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Darsana Six - Verse Ten


Karma Darsana verse 10


Because ‘I’ is the seen as an object of

awareness, I-consciousness is also a superimposition,

like the silver in the mother of pearl;

above everything else, today and tomorrow, the one alone       exists.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


Because of being an object of experience

Even the “I” is a conditioning factor

Superimposed like the mother-of-pearl gleam;

Above everything else today and tomorrow one alone is.


         A close reading such as we have been doing sometimes obscures features that are easier to observe from a more distant perspective. I noticed one here that should have been obvious, yet I don’t recall reading it anywhere and we have certainly never talked about it: each darsana begins with multiplicity and works its way to oneness in the last verse. It’s a subtle way of drawing us into the core in addition to the intellectual content, as if each darsana was a conic pyramid tipped in gold.

         True to this pattern, the Karma Darsana began with “many forms” and now concludes with “one alone is.” If we fully understand the Guru’s teaching, our actions will now exemplify the unitive principle, at least on occasion. Happily, a couple of examples were shared by participants demonstrating that this is indeed the case.

         This is another commentary where I could just copy the whole thing over and call it good, but I’ll weave in a couple of stories that may add to its excellence. First off we are reminded of the reason for all this grappling:


The main purpose of this darsana is not to confirm that there is action, nor to deny it. It is to help us in the realization of the Self, to help us to achieve a state of continual serene happiness – even when the senses and organs of action are all geared up for the performance of action.


         One thing that was not addressed in the class is the crucial idea of the first half of the verse: we ordinarily treat our ‘I’ as an object of awareness, which automatically makes it a superimposition or projection and invalidates it. Melting it in the Absolute does not make it disappear, but it evaporates the superimposition and aligns what’s left with a natural flow. It might just be that the whole point of the Karma Darsana is to let go of our fixation on “me” as a fixed object, so we can become a more universal “me” as a living, vital entity. Unselfconscious. Wasn’t self-consciousness the “sin” of Adam and Eve, the self-awareness that caused their fall from the Garden? It marks the dividing line that distinguishes natural and free from guarded and defensive.

         Children easily shrug off such ideological clothing, but it becomes harder and harder as we get older. Still, as with President Kennedy speaking of shooting for the moon, we do such things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. And in our case at least, because they proffer “lonely final happiness” (per Gita XIV.27).

         Interestingly, recent neuroscience has not found the self anywhere in its brain imaging studies, and has (possibly prematurely) concluded that this means the self does not exist. It is a fiction cobbled together from diverse material elements. Vedantins agree that the ‘I’ is fictitious in a similar sense, but scientists and philosophers alike are puzzled by its persistence. Nitya elucidates the practical consideration of this insight:


The kovida (wise man) described in the previous verse is one who has realized that the Self is not his personal ego. He does not act, therefore, from an egocentric base.


         Deb talked about how the first impression of this idea is that it doesn’t matter what we do. But that premature assessment leaves out the critical factor: we have to be aware of the whole, and then we will act in the interest of all. Otherwise “it doesn’t matter” is just license for the ego to run wild.

         Dialectic thinking resolves this dilemma. Our egoistic impulses are reactive and highly conditioned, so we can observe them (they keep coming) but then resist the urge to blindly follow them. Instead we contemplate, meditate, detach; we dig into the totality of our being; then we go with the flow.

         Paul recalled that his fundamentalist church upbringing was the opposite of going with the flow. Their belief was you change your behavior first, and this accords you entry into heaven. It’s actually the norm in almost all religious beliefs, especially in the West. Paul is well aware that this turns you into a kind of donkey: an obedient creature disinclined to think for itself. There is no flow in this direction! Flowing is tough enough if you lead with knowledge, but at least it’s possible. Paul likened his church training to trying to push a boat without a keel backwards against the current—an original and amusing image for sure. The boat veers every which way kicking up waves, and is maddeningly uncontrollable. He said that when you surrender the sense of agency it’s like letting the boat flow forwards. It becomes not only easily steerable, but leaves the slightest gentle wake behind it.

         Jan gave us a lovely example of going with the flow, one that illustrates a fairly simple and highly practical technique. She has struggled with her relationship with her mother for a number of years, and their beliefs are very different. During a recent visit she decided to not insist on her own position and not to confront her mom, but to stay open and meet her where she lived, so to speak. To her surprise and relief they got along much better, and had a lot of fun being together. It was as if she had transformed before Jan’s very eyes. If nothing else, she was able to see her mother more clearly without the distortions of her ego fogging her vision. They laughed together and parted amicably, and you could hear the joy in Jan’s voice as she told us about it.

         Jan emphasized the value of this philosophy in her daily life, how it was helping her connect with love and beauty in very satisfying ways, and as a consequence to flow through situations almost effortlessly.

         I underlined that this is a fine example of unitive action, karma yoga, and how it has a positive impact on our experience. And on this level it is eminently doable. When we surrender to the egotistical urge to manage the flow, we inevitably disrupt it. It only flows when we let go of control. Practical situations give us an opportunity to achieve the impossible: control ourselves in order to relinquish control. As Moni said, it takes practice, practice, practice. Its success motivates us to continue making the effort.

         I remember Nitya urging us selfish Westerners on several occasions to appreciate our mothers more. It’s funny how, no matter how much we love our mother, it’s kind of a primal challenge to our developing egos. I suppose that’s because it’s our deepest tie by far, and as we grow up and assert our individuality more, it is bound to clash with those ultimately intimate connections.

         Jan’s report reminded Deb of a friend who once asked Nitya for advice. He wondered how he could retain his equilibrium when people were so annoying and disturbing. Nitya’s response was, You need to be nicer to your mother.

         The friend protested, You don’t understand. I must not have been clear. It’s not my mother, it’s all these other people who really bother me and I find I am getting upset by it. It takes me out of my spiritual state.

         Nitya looked at him with his humorous owl-like stare. I understood you. You need to cultivate love and appreciation for your mother. Your mother carried you for nine months, nurtured you as a baby, took care of you all through your childhood. You need to have a deep respect and caring for her. It doesn’t have to be outward, but you should constantly meditate on it.

         The friend was baffled, but he did as Nitya asked. He and his mother were at odds over many issues, but he privately worked to broaden his attitude and appreciate her more. His next visit with her was better than it had been in many years. She mentioned how different he was, and they got along very nicely. That makes perfect sense, but the really surprising thing was that he found his relationships with others also improved, and keeping his balance under pressure also became much easier.

         It looks like the Guru saw the essence of a psychological complex and showed him how to cure it. Surely it’s one we all share. Where we might meet each incident on its own terms, underneath they all taper together to a point, and if we can work at depth we can cure many things at once. It’s like Nataraja Guru’s saying that we are busy opening doors from the hinge side, which takes a lot of effort. If we can find the handle, the door will swing open easily. This is a lovely illustration of one of Nitya’s sentences here:


The deliberation of any action or the manner of any reaction to a situation is very much based on a person’s identification with his own self image, as well as how, through that self-image, he relates himself to various value-factors.


There is also a deeper analysis in the commentary:


When a person says ‘I’ that is what he experiences – the individuated ‘I-ness’ of egocentricity. Such a state is a conditioned one, and all conditioned states are nonexistent. Therefore such an ego has no real existence, and it and the experience of it are founded on ignorance. As a consequence, the attempt to please by pampering a nonexistent ego must lead to futility in action. Be that as it may, most of us are all the time engaged in actions designed to lead to self-gratification. A wise man realizes the worthlessness of such pursuits. He knows that “his” senses, physical organism, and mind are all integral parts of the phenomenal universe.


As an aside, I thought that substituting ‘insubstantial’ for ‘nonexistent’ would make the Vedantic cliché that everything we encounter is nonexistent a bit more comprehensible. We struggle mightily to convey the precise meaning, yet insubstantial, while meaning basically the same, meets the idea well: something we perceive though it lacks substance. A rainbow or mirage is insubstantial, but to most of us they do exist, and even have an impact on our feelings. Paul took umbrage, however, and I had to concede that veteran Vedantins who are used to nonexistent entities were welcome to stick to their preferred term. It just doesn’t mean you’re crazy to actually see the rainbow.

         Speaking of veteran attitudes, here’s another problematic and related one, at least for beginners:


[A wise person] is described as one who is not affected by what is happening around him, nor is he affected by what he himself seems to be doing. In any action the sense of agency can arise only when one experiences consciousness of oneself as a person.


This clashes with all our experience, and yet it is the realized attitude we are asked to aim for. Of course, we want to be affected, we are here to be alive to everything, but what is meant here is that we aren’t knocked out of balance by the impacts of what affects us. Nitya elaborates:


One who is wise performs action as it needfully arises as part of the physical necessities of life, but in so doing no unnecessary disturbance will arise in his mind. Though engaged in the most complex of actions, his inner serenity will not be disturbed. No matter what the action or what demands are made on him, he will maintain the sameness of vision which is characteristic of a yogi. He will keep himself always in a state of neutral zero.


Bill admitted it was very hard to picture what a state of non-personal awareness means. He felt he had only an inadequate intellectual idea about it. It is indeed easy to be perplexed by the idea. Where oh where is that neutral zero located?

         I laughed out loud though, because the psychedelic experience is the ideal preview of exactly this exalted state of mind, and many of us have been there. During a trip the ego is turned off, yet we don’t die (as we might fear), we actually are far more aware of everything, at least at times. There is no sense of self at the peak, but a cosmic love and caring for every bit of existence that crosses the mind. So, many of us can just recall a trip and know what the Guru is talking about. If you think that’s blasphemy, chances are you never had a proper trip. Call it cheating if you want—it’s the kind of cheating that everyone should be encouraged to do, as it is so beneficial. Spiritually-oriented humans aren’t in competition to see who’s best, we are trying to evolve as a species to a level of sanity that will ensure the long happy life of the species and the whole planet.

         I also reminded the class that we are including a pulsation model in our study. This verse presents the rarified air of pure unitive action, but we are not asked to stay there. It is merely one pole of a continuum. We have to bring such purity into the contaminated transactional arena, and vice versa. Our ideal is to alternate between utter ego-free unity and practical involvement. As we become more familiar with both aspects of existence, the pulsation speeds up. When it gets fast enough—say 60 cycles per second—the transcendental and the transactional become fused, and the resulting unity will look a lot like the meaning of these superlative verses about oneness.

         The point of what we are doing is positive transformation, and it was heartening to hear stories of exactly that taking place. Narayana Guru didn’t compose Darsanamala for our amusement, he wanted to lift us out of our misery to enjoy the gift of life while it was still in our possession. Nitya is also quietly begging us to grow up and become better citizens and better individuals:


As an example we can cite a man who looks upon himself merely as a physical body animated with vital forces arising from the input of nourishment. His main interest will be in his body and in finding nourishment to assure his continuance. From his point of view it will not be seen as wrong to kill an animal for food. The consideration of sentience in beings other than himself will not arise, and if it should he would most likely dismiss it as irrelevant to the main issue of sustenance. Such a man may come to realize that the intrinsic nature of all beings, including those he has been used to eating, is the very same nature as his own; that his own Self is the Self of all beings. Such a realization will very much change his attitude toward other living beings. Indeed, his attitude may be so revolutionized that he is likely to adopt a different behavioral pattern altogether, and this not only in the matter of sustenance.


         This level of insight doesn’t even require any mystical revelation. All that is needed is the willingness to look at the history behind what lies on our plate. As one of my close friends always says when we are out at a restaurant: “If I had to kill my own food I would be a vegetarian.” But so long as he just sees some inert and delicious substance on his plate, his conscience remains untroubled. And as Nitya points out, this applies to everything, not just our food. A yogi should always look “behind the curtain” to see what the immediate situation is based on. Then if there is nefarious activity lurking in the shadows, they should disassociate themselves from it.

         The human race is beginning to come to grips with the hidden costs of much that we take for granted, really just scratching the surface of an invisible hellworld. Even that modest effort is causing major upheavals and is being met with entrenched resistance from the vested interests that profit from our ignorance. Heightened awareness is truly a revolutionary act, both for our self and in regards to the society. None of it comes easy. Nitya neatly epitomizes the principle:


The most gross level at which we are exposed to the pains and pleasures of life is that of action. To decide whether it is worthwhile to engage in any action one should know who he really is and, moreover, why he is doing what is being done or what he is proposing to do.


Nitya’s words provide a fitting conclusion to the Karma Darsana:


Every action of a wise man will arise from and contain within itself an altruistic or mystical quality of love, kindness, compassion or beauty. Such a man is in harmony with the universal Self, so he sees everywhere nothing but truth. This truth is the light which illuminates the oneness of all things. As a result of this his understanding will be unitive in its nature. What he continually sees and understands as truth are the unalloyed expressions of goodness and beauty which are the most adorable qualities of the Self.


Part II

         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


What is the object of consciousness is superimpostion. (This verity has already been explained.) In other words, all things that constitute objects of consciousness are unreal. Even when considered so, they have their basis in something real in order to express the unreal. Here the example of silver in the mother-of-pearl is given. When there is the superimposition of silver on the mother-of-pearl, although, there is no actual silver it seems to be there. In spite of this, the unreal semblance of silver is really based on the reality of the mother-of-pearl. In a similar way all actions and the egoism causing them are superimposed on the Supreme Self. It is the Supreme Self that is alone real, remaining one and eternal. The whole world consisting of action seems to be merely a superimposition on the Self. By the expression “fixed above all things,” it is indicated that the Self is pure and other-worldly, transcending time and place, as well as pleasure and pain, and that it is ultimately superior to all things.


*         *         *


E.E. Cummings fourth of his Six Nonlectures includes this excerpt from the introduction to his Collected Poems, 1938:


Take the matter of being born. What does being born mean to mostpeople? Catastrophe unmitigated. Socialrevolution…. Mostpeople fancy a guaranteed birthproof safetysuit of nondestructible selflessness. If mostpeople were to be born twice they’d improbably call it dying.

you and I are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings;for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery,the mystery of growing:the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves…. Life,for eternal us,is now…


What their most synthetic not to mention transparent majesty, mrsandmr collective foetus, would improbably call a ghost is walking… He is a healthily complex, a naturally homogeneous, citizen of immortality… He is a little more than everything, he is democracy;he is alive;he is ourselves.


…Nothing believed or doubted…


Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question


Part III

         Speaking of a beautiful answer to a beautiful question, I just came across this answer to my surmise at the outset of this set of verse notes, on the unifying trend of each darsana. This is from Nataraja Guru’s ISOA dealing with the third darsana, which he titled Phenomenology. I had just gotten back to my editing project, and the Guru weighed in immediately:


This is where we have to bring protolinguistic structuralism into the picture. Simple though these verses seem and although they present a mere skeleton without any flesh and blood by way of elaborations and descriptions, the reader who is able to follow the successive steps represented by each verse will get an encompassing and comprehensive notion of how Narayana Guru accomplishes the reduction of duality between the mind and the phenomenological world into a basic ontological unity pertaining to the Science of the Absolute. Phenomenology is not unilaterally treated as a mere science of appearances and a distinct branch of knowledge sufficient to itself. Instead, it is presented with its reciprocal implications, which absorb each other negatively at first where ontology ultimately gets primacy over teleology. Even this vertical duality of movement in thought is balanced or cancelled out by the time we attain the finalized notion limiting this chapter, marked by an ontological unity without any trace of duality. (387-8)


Scott Teitsworth