Jnana Darsana verse 5
When things are known as they are,
as in the knowledge of the truth of rope,
that is factual knowledge,
and fictitious when it is otherwise.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
things as they really are
when one attains to the truth of the rope
makes for such, is true awareness
(awareness) is what is
waves always remind me of long days dripping sweat and sizzling, my mind melted
into a stuporous quasi-meditative state in stifling rooms at Nitya’s talks in
India. Chennai always comes to mind as the hottest of the hot. We barely
touched that kind of sweat lodge intensity last night, though more heat is on
the way today. I have already had two participants report amazing dreams,
perhaps stimulated by the class and surely sparked by the temperature. Warm
nights are so sensual! And rare enough here in the very temperate Portland
more Nitya takes a superficially simple verse and spins a profound lesson for
us. This is one of those where the surface level acts additionally as a cover
for a guru-impulsion to help us break free of our baggage, as we referred to
it. I recommended the class not follow the reading in their books but see if
they could use it as a launching pad to access the stable center of their being
that transcends all modulations.
may recall that the last verse ended:
Even in the case of knowledge of the non-Self
there can be right knowledge and erroneous knowledge. Both are conditional. The
guru will describe these in the next verse.
So there are two distinctions to make: between accurate and
erroneous interpretations, and between conditional and unconditional awareness.
While the former is definitely important, the latter necessitates a quantum
leap from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
and Deb opened the class musing on the many binding factors that influence our
perception and keep us fixed in place. As Deb put it, perception is not only a
physical fact, we superimpose our conditioning on it.
was written in the period when Nitya was keen on the distinction between the
real and the actual. I rember him introducing it as a kind of revelation he had
had, and I found it mindblowing. He introduces his insight here:
The main and pressing question
before us we find to be whether the actual is also the real. Usually we
consider the word ‘real’ as being synonymous with the word ‘actual’…. We would
very much like to use the English word ‘real’ to mean absolute truth, in
contradistinction to the word ‘actual’. Such a concept is not attached to the
word ‘real’ by lexicographers. However, in the present study we intend to
attach that concept to the word so that the reader will always distinguish the
real from the actual.
Actual refers to
the ever-changing horizontal world of sensory perception, while real in the Vedantic sense is the stable
or eternal ground that enables the transformations to take place. Ordinarily we
conflate the two terms, and Western philosophy and science is aimed at finding
reality by accurately pinning down actual events and objects. While there is
nothing particularly wrong with this, it leaves out the most important element,
the causal ground. Reality does not reside in actual items—they reside in it.
There is a widespread attempt underway these days to achieve reality in the
most detailed analysis of the actual, but as Bushra affirmed, there is no end
to the potential analysis of the manifested world. There is always an opposite
to whatever you pin your hopes on. So reality has to be accessed by a different
sort of investigation. Since it abides in us, it’s more about reducing our
fascination with actuality and sinking into what’s left over when the actual is
stilled. We can use words unconventionally, working on our conditioning by looking
closely at the hold they have over us. Nitya draws our intention to the
importance of doing this by invoking a ferocious buzzword:
In their search for truth, the
tyranny of the meanings of words can be a major hurdle for most people. For
most, mentation is verbalized – a kind of inner dialogue.
Coincidentally, the current issue of Scientific American
(August 2017) has a fairly rudimentary but promising article about brain
imaging being newly employed to study the inner narrator: What Self-Talk
Reveals about the Brain, by Charles Fernyhough. fMRI reveals that different
parts of the brain are involved with varying types of self-talk, such as inner
monologue, inner dialogue, whether the stream was produced intentionally or
arose naturally. Dialogues match the brain patterns of speaking with other
people—they really are like two different perspectives being processed.
Moreover, “In terms of patterns of brain activation, naturally occurring inner
speech contrasted dramatically with the kind that is produced on demand.” Not
surprisingly, the naturally occurring ideas seemed to be more creative:
Inner speech can provide some
clues about the origin of human creativity. Once people have the architecture
for internal conversations, we can use it in all sorts of ways, from arguing
with ourselves to conversing with an entity that is not there. Because we have
internalized dialogues with others, we retain an “open slot” for the
perspectives of other beings: whether or not they are present, are still alive
or ever even existed. My dialogues with God, a deceased parent or an imaginary
friend can be as richly creative as those I have with myself. Asking ourselves
questions and then answering them may be a crucial bit of apparatus for taking
our thoughts into new territories.
Although our present place in Darsanamala is about
thoroughly transcending the dictatorial weight of words, in the overall picture
words are still accorded their central role in our existence. That being the
case, here’s one more excerpt from the article that can help us examine the
flow of our thoughts in a critical way:
Much of the power of self-talk
comes from the way it orchestrates a dialogue between different points of view.
Like the collaboration my colleagues and I saw between the language system of
the left hemisphere and the social cognition networks of the right, the inner
speech network must be able to “plug in” to other neural systems as the
situation demands—when we have verbal thoughts about the past and future, when
we use words to talk ourselves through demanding tasks or when our mind simply
wanders, with no particular objective in mind. If researchers get the science
right, verbal thought stands to elucidate all these features of our cognition.
We don’t have to wait for more experiments to be run, these
results simply confirm what we could easily observe for ourselves if we took
the trouble to look.
reprises the well-known truth about how words relate to what they indicate:
The relation between language and
truth may be compared to that existing between a road map and actual places: “the
map is not the territory.”
commentary also contains an infamous screed against books and book learning.
Yet Nitya was one of the greatest book lovers of all time. My feeling is that he
was intentionally shocking us about our obsession with words to impart the
energy for a possible breakthrough. It isn’t that we are meant to take his
words as the Last Word, to believe in them religiously, but only to take a good
look at how much we are tied to maps
over territories. And to not do it in terms of more words, but more
of my current books (Micro, by
Michael Crichton and finished posthumously by Richard Preston) muses on how,
while environmental consciousness is rapidly expanding, contact with the
natural world is even more rapidly diminishing, to the point where vast numbers
of children have virtually no contact at all with nature absent human framing.
They live their whole lives in cities and screens. Yes, there are programs here
and there to give kids a week in the country, but the very fact that they exist
at all says volumes about our disconnection from Mother Earth. It is a vivid
predicament that in the present terms of our study, we are wise to the actual
world, but know little or nothing about the real one.
it is unfortunate that the actual world is routinely portrayed as reality
incarnate. Why then should we look beyond the end of our noses? We can plainly
see all there is. The scientific discoveries of the early twentieth century
have yet to sink in: that what you see is not
what you get. Reality is more concealed than revealed by what our senses and
even our minds register.
the present darsana Narayana Guru makes a distinction between knowledge of the
Self, and knowledge of things.”
Despite the distinction, both are forms of mental modulation, and so belong to
the actual as opposed to the real. Reality cannot be modulated. We aren’t meant
to get a swelled head over looking to the Self instead of beautiful objects for
our delight, or like some materialists, over ignoring the Self in favor of pure
objectification. The idea is not to get a swelled head at all, because they are
all forms of consciousness. We should see how they are the same:
Let us look at an object of perception
an apple and an object of knowledge such as the self. What are these items of
experience again? These are also modulations of consciousness – two kinds of
impressions or ideations. They are both merely modulations of consciousness,
different only in the quality of the properties that constitute the
This reminded me of my apple experiment some of you may
remember, that demonstrates how much projection we add to our engagement with
actuality. You can read it here:
So there is good reason to be aware of Narayana Guru’s distinction between
objects and their essence. Nitya warns us we should go beyond this perfectly
valid distinction, lest we get caught in quotidian entanglements:
Unfortunately we do not minimize
the problem when we draw a line between a concept and an actual entity. Instead
we find ourselves in a strange kind of confrontation with the actualities of
Here we are definitely counseled not to seek the real in the
actual, or—since the real is already in everything—as the sole propriety of the
actual. Because the actual is continually changing, we can perceive its reality
yet as soon as we say “This is it,” it is no longer quite so real. We can say
“This was it, once,” yet even though
true it is absurd. God is not limited to “my church,” no matter how uplifted
you feel in it. Nitya expresses the distinction very clearly:
The scientific discipline given to us
schools is to observe, to weigh and measure, and to judge with precision the
properties of things perceived. This is done so that our understanding of the
transactional world may be as accurate as possible. When a person turns his
mind to seek the truth of the Self, he enters a field where there is nothing to
observe objectively and nothing which can be measured with any device
whatsoever. The truth he is seeking is the truth of all things. The scientist
has a method he can use to arrive at the truth he seeks, but the seeker of
higher truth has to know what gives validity to any method, and why truth is
truth. The latter’s questions are much more basic and fundamental.
I have appended an old unfinished article of mine, What Is
Truth? in Part II, which collects several definitions of reality to demonstrate
their circularity. It’s long, but at least the first part is amusing and
informative regarding truth and its guises.
fine-tunes his point a couple of times here, again coaxing us to hear his words
and also let them go:
The certitude we arrive at in the world
transactions has reality only within the frame of reference of an actual
transaction. The real or absolute knowledge is the beingness of knowledge. It is not the knowledge of any thing.
And another time:
It is not necessary for a great Guru to
and tell us that to see rope as rope is right knowledge and that to see rope as
snake is wrong knowledge. Even a child knows this. The reference to certitude
and actuality is to call our attention to what we miss in our endless pursuit
of details and precision in the empirical world of our search. We seldom, if
ever, notice the unbroken existence of pure knowledge, which is none other than
the Self. This pure knowledge, when experienced, enables the individuated
consciousness to transcend the fixations in which it is riveted, that is, to
transcend the empirical and the transactional.
Nitya’s last few pages are the kind of talk that can be
taken to heart with enough diligence , but I see it more as one of his tricks.
After introducing the subject he unmoors our minds with a complex barrage of
ideas, so we can intuit rather than intellectualize what he is getting at. It’s
a bit like covering the seed he just planted with dirt, tamping it down and
sprinkling some water on it. One day it may grow. It isn’t meant to come up
immediately. Nitya does boil the complexity down to its essence in one
After thus presenting his case,
the Vedantin introduces the principle of homogeneity. The subject ‘I’, and the
evidence, knowledge, or perception of it; the apple as an object and the
perception of it; and the evident knowledge of the self, all have one common
factor. They are all aspects of consciousness. What is this one consciousness
that permeates the subject, the experience, and the objects of experience? It
is this the Vedantin calls the Self. Without the presence of this Self neither
the mind nor the senses can produce any effective modulation of consciousness.
The Vedantin now draws the conclusion that the primary cause of knowledge,
whether of immediate perception or of intuitive perception, is the
self-luminous consciousness which is none other than the Self.
He compares this to the Western perspective that external
causes produce reflexive responses in us as their effects. I suggested that the
external causation model subtly influences people to think of themselves as
victims of fate and therefore helpless, whereas the Vedantic model invites us
to join the dance. Deb quoted Nitya’s familiar line that we are co-creators
with the Absolute of our existence. Even if there is no truth anywhere, a model
that encourages joyous participation seems a better choice than one that
directs us to become docile victims. Andy astutely added that external
causality also invites the victor mentality: victor and victim are two sides of
the false coin minted by abandoning our central role in life. This model has
produced the glaring gulf between the haves and the have-nots that plagues us
was so much more to the class, but that’s enough for now, except for the
additional material I’ve added to Part II because it didn’t fit the flow.
Portland may hit its all-time high temperature today or tomorrow, and my brain
is starting to melt. We concluded the evening by honoring the consolation
residing in the knowledge that the Self is not anything far off. We don’t have
to mount an expedition or tie our body in knots or anything complicated to
achieve it. We just have to turn our attention to our Self. It sometimes
requires sitting quietly apart from the madding crowd, the to-dos and all the
stimulation, but it’s always there, waiting for us to know it. We can’t lose
our soul, because we are our soul.
Likewise we are the Self. It can never be lost, yet we can go through a whole
life ignorant of its existence, even as it guides our footsteps. That is a loss
we don’t care to suffer. Aum.
is possible to have a right or wrong awareness of rope. That awareness which is
capable of recognising in the rope its own rope-character is right awareness.
While that awareness which is capable of mistaking the same rope for a snake
due to visual defects in contrary fashion is wrong awareness. Knowing things-as-they-are
is distinguished as right awareness and cognising them as they are not is wrong
awareness. These two forms of awareness are of a conditioned order.
valuable subtheme didn’t fit into the above narrative, so I’m adding it
separately. Echoing Patanjali, we accorded mental modulations the role of
actuality and the cessation of modulation as bringing us in harmony with the
real. Paul got a laugh by saying how our modulations are scary, even terrifying
at times. We can’t live without them, yet we know they are heavy baggage. Do we
have to always carry all of it? Modulations are useful in ensuring our
survival, but they also dictate our responses, binding us tightly. Paul did
admit that just knowing how we are labeling everything takes some of the
intensity out of our more extreme reactions of either anger or happiness.
has been confronting similar questions lately, and laughingly acknowledged that
modulations are definitely scary. He is really realizing how this philosophy is
meant to free us from fear, since even the ‘I’—the playground of fear—is an
object of knowledge. We have a sense of being the agent of our own experiences,
and yet aren’t we a reflection of something more profound? The coherency of
life is an utter marvel. The bottom line is that the Self is never the object
of perception. It can’t be pigeonholed or reduced in any way. The truth of this
as Andy has been experiencing it recently showed as a tangible reverence that
touched everyone in the room.
argued against Paul’s idea of casting off our baggage, maintaining that it is
an essential part of who we are. The trick was (in her favorite Gurukula
cliché) to maintain a transparency of vision. All that stuff is still there,
but you don’t hold on as tightly to it. You see it and do what you have to do,
but it doesn’t drive you to programmed responses. Or you don’t give in as much
to the urge to respond in your typical fashion. Instead we keep attuned to the
greater illumination within us. Andy agreed that our true reality never leaves;
it is always available to us.
exchange reminded Susan of the first verse of Atmopadesa Satakam:
the knowledge which brilliantly shines
once within and without the knower
the karu; to that, with the five
again and again with devotion and chant.
This time what stood out for her was withholding the five
senses in order to focus on the central verity. There is a more radical note
involved here than we usually admit. It’s much easier to just presume that we
are part of reality and whistle a happy tune. But when the chips are down, that
doesn’t always work so well. The gurus advocate practicing relinquishing the
senses, against the day when they turn against us. (As they already have.)
Susan reported that she has been practicing something similar in her guided
meditations: relaxing different parts of her body, letting go of sensations in
order to encounter the Self.
added that the Karu was another name for unmodulated consciousness, or perhaps
even unmodulated unconsciousness. The term serves especially well because it
hasn’t always been in our repertoire of names for the unnamable, unless we hail
my old research into truth from almost 10 years ago, which didn’t progress too
far, yet is interesting as far as it got. I especially like the circular
definitions early on. I believe this came from the last Gita class, in 2008.
What is truth? – in progress
To anyone mulling over truth in depth for a while, it
becomes clear that it cannot be a specific thing and has no fixed abode. But
while nothing definite in itself, it can act as a lodestone or lodestar, as an
inspiration for contemplation to flow ever onward, sweeping unquestioned
assumptions and misapprehensions out of the way as the contemplative proceeds.
The Bible says, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth
shall make you free”—but what is it? The search for meaning—the meaning of
meaning—is an integral part of the spiritual quest.
from the Random House dikker:
existing in act or fact; real.
be – to exist.
exist – to
have actual being; be.
fact – the
quality of existing or of being real; actuality; truth.
real – true;
reality – that
which is real.
true – in
accordance with and not contrary to fact. Having a basis in fact.
truth – true
or actual state of a matter. Conformity with fact or reality; verity.
verity – the
state or quality of being true.
All the above definitions are circular, in other words they
are defined in terms of each other. It boils down to truth = truth, or truth is
what is true.
though a study of our organism casts doubt on the veracity of what we perceive,
by common agreement perception is the basis of certitude. Clear-eyed seeing is
indeed an accomplishment, since we tend to see what we believe. Part of any
educational process aims to overcome our partisan beliefs to establish a
universal norm of truth or validity. We can then compare our perceptions with
the norm to arrive at a kind of truth. The issue becomes more difficult when we
realize that what is considered a universal norm is usually already biased in
favor of the established order.
Coherence Theory of Truth:
In most systems of thought – “the
criterion of truth is indeed the coherence of the statement under consideration
with at least some other members of the system.”
After asserting that everything is
thus a judgment – “Coherence of one judgment with another is accepted as a
practical test of truth only because the second judgment is independently
accepted as true.”
“What appears to be true might
turn out to be false when its further connections become known.”
“Any attempt to change the meaning
of ‘coherence’ from coherence with other statements to coherence with fact (or
reality of experience) is to abandon the theory.” (II, 131-133)
After studying western philosophy on the subject, it’s
pretty clear that most of the wrangling is about verifying the truth of
propositions compared to actual things. It seeks to determine and describe
isolated items that are known as facts. Modern science has basically put this
whole line of thought out of business by demonstrating the continuous movement
and inherent indeterminacy of everything, both physical and psychological (or metaphysical).
philosophy, on the other hand, equates truth with the Absolute, with the
reality that undergirds all those indeterminate things. This may sound like
begging the question, but in fact it’s getting exactly to the point. The
Nothingness that is the Source and Substance of everything is overlain with
layer after layer of matter, energy, thought, perception, imagination and so
on. All these proceed from and are influenced by the Source, are intrinsically
shaped by it, and so in a sense they are defined or verified by it. To truly
know things one needs to know where they come from, their origin. The game of
seeking truth consists of peeling away those layers, either deliberately and
stepwise beginning with the most crude, or all at once in a lightning flash of
insight. To spend an instant allied with truth is the consummation devoutly to
be wished by the seeker. Then, as the seeker inevitably interprets the
experience, layers are added back on top of the truth, but they are—potentially
at least—fresh and less convoluted by multiple layers of misunderstanding, and
thus more in line with relative or factual truth (whatever that may be!) as
When one says that there are absolute and relative truths,
one unconsciously creates in the mind two rival entities answering to the
requirement of what is called truth. These two rival truths are two limiting
instances of a more neutral and central notion which combines in its scope
these two possible variations. Thus, we have in the context of the two
antinomies referring to the absolute as plus or minus limiting notions, one
which can be pluralistic while the other will not admit of any pluralism. What
admits of pluralism can be placed subjectively, for purposes of linguistic
clarity, at the bottom of the vertical axis. What does not admit of pluralism
as a concept more positively understood finds its place as a limiting case on
the plus side of the vertical axis. The normative Absolute will have its
structural position at the very centre of the total knowledge-situation. This
means we have a relative of an absolutist context and an Absolute of an
absolutist context. They are positive and negative limiting cases of a
normative Absolute which implies normalising and renormalising with reference
to the two others. (ISOA Vol I p. 239)
We did discuss the elusiveness of truth while acknowledging
our inner certitude about it. The difficulty of pinning truth down has left
ample room for propagandists to try the experiment of seeing just how far truth
can be stretched before it breaks. As Focksnooze says “The truth is what we say
it is,” and a high Bush cabal figure admitted this summer “We make our own
reality.” Actually, we all do this to some extent, so it is very difficult to
refute. One would have to be able to define truth, which we’ve found to be
impossible. I guess all we can say in the final analysis is it’s too bad the
reality they want to make is so ugly and cruel, when they could just as easily
make one that’s loving and fun. Decisions like that are a form of “acid test”
likely to determine where each person is headed in the long run.
last. You manipulate truth at your own peril. Falsehood is both contagious and
difficult to extricate ourselves from.
about how dialectics related to truth, in other words whether truth is an
absolute value or a relative one to be contrasted with untruth. A most
interesting dilemma to ponder. Other than mentioning where Nitya is going in
this excerpt, that absolute truth doesn’t require our ratification to exist but
untruth does, we didn’t go too far into it. It’s something intriguing to ponder
when you’re stuck in traffic or waiting for the bus this winter. A wisdom
sacrifice: instead of imagining what you’re going to do when you get where
you’re going, meditate on the significance of truth. Then when you arrive you
can just take things as they come. That way no “time” will be “wasted”.
This offered a
nice contrast with truth, which can be contentious and intellectually
challenging to grasp. Although it’s also an ideal, no one has a problem with
beauty. The state of mind that sees beauty everywhere is one that is properly
attuned to the Absolute. The Absolute could as well be defined as the beauty
within everything as the truth within everything.
dialectic state of the poem that views our lives as manifestations of the
unmanifest divine—limbs for the Talking God to articulate through—is central to
the Bhagavad Gita as well. This is a lovely concept, but not without its
downside, as religious warriors clearly attest. It brings in the problem of how
we discriminate between God’s will and our own.
Integrated Science of the Absolute
has a lot to offer our study (not surprisingly). Appearance and reality are
exactly the same as actuality and reality, as Nitya muses on in this verse.
Nataraja Guru has this to say about them:
Absolute is not a thing, nor is it a mere idea. When the philosopher has
correctly located the paradox lurking between appearance and reality, the
paradox itself tends to be abolished into the Absolute. The Absolute is a
neutral notion in which all real things and all possible ideas about them can
be comprised without contradiction or conflict. Thus it is both a thing and an
idea at once. Truth, reality, fact or existence refer to aspects of this
central neutral notion, named for convenience the Absolute.
notions or entities, from the most gross or tangible to the most subtle, reside
at the core of the Absolute without rivalry. They are absorbed unitively into
its being and becoming. It is hard to give a definitely fixed status to this
notion. Existence, subsistence, and value factors are inclusively comprised in
it, and as for its own reality, the question itself should not arise once the
perfect neutrality of its status is admitted. All dualities are to be dropped
before the Absolute can be comprehended. In the context of the Absolute, even
the faintest duality has to fade away into something which can even be said to
be nothing. Whatever duality may still be suspected, it must be laid at the
door of the limitations of human understanding, in its attempt to attain an
ultimate notion of the Absolute. We have to admit this by the very validity of
the general ideas based on human understanding which can be presupposed by us.