Bhakti Darsana verse 3
Ananda alone is meditated,
not misery by anyone any time.
That meditation which is blissful,
it is instructed.
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
is even Bliss that all do meditate,
one at all (meditates) suffering.
which is meditation of Bliss.
contemplation it is taught.
the first verse of the Bhakti Darsana we are directed to meditate on the Self, atma. In the second the meditation was
aimed at the Absolute, brahma, and
here we are instructed to meditate on bliss, ananda. In the next several verses we will examine how these three
are equated. Nitya gives us a first peek here:
Atma, Brahma and ananda fall
into the vertical line of bhakti only
when the manifested phenomena, conditioned consciousness, and the dual state of
pain/pleasure affectivity are all reduced to the nondual reality of ‘be-ness’.
Such a reduction is not a mere intellectual exercise.
What Nitya means is that we have to do more than abstractly
identify our predicament and its resolution: we have to feel it in our bones.
We have to make the transformation real. Reduction of our ignorance takes an
effort. All too often our efforts are to hold openness at bay by
conceptualizing and objectifying experience.
is aimed at universalizing our sense of self, of embracing the totality. We
can’t do that physically; it’s a conceptual achievement. Mostly we have to let
go of what holds us tight and keeps us small. Deb mentioned letting go of
aggressive behavior, of lightening up on “I want this/I hate that.” The stuff
our culture begs us to amplify to extremes. In regards to ananda, Nitya reminds
us that bliss is not the same as sensory pleasure:
Both pain and pleasure are forms of misery.
pleasure is a positive agitation of the sensory system, pain is a negative
agitation. Both amount to throwing the equilibrium of the composure of
consciousness out of gear.
Thanks to Nataraja Guru’s amazing knowledge base, I’ve added
a short section from Plato, about Socrates making the same point that wisdom is
a third state beyond pain and pleasure, in Part II.
of this quiescent third state we dedicated more than the usual amount of class
time to meditation, sitting in undirected stillness. It was especially
delicious as we have been working actively to reorient our thinking under the
gurus’ guidance. At this stage of the study, we are expected to have resolved
the issues that impede us from enjoying a stretch of blissful quiet. While most
of us can readily admit we have not yet perfected our deconstructed psyches, we
can still go ahead and see what the Guru suggests. The joy of peaceful
communion on these occasions can serve as a blissful invitation to continue to
shed unnecessary baggage.
felt stung by the second line of the verse, that misery is not meditated on by anyone any time. He has
of time meditating on misery! But we do that in order to free ourselves from
it, not to wallow in it (though that can happen, given enough confusion). In
Narayana Guru’s vision, the lion’s share of our misery is due to faulty ideas
about where happiness is to be found. It’s a fixable condition.
is one of the rare verses when Swami Vidyananda’s commentary is readily
comprehensible. Nataraja Guru considers him the mouthpiece for Narayana Guru,
and maintains that his words reveal what the Guru might have meant, but they
are all translated in Nataraja Guru’s inimitable style, so they tend to resist
simple interpretation. This one’s fine, though. Vidyananda first repeats a
familiar adage of Narayana Guru from Atmopadesa Satakam, and then expands
slightly on the idea that continuous contemplation constitutes bhakti:
creatures in the world desire happiness.
There is not even one living being wishing for suffering. As for the Absolute
it is made of Bliss. Therefore, the goal desired by all is the contemplation of
the Absolute which is the contemplation of Bliss, and this is (True)
contemplation. Such is the teaching of all knowers of the Self.
Vidyananda concludes with an important corollary: “By
the term upadisyate
(is taught) it is implied that contemplation constitutes an instruction by a
teacher who is kind and has the authority to teach.” We are most fortunate to
have access to teachers who epitomize the Indian concept of guruhood, even if
secondhand via their written words. They worked very hard to make those words
meaningful, eschewing simplistic bromides and yoga 101 notions, demanding that
we become active partners in the learning process.
Nitya and Nataraja Guru were related to the teachings of Narayana Guru. They
were both wholly dedicated to the wisdom of Narayana Guru and felt they were
only clarifying and elaborating what he revealed to them. Nataraja Guru knew
him personally from childhood, and Narayana Guru must have sensed the boy had a
rare intellect and keenness of spirit, as he put provocative questions to him
from the first. The relationship persisted until Nataraja Guru was about 33.
Nitya later became Nataraja Guru’s disciple for over 20 years. As Deb summed
up, they agreed philosophically but they expressed their understanding in
a key: the
disciple is not expected to merely repeat what the Guru said. They are supposed
to make the wisdom their own, and then share it in their own way. That’s how it
is kept alive. Repetition is a faint echo of originality, though it is far
better than nothing.
characterize the three gurus—each of them almost embarrassingly
brilliant—Narayana Guru’s written teachings are dense and extremely difficult
nuts to crack. Without assistance they would remain incomprehensible to most
people from backgrounds other than his own. Nataraja Guru descried a meaningful
pattern in his teachings and painstakingly interpreted it in terms of modern science
and philosophy, with few concessions to ordinary mortals. It was Nitya who had
the poetic flair to bring the teachings down to earth another notch, helping
his followers to grasp the sublime meaning in terms they could become familiar
with, and adding many examples they (we) can relate to. I have heard that
Nataraja Guru was better at this in person than his writings indicate; that he
was very careful to leave any personal instruction off the record, for what
might be called political reasons. You can get a flavor of his personal
instruction in English from Nitya’s autobiography Love and Blessings, excerpted on his website at http://aranya.me/. The compiled stories are here: http://aranya.me/uploads/3/4/8/6/34868315/nataraja_guru_in_love_and_blessings.pdf
. Patrick Misson has (at my begging) put his memoir up on his excellent website
dedicated to Nataraja Guru’s writings: http://www.advaita-vedanta.co.uk/index.php/component/content/article/290.
It includes the fabulous story of apologizing to the child I have shared in
earlier notes. I might as well add it to Part II for easy access, for those who
want to reread it.
are so blessed to have the wisdom we are exposing ourselves to! If prejudice
didn’t exist and there was some kind of absolute world rating system, Narayana
Guru would be in the top handful of seers of the human race. As it is, he is
little known outside of South India, and it is merely by happy “accident” that
we are being served the crème de la crème.
looks like I’m wandering. It’s Nitya’s birthday today, and I can’t help but
feel immensely grateful to all three gurus. I cannot imagine what my life would
have been like without their guidance. They truly and justly owned their
“authority to teach.”
yes, we meditated during the class. We often have to strive to be calm, one of
those pernicious paradoxes. But our “vibrations” also are essential. Ponds are
rarely ripple free. We are not being instructed to permanently turn off our
life but to expand it into areas that our habitual ripples seal off from us.
Nitya expands his newly-coined term, be-ness, for us:
Absolute well-being is perfect ‘be-ness’,
other words, being devoid of the prospect of becoming. Even the slightest
ripple on the surface of water is an indication that its tranquility is
disturbed. Consciousness is subjected to disturbance much more easily than the
molecules of air or water. But this does not mean the highest state of harmony
has to be inertial.
In our “pulsation model” we access the unruffled karu, core,
Absolute, Self, what have you, by setting aside our horizontal obsessions for a
time, to simply be. After some time we get up and go about our lives, hopefully
energized and blissified, more attuned to what our world has to offer and what
it asks of us. We don’t have to have a conscious program, as touching our true
Self is so much more direct and all-pervading. Nitya offers an example close to
Our own healthy body is a good example
continuous harmony being sustained as it is engaged in various functions. We
are not conscious of our bones, muscles, sinews, skin, circulation of blood,
respiratory system, digestive process, or the eliminative functions of the
kidney and bladder unless they begin to malfunction. From this it is clearly
evident that a perfect state of well-being does not show up in the realm of
We don’t want a dead psyche any more than we want a dead
body. We’ll deal with that later….
class didn’t talk about objectivized consciousness, but it’s worth a look at a
possibly confusing paragraph:
All objectivizations are the result of
partial modulation of consciousness stimulated by a physical, physiological, or
psychological encounter with a force that is alien to the system of harmonious
function. Such stimulated modulations become highlighted as affective
incidents, and all affective incidents circumscribe consciousness with a
nucleic emphasis on an ego identity.
The idea is that when events bump into us, we aren’t just
bumped. We also do our best to “comprehend” what happened, and our
comprehension is usually less than complete or perfect. In fact, it may be
wildly off base. Our ego is formed, or at least shaped, by what we make of
these incidents, and this will color our interpretation of subsequent events.
Although it’s an important function as far as it goes, it inevitably limits our
perception, often severely. Nitya continues:
The ego can never be aroused without a
being provided for it. An ego boundary marks the threshold of confrontation and
the line behind which the ego is propelled to stand in abeyance, defending
individuation against being divested of its uniqueness. It is this threat that
is experienced at several levels, such as the physical, psychological, and
societal, and which perpetuates man’s preoccupation with egogenic problems, the
main source of human misery.
admitted that this spoke to her (she felt “singed”), realizing how we defend
our boundaries, stubbornly maintaining the sense of ourselves. She agreed is
was well worth revisiting how we do that, how we hold on to love/hate and
defend ourselves from whatever we feel coming toward us. Nitya goes on:
The first ripple in the calm surface of
consciousness is the call to make a judgment of a projected situation. An
instantaneous phenomenon that arises in such a contingency is the
dichotomization of consciousness into the perceiver and the perceived.
interpreted this in terms of a recent trip to Oklahoma, in the midst of the
vast prairies of middle America. He had never been in a place with a 360-degree
view, a full dome of sky above him and an infinitely receding horizon. Openness
everywhere. He loved it! It’s the kind of physical release Nitya alluded to
earlier, provided simply by the scenery. Michael felt there were no significant
obstructions, and it was calming and comforting to him.
the thing that is very hard to get through our thick skulls, since we are
addicted to defining everything we encounter:
Now it becomes obligatory for the perceiver
separate the characteristics of the perceived from the generality of its
existence as a predicable attribute, and then to formulate the judgment, “This
is such and such.” What is predicated as ‘such and such’ is the conceptual
projection objectivized to satisfy the initial question, “What is this?” Dhyana, or the pure state of
contemplation, is said to be a state wherein such objectivization,
conceptualization, and judgment are not warranted.
Objectivization is not always warranted! By reminding
ourselves that objectivizing can be put in abeyance during our blissful
meditations, the objectivization we do perform should be less inflexible. We
will be more prepared to alter our prejudices to incorporate new
understandings. We make ourselves rigid because we imagine it will keep us safe
from the jostlings of fate. Instead it freezes us into imprisonment, with far
fewer options for expert responses. Nitya totally understands this feeling:
Every provocation is an exposure
to misery. No being likes to be thus provoked. Even a worm wriggles to get out of a disturbing state to a
more comfortable or tranquil one.
We’re just trying to become something more intelligent than
a creature that is purely reactive. Bill suggested we should notice what we are
experiencing before we start to react. Then we can watch our reactions and see
how they are traced to habits of mind that may not be true in the present.
Seeing this, we have the chance to give them up. Paul agreed that reactivity
made him feel like a ping-pong ball in a championship tournament. He longs to
combine the vertical and horizontal perspectives to lessen the severity of his
reactions. He might then be in a dangerous traffic situation, for instance, and
not lose contact with the Absolute.
driving meditation is Susan’s forte theses days. She admitted:
I tend to drive in a fast and
stressed way, always anticipating what’s coming and where I am going. I try to
squeeze the most efficiency out of my routes and I tend to be (silently)
antagonistic toward many pedestrians and other drivers in my way. I am now
trying very hard to notice that I am doing all this and to take deep breaths,
slow down, and just be in my car and more present with what is happening in my
As you can see, in the US driving a car is an ever-relevant
metaphor. What will happen to us if computers do the driving? For the present,
being in a car is a fine place to remind ourselves to be here now. Michael
quoted Epictetus (who apparently lived in the Grand Tetons): “Does getting
upset provide you with any more options?” Cute. And funny. Of course getting
upset limits our options disastrously.
pointed out that it was kind of ironic that be-ness is the opposite of the
bee-hive, so there are be’s and bees. He admitted he was in the buzz, the hum
of the hive, all the time. He was referring to this part of the commentary:
As the individual is inhabiting a
hypersensitive organism that can be easily equated with a beehive, with the
bustle of several urges and potentials, he is easily exposed to provocation….
That being the common lot of people, hardly anyone is in a state of meditation.
Mostly what we call meditation is simply thinking. True
meditation is more of a neutral state, like a balancing act. Deb affirmed that
harmony isn’t a frozen state—when you master a skill you get to a place where
it happens naturally, without thinking.
loved the definition Nitya gives at the close of his essay, a true mantra for
repetition in the heart: bhakti means embracing the universal. It is part of a
clarion call for us to be peacemakers in a world that very badly needs to know
In the present case, bhakti means
embracing the universal; and hence the lover of the Absolute, who is seeking
union through a state of nondual bliss, has to enter into a wholesale commitment
to effect harmony wherever there is the likelihood of a disturbing element
raising its head to tamper with the harmonious functioning of the world order.
This is the concept of the merciful Buddha or of the savior that is seen in
We don’t have to be famous or even noticed to be a
peacemaker. We don’t have to go anywhere. Peace begins at home, it is said, and
our hearts are the home where it must be nurtured first. Nitya is hinting here
that the problems the world gifts us with are the very sources for us to learn
how to love, how to embrace the universal rather than just our preferred slice.
Ideally we can do it without becoming agitated, but most of us will be upset by
what we do one way or another. The trick is to regain our equipoise in place of
augmenting our dissatisfaction. The latter attitude is ever-popular, but we are
learning a new way of life that lets it go.
whole class was charmed with the idea of embracing the universal. Bill felt it
was a lesson in contemplation, of contemplating the bliss that’s in the one. He
thought this meant we shouldn’t meditate on the transactional world, but what
other world is there? We shouldn’t focus on the transactional to the exclusion
of all else, but we have been instructed all along to bring the bliss of
oneness right into the transactional, and that’s a kind of meditation too. This
is not about eliminating the horizontal to live in the vertical, but to
integrate them into a smooth-functioning whole.
closed with a deeper meditation than usual, absolute stillness pervading the
room. Outside a nearly full moon blazed through clouds patterned like organic
cells, trailing faint rainbow colors. Then and now, it is good to be alive.
creatures in the world desire happiness. There is not even one living being
wishing for suffering. As for the Absolute it is made of Bliss. Therefore, the
goal desired by all is the contemplation of the Absolute which is the
contemplation of Bliss, and this is (True) contemplation. Such is the teaching
of all knowers of the Self.
It can also
be interpreted that what is desired by all living
beings and for all time, and beyond which there is no higher goal to be desired
on behalf of any living creature, can also be thought of as contemplation. By
the term upadisyate (is taught) it is
implied that contemplation constitutes an instruction by a teacher who is kind
and has the authority to teach.
something I came across in my editing of Nataraja Guru’s Integrated Science of the Absolute that touches in a
general way on
our study, and is especially relevant to this verse:
The presumption in the last item
that knowledge accomplishes absolute avoidance of suffering is one which is
fully valid and intuitive and dialectical in its import. It is not
ratiocinative nor discursive. Socrates in the Philebus also points out there is
a state beyond mere pleasure and pain. We read:
Socrates: Then we have a third
state over and above that of pleasure and pain?
Protarchus: Very true.
S: And do not forget that there
is such a state; it will make a great difference in our judgment of pleasure
whether we remember this or not. And I should like to say a few words about it.
P: What have you to say?
S: Why, you know that if a man chooses the life of wisdom, there is no reason
why he should not live in this neutral state.
P: You mean to say that he may
live neither rejoicing nor sorrowing?
S: Yes and if I remember rightly,
when the lives were compared, no degree of pleasure, whether great or small was
thought to be necessary to him who chose the life of wisdom and thought. (ISOA
Vol. II, page 85)
And here’s what I added after: Of course, I’m pro-pleasure
and I vote, but I do know that, like ideas and beliefs, pleasure doesn’t buoy
us up in times of distress. It’s true wisdom that stands by us when we most
need meaningful support. That’s what I have determined to count on, and I have
found that even in the most miserable of times it has not abandoned me, though
all else had.
Tale of Nataraja Guru, by Patrick Misson
later, I was staying at the Gurukula in Ootacamund, high in the Nilgiri
Mountains of Tamil Nadu, where the green rolling hills and the chilly climate
reminded one of England. The Gurukula there was a large study hall, with
various bedrooms giving onto it and the Guru’s room at the far end from the
entrance. I lived in a small hut a little higher on the hillside. As we got up at five and were hard at
it studying etc. until lunchtime, everyone would retire for a couple of hours’
siesta after midday. One afternoon I came down to the main building to see if
it was teatime and saw a bunch of small children come haring out of the door
and off down the hillside. When I went in I saw that a lot of books had been
pulled from the shelves and flower vases overturned etc. The Guru was standing
there and he told me that he had woken up on hearing a noise and had come out
and discovered some local kids trashing the place. He had told them off and had
grabbed the cheekiest boy and given him a two-fingered slap on his hand to
chastise him, and the kids had run off. The Guru then said that, although he
had only smacked the boy’s hand lightly (he demonstrated – just enough to
sting), he had done it because he had lost his temper, which was incorrect. We
had our tea and then the Guru assembled the dozen or so disciples, put on his
coat, took his walking-stick and we processed down the hillside to the nearby
you must understand that the Guru was 70-something years old; he was a very
famous person, and held in awe by the local people as a great holy man. Also,
the neighbouring village towards which we were heading was an untouchable
settlement – these people were the lowest of the low in Hindu society and were
forced to live in this filthy ghetto – their touch and their very presence were
polluting to even the lowest-caste Hindu. So when we started processing down
the one sordid street, the entire population came out of their houses and
stared in silence and apprehension. The Guru called someone and asked them if
they knew where was the house of the little boy he had smacked. He went up to
the house where the parents of the boy were standing. They had their hands
joined in namasté and were half-bowing to the Guru, obviously fearful of what
would happen after their child had disturbed the great man. The little boy came
out, cowering behind his parents. The Guru said that he, the Guru, had acted
wrongly. Then he went down on his knees and performed the full prostration –
the ultimate traditional Hindu gesture of debasement – that is, he lay flat on
his face on the filthy ground and with his hands joined in supplication he
touched the feet of the little boy and begged his forgiveness.
was he my Guru? Because when I saw this kind of thing I knew that this was a
real man; this was what human beings were put on this earth to be – and if I
could not become like him, I would at least serve him for the rest of my life.