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Darsana Six - Verse Seven


Karma Darsana verse 7


Going upward as prana,

downward as apana,

remaining actionless, the one alone

beats, murmurs, and pulsates in the nerves.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


The one (Self) alone remaining actionless

Moves as upward and downward vital tendencies,

Within the nervous centres,

Indeed it beats, murmurs and pulsates.


         This seemingly simple verse touches on the essence of karma, firmly establishing the revolutionary conversion Narayana Guru is inviting us to adopt. Briefly, that involves adjusting our ego to its proper size as an interpretive factor in between the visible social (transactional) world and the invisible cosmic forces that shape our lives from within. Ordinarily we imagine we are in charge of our whole life, but a little honest reflection reveals how little we do control. Even our own body is mostly a mystery. As Nitya says:


What is happening in our bodies is a secret so far as we are concerned. For the most part what happens is autonomous. The conscious mind has very little access to the correction and restructuring of these mysterious and complex faculties that mainly function as instruments of nature and as an integral part of nature’s program for life on earth. Even the functions of the mind originate from a depth concealed from an individual’s conscious awareness.


         The marvelous mystery we inhabit is magnificently expressed in the verse: an “actionless” energy fills us and enables all the complex actions we perform, for the most part without thinking of them at all. The one energy doesn’t propose, “Now I’m doing this, and now this.” Our functioning is just the natural unfolding of a vast innate potential. Becoming aware of what we are given every instant should make us infinitely grateful, but humans being what we are, we most often take our blessings for granted, only missing them when we feel lost at sea. Yogis can appreciate their connection before it dries up, as there is good indication that honoring the energy that sustains us helps keep us especially alive and vibrant.

         Deb talked about this verse as a reminder of how different and more vast consciousness is than what she normally thinks. Seeing consciousness as including the whole cosmos demolishes her limited outlook.

         For Paul, the verse was an invitation to non-traditional renunciation: not simply performing actions but understanding where they come from. I agreed, in that renunciation in this sense means releasing the ego from its commanding role, for which it is clearly unfit, and demoting it to sentry duty. Preferably unarmed sentry duty. But the ego’s judgment is definitely necessary to harmonious functioning.

         Paul is well aware that we all like to pretend we’re in charge, and many of us like to know someone else is in charge, too. He filled that role as a fire ground officer, but remained always humble inside, well knowing that “command” was a fiction. It’s a fiction that non-contemplatives take too seriously, often to everyone’s detriment. (I’m saying this last bit, not kindly Paul.)

         Karen was in attendance this past week as her brother passed away, and she shared the mystery of it, how as in the present verse there is the one alone—a kind of energy—operating the body, and then it’s gone and there is only this inert thing, which is totally different from when it was animated. The difference is so profound. We know the one alone when it appears as our friend or relative; it has all these qualities we recognize, but when it leaves the body does it have any form any more? We might also wonder how that inert body could have housed such an energy at all, or how, with the current state of science, it could have produced such an energy from thin air? (Abject materialism is clearly a long way away from accounting adequately for life.)

         Deb has been reading the Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, one of the classics of ecological literature. She mentioned where Leopold talks about his experiences in the wilderness, that there is a kind of sound you can hear only after being out in the wilds for a long time, and you allow yourself to be completely open. He described it as the sound of time moving through the air. We might call it the anahata, but Leopold came to it in his own way. To Deb the idea hints at the deep, limitless space of being we usually shut ourselves off from. Karen enthused that if you stay long enough in a place like that you feel connected with much more than your individual self, but the minute you get excited about it you pop right out of it. Her comment provoked a laugh of recognition all around.

         Deb also decried the trite (and popular) notions about karma that treat it as a kind of automatic reward/punishment system. I pointed out that reciprocity is inherent to the basic structure of action, and those clichés are loosely based on that aspect of karma. Where it goes wrong is that we don’t fully understand our actions and live largely in a fantasy world of wishful thinking, pretending that we do. Karmic reciprocity is based on our real actions rather than our fantasies, so it surprises us when things turn out differently than we expect. It seems we are in denial even of our denials, which are legion. Our life is a fairly accurate readout of our actual karma, not the simplistic version we hope to put across with our ego shenanigans, but one reflecting its full complexity.

         Once again Nitya redirects our focus away from the chimera of ego dominance to harmonious participation with the enabling flow:


In the previous verse we have seen all the actions of the cosmos as being activities which do not proceed from the conscious will of an agent. However, the cosmic forces do work in an orderly way. This inspires us to compare these workings with performances which are pre-programmed. We see them as though initiated by an intelligent mind able to look far into the future, and with the ability to shape the present as a consistent continuation of the past.


So yes, this is all about taking a good hard look at what is going on. It’s meaningless chatter if we don’t actually spend time contemplating our condition, but if we do it takes on a highly purposive dynamism.

         By now we should have overcome the delusion that what we perceive with our conscious mind is exactly what is going on. Instead it is an amalgam of inner and outer factors, and it will take some careful thought to sort out which is which:


Our conscious mind is so entwined with the physical events of the universe that we are unable to tell which event should be treated as belonging to the cosmos and which as belonging to our own psyche.


Inspired by this, the class discussed connectivity in some depth, and the effort brought us to feel more intimately related to everything around us. We moved to a cosmic overview: Karen gazing down from her rare airplane rides, Deb’s bird’s eye view from the movie Winged Migration, and Paul’s parallax view of infinity at both ends of the spectrum, meaning the microcosm and the macrocosm. To Karen, the right word for connectivity is love, and Susan added that love is the opposite of separation. To Deb it is the utter identity with everything around you.

         I noted that many people are shy about expanding their identities much beyond their own skin, so the gurus’ advice is to come to love something near and dear, and then gradually extend that to other areas. Once we truly know love (or connection) it doesn’t abandon us. It goes wherever we go. This always reminds me of a line from verse 48 of That Alone:


When you pick up a cat and say “my dear kitty,” you have already gone beyond your bodily limitations and your own body identity. People do not realize that this itself is part of your realization. Of course, it needs to be further perfected. When you say someone is a realized person, it is not that she hugs a cat. There’s a bit more to it. But you make a beginning just by hugging the cat.


         To Deb love is a recognition of unity, but she often thinks of it as a yearning. I added that the yearning is there because we already know the state of love. We spend a figurative billion years in utero in perfect bliss, and we always want to get back to that untroubled feeling of total connection with the all.

         Deb wondered how we are supposed to account for that persistent and benevolent flow of life? Susan agreed that we sometimes forget to think about it in our daily life. Maybe if we could account for it, we might keep it more in mind. But the question remained unanswered.

         Nitya is kind enough to remind us how all this is accomplished. He frequently had new people in his classes, but he also knew that even the “old hands” were likely to forget the basic principles:


When one attempts to relate the individual self with the universal Self, one turns inward and tries to pacify the stream of consciousness. The attempt is to still the mind and to look for the desired union in a passive consciousness.


While this is great advice, there is an added twist here that throws additional light on our constraints. By looking to the universal forces that shape our destiny, and seeing their benign support of our existence, we can naturally reduce our anxiety-driven belief that our admittedly flawed ego has to run the show based on paltry information. It’s consoling to see how much is already taken care of long before we become aware of it. In Nitya’s words:


Narayana Guru here suggests that we should look to an entirely different field of operation to experience union of the individual and the cosmic. He first makes us look at cosmic function, then invites us to look for continuation of the same function in an individual organism. In this way we keep our eyes open to everything and try to follow and understand the multitudinous courses of action engaged in by the supreme nature.


         We talked about how it’s possible to look back over your life and see its coherent structure. As we went through life fat, dumb and happy, many of us had no clue as to any overarching pattern. Or the one we imagined wasn’t what was actually going on. I know I felt like I was bouncing from one accident to another, hoping for no good reason that it was leading me somewhere. And it did, but certainly not where I had been led to expect. As Deb put it, you can see how you were buoyed up and moved along more than you thought. That is an insight that can sustain us through thick and thin. Life is bound to have ups and downs, but if we can stay grounded in our true essence as our self, we will at least enjoy the ride.

         When we meditate on the reminders accorded us by our gurus—meaning whoever helps us alleviate our darkness—we can see how the natural functioning of the whole is making everything possible. The reduction of science has killed our joy in being included in such a superlative arrangement. We know it is juvenile to picture these forces in terms of anthropomorphic gods and goddesses, but those worked fine for thousands of years. So we’ve thrown them away—what do we replace them with? That kind of worship put humans in touch with their greater being, but we no longer believe in it, so how do we stay blissful in a demythologized world?

         When we access our inherent ananda, our bliss of being alive, then whatever we touch reignites the bliss and wherever we go we bring it along. We don’t require any fiction to stay happy: it’s our pre-existing condition. We actually tune in to it more when we delete the fictions. We should realize that the scientific view of the present is also a fiction. Denial that we are part of an ongoing explosion of creative exuberance is a fiction whose usefulness has dramatically petered out. Yes, we are tiny, apparently insignificant specks in a mindblowingly immense universe, as Karen reminded us, but those specks are bright lights of awareness that illuminate more and more of what there is. Nitya keeps beckoning us to revel in our connection with the whole:


Once again we ask the student of Self-realization to read this as a textbook of the science of realization, not as a book of cosmogony or natural science. The world we see around us is part and parcel of our consciousness. This consciousness is focused with the awareness of an I-consciousness, which is itself stained with the social coloration of an ego, and this is only a very small part of the greater consciousness in which all sentient beings participate and in which they share the unfathomable depth of cosmic consciousness.


Paul talked about some of the latest ideas of physics, of an infinite universe, or actually a multiverse brimming with infinities of infinite universes. In parallel universe scenarios, every possibility exists simultaneously. Isn’t it odd that dour scientists insist that infinity does not include most of what we can imagine? Theirs is a very prosaic infinity, featuring different arrangements of sand piles, but certainly no great mysteries beyond the obvious ones, like what’s behind the next sand pile. I find it hilarious. It’s a way to stay small. Call it limited infinity. Infinity should mean that anything that can happen has already happened and will keep on happening, in every possible permutation.

         The meditation Nitya invites is to look with the eye of a scientist/mystic on the wonders of the world, and then see how we fit in seamlessly as an integral part of it all. A commercial world would prefer us to remain disconnected, as the resulting dissatisfaction drives us to consume expensive stuff to try to compensate for what we imagine we’re missing out on. So the social realm discourages us from liberating contemplations. Darsanamala, and Narayana Guru’s philosophy in general, is completely opposite in its thrust: find out who you are and you will regain your permanent happiness; then you can bring it on your journey and share it with everyone along the way. It’s such a beautiful meditation:


From the cosmic side we trace the continuation of nature into individual nature. We make that understanding of the origin of events complementary to extending the individual’s consciousness beyond the frontiers of their awareness. Then their consciousness becomes one with the universal or collective unconscious, of which the individual is an integral part.


         Deb reworded this as we should look at the cosmic functioning and see how it floods everything and moves through us. Then we recognize how it moves through the entire world in the same way, putting us in connection with a much larger world.

         In trying to stay close to the idea of the verse, I reprised one of my favorite insights, and tried not to be tedious about it. Everyone agrees that for the first nine months as a fetus, some amazing energy is busy constructing an unbelievably complicated creature, almost like magic. It just happens, almost always with perfect or near-perfect results. But when the baby pops out into the cold world, we imagine it’s on its own, that the creative energy has done its part and is finished. There will be a “grace period” for learning the ropes, but the magical building process is over. Hardly. That same energy persists for your whole life, busily enabling everything and making it work. But we all too often learn to screen it out and ignore it. We make decisions that subvert its intentions, and in the process make our life more barren. We would be much better off to listen for its whisperings and to trust in its intelligence. In a way we are always embryonic, cradled in the arms of a nurturing mother who wants the very best for us and is showering us with love every moment. I know, this is a metaphor, but it’s a meaningful one. Do we have to strip away the imagery and treat it as an uncaring, aloof process? Why? Nataraja Guru thought that science’s rejection of God was due to the excesses of the Inquisition. That sort of punitive God is good to reject, but that is hardly the whole story, hardly the sum total of infinite possibilities. Why should we take the lowest, most venal ideas of demented humans and elevate those to a defining place? By doing so we’re just shutting our minds, which is a very unscientific attitude, last I checked. Let’s start with the best ideas, and measure the garbage against them.

         At least in our little band of Darsanamala admirers, we can dare to admit that we are in charge of very little in our lives, and so appreciate the oceanic loving support we receive every moment. We are eager to participate in everything worthwhile that comes along, but we don’t make ourselves anxious by taking responsibility for more than our due. We do what we can, while simultaneously welcoming the ecstatic energies that surcharge every inch of the cosmos as well as beat, murmur and pulsate in our nerves.

         We closed with a reprise of Nancy’s immortal comment from last week: “I’m being moved by something I can’t comprehend…. It makes life fun!”


Part II

         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


         Inside the body although remaining in the form of the vital tendencies which accomplishes organic actions such as breathing in and out, the Self remains one and actionless.


*         *         *


         While contemplating that I didn’t have much for a Part II this week, a relevant essay arrived in my email. Some of you may want to subscribe to Melanya’s thoughtful missives, which have been sporadic of late. They are all short. This one is about how there are times when we don’t know what to do next, and that’s a good thing. It’s a simplified version of something we talked about around verse 7, but well expressed. Check it out:


She opens with a quote from Agnes De Mille: “Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”


         I had told the class about a man I talked to this week who was at a crossroads in his life, and was very anxious about where he was going. I tried to get him to look at the whole trajectory of his life, how coherent and spectacular it was, and that that was sure to continue. Theoretically he believes it, and yet he hasn’t had much practice being unsure of what comes next, and so it’s hard work and upsetting to him. He instinctively wants to go back to familiar turf, the previous “good times.” Periods like this are similar to the chick hatching from the egg: the old paradigm is shattered, so there is no going back. Yes, it was fabulous in there, but now a new stage of life impends, and he should be eager to pick his way through it. He is a talented, bright guy, with leadership potential. Time to take a few deep breaths and get going into the unknown, mentally ready to meet his destiny. I hope he’ll take the time to read Melanya’s words of wisdom.


*         *         *


         We didn’t talk about prana and apana in the class, as they should be well known by now to everyone. Our Brihadaranyaka Upanishad study group recently met with prana again, and here’s what I wrote about it, in response to mantra II.5.4. There is a reciprocity in prana/apana, just as we’ve been talking about with karma:


There is already a reciprocal movement built into our body/prana relationship: the downward-flowing apana is accompanied by a rising of the chest, and the upward-flowing prana is accompanied by the sinking of the chest. This means a kind of stasis is maintained throughout the breathing process. In fact, stasis is maintained throughout all processes. Although it gets too complicated to mentally track how it all fits together, life itself is the readout of the sum total stasis of everything we do. Pretty cool setup!


Scott Teitsworth