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Darsana Nine - Verse Ten


Yoga Darsana verse 10


In this world yoga, in short, is of

Two forms – knowledge and karma thus.

All forms of yoga are conclusively comprised

in these two descriptions of yoga.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


As of wisdom and action, yoga in this world

Is of two kinds, and within these summarily

The whole of the further elaboration of Yoga

Is comprised conclusively.

         While Patanjali is accorded pride of place in yoga philosophy by many, the Bhagavad Gita is the last word in a full comprehension of yoga. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the last word in philosophy, period.

         The Gita presents yoga as dialectic synthesis, so it is no wonder that jnana and karma—wisdom and action—are united in it. Its third and fourth chapters are named karma and jnana, but when you delve into them they are presenting one and the same thing: action infused with wisdom.

         As Deb said, Guru Nitya makes it all quite simple. How can you have action without wisdom infusing it? Intelligence affects action and action gives the chance for intelligence to show itself. It’s a beautiful challenge that instead of polarized contradictions, you see an interpenetrating expression of action and knowledge together. Jan agreed, feeling that we are at last coming to a place of peaceful resolution after all our hard work.

         Speaking of polarized contradictions, Bill just sent me a link to a review of the latest Gita translation: Godsong, by Amit Majmudar. Majmudar’s fresh effort was apparently done with great enthusiasm, but what is clear is that neither the translator nor the reviewer has the least idea that the paired couplets that occur throughout the Gita are actually exemplifications of yoga. Instead they are treated as contradictions. The reviewer describes the Gita as “the most enigmatic of religious texts, a masterpiece of moral ambiguity.” Actually the Gita is utterly unambiguous. The mistake is to consider the polarities of any dialectic in isolation, leading to what Narayana Guru, through his foil Vidyananda, cites from the Gita’s chapter V:


4)         That rationalism and yogic self-discipline are distinct, only children say, not the well-informed; one well-established in either one of them obtains the result of both.


5)         That status attained by rationalists is reached also by yogis; he who thus sees rationality and yoga as one—he (alone) sees.


And while we’re at it, how ambiguous is the immediately previous verse:


3)         That man should be recognized as a perennial renouncer who neither hates nor desires; free indeed from conflicting pairs (of interests) O Arjuna, he is happily released from the bondage (of necessity).


Sounds pretty definitive to me. The Gita is all about how to synthesize those conflicting pairs to attain release from bondage. It’s a shame that the concept appears so elusive to those who don’t have the wherewithal to really understand it.

         If this is a digression, forgive me. I think it is exactly what Narayana Guru is implying in this wrap up of his darsana on Yoga. And it leads to Nitya’s opening salvo, that we have to go beyond mere manipulation of rational structures to arrive at a revelation of the intrinsic meaning of anything, or else our knowledge is childish, if not something worse:


Knowledge comes by listening, listening to the truth that is revealed by one who has met truth by knowing it and being it. Listening is an active process. It becomes fruitful only through meditation on what is heard. Manipulating a rational structure of what is heard is conceptualization or merely improving upon concepts that have been formed earlier. This does not bring wisdom to the listener; it only helps in the acquisition of information. Knowledge, as Socrates says, becomes a virtue only when one is fully acquainted with the full purport of the secret of a revelation and it is lived in its entirety.


In common parlance, batting ideas around is not the same as being immersed in a revelatory experience. Narayana Guru is definitely not aiming at the former option. Just like Krishna, he wants us to realize, to make real, our inner propensity for excellence.

         Taking his cue from Vidyananda’s exegesis, most of Nitya’s commentary speaks to the Gita, such as this:


The Bhagavad Gita says nobody can remain even for a short while without doing action. For the embodied being action is imperative. If the course of action is left to the push and pull of random chance, it soon becomes so complicated that one loses his ground and will not be able to retract himself from the whirlpools of frightful actions. So it is necessary to know the secret of action and make it unitive with the understanding of the cause and effect involvement of the ego with several programs of action. This problem being very grave, even Lord Krishna in the Gita says that the course of action is too difficult to comprehend, even for a wise person.


What is meant here by “the course of action” is the threads of karma. Many people make simplistic pronouncements about what causes what, but real action has a dizzyingly complex basis. When these complexities are taken into account even theoretically, it reveals that our judgments about cause are largely a matter of prejudice. Which is good to know. Life presents us unerringly with the outcome of the totality of karma, but our grasp of its origin is rudimentary at best, and invariably speculative.

         Processing this can allow us to release our sense of guilt and incompetence so we can play the game more masterfully, with full focus. We must take responsibility only for actions we initiate, not for the tides that sweep us along. And it’s crucial to know the difference, in our own lives and those of others:


In this vast field of phenomenal changes, action belongs to the ‘other’ and one need not pin one’s responsibility or conscience to it. One has to own actions only when they are willed with the motivation of achieving an end. It is here action has to become unitive.


         In closing the Yoga Darsana study, we should definitely have assimilated the meaning of yoga, which opens the door to an absorbing entrance into nirvana, the subject of the final darsana. To this end we mounted a couple of “final exams” about yoga. First was for everyone to share how we defined yoga for ourselves; in other words, how action becomes unitive. These were, in fact, unitive exams—nonbinding, ungraded, lighthearted, done to broaden our wisdom rather than to put anyone on the spot.

         I offered the basic idea of uniting opposites as intrinsic to yoga, and gave a sketch of Nataraja Guru’s brilliant explanation from Unitive Philosophy. You can read it in Part II.

         I also shared a recent example, from the anthropological conference I just attended. After my sketch of the Gita’s relevance to the modern world, the chair of the Anthro/sociology department at a university on the East Coast asked me what that kind of yoga actually meant. I asked her if she had ever felt inadequate, that she didn’t measure up. That question hit the nail on the head—she was from a Russian Jewish family from Philadelphia, with classic mother issues. She said “Oh God, yes! My mother… I could never satisfy her.” I suggested it was impossible to fill the void in her mother by constantly doing things for her (not too much of a leap), and she groaned, “She was a black hole. You could pour anything in and it just disappeared without a trace.” This woman was also an aspiring writer. I told her yoga in this case was a way of countering all that inadequacy with what she knew about herself that was positive—kind, thoughtful, smart, what have you. You use that counterweight to pull the negative bolus to the center, where you bring positive and negative together. Right in your heart. You realize they are other people’s ideas, and that even your own ideas are extraneous to the present moment. When they are evenly mated you can disregard them, which allows your creative drive to come forth with minimal distortion. The woman’s eyes lit up. It was a new and delicious concept. She practically gasped, “That sounds wonderful!” Even the bare-bones idea gave her a little lift from the endless misery of non-yogic interaction, which is epitomized in the second half of verse 23 of Atmo: “the self-centered man is wholly immersed in necessity, performing unsuccessful actions for himself alone.” Who needs it! We all need very badly to get free of it, and yoga is the method.

         The conference did produce a couple of useful terms to veil enlightenment, so it could be safely treated in an academic environment. I liked “non self-referential” states, because it implied how much of our wheel-spinning behavior stems from an obsession with our self, our persona, and forcing it to measure up. Self-referential thinking is antithetical to a yogic state. Another term was “non-symbolic” states, meaning those evidencing direct experience. Concepts are symbols, and they cloak experience in cloying add-ons. Moments where we enjoy a creative rush without having to define it are non-symbolic.

         Getting back to yoga, Deb thought of a ropes course our children practiced on at school. I think it’s now called slack lining, where you walk on a loose rope instead of a tightrope, which gives a supreme challenge to maintain balance. The kids had another rope to hold onto so they didn’t fall, but it’s still quite a workout. Deb thought it exemplified Harmony’s name: you had to be in balance, in harmony, to pass the course of the rope.

         Deb also thought of how ropes and other things are braided together. Making one thing out of many makes it stronger and more useful.

         Karen reported she had been on a roller coaster ride all week, with many ups and downs at high speed. It was like she was strapped in and had to go with it. She is not usually subject to big surges of emotion, but she bumped up against several interesting phenomena that caused her to be alternately excited one day and then disappointed the next. She “took Sunday off” to stay quiet and take a look at what was going on, which is a very nice example of yoga in action. She said it helped a lot. I added that Karen’s lifetime of pacific strength served her in good stead, as she recovered her inner calm quite rapidly after her wild week.

         Once Karen’s roller coaster ride ended, she made up her mind not to get back on board. She added that having a sense of humor about it helped too. Jan laughingly agreed. She has been on a rough ride of her own for some time, though she’s pretty much heading out the turnstile, and she knows that keeping a sense of humor helps a lot, making it easier to let go of problems after they are resolved. Humans do have a tendency to keep replaying their travails, even past the point where we might learn anything more about them. Letting go is another aspect of yoga in action.

         Susan summed it all up by saying that it’s not so much what happens to you but how you react to it. She cited the beginning of the commentary, of how important it was to listen, and meditate on what you hear, wrapping up our survey of yoga techniques.

         The second “exam question” was based on the Gita’s famous yogic instruction about action and inaction in chapter IV, titled Jnana Yoga:


18)         One who is able to see action in inaction and inaction in action—he among men is intelligent; he is one of unitive attitude, while still engaged in every (possible) kind of work.


Nitya gives us the incentive to look into this, that if we don’t pay attention we are likely to become entangled in complicated unintended consequences:


When the ego is infatuated with the emotional or value significance of the end of action, one loses sight of the binding nature of action. So a karma yogi, as advocated by the Gita, sees action in inaction and inaction in action.


After a period of silence I offered the basics, which are related to another famous Gita quote:


II.69)         What is night for all creatures, the one of self-control keeps awake therein; wherein all creatures are wakeful, that is night for the sage-recluse who sees.


When we act without reflection, it’s as if no one is home. We are just doing what we must and not adding any influence. So we are inactive even in the midst of action. Clueless, you might say. Then again, if we don’t add anything to the demands of the situation, we can calmly go along with its requirements and not lose our cool. Losing our cool would be an action within the ongoing action, and so disruptive. Staying inactive within our actions means we are free from doubt, regret, wishful thinking, and so on, and just allowing it to happen.

         By contrast, if we sit still and contemplate, we become much more aware of the situation, more alive to it. Thinking is often the very best form of action, and the less physically active we are, the easier it is to bend our minds to the subject. It’s also worth noting that the Gita does not say there is only action in inaction and inaction in action—I’d say both states (which are in any case relative) include aspects of both action and inaction. Krishna just wanted us to not think divergently about action, and he teaches us brilliantly by challenging our intelligence.

         Deb noted that the Gita’s teaching of not wanting the fruits of action was a core part of inaction in action, an astute insight if I do say so. If you don’t have any intent to get something your action doesn’t have the sense of grasping. If you’re not so invested in it, that’s what you can call inaction in action.

         Jan’s contribution was talking about dealing with situations that present themselves and then quieting and centering yourself so the authentic you that wants to come forward can come forward. Giving yourself enough meditative time to get vertical. She likes that this leads her to see the other person’s perspective, especially in terms of their emotions, and this really brings out her compassionate nature.

         Karen brought up a current feeling we all shared: admiration of the kids who have mobilized the entire country against those making war on them with guns. The March for our Lives happened two days before our class, and the kids were amazing. The whole world is in awe of their carriage. It’s impossible to adequately honor them here in the notes, though our conversation was very moving. It was surely unitive action at its best. Deb told us of our son-in-law’s take. He contributed money to the rally, and in thanking them he said he “hopes we are riding on youth’s coattails to a better world.”

         This leads to Nitya’s allusive invitation to face up to the impossible complexities of karma and unify them:


Natural actions, actions to fulfill bodily necessities, and actions to perpetuate the welfare of the world are always relevant. When the relevancy is accepted with full understanding, and actions are performed in accordance with the injunctions of the science of the Absolute, karma becomes unitive. Such knowledge of the non-Self distinctly reveals the Self as the Supreme Knower in all sentient beings.


This is undoubtedly mysterious, even as we can easily agree to it. I think what Nitya is getting at is if we look at the world and subtract our intentionality, we can see how it functions amazingly well and has a current of its own. It cannot possibly be random. There is a coherent direction, or many coherent directions, and they are all coordinated by what we call the Self or atman. You could call it nature or physics or some other term of the moment, but it still isn’t random. A random universe would have self-destructed almost immediately. And it surely isn’t “me” who makes it happen, though mega-narcissists like to believe such poppycock. For now we are looking with unselfish absorption and deep gratitude at a supremely functioning bounty nestled in our barely-deserving arms.

         This perspective itself is a kind of psychic release, as Nitya well knows:


Knowledge of this transcendental aspect of the Self, the param, releases the mind from all its cravings. As a result, the lower self comes to know the higher Self in all its glory. This is jnana yoga.


The conclusion should be obvious by now, but Nitya does us the favor of making it explicit just in case:


When the secret of the Self and non-Self are taken together, it is evident that there is only one yoga. It is of both jnana and karma and also it is neither jnana nor karma alone. This is the conclusive teaching the Guru gives on yoga.


I closed with a reading from Love and Blessings that shows how yoga can take place even without any direct involvement by us, just naturally occurring in the circumstances of our lives. It’s how the whole thing operates, after all. It’s an oldie but goodie, and I’ll clip in some of it to Part II. And so we bow to the profundities of Yoga Darsana, and the great soul who bequeathed it to us, a perfectly natural action.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


The two divisions of Yoga are wisdom (jnāna) and action (karma), characterized in the following way. The Yoga of wisdom is concerned with the reality underlying the principles of the Self –which are based on existence, subsistence and value or bliss. These principles have to be brought within the scope of one's experience in the form of self-realization. This requires a discrimination between lasting and transient values in life belonging to the four prerequisites of the same kind mentioned in Vedāntic texts. Such realization can take place only under conditions of detachment. As for the Yoga of action (karma) it has the following characteristics. The carrying out of such necessary duties or actions which have the wisdom of the Self as the end in view and are done without any thought of enjoying the fruit and gain therefrom, as well as having no sense of bondage, but rather keeping within the limit of righteousness, as an offering to the Lord (isvara,) such is the Yoga of action.

The division made in the Bhagavad-Gitā (III.3) refers to the kind of principle of classification of the two kinds of Yoga and conforms and justifies the same when it says that the Yoga of wisdom of the Sāmkhyans and the Yoga of action of the Patanjali yogins, are the two main disciplines found in this world since ancient times. The Yoga of wisdom has also other descriptive titles applied to it, such as jnāna-yajna (the wisdom-sacrifice), Sāmkhya-yoga (meditation based on reason), tyāga (renunciation), samnyāsa (more mature renunciation), buddhi (discrimination), buddhi yoga (meditation based on discrimination), akarma (non-ritualism), naiskarmya (non-activity), and kevala-jnāna (plain and simple wisdom).

In the same way the Yoga of action has other descriptive titles applied to it, such as yoga-yajna (the meditation-sacrifice,) yajna (sacrifice), nishkāma-karma-yoga (the way of meditation which aims at no advantageous fruits thereof), and kevala-yoga (plain and simple Yoga) as well as kevala-karma (plain and simple action). There is also the term dharma (righteous way of life) applied to both the Yoga of wisdom and the Yoga of action.

In reality both are the same. The Bhagavad-Gitā (V. 4 & 5) makes it clear that Sāmkhya and Yoga are to be looked upon as the same, and he who sees this alone truly sees. It also underlines that only children treat them as distinct and not well informed pandits. Even if one of these disciplines is properly accomplished the result of both of them accrues. These passages in the Bhagavad-Gitā treat wisdom and action as forming one discipline only. It is necessary, however, to have the guidance of wisdom as a primary condition. One has to recognise that all actions depend upon wisdom or intelligence. Thereafter, when action is performed it has to be done with intelligence, detachment and the sense of non-active understanding. That is, one should be able to see action in inaction, and non-action in action.

The one who is able to see these two disciplines as not being different is both a jnāna-yogi and a karma-yogi. The Bhagavad-Gitā (IV. 18) also says that the man who is able to see in action non-action, and in non-action action is a true yogi while still engaged in every kind of action. The gist of this statement and all the elaborations to which it is capable of being subjected, confirm the unity of these two disciplines.

All the further ramifications of the discipline of Yoga are comprised within the scope of jnāna-karma-yoga (the Yoga of combined wisdom and action). Even this distinction in reality is not of much consequence. In spite of this, however, in order to distinguish the way of life proper to those who adhere to philosophy and call themselves samnyāsins (mature renouncers) and those who combine philosophy with their own activities correctly belonging to their own situation in life, can be more properly called karma-yogis. This distinction in nomenclature is commonly adopted in order to distinguish the two patterns of behaviour in ordinary life. On closer examination both are the same. As the Bhagavad Gitā (V. 5) puts it, the same point of attainment is reached by the Sāmkhya philosophers and the Patanjali Yogins.

Although the Bhagavad-Gitā initially accepts the outward duality between the two disciplines, it stresses the inner unity based on the common end of both. In short, whatever action one might perform and whatever Yoga one might practise it has to be done under the auspices or guidance of intelligence. It is only for action done under such guidance that the name of Karma-yoga or the Yoga of action can be applied. It is only when Yoga is accompanied by wisdom that it can be considered to be the supreme goal of human existence which is moksha (liberation) or nirvāna (absorption).


*         *         *


         This excerpt from my commentary of the Gita’s II.39 and Nataraja Guru’s Unitive Philosophy is of crucial importance to understanding yoga dialectics:


         The Gurukula defines saccidananda (sat-chit-ananda) as existence-subsistence-value (or meaning), which is different than other systems, especially the ananda part, which is usually translated as bliss or joy. Relating what we have studied so far to saccidananda per Nataraja Guru, Chapter I was observational, pertaining to sat on the lowest level of the vertical axis. The Samkhya section we have just concluded deals with chit, the induction and deduction of linear thought. The next section on Yoga brings in dialectic thinking useful in matters of ananda or value, at the top of the vertical axis. All these can and should be treated integrally and not sequentially, but it is very important to distinguish the different types of ideation and their proper fields. Nataraja Guru cautions us that “Dialectics is conducive to unitive understanding only, and spoils the case when applied to ordinary situations in life where usual ratiocinative methods or logic would be the proper instrument to employ.” (Gita, p. 112.) He elaborates on this structural scheme in his Unitive Philosophy (377-78):


  Between a posteriori inferences from experimental data, we pass thus into the domain of such propositions as the famous Cartesian dictum, cogito ergo sum, and build rational or theoretical speculations upwards till we touch a region in pure higher reasoning which employs dialectics, called by Plato the highest instrument of reasoning, independent of all visible or sensible facts.

  This kind of reasoning, the dialectical, which takes us to the threshold of higher idealistic values in life is the third and the last step in philosophical methodology taken as a whole. The laws of nature refer to the world of existence. Rules of thought, whether axiomatic or based on postulates, refer to the world of subsistence. The third step of reasoning lives and has its being in the pure domain of human values, those referring to the True, the Good or the Beautiful, which are values in life and thus belong to the domain of axiology.

  The visible, the intelligible and the value worlds which we can mark out on a vertical line represent levels of higher and higher reasonings culminating in the dialectical. It is like soaring, or resorting to ascending dialectics as spoken of in certain circles. This level has, just inferior to it, the world of formal or syllogistic reasonings admitting of the limits of contradictions at its lower limit and of tautology at its higher limit, where logistic and propositional calculi are employed.

  At the lowest level in this vertical axis, where empirical or at least ontological factors prevail, referring to existent aspects of the physical world actually, perceptually or even conceptually understood, we have a region where certitudes naturally take the form of laws such as that of gravitation, or the conservation of matter and energy. Electromagnetic and thermodynamic laws belong to the Einsteinian physical world, whether treated epistemologically as real or ideal.

  Thus existential, subsistential and value aspects of the Absolute have three different methodological approaches, one proper to and compatible with each.

  A normal methodology applicable to integrated knowledge whether philosophical or scientific has to accommodate within its scope these three kinds of approaches to certitude, each in its proper domain. The experimental method suits existential aspects of the Absolute, the logical suits the subsistential and the dialectical suits the value aspects of the Absolute. Interest in the physical world gives place in the second stage of ascent to logical psychology or phenomenology, where ratiocination plays its part. Finally we ascend higher into the third aspect of the Absolute where value relations hold good and the instrument or methodology used is that of dialectics.


*         *         *


         Finally, the excerpt from Love and Blessings, the end of the chapter Cancellation of Gain and Loss. Nitya has been teaching at a college in Madras, now Chennai:


         By the beginning of 1954 the atmosphere at the college had become rather suffocating. Although nobody directly asked me to resign, there were several pinpricks. I thought I would wait for Nataraja Guru’s counsel before taking an initiative. And although I thoroughly enjoyed my sessions with the students, I felt an urge to walk away from institutions and find the freedom to go into whatever pleased my inner self. The call to go into an elaborate comparative study of Narayana Guru with all the major philosophers of the world was becoming irresistible. Moreover, my stance for equality was getting me into hot water with the administration.

         A few days later Nataraja Guru came to see me again. When I told him how smothering the college atmosphere was and how I felt like revolting against it, Guru said, “An educational institution is a sacred place. When you were in need of it, the Vivekananda College opened its doors and welcomed you. When you leave it, you should go out with dignity, without regret and without malice to anyone. Give your blessings to the students and say goodbye in good taste to your colleagues.” He added that leaving a position should always be considered a promotion, like leaving a short ladder to get onto a taller one. So I tendered my resignation with good grace.

Though as usual Nataraja Guru had said exactly the opposite of what I’d expected, it was sound advice. If he hadn’t cleared my mind I’d have felt very angry and frustrated. Afterwards I learned firsthand of the Benevolent Grace that guided me to leave my academic career behind when I revisited Vivekananda College twenty years later. I went to the philosophy department and saw all my old friends sitting on dirty chairs in musty rooms and looking no brighter than the fossils displayed in the biology lab.

         A couple of days before Nataraja Guru’s arrival on that occasion, I had received a letter from my sister, Subhashini, that she had chosen the man she wanted to marry and that the wedding should be performed at an early date because of my father’s worsening condition. It had been quite some time since I’d seen my father, so I thought of going to stay with him until after the wedding. Nataraja Guru agreed to solemnize her marriage.

         My father was sinking each day. He was literally having heart failure. Every day it failed, and every day it was revived. By his bedside my father had the manuscript of his last book, his reflections on Narayana Guru’s teaching. He expressed a desire for Nataraja Guru to write an introduction for it. After the wedding, when all the guests had departed, my younger sister, Sumangala, read some of the poems to Nataraja Guru. The next day as he was about to leave, he wrote a short introduction, which my sister read out to my father. Then he lay back peacefully, and Nataraja Guru took leave of us.

         I remained with my father, sitting on his bed. I’d had no sleep for a few nights and was very tired. I leaned on the wall and dozed off. My mother gently nudged me. When I looked into her eyes, she looked at my father, and I could see he was dead. There was no other reaction from my mother. She just accepted it. Thus within twenty-four hours there was a happy wedding and a not so happy death in the same family.

         Guru read of my father’s death in the paper the next day. He sent me a card saying, “This is typical of the incidents in the life of an absolutist, to have the plus and minus aspects balancing and canceling each other out, leaving the absolutist in the silence of a neutral zero.” To me it was the snapping of the last link with my family and harkening to a new call to accept the greater freedom of my life’s mission. I returned to the Varkala Gurukula as a regular member of the ashram. (162-3)


Scott Teitsworth