Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Six - Verse Six


Karma Darsana verse 6


The one Self alone

burns as fire, blows as wind,

showers as rain, supports

as earth, and flows as river.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


The one (Self) alone, as fire it burns,

As wind (it) blows,

As water (it) rains,

As earth (it) supports, (and) as a river (it) flows.

         Nitya reminds us that all aspects of existence, consciousness and meaning are included in the term Self as used here. It is helpful for us to remember that the qualities Narayana Guru enunciates symbolize aspects of the psyche: briefly, earth, water, fire, air and akasa or space (the showers of rain?) stand for the physical, emotional, intellectual, intuitive and transcendental aspects, respectively. The Guru is not only enjoining us to see the Absolute everywhere in our world, but also to see it in every nuance of our being. We continually forget that what we are seeing is an internal construct projected as an outer confabulation. This allows us to guiltlessly bypass self-criticism, which is the goal of the ordinary human but not of the spiritual seeker. As Nitya puts it:


When we experience a concrete entity such as a mountain or a river, the experience is the result of an ingrained tendency to abstract the concrete as a factor outside of the self. In this way many things which arise within our consciousness are treated as non-self.


Since this is a natural tendency, it must be forgiven. Still, it renders us relatively helpless, dislocating the abilities that could be under our control into a remote location where we imagine we can safely ignore them. It tacitly blesses the ego-generated action by damping down self-examination. Is that really what we want? Might as well skip the class. Nitya wants to lure us back on track: “This kind of awareness requires continuous meditation on the non-differentiation of the homogeneity of that one reality which constitutes both the personal and the universal Self.”

         While we often cite “continuous meditation” on unity, does anyone bother to do it? Unfortunately it is more often simply a cliché. Continuous doesn’t have to mean every minute, either, but it does mean often, and should definitely include “as necessary.”

         The overall image of this verse as a unified impulse of the Self driving all action inspired us to think of the unfolding of existence as the solid basis on which the paltry actions engendered by our I-consciousness are played out. As Nitya puts it: “When a person endowed with such a realization critically examines the course and validity of action, they will see action as part of the flux of becoming which is natural to the phenomenal aspect of the universal Self.” In other words, we should direct our attention to the overall course of events in addition to our struggles to attend to our daily requirements. As Nancy noted, this takes a lot of pressure off us. We don’t have to reinvent the universe every day, it is doing just fine, thank you. We could allow ourselves to be drawn along with it. She expressed it perfectly: “I’m being moved by something I can’t comprehend. It makes life fun!”

         Deb spoke about how she wakes up every morning sitting quietly in her chair, sipping coffee and watching the day break and spread out into activity. She feels she is an integral part of the scene. Beyond even being a witness, which is a dualistic attitude the minute you think “I am witnessing,” she is simply present. In a way, the visible world is telling her we are separate individuals, but she knows there is more to it than that. There is an omnipresent urge energizing the scene.

         Spring itself, which has been robustly present this week, makes this urge in beings almost tangible. Everywhere an invisible potency is unfurling in purposive activity, and no one feels it is dependent on them in the least. Speaking of the urge in beings, I’ll include a few Gita verses in Part II that speak eloquently on the subject.

         Nancy added an example of our greater unity we don’t usually think of: the roads she drives on, and by implication all the benefits of human society, are just there for her and everyone else to use freely and without a passing thought. She sees humanity as resembling bees in a hive, much more than we realize. Yes, it’s an image fraught with peril thanks to the Nazis, but Nancy is thinking of a happy hive where sick and old bees are cared for, different varieties get along amicably, and everyone has plenty of free time to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Time to think, even. A real mellow hive.

         Bushra waxed rhapsodic about the moon and tides sharing a common urge, one that even influences women’s menstrual cycles, causing those in close proximity to become synchronized.

         Knowing how we are all related should have many positive benefits. It should make it easier to find a way of acting that isn’t solely based on reward/punishment models. Karma yoga begets pure action—action for the pure joy of it.

         Jan felt that the awareness of our integrally belonging to a benign system led to better acceptance of challenging circumstances. The exercises suggested here can show us how to give up our resistance to the flow, which includes letting go of our particular “demands” and accepting what comes to us. It made her think of asti asti—This and this and this are all okay, all the Absolute, in our jargon. To Jan this means acceptance of everything, including things she isn’t very pleased about.

         Deb added that acceptance requires trust, a trust in the rightness of what is unfolding. Tacit was the idea that it is vey hard to trust when the course of events seems to be going against you. That’s where we have to dig, to look beneath the surface. It doesn’t do to simply believe in an invisible connectedness, we have to really feel it. Even knowing, as Bushra offered, that our own bodies are mostly “not us,”—they are microbes and mitochondria and other freeloaders that help us live as we do, and without them we would die—doesn’t penetrate our thick skulls. Current science has “us” as being around 11% of our total biomass, yet we feel like it’s all us, and we are in charge of the whole enchilada. One day that scientific truth of our interrelatedness is going to sink in, and our species will learn a measure of humility.

         I came across a fascinating tidbit in my reading of ISOA this week that speaks to our separatist dilemma. In Duration and Simultaneity, Henri Bergson clarifies a crucial insight about time. He has two times: duration and momentary instants. Duration to him is the Absolute of time, a reality everyone experiences internally, whereas the time of modern science with its exteriorized focus is based on discrete instants broken off, so to speak, from the whole. This produces a fictional entity called an instant that exists only as an abstraction, meaning that our science is based on abstractions rather than realities, which (in my mind at least) may explain the disasters we foist upon the world. Bergson’s book was suppressed by him and was not republished until after Nataraja Guru’s death, so the Guru quotes it in his own translation in ISOA:


The instant is that which terminates a duration if it should stop. But it does not stop. The real time cannot furnish us the instant; the latter results from a mathematical point, that is to say, from space. But all the same without real time the point could not be anything but a point, and there would not be any instant. Instantaneousness thus implies two things: a continuity of real time, that is to say, of duration, and of time spatialized, which, described by a movement, becomes a symbol of time: this spatialized time which consists of points rebounds on to real time and makes the instant jump out of it. – p. 69  (246)


Relating this to the verse, duration is Bergson’s concept for the flow of evolution or what have you, the unfoldment of unitive action. The instant, a freeze frame view of a slice taken out of the flow, produces space. If duration is vertical, the instant, with its attendant space, is horizontal.

         Our socialized ego lives almost exclusively in the horizontal, in abstract snapshots of the tidal surge of the evolution of the universe. Much of its anxiety may stem from the disconnect this brings about. Narayana Guru is summoning us to let go and reconnect with our vertical unfoldment. Nitya words this idea somewhat differently in his commentary, but with the same underlying intent: “If we do not project our individual notions or prejudices onto natural functions, then we see only occurrences.”

         In the synchronicity of the flow, this week’s Scientific American magazine includes a surprising article about lichens that makes a similar point. Lichens are the poster children for symbiosis, for two (and now several) life forms living together as one. I read some of it out in class, and will include more in Part II. Gratifyingly enough it goes right to the gist of unitive action with its systematic underpinnings, providing us with an excellent and unusual example. Here’s the most germane part:


Thinking of lichens as systems fits with a larger shift in biology from viewing the fundamental unit of life as the individual to that of community or partnerships. “Whether it is the microbiome within the human body or trees interacting with fungal partners belowground or lichens… we’re seeing that networked relationships are more fundamental and persist longer within biological systems than individuals do,” Haskell says.

   To Goward, lichens are the organisms that are most obviously about relationships. As such, they provide insights into all of life. “Lichens are my window,” he says, “but it’s the act of looking at the world that’s the interesting thing.” Systems only hold together in the long term if the parts consider themselves integral to the whole and if the whole protects the parts, as lichens do. “That’s what’s going wrong with us,” he says. “As individuals, we’re not concerned with the whole.”


Paradoxically, we have to assert our independence from the ubiquitous social pressures to live as isolated individuals in order to consciously participate in the network of the whole system. It’s those external entanglements that pull us out of our harmonious relationships with everything around us, which is yet another reason that effort is required. Our default setting is complacency.

         Nancy made another apt comment: when you see our connectedness, you become more careful, more thoughtful of others. She also noted that we are already connected without realizing it, citing the experiments done at Princeton U. for almost 30 years, linked in Part II.

         By intelligently connecting the outer and inner worlds as aspects of a harmonious networked consciousness we can overcome the schismatic attitude that so fragments our experience. That is the essence of where the Karma Darsana is taking us. Nitya sums up:


One who recognizes the self as being comprised of the concrete, the subjective, the unconscious, and the transcendental has no difficulty in seeing their own concreteness as being part of the concreteness of the physical universe. In the same way they can see that the consciousness pertaining to all the details of the nature and meaning of the cosmos is not in any way different from the consciousness experienced within as their own personal self.


Lest we take this lightly, as if it was a fait accompli, Nitya cautions us, “A statement such as this may make this kind of looking at oneself and the world seem easy. It is not so.” We fall for the illusion over and over, and that’s what’s easy for us. Reminding ourselves frequently of what is really going on will serve us in good stead.

         So yes, I recommended another exercise, and figured I should provide an example. Nitya gives us a prompt, saying:


The physical universe is so constituted that physical and chemical properties are produced without the intervention of any personal will which could be said to operate it. For example, it is the nature of the sun to shine. When we form sentences relating to natural functions we say, “the sun shines,” or “the wind blows,” or “the cloud rains.” Thus we unconsciously attribute personification to natural events. Such a habit is a semantic defect in the description of facts.


This gives us a lot of room for self-improvement, as there are so many ways we downgrade the natural world into a caricature. It’s often called anthropomorphizing. My suggestion was about how the Western world especially is saturated in the belief that there is an all-seeing God keeping an eye on everything we do, judging and meting out justice with perfect fairness. Despite a few hundred years of scientific revolution, such a deep-seated attitude has not surrendered much ground. It’s such a nice idea, plus it resonates with our early childhood feelings in respect to our caregivers. We can easily see how it disturbs the body politic, inspiring vicious actions and attitudes about all sorts of things, but do we enlightened ones still carry vestiges of it? We should look hard to see if we do, not only because Narayana Guru is begging us to get over it, but because it will make our lives so much happier and kinder. We might easily think that since we aren’t blowing up crowds of people or denying them health care we don’t have the virus. But we do, we do.

         For instance, the clichéd idea of karma (since we’re in the Karma Darsana) includes retribution and recompense magically bestowed. We do good things and good things will come of it later. Too bad life is a bit more complicated than that…. Or are we acting as if there is an external judge watching us? I often catch myself thinking that way, wondering if a traffic cop is going to catch me cheating and pleading my case, or arguing in my mind with a fantasized upholder of the status quo about my antisocial behavior. Am I doing good in the hope of future paybacks, instead of just doing it as a pure expression of who I am without any implied contract? In general, am I acting based on scheming, or am I acting as the unfoldment of my present state of being, like a flower blooming?

         As Nancy insisted, the scheming—she called it planning, quite rightly—is necessary. The problem is that for many people, that’s all there is. We are trying to add as an additional faculty the access to our full resources, mostly unconscious, and mostly deflected to a psychological Siberia by the ego in its power post in the Kremlin. The kind of meditation Narayana Guru presents us with in this sixth verse is designed to open our minds to that greater selfhood.

         Jan closed our discussion nicely with another helpful way of looking at our individual isolation: we should try to be grateful for everything we have and all the support that keeps coming to us. Recognizing this we will naturally feel included in the web of life, and be less likely to be anxious about the future. Narayana Guru himself wrote of this idea in Atmo 66:


Food and all such always come again as a matter of course;

that which remains free of becoming is one;

we are that knowledge itself; all others

also remain as its forms.


It can’t hurt to close with a clip from Nitya’s magnificent commentary on this moving verse, from That Alone:


How does this verse help us? We are subjected to various kinds of necessities in life. When we focus our attention on the world of necessity, there is a time factor which comes in between the beginning of our search and the moment of its fulfillment. The interim period is filled with a lot of effort and anticipation. Anticipation is not lived in a vacuum, it is filled with anxiety since we are not sure of the results. We are uncertain of the possibility, because probability and improbability are always vying with each other.

All our living moments are crowded with the intentionality of our consciousness. If we are always attached to intentionality, the peace, serenity and joy we look for are constantly being pushed away. In a sense, then, meaning is being transferred from the present to the future. We often speak of living here and now, but we don’t realize the almost impossible pressure on us to not live in the present. We are always being made to wait, to look for, to expect, to anticipate. Half the time of our life is wasted in looking for and waiting for something to happen. If we can only establish a firm stand on the constant ground the Guru speaks of—the arivu or knowledge—our attachment and intentionality regarding the phenomenal world becomes a secondary interest. Our primary interest then becomes witnessing the game of life in the present moment.

To enjoy the game of life we don’t just have to act out plans. I can ask my friend to give a performance and I’ll just sit and watch. I am myself, but I am also watching what he is doing. This doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying every shade of emotion he is creating through his words, gestures and expressions. I fully relish and enjoy every bit of it. I can even become tearful. But I’m not the performer, I’m the witness. And while I’m enjoying whatever he’s performing, I’m also living the performance with him.

This is a very subtle thing. If you understand it, it makes a real difference in your life. You do and you do not do. You perform everything you are doing now and yet, at the same time, you do not do anything. The Gita expresses it as seeing action in inaction and inaction in action, but this can become a cliché. The whole meditation of this verse centers around not making it a cliché, but living it. Then you see the vativa, the form aspect, the wave, and fully appreciate it while at the same time remaining as water.


Part II

         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary, nearly shorter than the verse itself:


         It is the one Self that takes the form of the five elementals, each manifesting itself as its gross object by means of which all actions are accomplished.


*         *         *


Here are the excerpts from The Meaning of Lichen, by Erica Gies (Sci Am 6/17). I think the title is a play on The Meaning of Life, as large issues are brought in that relate to our study. Trevor Goward (his website is Ways of Enlichenment) is the protagonist, and the other names are supporting characters we don’t need to identify:


While he appreciates his education, Spribille maintains that academia’s emphasis on the canon of what others have established as important is inherently limiting. “You have this culture of prepared minds that makes it extremely difficult to think outside the box,” Spribille says. “It creates the box.”

         That sounds plausible to Jonathan Foley, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences….  When it comes to ideas, “the ivory tower is now an ivory fortress,” he says. Academic culture’s incentives to publish in accepted journals, get funding and obtain tenure are “not aligned with being wildly creative.” After Sputnik, science became hyperprofessionalized, Foley says—“kind of Science Inc. I think we lost part of our souls…. There are people getting degrees in biological sciences at the best universities in America today who don’t know the names of anything outdoors, who have never studied anything larger than a cell.”


Also worrisome to Spribille is that his own students are petrified of being wrong, a psychological state incompatible with breakthroughs…. Being correct “is not the criterion of a brilliant mind,” Spribille says. Rather, brilliant minds are characterized by indefatigable curiosity and questioning.


If knowledge comes mostly through reading scientific literature, “We’re several steps removed from the actual phenomena we’re discovering,” Haskell explains. And while instruments are important to help scientists understand the world, “our bodies come preinstalled with all these amazing apps, and they connect directly into our consciousness,” he says. “Through literally coming back to our senses, we can learn so much about the world.”


What you think lichens are might depend on your perspective. Because lichens have the scientific names of their fungi, that can create an implicit bias that the fungus is in charge, a limited perspective that Goward admits to having once upon a time. Today he sees lichens as a kind of koan. “The lichen by its very nature exists as a portal, a doorway,” he says. “If you look in one direction, it’s an organism. If you look in the other direction, it’s an ecosystem.”


Thinking of lichens as systems fits with a larger shift in biology from viewing the fundamental unit of life as the individual to that of community or partnerships. “Whether it is the microbiome within the human body or trees interacting with fungal partners belowground or lichens… we’re seeing that networked relationships are more fundamental and persist longer within biological systems than individuals do,” Haskell says.

         To Goward, lichens are the organisms that are most obviously about relationships. As such, they provide insights into all of life. “Lichens are my window,” he says, “but it’s the act of looking at the world that’s the interesting thing.” Systems only hold together in the long term if the parts consider themselves integral to the whole and if the whole protects the parts, as lichens do. “That’s what’s going wrong with us,” he says. “As individuals, we’re not concerned with the whole.”


*         *         *


         Nancy cited research done at Princeton University substantiating a worldwide field of consciousness (among other psychic phenomena). I can’t immediately come up with where I read extensively about this, but there is some from the source here:


*         *         *


         The Gita’s fifth chapter has a sweet section on action related to this verse:


8 & 9) “I do nothing at all”—saying thus, he of unitive ways, who is a philosopher, should think, (while) seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, going, sleeping, breathing,

speaking, excreting, grasping, opening and closing the eyes—treating the senses as (merely) related to their (corresponding) sense objects.


10)         He who acts, placing all actions in the Absolute, having given up attachment, is not affected by sin, like a lotus leaf by water.


11)         By the body, by the mind, by intelligence, and even by the senses alone, yogis engage in action, abandoning attachment, for (purposes of) purity of Self.


12)         The one of unitive discipline, discarding benefit-motive, attains to ultimate peace; the one of non-unitive discipline, being desire-motivated, attached to results, is bound.


13)         Relinquishing by means of the mind all activities, the embodied One sits happily, a victor, in the nine-gated city, neither acting nor causing to act.


14)         The Supreme does not generate either the idea of agency or activity in regard to the world, nor the union of action and benefit; the innate urge in beings, however, exerts itself.


15)         The all-pervading One takes cognizance neither of the sinful nor the meritorious actions of anyone; wisdom is veiled by unwisdom; beings are deluded thereby.


16)         To those, however, in whom that unwisdom in the Self has been destroyed, wisdom shines sunlike as the Ultimate.


Scott Teitsworth