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Darsanamala Finale


Darsanamala Conclusion


         For our wrap-up we read out each darsana as a unit, thought about it for a moment and then shared our impressions. It turned out to be more stimulating than anticipated, so we only covered the first half. We will finish next week, before taking a break of unknown duration.

         I opened with an appreciation of the extraordinary value of a work such as this at a time such as this, when the public dialogue is plumbing new lows. What a desert for the soul, if not the body itself! It is eminently refreshing to spend time with an intelligent proposition that invites us to bring our best brain- and heart-work into play. Reading each darsana out made it clear how essential an incisive interpretation was, as the original is almost infinitely allusive, requiring a knowledge base that none of us even comes close to having. Even after a lifetime of association with Darsanamala, I was reminded how on my own I would have NO IDEA what Narayana Guru was trying to get across. As always, it seems, Nataraja Guru and Nitya were crucial in gradually converting his celestial vision into a comprehensible format.

         Why not skip these paltry notes take an hour to review the verses on your own and see what occurs to you? I’m not able to pass along a comprehensive sharing from last night, but only some intimations, but that’s okay, because the reflective process is valuable for each student to do on your own. We have delved so deeply examining the trees that we seldom stepped back to admire the forest. Now as we are receding toward a new adventure, why not take a last look at the spectacular wilderness from which we are just emerging?

         Regarding the first darsana, Cosmic Projection, the most important point to be aware of is that Narayana Guru is not presenting a creation myth of his own here, though it resembles one. He is limiting the purview of his modern Upanishad to the consciousness of the seeker, switched on at the dawn of consciousness, switched off at sunset, though that fateful date isn’t precisely defined. How the universe came to be is an interesting speculation that could draw our focus away from more important issues for millions of years. In order to gain mental and spiritual balance, we have to limit ourselves to plumbing who we are and how we relate to what we encounter. Let others argue about chickens and eggs. The projection of the Supreme Lord documented here is therefore our projection, and the Guru suggests that the world as we know it arises from the actualization of our own latent potentials. It is extremely revolutionary to “bring the war back home,” to redirect speculation inside to where it is projected outward instead of imagining it as battalions of external forces impinging inward. This is truly the first significant step toward reclaiming our sovereignty.

         Self-knowledge depends on this type of inward focus, whereas the notion of an external source is the basis of fear and contraction. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad famously speaks of the overwhelming fear of the Unknown experienced by the First Person. Only when it realized there is no Other did the fear evaporate. Fear is fear of the Other, and in self-realization we learn there is no such thing as the Other. It is a projection of our own imagination. The Guru counsels, “When Self-knowledge shrinks, then ignorance is fearful.” Our present world catastrophe provides an excellent example of how demonization of the Other leads to chaos and conflict, both within and without, and external solutions merely get us deeper into the morass.

         Paul had an interesting take on the shrinking of Self-knowledge and the fear it engenders. The straight up reading is that when we forget our true Self and confer sovereignty on an external world-projection, even though we imagine it to be “us,” we lose our ground and become like living ghosts, animated reflections. Paul offered a kind of reverse version, that forgetting our individual self likewise leads us to dependency on an imagined (projected) and thus unreal Source. Actually, this line of reasoning can lead us to see how self and Self, individual and Absolute, are in essence the same. The full Self constitutes a spectrum, with one pole the individual and the other the totality. In a realized state these are no longer separable. You can’t take something out of totality and still call it that!

         The second darsana addresses Truth by the Consistent Refutation of the False, a wise policy if there ever was one. Narayana Guru starts us off by agreeing that if we accept the world as real, we will necessarily accept its material basis. If we deny its reality, we will recognize it as an evolute of consciousness. The eighth verse gives away his position: “Consciousness alone, not another, shines; therefore, there is nothing other than consciousness.” The shiningness constitutes reality, as Jan was quick to point out. Narayana Guru continues in no uncertain terms: “what does not shine—that is unreal; and what is unreal—that does not shine.” Only ananda—pure happiness—shines as real. To Jan this meant that truth is nothing other than happiness, which makes her happy to hear. She noted how we’re naturally drawn to the connection with bliss, which is our true Self.

         The Guru concludes with the warning that “he who sees this as many goes from death to death.” If we know the ground of existence (consciousness), the many become superficial aspects of oneness, transient phenomena. It reminded me of Claymation, short for Clay Animation, a Portland invention, where an animated film is made using clay for the transformations. We watch as the clay takes on bizarre and fascinating forms and then resolves back into its unmanifested basis as lumps of clay, only to be given another form, and another.

         The “going from death to death” part is vividly evidenced in our modern world. When we mistake parts of the whole as other than us, we are led to demonize them, which is liable to evoke hatred in us, especially if our religion or favorite radio (or twitter) host exacerbates the division. We simultaneously make other lives miserable, and unknowingly leap into the pit of misery alongside them. Hate is a kind of death, where so much is lost, and it feeds on itself, so Narayana Guru’s advice is by no means overdrawn.

         This awareness leads naturally to the third darsana, A Vision of Nonexistence, where Narayana Guru tears down the edifices of our deranged imaginations of separateness. Extending the clay analogy, the different religions might worship a cup or a bowl or an abstract clay-art icon, but it is ridiculous to argue which is the “right” form of the clay. If you know it is all clay, then you simply marvel at the forms that different groups are drawn to, and you might even come to understand why. If you insist that your particular form is the only right one, the only one approved by God, then you are foredoomed to conflict. Humans even go to war with themselves, when what they love is not approved by the (imaginary) guardians of normality.

         Maya being central to all this mental churning, we meet it even before the fourth darsana, which is explicitly named for maya. Paul has learned that maya is independent of how we think of it. He cautioned that by making the unreal—maya—real, we miss the reality of the Absolute, since they are intimately linked. We then superimpose our own predilections by making maya an end in itself.

         While this is true enough, we also recalled our new framing: maya is most often imagined as illusion, but in this study we have converted it to lila: play or divine sport. Illusion has a negative cast, while sport or play is decidedly positive. Demonizing maya tends to enhance the dualism, where accepting it makes a unitive attitude more attainable. Here the subtext is to be kind to yourself. We harbor within ourselves a history of being told we aren’t right, that we need to reform to become what God (or his “servants” on earth) meant us to be. This is a prime example of the very unreality Narayana Guru is trying to free us from.

         Jan added that involvement with our projected world is inescapable, implying that flailing to break free is not going to get us anywhere. We aren’t learning to escape maya, but to wear it proudly, by comprehending our predicament in ways that are liberating rather than enslaving. We have all been bequeathed ample amounts of binding concepts, but few enough that are freeing. In case we haven’t mentioned it yet, Darsanamala is incontrovertibly aimed at liberation.

         Deb led us to think about the last verse especially:


         The One is real, not a second;

         the unreal indeed appears to be real;

         the sivalingam is stone alone,

         not a second made by a sculptor.


Sadly, we tend to think of the One in abstract terms, making it into a vestige of its true self. A projection. And we mistakenly accord reality to the transient waves that are presently impacting our senses. Narayana Guru epitomizes this confusion as our worshipful attitude about icons. We imbue our icons with meaning, not realizing that the meaning resides in us, and so could be projected onto anything and everything. That might be forgivable, but in our ignorance we are poised to fight over whose version is the “true” one. We would be better off to learn how and why another person projects their version of truth, and to stop feeling threatened by it. This attitude requires being comfortable in our own understanding first, before we can offer it to our neighbors.

         We morphed easily from there into the Maya Darsana, which Nitya describes as A Vision of Non-being Beingness, to openly proclaim the paradoxical nature of the subject. Deb affirmed that without maya we don’t have a world. Paradoxical or not, we are not sorry that existence exists. It’s a very good game. Too bad we are left to guess at the rules, but it does give us plenty to argue about. Maybe we could adopt Maya Prevents Boredom as a slogan.

         Before we knew it we slipped on into the Bhana Darsana, A Vision of Awareness. The key idea is the simultaneous projection of subject and object as two sides of the grand coin of the universe, fluttering alternately like the invisible wings of a zooming bee.

         Neuroscience is getting around to the realization that our sense of self is a construct made in response to sensory stimuli, and not any absolute abiding reality. The resultant ego is just a small but itchy pimple on the cheek of the psyche. This is just like what the Bhana Darsana holds: from a unitive seed state the self and what it perceives arise together as inverse aspects of each other, producing something out of nothing. It’s the original miracle of existence: how to make an infinite universe out of a half ounce of imagination.

         This perspective refutes the conceit of science that it can confine itself to a wholly objective version of anything. Subject and object are always paired. What we have is a sliding scale where one or the other is more dominant, but they still interlace and are dependent on each other. More than dependent, they are two aspects of one thing. What we call attaining the Absolute is getting to the place where we can take a vacation from the eternal projective paradox of analyzing the world and simply enjoy it as it is.

         This whispers the hint that trying to wring out all subjectivity from our understanding is as ridiculous and unbalanced as trying to subtract all objective aspects from our subjective state. Then we can believe whatever we want! (Sound familiar?) The really healthy condition is to have objective and subjective reality—or what are popularly known as facts and opinions—integrated and in balance, each influencing the other to remain in harmony. The more they are in harmony the “truer” they are, by the way.

         Thinking of the bee analogy, I recounted my old story of coming off a psilocybin trip in my youth. I was asleep yet still under the influence, apparently, because as I awoke in the morning I found myself in a state where the fluttering of the wings of the mind-bee was greatly slowed down. I would see my room as normal for a few seconds, and then it disappeared and was replaced by a white, featureless light for the same interval, and then back to the room, continuously alternating. It was mindblowing, as we used to say. The room was obviously not really there, and there was nothing to the light but, well, light. Gradually the back and forth flashing sped up, faster and faster. It looked like a movie projection flickering at a too-slow speed, and then it got up to full speed and the flickering ended. I was back to the “reality” of my room, grateful to be home, and very glad to have had a glimpse into how my world was assembled. The experience lay more or less unprocessed in my mind until my editing work on Darsanamala some 15 years later.

         Jan was quite taken with the last verse, especially the last half: “what is superimposed, that is unreal; what is not superimposed—That alone is real.” It made her realize that whatever you might be devoted to, you ultimately realize it comes from your own subjective predilection. There is so much more going on than we normally are aware of.

         I’m always happy to pass by That Alone one more time—the boldest of the sources of the title of Nitya’s masterwork among masterworks, as the pendent jewel at the very heart of the garland of Darsanamala.

         Paul recalled the wonderful story of when Nitya was impelled by Ramana Maharshi to go back through his life to before he was born, all the way to the beginning of the universe, as related in Love and Blessings. Nitya’s intellect had nothing to do with making it happen, but that does not mean the intellect has no legitimate role in a life worth living. His intellect did serve for making sense of what happened, retaining it, and communicating it to the rest of us. There are times when being “intellect free” is of value, but it does not follow that our intellect has no place in the game. I think the Bhagavad Gita’s trajectory is just about perfect: a long preparation period where you, with guidance, discipline the mind to have an intelligent focus, leading to a brief but intense period of direct, unmediated experience, which is gradually processed to integrate it into a newly constituted, ongoing expertise in daily life.

         So that concludes the half of the study devoted to deconstruction. We will knit it all back together in the final session next week. This is the last chance for those in the hinterlands to contribute their thoughts as well. I often wonder if anyone is still listening. I hope at least you are celebrating the glorious uplifting vision bequeathed us by our estimable trinity of gurus. You won’t be seeing it reported on the evening news, that’s for sure!




         Nearly all our regulars were in attendance for the final session, except for three exploring various mountain ranges in Oregon and Peru. The awe of being in the presence of a very great work of art permeated the atmosphere, as we took a last generalized view of the second half.

         The overall pattern needs to be kept in mind. The first half Darsanamala deconstructed the known universe, leaving nothing but That Alone, code for the Absolute. The second half begins with the widest possible ambit within That Alone and gradually closes the gap, resolving it back into unity.

         As Deb said of the Karma Darsana, dealing with cosmo-psychological functioning, it isn’t really about karma or action, meaning it isn’t a manual for any kind of proper action. The Guru wasn’t into such things! He was well aware that specifying behavior leads to exactly the opposite of the freedom he was trying to impart to us. He felt if we grasped the principles underlying action and how they all worked, we would be prepared to make wise decisions on our own. What he teaches (reminds) us of in the sixth darsana is that karma is done by the Absolute. We imagine we are the actors, doers and enjoyers, but we are taking credit for way more than the 1% we are actually capable of influencing.

         Narayana Guru wants us to give credit where credit is due: we are being swept along in a tide, and our part in it is simply to hold our head up so we don’t drown, metaphorically speaking. Claiming ownership of the tide and erecting tollbooths is absurd, yet here we are.

         I’ve just finished Michael Pollan’s spine-tingling new book, How to Change Your Mind, about psychedelics and what neuroscience has made of them up till now. Science is finally catching up with the rishis of thousands of years ago! (The rishis are still ahead, however.) Briefly, the default mode network (DMN) is a constellation of brain functions that appear to produce the sense of self: the ego or I-sense. It’s a centrally important hub of coordination, but it also screens out most creative options, relying instead on the tried and true. What was good enough for grandpa is good enough for me—that sort of thing. Under the influence of LSD and other psychedelics, the DMN goes quiet, and furthermore the quieter it gets the more the voyager reports a blissful loss of self and consequent gain of experiencing oneness with All. It seems that beyond our ego boundaries—strictly enforced and maintained by the DMN—is the realm within us of universal oneness and love. Reconnecting with this brings about the psychedelic “miracle cures” of the malaises of excessive self-control: depression, addiction, fearfulness, and so on, as well as the liberating sense of freedom that impels the creative drive in those who don’t suffer so much from an overdominant ego.

         The Karma Darsana can be readily interpreted as addressing exactly the same structural scheme, with the Supreme Self referring to the whole brain or mind at large, and ignorance residing in the DMN. Wisdom dwells in the unfettered totality, and the Guru tells us how to identify the interloper in the tenth verse: “Because ‘I’ is seen as an object of awareness, I-consciousness is also a superimposition.” Our ego is the impostor, and we have cast our lot with it, to the exclusion of our full beingness.

         Advanced meditators and young children show the same pattern of a quieted or undeveloped ego as the trippers, under MRI observation. Andy talked about how meditatively observing your breath draws you into a nondual state. In a sense this is a practice meant to achieve realization, but he has a problem with the concept of practice, implying as it does a means to an end. I suggested the word practice has two senses, and the one he wanted was more like medical practice, where practice simply means acting with expertise. We also practice skills in order to achieve a future result, but that is a different business. From a Vedantic standpoint, even that kind of practice should be made vivid in the present, the difference being that we aren’t ready to treat a patient or audience with our skills yet, even though the bliss is already at full throttle.

         Prabu also weighed in on karma, reading out a paragraph from his recent response to the online Gita study. We are currently in the third chapter, Karma Yoga. Prabu wrote:


Before we jump into permissive action with greater freedom, one more concept needs to be digested. Sacrifice.  Remember the verses [9-17] focuses on sacrificial ritualism. “Outside of activity with a sacrificial purpose, this world is bound by action.”  The sacrifice mentioned in this verse is different than the ritualistic offerings people make to God while they pray for their wishes to happen.  It is just a means to achieve some end.  On the contrary,  the sacrifice mentioned is an act justified as an end in itself. It is equated with the phenomenon of rain. “ Food is the cause of the beings, and from rain food is produced; sacrifice has its effect in rain, and sacrifice has its origin in action”.   Guru Nitya, in his commentary extends this analogy to cosmic principle in general by relating it to the radiation of star, the wafting of a breeze or the blooming of a flower.   All these natural phenomenons doesn’t have any secondary motives other than the mere action.  Clouds doesn’t rain to give drinking water to humans or to give life to aquatic beings. Sun doesn’t shine to grow plants.  Like wise, the motives for human action should be inherent in the action itself.  


So employing a means to an end is DMN (ego) at work; uniting them is the role of the Self. Which led us right into the Jnana Darsana, examining consciousness and its modifications.

         I continued the equation of Pollan’s neurology with the Garland (the DM and the DMN?), especially with the first two verses, where the conditioned state is brought about by I-consciousness and its consequent awareness of “This” outside of itself. Unconditioned knowledge is devoid of I-consciousness, constructed in modern parlance by the DMN. The terminology is different, but the concepts are identical.

         Paul surrendered his ego pride in deference to a simple leaf falling from a tree, wondering how it performs such a simple, mindless act so perfectly, while he strives and studies and tries and fails, and remains as a stumbling bumbler? As he well knows, the answer is right here: park the ego, the DMN, and travel into the fullness of your being. While working on that, remind yourself that you already do many things harmoniously, without thinking about them. It’s when you try to craft new behavior using the ego and all its pre-established requirements that the stumbling happens. Invite the Self to participate more, and it will enlarge its presence in your life gradually but steadily. To me this is the best meditation.

         Paul’s heartfelt offering got me thinking about another aspect of Pollan’s trajectory in his book. He’s a plant person, and his trips made him more aware of how intelligent plants are, not in the way humans are intelligent, but definitely and demonstrably. I have been feeling that more and more lately, as if the plant world is a presence begging us humans to wake up before we destroy everything, on top of their everyday intelligent behavior of things like eating sunlight and converting it to food for everyone. I’m hearing them now in an intuitive way, too. Pollan also reported on a mushroom expert, Paul Stamets, who lives a couple of hours north of here. His 15 minute TED talk includes some fascinating threads of fungal intelligence: I think he concurs with some of us that ingesting magic mushrooms may well have contributed to the leap of consciousness that propelled Homo sapiens to self-awareness leading to global dominance. Now we desperately need one more leap, back into global harmony.

         Jan read out part of the thrilling last paragraph of the Jnana Darsana, here reproduced in full. Keep in mind that psychologic refers to I-consciousness and cosmologic to the awareness of external objects:


   The imperiential union of the psychologic and the cosmologic indicated in the present verse is not a knowledge that is one among many items of information that one gains through an act of ratiocination or by dualistic cognition. It is a tremendously sweeping and overwhelming denial of all the limiting adjuncts of an individuated self. After one has embraced this indescribable union, even when the previous individuation returns it does not gain the dynamic status of an ego-centered individual again. Both the psychologic ‘I’ and the cosmologic ‘other’ are reduced to mere appearances, and a strong bond of union prevails as a substratum for the superimposition of both ‘I’ and the ‘other’. This knowledge has the existential verity of irrefutability and the subsistential transparency of a boundless Self-knowledge that is not alienated anywhere as a part torn off, or even modulated as an objectivization of any kind. In its absolute value-content it is intensely ecstatic, which can be poorly illustrated by such examples as the total union which is experienced in love. Finite experiencing of love between two people is prized above everything because that is the nearest individuals can arrive at with their conditioned knowledge to the appreciation of the blissful nature of the Self nondifferentiated from the Absolute. It is this blessed state that is going to be dealt with progressively in the next three darsanas.


Jan was delighted that the “boundless Self-knowledge” is “intensely ecstatic.” And who wouldn’t be? Making this out as drudgery and tedium in order to crush the ego with boredom is not the route we’re taking, though that is a perversely popular one. And too, plenty of puritanical souls are offended that seeking truth could ever be joyful. For them, the presence of joy is ipso facto proof of sin. For us, however, it is evidence of success, of getting it right.

         As you might have guessed, we were already running out of time for a fair treatment of the last three darsanas. I’m going to include a longer summary I wrote a few years back, in a separate document that I finally located. I meant to include it for each darsana as we went along, but it fell through the cracks, which in my case are more like yawning fissures. Who knows what else has fallen through? Okay, where were we? Oh yes, going to bhakti.

         Regarding the Bhakti Darsana, dealing with contemplative devotion, Deb mentioned how we are used to loving something, some thing, but this darsana is about love without any object. Love that just is. Psychonauts report it as the ground of consciousness they encounter on trips. Love without an object is utterly different than love of one.

         Deb brought up Alison Gopnik, who has studied the brain activity of young children, and tested those old enough to take simple tests. She has found that 4-year-olds are better than adults at solving the kind of problems requiring unanticipated answers, because they are more flexible in their thinking. Again, unrigidified children enjoy the kind of contemplative consciousness we are trying to recover in our little study group.

         Narayana Guru gives the essence of bhakti in the eighth verse, just before his final two verses honoring the wonderful people and principles that shape our ineffable universe:


         Thus the wise man sees everywhere

         nothing but the joy of the Self—

         not even a little of anything else.

         His bhakti indeed is the highest.


This is not a mindless joy that turns its back on the tragic realities of the world, but one energized precisely by his care for the unnecessary suffering we endure and inflict on our fellow beings. We follow him because this is the finest contribution we can possibly make to ameliorate misery, both within and without.

         In the ordinary perspective, yoga leads to bhakti, but as Nataraja Guru has pointed out, in Darsanamala bhakti is the precursor, because yoga is not a means to a goal, but a fully realized way of life, where dualities are always united. Bhakti retains a gap between worshipper and worshipped, but true yoga no longer makes that distinction. It’s a small point but one with vast implications. Deb nicely described yoga as merging in neutrality.

         Yoga is therefore described as transpersonal union in the Darsanamala. Transpersonal union is a term created by and for the psychedelic community, Nitya would be irritated to learn. But it simply means there is more here than we realize: reality is bigger than we are. We come together when we transcend the boundaries of our personal space.

         Andy was pondering sankalpa and pratyahara, which mean being limited to egotistical concerns and transcending them, respectively. He could see that sankalpa leads to conflict, as you fight to bring about what you want, while pratyahara resolves conflicts. He was reminded of the Gita’s famous call to lift the self by the Self, to have the Self support the self at all times, etc. For Andy this was a cleansing process. Unitive cleansing. Deb shared the paragraph relating to this issue, and thereby properly defining yoga, on page 417:


Even after receiving the secret instruction tat tvam asi, “That thou art,” from one’s teacher, one may not become a yogi unless this consciousness of the union of the subject and object is continuously realized by perpetuating the retentive idea “That thou art.” This is not possible unless one empties oneself of one’s ego. Personal ego is an aggregate of memories called vasana, and it is always active to produce volitional imagery. This is called sankalpa. Sankalpa is the root cause of all human miseries. An effective step in withholding from being influenced by the vasanas is returning again and again to the true nature of the Self. This withdrawal is called pratyahara. When once the Self is seen through an act of samyam, the Self can be seen in all and as all. When there is nothing extraneous to attract or distract, consciousness becomes steady and samadhi is achieved. Thereafter one does not experience the duality of the subject and the object. Such a state is praised as yoga.


As darkness fell and duties began to call us back to activation, we descended into the Nirvana Darsana, the vision of extinction. We had barely time left for a brief meditation, but it was amplified by Deb recounting an astonishing dream of a friend. It was brought on by a short discussion of how in psychedelic journeying, as well as ordinary therapy for that matter, you are instructed that if you encounter something terrifying, go toward it. Don’t run away. Ask it what it is trying to tell you about your psyche. It you run it grows stronger, if you face it, it will lose its fearful aspect. Here’s Deb’s account:

         Our friend hates and fears snakes even more than most people do. He has been under tremendous stress lately, and recently dreamt of entering a room filled with thousands of baby snakes. He was horrified and stomped wildly on them all, killing them. The next thing he knew, a huge snake came through the door and slithered toward him. It rose up to his height and looked him straight in the eyes. “I am their mother, and because you killed my children I will kill you!” This got our friend’s full attention. “You have only one alternative.” The snake crawled under his shirt and wound up to his neck. “I am going to stay here with my mouth around your neck—forever! Otherwise, I will have to kill you.” He had no alternative but to surrender to the embodiment of his fear. As soon as he accepted that he was doomed to have a giant snake stretched up his body, fanged mouth open around his throat, forever, the snake disappeared. And then he awoke.

         That’s an example of dream therapy at its best, with a touch of nirvana thrown in for good measure.

         It usually takes a severe shock to pry us out of the comforts of our default mode, our ego-centered existence. As anyone who has had the good fortune to have that kind of breakthrough and understand it, reports it brings utterly blissful relief to wriggle out from under the thumb of our resident dictator, if only for a short while.

         With Darsanamala Narayana Guru has done everything he can for us. And now he has handed us the ball. Play well!

         A profound thank you to all unindicted co-conspirators for accompanying us on this journey. Aum, and good night.


Part II


         Baiju is a “beginner” in an unusual sense of the term. Quite an advanced beginner…. He has contributed an excellent survey of the first darsana. It’s one of those quirks of fate that we are closing the show just as a knowledgeable person walks onstage. Yet everyone is welcome to share their thoughts pertaining to the big picture any time—don’t ever feel constrained to address only the immediate subject. Baiju wrote:


Read the study notes received by email. It is a good experience to read them - the experience shared by the serious learners of Darsanamala. Meanwhile, I completed a reading of the first darsana – a blissful experience to the extent I understood. My ignorance of Psychology and Western Philosophic terms makes me a little handicapped. Maybe I can pick them up as I go along….


I liked the idea of a wrap-up discussion based on each darsana. As a beginner, I can get the substance of each darsana. Having read the class notes, I feel like pitching in and sharing with you my related thoughts and understanding; I hope they are not much off-track:


A samnyasi in Kerala made a comment a few years back that the original verses of Darsanamala are almost of aphoristic nature. The statement implies that a prior knowledge of the Upanishads and preferably the instructions of a Guru followed by deep contemplative meditation would take a seeker to get the full grasp of what the Guru implied. I consider myself fortunate that I have now at least the longing to learn Darsanamala.


Once a seeker realizes the truth behind the Cosmic Projection his goal is achieved. An oft-repeated analogy in Vedanta for the Cosmic Projection is that of a mirage. We can clearly see with our own eyes the shining ripples of a pond-like mirage. But from experience we know that our eyes are tricked by that magical scene. It’s a convincing example that proves the fallacious nature of our sensory perceptions.


We, the humans, are fortunate to have our intellect illuminated by the Atman.  Applying the intellect, we can extrapolate the anomalous sensory behaviour in the mirage experience and appreciate the Cosmic Projection.  Then we have the words of Narayana Guru and the Rishis of the Upanishads, based on their own experience of becoming one with the Absolute (the state of Samadhi or Turiya), that the Universe is just a vivarta (superimposition), and the Cosmic Projection would vanish when the Truth (the Absolute) is revealed -  nothing else prevails.


In the very first verse of the first Darsana, Narayana Guru says the entire universe is projected as in a dream just by the sankalpa (will) of Parameswara (the Absolute).


The incipient memories and the latent potentials (vasanas) form the repository of the content of the projected Cosmos. The individuated beings also have sankalpa, and the incipient memories and the latent potentials “inherited”. The Cosmic Projection appears to be true to the individual as long as the sankalpa exists in his mind and it draws from the repository of vasanas. Should we successfully inhibit the sankalpa, then we naturally turn inward and start getting the vision of the Absolute. Can we do that? If so, how? This is where the intellect has to be prudently applied by a seeker. Why does sankalpa keep rising from the vasanas of an individual? Because of desires. Why desires? Because he is still not convinced that the physical body (both gross and subtle – which includes the mind and the intellect) is not “I”’ or at least he keeps forgetting this truth. He is not able to separate his self from the body and treat the body separately (the ones who have the intent to do so keeps forgetting it). Obviously then he takes bodily pleasures and pains as his own and gives them serious attention. The way to do it is to have sraddha (complete faith in the sruti and the Guru’s wisdom teaching) and direct the intellect on a continuous basis to consciously ignore (not cutting them off by force) the pleasures as well as the pains of the worldly life. Our sankalpa (will) is always about the acquisition of various means of pleasure and avoiding the causes of pain in accordance with the vasanas. Now if pleasures and pains are of no concern to us there are no desires; therefore there is no motivation for the mind to dwell on sankalpa. The vasanas will get sublimated; they can surface only with the rise of sankalpa which has already been obviated as the self has become desire-free.


Now if we continue successfully to stay indifferent to pleasures and pains (directing the intellect by design to start with) and get used to that way of living, we have nothing much tangible to receive from this phenomenal world. The objects of the senses do not mean anything to us. The natural result will be for us to turn inward (the state called antarmukhatvam). One usually struggles to achieve one-pointedness in meditation which also now becomes natural as there are no objects of interest in the external world. The intellect will go still too. What is left is nothing but pure consciousness; consequently one starts experiencing the Atman and gradually the individuated self merges into the Atman. The self transforms into Saccidanandam.


Sri Ramakrishna, the 19th century saint of Bengal in India, used to advise his disciples: when a thorn is stuck underneath your foot, you remove it with another thorn, and then throw away both the thorns. Here the thorns are the sankalpa (which is mind itself) and the intellect, both of which are parts of the physical body.


Our physical body is part of the external world, which everybody often forgets. And if the Universe is a superimposition over the Absolute, the physical body is also a superimposition.


It has been pointed out earlier that pains and pleasures are experienced by the physical body, the gross and the subtle (the mind and the internal sensory systems being parts of the subtle body). So the goal is to make the mind and sensory system still, and ignore them completely. The practice of dama, dana and daya (self-control, self-sacrifice, and compassion towards all the manifestations of the Self respectively) recommended by the rishis would further help solidify the state of indifference or equanimity in the face of pleasures and pains of worldly life.


Maya is the wondrous power latent in the Absolute. It is like an accomplished magician’s ability to show amazing items of magic to the spectators. The Cosmic Projection is the super-magic of Maya; elsewhere Narayana Guru himself referred to the Cosmic Projection as a mahendrajala (super-magic).


Learning and practicing to maintain the awareness, without even a moment’s break, that the physical body (including the mind) is not “I” is a key exercise for a seeker.


After the consecration of a temple in Kerala, Narayana Guru composed a prayer in prose for the benefit of those who wanted to contemplate on the Paramatma (the Absolute). The following few lines from the prayer (a rough translation) appear to me the essence of the thoughts I am trying to express here:


O Lord, whatever I see with my eyes are not real (and therefore not eternal). This body is as ephemeral as a bubble in the water. Everything is nothing but a dream. I am not the physical body, but knowledge (pure consciousness). I am verily that knowledge which existed even before this body took shape. And even after this body is gone I will continue to shine (be luminous) the same way. Birth, death, poverty, sickness and fear – none of those will dare to touch me. Please let me have your grace to meditate without even a moment’s break on such wisdom words being advised and the Absolute who is the advisor.

Aum tat sat.



Scott Teitsworth