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
Nataraja Guru’s translation:
impure-pure is without passion and inertia,
other is with passion and inertia.
former as in one who desires liberation,
the latter as in those who desire psychic powers, is to be known.
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.
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.
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
(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,
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Guru speaks to the subtleties involved with a provisional sattvic attitude in
Volume II of his Integrated Science of
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)
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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):
(psychic attainments) are obstacles to samàdhi.
attainments (cause) excitement.
Vàlmiki in the Yoga-Vàsishtha also
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
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:
(i) THE SEVEN BHUMIKAS
The word bhumikà
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
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
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
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
seven bhumikàs of the Yoga-vàsishtha, we now quote the seven bhumikàs
outlined in the Varàha Upanishad (IV):
In the seven bhumikàs
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
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
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
attained to Me, they do not return to this transitory abode of suffering,
having reached the highest attainment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)