Bhakti Darsana verse 1
Meditation on the Self is bhakti.
That by which the Self is
blissful, with that,
the knower of the Self always
upon the Self by the Self.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
Meditation on the Self is contemplation
Because the Self consists of Bliss.
of the Self, meditates by the
Upon the Self for ever.
this first day of Diwali, the Indian festival of light or lights, it is only
fitting to think about bhakti, conjunction with or merger into light. The artificial
lights of the festival symbolize the pure light of creation or wisdom that is
synonymous with the Absolute, and the joy felt by viewing various light
displays can be used to remind us of our core value of ananda.
talked about how when she first heard Narayana Guru’s claim that the universal
goal was happiness, she thought it was a superficial concept: how trivial to
only want to be happy! As she learned more, however, she realized her concept
of happiness was too small. The deeper and larger happiness spoken of by the
gurus is essentially the same as our true nature. In a way, then, meditation on
the Self is a meditation on happiness. Deb invited the class to explore what it
means in each of our lives, as we all have unique ways in which our interest
becomes absorbed in what we love.
is the verse where Nitya clarifies the distinction between meditation and
Sequentially, meditation comes as
a prelude to contemplation. The way to know something, as Henry Bergson puts
it, is not by going around it, but by first entering into it and then being it.
Meditation is an active process of applying one’s mind to make a total
‘imploration’ of the depth of whatever is to be known. The state of actually
being it is what is achieved by contemplation. It is a passive but steady
state. In modern days this distinction is seldom thought of, and dhyana is often translated as
meditation. For the purpose of the present study, we translate anusandhanam as meditation and bhakti
was especially drawn to the second half of the verse: “the knower of the Self
always meditates upon the Self by the Self.” In this there is no room for the
small ‘s’ self, he mused. Horizontally we are made up of parts; we are built up
of elements. To make a breakthrough we are looking for that which is not a
product of perceptible items. He wondered if consciousness wasn’t what the Self
was all about, and we assured him they were essentially the same idea. The Self
is conscious awareness, and conscious awareness is the Self. The trick is we
have learned to think of a smaller self, limited to wakeful awareness, as the
whole, so we have de facto ruled out the Self, the totality of consciousness.
added that although science proclaims that the Self must somehow be a material
item, no recipe has been devised to produce it. Consciousness remains an
inexplicable miracle. Calling it an epiphenomenon of matter doesn’t prove
anything except our ignorance. We do have ample evidence that brain damage
affects voluntary conscious functioning, but it still may be impossible to
determine its relation to the Self. Is the effect simply an interruption of the
link between the wakeful and the All, or is it an impacting of the Source
itself? For those who are actively tuning in to the vertical essence of who
they are, the horizontal, perceivable aspect steadily seems to become more
peripheral to what we are. To express this verticalized state, Nitya coins a
new term here, ‘be-ness’ in place of the more volatile ‘beingness’:
One knows the Self only when the
‘be-ness’ of the Self, sat, is
identical with happiness through and through, and there prevails the knowledge
of that happiness with nothing else to limit or shade it to any degree.
(‘Be-ness’ is used here in the same sense of at-one-ment with the Absolute.) It
is for this reason that the Guru says the knower of the Self is always in a
state of meditating on the Self by the Self. Because of the ever-prevailing
happiness, the mind is fully absorbed in that nature of the Self.
there is more going on that what we perceive through the senses is evidenced by
the depth of feeling generated by attunement with the undefined aspects of our
being, normally accessed during contemplation. Nitya points to the profundity
of such feelings:
This chapter could easily have
been called the Vision by Love. In Narada’s Bhakti Sutra, bhakti is even
defined as absolute love, which can also mean love for the Absolute. Love is a
much used and abused term that should be examined carefully in the present
context in order to know how and in what sense bhakti is love.
Or as Nataraja Guru once put it, “Love is a vague word used
by unscientific people about a feeling they don't understand.” He also said, “All
of life is a love affair.”
resonated with the idea of bhakti as love immediately. She noted how when we
are in love, everything is fine. It’s a completely comfortable place to be, and
she agreed that meditation and contemplation ideally take us to a place of
presents some of the parameters of a careful examination of love such as he
In the context of love it is only
normal to think of the reciprocation of giving and receiving love between the
lover and the beloved. The terms lover and beloved are also mutually
exchangeable. What characterizes a loving couple is their ever-abiding need for
togetherness and the undiminishing appreciation of each other as the most
lovable and truly loved reality of their beingness of a here and be state. This
overwhelming recognition of ‘be-ness’ transcends the fragmentation of time, and
thus the experience is so total and realistic that it does not allow the
intrusion of any desire for anything else. As a result of such a spiritual
compulsion to be ever persisting in the union with what is most adored, the
absorption of consciousness implied in that state requires no deliberation to
maintain the union. Only where there is such an irrevocable persistence of
absorbing interest does the word
anusandhanam become meaningful.
I thought that the image of lover and beloved was
potentially misleading, as not too many personal relationships remain at a peak
of mutual absorption for extended periods. It sounds like true love should be
eternally satisfying, but in actuality our love partners and Platonic
friendships, while ideally deeper, are rather like other horizontal expressions
of beauty: art forms, literature, scenery, philosophy, science, and so on. In
all of them we are absorbed for a period and then we need a rest from the
intensity. I thought having an icon or a deity to worship was a much easier and
more accessible form of bhakti, and might have made a better example in hinting
at an eternal prospect.
bailed me out by noting how in a loving relationship the love between the
partners lifts them out of the sense of ‘I’ and ‘you’ into a central truth that
is the neutral intermediate ground of Love. When love is truly authentic, the
duality of it disappears into the “absorbing interest” of the state enjoyed.
Then there is no more horizontal or vertical: each is immersed in the other.
Jan echoed the necessity of being so absorbed as to forget yourself, if only
briefly. Nancy concurred that the peaceful neutrality of true love is really
beautiful, and we attain that in our
relationships, and not so easily apart from them. Dynamic interaction is
essential to a meaningful experience. She shaded Paul’s idea, saying that
optimal experiences take place within the horizontal but include the vertical.
added that the vertical is what you really love when you love, and what
transforms the horizontal into something lovable. Still, we give credit to the
horizontal, to what we see. She mentioned the absolute tear from the last
class, and Moni added an absolute rose as an adorable attraction. Once again,
the absoluteness of these are dependent on the state of mind of the observer.
We might be enchanted by a rose or a smile or a tear, and a differently
interested person might have no reaction or a negative one. Appearances aside,
the source of ananda is within the knower or the experiencer and not in the
we repeatedly fail is in mistaking the non-Self for the Self. This means we are
busy seeking new roses to admire, instead of going within to regain contact
with our true nature, which is love, in the imperience called bhakti. It’s not
an experience, it’s an imperience. This is the ultimate challenge for the
seeker, so simple as to be nearly impossible. Our true nature is ananda, and
yet we look for it where it is not, in the vagaries of our world. If we
regained it inside, it would accompany us every minute of our lives, but we
content ourselves with the occasional stimulation of transient experiences.
Paul was incredulous: “You mean 24/7??” Well, yes.
agreed wholeheartedly. She said the vertical is always there, so we don’t have
to take steps to get to it. It isn’t a skill to be mastered. All we have to do
is increase our awareness to include it.
of the definitions of the vertical is it is the essential, the essence. When
the broad expanse of the horizontal world is reduced to its absolute essence,
we arrive at a thin vertical line, the thread that runs through our entire life
from beginning to end, whether or not there is an actual beginning or end.
who had secure childhoods resided in our innate bliss at least from conception
and gestation through birth and early outer life, which subjectively felt like
millions of years. Forever. Because of this, we know our bliss intimately. Only
as older children were we taught that our native state was not enough. We are
meant to forgo it and presume we are inadequate. We are set forth as
individuals on a search of the horizontal dimensions, where it is not. Hey,
exploring the horizontal is amazing and even necessary. What isn’t necessary is
abandoning our innate nature. Why not take it along? I suppose that’s what
makes life the grand drama it is. Forgetting gives us the incentive to seek and
find what we already are. In doing so we can’t help but become more conscious of
it. It isn’t just taken for granted, as it was for that eternity in utero. By
losing it and finding it again we learn how precious, how essential, it really
back to our Self is rejuvenating. The root of that word means youth.
Rejuvenation is making young again, or more broadly “to
restore to a
former state; make fresh or
saw how our authenticity is intimately connected with our true nature, that
“thing” we are setting our sights on. She reprised the sentence on absorption:
“Only where there is such an irrevocable persistence of absorbing interest does
the word anusandhanam (meditation)
become meaningful.” Meditation springs from an easy and natural state to
resonate with a “spiritual compulsion to be ever persisting in the union with
what is most adored.” In other words, our love for what we are attracted to
reignites our memory of who we are. Jan wasn’t sure that such a state would be
long lasting, but we have the assurances of the gurus that it is. Since it is
who we truly are, it will last as long as we do. If it comes and goes, we are
dealing with the non-Self, not the Self. In fact that’s how we know the
himself was a fine example: he was always at his best, at the top of his game,
even when his body was wracked with pain. He was ever ready to help, he knew
what each of his disciples needed, and how to compassionately bring it out in
them. He had endless energy to give and write and speak about truth and how it
related to all of us. He was a bright light surrounded by dim bulbs, always
generous to try to ramp up our brightness in any way that would work. Once
again, we weren’t being asked to build a tower of Babel to reach the sky, but
to remember who we were:
An individual mind finds rest
only when it returns to its original state. It is conjunction with the non-Self
that creates restlessness or disturbance in the self. In individual cases of
suffering one can always notice an incidence of the self identifying itself
with what it is not, such as when one says, “I am sick.” This is a clear case
of mistaking a miserable condition of the body for the nature of the Self.
Nitya exemplified this by being amazingly detached about his
various illnesses and chronic injuries, which were far from trivial. As Moni recalled,
residing in his core was something he gradually learned, as he was not always
perfectly steady. Plus, he had a guru who would bash him around mercilessly if
he ever became static. Jan is right that we begin with occasional connections
that enchant us, and then we can build on them. The promise of a realized
person is that our efforts can indeed become a permanent flame giving off
spiritual heat and light most or all of the time.
example from last week also perfectly speaks to the present verse. She woke up
one morning feeling happy for no reason. Or any reasons buried in her
unconscious were invisible to her. Her happiness had no cause: it was simply
who she was, and by being happy she was only being her true self. Her habits
probably took her away from that place as she went about her day, and she may
have wondered what she could do to bring it back. But it’s a matter of removing
the accumulated impediments to being herself, not of attaining something that
she isn’t already.
thought of Narayana Guru’s famous and radical gesture of mounting a mirror in a
temple. The norm was to go in and worship a deity, who would be represented by
a sculpture at the center of the temple. His radical upgrade was to set a
mirror in place of the deity. The clear message was: You are the divine. Look
into yourself to find what you seek. When we visited Somanahalli Gurukula in
1979 we were in the place where Nataraja Guru had set a mirror out in a field,
so the whole world was reflected in it, with the viewer in the center. It was a
lovely iteration, but the monkeys kept breaking it, so eventually it was moved
into a small shed, which lacked the cosmic feel of the field.
connection with the mirror idea, Nitya quotes a parallel verse from the
But for him who happens to be
attached to the Self alone,
Who finds full satisfaction in
the Self –
for such a man who is happy in
the Self as such, too,
there is nothing that he should
do. (III: 17)
Here’s part of my commentary on this Gita verse, emphasizing
the liberating aspect:
Once anyone attains a bipolar
relationship with the Absolute—the capital S self—there is true freedom. The
chains of obligation are broken and need not be reforged. For such a seer
“there is nothing he should do.”
Anything may be done, but there is no requirement, because the spirit of the
Absolute unfolds at all times with perfection. There is no need for any ritual
or the propitiation of any god, as they are extraneous to the direct absorption
in truth. They do serve as symbolic touchstones for some people, and as such
will be tolerated and even encouraged, but in themselves they are not
We might add three famous verses from the Gita’s sixth
chapter, dealing with meditation:
5) By the Self the Self must be
upheld; the Self should not be let down; the Self indeed is its own dear
relative; the Self indeed is the enemy of the Self.
6) The Self is dear to one (possessed) of Self,
even the Self by the Self has been won; for one not (possessed) of Self, the Self
would be in conflict with the very Self, as if an enemy.
7) To one of conquered Self, who rests in peace,
Supreme is in a state of neutral balance in heat-cold, happiness-suffering,
This is so important! By thinking of happiness or
realization as residing outside ourselves, we subtly turn our self into the
enemy: something to be overcome so we can obtain what we imagine to be the
ideal. It is so easy, yet paradoxically so impossible, to turn to our inner
being for our supreme consolation! We must uphold the Self by the Self, instead
of undermining it. Nitya puts our dilemma in terms that are the key to
understanding the meaning of Darsanamala:
All beings are always driven by
their own nature to seek a union that can give at-one-ment with supreme
happiness. Unfortunately, on the periphery of life the unreal is very often
mistaken for the real; hence every identification with an imaginary source of
bliss is automatically repulsed by the inevitable disillusionment that follows
on the heels of identification.
I’ll include a very poignant example of this in Part II,
from Lincoln in the Bardo, by George
Saunders, which just won an important literary prize.
Guru is quoting Shankara when he begins the verse with “Meditation on the Self
is bhakti,” adding in the next verse, “Constant meditation on brahma [the
Absolute] is known as bhakti because it is blissful.” Nitya suggests this is
the means to comprehend the entire chapter:
Sankara defines bhakti in the Vivekachudamani (The Crest
Jewel of Wisdom
Discrimination) as sva svarupa
anusandhanam bhaktih, which means ‘contemplation is the continuous
meditation on one’s own true nature’. The word anusandhanam holds in it the entire key to Bhakti Darsana.
I pointed out that we often fall short because we meditate
only on the good half, the approved half, of the Absolute. Because we
disapprove of bad behavior, we shy away from including it in our meditations.
Moni agreed that, as bhakti is Absolute love, there is no good or bad in it. Deb
added that the Bhakti Darsana opens us to identifying with a greater existence,
and as we do that our ignorance disappears, or anyway shrinks.
wondered how it would help him cope with the challenge of a family member who
was being a major pain at the moment. This is a crucial aspect and we’ll be
looking into it as we go along. For now I offered that the meditation would be
to try to grasp what the daughter’s motivations might be, while striving to
subtract the hurt feelings a father is bound to have. They aren’t helpful in
choosing a course of action. A neutral meditator will try hard to see why a
person is doing what they do, and why they are acting as they do toward him. In
doing that, our inner intelligence will often make useful suggestions. What
interferes are our own wishes, and on top of those our hurt feelings. The ideal
parent acts from as neutral a place as possible, acknowledging the problems
without reacting to them, and sitting as poised as possible in a quiet place.
It isn’t a recipe for inaction, but an invitation for additional wisdom to play
its part. Anyway it’s worth a try.
talked about how in an earlier period of intense social upheaval, when she was
drenched in news of so many horrors and tragedies, she nearly succumbed to despair.
Those like her who longed to change the world for the better were spinning our
wheels and getting nowhere it seemed. The question burning in every heart was
how to fight the evils taking place. At some point she realized that keeping
joy alive was the most revolutionary thing she could actually do. It was
revolutionary precisely because so much was pitted against it. Her advice then
and now was to allow yourself to live your joy. It’s what everyone wants, and
what is very seldom attained.
chimed in that we are bombarded by so much information about the horrors
happening everywhere, we have to be sure not to let it steal our joy. In that
spirit let us close with a most poetic flight of Guru Nitya:
The fact that the search for
happiness is never given up even for a split second shows how dear the value of
happiness is. Such being the universal urge to be happy, it is not surprising
that a seer of the Self sees the Self as bliss through and through, and that
such a knower is held in total union with what he has envisioned by his
magnificent obsession for the hidden splendor of his own blissful beingness.
meditation on the Self. The Bhagavad Gita
(III. 17) underlines the truth that a man who is always interested in the
Self and satisfied in it has nothing else to do. Shankara in the Vivekachudmani (verse 32) also says that
bhakti is the meditation on the true
form of one’s Self. The reason why such great importance is given to
contemplation on the Self is stated in this verse by the fact that the very
nature of the Self consists of Bliss. It goes without saying that it is the
high value of Bliss which deserves to be meditated upon. All living beings are
naturally disposed to such meditation. Therefore, the quality of representing
this high value is what makes the Self fit to be meditated upon. In the world
all people who have attained to Self-realization are in truth those who
contemplate the Self.
everyone left last night I curled up on the sofa to read more of War and Peace, and the chapter
immediately seemed to be a continuation of the class. Here’s what I read from
the end of Book Two, Part 3, chapter 19:
dinner Natasha, at Prince Andrew’s request, went to the clavichord and began
singing. Prince Andrew stood by a window talking to the ladies and listened to
her. In the midst of a phrase he ceased speaking and suddenly felt tears
choking him, a thing he had thought impossible for him. He looked at Natasha as
she sang, and something new and joyful stirred in his soul. He felt happy and
at the same time sad. He had absolutely nothing to weep about yet he was ready
to weep. What about? His former love? The little princess? His
disillusionments?... His hopes for the future?... Yes and no. The chief reason
was a sudden, vivid sense of the terrible contrast between something infinitely
great and illimitable within him and that limited and material something that
he, and even she, was. This contrast weighed on and yet cheered him while she
soon as Natasha had finished she went up to him and asked how he liked her
voice. She asked this and then became confused, feeling that she ought not to
have asked it. He smiled, looking at her, and said he liked her singing as he
liked everything she did.
Andrew left the Rostovs’ late in the evening. He went to bed from habit, but
soon realized that he could not sleep. Having lit his candle he sat up in bed,
then got up, then lay down again not at all troubled by his sleeplessness: his
soul was as fresh and joyful as if he had stepped out of a stuffy room into God’s
own fresh air. It did not enter his head that he was in love with Natasha; he
was not thinking about her, but only picturing her to himself, and in
consequence all life appeared in a new light. “Why do I strive, why do I toil
in this narrow, confined frame, when life, all life with all its joys, is open
to me?” said he to himself. And for the first time for a very long while he
began making happy plans for the future. He decided that he must attend to his
son’s education by finding a tutor and putting the boy in his charge, then he
ought to retire from the service and go abroad, and see England, Switzerland
and Italy. “I must use my freedom while I feel so much strength and youth in
me,” he said to himself. “Pierre was right when he said one must believe in the
possibility of happiness in order to be happy, and now I do believe in it. Let
the dead bury their dead, but while one has life one must live and be happy!”
today I was in the chiropractor’s waiting room and read this excerpt from the
very moving Lincoln in the Bardo, by
George Saunders. The book just received the Man Booker Prize, and his
acceptance speech includes a wonderful bit (similar to what we heard in
Portland last week) about how to live honorably in strange times such as ours:
If you haven’t noticed, we live
in a strange time, so the question at the heart of the matter is pretty simple,
Do we respond to fear with exclusion and negative
projection and violence? Or do we take that ancient great leap of faith and do
our best to respond with love? And with faith in the idea that what seems other
is actually not other at all, but just us on a different day. In the US we’re
hearing a lot about the need to protect culture. Well this tonight is culture,
it is international culture, it is compassionate culture, it is activist
culture. It is a room full of believers in the word, in beauty and ambiguity
and in trying to see the other person’s point of view, even when that is hard.
This from the book struck me as cautioning against
dependence on maya for our peace of mind, even as we cherish every passing
moment and love with all our hearts. President Lincoln is in the crypt mourning
his dead son:
was in error when I saw him as fixed and stable and thought I would have him
forever. He was never fixed, nor stable, but always just a passing, temporary
energy-burst. I had reason to know this. Had he not looked this way at birth,
that way at four, another way at seven, been made entirely anew at nine? He had
never stayed the same, even instant to instant.
came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to
I did not think it would be so soon.
that he would precede us.
passing temporarinesses developed feelings for one another.
puffs of smoke became mutually fond.
mistook him for a solidity, and now must pay.
am not stable and Mary not stable and the very buildings and monuments here not
stable and the greater city not stable and the wide world not stable. All
alter, are altering, in every instant. (244)
sent a nice response:
This is an interesting and absorbing class note. As I read
it I had some thoughts which I thought to share with you.
“…although science proclaims that the Self must somehow be a
material item, no recipe has been devised to produce it.” Yes, this is an
interesting observation. As I have known, they are trying to give Self a
physical attribute, like micro-tubules in the cells. I also thought that this
was a totally baseless idea.
“…which can also mean love for the Absolute…” Bhakti is
SAMARPAN that is dissolving one’s self into the ultimate or Self. A good
example is that of princess and poet Mirabai.
As a human being we live mostly in horizontal, all our
relations and interactions are mutual give and take. These create boundaries in
space and time and hence are far remote to the vertical.
Horizontal living is like a routine flow of air around us.
It takes a force of anusandhanam to lift this air to form a tornado into
the vertical. It is like getting into another orbit. As our physical experience
tells us that we may try to get in this vertical orbit by jumping or even
taking a flight, but we fall back. We do not sustain the height and do not get
into vertical, unless we apply enough force to do away with the gravity, which
in philosophical sense may be called as our worldly attachments.