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Darsana Ten - Verse Four


Nirvana Darsana verse 4


The impure-pure is devoid of rajas and tamas

And the other is with rajas and tamas.

The former is known to be in the seeker of liberation,

The latter in those who desire psychic attainment.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


The impure-pure is without passion and inertia,

The other is with passion and inertia.

The former as in one who desires liberation,

While the latter as in those who desire psychic powers, is to be known.


         It’s safe to say that no one in our class is here because they want to develop psychic attainments, or siddhis. Yet that is what the uninformed or misinformed believe Indian philosophy to be all about. The popularity of Paramahansa Yogananda’s autobiography, through which a great many Westerners were introduced to the lurid version of Indian religion, is one major reason. Jan has observed this phenomenon, relating how ironic it is that friends who hear about her class in Indian philosophy have the perception that we are doing something exotic, different, cool, whether becoming wise or who knows what. She does take the opportunity to dispel those myths if she can. Prabu added that in India as well, a widespread belief is that Indian philosophy is all about magical powers and how to attain them. He recalled talking to a philosophy major and asking him about what Indian philosophy he studied as part of his course. The response was that the Indian version was all about power seeking, and had nothing to do with philosophy, so it wasn’t included in the curriculum.

         I don’t need to emphasize how unfortunate this is, since what we’re doing is essentially normalizing our consciousness. Mere sanity isn’t exciting enough, unless it’s packaged with grandiose claims of godlike accomplishments. Perhaps that’s a reason sanity is in such short supply these days. I suspect it’s always been somewhat of a rarity.

         The Gurukula, solidly based in traditional wisdom, holds that siddhis are an accidental result of the striving for liberation, and they should never be mistaken for the goal itself. If they are made an intentional goal, you will be led into a deepening morass of entanglements—the opposite of liberation. (I have clipped in part of my Gita commentary on eight classic siddhis and Nitya’s take on them in Part II.) Nitya quotes an ancient Vyasa asserting that the attainment of power is inimical to the one-pointed concentration needed for liberation, and he cites Patanjali as well:


In the path of yoga there are many pitfalls and snares that can easily trap the ambitious ego of even a sincere aspirant. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, Chapter 3, aphorism thirty-six, it says:


              Thence (from the knowledge of purusha) arise prescience, (pratibha), supernormal power of hearing, (sravana), supernormal power of touch, (vedana), supernormal power of sight, (adarsa), supernormal power of taste, (asvada), and supernormal power of smell, (varta).


Vyasa says that when the knowledge of purusha is acquired these faculties are developed involuntarily, i.e. without the application of samyama.


I shared how Nitya was unequivocal that siddhis were at best a distracting side issue, and that intense focus had to be maintained on retaining clarity. Of course the abilities are quite cool—who wouldn’t want supernormal sensibilities, for starters? And that’s precisely why great care is needed. It is very easy to be sucked into a seemingly benign pursuit that demands more and more of your time and attention until it becomes a kind of shroud of superimpositions, as Paul eloquently described it. To paraphrase an old saw, the more power you gain the more it corrupts you. Have you seen any evidence of this lately in the public sphere?

         All we are after in our humble studies is attaining a neutral state of balance. Nancy likened it to seeing a book leaning on a shelf: you naturally want to straighten it. Leaning with your body can give you a bad back, as one of her clients recently reported to her. Nancy read out this paragraph:


Even in the first chapter of the aphorisms of Patanjali a warning is given, in aphorism thirty. There the impediments which disturb the mind are given as sickness, incompetence, doubt, delusion, sloth, non-abstention, erroneous conception, non-attainment of any yogic stage, and instability to stay in a yogic state.


Nancy, while owning up to intimate familiarity with those impediments and more, felt that there was nothing to be attained in this. It’s just that if you were not disturbed by any of these all-too-familiar states of mind, you would already be in a state of detachment. In other words, liberation is not an attainment at all. To Nancy, compassion and care is the default setting. She felt that if you came to know the state free of impediments, you would be happy to share that with others around you—you would see their sloth and sickness and so on and try to help. It’s just like if something had fallen over, you would pick it back up without a second thought.

         After reading the commentary some days ago, ‘prescient’ internet participant Pratibha wrote: “Some would argue that rajas and tamas are always present, though in varying proportions.” I agree, and we addressed this in the class. It seems to me what the Guru means is that all three gunas are always present in the seeker, but one tends to be dominant. The cliché is to refer to a person as being one or the other, as if it was a monolithic condition, but they all go together and so are all present.

         Many people believe the point of spirituality is to “become more sattvic,” a rajasic notion, by the way. Doing is rajasic. Anyway, the Gita and the Gurukula version of Vedanta are unequivocal that in a liberated person the gunas are all to be transcended, not just rajas and tamas. They represent the variety of the conditioning of nature. Yoga is not about being selective about which aspect of nature you resonate with, but about transcendence of all external influences. More on that later.

         The idea in a nutshell is that a sattvic-predominant person is focused on the highest values, while a rajasic person is working for psychic powers and a tamasic one on some casserole of confused values.

         Note here that sattva dominates in the one who desires liberation. While this is an admirable desire, one of the best, it nonetheless implies that such a seeker believes they are not liberated, and so are imagining the virtuous state to be far off. To this extent it isn’t perfect. After this verse we will be taking a look at those who realize they are already liberated, the truly nondual attitude.

         Paul complained (in his gentle way) that transcendence of the phenomenal implies a rejection, and this breeds the very separateness we are trying to overcome. It’s a very good point. I suggested that this too was mainly a semantic issue. Narayana Guru affirms that this world is as real as anything can be, so we can accept it. For instance, Atmopadesa Satakam verse 88 reads in part, “Everything is real in itself; one who grasps the basic truth will understand all this as one.” So transcendence is in a way ultimate acceptance. We aren’t rejecting, only we are no longer being thrown off kilter by transactional events. We are holding steady in a deeper grounding. This is summed up a little inaccurately by saying we transcend the phenomenal. I suggested it’s shorthand for transcending the deluding influence of the phenomenal. I concluded that it’s a particularly good idea to transcend your conditioning, because whatever way we conceive of reality is so much less than what it really is.

         Deb took Ramana Maharshi and Narayana Guru as examples of getting it just right. They were aware and concerned with the world as it appeared on their doorstep, but not upset by any of it. They were amazingly compassionate to animals and people, making sure all their needs were attended to, but any imperfections didn’t draw them out of their blissful states. Care for all wasn’t a task or duty to them: they felt no sense of separation from anything outside, because in truth there was no outside.

         Prabu contrasted this impeccable attitude with Nietzsche’s, who he’s been reading lately. Nietzsche makes a clear distinction between superior and inferior types of people. Since philosophers have superior intellect, they should make the rules that others then are wise to follow. Prabu is right to note the heavy-handed dualism and its potential for abuse, which history wound up amply demonstrating. But we can also understand the appeal, and see how easily and with the best of intentions we might adopt those kinds of alluring ideals. The perversion of the ubermensch by the Not-sees is an epochal cautionary tale.

         After taking all this in, Paul summed up the optimal state as transparency and equanimity toward both the phenomenal and the transcendent. He even suspected they were ultimately the same thing, and I suspect he’s on to something.

         Nataraja Guru speaks to the subtleties involved with a provisional sattvic attitude in Volume II of his Integrated Science of the Absolute:


The broad distinction of a man of action from a man of wisdom is clearly brought out in the Bhagavadgita (VI.1). One can transcend works and discard ritual while still recognizing the value of action as something to be understood and transcended. Wisdom and works cannot be mixed, nor should they ever be rival disciplines. One must rise above this duality into the level of full emancipation. Once this highest level is reached, the ladder (if any) is discarded. This is like removing the scaffolding from a building after it is complete. (153)


         Moving on, Nitya opens his commentary with a brief summary of the basics:


Man acts by compulsion or impulsion. Compulsion comes from conditioning, which is either instinctual or acquired. Instinctive compulsion is a behavioral pattern shared by all members of the species. The dictates of wisdom and the discipline of yoga are directed against such compulsive behavior.


Instinctive compulsion comes from vasanas, our genetic predilections, while acquired compulsions are called samskaras. Nitya provides a neat synopsis of how we are to cope with them:


As a part of the yogi’s sublimating discipline, reflexive and autonomous functions are infused with mindfulness, and unconscious compulsions are substituted with conscious deliberations. Conscious deliberations, however, can become accentuated and reinforced by obsessive naturalistic passions or depressive inhibitions that come in the form of periodic confusion and clouding of the intellect.


Here the conscious deliberations are our sattvic method of accessing the values we aim for. These can be distorted (and often are) by rajasic passions for promulgating one’s visions and/or the depressive inhibitions of tamas for throwing cold water on any kind of visionary impulse, your own or someone else’s. Obviously this is an area demanding careful contemplation to avoid being drawn in to a self-defeating attitude. Once that danger is nullified, we have more subtle challenges to face:


In the rare case of those who steer clear of these anomalies, the only passion that survives is the desire to be liberated and the only confusion stems from putting their trust in the envisioning of a state of liberation which they are prone to structure on the basis of their a priori knowledge of liberation. In their pursuit there is no stain of evil, and their ardent effort will ultimately bear the fruit of liberation. Therefore the nirvana to which they are drawn is certainly pure.


“Evil” is another one of those clichés that it seems is never going to go away. I suppose it’s a handy term, but it has been so grossly exaggerated in America at least that it inevitably supplies its own measure of distortion. The ‘stain of evil’ is like sin: a measure of “missing the mark.” Striving for power (rajas) or smashing all kind gestures and sensible intentions (tamas) are what passes for evil, simply because they do not lead to liberation. They lead to further involvement in binding, self-reinforcing situations. Sattva does the same, in a much gentler fashion. As usual, Nitya puts the limitations of sattvic seekers quite succinctly:


Although their knowledge and volition are free from the modulations of rajasic passions and tamasic confusion, they do not enter the state of pure liberation until their consciousness is freed of their identification with bondage and the notion of liberation as a futuristic possibility. For that reason there is impurity in the conceptual liberation of the seeker.


We must all be familiar with those who get involved with some form of “practice” and get so involved in it that it becomes a substitute for liberation. The striving becomes an end in itself. Or evangelizing. Bill’s frequent quoting of Suzuki-roshi, that we don’t sit in meditation to achieve anything, we sit because it’s our true nature, expresses this idea beautifully.

         Last week we mentioned Rajneesh and Chogyam Trungpa as perfect examples of highly advanced seers who were incautiously drawn into power situations, leading to the downfall of all they had hoped for. These kinds of deceits are very hard to perceive at the outset, as their fallout takes time to arrive. When it finally does, wham! Lots of organization-building (rajas) followed by delusion and isolation, leading eventually to paranoia, anger and hatred (tamas). Nitya epitomizes the resultant state perfectly, quoting from an impeccable source of Indian philosophy:


In the Yoga Vasishtha, Valmiki also laments the fate of the misguided yogic aspirants who are ensnared by psychic attainments. In spite of their discipline, their conceit and ambition to hold positions of power among their deluded fellow humans causes them to perpetuate around themselves a faith in the hallucinatory phenomena of the miracle, which drowns both themselves and others in the muddy waters of confusion that are surrogatively looked upon as spiritual. Hence the state of such a yogic aspirant is termed here as doubly impure.


Ah yes, being top dog of everyone unhinged enough to believe you’re special, the fondest desire of both politically-motivated and religiously-motivated power-seekers! Not, however, by those dedicated to true liberation. Deb characterized it as a popular distraction and distortion. She offered that in authentic spirituality you are normalizing yourself rather than gaining power over deluded humans.

         The contrast of our little group of gentle, loving souls with the seething masses hoping for a peek at their adored guru driving by in an expensive car or on his way to the bar for more “crazy wisdom” couldn’t be greater. I am eternally grateful to Nitya for somehow preserving his humility and resisting the lure of fame. He was always available to the “muddy pigs” he cared for, and never asked us to be anything but what we were in the truest depth of our being. Well, he sometimes suggested we take a bath.

         He was right.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


It has been stated that the type of nirvana which characterises a person who has got rid of the stains coming from inertia and passion, and whose spirit by its purity of bright and intelligent qualities (i.e. sattva guna) begins with desire for liberation and a wholehearted aloneness (towards full liberation) is named the impure-pure. By the term mumukshu (one who desires liberation) as stated above, one has to think of a type of person whose passionate and inert tendencies have been abolished, and what remains is the bright and intelligent tendency which alone is characterised by the desire for liberation. Although such a person is still under the sway of some sort of desire, however pure, and because his attainment of nirvana is not yet fully perfect, it would not be wrong to class it under impure nirvana. Though such a person is called impure-pure because of the fact that he has the end of perfection in view, and because his desire is characterized with reference to liberation, it is not wrong to qualify it as also being pure. When subjected to such a close examination, there is seen to be present the impurity coming from desire and the purity consisting of the pure tendency referring to emancipation as the goal. As these two traits abide together, the combined epithet of impure-pure has been applied to this type of nirvana.

When a person through his long habit of contemplation, or by the practice of Yoga, becomes qualified for nirvana, the secondary signs or symptoms of the state into which he has entered are developed in him through psychic powers, such as knowledge about past and future events or happenings. These symptoms come by themselves and indicate the degree of success of the spiritual progress of the aspirant. Patanjali says in the Yoga-Sutras (III. 38):

These (psychic attainments) are obstacles to samàdhi.

Psychic attainments (cause) excitement.

And Vàlmiki in the Yoga-Vàsishtha also cautions:

Again drugs and incantations can produce psychic powers none of them favourable to the attainment of the supreme state of the Self. Is it not when the love of desires and gains have been cancelled that the great gain of the Self takes place? How can it come to a person whose mind is immersed in desire for psychic powers?

There are also many other texts discountenancing the importance of such psychic powers. Therefore, we have to understand that these powers are not commendable because they have been vitiated by passionate and inert attitudes. They are capable of making one who has attained to a high state of nirvana fall from such a state, after making him swerve from the path of salvation. Therefore, the nirvana of the man who desires psychic powers has been classified as impure among the impure. In other words, because the psychic powers as well as the desire for them are both impure, the nirvana qualified by such powers or desires has been called doubly impure. There is no harm in naming this kind of nirvana as extremely impure.



*         *         *


From ISOA, the chapter on Contemplation (Bhakti):


If the ethics of the Christian world grew out of the prototype of the city-state, and that of Islam as against the tribal worship of the cow, we can also generalize here and say that absolutist ethics arose in the ancient forest schools where the sages taught the secret philosophy of the Upanishads to chosen pupils. The teaching was meant for those wishing to go beyond mere ritualism and who were ready to undertake the study of this higher wisdom in the context of Self-knowledge. They had to sit by the teacher and listen to this esoteric secret or non-public teaching first, before closed Vedism opened out dynamically into the open Vedantic way. (323)


*         *         *

Clever Nataraja Guru has unearthed where the terms used by Narayana Guru come from in this darsana. Obviously, Narayana Guru did his homework too! The section on bhumikas in the Yoga Vasishta is then described in the Varaha Upanishad (one of the minor ones) in these terms. In the new edition this section will appear in the second volume, pages 458-460. I’m not able to fix all the diacritics, if you need them get in touch or check your own edition. Italics for the Sanskrit words has also been lost, but it shouldn’t present a problem:



The word bhumikà means contemplative grades in reality. According to the Yoga-vàsishtha the first bhumikà is described as different from that of a person who has not desired liberation at all. The latter is not included among the list of people who have attained any contemplation worthy of being included in the list. His state has been compared to that of a tortoise who, having burrowed a hole for itself in a sand dune within reach of the advancing and receding waves, is ever caught in alternative states of being disturbed by the waves and does not escape the disturbance. The man of good aspirations and intentions by his gentle contemplative ways qualifies himself for the bhumikà. The seven bhumikàs are as follows:

1.   Arya, a man of pure ways (literally, noble).

2.   Vicàra (questioning), one who is interested in learning from noble men all about wisdom. Such a type also avoids getting involved in egotistic and passionate events.

3.   Asamsanga (solitary), a man who stays in the company of yogis and recluses, who himself cultivates meditative detachment and thus leads a contemplative life continuing his researches into the nature of the Absolute.

4.   Svapna (dreaming) is different from the waking state because the world is now treated on a par with the dream-world attained by the person in this state. This bhumikà is normally attained by men who are reborn after the first three relativistic bhumikàs have been crossed in a previous life, after an intermediate period of life in a world of heavenly values where usual enjoyments are also found.

5.   Sushuptapàdam (sleep-based). In this state the man becomes identified with true and pure existence. The visible world does not affect him, nor does any sense of duality. Even if he is active he resembles a somnambulist.

6.   Turiya (the fourth). In this state opposites such as having form and not having form (rupa—arupa) are cancelled out. Mental activities cease and the person remains like a lamp in a picture. He resembles two pots, one above water and the other below the water.

7.   Videhamukta-avasthà (state of incorporeal freedom). This is the ultimate state of all phenomenal becoming. It is not attained by thought or word. Various names have been given to this state, such as that of Siva, Brahmà, Vishnu, Time, Existent Object, Nothingness, etc.

By way of comparison with these seven bhumikàs of the Yoga-vàsishtha, we now quote the seven bhumikàs outlined in the Varàha Upanishad (IV):

In the seven bhumikàs (or stages of development of wisdom) there are four kinds of jivanmuktas. Of these the first stage is subhecchà (good desire); the second is vicàrana (inquiry); and the third is tanumànasi (or pertaining to the thinned mind); the fourth is satvàpatti (the attainment of the pure); the fifth is asamsakti (non- attachment); the sixth is the padàrthabhàvanà (knowing things in themselves) and the seventh is the turiya (the fourth or final stage).17

The Varàha Upanishad continues describing the various kinds of spiritual aspirants:

One who functions in the (first) three bhumikàs is called mumukshu; one who functions in the fourth bhumikà is called a brahmavit; one who functions in the fifth bhumikà is called a brahmavidvara; one who functions in the sixth bhumikà is called a brahma-vidvarãya; and one in the seventh bhumikà is called a brahmavidvarishtha.

We can see how Narayana Guru apparently has adhered to the structure found in the Varàha Upanishad, with slight touching up here and there. There is a difference though between his own definitions and those found in the Yoga-vàsishtha. Narayana Guru does not put turiya outside the scope of jivanmukti. Between the third and fourth bhumikàs there is no intervention of heaven, but a normalized two- sided status is given to the man of nirvàna. Finally, the possibility of evil in the context of the Absolute is more openly recognized by Narayana Guru.


He later comments:


The normal type of a man of nirvana who combines both action and wisdom is given his full place in the classification, while the general tendency in other classifications is to mention action and inaction as distinct paths. We see this in the classification of the seven bhumikàs, classically understood in the Yoga Upanishads and the Yoga-vàsishtha. The perfect symmetry of the revised and rearranged classifications adopted here becomes clear when we keep in mind the fact that all variations are referable to a central normative type. (471)


*         *         *


Part of my commentary on the Gita VIII.15, relating to siddhis:


15)         Having attained to Me, they do not return to this transitory abode of suffering, having reached the highest attainment.


         Attaining the Absolute is an accomplishment that irrevocably changes one’s life and mental outlook for the better. It’s just common sense that once you understand something, you don’t forget it the next day and have to start over. It becomes a permanent part of your basic awareness. This is all the more true when the psyche is flooded with the light and wonder of the Absolute. The dark fingers of lurking doubts are dispelled instantly, and the yogi may even laugh out loud with relief. To emerge from a lifetime of anxiety and bafflement to the shining, love-filled openness of the Absolute is an ineffable experience.

         The attainments referred to here, for which the Absolute is the ultimate, are called siddhis. Siddhis are graded powers obtained as the fruits of yogic practice. The primary ones from the Gita’s time are: the ability to shrink to the size of an atom (anima); expanding in size (mahima); becoming heavy (garima); becoming light (laghima); the ability to penetrate everywhere (prapti); obtaining one’s desires (prakamya); dominance (isitva); and the power to subjugate others (vasitva). There are lots of minor ones too. All of them are limited, and like attaining to heaven are temporary high points in a dualistic life, fraught with potentially negative consequences associated with the abuse of power in general. But for those who think in such terms as openly as possible, as with worshippers of other “divinities” in Krishna’s parlance, there is a possible culmination at the highest trajectory in the pure Absolute. This is a lasting achievement that transcends all grades and limitations.

         Some siddhis will naturally come as a byproduct of a well-directed effort, but realization of the Absolute will not come as a byproduct of intentionally seeking lesser powers. Therefore we should bend our efforts to the supreme siddhi, and not dilute them by directing them to insignificant powers. After all, dilution and delusion are closely related.

         Of the eight primary siddhis mentioned above, the last three are the most common in our day. Those adroit at obtaining their desires and dominating and subjugating others are daily vaunted in the media and entertainment programs. Some martial arts adepts practice becoming both heavy and light, and they can be quite immovable or hard to catch if they get good at it. The others strike me as very uncommon. Another siddhi I have heard of is where sexually renounced recluses become irresistibly attractive to the opposite gender, which must strike them as a major impediment, a kind of cosmic joke: you get it only if you truly don’t want it.

         The only real siddhi I have personally witnessed, expanding space in the vicinity, probably falls under the category of mahima. My guru would hold classes for twenty or thirty of us in spacious rooms, where we would have no consciousness of being crowded. After his passing I revisited a couple of them and they were inexplicably tiny! I thought they must have been remodeled, since we couldn’t possibly have fit in them, but they had not. Somehow he brought a vast ambience, more like an extra dimension, into the cramped quarters in which we met with him. He never intended it to happen, it just did. There is a photograph in his autobiography Love and Blessings of at least seventeen of us in his room in Varkala in 1980, with Nitya sitting at a desk and bookshelves behind him. When I took it I was standing in the doorway, far enough back to include almost but not quite everybody. On a subsequent visit I learned the room is roughly 8 by 8 feet, barely big enough for the two cots it now holds. Look at the picture and you cannot square it with its actual size no matter how you strain your brain.

         It should be eminently clear by now that Krishna has little respect for those seeking temporal powers. His role as guru is to guide the seeker to the highest realization, both positively as a supreme attraction and negatively by ruling out inferior indulgences. His exhortation doesn’t mean that our psychic development shouldn’t impact our life; obviously it should, and it invariably does. But that’s precisely why not being satisfied with lesser attainments is so critical. The “transitory abode of suffering” is not the whole world, as is often supposed, but the realm of unspiritual interests, where life is filled with anxiety and conflict over delusory pursuits. Since Krishna is presenting some secrets of meditation here, he wants to be assured that his disciple will always aim at the highest possible value, and not be distracted by the tawdry psychic powers that so often attract the gullible and the poorly informed. Jesus summed up the same idea in his query, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)



Scott Teitsworth