Karma Darsana verse 9
In spite of action becoming self-accomplished
by the psychic dynamism and the senses,
the wise one thus knows – “I
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
means of the inner organ and the senses
the wise man knows,
am the unattached, inner well-founded one.”
9 goes to the heart of action in an enlightened sense, and as such is one of
the most valuable lessons in all of Darsanamala. It isn’t just a simple formula
that can be repeated and memorized (though Nataraja Guru’s version is perfect
for doing just that), as that would compromise its unfettered spirit. By
internalizing his wisdom in our own ways, Narayana Guru wants us to become
independent operators, following our own intuition rather than being led like a
flock of sheep, or as sometimes put, like lambs to the slaughter.
sets out immediately to disabuse us of a popular binding fallacy:
In theistic religions we often hear people
speak of carrying out or conforming to the will of God. Non-dualistic Vedanta
is opposed to such a view. Vedantins do not philosophize in terms of a
personalized God using people as instruments to carry out his will.
there is a certain validity to this kind of attitude, it has many pitfalls,
including passivity and most dangerously, sly substitution of the ego’s program
for the “will of God.” Without expert handling it can enable what Nitya
epitomizes as “vicious or immoral” actions. At the present time they are
exploding all around us. If for no other reason than to avoid this hazard,
Vedanta steers clear:
The highest reality to the Vedantin of
monistic school is Brahman or the Absolute. The Absolute is not to be seen as a
Being having desires, nor is it an agent who initiates action. Consequently, it
cannot be said that the Absolute “wills” anything.
If Brahman or the Absolute is the
only reality, then the existence of the world should be understood as a
dependent factor of that Absolute. If the world has no independent reality of
its own, then clearly its actions also should originate from a source other
than itself. This reasoning brings us at once to a paradox. The world does not
arise as an independent structure. The Absolute, by definition, must be the
ground of all existence, but it does not engage in any action. The world cannot
act – the Absolute does not act. From where then does action arise?
So action is impossible, and yet it is happening everywhere
all the time. What gives?
started the ball rolling by asserting we don’t own action, it just happens. Our
sense of ownership and control is illusory—if only we could understand it! Her
sigh was an acknowledgment that this is much more challenging than adopting a
belief. It has to somehow be lived.
“accident” I was drawn yesterday to the Gita’s tenth chapter, verse 36, where
the Absolute is said to be the chance-risk of gamblers, among many other items
on a long list. My commentary included a perfect excerpt by Herman Hesse, which
throws a lot of light on the impossible conundrum of action. I read it out to
get the discussion started, so I’ll include it here with my prior paragraph and
a bit right after. I recommend reading the whole verse commentary, which you
can find near the bottom of this page: http://scottteitsworth.tripod.com/id71.html:
The interjection of gambling into
the list has puzzled commentators, and legitimately so. Yet sannyasa, renunciation, a central theme
of the Gita, is itself a kind of gamble. You have to cast yourself at the mercy
of the good offices of the invisible. You don’t know where you are going or how
you’re going to get there, but you set out nonetheless, hoping for the best.
The opposite of this attitude is to hold back and try to channel your life
through rational guidelines. The Gita is ever in favor of bravely launching
forth to meet your fate. Little or nothing will be learned by hiding from the
myriad possibilities life has to offer, whether cloaked in respectability or
not. And as carefully as we craft a predictable existence, life has a way of
turning the tables right at the moment we begin to feel secure. Upsetting the
apple cart appears to be part of its educational program.
Hesse is one Western writer who grasps this idea. In Demian, first published in 1919, he offers this:
There was no duty for enlightened
people, none, none, except this: to seek themselves, to become certain of
themselves, to grope forward along their own path, wherever it might lead…. I
had often played with images of the future, I had dreamt of roles that might be
meant for me, as a poet, perhaps, or as a prophet, or as a painter, or whatever
else. That was all meaningless. I didn’t exist to write poetry, to preach
sermons, to paint pictures; neither I nor anyone else existed for that purpose.
All of that merely happened to a person along the way. Everyone had only one
true vocation: to find himself. Let him wind up as a poet or a madman, as a
prophet or a criminal – that wasn’t his business; in the long run, it was
irrelevant. His business was to discover his own destiny, not just any destiny,
and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Anything else was just
a half-measure, an attempt to run away, an escape back to the ideal of the
masses, conformity, and fear of one’s own inwardness. Fearsome and sacred, the
new image rose up before me; I had sensed it a hundred times, perhaps I had
already enunciated it, but now I was experiencing it for the first time. I was
a gamble of Nature, a throw of the dice into an uncertain realm, leading
perhaps to something new, perhaps to nothing; and to let this throw from the
primordial depths take effect, to feel its will inside myself and adopt it completely
as my own will: that alone was my vocation. That alone! (107-8)
Nataraja Guru has added the
adjective ‘irresponsible’, which is only implied in the terms used, but it
makes the puzzle even more delicious. If you’re responsible, you must not be
really gambling. “Responsible behavior” is often the very thing risked in
gambling. If your mother would approve, it takes all the fun out of it, not to
mention the opportunities for evolutionary leaps.
This of course led us into a vivid discussion, since all our
social conditioning militates against such a free and easy attitude. As Deb
reminded us, Hesse lived in an extremely rigid time and an extremely rigid
society, so it took a measure of intensity to break out of the mold. His time
was not unlike ours. Repressed, uptight people abound now as well as then, and
what looks like freedom is more often a desperate reactionary thrust against
the bondage than true liberation. It’s important to know the difference.
along the line most of us have learned to equate “spiritual” behavior with
being responsible, with being good. At the back of our minds, we assume being
good will lead to all sorts of happy outcomes, and when it doesn’t we are
disappointed and confused. It’s supposed to work! It’s supposed to save the
world! This is a key difference between Eastern and Western religion and
philosophy. Western religions are all about doing God’s will and thereby being
good or godly. The so-called Eastern perspective is that balance is the key, a
dialectical uniting of opposite tendencies. Rishis with this perspective are
not surprised that being good automatically produces a counterthrust of being
bad, and the better we are the worse it becomes. We learned this principle
ourselves in the Bhana Darsana just prior to this one.
said that we think our behaviors will take us to the center, but we already are
the center—implying that by over-managing our actions we are more likely to be
creating a psychological schism than attaining unity. She mentioned a
graduation speech by former President Obama, containing exactly the kind of
message that is often included and agrees with the present idea: don’t think
that you want to be X later on, just gravitate to what you love. The more you
limit your focus, the more possibilities you omit. Love brings the enthusiasm
Jan this sounded a little like living on the edge, and from a “safe”
perspective perhaps it is, but the edge is after all where life is fresh and
vibrant, where new opportunities are born. Jan is presently wrestling with a
very vital version of how to act with expertise, with several major life
changes underway. Luckily she has practiced significantly during previous times
of peace—a wise course for anyone, because staying grounded in the midst of chaos
is no bed of roses.
shared an example that I hope is consoling for everyone. Over a half century
ago, Deb was sent from her high school algebra class to look for math puzzles
in the library. She didn’t like math and gravitated to the philosophy section
next to it, where she picked up a book she had never heard of, the Bhagavad
Gita. As she perused it she was puzzled by the apparent pro-war attitude, among
other things. She put the book back with barely a thought and went on with her
than five years later, she and I were in Portland and she saw an advert in the
newspaper for a class on the Gita given by some guy named Swami Nitya. Still
baffled by what she had read so many years before, she determined to go to the
class. I went along.
blows my mind to think that the most central feature of both our lives would
almost surely not have happened if she hadn’t been drawn to that book in her
high school library. One tiny incident, utterly unplanned, has expanded into a
lifetime of unbelievably crucial experiences. It is like a big bang (actually a
teensy bang) expanding into a universe. That’s the shape of life at its best.
told a similar story. As a young woman she went for a five-day retreat to the
Ooty Gurukula at the behest of her parents. She had little idea what she was
getting into, but that’s where she met Swami Nitya. Some time later Nitya asked
her parents if she could accompany him as his assistant, and they agreed. She
has been deeply connected with him and his world ever since.
how do we promote or nurture such unanticipated explosions, and how many ways
do we, mostly unintentionally, dam up the river? Since we know virtually
nothing, what do we have to go on?
suggested that trust was essential. Because we’re afraid of what an
unpredictable outcome might be, we hold back. We don’t allow our potentials to
take root. That’s exactly where trust or faith is needed. Oddly enough, I
received a very nice essay entitled Trust Yourself just as I was writing this,
from Melanya again: http://mailchi.mp/hevanet/trust-yourself?e=272169425a.
added that learning acceptance was a natural corollary of trust. And if you can
get to laughter, especially about your own foibles, you’ve really attained the
people were reminded by this thread of the venerable horse parable (http://scottteitsworth.tripod.com/id41.html)
where what seems initially good turns out badly and vice versa. The message is
to not judge superficially, but simply observe how things play out. Almost
every action has a mixture of positive and negative elements. The more we try
to “steer” our actions, the farther away we get from unitive action.
includes the Gita section where we are invited to see inaction in action and
action in inaction, which is a powerful way of restraining our manipulative
impulses. I’ll include a link to the section, along with a short teaser in Part
II. What I described in class was more or less the same.
Jan said, such dialectical contemplations attain to the balance of synthetic
awareness, harmonizing our actions. She even shared an example. Earlier in the
day she had been thrashed by a negative voice in her head, but instead of
giving in to it, she took herself in hand. She brought up an opposite
postulation, and it helped her to calm down and become steady.
tale got Paul to muse on just how powerful the ego is, and how it idolizes
control. It never gives up without a fight! He has noticed that when he
pretends to know what he’s doing, he actually doesn’t have any idea. The
insight has taken the edge off a certain bull-headedness that just about anyone
with an unrestrained ego is bound to experience. Wouldn’t it be nice if the ego
were a bit more docile! Paul felt frustrated that achieving a yogic synthesis
was such hard going. Yet both he and Jan have shown they have learned to not
just give in to the ego’s ravings, but to bring them under benign control like
gently taming a wild horse.
put in that we can’t achieve synthesis in isolation. While it may look like the
goal we want, it isn’t arrived at by the normal linear methods. We have to do
what Jan did: dispassionately observe our position and counter it with an
opposing one. That’s the practical arena for doing our work, exactly where we
have to be the “unattached, inner well-founded one.” Instead of wishing to be
over and done with our dilemma, we have to assess where we are and
intelligently determine what the counter-spell would be. When we do that, the
synthesis, the unitive state of yoga, blossoms naturally, on its own.
brings back maya as an instructive factor, inviting us to treat it as a kind of
synthesis of opposites:
Vedantins do not place action as arising
in the Self or in the non-Self. Instead, they place it in the magical
alternation that takes place in consciousness and call it maya.
Beverley in her digitizing of this verse has included the
graphic Nitya refers to in giving another dialectic example:
Maya implies an alternation in comprehending
the real and the unreal, just as we experience, for example, Edgar Rubin’s
illustration of the gestalt of a white figure on a black background. When we concentrate
on the black ground we see two faces looking at each other. If concentrate on
the white figure, it becomes a vase. When one alternative is real, the other
often said that if something appeared exciting and then afterwards was
repulsive, it was an indication of relativism or maya. By contrast, absolute
values are eternally delightful. He gives another example here, speaking of two
men, one with a love infatuation and the other obsessed with revenge:
Both love and hatred are powerful
motivating forces. In each of these examples the time will very likely come
when cool reason supervenes and passion diminishes. Then both agents will begin
to question the validity of the attitude previously held to justify their
actions. What previously was a consuming interest may well begin to seem mere
stupidity. They will be ready to admit they acted as though possessed by some
irrational spirit. It is the alternation of moods that makes an action at first
seem to be worthy but afterwards seem to be worthless.
This reminded Karen of Hesse’s saying we shouldn’t care if
we wind up “as a poet or a madman, as a prophet or a criminal,” that it’s
irrelevant. She wondered if this meant that a madman or a criminal was simply
fulfilling his dharma, and so we should endorse their behavior. This is a good
and subtle point, and it embodies the fears we have about letting go. Might we
become something we don’t approve of if we drop our guard? Better to be safe
than sorry. Of course that’s a recipe for stagnation.
take is that we shouldn’t be using this advice to judge other people. It’s
about finding ourselves, and criminality is a horizontal matter. What Hesse
meant was that we shouldn’t have preconceived notions about our course of
action, of where it will take us. We will only discover our dharma if we are
open to everything. Once we start laying down conditions, we have killed the
process. Where trust is most needed is of our self. We (and even more, Hesse’s
peers) have been taught that we are sinners, untrustworthy and in need of
redemption. For years we were directed to not trust ourselves, so we don’t. Yet
if we get to know ourselves better, we might see the beauty and kindness that
infuse our very being, and then we could more easily dispense with our
characterize unitive action as action in tune with one’s dharma. Dharma, far
from being a kind of duty, is attained when we live up to our destiny, much as
Hesse described it. In another parallel with our Brihadaranyaka Upanishad study
group, we just read this in Nitya’s comments on II.5.11:
This is the challenge of life.
You have not only to know your dharma but also the situation in which
the call of dharma comes and all those who are along with you in the
fray. From the Supreme Self that belongs to all to the very tip of your nails, dharma
has its way. You should be able to spread yourself, open up and be as extensive
as this vast world of the cosmos. Then you should be able to gather yourself
into the most efficiently functioning inner drive of the supervising monitor of
your life. Every consideration should oscillate between the totality and the
inclusion of yourself in it as the recipient of the gains of your dharma.
Then all is well and good. (559)
The theme of including the full range of experience is also
found in the present commentary:
Just as the concept of the Self ranges
individual ‘I’ to blissful identity with the Absolute, so too the Self should
be seen in another dimension. This ranges from the individual field of
value-vision and interest to include the whole collective consciousness of all
All this churning reflection should make you want to take a
deep breath, sit back, and exhale all the constrictive demands weighing heavily
on your psyche. Relax. You are a soaring incarnation of bliss and beauty, and
your universe is infinitely inviting. We are unsure what comes next, but it is
bound to be fascinating and challenging, even thrilling. There is no need to
identify with your constraints. Let yourself expand, infinitely. You will
naturally come back to your circumscribed self, so you don’t have to force it.
Let it be. Let it flow. Action will happen naturally, as needed. Everything is
fine. And so, good night.
The Self does not act, and if we say it is the inner organ
and the senses that act because they are inert, they cannot accomplish actions
as they are only the means of action. But if we examine how actions originate,
we conclude that they are beginningless and automatic. Although all actions are
accomplished by the presence of the Self, in reality the Self does not act at
all. The Self remains apart and is well-founded. The man using the double process
of dialectical reasoning (åha-apoha)
knows this reality with certitude.
a relevant snippet from ISOA:
In our own terminology, phenomenological reduction merely
means the verticalization of the factual and empirically objective world ‘about
us’ or ‘given to us’ in its horizontalized version. The intentional world is a
more fluid one, or at least a finer and subtler one, with a thin and pure
schematic status hidden behind fully factual appearances and brute realities.
The phenomenologist retains within brackets the essential realities underlying
facts. If the world of facts has a horizontal reference, the world proper to
phenomenology gives primacy to a vertical reference. (345)
section of my Gita commentary IV.16-23 gives a lot of additional information
about the integration of action and inaction. Check it out: http://scottteitsworth.tripod.com/id51.html.
a brief preview:
helpful technique is to meditate on the concept “I am not the doer.” When
caught up in action, we can observe that it is happening and we are
participating in it, but we are not the cause. We aren’t really doing anything.
The ego has been trained to think of itself as the source of what we do, yet it
is merely the final portal through which action passes, as it becomes
actualized from its source inside to its expression in the world. Restraining
the thought “I am the doer,” allows much more room for action to manifest in an
viewed, the vertical is inactive and the horizontal is active. The former
incorporates our varied potentials, while the latter consists of the ones that
have been promoted into existence. The intelligent seeker integrates the
vertical with the horizontal elements, bringing each to bear on the other. They
are not treated separately. The inaction of the vertical infuses every
horizontal action, and the unfolding turbulence of horizontal events is unified
and pacified by relating them to the steady state of the vertical.
idea from the verse bears close scrutiny, and I’m doing that here because it
didn’t fit well in Part I. Kutastha
means firmly established, rock solid. In Vedanta it should imply connection
with the ground of reality, the core or basis of all. Nitya presents it in
another sense here:
In the individuated self are two aspects.
is pure consciousness, which is identical with the Self as existence,
knowledge, and value sense. The other is a negative factor which remains
crystalized (kutastha) as an embedded
source of incipient memories or potentials. From this source various
colorations and conditioned reflexes can arise to saturate and modify any item
of awareness experienced in the dream or wakeful states.
I wonder if
the editorial process might have miscarried, since we don’t usually think of
the vasanas (incipient memories or
potentials) as intrinsic to the ground. The text sounds like it presents kutastha as similar to the seedbed of
vasanas and distinct from pure consciousness, where it normally means connected
to the solidity of the Absolute.
Karen noted, being unattached and yet rock-solid is contradictory. Like
inaction in action I suppose. But that is nonetheless the gist: if we are
solidly grounded in the Absolute, it allows us to be much freer, much less
attached to the vagaries of horizontal fates.
don’t think this is an intentional paradox designed to free our thinking, as is
sometimes the case, but I can’t definitively say exactly what’s meant here.
Normally I take kutastha as
indicating a solid connection with the basis of our life, exactly the thing
that we lose touch with when “various colorations and conditioned reflexes”
arise. Here it is the source of those very things. It is definitely being used
in a way that’s at variance from the verse itself. Something to ponder.
In another coincidence, Carlo Ravelli, in his delightful Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
York: Riverhead Books, 2016), in describing the revelations of quantum theory,
notes how the chance aspect of the Absolute relates to physics:
[The] interactive leaps with
which each object passes from one place to another do not occur in a
predictable way but largely at random. It is not possible to predict where an
electron will reappear but only to calculate the probability that it will pop
up here or there. The question of probability goes to the heart of physics,
where everything had seemed to be regulated by firm laws that were universal
and irrevocable. (18)