Jnana Darsana verse 6
By the mere presence of which alone
everything is illuminated –
that is characterized as knowledge of
immediate perception, and also as inner
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
the very presence of which everything looms
consciousness by itself,
awareness is indicated as empirical awareness
also as non-transcendental awareness.
6 is deceptively simple, with an important corollary appended by Nitya, in case
we don’t arrive at that conclusion by ourselves. First the simple part: the one
light of awareness is characterized in two ways, as outward and inward
perception. Ordinarily these are not in balance, with people favoring one over
the other. A yogi, on the other hand, sees them as poles of a unitive
horizontal principle and treats them equally. No undue importance is accorded
to either side of the coin. Yogis don’t get a swelled head because they are
“being spiritual.” It’s all “just life.” But life is not minimized on this
account. It is afforded its full value as a divine dance of pure joy. As Deb
put it, both the inner and the outer are illuminated by the pure effulgence of
corollary is unobtrusively added to a description of saccidananda late in the commentary:
When the Vedantic concept of perception
properly understood, it will come as no surprise to find intuitive cognition
also cast as perception. For the Vedantin, existentiality is substantiated by
awareness. The context of awareness is permeated with its affective value or
meaning, which alone decides the difference of one perception from another. In
spite of the directness of this experience, the spiritual value of it is
It’s a bit of a shock to hear that our value or meaning
assessments have no spiritual quality in and of themselves, even though they
are directly experienced and critically important. This is aimed at the subtle
egoism we may develop when pursuing a spiritual path, or for that matter a
bluntly materialistic course: the unwarranted conviction that our way is the
right choice in a sea of wrong ones. The ego is always tempted to believe its
selections are better than the next person’s, and they are therefore inferior.
At times there may even be a pragmatic necessity to hold such a belief. But
don’t imagine it releases you from bondage. In fact, it’s the essence of what
repeatedly traps us. If your attitude is in favor of a binding way of relating
to the world, that is in fact the opposite of spirituality, a true negative for
a seeker of truth.
living should be a natural flow, yet we have learned how to convert it into a
mechanistic process that stifles our creative expression. In consequence, life
seems inexplicably dull. Where we should be exalting in the joy of our brief
blaze of living glory, we scheme and fret and lament what we don’t have.
and other belief systems enjoin people to a specific right way of behavior that
is actually living bondage. Replacing our innate unfoldment with a template, no
matter how well conceived, is the conversion symbolized as the fall of man in
stories like the Biblical Genesis. The intuitive awareness that because of this
we are not fully alive is felt as various grades of depression.
does not prescribe a “new, improved way of life” to solve our sadness. It
recommends turning to the fountain source of our being and including it in our
everyday experiences. The basics of existence are not to be somehow avoided. In
Nitya’s classic line from That Alone, verse 20: “The passing moments of our lives
are to be made lively and rich.” This is done not by following orders but by
opening ourselves to what is already present in us but lying dormant.
realized that this meant that what comes to us is somehow intimately involved
with our being and our unfoldment. Our natural development is aimed and abetted
by the things that happen to us. This should give us a more accepting attitude
toward the challenges we face.
does an amazing job of summing up our predicament in one paragraph, which I
will split in two. First:
The individuated consciousness suffers
an enigmatic severance from the
indivisible Self through wrong identification of itself as a separate person.
This presumed severance of consciousness from its original state of
indivisibility causes a further dichotomy of the same consciousness into
subject and object. Although both subject and object are experienced as
separate entities, neither one in reality can be separated from the one
consciousness. When this dichotomy is established, the whole cyclic movement of
becoming begins to operate.
This is not
something that healthy, living beings can avoid, and Advaita Vedanta does not
advocate fleeing from actuality to find refuge in some imaginary safe place so
we can begin to live correctly. That’s more what religion does. We are to live
right where we are: life is right
where we are. Nitya continues the paragraph with a glance at the wide world
initiated by dichotomy, and he urges us to relate to it with expertise:
This in turn generates endless bifurcations
consciousness into names and forms, ideas of cause and effect, notions of time
and space, and identifications with actors and actions. In this ontological
world of empirical substantiality we find categorizations such as substance,
quality, generality, specificity, time, space, action, relationship, inherence,
and nonexistence. When placed in this situation an individual should have
definite and precise knowledge of all the above categories to be able to
effectively transact the business of everyday life.
Guru combined mystical insight with a keen eye for practical matters. Early on,
he did spend a significant stretch of time in secluded meditation, yet he was
impelled by his subsequent realization to come out and help wherever he could.
The as yet untitled book being translated from the Malayalam of some stories
about him includes an humorous example of his pragmatic streak:
While the Guru was travelling
around North Paravur, he happened to stay at the house of Kunjihikkoru Vaidyan.
The old house was to be taken down and a new one built; there were stones and
sand and other material collected there for the purpose. According to the plan,
the shrine on the southern side was to be taken down. But some members of the
family did not agree with this. It was at such a time that the Guru happened to
go there. The Vaidyan informed Guru about these matters. Guru did not make any
response. While getting ready to leave next morning, Guru asked a disciple,
(who was with him), to collect the idol and sword and spear and other things
that were in the shrine. The disciple collected all the things and placed it in
the country-boat they were travelling in. Some time into the journey Guru asked
the idol to be dropped into the river. The sword and spear were given to a
blacksmith nearby, with the instruction that some kitchen knives should be made
and given to the Advaita Ashram. Thus the hindrance to building the new house
it’s not exactly the point of the verse, much of the class time was focused on
resolving duality into unity—a perennial predicament. This hoped-for resolution
is a great example of how accessing core reality is impossible using horizontal
measuring rods, keeping in mind that all our measuring rods are horizontal.
Even our intuitive perception is horizontal, at least the part we are aware of
is, though we like to think of it as vertical. The resolution is actually made
by taking time out from attending to transactional demands and settling into an
read out a description by Evan Thompson of part of the Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad, from his book Waking,
Dreaming, Being, an excellent study of consciousness blending the insights
of the ancient Indian rishis (including Buddhists) and modern neuroscientific
discoveries. The Upanishad draws the student inward in progressive stages to
the core light of consciousness, which registers its awareness without
prejudice. The stages are all “out there” but progressively come closer, until
arriving at the light of consciousness, known as the self. It is the one thing
that is never out there, and is always here with us. Which is why if we treat
the self as an object, as something “there” like everything else, we are not
really seeing it at all, but rather admiring a reflection of our ego.
and Nataraja Guru between them define the same Sanskrit term as both ‘inner
perception’ and ‘nontranscendental awareness’, which gets to the gist of this
verse. Mistaking our inward attention for enlightenment is the universal
derangement of human beings, our ‘greatest stumbling block’. Imagining we have
a direct line to God or any other version of the superego, we enact our
programs with substantial disregard for their impact on the world, as though we
were carrying out divine dictates rather than personal whims. Paradoxically
this goes along with the conviction that the world is a simple, fixed reality
created by others and already in place when we arrive. Instead of being
co-creators of the universe, we are more or less at the mercy of a pre-existing
juggernaut. While we are inevitably constrained to act in the light of our
perceptions, unitive understanding includes the awareness of our limitations
and the provisional value of our beliefs, which makes room for the enlargement
of our awareness. As Nitya puts it:
The apodictic certitude of the details
external objects stabilizes the conviction of the reality of a concrete world
as a self-founded entity; such knowledge comes as the greatest stumbling block
in the attempt to transcend the duality of subject and object. It is in
recognition of this fact that Nataraja Guru translates aparokshajnana as ‘nontranscendental awareness’.
However valid such
experiences are within the transactional frame of reference, they are only relativistic
the question is how to get over this “greatest stumbling block” of irrefutable
concreteness. Even scientists who know perfectly well from their calculations
of the insubstantiality of the material world insist on its reality. It is a
most solid stumbling block. If you ignore it, it will surely trip you.
led to an amusing digression into how animals are unaware of things beyond
their zone of awareness. We can easily see how they live in truncated worlds.
Do we share a similar condition? You can bet on it. But our ego insists on us
being (or appearing to be) whole. Wholly aware. No wonder we get into trouble,
imagining our small slice of reality is the whole enchilada.
favored an attitude of being “lost in the onion fields” (an image from Bushra)
as an antidote to egoism. Unfortunately, the ego can be as prideful over being
lost as being found. Still, it’s a good step to withdraw from any fixed notions
that are solidly lodged in our psyche. First get comfortable with being lost
and then neutralize both lost and found in your oceanic state of being. Or as
Jan put it, equalize attachment and nonattachment. We are certainly more open
to new input if we are lost than if we believe we are found.
added a unique example from her own experience: attachment to health can be its
own disease. Dealing with a serious illness can take over our entire psyche,
adding to our woes and even shutting off the remaining joy of being alive. I
thought of ultra rich Howard Hughes, who wound up living in a sterile hotel
room with security guards standing by to catch flies and show him their
squashed corpses, so terrified of catching a disease that he was already living
as if in a tomb. And of how psychedelics are being used by a few lucky test
subjects suffering from end of life anxiety, to restore their focus on the
preciousness of being alive.
laughingly recalled Andy’s phrase from an earlier class, “Our obsession with
sublimity.” Many seekers make a compulsive effort to delve into the sublime.
There’s nothing wrong with sublimity or sublimation—it’s the obsession that
nails us. We secretly imagine we are becoming “more spiritual.” All such value
assessments come from the ego wanting to validate itself. We need to pet the
ego and give it gentle reassurances, and then tell it to shut up, already! We
are not out to glorify it, only to use it wisely and with humility. Paul
recognized that the ego gives birth to duality; it’s where duality resides.
Again, we aren’t trying to do away with it, but to harmonize it and keep it the
rare, warm evening greeted us as we filed out to resume our interrupted flows
of experience. It is no longer light out at the end of class, as sure sign that
once again the Earth is carrying us on our annual free multi-billion mile trip
around the sun. Whoo-ee!
and the same right awareness about a certain thing can be gained in two
different ways which are by inference or valid testimony as also by the relation
of the object with its causes. The first way is non-immediate but is accomplished
by obstructing mediating factors. Such indirect knowledge is designated as
mediate. The second type of right awareness has two names which are perception
(pratyakła) and the
non-transcendental or immediate (aparokła).
Here there are no obstructing elements. It is by this kind of awareness that we
gain direct knowledge of things. Yet, even this is of a conditioned order.