorant person can recognize the possibility that the erring mind can lead the I-consciousness far from its own natural neutrality. Then automatically comes the realization of the oneness of the individual self with the universal Self.


Obviously his “automatic realization” depends on recognizing how we are led astray in a truly vital manner, and not simply as an intellectual premise. Such a meaningful recognition is the objective that brings us together every week, hopefully intending to make a breakthrough, at least on our good days.


Part II

         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         Here the word atma comprises both the living Self (jivatma) and the Supreme Self (paramatma) without distinction. Like the Supreme Self, the living Self is also always without attachment. It is because of ignoring the living Self, as well as the Supreme Self that it seems as if they participate in action. But wise men who have attained true knowledge even when engaged in action, know for certain that they are not performing any action at all. They never have any attachment to action. What has been praised in the Bhagavad Gita is the wise man who sees action in non-action and non-action in action. In reality there is no action at all in the Self. The Self has no relation with those actions seeming to be present. “But then where do these seeming actions exist? Who performs them? On what basis are they founded ?”—When such questions are asked we say that because there is no possible place outside the Self there is no possibility of anything remaining outside it. We are obliged to admit that all actions merely seemingly exist in the Self, and that the agency of all action must be attributed to the Self. Furthermore, the basis of all action is the same Self, and when it takes all possible forms it still remains as the Great Actor (mahakarta).


*         *         *


         I’ve just edited up as far as this important quote from ISOA, where Nataraja Guru sketches the broad outlines of Darsanamala, well worth another peek (we’ve shared it before):


The methodology and structuralism tacitly presupposed in Darsanamala implies both a reduction and a construction by which multiplicity is first reduced to negative unity in the first five chapters. Both plurality and duality get abolished by a method of elimination of what is doubtful and unessential. Having touched the rock bottom of ontology by this negative reduction, the last five chapters aim at a more positive construction implying the normalizing of existence with its own rational subsistence. There is a construction implied in the method here by which ontology gets transformed into a value- world where teleological first and final causes gain gradual primacy. Even at this stage of reconstruction there are always the Self and the non-Self involved as irreducible counterparts related by complementarity, reciprocity and cancellability. We shall explain these later on. Here we have only to remember that the methodology of this work has to be treated together with its own epistemology and axiology. (217-8)


*         *         *


         From That Alone, verse 70:


         When people come to me emotionally charged, almost unable to speak, sit for many minutes finding no words, then become tearful, their face very red, often even shaking, usually I don’t say anything. Although I am sympathetic, as I see that the whole thing is based on a flimsy, shadowy, stupid misapprehension, I don’t have to feel sorry. The whole thing is a misunderstanding. After a bit they start speaking. They think they are saying something reasonable, but halfway through they become confused. Then they think that what they were saying was not right. I still don’t have to say anything, they themselves will decide it was not right, something was wrong. They try to restate it, but they find it is no longer so important to them. The urgency with which they came is gone. Then they feel the situation is awkward, they are too uncomfortable to say anything. At this point I try to put in some words, but not about them. They may need something to hold onto, something that allows them to feel they can leave the shadowy thing behind. They feel very relieved it is gone, are happy to be done with it. “It was nothing!” they think. But can you say it was totally nothing? No. There is more to it than that.

         If you take the whole content of what I’ve just told you, it will give you some picture of how rati operates. There is a great self-love in it. That self-love comes almost to a peak, and then you can see the so-called rejection. One person came to me bitterly crying, saying “nobody loves God. Why can’t people love God?” Do you think she was crying because people don’t love God, or is it that someone doesn’t love her? Torrential tears flowing, saying, “Why don’t they (sob) love God?”

         At first it may not seem possible to relate it to libido, to our concept of libido. When Nataraja Guru used the word libido to translate rati, I was not very appreciative. But when I once again read Freud’s own theory, his confusion about it affirms to me the very vague, uncertain areas that are covered by libido as well as rati. Even in the simple incident I just mentioned, the sunshine of knowledge finally breaks through the clouds. It’s very soothing, very reassuring. When people get into it and bask, the clouds of darkness disappear. What Narayana Guru is referring to in this verse is a more definitive sunshine realization, which dispels the clouds forever. Otherwise they go and come back over and over again.

Scott Teitsworth