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Darsana Nine - Verses Six and Seven


Yoga Darsana verses 6 & 7


Sankalpa – the cause of all disasters of mankind –

along with projections, should be uprooted

and incipient memories be restrained in the atma.

What is seen has not the perceived

reality, because what is seen

is the seer itself. Who is thus united

in the seer is best among yoga-knowers.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


Uprooting those incipient memory factors of willing,

The source of all human disasters, who

Together with their various willed objects

Restrains in the form of Self (saying),

What is seen has no existence as such,

Thus what is seen is the Seer's self

he among knowers of Yoga

Is the most superior.

         The snow has melted and the jet plane has returned us to Portland, so we are ready to get back to the joys of Darsanamala, made even more joyful by the addition of Prabu, who has managed to take up residence in our city once again.

         Our study remains at the peak of what we can accomplish in terms of effort; shortly hereafter we steadily merge into the quiescence of nirvana, our depth mostly determined by the preparation we have made up to now. In other words, we’ve gotten about all we can out of willing and goal orientation. It might be better to say we can now see how much we can get from it, because there’s still plenty to accomplish, but soon we will turn to examining what letting go has to offer.

         Sankalpa or willing is said by Narayana Guru to be the cause of all human disasters and should be rooted out. This goes against most of our secular training, which is aimed at refining and directing the will as the prime mover of our life. In yoga there is a greater reliance on surrendering our willfulness to an inner guiding principle, because we are sure it is far more intelligent than we can ever be. Our own limitations are plainly visible to our contemplative eye, and we have seen how the natural order possesses a vast intelligence that is supremely harmonious as well as immaculately just. Based on this realization we are willing to restrain our will in its favor. The class had a number of good examples of how well this works in practical matters; it is far from being a detached abstraction of armchair philosophy.

         Deb put the oppressive aspects of will in a somewhat different light. Instead of being alive and open to the moment we are projecting our wants and fears and seeing them as the world around us. In a way these are recourses to the future (will) and the past (fear), and the verse is inviting us to Be Here Now — to not be obscured and thereby obscuring the world with our projections. Can we lucidly be in the world of the present, without cladding it with our preconceived notions? Doing so is a very intimate and personal reorientation.

         I agreed, and because our mind is so easily caught by distractions, it is best to practice letting go of our monitoring consciousness in solitary meditation, or even better in a small, trusting group like the class itself. We have to intentionally set aside all the thoughts that come up to sit in neutral silence, where the will is not operative. This is vastly more difficult than it sounds like it should be, as all conscientious  meditators well know.

         Deb cautioned that when you are able to let go, the first thing likely to rise up is the greatest motivator, fear, followed by the panoply of its correlates: anger, anxiety, cravings and so on.

         First off, let’s reprise the little Nitya says about will in his commentary:


Personal ego is an aggregate of memories called vasana, and it is always active to produce volitional imagery. This is called sankalpa. Sankalpa is the root cause of all human miseries. An effective step in withholding from being influenced by the vasanas is returning again and again to the true nature of the Self. This withdrawal is called pratyahara. When once the Self is seen through an act of samyam, the Self can be seen in all and as all. When there is nothing extraneous to attract or distract, consciousness becomes steady and samadhi is achieved. Thereafter one does not experience the duality of the subject and the object. Such a state is praised as yoga.


Remember: just because sankalpa is the root cause of all human miseries DOES NOT mean that all it does is cause misery. It is capable of plenty of good, when used rightly. It causes misery when it is used wrongly, and poor results are normally the first clue we have that we have willed wrongly.

         This reminds me that Patanjali’s eight-limbed Yoga is threaded through the commentary, so I’ve put the list in Part II in case you’ve forgotten. The quote above covers the last part, touching briefly on limbs 5-8.

         Patanjali’s vows and restraints, the first two steps, are so central to what we’re up to here that they need no mention. Nitya does register his complaint that the third step, asana, is taken superficially as meaning body postures such as hatha yoga. At the time of his writing, there were so many dazed and confused seekers browbeating him with their enthusiasms. It was like they were recruiting him for their favorite indulgence of the week, and not paying much attention to his own wisdom that towered over theirs. He was usually polite but must have chafed inwardly at our inwitting arrogance. Every once in a while he would register a mild protest that usually went right over the heads of those it was most intended for. Here’s his take on asana:


Most people stumble at the threshold of objectivization and will find it almost impossible to fill the chasm between the subject and the object. A number of techniques are adopted by aspiring yogis such as introjecting more and more consciousness into the muscular and neural activity as one sits in various postures. This of course helps people to get rid of physical rigidities and gives more lucid motion to moribund psychophysical energies. It does not, however, bring the desired union of the individuated self with the universal Self.


In his survey of the eight limbs in Living the Science of Harmonious Union, Nitya epitomizes asana quite nicely:


If you, as an aspirant yogi, have the intention of undertaking a thoroughgoing self-discipline, you are recommended to choose one interest rather than pursuing many interests. When full attention is given to that chosen interest, body, mind, and ego are all interlinked in one line. That means you have placed yourself in a set that involves both the physiological and psychological. To indicate this the word asana, “steady position or posture,” is given. That does not necessarily mean sitting with a certain physical posture. When a cat is preparing to pounce upon a rat, it puts itself into a posture that is more an attitude than a special contortion of its body. Similarly, posture here is to be understood as posing yourself in the most congenial manner to be able to give full attention.


Anyway, it is easy to see how misdirected will is serving us very badly. The modern version of willing popularized by psychopaths like Ayn Rand and once again a powerful political force is utterly devoid of morality and unabashedly empowers the ego to promulgate whatever it can get away with in self-serving behaviors. It’s ultimately suicidal, but is likely to take a lot of its surroundings with it. Nowadays we are staring down the barrel of the disasters of mankind that unbridled political will has wrought. Vedanta is one of the restoratives that should be much more widely known than it is.

         Verse 7 contains a million dollar sentence: “What is seen has not the perceived reality, because what is seen is the seer itself.” I asked the class to share how often and to what degree they recall this most basic tenet of Vedanta. Our masterful minds are so clever to present their concocted world view so convincingly that we are completely absorbed by the vision and forget it is a wholly inner experience. It looks so much like reality! As Nitya puts it:


Visual images introjected and reciprocally projected are such a total experience that there is no room left for consciousness to stand aside and have a detached view of the vision.


So we are easily caught in many self-delusions, what Nitya here calls sensory illusions and hallucinations. He even details these to an extent:


There are hallucinations relating to the wakeful, the dream, and deep sleep. To put it another way, we can say that the wakeful is composed of perceptual cues molded into empirical facts by the clothing of sensory stimuli with conceptual garments; that in the dream state prior memories are variously fabricated to provide for a psychodrama in which one and the same subject transforms into all and sundry, and becomes every form and meaning of what is experienced as a dream; and that the third aspect of deep sleep is the effacement of all traces of memories.


A yogi knows that the subject and object in view are simply poles within the unitive gestalt of appearance. Most of us frequently forget, but with practice we don’t get sucked in too far before we slap our forehead and say to our self, “Yow, snagged again!” And then we let go and step back. Happily there were several good examples of success in this shared by the participants.

         Deb talked about the first time our older daughter was away at Christmas, a holiday she normally loved more than any other. On top of that her mother had just died a few weeks before. She was very depressed, missing her mom and her dear girl, and she remembers looking at the beautiful Christmas tree with its decorations and projecting all her misery on it, thinking, “I hate my Christmas tree!” It was obvious her feelings were due to her grief and the tree was only incidental, yet it felt so real! That tree was an affront to her person. It’s only a small step to realize that everything we encounter is colored in the same way. This is precisely why being clearheaded and cheerful is about the best contribution anyone can make to their world. Not Pollyana cheerful, but deep, grounded cheerful. It invites the best from all quarters.

         Jan told us that just the other day she had had an urge to do one of her usual indulgences. Because of her yoga studies she was thinking about the concept of letting it go and decided to give it a try. As soon as she held back, the urge went away, leaving her with a sense of empowerment and freedom to do something different. She could see that the urge was not really her, it was just a habit. She concluded “when you see that your urges are not you, it sets you free.”

         Karen works as a massage therapist in an old house that she has made her sacred space. She has worked there forever, and has grown to feel it is her psychic bubble, one that is a world apart from the bustling street activity outside. A couple of weeks back, just after she finished some maintenance, cleaning and repainting, she came to work to find it had been broken into, the door damaged and things destroyed. She was shocked at first, but then she knew she had to do what we’ve been learning in class. She framed her shock as an ego reaction: “How could this happen to me? My spiritual place has been violated.” Looking at this as beside the point allowed her to calm down and regain her normal peace. Then she cleaned up, had her son repair the broken door, which was easy enough, and filed her police report. Looking the place over she realized that none of her treasured icons had been tampered with, and the place was quickly restored to being her sacred space. She was sure her yogic intent had spared her a lot of unnecessary grief.

         Deb told her “you had a sense that the rooms were you but in a sense they weren’t you. The self doesn’t get harmed.” Karen agreed and added that people who suffer natural disasters sometimes lose everything, and her experience was nothing close to that. Karen’s groundedness is reminiscent of a famous part of the Gita’s second chapter:


23)         Weapons do not cut This, fire does not burn This, and water does not wet This; wind does not dry This.


24)         Indeed it is uncleavable; It is non-inflammable; It is unwettable and non-dryable also—everlasting, all-pervading, stable, immobile; It is eternal.


25)         It is undefined, unthinkable is It, as non-subject to change is It spoken of: therefore, knowing It as such, there is no reason for you to feel sorry for It.


         Moni reported seeing a TV news spot about mindfulness meditation. Tech companies are now using it, but they also showed a police department (of course in the San Francisco Bay area) using it to develop empathy. Speaking of misplaced sankalpa, American cops are free and even encouraged to kill at will, so this is a very important step in the right direction. As Moni put it, in meditation you slow down and see the other as part of you, so you are less likely to cause unnecessary harm.

         Susan shared an inspiring excerpt from Nitya’s “Atmo Original 1-8,” which I’ll include in Part II for your delectation.

         Even Paul weighed in: “we borrow the universal as we see it and turn it into a vehicle to promote our vasanas.” Paul is now well aware of the danger of vasanas projecting on to the present. He retold his venerable police interaction story, where he lost his cool and nearly wound up in jail, for Prabu’s benefit. In the light of this verse, we could see that his upset was due to his son being in trouble—our children are almost always our most pressing attachments, or vasanas if you will. The cops lost their cool because they had been harrassed by angry citizens many times in the past, so the minute Paul said something provocative, all their tender spots were reinjured, and they mounted a defensive roar. This reminds us we not only have to manage and be aware of our own vasanas, we can anticipate those of others and try to work around them.

         We shouldn’t expect we can sweep away our illusions, they are inevitable aspects of being limited creatures. What the Guru is suggesting is that we take our limitations into account, which will save us from at least some of the disasters we are prone to commit. Many religious and spiritual systems treat maya (or sin, etc.) as a dread disease that we must be cured of or remain failures. If we simply accepted maya’s existence and took it into account, all the harmonious qualities we esteem would rush in to fill the void. The norm is to struggle valiantly, often in a name of God, to overcome this feature that cannot be overcome, which leads to despair, self-hate, incompetence and the like. We should learn to accept what Nitya affirms here:


Although the critical staff of rationality is present to guide the reason of the individual, the amount of hypnotic spell that is exercised on the mind cannot be fully determined.


I love his conclusion: “The reality of empirical experience is of an absolutely relativistic order. Everything is both real and unreal.”

         I think he means empirical reality is both absolute and relative, but I love that it is worded as absolutely relative. That means it cannot be restored to an absolute state, it will always be relative no matter what we do. Adjusting to this is learning to live with expertise, and ceasing to beat our heads against the wall. It isn’t even that hard, except our egos hate to admit they don’t have everything under control. We can do due diligence, but we are never going to live up to the imaginary norms of a prideful ego. We’d do better to accept that we will always have a few flaws. Giving up an impossible task is a great relief, I assure you.

         Nitya puts this rather subtly and traditionally, but the idea is the same:


On the whole we can say that consciousness remains uninfluenced by memories for a while, and then at times becomes monitored by memory into various elaborations. Yogic insight means to get behind these altering states and to not be deluded by the surface disturbances.


What we’re really seeing is not the reality of the world but our own private version of the world. The key here is that whenever we can see that the subject and object are integral parts of the same oneness being projected in our minds, we can cease battling to align them just so. They are already aligned! We fight with inadequate information to present a persona that is perfect, imagining this will protect us from insults. Again, this is the ego at work. We don’t need to do it. That’s not what the ego is for, so restrain it and get it back to what it should be doing. That may well include turning the damn thing off entirely for a period, just like restarting your computer when it has developed a glitch:


Even after receiving the secret instruction tat tvam asi, “That thou art,” from one’s teacher, one may not become a yogi unless this consciousness of the union of the subject and object is continuously realized by perpetuating the retentive idea “That thou art.” This is not possible unless one empties oneself of one’s ego.


Scotty caught the most important implication: everyone is doing their spiritual thing to become a better person, trying to get somewhere else, instead of realizing they are already there. He was further amused by Nitya likening pranayama as practiced by many as “torturing the lungs.” It’s a favorite dismissal of Nitya’s of superficial engagement. Scotty chuckled that Nitya went on to extol pranayama after having seeming to diss it:


Our breathing is a part of the universal pulsation. All living beings are rhythmically pulsating and maintaining their life. Sacrificing one’s prana into apana and apana into prana, or uniting the upgoing breath and the downgoing breath in the heart, is only suggestive of the spirit merging into matter and matter becoming surcharged with spirit, or the visible changing into the ideational and ideas transforming into visibles.


         Jan brought us to the closing meditation by extolling neutrality: “when there’s nothing extraneous, nothing throwing you off, you are more at peace with it all.” I added the kicker that should invite us to take the plunge: keeping still is far more powerful than running after things, trying to force them into your anticipated pattern. There’s no good reason to leave out the more effective side of the equation.

         We kept still for a few moments, and then went our separate ways.


Part II


         Once again Swami Vidyayanda’s commentary is actually comprehensible and helpful; a valuable explication. Don’t miss it:


The act of the will is the source of all suffering. Every willful act arises in accordance with the incipient memory factors corresponding to it. The act of willing arises in accordance with some deep-seated incipient memory factor, having there lain rooted for a long time. Therefore, the yogi or the man of meditation who is interested in avoiding suffering, should find out by minute introspection those deep-seated incipient memory factors and abolish them so as to become established in the unity of Yoga.

         Yoga is not any form of self-torture. It is the union of the seer and the seen that is here referred to as Yoga. All that is visible is, in reality, unreal and what really exists is only the basis for such visible entities in the self as has already been indicated in the second and third chapters. Therefore, having first brought into union the visible with the seer, that is to say, seeing everything in the form of the seeing subject alone, he should remain in the form of that witness. It is a man who understands Yoga in this manner who is to be considered a superior kind of Yoga-knower.


*         *         *


For review, the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga:


II.28: By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities are destroyed, and knowledge arises, which leads to discrimination between the Self and the non-Self.


II.29: Self-restraints, observances, posture, regulation of vital forces, withdrawal from distraction, holding the focus of the mind, contemplation, and absorption are the eight limbs of Yoga. (Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhaya or samadhi)


*         *         *


         From the evening gathering of the famous Atmo class that became That Alone, here’s Nitya discussing verse 3:


When I see a beautiful morning sunrise and I call you and show it to you, it is not a projection where you get stuck in your ego. The beauty of the sunrise that I see and appreciate and you see and appreciate are both our personal projections, but there is another element which is not in me, not in you. It has occasioned the perception of the beauty of the sunrise, and thus there is an interaction between what is personally within you and yet outside as a universal factor. When you have this participation within the projection, transactional life becomes meaningful and harmonious.

         When you get back into your own ego-oriented projection, participation is lost. When you lose your participation, instead of transaction you get into hallucinatory behavior. In Sanskrit it is called pratibhasa, hysteric hallucination. This shrinking into hysteric hallucination is what is preventing you from participating. In participation, every person becomes a beautiful entity. There is no need for one’s work to be copied by another. Each one has his or her svadharma to fulfill. There is also a collective sharing. When you do your thing, you also participate in everyone’s common interest. Then your transaction takes you all the way to the horizon where it touches transcendence.


Scott Teitsworth