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:
Self is always detached indeed!
performs action as if attached due to ignorance.
wise man saying, “I do nothing,”
not interested in action.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
is often called love can be seen all around us.
What is in the other person that
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
Like the word ‘fire’
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
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
I’ll include another substantial excerpt from That Alone in Part II that
the present verse extremely well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OKC9CJoLdk.)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
Self by the Self; because the Self is not
object of awareness, what the Self sees—
indeed is the object of awareness.
10. What is the object of awareness,
that is superimposed;
non-superimposed is not an object of awareness;
is superimposed, that is unreal;
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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)
That Alone, verse 70:
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.
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?”
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.