Karma Darsana verse 8
From the unmodulating Self,
and not another, the six aspects –
existence, birth, growth, change,
deterioration, and extinction –
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
(in this visible world) as what exists, is born,
transforms, decreases and attains its end,
subject to six forms of becoming,
no other than the actionless Self.
Nitya’s pointed directives, it would be easy to miss the significance of this
simple seeming verse, which sketches out the radical orientation basic to
Vedanta as well as contemplatives everywhere. The commentary begins by reducing
the proposition to the bare minimum:
When we look at our own life on earth
easily recognize the six phases mentioned by the Guru: existence, birth,
growth, change, decay and extinction. These changes are true of consciousness
as well as the physical organism. Thus the worlds of the macrocosm, the
microcosm, and of subjective phenomena all belong to the same order of change
and transformation. However, these changes are of a relativistic order. All
changes occur within the changeless substratum. When we examine the changes
experienced within the range of consciousness, we find them all to be
modulations of the same consciousness.
You could call the changeless substratum many things: God,
the Absolute, Nature, the All, Reality, and so on, but consciousness serves quite well, as Narayana Guru has already
is certainly possible to live unaware of the interconnectedness of everything,
as many people do, because ignoring it does not make it go away. It continues
to support everything. Facing up to it would be irrelevant if such ignorance
didn’t lead to endless misery and disasters. If we want to steer clear of
those, however, the open secret is to discern how everything fits together as a
included excerpts from a conservative op-ed writer addressing this very issue
in terms of current politics, in Part II. There is no great mystery in this,
except the leap from speculative ideas into visceral realization is rarely made
and brings the whole picture to life. Absent such a happy accident, we can
learn much from listening to one who has accomplished it, as we are presently
doing. Humans are very good at living by ideas, whether they are healthy ones
or not. In fact most of us are much better at following the herd than
discovering things for ourselves. Darsanamala does invite us to invest these
salubrious ideas with an inner conviction based on direct experience, if we are
willing to make the necessary effort. Nitya reminds us of the process:
Earlier we explained how a minute scrutiny
the material world leads us from the concrete to the subtle and from the subtle
to the pure subjective notion that can vanish in the transcendental. In the
present verse the Guru is preparing our minds to enter the pure realms of
wisdom, doing so without ignoring the possibilities of action being experienced
both within our minds and outside our bodies – in the mind as the clash and conflict
of interests; outside the body as the movements of harmonious and discordant
combinations resulting in union, congregation, or catastrophe.
Because of the potential for catastrophe, Nitya further
reduces the outlines to a single sentence:
For those who seek the liberation of
Self-realization, the verticalizing of their tendencies is an inevitable
discipline they must undergo.
I asked those present how they understood “verticalizing
their tendencies.” Most of the responses were predominantly negative, because
humans have a heavy tendency to horizontalize, and obviously you have to alter
your focus to stop being obsessed with horizontal demands, which are famous for
absorbing your whole attention if given the chance. The immediacy of the
horizontal is exactly why it takes effort to turn inward and release the
teleological tendencies that are also innate to us. (One of the definitions of
teleology in my Random House Dictionary: “the doctrine that phenomena are
guided not only by mechanical forces but that they also move toward certain
goals of self-realization.”)
the goals we readily recognize are horizontal for the most part, we don’t dare
admit the possibility that our unfolding over time is a coherent growth
impetus. Where’s the beef? as the famous ad asks. Because of this, our efforts
to “improve” may well undermine our natural growth process, being merely about
improving our relationship with the horizontal. The point of studies like
Darsanamala is to learn to support that vertical spiritual unfolding, instead
of quashing it as polite or practical behavior requires. The point is, we are
good at restraining the negative, but not so good at freely accentuating the
there was a lot of talk about making ourselves disappear that I’m not going to
report on. We should have gotten over it by now. Happily, some good examples
did come out of our discussion.
brought up the dualistic attitude of religion, and the way the vertical idea of
God is used to squelch the individual spirit and impose conformity, which
turned out to be a perfect opening to our discussion. In that perspective, the
person wants to “get right with God” or otherwise attain to an exalted state,
but the framing is of a series of horizontal rules that they must live by. Do
this and get this result. For most people it creates a permanent state of
inferiority and cuts off the vertical aspect quite effectively. But it could be
verticalized. The goal is the same: aligning with the divine or what God wants.
How does that differ from learning unitive reasoning and unitive activity? It
doesn’t. At least it doesn’t have to. First you need to realize that the rules
laid down in a particular scripture are not in themselves perfect, which is
already a blasphemy. Living by rules is the antithesis of living freely, and
life does not have to be a game where we are constrained to follow orders.
Buying into that is a successful deception perpetrated by powerful slave owners
to maintain their perch. Anyway, religion is a prime field to verticalize our
tendencies. We should always be moving from bondage to liberation, from
subservience to independence, from enmity to community, suspicion to
acceptance, and from defensiveness/offensiveness to unitivity. From fear to
thought of mine moved a small distance from religion to spiritual life. When we
start out on a spiritual trajectory we are often motivated by horizontal
concerns, like following a given program, doing what we’re told, leading to a
successful rebirth or permanent bliss. Am I doing the right thing? As we mature
in a spiritual sense—ripen—we will hopefully discover the value of our
uniqueness and begin to foster that in a harmonious way. There aren’t many
rules for that kind of living. There are a few, but the inhibitions of rules
have to be thrown off. We might still follow a tradition, but we don’t have to
study the manual all the time.
have written recently how we all accept that guiding forces build a child out
of a zygote/dot, but once the baby pops out into the world we tend to presume
the guidance is terminated. The verse tells us that an innate self-guiding
system is present all the way through our lives, from beginning to end. And
there may not even be a beginning or end. How would we feel if we acknowledged
that kind of guiding presence inside our being? We’d feel verticalized. Part of
something trustworthy yet unpredictable, and even incomprehensible.
caught the same spirit, mentioning the common thread running through all the
parts of every life. Being aware of the thread not only diffuses our attachment
to individual outcomes, it invites us to adopt a neutral position. And it’s not
only neutral, being grounded in a more universal place allows for enhanced
creativity. This is a crucial point. Narayana Guru didn’t just cultivate a
group of passive followers, he inspired everyone to change the world in all the
ways they could see were needed. He taught them successful strategies, and they
worked. They were not inhibited by fears of doing it wrong, but carried along
by their enthusiasm, which he stoked in word and the example of gentle deeds.
In place of condemnation he gave encouragement.
talked about how a bird doesn’t plan its behavior when it gets up in the
morning based on what others expect of it, it just sings its heart out and then
goes off to find food. To her, the Guru is trying to take away our sense of
identification with our actions, our personal grasp. At least he’s trying to
wean us away from our excessive overidentification, but I don’t think he’s
trying to turn us into instinctual actors like birds as we understand them.
There is a definite role for our type of intelligence, and it is defined as a
synthesis of trying and not trying; as Paul quoted the Gita: seeing action in
inaction and inaction in action. Simultaneously of course.
and Nancy Y had just been talking about how when they were young they both
thought they had some special calling they would rise to, and they were very
anxious that failure was unacceptable. They agreed that Nitya was very clear in
disabusing them of this perspective, how incompetent the whole idea of wanting
something specific was. He wanted them to see themselves as floating in a river
of beautiful manifestation and beautiful disappearance. For Deb, verticalization
is simply a matter of letting go of wrong notions.
and Andy talked about something similar: the urge they felt in their younger
years to validate themselves, to prove their worth. It’s something that
mitigates with age: a natural verticalization, due to either accomplishing
something or giving up trying. I remember on my thirtieth birthday feeling like
I had finished climbing a high hill and scrambled out onto a plateau. My
conscious thought was that I had arrived and I no longer had to try to prove myself.
In Vedanta, everyone’s validity is affirmed by the saying that each of us is
the Absolute in essence. Too bad this is not taught in the West, where you are
stamped INVALID at birth and spend your whole life trying to make amends for
expressed it nicely as being fully where you are and loving who you’re with,
instead of always longing for something “better.” Thinking we’re sinful and
ungodly is the outcome of flawed religious instruction and/or parenting, and
it’s terribly hard to shake off. Verticalization is a moving toward a goal of
realization of our potential. When the goal is abandoning ourselves to fit into
someone else’s tepid image, we have to be very, very careful not to judge
ourselves too harshly.
wondered if verticalization was physical or mental, and I suggested they are
not two things. Bill read out the last line of the commentary to show how both
go together: “Knowledge or
wisdom lies in knowing the secret of the impetus of action and the phantom-like
manifestations of the phenomenal world.” It’s both what we do and what we
think, and it would be hard for a yogi to draw a line where one ends and the
contributed a nice image of a famous Mexican architect whose papers were bought
and sequestered after his death. His daughter wanted them released, and was
resisted until she took his ashes and had them compressed into a diamond, which
is after all only carbon. When she offered the owners of the material the
diamond, they made them available. Andy thought it was a fabulous image of
being verticalized after death: going from a pile of dust to a magnificent gem.
The full story may be read here: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/what-happened-after-mexicos-greatest-architect-was-turned-into-a-diamond.
It looks like you can do it too: my search terms produced an ad for a company
who will “verticalize” your ashes.
wanted us to know that verticalization should never be at the expense of the
horizontal, and that’s another very good point. We verticalize right in the
heart of horizontal matters—they are our opportunity to do so. Realization is
not about cutting off the present to live in the future, it’s about “making
every moment real enough to love and adore it.” (L&B 422). Again,
this is the essence of verticalizing our tendencies: loving them, adoring them
even. There are so many horizontal objects and behaviors we despise, and they
beckon us to slip into hostility and separation. If we know “the secret impetus
of action,” we will be far more likely to treat bad behavior with compassion,
if not approval.
recalled when she used to covet certain musical pieces and collect lots of CDs,
which she never listened to. Piling up stuff is the essence of the horizontal.
Now she is open to whatever music comes along, and is content with that. A nice
example, especially for those like me whose very identity as a teenager was
based on liking the right music and despising all others. I still have vestiges
of that I’m not willing to surrender, but I allow that everyone has their
perfectly valid likes and dislikes, and I certainly don’t feel my identity
emerges from my preferences. Many people do, though. It’s well worth thinking
about, because we are much more than our learned preferences.
talked about the impermanence of everything, which is closely related. We often
believe—subconsciously if not consciously—that there are solid, fixed aspects
of life that we can count on. We will not sense the subtlety of the one self if
we put energy into believing in the validity of a few of the things that come
and go. This is another realization that comes easily later in life. For some
it brings depression, but with a mystical framing it is more likely to induce
exaltation. Impermanence doesn’t mean everything comes to a screeching halt. It
keeps on forever, but it does not remain the same. Persistence over time is vertical,
the temporary aspect belongs to the horizontal. Verticalizing then means
discerning the lasting within the temporary.
our tendencies does sound like an exotic behavior, but I assured everyone that
they do it all the time, whenever they upgrade their attitude about what they
are doing. Where the ordinary person is obsessed with horizontal demands,
Wordsworth’s “getting and spending,” a yogi minimizes those needs in order to
redirect their energies toward high values, however they may conceive them.
With an artist it might be perfecting their skills in order to make fine art as
an expression of their deepest yearnings, in place of mundane commercial
considerations or impressing a client, for instance. In other fields like
business, politics, education and so on, it might mean optimizing the benefit
to all involved instead of scheming for selfish advantage or even simply
guarding your turf. It means loving what you do in place of acting out of
despair or hatred, among other horizontally excusable attitudes.
suggests that this upgrade doesn’t occur naturally, especially in societies
where it is severely downplayed, like ours. This is precisely why the popular
idea that doing nothing solves everything is inadequate despite its appeal. It’s
hard to believe that people taking on a heavy challenge like the present study,
who plot and plan all their lives and have lived with plenty of guidance of all
kind, insist that we are wrong to try to verticalize or otherwise spiritualize.
I guess it’s one quirk I’ll never understand.
the invisible impulsion of action and being aware that what we see is an
internally-generated interpretation of reality rather than reality itself are
not default settings, they are intentionally obtained wisdom insights.
Moreover, the avoidance of tragic mistakes would seem an ample reason to have
faith in our ability to improve ourselves. Sure, we are already perfect, and we
aren’t suggesting that being less developed is somehow bad or evil, but that
perfection includes an amazing range of talents for making the present
perfection even better. The only excuse to not want to verticalize our
tendencies would be the belief that everything is just fine as is. To people,
animals and ecosystems that are suffering mightily, that could be considered a
very callous attitude. Cultivation is another word for verticalizing—crops
don’t cultivate themselves, someone has to go out and do it. Nitya says:
Unlike the method of repression found
yoga, Narayana Guru adopts here a method which is in agreement with the
teachings of the Bhagavad Gita (II: 49-52), where Krishna teaches Arjuna how to
transcend action through the cultivation of the unitive way of reasoning. Mere
repression of action will produce only inner conflict, and as a consequence
more action of the worst kind.
railed about the repressed pseudo-yogis that abounded in India in his time,
each trying to outdo the next in exotic self-repression. In America he would
counterbalance this by taking on the overindulgent superficiality of a culture
rich in possessions and poor in wisdom insights.
those who haven’t yet memorized the Gita, here are the four verses referred to,
part of a longer section extolling the central importance of unitive reasoning,
and including the first of its major definitions, “yoga is reason in action”:
inferior is the
way of action to the unitive way of reason, Arjuna, resort to reason for final
refuge; pitiful indeed are they who are benefit motivated.
one leaves behind here both meritorious and unmeritorious deeds. Therefore
affiliate yourself to the unitive way; yoga is reason in action.
51) By affiliation
unitive reason the wise, transcending birth bondage, renouncing benefit interest,
go onward to a state beyond all pain.
your reason has
transcended the dross of vagueness, then you attain to that neutral attitude,
both in respect of what is to be learnt and what has already been heard.
may recall that “transcending birth bondage” isn’t about avoiding
reincarnation. Rebirth can mean replaying our habitual responses, and a unitive
or neutral attitude liberates us from doing the same mediocre things over and
over again. Each iteration is then a fresh take. This is a fine time to reprise
my favorite gem from Nataraja Guru’s Gita commentary, on VI. 46:
yogi is greater than men of austerity, and he is thought to be
greater than men of wisdom, and greater than men of works; therefore
become a yogi, O Arjuna.
Mere tapas (austerity) as it is known in the field
spirituality, is a severe form of joyless self-discipline. The jnani is a wise
man who might at best belong to the Samkhya (rationalist) or Nyaya (logical)
philosophical schools, whose life is based on reasoning which generally ends up
with sophistications and academic discussions, by themselves dry as dust.
Likewise the ritualist tends to become ego-centered and harshly exclusive. Yoga
generally understood is both a way of thinking and a way of life. The yogi is a
dialectician who harmonizes old in terms of new and vice-versa, and is capable of giving fresh life to arguments which
otherwise would be dead or stale. The breeze of a fresh life enlivens the ways
of a yogi.
of the types of spirituality referred to here, when they are taken according to
a yogic method or theory of knowledge, become, as it were, transmuted. This
verse states the superiority of such a yogic way in both practical and
What a great motto to live by: The breeze of a fresh life
enlivens the ways of a yogi. You can see how the very structure of the verse
presents dialectic or yogic reasoning. Austerity and linear reasoning are the
thesis and antithesis, and yoga is their synthesis. Krishna even makes the
point clear enough for dummies: “So, Arjuna, you should be a yogi!”
All the things we see in the world are subject to six forms
of becoming. All these things subject to transformation are also subject to
destruction and, therefore, are unreal. It is only because of the existence of
a changeless Self composed of pure existence, that there is a semblance of the
reality of things and their transformations. It is by dependence on such a
changeless Self that the six transformations are possible. If there is no Self
there is no world. It is for this reason that it has been said, the world
consists of the Self with its six transformations.
New York Times columnist David Brooks has begun to catch on to the horizontalizing
tendency of the new American administration, what amounts to the opposite of
the verticalizing tendency advocated by the gurus. This is the exaggerated
state that sees only the six (or fewer) stages of manifestation and ignores
their unifying basis, and it appears guaranteed to produce catastrophe. The
following are excerpts from the June 2, 2017 article, titled Donald Trump
Poisons the World:
This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R.
McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal:
“The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that
the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations,
nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”
sentence is the epitome of the Trump project. It asserts that selfishness is
the sole driver of human affairs. It grows out of a worldview that life is a
competitive struggle for gain. It implies that cooperative communities are
hypocritical covers for the selfish jockeying underneath.
essay explains why the Trump people are suspicious of any cooperative global
arrangement, like NATO and the various trade agreements. It helps explain why
Trump pulled out of the Paris global-warming accord. This essay explains why
Trump gravitates toward leaders like Vladimir Putin, the Saudi princes and
various global strongmen: They share his core worldview that life is nakedly a
selfish struggle for money and dominance.
explains why people in the Trump White House are so savage to one another. Far
from being a band of brothers, their world is a vicious arena where staffers
compete for advantage.
In the essay, McMaster and Cohn make explicit the great act
of moral decoupling woven through this presidency. In this worldview, morality
has nothing to do with anything. Altruism, trust, cooperation and virtue are
unaffordable luxuries in the struggle of all against all. Everything is about
seen this philosophy before, of course. Powerful, selfish people have always
adopted this dirty-minded realism to justify their own selfishness. The problem
is that this philosophy is based on an error about human beings and it leads to
self-destructive behavior in all cases. [He goes on to extol the value of cooperation
as an inherent human trait.]
Realist leaders like Trump, McMaster and Cohn seek to
dismiss this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward
others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked
selfishness toward them.
treating the world simply as an arena for competitive advantage, Trump,
McMaster and Cohn sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and
eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need
when times get tough.