Nitya Teachings

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Darsana Seven - Verse Seven

8/15/17

Jnana Darsana verse 7

 

That form of the modulation

of knowledge, by which the appraisal of

the possibility produced by concomitant

inherence is deduced, is inference.

 

Nataraja Guru’s translation:

 

That function of awareness by which

The means to an end is appraised

And which arises out of associative innate disposition

That is inferential awareness.

 

         Nitya loved to keep up with current scientific thinking, and this verse commentary gave him the opportunity to share a fistful of his findings, especially about memory. An amusing feature of his essay is Earl C. Joseph’s idea of “paperless books,” written before the advent of personal computing, which anticipates with astonishing accuracy the mechanical word processing we now take for granted. With a couple of exceptions we skipped poring over the numerous excerpts from books and journals, and addressed ourselves to the primary subject, inference.

         Since there was some confusion about the terminology (not least that mystifying invention ‘concomitant inherence’), let’s take a look at it. The verse’s main topic is inference, which refers to how we derive logical conclusions from known premises or ones assumed to be true, as well as the act of reasoning on that basis. It comprises a large part of our ordinary thought processes. For the yogi, the critical issue is whether a thing is actually known or only being assumed; and as we have learned, what we purport to know, on examination often turns out to be merely a rough estimate. This is a very fertile area for contemplative exploration.

         Both induction and deduction were brought in, and in the final analysis there is precious little difference between them. Induction is the process of deriving general principles from particular facts or instances, while deduction is drawing conclusions based on reasoning. Sounds like they are interchangeable to me.

         While logical thinking and its inferences are proudly put on display as evidence of rational humanity at its most admirable, in many cases it leaves a lot to be desired. Nataraja Guru puts it in perspective as less than special in the Preliminaries of An Integrated Science of the Absolute, at the beginning of the chapter “Steps from Logic to Dialectic”:

 

Simple inferential logic, of which even a cow is capable when it welcomes a man carrying a bundle of grass or avoids one with a raised stick, belongs to the instinctive level where living beings adapt themselves to what is favourable in their environment and abstain from what is unfavourable.

  Rising from simple inference at this primitive level of logic, we are able to recognize many ascending steps giving each its own variety of logic until we reach the highest kind belonging properly to wisdom. This highest kind of logic Plato calls dialectic, “the coping stone of wisdom.”

 

Obviously humans often perform more complex reasoning than cows, from what we can tell. But we’re talking here of a straightforward alignment between the world and what we make of it.

         At this stage, as Deb pointed out, Narayana Guru is surveying the most important forms of thinking, clearly noting them as forms of modulation and thus horizontally oriented. Only at the tenth verse do we arrive at dialectic reasoning, where “the union of the Absolute and the Self” is said to constitute absolute knowledge. This is similar to an unmodulated state, though it is dynamic rather than static thanks to the intentional attainment of union. Needless to say, this form of knowledge is little appreciated in our day, where the brain is conceived more as a computer with a simple on or off state, and thus capable of rudimentary inferences (thank goodness!). Moreover, it seems that merely differentiating facts from assumptions has modern society stupefied. Spiritual seekers are expected to work out such elementary matters with minimal instruction, and be capable of higher reasoning.

         We chewed on what concomitant inherence has to do with all this. ‘Concomitant’ is a familiar enough term that means things that are closely associated, occurring along with each other at the same time. ‘Inherence’ has, in addition to indicating what is inherent in anything, a specialized meaning in logic: the relation of an attribute to its subject. Does a moustache mean you are a criminal, or simply too lazy to shave? Is there any other possibility? We cannot do better than apply Nataraja Guru’s translation to the original term that Nitya derived his translation from (sahacarya samskara janyaya): “associative innate disposition.” In other words, we want to know the valid connection that relates one thing or event with another, or even one thing with its actual attributes.
         We should note the word samskara smack in the middle of that unusual Sanskrit term, which explains Nitya’s extended disquisition on memory. Associations are grounded in memory, and he was wondering if there was any physical correlate to memory that might establish a factual basis for its connection with perception. While there has been some progress in the field since the book was written in the 1970s, it’s safe to say the relationship between matter and memory remains highly speculative. Nitya does give us one hint at the direction he is taking us:

 

The relationship between dreams and incipient memories is one of intimate functional dynamism. Just as the synonyms and antonyms of words are classified and grouped together in a thesaurus, so, in somewhat the same manner, associated ideas are grouped together in our mind.

 

This grouping process is not always reliable, so many of the connections we draw are false. Scientists purport to reason carefully and without prejudice, but it is a rare seeker of truth who realizes how easy it is for us to be fooled. The mistaken equivalencies that confound our social coherence supplied the class with fertile terrain for seeing the relevance of this verse in our everyday life.

         For instance, in receiving medical care, doctors diagnose patients on the basis of the most likely correlation between their symptoms and known causes. Never mind that the causes keep getting shifted by new knowledge and perspectives, sometimes—possibly even more often than not—this correlation produces an accurate diagnosis and treatment will be appropriate. Often, however, the patient may not perfectly describe their symptoms, or they may have another disease with quite similar symptoms. Many of us in the class have felt the frustration of being misdiagnosed and having the doctor (subtly or overtly) refuse to consider viable alternatives, as though it was our intentional fault that we didn’t match the accepted wisdom of the day.

         A doctor has to infer the cause of a problem based on whatever evidence is given. Obviously, right evidence is more likely to bring a happy result. Possibly because of the rigidity of the medical training system, many doctors are not able to think very far outside the box. My dear friend the pediatrician loves to tell me stories of the times when he has taken on a hopeless case from a puzzled colleague, really listened hard to what was going on, and came up with the right, lifesaving diagnosis. He is outstanding at his job, and really stands out for his willingness to get beneath the surface.

         I gave a simplified example, based on Nataraja Guru’s cow analogy. When the stick is raised, the cow shies away. It is right to do so if the herder is going to strike, but wrong if she is simply pointing out a bird in a tree to a friend. Of course, the cow may as well play it safe, but there are plenty of times we react incorrectly to our associations, and serious difficulties ensue. It’s worthwhile contemplating some of them in advance.

         A friend just told me how he just realized he wasn’t listening to his children as well as he thought he was. He expected he knew what they were telling him, and so unwittingly paid them little heed, especially when his mind was already elsewhere. Recently, due to some immanent changes in their relationship, he started paying closer attention to what his children were saying to him, and learned much more than he expected. I suggested that children easily recognize if they are being given scant consideration, and learn to hold their thoughts and feelings back. He has resolved to listen more diligently to his children, and reduce his expectations of knowing in advance. Interestingly, good listening—a rare enough skill—is a key component in attuning with the world we live in, and it enables better inferences about it. We have to tune out our prejudices and assumptions before we can fairly hear what the other is trying to tell us. It’s actually a very exciting and rewarding endeavor.

         My friend’s knowing posture is not unlike the doctor who is instantly sure what your problem is before even hearing much about it. In the book How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groupman, he discovered that primary care physicians in the US listen to their female patients for an average of 15 seconds before weighing in with an opinion—often a prescription for antidepressants—and around 30 seconds for males. Doctors, at least as here, coping with a for-profit medical establishment, learn to have a “disregard for uncertainty” that leads them to leap rapidly to conclusions. Fortunately, when we non-doctors do it, it is rarely as consequential. Still, it might easily turn out to be.

         Racial prejudice is the all-time classic example. No matter how wonderful or terrible a person might be, their skin color gets top billing, and is often the sole basis for decision making. Such an un-yogic attitude has led to one or two problems over the years….

         Deb summed it up by saying we live within a chain of associations and we make our inferences from within it. A chain, of course, has two major implications, one positive and one negative: it links everything together and it also binds with tremendous tenacity. So within the realm of modulations of conscious—the horizontal, transactional world—inference is exceedingly important. Nitya generalizes its significance and underscores its importance in making us who we are:

 

The Guru envisions the cosmic volition of paramesvara as the primeval cause of the phenomenal world. According to him the creative and motivational imagination (sankalpa) triggered by the incipient memories (vasana) of the individual (jiva) is the causal factor of the making and undoing of the personality structure. The Guru relates our inferential awareness to our associative inner disposition. This inner disposition is to be understood in depth.

 

The “understood in depth” part is critical. Very often we are at the mercy of our assumptions unless we are keenly aware of them. We may be even more guarded about being aware of them because of our fear of being wrong, which extends to being afraid our misunderstandings will be found out and we will be humiliated or otherwise suffer. Better just to ignore the whole mess and hope for the best. Maybe God will help us sort it out.

         Narayana Guru’s intentions are scattered throughout the commentary, so I have picked out a couple for ready reference:

 

The Guru touches the fundamentals of memory consolidation, and the consequent awareness of modified consciousness, as the causal factor that decides the appropriateness of the inference that is being drawn.

 

And:

 

In the present verse Narayana Guru speaks of inference drawn from the consolidated memory of things associated in the mind, in terms of generalities that govern the relationship between causes and effects.

 

This leads us to a simplified explanation of the verse: the accuracy of our interpretations of events, which are very often reached through inferential reasoning, determines a cascade of after-effects. Obviously, the more accurate our understanding, the more palatable the consequences. I’m sure we have all known people (we might even be people) who have gone ballistic over a misapprehension and wreaked all sorts of havoc before we realized we were ripping apart a straw man—a projection of our own ignorance.

         I have just digitized an interview with Nitya from 1970, and will be sharing it shortly with everyone as well as posting it on his website. He happens to talk briefly about after-effects in it, among many other things: “You cannot work out the course of life on wrong mathematics for long. Like scrap metal, the derailed pursuits that tumble downhill as evil will be thrown back in the melting pot. God is not in any terrible haste to correct. He revels in abundance.”

         So yes, we are free to make what we will of our limited understanding. We can still insist that we already know everything we need to know, and act accordingly. Or we might admit to a limited knowledge, and allow ourselves to remain open to new possibilities. Many people are wary of joy and kindness, and prefer to paint a gloomy picture of the meaning of life. They should at least know that darkness usually leads to greater darkness and light often leads to greater light. Either way, it takes dedicated work to get to the essence.

         The work involved is quite a bit like weeding a garden: it is done so the wanted plants are free to flourish. It’s not like putting plants together from scratch, or building them from a kit. Another section of Nitya’s interview addresses this very nicely:

 

How do you practice your spiritual beliefs?

Nitya: Here again, we should qualify the question because of certain implications.

  The word “practice” has a connotation which does not suit my attitude. When you say “practice,” it is different from living. You practice something to gain a certain proficiency—then you utilize that proficiency. A plant just grows and brings forth the flowers, and every moment of its life is an unfoldment. Likewise, I consider life has to be a natural, spontaneous unfoldment all the time. So I do not practice anything, I just live.

 

It’s heartening to think that while we have our weeds to pull and plenty of other tasks to perform, through it all a natural unfolding of our innate being is taking place. We are like flowers gracing our moment in the sun with color and beauty. We learn more of who we are as it appears before us, already well developed and brimming with promise.

         After an admittedly gruelling discussion that includes all manner of abstract reasoning, Nitya brings us home to the point of it all: revealing and vivifying the absolute trinity of existence, awareness and endearment, popularly known as saccidananda, pulsating within the heart of every life:

 

The trouble with this kind of abstraction is that it takes us away from the whole meaning of our pursuit. Life is not lived in terms of mathematically reduced atomic propositions. Our interest in the mark (laksana) and concomitance (vyapti) is that we are on the lookout to see how our life in the transactional world, where we have to be concerned with specific characteristics, catches hold of us and makes us identify with particular individuals, things and events, and also how our consciousness is vivified into multitudinous morbid formations. This makes our return to universal concomitance of the one existence which is the ground of all existence, to the one knowledge that makes all awareness an illumination of the Self, and to the one norm or criterion which makes all individual cases instances of the endearment (priyam) of the Self, difficult if not impossible.

 

Part II

 

         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:

 

         That awareness establishing certitude through the use of specific marks of recognition (linga) is inferential awareness. When we see smoke in the kitchen, we conclude that there is fire there. By constant association we understand that wherever there is smoke there is also fire. Thus, we understand that in all places where there is smoke there is fire. This is associative and refers to innate dispositions of memory factors, because of the necessary and eternal connection between the smoke and fire as seen in the kitchen. This kind of associative awareness pertaining to memory dispositions takes the form of functional activity. Because of this functional activity established by associative memory factors we are able to be aware of the fact that there is also fire when we see smoke rising out of a distant mountain side. The awareness arising in this manner is called inference. Here the effect is the smoke, and the cause is fire. The fire having the status of being the means is inferred by the effect which is the smoke, and is compatible with it. Such an awareness is none other than inferential awareness.

 

*         *         *

 

         Because of our lengthy discussion of memory—Andy was excited to think of our memory roots encoded in our DNA as being as old as life on our planet, more than three billion years—we touched on its central role in our existence as individuals, and I promised to include a previously shared favorite:

 

Self and Memory

Peggy Grace Chun

 

As my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease slowly melded her brain and melted her ability to orient via identity,
I suffered after each visit, sitting in my car weeping.
She suffered deeply also, grasping at flickers of fond memories, panicking when she’d look in a mirror,

drawing maps of relationships, losing them.
We grasped and flailed together,
until one day I came for a visit and she said,
“I have no idea who you are but you’re just lovely.” And I said, “Shall we walk in the garden?”

From that day forth, our suffering ceased, no longer orienting via identity
but rather connecting via our deeper selves in the present moment.

of course, she could no longer safely or freely interface in the broader world,
so I’m not recommending Alzheimer’s disease as a path to “Be Here Now.”

But that remarkable shift we shared
remains my sacred foundational axis...
in life, in love, in art, in the grocery check out line... in standing side by side
quietly peering at the garden’s beauty
where only that delicate purple iris exists.

 

(Gurukulam Magazine, Fall 2013)

 

*         *         *

 

         More from ISOA to clarify the crucial point of this entire darsana that conceptions, even highly refined ones, are horizontal:

 

         In the last two verses of this chapter [5] we find the duality between the Self and the non-Self still persisting. Ontologically speaking the Self is the Absolute and cannot have any rival in whatever constitutes the non-Self aspect. Within the scope of the non-Self we have to include everything already enumerated as present in consciousness, from gross objects to objects having a supposed or superimposed status in pure Self-consciousness. The whole of the conceptual side is included. Whatever enters consciousness from the objective side does not belong to the true Self and is therefore called adhyastam (supposed). It is by negating this positive and conceptual non-Self entity that the Self attains to its full absolute reality.

         The subtle relationship persisting at the core of ontological subjectivity cannot be abolished. Whatever objective and conceptual factors might be present in consciousness cannot become a distinct factor within Self-consciousness. The process of reduction began with the second chapter, where a series of verticalized and negative equations giving primacy always to the cause comes to its end here as a Self that is self-sufficient, existing by-itself and for-itself. Absolutism cannot tolerate any rival even for relational purposes. It has to remain the same whatever else it might happen to be related to. Everything outside it has to be non- absolute and therefore false. Such is the broad position implied in the last two verses. (576)

 

Scott Teitsworth

rsteitsworth(at)yahoo.com