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Darsana Ten - Verses Six & Seven


Nirvana Darsana verses 6 & 7


Having renounced all action,

always established in the Absolute,

who moves about the world merely to conduct bodily life –

he is the superior knower of brahma.


He knows only when informed by another,

does not know by himself –

such a person is the more superior.

He always enjoys absorption in the Absolute.


Nataraja Guru’s translation:


He who, renouncing all action,

Always established in the Absolute,

Continues the course of bodily life, wandering

In the world, (he) is the elect knower of the Absolute.

He, being informed by another is able to know,

But he himself does not know,

He is the more elect, who always

Enjoys absorption in the Absolute.


         The remainder of Darsanamala will be mostly absorptive meditations rather than verbal extrapolations, and the notes will reflect that. Much of the material today is in Part II: supportive content from elsewhere. We combined two verses touching on progressive stages of absorption, as Nitya had little to add, mostly quoting magnificent sections from the Bhagavad Gita that were suggested by Swami Vidyananda.

         One way to keep the Nirvana Darsana relevant is to think of the absorption as temporary, as in meditation sessions or creative endeavors. It reads as though the stages are permanent, but we lightweights tend to dip in to stillness and then rejoin our busy lives, hopefully retaining some of that peacefulness within.

         Eventually, one way or another, we will become more absorbed and less interactive with the outside world. I see this as begging for a positive reframing of what is medically viewed as dementia in older people. The idea of “losing our mind” brings anxiety and panic, where “spiritual absorption” might be honored: the former to be battled against and the latter to be venerated. I have reprinted Peggy’s magnificent poem showing just how well this reframing worked with her mother, at the end of Part II.

         Some of you may also remember the New York Times article I cited ten years ago now, “Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain”: It focuses on very mild cases of “nirvana,” but the basis of the revaluation is well presented in it. As our perspective broadens with maturity we may well lose touch with the swarm of miniscule “facts” in the process, but that’s okay. I wonder if this detaching process will be amplified now that we have machines that are so good at keeping track of the details, freeing us to wonder as we wander.

         Deb reminded us that many traditional cultures respected their older members, and cared for them reverently. Of course, old age was rather rare back then, which would help. Such an attitude is hard to imagine fitting in with the modern beehive mentality, where it’s produce or die, but we conscientious meditators don’t have to buy into the dominant paradigm. Deb felt that if we recognized that the renounced or absorbed state exists within us all the time, we would not be thrown so off-balance when it surfaces.

         Paul wondered about the hierarchical division of purity in these last verses. If something is pure, how can it be differentiated into grades? Paul recalled Nitya’s image of a playwright who is sitting in the audience watching his show. Having created the characters, he is bound to have a different feeling toward them than the rest of the audience, who are sure to think of them as more real. He will not be so easily drawn in to the drama, and is likely to have a more detached and critical attitude about what transpires.

         This is a perfect time to invoke the image of the Absolute as water, so favored by Vedantins. A wave travels as an impulse across the ocean until it reaches a shallow bottom, symbolic of horizontal impediments. It rises up and breaks in a furious display, churning up sand and mud in its foam, and afterwards glides to the shore, losing energy, becoming more quiet, until at last it leaves an almost invisible rim on the sand and is gone. In the Nirvana Darsana we are within this last stage of the wave, and it still has varieties of expression, but all along it was nothing but water. I guess we can say that the horizontal factors, the depth, sand and turbulence, provide the impurities, but they never do change the water into anything but what it always was. So there are grades of purity even as the ultimate context is unchanging.

         I reiterated that the whole course of the wave is “the most important part.” It isn’t that the dying out at the end is what it’s all about, as though everything is only a means to an end. The means is the end. All of it is beautiful. Last week we reflected on Narayana Guru praying to remain as a wave just a little longer, so he could do important things to help others. As I put it, the period of the breaking wave is the most spectacular and interesting part of the whole production, yet we’re learning to cherish every bit of it.

         And we certainly don’t have to obsessively micromanage our personal wave! In verse 6, Nitya likens much of our functioning to a machine driven by natural forces, hinting that we don’t need to dedicate our full attention to operating it:


A windmill exposed to the wind spontaneously turns according to the course of the wind, and it rotates without any conscious deliberation on the part of the wheel or the mill. The body-mind organism is part of nature’s creative device, and it will go on until, by its own wear and tear, the body falls apart. Such automatic functioning is inevitable, and action belonging to this category is known as prarabdha. The psychophysical functioning of a superior knower of the Absolute is similar.


Then in the next verse, 7, the surrender is underlined:


All psychophysical functions are programmed for only a short display by the individuated self. Within the frame of reference of the time-space continuum, they are controlled by cause and effect dynamics just so long as the individual believes in playing a role-identity.


In this light, Moni said that doing good—as opposed to acting unitively—creates certain conditions that constrain our actions, and this is opposed to the spirit of our study. Nancy added that in absorption we act without thought, in a sense. At least we restrain the managerial thinking that is the most obvious level of our surface mind.

         Playing at being a mere persona is something we have been working to outgrow in our Darsanamala study. It’s a mystery how we can foster the process, but whether we do or not, if we live long enough our mania with surface issues will fade away. Nitya neatly describes what happens when we let go, voluntarily or otherwise:


This identity cannot be maintained when the imprisoned consciousness of the individual breaks the ego boundary and expands into a cosmic consciousness. Having once attained that consciousness, individuation is more or less effaced. Senses are withdrawn from the externally illuminated world of name and form and the transactional interrelationships of things. Awareness becomes minimal. All colorations and conditionings of the past begin to fade out. The place of ego-consciousness is substituted by Self-awareness.


         In this section of the Nirvana Darsana, our associates can still bring us back to earth. I always picture the opening scene in Fellini’s movie 8 ½, where he’s soaring through the skies and is suddenly yanked down to the ground like a wayward kite by two black-robed priests. In his time in Italy the Catholic Church was a dominant purveyor of rules. In any case, this is the stage where we need to be cared for by others if our bodily existence is going to persist, because we are more or less tuned out from that aspect.

         Bill and Nancy have recently been attending a dear friend who was on his deathbed. They described him as being in both worlds at once, here and elsewhere, easily laughing or crying with joy, lighthearted and childlike. He was intensely feeling the love around him; as Bill put it, seeing the Self within the world. In this case he was still in possession of all his faculties: it was a physical death from cancer and not a fading out of the mind.

         Nitya speaks to a state where a person is perhaps farther than that beyond the borderline of the here and hereafter:


A short-term revival of the empirico-rational awareness can be effected by an outside agency, though as the suggested meanings of names and forms have become fictitious to such a person, it is unlikely that any real interest can be revived in sense objects or ratiocination of events. Absorption in the universal has now become most natural.


         Deb told us about a lama in Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard. Matthiessen encountered him in a remote valley high in the Himalayas. The lama was old and crippled and so was confined to his home in the rugged terrain. Matthiessen asked him if it bothered him that he was stuck there, and the lama laughingly responded, “I love it even more that I can’t leave!” The illusion of there being somewhere else to go is one of the distractions to appreciating where we happen to be.

         Inevitably we discussed how we are to get where we’re going, since we are co-conspirators in the game. Paul talked about it in terms of learning compassion, and how hard it was to teach such a skill. He felt it emerged from seeing unity, and that is exactly what the word means. Seeing what unites us all is the basis for all spiritual values, with compassion or empathy exactly at the forefront.

         While compassion is universally admired and widely taught, Paul’s point that it was resistive of us thinking our way into it is well taken. So much of our constructed world is designed to separate, especially in our early development, that compassion is most often learned accidentally. Deb made the point that suffering opens the door to our commonality with others. We didn’t follow up on it, but I reflected how the major disasters in my life were definitely doors to greater compassion. They overwhelmed my ego-orientation and taught me many crucial things. This would be an excellent topic for serious discussion at another time.

         One thing I did say, because we were talking about babies, is how important it is that they have a trustworthy caregiver as they are exploring their world. Paul had brought up the pulsation model, and babies love to seek the new, but as soon as they get past their comfort zone they like to rush back to a secure place in the arms of their loved ones. Once they are restored to their basis of womblike security they gather the confidence to go a little farther next time.

         How sad it is that some babies don’t have the security of a dependable loved one to return to! They become afraid in their explorations and are not reassured, so the fear, with all its attendant miseries, becomes the default setting of their whole lives. Many of them will repay their unloving world with violence and other forms of selfishness. As Nancy and Deb related, there are some government programs to support early childhood care, but like so many critical needs, they are provided fitfully if at all, brushed aside by all sorts of graft and mayhem.

         As always, our thoughtful sharing led us to a profound silence that no one wanted to bring to an end. The compassionate guidance of the gurus embraced us in its love, and we sat for a long time in blissful abeyance of analysis. Aum.


Part II


         Swami Vidyananda’s commentary:


This is the distinguishing characteristic of the man who has attained to the first stage of those who are called elect knowers of the Absolute. This type of knower of the Absolute has only that degree of responsibility about carrying the burden of the body he has come to possess because of actions from the past, only till the moment such actions with their beginnings in the past have been expended and, thus, causes the body to drop off of itself. In the Bhagavad-Gitą (III. 17) we read:

But for him who happens to be attached to the Self alone, who finds full satisfaction in the Self, for such a man who is happy in the Self as such, too, there is nothing that he should do.

What has just been stated also answers to the description of an elect knower of the Absolute. It is this type of elect knower of the Absolute that can correctly be called a sannyąsin (renouncer.) In chapter XII, 13 to 19 of the Bhagavad Gitą we read:

He who has no hatred to all creatures, who is also friendly and compassionate, who is free from possessiveness (mine-ness) and egoism, who is equalised in pain and pleasure, and forgiving,

Such a unitively-disciplined one (yogi) who is always contented, self-controlled, firmly resolved, whose mind and reason are dedicated to Me, he, My devotee, is dear to Me.

He who does not disturb (the peace of) the world and (whose peace) is not disturbed by the world, and who is free from exaggerations of joy, hate and fear, he too is dear to Me.

He who expects no favours, who is clean, expert, who sits unconcerned, carefree, who has relinquished all undertakings, he, My devotee, is dear to Me.

He who neither rejoices nor hates, nor grieves nor desires, and who has relinquished (both) the beneficial and the harmful, such a one endowed with devotion is dear to Me.

He who is the same to foe and friend, and also in honour and dishonour, who is the same in cold and heat, in pleasure and pain, and who is free from attachment,

To whom censure and praise are equal, who is silent (in manner), content with whatever happens to come, having no fixed abode, mentally constant, such a man of devotion is dear to Me.

The person described in these seven verses in chapter XII called bhakti-yoga (Unitive Devotion and Contemplation) refers to the elect knower of the Absolute who has renounced all undertakings in life. Because the contemplative state of this type of knower of the Absolute is free from action, public-mindedness, etc. without even the least touch of urgency to action and attachment to public life, and because he is always in the enjoyment of the bliss of emancipation, this type of nirvana has been put in the category of an elect kind of emancipation or absorption.


Verse 7


The (plain) knower of the Absolute, while engaged without passion or motivated by any (personal) gain, enjoys the bliss of nirvana while doing works beneficial to the world. As for the more elect knower of the Absolute, he, abandoning all works, accomplishes his journey here fully and consciously awake. If we now think of the second type called the more elect (variyąn) knower of the Absolute, he is one without any attachment to the world and without being interested in doing any act. Nonetheless with his activities turned inwards (introspectively) and without any consciousness of outward things, silently remains in the bliss of emancipation or absorption. He attains to outward consciousness only when prompted by somebody else, and, thus, comes to be conscious of such matters as sounds or touch. Thereafter he again relapses into his own natural state of silence and again enters into the bliss of nirvana. In this state of profound peace he enjoys uninterruptedly the bliss of the Self. This kind of nirvana has been termed as the more elect kind of emancipation. This more elect knower of the Absolute is referred to as one who has transcended the sphere of the operation of the three nature-modalities (gunas). It is this very type of jivanmukta (man attaining liberation while still alive) who has transcended the nature-modalities that is described in the Bhagavad-Gitą in XIV. 22-26.


*         *         *


Important excerpts from ISOA Vol. II pertaining to nirvana:


Evil becomes excusable only on the ground of its being inevitable and natural to ordinary human life. As a scorpion with its sting removed cannot be considered a perfect specimen of its kind, so too, human perfection will only suffer by being presented as a mere conceptual abstraction.

  The Science of the Absolute has to make room for the full play of reality under the division of a universal concrete notion comprised within the Absolute. Thus it is correct to think of real men and women when we consider the perfection or Self-absorption reviewed in orderly fashion in the verses of this chapter [Nirvana Darsana]. Their human defects, if any, only enhance their value as real representatives of humanity and not as mere abstractions. (406-7)


Here we have a direct example of the operation of the principle of compensation. In the context of nirvana all men can be considered fundamentally as human beings having the same norm, mainly for purposes of reference only. As in the case of a precious stone, the superiority depends on the principle of uniqueness or rarity of type. By referring to extreme positive and negative instances it should not be thought that a normal type endowed for one kind of expression of absolutism should imitate another. Rather it is to be understood that each man should conform to his own type of behaviour proper to himself. Whether considered pure or valuable depending upon actual circumstances of purer principles of absolutism, the implied norm is always a constant. Thus all become equal in the eyes of God. The absolutist himself who looks at anyone from the same godly perspective can only see it equally reflected in all things, whether considered sacred or profane. (418)


Every man is made in the image of God and has the kingdom of God within him. God is a reference to man and man is His dialectical counterpart, giving the same status to the Son of Man as to the Son of God, i.e. the same Jesus of Nazareth. It is in such a perspective that the content of this chapter, which seems to include good and bad people under the scope of the same value of nirvana, is to be viewed. (419)


Duality is the one overall error or prejudice to be abolished through certitude on the part of a person who has gained a knowledge of this Science of the Absolute. (475)


The methodology consists of a reduction of multiplicity into unity and of taking a verticalized rather than a horizontalized view of reality. (481)


There is no use in again and again saying, as many Vedàntins do, that the world is màyà and therefore unreal. The visible world does not melt away because of any doctrinal conviction. Nirvana or absorption takes place only at the very core of a universal and timeless life when all polarity or duality has been cancelled out by equality, parity or purity of counterparts. (486)


*         *         *


         Susan sent this after the previous notes had gone to press, but I thought it would work just fine here, as it’s mostly a quote from Nitya of general interest:


Here is the penultimate paragraph from the Original Atmo 5:


Today’s meditation is to seek to go back to this light, which is always shining within. Become constantly aware of that, and see that it has no beginning and no end. It is witnessing, the witness within you. There is a great discipline lying in it. You need only your peripheral mind to tend to all the external functions. The core can go on continuously shining as the unchanging cause. Notice, watch and witness all the changes going on and also remain as the unchanging.


This reminded me of something Paul said last week in class, something that has stayed with me all week. He said that we are always striving to be with our true self, the Self within us. We can better and better recognize the superimpositions and distractions in our lives that keep us from that this. More sometime eventually. 


*         *         *


Self and Memory

Peggy Grace Chun


As my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease slowly melded her brain and melted her ability to orient via identity,
I suffered after each visit, sitting in my car weeping.
She suffered deeply also, grasping at flickers of fond memories, panicking when she’d look in a mirror,

drawing maps of relationships, losing them.
We grasped and flailed together,
until one day I came for a visit and she said,
“I have no idea who you are but you’re just lovely.” And I said, “Shall we walk in the garden?”

From that day forth, our suffering ceased, no longer orienting via identity
but rather connecting via our deeper selves in the present moment.

of course, she could no longer safely or freely interface in the broader world,
so I’m not recommending Alzheimer’s disease as a path to “Be Here Now.”

But that remarkable shift we shared
remains my sacred foundational axis...
in life, in love, in art, in the grocery check out line... in standing side by side
quietly peering at the garden’s beauty
where only that delicate purple iris exists.


(Gurukulam Magazine, Fall 2013)


Scott Teitsworth