Bhakti Darsana verse 5
Ananda, atma and brahma—
such are the names of this alone,
so it is said.
In whom there is such certitude
he as a contemplative is well
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
the Self and the Absolute
said to be the names of this alone;
whom there is such awareness
as a contemplative is well known.
listened to Deb read out Nitya’s exquisite darsana as a wisdom transmission rather than a wisdom exposition.
It’s what you’re supposed to
be doing sitting at the feet of a guru: listening as hard as you can but not
analyzing. Just letting it percolate into you. Churning over it is for later.
When a guru presents this kind of subject in person, their energy adds a
powerful dimension to the words. If listened to respectfully in a meditative
state, the meaning goes deep into the psyche. Ordinary thoughts like “I don’t
believe that,” “I’m not capable of that,” “this applies to others,” “what does
THAT mean?” “Oh, I get it,” and so on are discarded if they arise at all. The
result is a rare and vital experience, one that is occasionally achieved in the
university classroom or the religious service, but can be a regular feature of
association with a guru—even perhaps secondhand, as we are constrained to be
here. Regardless, a transmission is a
blessing in the best sense, granting us the opportunity to grow in
understanding of our true capacity as sentient beings.
is little here that needs to be explained. We have been working on our
comprehension of the subject quite diligently. Now it is time for the
guru-blast to drive what we’ve learned deep into our receptive souls. We should
be confident by now that there is no hidden agenda on the part of the teacher.
It is being done with the best of intentions, for our benefit. We can drop our
guard as we take our seats.
pattern of the exposition is one Nitya often used, though it was not always so
plain to see. He begins by acknowledging our condition of bondage to necessity,
and reassures us that there is no need to think we are unqualified because we
are less than ideal human beings. We all have our faults and our blind spots,
yet we are welcome.
opened the door to all comers, Nitya then takes us through the full panoply of
existence, opening our sights and our hearts as wide as possible. It’s an
endearing plan: take the tightly wound, knotted psyches who have come to you
for edification and show them how to untie or otherwise discard their knots and
float free. Send them home glowing.
vastness of the talk reminded Deb of standing on a mountain looking out at the
horizon. We had just learned of a friend who died doing just that: he was
sitting on a patio of his home in Santa Fe, gazing at the Sangre de Cristo
mountains in the distance. His wife came back from a walk and he greeted her
quietly. A few minutes later he closed his eyes and was gone. I only hope I’ll
be saying goodbye to this magnificent planet in a like fashion when my time
also recalled the time we were in the San Juan Islands with Nitya, standing on
top of the highest peak watching the sunset over the intricate expanse of Puget
Sound, with the Olympic Mountains in the distance. An ineffable sight, the kind
of view you can’t help but think of as spiritually uplifting. Deb was feeling
ecstatic, but Nitya brought her down to earth with “why are you always stuffing
sensory experiences like this into yourself? You are already everything. You
don’t need this—let’s go.” Though she was initially angry, Deb realized before
long that he did have a point. Bhakti includes realizing that definitions like it/you/this
are all mythological symbols that overlie continuous reality. Even “I am
enjoying this experience,” displaces the experience into a conceptual jar, like
the one that was exhumed from the universal ocean in the last verse.
sunset idea reminded Bushra of a favorite verse from Song of Myself, by Walt
Dazzling and tremendous how quick
the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send
sun-rise out of me.
We also ascend dazzling and
tremendous as the sun,
We found our own O my soul in the
calm and cool of the day-break.
Bushra agreed how intense the realization of our true nature
was, as when we watch a gorgeous sunset, so we have to pass along what pours
into us by radiating it outwards. We might explode otherwise! Deb agreed that
such beauty might well obliterate the individual, so we had to keep it moving,
keep it circulating. Nitya also advocated not holding onto to anything, but
passing it along. Bad stuff you could just toss in the trash, but the good
stuff was important to share with friends. Jan took the opportunity to
acknowledge the value of a small circle of trusted friends like the one we
enjoy here in the Gurukula, where the small size allows for special intimacy
and a sense of protected security. Shelter from the storm, as Bob Dylan
expressed it. Getting value from a group is almost in inverse proportion to its
is also a fan of Whitman, and thought another quote from Song of Myself also
suited the meaning of the Darsana, that we are the Absolute, very well. The
Absolute is not reserved for the elite or the terrific, it must include
ordinary mortals just like us. That thou art. Whitman sings:
Divine am I inside and out, and I
make holy whatever I touch
The scent of these arm-pits aroma
finer than prayer,
This head more than churches,
bibles, and all the creeds.
Such blasphemy! Such prophecy!
of blasphemy, Deb recalled the hilarious film Monty Python’s Life of Brian,
where the multitudes are too busy believing in an ordinary schmuck to pay
attention to the real messiah just next door. The film was widely banned for
blasphemy, which was great publicity and made it a big success. Our beliefs
really do keep us from accepting so many valuable aspects of life that keep
landing in our laps, where they invite us to open up and let go. Life will
always do that. Ergo, we must not hold on too tightly to what we know lest we
turn our backs unintentionally to the much greater portion we know not. That is
exactly what is meant by being imprisoned by our beliefs. Perhaps we could have
a Gurukula viewing of Life of Brian, as it continues to be regarded as one of
the funniest movies of all time. Are we ready for a laugh these days?
case we are inclined to not admit it, Nitya reminds us of how daunting the task
of right living is, how easy it is to forget to let go of the past, and
assuring us it is no wonder we are sometimes confused or disappointed with our
The consciousness imprisoned in
the psychosomatic matrix of an individual is endlessly drifting, with a nucleus
of an I-consciousness which is likely to be infested with the infection of an
almost incurable egotism. And yet this ego is commissioned to do the tremendous
task of understanding the mini-infrastructure of the individuation given it to
monitor as well as the meta-structure of the cosmic system of which this
psychosomatic sub-system is an organic and integral part.
Note how we are being addressed here as distinct from our
ego, which is a small though essential part of the totality of consciousness.
It is astonishing how many elucidations begin and end from an egotistic
perspective. Here we are looking at that problematic part as a detached
observer. That tiny director is confronted with a universe that is infinitely
beyond its comprehension:
This growing, changing, evolving,
decaying, and dying organism of ours is constantly being hit by forces
extraneous to our body and mind, just like a billiard ball, because the
phenomenal world is a hyperactive cloud chamber in which everything, from the
most invisible subatomic particles to the inconceivably large galaxies, is
always moving, with each in its own orbit and all with a regulated motion.
Clashes, blasts and counterblasts, and alchemic changes both gradual and
instantaneous, are continuously taking place at the gross level of solids,
liquids and gases, and at the subtle levels of energies and modes of
consciousness. Such is the world of a beginningless chaotic cosmos and an
endless cosmic chaos.
We are not expected to have any impact on the grand scheme,
only to keep our shit together. Nitya puts this much more eloquently than the
American slang version:
However negligible is the role of
an individual in the grand scheme of the known and unknown cosmos, human life
is so fated that each individual’s universe is physically and conceptually
structured around the continuously pulsating notion of ‘I’, to which every
perception, every cognition, every volition, and every aesthetic appreciation,
positive or negative, is to be constantly coordinated to preserve the integrity
of one’s orientation.
Our role in preserving our sanity and optimizing our life is
given an invitingly positive spin, as a myth that calls to us:
The I-consciousness in us is
expected to act as a baby Hercules or an infant Ashtavakra to do the tremendous
work of deciphering the hydra-headed myth which is presented to its already
contaminated instrument of observation, and each time with a different Gordian
Knot. It is no wonder that millions and millions of ego-oriented individuals
fail in this task a billion times, to be gobbled by the terrible witch of
logical fallacy whom Indians call maya, and others sin or Satan. However
terrible or incomprehensible this myth looks, it is the home, sustenance, and
only meaning of our life on Earth and the cosmic whole to which such a life
belongs. Deciphering this myth is variously called awakening, liberation,
emancipation, knowing the Tao, God-realization, salvation and Self-realization.
The hydra was a beast faced by Hercules that grew two new
heads whenever one was cut off. Many problems in life grow more complex as we
“fix” one aspect, only to find our actions have precipitated new challenges.
Gordian knot means many thing to many people, but basically it describes a knot
that is impossible to untangle. You could spend your whole life working on it,
but you could just cut it with your sword, as Alexander the Great is supposed
to have done with the original. The problems of the psyche are so complex that
we could spend a lifetime working them out in a linear fashion, even if they
don’t keep sprouting new obstacles. Some kind of quantum leap, a departure from
the familiar, is needed to bring about a breakthrough. You can imagine my
opinion about this, so I won’t mention it today. Just find a way to think
outside the box—it’s a good exercise even if you come up short.
reminded the class of the thought-provoking article Michael shared in the last
class notes. In case you missed it: https://aeon.co/essays/your-brain-does-not-process-information-and-it-is-not-a-computer.
Humans keep using analogies to try to figure out what we are, but these
invariably throw dust over our true nature and obscure it. Author Epstein makes
an excellent case that we are coming to the end of the usefulness of the sixth
grand analogy: that our brains are bio-computers. Read it if you want to see
what those analogies are, and how their vestiges are still with us even today.
Epstein sums up that idea:
Each metaphor reflected the most
advanced thinking of the era that spawned it. Predictably, just a few years
after the dawn of computer technology in the 1940s, the brain was said to
operate like a computer, with the role of physical hardware played by the brain
itself and our thoughts serving as software.
As Epstein points out we hardly resemble computers at all.
So what will the next analogy be? We sorely need one. I think the breakdown of
societies and ecosystems is a symptom of the lack of a meaningful narrative,
now that everything has been thoroughly deconstructed. What we study in our
classes would be an excellent choice, but it is not simplistic enough to serve
on a large scale. You can’t describe it in a slogan, plus its central aim is to
do utterly without analogies. It is excellent for serving individual people
willing to put a lot of time and energy into strengthening and balancing their
psyches, but it is not suitable to a mass movement. Probably the key failing is
that it relies on each person to take control of their own life, and our more
comfortable setting as humans is to be followers of an impressive, self-assured
leader. We’re currently getting a very painful education on how far away from
good sense that can take us.
humans get along without a religion? Meaning without an all-embracing system of
explanations? People say science will be the next analogy (or religion), but
it’s a meaningless term—intentionally so. And meaning is the key to it all, as
Andy averred; moreover it is a truly human characteristic. We are not computers
in part because we care about and use meaning. Ananda—value or meaning—is
precisely what machines, computers, and AI (artificial intelligence) leave out
of the picture. No wonder science keeps coming up with new ways to kill each
other and destroy the planet we live on. Some religion that is! Andy insightfully
added that meaning is not a construct. It is what we are made of. It can’t be
built. If it was built, the result would only be an artificial version of what
ananda actually is.
noted that linguist-historian Noam Chomsky said that AI is more like natural
stupidity than artificial intelligence. Should we call it NS instead?
also related what little is known of the well-known sage Ashtavakra, who was
cursed while in the womb and was consequently born crippled with eight bends in
his spine. Nitya is using him to exemplify our condition of severe limitation
at the beginning, which can be overcome with diligent effort. You can read the
very solid Vedantic wisdom exposition attributed to him here: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ashtavakra_Gita.
Michael sent another link: http://realization.org/p/ashtavakra-gita/richards.ashtavakra-gita/richards.ashtavakra-gita.html.
He called it “very accessible and readable, a walk in the park for our
was similarly constrained to battle a number of challenges before attaining a
final liberation. He had gone mad and killed his family, and the expiation was
to perform his famous Labors. He was an adult at the time, so I speculate that
Nitya’s reference to babies and infants is to our psyches. We are setting out,
right at the beginning in a sense, to cure our malaise. If we are not burdened
with weighty self-images, we can proceed freely as the situation requires. By
this stage of Darsanamala study we should have at least gotten a little
distance on our persona, treating it more like an overcoat than as who we
actually are. We don’t always need to put it on.
Nitya does not expect us to be completely free beings, and does not minimize
the pressing forces life exerts on us:
In the fragmentary heap of
relativistic notions and impressions that cling onto our sensory or cognitive
consciousness with the firmness of a bionic handshake, one is bound to be
frustrated about not seeing any trace of the Absolute, Brahma, anywhere. Even the idea of a Self is irreparably disfigured
because of its substitution with the individual’s physical body and the
constant shouts and stutterings of the ego.
In the 1970s when this book was begun there was a lot of
interest in bionics, the study of how to replace or imitate body parts with
mechanical devices. The field has grown dramatically since, with artificial
limbs of superb utility now available. You cannot extricate yourself from a
bionic handshake until the other person lets go of you. It’s an apt description
of our entanglement in sensory experience. When we are under such indomitable
pressures, it is little wonder that the subtle factors in life remain out of
reach, or at least out of sight. We should be convinced by now that they are
not only within our reach, they are who we actually are: they are our very
being. Nitya reminds us where and how to look:
In spite of the ever-raging storm
of such adversities there is a ray of hope, because every now and then the
senses discover a momentary joy in the objective presentation of a sensation, a
cognition, an imagination, or in a constant and contiguous presentation of a
certain certitude, which can come and stay as a permanent plank under one’s
foot. It is by firmly standing on this plank of certitude, the ‘be-ness’ of
life, that one makes a dent in the world of names and forms, causes and
effects, and actions and actors, to enter into the ontologic existentiality
which sustains every form and name and the causal unity of actions revealed as
the governing law of the universe. This law is discovered and appreciated as
the constant behind all the variables in the changing worlds of the physical,
the chemical, and the biological.
Bill was touched by the idea of a permanent plank of
certitude, and is feeling like we get a little glimpse of it in our class,
even. It is a platform we can stand on, psychologically speaking. I read out an
excerpt from Love and Blessings where Nitya loses his provisional plank and
begins moving toward the permanent variety, which you can read in Part II.
Nitya has often noted, the awareness we seek does not always come from the big
bang of instant realization. It more often takes the form of a gradual dawning
of insight guided by the convincing arguments of a wise seer who is gracious
enough to teach. Here’s Nitya’s quiet version of the Visions of Johanna:
As we become more and more
familiar with the inner unity of an otherwise heterogeneous world, we begin to
see with more transparency the common anatomy of universal laws in their
mathematical logic, and the syntax and inflex of the language of universal myth
in the grand drama of life, expressed through the ecstasies of love and the
tearful pathos of a wrongly placed love’s failure. Then we have already entered
the portals of truth and we are no longer outsiders to the secret of creation.
We are no longer blindfolded. Individuality does not obstruct us from seeing
that the same Self, which one can clearly perceive behind the notion of
I-consciousness, continues in its homogeneous and unlimited vastness behind the
ever-deceiving symbols of ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘they’, ‘this’
finally dawned on me that what Nitya meant by inflex is inflections,
and I recommend you change it if you are keeping a copy of the text.
all-encompassing talk makes its way to “unlimited vastness” and what it means
to us, and concludes with a paean to the many ways the vastness can be
Just as I am dear to myself, the
endearment has now magnified a thousandfold and become coextensive and
commingled with the Self of all. Fetters of the individual are broken;
frontiers of vision are smashed. The perilous separation is averted. Love
reigns supreme, and in its clear sky there never comes even once a cloud of
suspicion or hatred. Consciousness is freed from the bondages of the past. Time
is no longer segmented. Allah alone is. It is as if that ‘is’ is not an ‘is’.
It may be called the sunyata of the nibbana, One without a second. Verily,
“this Self is the Absolute,” ayam atma
We eased down from our discussions with another ecstatic
meditation period, where all stray thoughts and feelings were sloughed off,
leaving us in a bliss-filled emptiness that the gurus intend us to truly have
confidence in as a incontrovertible plank on which we walk at all times.
is the same ultimate reality having the
attributes of existence-subsistence-value which is also referred to as the
Self, the Absolute or Bliss. Such a certitude is called contemplation (bhakti). The man possessing this
certitude is the real contemplative (bhakta).
In this verse the truth of the great dictum
(mahàvàkya), “This Self is the
Absolute” (ayam àtmà brahma), is
indicated. We know by this that the Self referred to is in the form of bliss (anandarupa). The correct understanding
of the meaning of this dictum is true contemplation and the man possessing this
knowledge is the true contemplative.
* * *
In Love and
Blessings, after the almost unbearably touching scene of Nitya walking out on
Nataraja Guru and the Gurukula, he begins his 18 months of solitude. Abandoning
his social supports—what he often called crutches—he plunged into the void. The
beliefs he had always assumed to constitute a solid reality evanesced like dew
before the sun. Eventually they were replaced by the kind of plank he advocates
here: direct experience of being an essential part of the whole.
When Paul cited the
analogy from the last verse of taking a pot full of water out of the ocean, I
added that the analogy only works if you imagine an ocean separated from the
sky, making a dualistic condition. The true ocean of existence is everywhere,
so a pot filled with spirit cannot be lifted out of it. We may think of
ourselves as being separate, but that doesn’t make it true. Deb shared a line
from Emily Dickenson that she once dreamed of, repeating over and over: “exultation
is the going of an inland soul to sea.” The joy of realization is reentering
the universal after having been separated out from it, and the plank of
certitude is the awareness of this verity, not as an idea but as a convincingly
felt experience. Here’s Nitya’s account of how his isolation stripped him of
the false plank he had been treading on:
TRANSFORMATIONS IN SILENCE
large number of people came to watch me vanish into my secret abode. I stood
for a moment at the door looking out at the crowd that was showing all shades
of sentiments. Many had their eyes overflowing, some were sobbing, and some
literally crying. My heart sank to a profound depth of sorrow. I closed the
door and sat in silence the darkness. It was as if I was dead to the world.
two hours of silent meditation, I became curious. From the growing silence, I
knew that all those outside had gone away. I felt a desire to open a window and
look out, but I thought it would be a dishonest way to sneak out of my silent
state. So I stayed in meditation on my bed. But however much I tried to remain
silent and without thought, I kept feeling as if I was falling into a great
abyss, somewhat like Alice going down the rabbit hole.
first it was just like falling into a bottomless pit, as if the solid plank
under my feet had been pulled away and I was plunging downwards. Then I began
to feel the terrible speed with which my body was going down. I needed
something to hold on to and was frantically searching for support. There was
nothing. A great fear came over me, and I began to think I was going mad. I
wanted to cry out for help. Then I saw my will becoming stubborn to stop me
from doing anything silly. I don’t know how long I sat there, but around two o’clock
in the morning I finally fell asleep.
4:00 I woke up. My first thought was that I should have a set program to bring
some sort of system to my new mode of living. (174)
can listen to and read the amazing poem Visions of Johanna, by Bob Dylan, here:
sent an essay critical of the Epstein, which I’m including for those interested
in how computers work more than how brains work, which remains unknown. It has
as many faults as the first article. What strikes me is that in the present
state of scholarship there is so much anger and negativity, a mirror of our
political sphere I suppose. Everyone is fighting for their turf, for being
right by highlighting the faults of others. While the two authors share a
similar conclusion, the second has to emphasize his disdain rather than voice
agreement. It’s an interesting lesson, especially since Graziosi does not prove
his contention either. Here’s Prabu’s letter with the link:
I read the
Epstein's essay “The empty Brain” and found some of his descriptions of
computers and brains quite unconvincing. So I did a little research on the topic
to clearly understand the subject. I came across the below article. It points
out the fallacies of the Epstein's essay but agrees with his claim “that the
brain is not the sole cognitive resource we have available to us to solve
problems.” It's an interesting reading.
Thanks for this. The
author makes some good points of criticism, but doesn’t actually support his
own thesis, as far as I could tell. He puts it off for another time. Like him,
I also noticed that some of Epstein’s points were simply tautologies. The part
I liked was the summary of metaphors we have been dependent on through history.
We always think of the present one as “right,” which is kind of true but also a
kind of mental crutch. A half truth.
Knowing that our
paradigms change and therefore have a significant level of uncertainty helps to
mitigate arrogance, to my mind a worthy goal.