Jnana Darsana verse 3
That by which one experiences the witnessing
such as I-consciousness and so on,
is Self-knowledge, by which alone
immortality is enjoyed.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
by which is experienced all things
the non-Self such as egoism and so on
even by which immortality is enjoyed
the Witness, is
restates the verse and gives one of its primary implications in the first
The Self can be compared to a light that
see and is always witnessing whatever it illuminates. Its experience of such
illumination ranges from the witnessing of deep sleep to the witnessing of
empirical transactions with gross objects in the wakeful state. In and through
all experiences runs a golden thread of pure consciousness. This is not
affected by the changing modes of consciousness which occur in the shifting of
interest from one item of experience to another. Comprehension of this pure
consciousness is obliterated in the minds of most people because they become so
intrigued by the values in each item illuminated by the Self.
In other words, pure consciousness is always our essential
nature, but we become so caught up in the passing show that we forget its
presence and become entangled in the dramatic ups and downs of what the Guru
calls the non-Self. The effort we have to expend is to consistently regain the
steady state that underlies all the vagaries of fate. It requires a kind of
“stepping back” whenever we find ourselves being pulled out of our blissful ananda into emotional and intellectual
calls our mesmerization by items of interest “normal consciousness,” with only
the slightest hint of irony. Yogis should realize that the transcendent state
is truly normal consciousness, but we more readily apply the term to the
reactive state that predominates most of the time, making an endless parade of
demands upon us.
key to accessing pure consciousness is maintaining a state of neutrality.
Paradoxically we sometimes have to struggle to reassert neutrality if we are
caught up in the surface waves of the social ocean. Struggle easily takes us
away from neutrality if we happen to be already in it, but if not we may have
to engage in it. The process really is a lot like learning to float in water.
Often the first response to finding our self at sea is panicky thrashing
movements, and the swimmer has to intentionally resist them to become calm.
Once negative influences are neutralized, floating becomes nearly effortless
and can be maintained with minimal effort. The bliss of floating peacefully
supports a calm state that is naturally buoyant.
all about neutrality. We are so used to taking sides that we are unaware of how
far from neutrality we often are. We come together in our weekly classes to
practice neutrality and discover how our best insights emerge from it. Ideally
all the specific references we share are traced back to a witnessing mentality,
rather than being put forward as modes of salvation in and of themselves. Let’s
defer to Nitya once again:
When the limitation of normal
consciousness is transcended… consciousness refers neither to the cognizing
agency of the ego nor to any factor of the non-Self made specifically
interesting by any particular value. Such a state may perhaps best be described
as the awareness of an awareness which does not necessitate the dichotomy of
the seer and the seen.
Neutral enough for you? Bill talked about one of his
favorite ideas along these same lines he learned from Katagiri Roshi, to pay
attention to the mind before it
formulates a thought. From that place look at the world dispassionately,
watching your reactions without getting involved in them. Bill accompanied this
with the exhortation to trust your inner voice, since if we are able to remain
neutral it allows the true inner voice to be heard. All too often we mistake
our ego voice for the deeper-seated wisdom that emerges only if we can quiet
our self-interested reactivity. It isn’t really all that mysterious, once we
admit the obfuscating dominance of our ego. Nitya puts it this way:
consciousness of the Self prevails at all times. It is like the ocean which,
though seeming to take on the forms of the waves, never in fact changes its
fundamental nature as water. Recapturing the original non-differentiated state
of consciousness can be identified as realization – that is, Self-realization.
What is real in that state is the Self. The non-Self together with the shadowy
ego are found to be unreal.
Nothing to it! Just convert our identification of what
reality is from all transient phenomena and the shadowy ego that draws its
sustenance from them to our inner state of certitude. Too bad the former is
always begging for our attention and the latter sits silently, biding its time
without asking to be noticed. So the human default setting is to attend to the
show and shush the neutral witness. What good is that tiny little nonentity,
that thought was the impetus for sharing a few examples, because, surprisingly
enough, remaining neutral is the optimal problem solving technique. One of our
formerly regular class members often advocated for practical examples of the
teaching, and I have often tried to keep bringing them up. Nowadays it seems no
one is much interested in examples, but there are bound to be a few out there,
so I dared to importune. Happily we heard a few good examples last night.
and Andy reported on a recent article in The New Yorker magazine on one of the
Black Panthers, who was kept in solitary confinement for 43 years, the longest
of anyone: (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/16/how-albert-woodfox-survived-solitary).
Deb was struck by how gentle and nonjudgmental he was, where you might expect
extreme bitterness. (The United Nations has defined more than 15 days of
solitary confinement as torture.) Albert Woodfox must have realized that he was
the only person who would be affected by his attitudes, so he worked to be kind
to himself. Why curse injustice when the curses only add to your punishment?
of being fixated on external events is that you imagine your fretting and
fuming is having a mitigating effect on them, when it hardly ever is. It’s much
more likely to have a detrimental effect on you, and block any avenue of
meaningful involvement. It is a crucial changeover to realize that we ourselves
are the beneficiaries (or otherwise) of our thinking, and therefore we change
our world by changing our level of self-awareness. Love begins at home.
offered two examples of the value of neutrality from my own life. Recently I
visited my younger daughter, planning to choose a dance we would perform
together at her upcoming wedding. I had made several suggestions, as had she,
and we were going to try them out and practice our moves.
songs I suggested were not only gorgeous and meaningful to me, they would have
worked nicely for the event. But Harmony rudely dismissed them with hardly a
moment’s listening. I might have felt aggrieved and argued with her, but I had
anticipated something like this, and I have been doing my homework for nearly
50 years now. I did not indulge any resentments or hurt feelings, but merely
witnessed and accepted. Her choices didn’t go very well either. As I sat still,
witnessing, a new option presented itself. We gave it a listen and a dance, and
it was perfect! We tried a couple of other similar pieces, but we already had
what we needed, and happily agreed to it. This shows that witnessing is not
surrender—we wound up with my suggestion, after all—but can easily be a dynamic
presence that accesses more intelligence than our ego is privy to. And what
might easily have been another disruption of our relationship turned out to
further bonding instead.
recalled how Nitya would often say in response to a question or a predicament
that he was waiting for an answer to come. He would listen closely to the
question or ponder the quagmire, but not jump to a hasty response. After a
while, from deep inside him, a superlative answer would bubble up.
other example might be familiar to a few of you. It demonstrates that the ego
is more willing to give up its acknowledged faults than its items of pride. I
am a lifelong pacifist, having consciously adopted a childish version of ahimsa
around age 8, and having had many reinforcing experiences over my lifetime. I
was and am deeply committed to it, and feel sure that with all my faults, at
least I am kind and considerate to others of all species. I believe that true
civilization won’t arrive until all weaponry is put away for good.
and na´vely, in 1971 at the first Portland Gurukula I asked Nitya to teach me
as a guru. Was I ever in for a series of surprises!
the most intense event of two solid months of soul-shattering intensity might
sound trivial enough, but to me at the time it was devastating. When a member
of the Portland Gurukula had personal questions we would make a date with Nitya
in his room for a private talk. I had been quite severely battered (fish ‘n’
chips, anyone?) for some time, and couldn’t understand when my well-meaning
attitude didn’t cut the mustard with him. Among other things he had recently
thrown me out of his Integrated Science
of the Absolute class as being too abysmally stupid. Well yes, I had some
pride in my intelligence, which had been meticulously measured and fawned over
in schools practically my entire life. Still, I could give that up, as my new
spiritual orientation was absurdly anti-intellectual (which is another story).
In any case, I went in to defend my position with Nitya and we got into an
explosive argument. He just would not cede me an inch of consideration. I
became amazingly upset, pleading my case as a sincere disciple who loved him
profoundly and was willing to do anything he asked. At the culmination he
blasted me with a thunderous look and shouted, “You’re a liar! You are going to
go out and get a gun and come back and shoot me!”
accusation was so shocking to me that I felt as if I’d been shot in the heart
meself. Only decades later did I realize that he was hitting me exactly where
my ego’s pride smugly resided. My commitment to non-hurting was zealously
guarded in the “this part of me’s okay” area of the psyche. I had imagined
Nitya and I would be teaming up as allies against my weaknesses, and my
strengths were already in the bank, making me a worthy person. Rotten old me,
worthy at last. It felt nice to have some good qualities. Too bad they were
being unjustly viewed as ego projections and one of Siva’s demolition agents
was in the vicinity and closing fast.
bottom line is I had no idea of how attached I was to my ego pose, and how
clever it was at deflecting assaults on its dominance. It was willing to be
party to a polite charade, so long as a true realignment was never undertaken.
Yet I had asked for it, and the Guru
was going to give me what I’d asked for. Whoa! I wrestled with the ensuing pain
for at least five years.
wondered if this meant that we shouldn’t have values, which is a pertinent
question. It’s a different matter entirely: I wasn’t being blasted for my
pacifism but for my egotism. Nitya and all the world’s scriptures advocate for
peace and kindness and compassion and all that. But if the ego takes its identity from its proper behavior or
good values, and you have asked a guru to free you, which means breaking the
hold your ego has on you, then you will be attacked precisely at what you hold
dear. It’s the same idea as the famous line, “If you meet the Buddha on the
road, kill him!” Does it mean it’s okay to kill? Not at all. It means when you
meet a situation and associate it with something you cherish in your memory
banks, you aren’t fully alive to what you are encountering. You’re meeting a
memory. You have to let go of everything, both good and bad, to be present in a
neutrally alive condition. No one could fail to be enthralled by actually
meeting Jesus or Buddha on the road, and the opposite sensation would be to
hate or kill him. Dialectics of a sort. I think the statement is unnecessarily
strong, but then I’m not especially affiliated with either of them. I think of
them as lovely myths. In that case, how about if you meet them you just go on
your way with a nod and a polite smile?
question did put me in mind that our Western culture is marinated in the
religious belief that being good is the way to heaven. That socially useful
belief is equally constraining of the non-believer as the believer. Regardless,
Vedanta does not accept it.
thought that as seers it was important for us to not take responsibility for
the whims of nature. The implication was that by being partisan for good over
bad outcomes, which are essentially out of our control, we cause ourselves
unnecessary grief. We imagine we are in charge of how things turn out, or are
supposed to be, and that false presumption leads us into any number of dead
ends. We (and our friends) disdain us for our failures even though we are
hapless mortals operating on severely limited information.
idea of neutrality regarding good and bad really clicked with Moni this time,
and she eagerly talked with me about it after class. She could see that the
Absolute had no preference as to one or the other, but was simply witnessing
all that happened, without intervention. Everything would play out according to
its innate qualities. It’s actually a very freeing realization, and Moni glowed
as she spoke.
has been reading James Agee’s Let Us Now
Praise Famous Men, a kind of witnessing of the impoverished lives of people
during the Great Depression in the US. By simply describing what he saw and
experienced, Agee creates a powerful and transformative work of artistic
profundity. (Walker Evans’ eloquent photographs add immeasurably to the
impact.) There is no need for him to decry the injustice of what has
transpired: it speaks for itself, all the more loudly because of the lack of
opinionated underlining of the obvious. It’s a wonderful example that probably
will fit better in next week’s class on witnessing the non-Self. Narayana Guru
wants us to establish our ground in the witnessing Self, and then we can always
discern the Self within the non-Self, as will be addressed next.
shared a new insight on a story she has told before, when Nitya called her a
liar. Moni always prided herself on her honesty and truthfulness, but to some
degree it was an abstraction, and she guarded herself in pretty much the same
way as everyone does. She likely worshipped Nitya even more than I did, so when
he accused her of dishonesty she was at least equally shocked. As she said, the
guru being mad at you is the most painful thing. “You are not honest!” he told
her. “What did I do?” she meekly replied. “You are afraid, so you pretend.”
Moni was very upset, but the lesson went home. Most of us mortals need the
stimulus of misery to force us to change our perspective. We can tolerate a
little discomfort, but a lot overwhelms our defenses, and a voyage of discovery
often sets sail in response.
talked about the repartee she observed between Nataraja Guru and Nitya that at
times looked so painful, and yet neither lost his balance and became angry, so
it was a liberating exercise that they both willingly entered into. As readers
of Love and Blessings know, Nitya had
not always been neutral under Nataraja Guru’s onslaughts, but by 1971 when Deb
saw them together he had gotten over his resentments and they stood together as
equals. From the stories I’ve heard, the suffering I underwent under Nitya’s
care were no more than 1/1000 of what he experienced in the hands of Nataraja
itself is a guru, and often shoots its slings and arrows at us to afford us the
opportunity to reassess our position. Too bad the commonly accepted responses
are defensive or offensive: neutrality isn’t sexy, and doesn’t sell programs.
Few advocate for it. We mostly have recourse to witnessing when in a static
non-dynamic state, yet it is at its best when intensely engaged.
of its elusive nature, sitting unobtrusively within the depths of our being,
Nitya repeatedly redirects our attention back to the witnessing state:
When we speak of the Self as the
eternal Witness, it should be understood that we refer to its neutrality. Pure
consciousness, without becoming a participant in the ‘I’ and ‘mine’ roles of
the ego and without identifying itself with the objectivity of the non-Self,
always retains its pure state. At the same time it is aware of the game of life
projected as though a shadow play.
Jan mused on this point, similar to Bill’s of “the moment
before” and shared an expanded version in writing, which you can read in Part
II. Deb shared one of her poems that approaches the same theme in a more
refrigerated fashion, also added to the second part.
made a good case that we need our interactions with the non-Self to be expertly
attended to, and Nitya elsewhere supports this as well. Yet in the Jnana
Darsana we are moving into another dimension of involvement. Having established
our intelligent relationship with the world we live in, we are being invited to
delve within without reservations: “Now we should take the possibility of
witnessing to another more subtle level, where what is to be witnessed is not
the non-Self but the Self itself.” The neat thing about it is that in
witnessing the Self we are not denying the non-Self, but rather bringing our
“A” game to bear on it. Unfortunately, by exclusively witnessing the non-Self
we actually obscure our awareness and intimate connection with the Self. It
doesn’t—couldn’t possibly—go away, but our awareness is dimmed down to the
point where we no longer involve it in our decision-making.
that’s a shame. Our peace of mind resides in alert neutrality, and is not
derived from aspects of the non-Self such as pleasurable objects or spiritual
practices, as has been affirmed over and over in this study.
noting how we get caught up in our superficial preferences, Nitya expresses
what happens if we don’t succumb:
Realization means to discover
one’s total identity with absolute existence (sat), with non-modulated consciousness (chit), and with
the unbroken blissful state of the Self (ananda).
He elaborates here only on the third aspect of saccidananda:
Two important characteristics of ananda are the total
duality and the attainment of the state of immortality. Immortality here is to
be understood in a special sense. It does not refer to the perpetuation of a
certain substance or substantiality in time and space. Indeed, it refers to a
total transcendence of the relevance of the time factor, which is the main
medium of the state of becoming.
We have long ago dispensed with the notion that immortality
means living forever. Here we see that the fleeting moments of neutrality we
allow ourselves are immortal in the true sense, detaching us from the demands
of time and space to float free. Although they are often brief, they have an
eternal impact, not unlike focusing a lens. We all know how a camera, telescope
or microscope looks when you go back and forth in degrees of fuzziness, and
only when you attain the exact point of sharp focus does the objective become
clear enough to make out in fine detail. The truth is that our egos are long
accustomed to being out of focus, out of balance, and may even treat the
presumption that clarity of vision is attainable as a threat to their continued
and transcendence are essentially the same thing, and are intrinsic to the
oft-exaggerated term realization, as
Realization comes only when all
three of the modalities of nature are transcended. The transcendent state then
obtained is called samadhi, and it
occurs when the Self witnesses the Self. So we can see that to understand all
the implications in the present verse, the word ‘witnessing’ must be
appreciated in its correct sense.
closes with the assertion that this does not necessitate us undergoing any
particular practice. In fact, the idea that realization is the result of
performing certain requisite actions is contrary to a unitive attitude:
From what has been said it should
be evident that the Self, when in the state of knowing itself, does not
accomplish that experience through the modulation of consciousness in any
manner whatsoever. Nor does it engage itself in any exertion in an effort to
perceive something, as in the case of perception of the objects of the
non-Self. When such a high state of unconditional, nonmodulated consciousness
prevails without its transparency or sameness being disturbed by the awareness
of ‘I’ or ‘this’, it is called
Self- knowledge, or atmajnana.
If we view our native state as something to be attained
through right thinking or behavior, it recedes indefinitely. By doing so we are
unintentionally pushing it away. Instead we should snuggle up with it, loving
it and honoring it as not only our very being, but the true nature of
everything. It does not have to be attained, but only allowed. We are that.
That Alone is. Aum.
is a Witness remaining within the bodies of all beings able to take cognisance
of all non-Self factors beginning with egoism and reaching out to external
entities like pots and cloth. At the time of deep sleep this Witness is not
subject to any change and is capable of cognising the subtlest factors in
consciousness. Such a Witness is no other than the Self. The awareness by which
the witnessing Self is experienced is Self-knowledge. It is the final
conclusion of VedÓnta that liberation is attained through Self-knowledge. By
the use of the word eva in the text,
it is intended to point out the primary nature of this sole means of
liberation. Such an awareness of the Self could be described as unconditioned
Jan expanded on her thoughts from last night:
I thought we were talking about the witnessing consciousness
mainly as neutral and pure and that what is witnessed is the Self itself. We
also talked about the witness showing us our attachments and ego tendencies so
that we can let go of them to allow for a more unaltered merging with the pure
That all made sense but I thought we should include and look
at how the witnessing consciousness also helps us live with our attachments,
because they are inevitable as we are emotional and ego-driven humans. Our
lives are full of responsibilities, commitments, relationships, political
opinions, etc, many things that are deeply of the transactional world, and
letting go of our attachment to these things does not always seem possible. But
like Deb said, we can loosen our hold on them and continually re-evaluate how
we interact with them and our attitudes and emotions toward them, and in this
process, the neutral witness is our guide.
I love the thought that we can practice what Bill said about
opening to that moment before our reactions to life surface, and living more
from that pure place where we are connected to the vast Self. Perhaps that is
the witness before the witness becomes aware, or before when it perceives
objects of the non-Self as the verse says. The verse did talk about different
forms or levels of the witness.
read out her poem that hints at “the moment before”:
Shards of Light
If this were the beginning
would call what she felt inside
silence of snow.
of straight, shadowed trees,
falling hour after hour
walks to the edge of the lake,
the snow wordless cracks in the ice,
the ice, cold currents,
world a well,
seeps from the weighted branches
her ears and eyes, her shoulders.
fills her mouth.
with shards of light,
long ago stars,
stories unraveling to her,
and dreams, all drifting,
sent a quote he mentioned in the class, something he gets in his email daily
Two people have been
living in you all your life. One is the ego, garrulous, demanding, hysterical,
calculating; the other is the hidden spiritual being, whose still voice of
wisdom you have only rarely heard or attended to. As you listen more and more
to the teachings, contemplate them, and integrate them into your life, your
inner voice, your innate wisdom of discernment, what we call in Buddhism
“discriminating awareness,” is awakened and strengthened, and you begin to
distinguish between its guidance and the various clamorous and enthralling
voices of ego. The memory of your real nature, with all its splendor and
confidence, begins to return to you.
You will find, in fact, that you have uncovered in
yourself your own wise guide, and as the voice of your wise guide, or
discriminating awareness, grows stronger and clearer, you will start to
distinguish between its truth and the various deceptions of the ego, and you
will be able to listen to it with discernment and confidence.