Darsanamala III Class Notes
At last we have begun the
Asatya Darsana, the Vision of Nonexistence. The Udgitha we chant in class
begins asato ma sat gamayah, lead us from nonexistence to existence. Implicit
in this is the notion that we must first become aware of the falsity of what we
take for granted before we can embrace the Real that permeates it.
First off, I’d like to quote the introduction to review
where we stand in the unfoldment of Darsanamala as a whole:
The first darsana, Adhyaropa,
presents the creation and essential structure of consciousness. Perception is
examined in some detail, and is shown to be of the nature of projection or
superimposition on the actual ground of being. The Vedantic approach makes it
clear that in this we all share a kind of generic defect in our awareness; the
same is transformed by everyone into personal, specific variations which merit
the attention of the psychiatrist only when they become exaggerated. As Guru
Nitya says on page 65: “The world we think to be real has in fact very little
objective reality. It is padded out in all directions with half-baked
conceptual notions and hidebound prejudices.” The aim of the second darsana,
Apavada, is to correct this universal condition through recognizing and
refuting that which is false. In the course of this several dual aspects of
existence are highlighted, including cause and effect, unity and multiplicity,
and the self and the other. How the individual attains knowledge is also
The Asatya Darsana is based on the principle that the
knowledge of what is false is the most potent way to eliminate it. Knowing how
the unreal appears real to us, and how we substitute mental pictures for
reality, can motivate us to undertake the discipline of correction for our own
benefit instead of merely treating it as an interesting abstraction. Up to this
point of the work there are parallels with conventional psychotherapy, as the
subject matter is generally the correction of errors in cognition. Beyond this
point Darsanamala takes the
further to discover his own true nature, something that has yet to come within
the purview of the Western science of psychology.
So Adhyaropa covers creation, Apavada then notes the
complications of it, and Asatya brings it home to our own specific condition.
One key point of the introduction to the third darsana is
“It is paradoxical that the mind which brings all kinds of bondage and
suffering can also lend itself to be the most efficient weapon to prove, analyze,
scrutinize, and lay bare the truth of itself.” We have unburdened ourselves
from the commonplace prejudice that to break free of mental conditioning we
have only to stand still, like a frightened rabbit, and it will go away. Nor
are we interested in self-hypnosis through ritual to produce a semblance of
no-mind. We want to really look closely at the process of the mind’s
transformations, so that when we dive deep into intuitive states we won’t be
misled by any egoistic trickery. We know at the start that what appears to be
real is just that: appearance. Narayana Guru is going to teach us to see
through appearances by recognizing them for what they are, not for what they
seem to be or we would like them to be.
We first reviewed how the idea of “facts” or “truth”,
seem so solid and self-evident, are a product of wishful thinking and
prejudicial assumptions. Our vasanas (incipient memories) seek expression in
meaningful situations, and overlay their needs onto the ground of existence. In
a sense they literally create the world. We presume everyone agrees to the same
set of facts, but if we checked there would be very little similarity. When
examined, the world dissolves into a disorienting chaos. Tamas stabilizes this
flux enough to give us a place to stand, one of many positive benefits Nitya
mentions of this much-maligned guna.
Happily, the class immediately focused on practical examples
of how eidetic presentiments, or the projection of incipient memories and just
plain memories, interfere with a direct and unhampered relationship with the
environment. Susan talked about her son, who she spends a great deal of quality
time with. At times when he wants to play and she has things to do he’ll say
“You NEVER do anything with me!” She can see that his childish manipulation
will be to some degree codified as the (false) belief that his mom didn’t care
for him, didn’t play with him. Knowing this wasn’t true, she then extrapolated
to her own feelings about how her parents didn’t give her much attention. As an
adult she could understand they had other needs and interests than just her,
and revised her negative assessment to a more positive one.
Jan told a similar story. She used to resent her father
being withdrawn, but now she also feels the need to pull back into herself when
family chaos gets to be too much. She has replaced her hurt feelings with more
These stories sparked a memory of how I felt as an
occasionally over-exuberant child. When my parents didn’t have the energy to
put up with me any more, they told me politely to bug off, and I would feel
hurt, resentful, disappointed, and so forth. Those feelings helped drive the
creation of the sense of a separate “I” as I felt sorry for myself in private.
Even worse, as I recalled this I realized I had noticed the same sort of
feelings in our dog when he still wants to play and we have “better” things to
do. The only difference is that dogs don’t sulk about their feelings very long.
How many such imaginary pains do we pack along with us
through life? A lot. Enough so that if we only dealt with them one at a time we
might spend a lifetime in getting free of our problems. Narayana Guru is trying
to show us how to grasp the principle underlying this game, thereby loosening
the grip of all such binding beliefs in a single blast, allowing a reconnection
with our true Self. Then we can apply the technique to events as they arise.
Contemplation of the true nature of reality can become habitual.
Time and again we see how people’s cherished beliefs lead
them to heartbreak, separation, misery, and even violence. It is just as
possible to hold beliefs that unite people and lead to peace and happiness.
Once again we felt that the group study reinforced a much healthier outlook,
and were grateful to have accidentally fallen into the hands of wise
All this is a permeation of
mind, but mind is nowhere to be seen. In the same way, like the blue and so on
in the sky, the world is seen in the Self. (III,1)
The apparent blueness of the
sky is a favorite Vedantic image, but modern scientists are perfectly at home
with the knowledge that color as such does not exist in the “outside” world,
but is a subjective interpretation of the mind, or we should say the brain.
Brains can be seen but the mind cannot, which lends credence
to a materialistic interpretation of creation. But by now in Darsanamala,
Narayana Guru has well established that the universe is a projection of
consciousness, and that the theory that it is built up bit by bit from
subatomic particles into ever-increasingly complex arrangements is at best a
partial picture based on imagination.
The first verse of Asatya Darsana can be unsettling, but it
is a steppingstone to a holistic and beatific vision. Modern science has also
come this far, realizing that we each dwell in isolated projections of our own
mental apparatus. Ubiquitous uncertainty has been noted and even measured, and
yet in everyday life even the best scientist carries on as if everything was
perfectly certain. In our core we all experience certitude, despite the
imperfections of our interpretive equipment. This is actually essential to our
survival. If everyone on the freeway were obsessed with uncertainty, it would
be a bloodbath out there. Yet when uncertainty is masked by false certainty,
such as in the political arena, the result is often a bloodbath too.
So how is it that all these individual fictions—Nitya calls
them hallucinations here—can cohere in a successful and even delightful
interaction? There must be something beyond the mere coordination of sensory
data that unites life into harmonious synthesis, a programmer or programming
factor for our biocomputers. Nitya points out that as far as the individual is
concerned, it is the vasanas that provide the programming. For the whole
enchilada there is a universal Will or Urge, the various aspects of which were
elucidated in the first two darsanas. It will become clear that turning our
attention away from the chaos of material uncertainty and directing it to the
harmonious Core or Karu is the lion’s share of the work of contemplation.
In any lion’s share, be careful not to let pride trip you
up! While this is a very bad pun, in fact our pride in the neat interpretations
we have made about life holds us back from truly attaining a new vision. We
need to lose faith in appearances, to stir up the congealed pudding of our
habits, before we can strike out in fresh directions. Otherwise we are only
imagining we are going anywhere; the truth is that like Procrustes we are
squeezing the new into our old framework. Remember, he was the thief who
welcomed travelers and then cut them down to fit his bed, trimming off the head
and limbs so that nothing hung over the side. This is the perfect metaphor for
how we truncate reality to suit our needs and wants, when we should be eager to
embrace it exactly as it comes to us.
Nitya concludes by reaffirming that “the individual mind is
part of the collective mind.” We know this because “when we are subjected to a
collective hallucination we are completely carried away by the similarity of
responses in a number of individual minds.” And remember, the collective isn’t
just the sum total of all the greasy, smelly, barbaric—and, sure, brilliant and
witty—humans. It’s something so much greater we often refer to it as divine.
Our path through Darsanamala is indicated by Nitya in his
We can prove that the
world-experience of man is illusory, but that does not help us very much to
escape from its tragic spell until it becomes completely transparent to us in
what manner the Self is veiled, and how projection manifests in all the
individual cases of the experience of entities with names and forms which seem
to exist within the framework of time and space, with inner relationships such
as cause and effect, and with whatever is treated dualistically as other than
one’s own self. (166)
As Anita asked, how do we break free from the iron grip of
those vasanas we don’t like, when they continually sprout up from our inner
seedbed? Observing how the vasanas first tinge the psyche with desire, we can
learn to notice the process at an earlier stage, before we become enmeshed in
the actuality of the situations that the vasanas are programming. It may take
awhile before the spell cast by the vasanas becomes “completely transparent,”
but even “partially transparent” helps a lot. Knowing the process even
intellectually makes it easier to let go. We gradually change our world by
embracing the beautiful expressions of the vasanas wholeheartedly and merely
watching while the terrible ones dissipate unreinforced. Radical yogis say let
it all go; I say you are free to carefully and intelligently select the true,
the good and the beautiful if you’re happy sticking around. It seems to me the
Programmer has created the program for our use and delight.
Ann and Moni spoke about how children and baby animals have
precisely the attitude of openness and love we are aiming for. After painful
experiences pile up over time, we become increasingly guarded and cautious, and
block much of what might turn out to be ecstatic. Ann and her husband are
starting to keep bees. She is excited by all the new intricacies, while he is
always discomfited by finding out what he should have known before he got this
far. Her attitude is “Ah!” and his is “Arrgh!” She wondered rhetorically who
would get stung….
I’ll close with a poem Peggy sent yesterday, the same day as
this class on interconnectedness despite individuation, once again affirming
our unity in the core:
The Reality of Interconnectedness
-P. Grace Chun
The illusion of separation
And ignorant emphasis on
Form the basis and
For models of war.
The reality of connection
And wise emphasis on
Form the bonds and compassion
For natural peace.
Basic universal humanity
Cannot be divided and
Yet the primal instinct of
Can cloud one’s vision
And close one’s heart
To simple obvious Truth.
War is a false equation.
Free yourself from the hypnotic
That plague our planet with
Ignorance now reigns supreme.
It is time for the women to
We are all related.
By ignorance, which is none
other than the mind, all worlds are imagined; when by this knowledge dissolution
comes, then everything becomes like a painting. (III, 2)
Guru Nitya recommends
examining a broad stretch of time in our life to get perspective on the
ignorance that strikes us as so immanent and necessary at the moment we
encounter it. What seemed when we were caught up in the excitement to be of
surpassing importance, later seems trivial. We learn this by stepping back and
taking a good hard look at our personal or social history.
Such ignorance, as it’s called in Vedanta, occurs both on
the individual and the collective levels. Nitya reviews the standard love
infatuation to exemplify the individual obsession, and the familiar religious
and political fervor to epitomize tribal or social obsessions. He added one
very familiar to us of the post World War II generation: the space race.
Spurred on by nationalistic pride and scientific fascination, stupendous
amounts of energy were poured into sending humans into space and later landing
them on the moon. Younger folk can’t begin to imagine the intense excitement
accompanying every launch, with the whole world watching and listening to the
stentorious countdown: “Ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three…
one… ignition… liftoff!” As kids we repeated those lines in a wide range of
games, and dreamed of growing up to be astronauts. The thrill of anticipation
was indeed palpable.
My first moment of real doubt and enlarged perspective about
this came in July of 1969. We were in a small café having lunch in a remote
stone village in Northern Spain. Very rustic. When we asked the proprietor what
kind of soup they had, she said “Buena sopa!” Good soup. As we ate we noticed
they had switched on a small black and white TV in the back to reveal the
flickering, fuzzy image of the Apollo launch vehicle poised to go for the first
lunar landing. Some old geezers in berets were playing cards and drinking their
lunch at a nearby table. One asked why the TV was being turned on, and another
answered gruffly, “The Americans are going to the moon.” He shrugged and they
turned back to their card game, never once glancing up again as the countdown
wound down: “Three… two… one….”
Nowadays of course, only scientists and a few Trekkies get
worked up over far more interesting missions than three guys in a tin can going
up and coming down. My attempts to kindle a flame—even a spark—of enthusiasm in
my kids fizzled out quickly. They’re plenty interested, but in other things,
which their children in their turn won’t be amused by either. Tastes change.
A “spiritual” person isn’t one who isn’t interested
anything. Quite the contrary. They are interested in everything. It’s just that
they are confident that the interest resides in them and not in the object or
idea that the interest is temporarily cherishing. With such an attitude there
is no need to cling; one can freely move on to the next, knowing full well it
will be engrossing too. They don’t have a stake in something that needs to be
defended, because the Absolute is in everything, not just here and there in selected
Everyone’s favorite sentence was: “If it so happens that
person discovers within himself that there is an abiding bliss which is none
other than the beingness of his own Self, only then will he see that the world
he looked upon as real was merely a creation of his mind.”
Nonetheless, it’s a spectacular mystery that all us humans
are driven by our interests, simultaneously being enthralled and entrapped by
our experience. This verse is given mainly to steady us, so we sit (or participate)
calmly instead of rushing toward an attraction and later rejecting the same
item in disgust or boredom.
Susan correctly pointed out that this is the cycling of the
gunas. Sattva attracts you to something with its brightness. Then you put
energy into getting and keeping it with lots of rajasic energy. Finally the
effort bogs down in tamas, and you’re ready to move on to something better. You
look around for something bright and attractive….
Deb added that eventually you get tired of putting out all
this energy, and settle into a steadier state. As Nitya says, “The desire for
peace and the need for spiritual security turn the mind away from all worldly
values.” Moreover, “the mind will recoil from its fantasizing of imaginary
pleasures only after realizing the absolute nature of the supreme Self.” It’s
not a question of suppression, but of opening to something far greater.
What expands here from
darkness into a ghost to a coward—that world is seen by the wise as a
dream-world of the wakeful state. (III, 3)
This is one of those verses where it is hard to match
Nitya’s commentary with the meaning of the verse itself. Nitya speaks of the
death and resurrection of Lazarus, and of being and non-being as presented by
Atmo and the Gita. The connection is very subtle, associating death and
non-being with the temporary condition of tamas (darkness), upon which our
fantasies play out like a waking dream. Lazarus’ emergence from the crypt of
stones and the journey from the unreal to the real are represented in the verse
by the wise who restrain their projections, thereby remaining spiritually
The class time was spent examining how we each project our
hopes and fears onto the blank slate of the gunas, especially tamas, and since
we have discussed the dynamic power of fear extensively already, we tried to
focus on our hopes. Derrick Jensen, writing about the environment in Orion
Magazine this month, advocates going beyond hope. He says, among other things:
False hopes bind us to unlivable situations and blind us to
Hope is in fact a curse, a bane. I say this not only because
of the lovely Buddhist saying “Hope and fear chase each other’s tails,” not
only because hope leads us away from the present, away from who and where we are
right now and toward some imaginary future state. I say this because of what
More or less all of us yammer on more or less endlessly
about hope. You wouldn’t believe—or maybe you would—how many magazine editors
have asked me to write about the apocalypse, then enjoined me to leave readers
with a sense of hope. But what, precisely, is hope? At a talk I gave last
spring, someone asked me to define it. I turned the question back on the
audience, and here’s the definition we all came up with: hope is a longing for
a future condition over which you have no agency; it means you are essentially
A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope, which is
that you realize you never needed it in the first place. You realize that
giving up on hope didn’t kill you. It didn’t even make you less effective. In
fact it made you more effective, because you ceased relying on someone or
something else to solve your problems—you ceased hoping your problems would
somehow get solved through the magical assistance of God, the Great Mother, the
Sierra Club, valiant tree-sitters, brave salmon, or even the Earth itself—and
you just began doing whatever it takes to solve those problems yourself.
In the interest of fairness I should add a positive note about
HOPE IS A THING WITH FEATHERS
Hope is a thing with feathers
perches in the soul
sings a tune without words
never stops at all.
And sweetest, in the gale,
sore must be the storm
could abash the little bird
keeps so many warm.
I’ve heard it in
the chilliest land
on the strangest sea
never, in extremity
ask a crumb of me.
The dikker definition strikes a neutral pose between
positive and negative: hope is the feeling that what is desired is also
possible, or that events may turn out for the best.
So hope can sustain us, but it is also a product of our
desires. This is the essence of the paradox of manifestation, or projection if
you will. We create the world through our waking dreams, and then either long
for it to improve (hope), or wish it would go away (fear). We’re still very far
from seeing and accepting things as they really are.
Moni told us of attending the funeral of a fundamentalist
Christian over the weekend. She was upset because instead of eulogizing the
deceased, the speakers launched into a series of harangues about The Enemy Out
There, and how they needed to fight and defeat this Enemy. They were so caught
up in their fears that their hopes for heaven would be thwarted, that they
couldn’t even remember why they were gathered together. What could have been a
time of loving communion became harsh and ugly. Such paranoia reflects a
complete lack of faith in God as well: if an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving
Being can’t protect you, you must be having some doubts. No wonder
fundamentalists demand to know if you believe in God or not: that’s how their
repressed anguish over their own doubts bursts out of its hiding place.
Here’s another example of how hope spoils the broth. All my
life I’ve had a strong desire to become an excellent pianist. The urge comes
from my deep love of music, and certainly there is much to learn in this
complex activity. But the hope of becoming better has very often taken me away
from appreciating the wonderful moments of music as they happened right in the
present. I incorporated a strong sense of dissatisfaction that spoiled some of
the pleasure others have had in listening to me play, as well as my own. Over
the years I’ve tried to replace this attitude with a more pure love of whatever
comes out, but the shadow side is hard to evade.
Hope has a definite shadow element. So many people hope they
will someday become spiritual, hope that they will be better than they are now.
The shadow here is that to hope for those things they first have to believe
they are not spiritual, not good enough. Vedanta attempts to convince everyone
that they are already perfect, that they only need to throw off false notions
like fear and hope to be more than they could ever hope to be. We are all the
Absolute. Realizing this one truth convinces us that there is nothing to fear,
and there is nothing we are lacking that we need to hope for.
The visible is imagined by the will; the visible is seen
only where there is will, and not where there is no will—like the snake in the
rope. (III, 4)
This was one of those nights when the value of a class
becomes most apparent. Starting out with only a vague notion of what Narayana
Guru meant, everyone mutually reinforced and augmented each other, throwing a
lot of light on the subject. I imagine such evenings are satisfying to all
involved, though I seldom ask directly about such matters. Perhaps I’m
The rope/snake analogy is a Vedantic cliché, yet it is so
perfect it never fails to lead contemplatives into fresh insights. Examining
the way we store memories and then overlay them onto new situations so that we
can break free of their entanglements is a lifetime task.
The idea of will here was initially perplexing, but Nitya’s
comments helped us. The fear and hope highlighted in the last verse spring from
our desire to keep ourselves alive. We fear nonexistence and hope for eternal
existence. The problem is we have learned to doubt our existence, and as Anita
pointed out, we spend our lives doing things to try to ratify ourselves, to
prove to ourselves and others that we exist. We adopt schemes to assure our
staying alive. This is where the will comes into play. Because we doubt, we
feel we need to make efforts to continue our existence. And yes, efforts are
necessary; they are part of the game. But instead of opening to the flow, we
choose a path, usually dictated by our social environment. We may become
greedy, suspicious, lustful, guarded. Intentionally, even.
The old saying is, when a pickpocket meets a saint he sees
only his pockets. This means we see the world through a selective vision based
on our presumed needs and desires. A greedy person is always wondering what
profit he or she will get from every interaction; an angry person is always
prepared to become incensed by something the other person says or does; a
suspicious person doubts everyone’s motivations, and imagines they are trying
to take something from him. Preteens imagine everyone is looking at them and
judging them. The list is endless. These are the snakes we see in the rope of
The most valuable exercise, certainly, is to check out what
your own snakes are. You have to de-snake your own rope before you can begin to
offer meaningful suggestions to others. Besides, most people are quite
comfortable with their snakes. They become accustomed to the constant threat:
like a morning cup of coffee it keeps them going. So don’t worry about them.
Just strive to see the Absolute in every moment.
Narayana Guru upgraded the rope/snake analogy to a flower
garland/snake image in verse 20 of Atmo. The failing of the original is that a
piece of rope holds little or no interest in itself. The Guru wanted to remind
us that creation is precious and filled with delight. When we come to know the
underlying reality beneath out projections, it is like a love offering from a
dear friend which fills us with happiness. Sour-faced religious types might
want to argue that love and delight are also projections, and prefer to
visualize life as boring and useless, a thing to be transcended. And it’s true,
love and delight can be
projections. But Vedanta claims the essence beneath all projections is of the
nature of ananda, the “value-form of delight.” Why should anyone strive to
realize the true nature of things if it has no meaning? What attracts us to go
beneath the surface is that it’s where happiness resides. Projected happiness
is empty, but grounded happiness is all-filling.
This is another department where our will tricks us. Instead
of being content with our true inner nature of happiness, we scheme ways to
obtain it from outside objects and scenarios. Once something opens us up to our
own happiness, we believe it has in fact caused the happiness, and then try to
reproduce the event over and over. The weakness with this idea is that grafting
our happiness onto things that are transient means we have to hold ever tighter
when they start to fall away. As mentioned in past classes, the initial bliss
of pure experience becomes watered down with our memories and expectations, and
the experience grows less satisfying. We should be seeing our happiness in
everything that we encounter, but by mistake we have selected a few places
where it seems to exist, and we feel unhappy when those aren’t happening any
We talked conversely about how things we dread often turn
out to be fun, so the period we spent dreading was a wasted, even miserable,
time. Jan mentioned finding office parties agonizingly tedious, yet at the last
one she decided to stay open and pass over her negative anticipation. She wound
up having an excellent interaction with someone she really connected with.
I flashed back to being three or four years old, when I was
going to get a shot at the doctor’s. I knew it would hurt a lot, and my will
was furious about the whole business. I cried and carried on for hours,
miserable in my helplessness to alter my destiny. I was a strong kid, and put
my full energy into the performance. Eventually I was dragged kicking and
screaming into the office. I redoubled my caterwauling. Then I opened my eyes.
Everyone was looking at me, and the doctor was putting away his needle. I
realized that I hadn’t even felt the shot. I was so stunned I couldn’t even
pretend it hurt. Even as a young kid I realized that all my carrying on had
been for nothing.
That’s why the Gurus are suggesting this tack. If we stay
open and don’t project about what is coming along, our life will become a
voyage of discovery, with mutual support and plenty of bliss. The fear filled
other will become our dear friend. Our insistence on seeing a snake in every
flower garland is due to unfortunate conditioning, and it’s not so hard to let
it go, if we can permit ourselves to trust in the beneficence of the universe
in which we find ourselves.
There is no difference between will and mind; that mind,
which is called ignorance and darkness, is a wonder, like Indra’s magic. (III,
Our discussion focused on how we are led astray when we try
to actualize our vasanas. A deeply felt urge is interpreted by the mind based
on a person’s understanding of how to interface with the world. Because of our
natural ignorance or partial knowledge, there is usually a mismatch between the
seed and the field in which it is sown, between the pure vision and its
actualization. We “force the issue” and end up with a less than perfect result.
If we believe strongly enough that what we want is possible, no matter how
unlikely, we warp the data to support our position.
As Nitya pointed out, there is a general form of wishful
beliefs shared by all and a private form perceptible to only the individual.
For general willful delusion, it was hard to pass up the
example of The Cheney cabal. A bunch of power-hungry men, who have already
excluded everyone who might challenge their fantasies, sees a disarmed country
with vast resources, ripe for the plucking. Doubts are dismissed as
unpatriotic. The image of vast wealth just waiting to be taken is like a shining
beacon that captivates their whole being. They are in a position to make it
happen. And so they reach out their hand…. Predictably, there is a lot of
resistance from the real world. But instead of reassessing their desires, the
cabal is self-reinforcing. Different spins are mobilized to rationalize their
actions, drawing them deeper and deeper into disaster, all the while licking
their chops. The thrust morphs into what it probably was all along: a desire of
thwarted psyches to destroy everything outside themselves, and the momentum is
almost unstoppable short of self-annihilation.
If only this kind of folly was limited to those few….
Moni mentioned how her Christian friends are preparing for
the end times, getting ready to liquidate their possessions and move to the
hills, because the signs are clear that Jesus is soon to reappear. A little
knowledge might show them that in the first century CE, followers of Jesus
expected his immanent return, and ever since—almost two thousand years
now—people have been interpreting their scriptures as saying he’ll be right
along. Because different interpretations are automatically excluded from the
wishful thinking, no one is allowed to imagine there could be a symbolic
meaning to the words, even though Jesus himself was very clear that he spoke in
parables. Seventh Day Adventists have spent almost two hundred years moving
their dates back a few years at a time, and believe it would be faithless of
them to do anything else.
America is currently in the grip of a mania for physical
exercise. Scientifically speaking, the optimum amount is twenty minutes of
moderately vigorous activity three times a week, but millions of people feel
driven to spend all their free time pushing their bodies to the limit. It’s
fueled by a love of competition as well, wanting to be just a little better
than your neighbor. Sometimes I wonder if their minds and intellects and
spirits feel as well exercised as their bodies.
I’d venture to say that all of us have succumbed to some
such belief at some point in our lives. And it was someone outside our
fantasy-sharing group who finally got us to realize our gullibility. This means
we should always be open to consider new viewpoints, and not dismiss them out
of hand because they don’t agree with our own prejudices. Sooner or later such
insular thinking leads to one disaster or another, be its war, poverty or sore
The personal form of willful delusion is more germane to
reflective seekers of truth. We join group discussions to help us avoid these
foibles, since they always seem perfectly reasonable to us as long as we don’t
have any feedback. As there is every chance our mistakes are embarrassing or
worse, we didn’t directly discuss them, but left it to personal reflection
after class. I thought about how even as someone well versed in nondual
thinking, I so often imagine my actions being performed for a future benefit or
result. This can derail a proper appreciation of the present, as well as lead
me to waste time on will-o-the-wisps. Remembering to keeps ends and means
unified is very important.
Nitya sums up the case against personal delusion rather
of us are motivated by personal gains, and are so veiled by our personal
ignorance that we draw thick ego boundaries and separate ourselves from the
rest of the world phenomena. As a result of this darkness, the “other” can
assume a fancied image which makes the individual hanker after it and thus
become subject to infatuation. This brings about false hope after false hope,
like that of a thirsty man going from one mirage to another. Such an
unfortunate person runs after shadows, which results in mounting frustration.
The “other” can also assume a demonic form, engendering in the person an
element of fear. The fear grows from moment to moment until it becomes a
paranoia that can assume gigantic proportions. (179)
Narayana Guru and friends
suggest we lift ourselves out of this trap by aiming the good of the whole
world, by conceiving of our efforts as contributing to the general welfare and
not just to ourself. Simple enough, at least on paper.
Anita wondered why, if we’re aiming for nonduality, we
always talk about dualities like truth and untruth. The tried and true answer
is that there is nothing to talk about in the unitive state. Words and concepts
relate to the dual state, and they are also the tools we use to lead ourselves
back to unitive awareness. Duality is a fact, but where we go wrong is to see
its elements as disjunct. We think that good and bad are separate and opposed,
but by seeing their inherent unity we come to know they are related and
connected. This keeps us from taking sides and becoming unbalanced, like George
Bush swearing to rid the world of evil and thereby becoming the embodiment of
evil himself. A little intelligence can go a long way in this business, but we
have to think outside our box, and that’s part of the paradox.
After class I read the following in BU, which dovetails
perfectly with the subject at hand:
establishes that, as soon as it occurs, life correlates itself with tendencies
which are detailed by religions as sins. With death, that tendency is overcome.
This categorical recognition of sin as a phenomenon only pertaining to one life
term dismisses a possible day of ultimate judgment and relegation of the
individuated self to hell or heaven. This is the greatest contribution of
Vedanta to humanity. We read “That very person, on being born or assuming a
body, is conjoined with evils and on dying or leaving the body, discards those
evils.” Even people outside the Semitic religions entertain the thought that
sin is a phenomenon which is vicariously continued through generation after
generation. It is this belief that the present mantra rules out.
there is no body, there are no sense organs. Where there is no sensation or
sense data, there is no mind also. Anna (food), prana (vital
breath) and manas (mind) all
belong to nature and are governed and controlled by nature modalities.
Extrapolating the mind into a non-physical, non-sensory world of abstraction is
only a product of imagination. From wrong premises, most religions build up an
imaginary world and threaten believers about the consequences of their actions
as if they are deeply painted on the soul of a person. In Judaism, Christianity
and Islam, the belief in a Day of Judgment is a cardinal article of faith. The
votaries of these religions think that only such a belief will deter a person
from indulging in evil. This is like adults trying to discipline innocent children
by telling them stories of imaginary ghosts and goblins to tame them and make
their minds submissive to the dictates of their elders. The havoc such a wrong
faith does to a person, in principle as well as in practice, inflicts a deep
mental injury on individuals which makes their bruised minds bleed with anxiety
and pain all their lives. (425-26)
Lastly, a refresher on hope,
to counterbalance the diss we gave it recently, from Nitya back in II,8:
goal of the present study is to release ourselves from the perennial chain of
human misery, and to establish ourselves in a state of happiness which is not
transient. Turning away, repudiating, or fleeing are methods adopted to escape
pain. Drawing closer, and using techniques of sharing or communication are
indications that pleasure is being experienced. Pain germinates fear; pleasure
brings hope. Of these two major propensities, fear and hope, it is fear that
dominates both the conscious and the subconscious mind. Hope arises from that
stratum of existence which is truth itself—that is, the blissful Self. Hope
asserts itself again and again as the will to live, the will to seek, and the
will to actualize. Actualization of the highest possible values, or the
realization of the Self, dispels fear…. To become established in fearlessness
in all the four modified states of consciousness is another way of stating the
main goal. (146, 147)
I left out a whole interesting discussion we had about
sankalpa, which is the word translated as will here. Sankalpa contains will,
but is much a larger concept. Nitya likens it to a blueprint in consciousness,
which leads to actualization of everything. Vasanas in their early stage begin
as general forms that become more specific as they develop. Deb mentioned that
these blueprints are the archetypes, that the Absolute, while formless and
unlimited in itself, impels form through certain key designs that elaborate
into the manifold expressions we are familiar with. This is often called Divine
will. The fact that the universe is full of potential forms waiting to manifest
is why everything we do is so easy. We aren’t starting from scratch; all the
accumulated wisdom of the evolution of the universe is at hand, perhaps of
multiple universes. Laszlo in Science and the Akashic Field shows that this is coming to be appreciated even in
physics nowadays. We are literally swimming in a sea of infinite potential. The
recommendation of the wise as to how to use this potential is to open our
hearts to it and go with its flow, instead of trying to seize and manipulate it
for our own personal advantage.
To one who reasons correctly
the world appears as a mirage in the Self; and to the indiscriminate, by
confusion, a reflection looks as if it is real. (III, 6)
Nitya begins his comments
with a recap of Plato’s cave allegory, which must be well known to all. It’s
also recounted on pages 127-8 of That Alone. Though he later points out some difference between
Narayana Guru and Plato, the part that relates to this verse is the same for
both: we are fixated on our shadows, and we see our reflections through a
glass, darkly. We see only a sort of after-effect produced when our light
shines through the smoky class of our vasanas, samskaras, and general outlook.
Interesting word, isn’t it—outlook. We are looking out, and miraculously see
basically what we expect and miss what doesn’t conform to our outlook.
The fire in the cave that casts the shadows is a metaphor
for our core consciousness. If we sink into ourselves, tuning out the shadow
play of projections that dances before our eyes, we come to know ourselves as
an unflickering light of awareness. This is the forgotten aspect of our whole
being, which is subsumed in the busyness of the changing surface of events.
These events are wholly dependent on the light of consciousness—without it
there is no show.
Some of our confusion in rediscovering our Self comes from
looking for our inner light in the outer play of shadows on the wall. We are
trained to look out… and to look out! We strain our minds to detect the light
within what we see. At the same time we are worried, anxious about the outcome.
But we are focused away from the light, and only need to turn around to find
it, by letting go of the shadow play and sinking into our own depths. There is
a paradox here, a simultaneous wanting and releasing that nudges us into our
This is what Narayana Guru describes as reasoning correctly.
The word he uses is prajna, being wise or aware. According to Gaudapada, prajna
is the mass of consciousness, another word for turiya, the fourth state that
permeates the other three. When we step back from individual items of awareness
to sink into our mass of consciousness, we cease to be a subject perceiving an
object, either actively in the waking state or passively in the dream. A
healthy life pulsates between peripheral involvement and regular hot baths in
the prajna, until one no longer excludes the other: they are simultaneously
Somehow we took a tangent that once again turned out to be
very relevant. Anne mentioned she has felt abnormal for her whole life. I noted
I had raised my kids to believe there was no such thing as “normal.”
Superficially we all imagine there is a normal state, but when we get to know
any person below the surface, we find they are unique and different in any
number of ways. Odd even. Unfortunately, we often run ourselves down for not
being normal even though on reflection there plainly is no such thing. This is
exactly what Narayana Guru is attempting to cure us of in Asatya Darsana. He
avers we are in essence like a beautiful flower garland, clusters of complex
and unique, functional gestalts strung together in ensembles and sequentially
arranged along the thread of time. Each is so fragrant and inspiring! It adds
supreme value to life by its very existence. But we have learned to view it as
a poisonous snake, a threatening, negative, hostile creature. This is the
reflection we take to be real, the mirage of projection that leads us from
delusion to delusion in our wanderings through the desert. We can actively
unburden ourselves of this type of delusion by reacquainting ourselves with our
garland-ness. Since everything created is the Absolute in essence, it is
infinitely wondrous. Proper reasoning leads us back here again and again, until
we know it in our bones. When we rejoin our own beauty, we can gently help our
friends to rejoin theirs too, and the joy of insight spreads far and wee. Why
are we holding back from this simple realization?
Looking up “through a
darkly,” which Ingmar Bergman also used for a film title, it is from I
Corinthians. This is one of Paul’s epistles in the New Testament that scholars
think was probably written by Paul himself. Much of his stuff, including the really
heinous crap, was added on later by deranged misogynous vision-seekers. But
this section is lovely, and provides a New Testament antidote to the prophecy
freaks who want to destroy the planet so JEEsus will HAVE to come back. Here’s
the whole chapter 1Cor. 13, with the prophecy stuff starred by me. Check it
 Though I speak with
the tongues of men and of angels, and have
not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
* And though I have the
gift of prophecy, and understand all
mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could
remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
 And though I bestow
all my goods to feed the poor, and though I
give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
 Charity suffereth long,
and is kind; charity envieth not;
charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
* Doth not behave itself
unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not
easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things,
endureth all things.
** Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they
shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be
knowledge, it shall vanish away.
** For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
** But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in
part shall be done away.
 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child,
I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
** For now we see through
a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
 And now abideth faith,
hope, charity, these three; but the
greatest of these is charity.
Sure, charity is an
old-fashioned term. We say love or kindness nowadays. The dikker says its
antonym is malevolent, a perfect word to describe fundamentalists, also
removing the gift-giving element from charity, leaving us with benevolence in
And in case far and wee
escapes you, one of the greatest poems of all time:
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
far and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
when the world is puddle-wonderful
old baloonman whistles
bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope
The Self does
not, like milk, attain to another form; therefore, everything, as in the
creation by Indra’s magic, seems to be through superimposition. (III, 7)
The next morning
early after class, Deb and I are flying away for a vacation, Grid willing, so
I’m going to write a smidgen ahead of time, add any gems from class late Monday
night, and ship it out half-baked. The main reason is to be able to write
6/6/6, the old Number of the Beast from Revelation. It has recently been
discovered that the number was mistranslated and may actually be 616. You can
find some good info on this via: http://ralphriver.blogspot.com/2005/04/number-of-beast-616.html
Take a look
particularly at the Ralph Sutherland letter a little below the top in the
comments section. According to him, a Biblical beast is someone who worships
himself and lords it over others, reminiscent of not only the Cheney cabal but
Chapter XVI of the Gita’s list of demonic attributes. Lacking humility and
mercy, and taking credit for divine dispensations or Chance factors. That kind
Anyway, this is the last chance
write 666 as a date for a long time.
on to the verse. Milk curd is a
very popular food in India, and milk is a much extolled substance in all its
transmutations, such as ghee, cream, butter and so on. Milk is something that
visibly and rapidly evolves, so here and elsewhere it is used to epitomize
nature with its endless transformations and permutations. At the same time,
milk and all else consists of nothing but the Self, but the unitive Self does
not evolve. If it did it would imply that it wasn’t everything yet, there was
something missing. This is the nursing mother of all Paradoxes. How do we unify
these two seemingly disparate entities? As Nitya asks, “Does the One transform
itself into the many, or is it only seen as the many?” He further points out
that we have arrived at the place in Darsanamala when we wade into the concept
One classic analogy for this
color. Light appears unitive, but is colored by the objects it comes in contact
with. We believe we perceive the object and its color, but we’re only seeing
reflected light that has been affected by the object. In fact, we see exactly
the color that objects aren’t. They absorb the colors they are, and reflect
those they aren’t, and the latter are what we see. Still, it’s a good analogy.
It falls short in that light is affected by objects and the Absolute is not.
This means the Self is even more subtle and pervasive than light. And light
bounces off “real” objects, but in the Absolute Self the reality of objects is
highly questionable. And there’s no bouncing going on. But this is a fine
example of the One actually transforming into the many, at least theoretically.
As I said, we’re getting into deep
Another favorite analogy is
crystal being placed on a red cloth. The crystal remains colorless and pure,
but now it looks red. This exemplifies the One that is only seen as the many,
but isn’t, quite.
still in the Asatya portion of
the work, because we’re not trying to figure out so much what Truth is, only
what it is not. In the last verse we concluded “reality” is a mirage-like magic
show, so it is only true to the extent we believe in it. Now we’re gently
detaching the Absolute from its entanglement in the mirage. Eventually it will
Needless to say we wrestled
with this paradox in our class tonight. And Nitya’s commentary compresses a lot
of knowledge into a very small space. But bracketing the brainstorming (a
tempest in a teapot?) we sat still and admired the mysteriously real yet
intangible imperceptible Absolute. We could hear how sounds were superimposed
on it, and see how objects floated in it. It’s relatively easy to picture the
ocean when the waves are calm. Of course we all leap to attention when
agitation builds, and forget the ground.
about how we are trained from
very young to think of a sequence of steps leading up to a reward. As a child
you do yardwork and get your allowance. You study hard to get an A at the end
of the semester. You do ten things to get your merit badge. Religion convinces
you that what you are doing is building an edifice to the heavens, that you
should do good so you can arrive in paradise some day. So we imagine
realization also is the end product of a series of steps on a path, and that our
life is a temporary pit stop not even halfway there. But Narayana Guru doesn’t
agree. He insists that no arrangement of waves will ever produce the ocean.
Waves can evolve all day long, but the ocean is always there, always perfect
and complete. It lacks nothing that we waves can provide. We are not just
studying for an eventual A; every moment of our life is as important as the
His attitude is that life
is lila, a
divine sport, lived for the joy of it. The living can be made very beautiful,
but it doesn’t take you anywhere other than where you already are. The
excitement, compassion, intrigue, artistry and so on are rewards in themselves,
not means to any ends. This is initially a difficult proposition, but that’s
because our habitual behavior bristles at being overthrown. Once you
reintroduce the joy of living back into the equation, you release your vast
potential for all kinds of positive attributes. Doing good is motivated only by
the pleasure of itself, not by some scheming ego intent on storming the gates
of heaven by complying with a bunch of musty rules from an intellectual
graveyard. When we drop future payoffs from our game plan, everything lightens
up. The dead weight of duty sloughs off our back, and we can stand erect for
the first time in a long while. Narayana Guru isn’t trying to make us
miserable, he’s trying to bring us out of our dark caves and into communion
with all the magnificent creations that infinity can project, so that we can
taste the joy that is our very Substance.
Maya alone is the
primal cause of the world; by that which is none other than the wielder of maya
all this is created, like the unreal effects of psychic powers. (III, 8)
After nearly three full darsanas examining the ways the mind
springs into existence and leads us astray, we arrive naturally at a summation
of our dilemma, the cause of which is generically named maya. We have been
inching forward incrementally, and suddenly we have achieved a collective
“great leap forward.” From here on Narayana Guru won’t be busy convincing us of
the reality of the underlying Substance. He has turned our attention fully on
it. At last we can look at the implications of Life unfettered by our
confusion. This is a really exciting moment in the study.
For all its broad sweep, Darsanamala consists of very tiny
steps. In other words the flowers are strung close together on the garland. So
Narayana Guru is going to spend the next two verses and most of the Maya
Darsana consolidating this realization. We will have plenty of time to let it
Nitya compares maya with the index of refraction of light,
describing the familiar experiment where a rod or pencil is placed in a glass
of water and appears bent. The rod is not bent, but it convincingly appears to
be bent right at the interface of the two mediums. Refraction in different
mediums alters our perception of objects in well understood ways, and a
physicist can infer the shape of the original by compensating for the
distortions using the scientifically determined index. Like that, a
contemplative can subtract all the distortions we have studied so far, the
fears, biases, likes and dislikes, partial and colored awarenesses, organic
weaknesses, and so on, and discover his or her own core in the “neutral zero”
of unfettered consciousness. This is the Gurukula’s famous “Normative Notion,”
the value to which all things and ideas must be related in order for them to
have sensible meaning. It is the vertical golden thread running through all our
horizontal activities. History exalts the few who have achieved this insight by
accident, by an “act of God,” and we never want to leave Chance out of our
reckoning. Yet the idea here is that you can actually learn this, you can work
on it and make it more and more real in your life, if you are humble and
careful and awake. So open yourself to divine intervention, but in the meantime
correct whatever you can. As Swami Beyondananda pointed out, Jesus never said
“Don’t do anything until I get back!”
The question arose, “How does realization fit into this
image of maya or refraction?” My response—one of many possible ones—is that we
spend a lifetime trying to grasp the rod in the glass of water, and we keep
missing it because we aren’t taking refraction (maya) into account. A realized
person is one who makes the adjustments, reaches into the glass, and grasps the
rod where it actually is, not where it appears to be.
Special guest Emily pointed out that each interpretation of
maya was “right” for the experiencer. This reminded us that maya isn’t “wrong”
at all, it’s just how the world is encountered by an inevitably partial being.
There is a ton of negative baggage heaped on maya’s head, as the great deluder,
master of illusion and blindness, and all. Such a very common attitude implies
there is a right version somewhere as an antidote—and all too often, the
person’s ego presumes to know what that right version is. No, maya is just the
fig tree that emerged from the seed in the first darsana. It just is. It has
all the dualities in it, but it is not them.
Emily may have also meant that ultimately the rod itself is
as unreal as the observation of it’s being bent. Maya is both real and unreal.
It’s the only game in town, and the Gurus invite us to play it to the hilt. But
play well and play smart. Don’t just reach for the obvious, because we’re in a
fun house of mirrors. Taking the simplistic course of sneering at maya merely
drives the sneerer into a personal cave of negativity. Maya isn’t affected at
We talked about times we had observed mayavic distortions in
our own life or experience. This is of course an important exercise to do
outside of class, and hard to share. Ann gave us a beautiful example. Both her
boys screwed off heavily during high school. She felt a powerful urge to
pressure them to achieve and succeed, since she and her husband were chronic
overachievers (impressively so, I should add). Early on, though, she asked
herself how she would like to be remembered in ten years, as a nag or as
something else. Further, she wondered what she could truly offer the situation.
Her decision was to love. She decided to give unjudging love, and leave the
boys to figure out their own dharma. For one of them at least, this strategy
was a magna cum laude success.
In connection with this I mentioned the myth of Sisyphus, he
who was condemned by the gods to roll a great stone uphill, where near the top
it would always escape him and roll back to the bottom. This depicts the course
of those who want to manipulate events (or people) towards their own goal. When
a person is motivated from within, their nearly infinite energy infuses their
actions. But when they don’t share the vision they become dead weight, always
ready to seek the lowest point as determined by gravity. Consciously or unconsciously
they resist the pressure being put on them. So as Ann determined, it is better
to let people decide their own direction, and give love and encouragement
wherever possible. The maya-drenched ego forever perverts the unfoldment of
people’s natural abilities, so pushing is merely hard work with little or no
This is true even when your motivation is for the benefit of
another person. Most of us are not Kissingers or Cheneys, sending waves of
soldiers to their deaths for our secret financial benefit. Very often we do
what we do to help others, not out of any selfish scheme. But hidden in our
“help” is a subtle negativity, a mistrust in the course of events, or even a
blindness that makes our help less than efficacious. In our Darsanamala study
we want to uncover the universal ground that links all aspects of maya
together. The belief is that with this knowledge our actions will be no more or
less than what they should be, and we will be allowing room for the dynamism of
the Absolute to be involved.
As several participants noted, love is how the Absolute
manifests in life. Our contact with the Absolute teaches us love, and fills us
with love until it spills over to wash our friends and associates. It is not
only a feeling, but expertise in action. There is nothing better that we could
share with those around us.
Anita asked about the psychic powers mentioned in the verse,
and how they are unreal. Here they are likened to all the rest of maya. In
other words, they are nothing special. Or better yet, everything is special, as
special as lurid siddhis. A gathering of loving friends is the most special
thing in the universe, if we stop to appreciate it. And, while some saints may
be able to heal the sick and so on, none of them set out to accomplish that. If
they strove for powers, the very striving would take them out of participation
with their life. Instead, they just opened themselves to the All, and the
powers were the side effect of their realization, which they were then free to
Our class took place outside. The temperature had reached
104 degrees earlier, and we sat in the shade behind the house. By class time
there was a very warm breeze (an Oregon rarity) rustling and susurrating in the
leaves. As darkness grew, the sense of individual people and objects merged
into an undifferentiated sea of beingness. Purple highlights suffused the air.
We sank into a spell of unity. It took an arbitrary act to break the spell and
send everyone on their way.
To the mature mind of the old
the world appears in the Self as a forest in the sky, even as the unreal form
of a puppet seems otherwise to a child. (III, 9)
As the third darsana winds down, untruth is characterized in
a highly symmetrical form along the vertical time axis. It appears like a drum
or hourglass, wide at the top and bottom and pinched in the middle. Down below
towards the alpha the mind imbues everything with imaginary attributes, in a
process called eidetic by the gurus and psychologists. The inner sense of
reality of the child is projected onto the surroundings, and a doll or puppet
can be fully alive and capable of interactions. The maturization process
replaces personal ideations with socially agreed upon ones, the so-called
factual reality. The middle stage is filled with interpersonal transactions in
which a common playing field is essential. The infinite range of possibilities
must be severely circumscribed to insure mutual compatibility among the
participants. As the person ages and contemplates the shaky nature of so many
previously unexamined “facts,” the mind again expands to galactic dimensions.
Here it is crucial to stay alive and alert, with a wise philosophy grounded in
the Self. Then there is blissful Self-absorption. If, on the other hand, a
person fritters away their life and doesn’t exercise their cranial muscles, it
can lead to fearful dementia and unconsciousness.
We talked about how, as our normally accepted reality
disintegrates, we can either celebrate it or regret it. We are trained to be
attached to the fictional “facts” of everyday life by those who wish to
manipulate us: advertisers, politicians, vested interests of all sorts. Over a
lifetime we become habitually attached to a world of trading, and to being
outwardly “sharp,” along with buying costly products to maintain and pad our
self-image. When this mirage begins to fade, as it surely does if we are
fortunate enough to live long enough, with can either desperately cling to the
dissipating vestiges or else turn inward to discover a more substantial realm
that will not disappear.
Nitya mentioned how adults, including parents, sometimes
take advantage of credulous children, whose world has little demarcation
between fact and fiction. Unfortunately, adults are not much better off. Our world
abounds in very convincing con jobs, which we all too readily accept as
factual. Television or course is the most masterful, easily bypassing the
critical parts of the mind to address the seedbed of desires. It sells not only
products, but the news itself creates fears along with a dependency mindset to
place the viewer at the mercy of authority figures. Religion has been doing
this far longer than electronic devices. Good for the economy. Theirs.
Harmony and I talked earlier in the day about how most of
the commonly accepted “scientific facts” are simply made up out of thin air.
When you’re old enough, you’ve been through several generations of different
ones, and begin to see the pattern. I was pleasantly surprised that Harmony not
only agreed with my statement, but had a recent example. A friend had said it
was scientifically proven that if you didn’t wear clothes the temperature had
to be 75 degrees (24 Celsius) or you would die. I wish I had volunteered for
the experiment, which we both suspected never took place. You can imagine naked
people in different conglomerations being kept at different controlled
temperatures, dying off one by one until the 75 degree group just barely held
their own. Right! Sadly, far stupider and more deadly beliefs are taken for gospel.
I don’t suppose I have to make a list; I’m sure you know what I mean.
The process of asatya, the presentation of which is coming
to a close but which must never stop as an aspect of the contemplative life,
includes examining widely accepted “truths” to determine their value. While
it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, an awareness of history helps a lot.
I go back to when it was commonly accepted that cigarettes were good for you,
stress reducers and all that. My grandfather the doctor smoked. The history of
changing food fads is enough to confuse even dieticians. The right clothing is
different every year. And on and on.
At the older end of life, all that mass of charming but
imaginary beliefs driving the human dynamo begins to recede in importance,
resembling a forest in the sky, or what we call a hallucination. Becoming loses
its glamour, and being becomes more attractive, until they are in balance.
Their harmonious interdependence induces blissful expertise in whatever
endeavor one chooses.
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.
The third darsana roars to a close with an intense image
that unifies everything we’ve addressed in it so far. We had a grand class on a
gorgeous summer evening that illuminated many aspects of the verse, so grand we
had to break it off arbitrarily so participants could get some shuteye. I’ll
only be able to touch a couple of highlights.
quoting Narayana Guru’s own comments to make the verse’s main point absolutely
is the Self that alone is real. Anything other than the Self is not at all
real. The unreal world merely has a semblance of the real. That which seems
like the Siva lingam is really the stone itself. As for the Siva lingam, it
merely seems as if it is a reality other than the stone. What is real is the
stone, and the Siva lingam is what is supposed on the basis of what really
exists. The Siva lingam is not one that the mason made independently of the
stone. It is the stone itself. The stone is real and the Siva lingam is unreal.
In the same manner the Absolute is real and the world is unreal. The unreal
world only seems real.
To a contemplative who is
looking with clear eyes, religious imagery is as much maya as anything else. Of
itself it does not represent anything other than the material and workmanship
that went into it. It is the people who worship it who bring their learned attitudes
to the image and project them onto it. The gurus describe this as eidetic
thinking. Eidetic comes from the Greek word for form, eidos, whence our word
idol. Existence implies form; a formless existence has no meaning. But the
Absolute is beyond form, hence the eternal conflict between our concepts and
what they purport to represent.
The projection of our imagination onto the real is called idolatry.
In religious idolatry, our most intense feelings are gathered, and any
disagreements over the nature of what the idol stands for release pent up frustration
in the form of rage. The frustration comes from the mismatch between Reality
and its partial representation in images. Instead of opening up to a more
all-encompassing vision, we prefer to fight for the domination of our idols
over those of others.
The more we profess meekness or submissiveness about our
idolatry, the more the rage builds within. There is really no solution other than
giving it up.
The preeminent Catholic mystic Thomas Merton wrote
scathingly of how Christians imagine they are not idolaters and everyone else
is. As they bow before two intersecting pieces of wood with a sad doll impaled
on it, they sneer at a world filled with godless idolaters. In Faith
Violence, he saw nations
worshippers and exclaimed “We are idolaters. We make simulacra [likenesses] and
we hypnotize ourselves with our skill in creating these mental movies that do
not appear as idols because they are so alive!” He adds “Our idols are by no
means dumb and powerless. The sardonic diatribes of the prophets against images
of wood and stone do not apply to our images that live, and speak, and smile,
and dance, and allure us and lead us off to kill.”
Narayana Guru is painfully aware how so often people severely
criticize others’ beliefs, even though they have exactly the same status
philosophically as their own. In this verse he offers up his own religious milieu
for sacrifice, saying in essence, “The people in my country see the Absolute
with certain religious trappings superimposed. I hereby declare those trappings
have nothing more to do with the Absolute than any other beliefs. None of them
touch the Real. Because I don’t cling to my own background, I can embrace
everyone else’s as being their best effort seen from their own point of view. I
can agree we are speaking of the same mysterious reality, and I have no need to
fight to prove which version is better.” He wanted with all his heart for
people to come together in the bliss of existence, and he showed gently how it
could so easily be done.
Nitya’s commentary echoes the gentle approach to a fiercely
absolutist position. “It is with the best of intentions that one begins to set
out in the search for truth. As the search is directed by a finite mind using
the finite doors of perception and the limited concepts of word images, sooner
or later the seeker is likely to confine his final summation of truth as a
fixed entity visualized by the individual’s mind.” As soon as we think we’ve
got it, an image becomes fixed of the ever-changing, ever-ungraspable Absolute.
While the Real flows on, we stop and examine our image so as to understand it
better. It’s such a natural thing to do! The paradox is that even as we are
learning and growing, what we are learning is going rapidly out of date. What
we are learning about can never be fully grasped nor even momentarily stopped
from its continuous explosion of creation. Yet we cannot help but try.
The major religions are stages where large chunks of humanity
held onto the vision of the moment, and are still studying and pondering over
it. There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as you allow that others will be
attracted to other aspects and so will explain things differently. The class
readily agreed that the Absolute could be worshipped in everything and
anything, even “bad” things like toxic chemicals. To a chemist, those chemicals
are the most amazing things on earth, infinitely entrancing. The rest of us
think they are horrible. It is incumbent on the chemist to ensure that her
object of worship doesn’t cause harm on the horizontal world by keeping it properly
contained. If she inflicts her chemicals on delicate organisms, she can do
The partiality to one version of truth, beautiful as it may
be, conceals a dangerous subtext. Nitya concludes, “Unless one transcends the
conditioned operation of the mind he will again and again come back, through
the back door as it were, to the same world of ignorance that he is trying to
escape by adopting one device after another.” We begin by loving truth, but as
Deb said we then grasp it with our mind and truncate it. We unavoidably make it
an image, an idol. Unless we can release our grasp, open our minds, conflict
will arise over the very thing that was apprehended in sweetness and light.
This game takes wisdom to be played well. There is much left to learn. We are
invited to step on into the Maya Darsana for further instruction. Aum.
Part II (from 2004 Peace
Probably the most important
idea of the evening centered around how intuition reveals the Absolute. Henri
Bergson, the great French philosopher, found agreement with the Upanishads in
his equating the Absolute with pure movement and pure duration. It is like a
flowing river. Our normal mode of thought is to sit on the bank and make mental
images, like snapshots of it. Our minds are filled with these static snapshots,
which I illustrated with rectangular picture frames superimposed on the flowing
The river is the source of an infinite number of static
images, but no amount of images put together can ever equal the pure flow of
the Absolute. Although 24 frames a second can fool the mind into perceiving a
flow of static images as a movie, it’s still only a simulation. To truly
participate in the flow one must plunge into the river by an act of intuition,
in the way Bergson describes: “The true mystic just opens his heart to the
onrushing wave.” This illustrates his two ways of knowing a thing, either from
outside as ideas about it or inside as being it.
Some images are fairly accurate and others less accurate.
Some have the mark of eternal truth when they really match the flow. But all
images fall outside the river to some degree.
We discussed in some detail how we become attached to our
mental imagery and fail to keep up with the flow. Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters
put all their youthful, psychedelic-inspired energies into trying to catch up
to the moment, but found it always just ahead of them. The minute you examine
something, you have to hold it for a second and you’re already a step behind.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back
ceaselessly into the past,” are the immortal words that F. Scott (no relation)
Fitzgerald ends The Great Gatsby.
We fixate on our best assessment of reality with the help of parents, school
and church, and lose the dynamism we’re born with as children of the Absolute.
Worse, we become identified with our images to the point that any criticism of
them is a criticism of us. Now we’re ready to fight. People who have different
lifestyles or attitudes are an implicit criticism of our own views, so we
resent or hate them. The dark side of our mind thinks the best fix is to
destroy those who are different from us.
Luckily, since everyone understands this mechanism, which is
widely taught, world peace is flourishing on all hands….
An important corollary is that many people are satisfied
with the happiness they derive from clinging to outmoded ideas. As long as they
aren’t being excessively harmful to others, there’s no value in trying to
change their minds. It’s ourselves we have to work on. We’re the ones who are
unsatisfied with the dead letter and are looking for the living spirit. Let the
dead bury the dead. Find the river of ever-new life for yourself and don’t
worry about anyone else. Once you’ve found it you can share your light with
all, but until you do you’re only making trouble. An awful lot of conflict
comes from arguing over whose static concepts are better. Yes, they have a
relative degree of largeness and inclusiveness or smallness and exclusivity,
but that’s not important. The real solution is to attain the Absolute and
incorporate all relative positions into your oceanic vision of love and
Here’s how Nataraja Guru summarizes a section on intuition:
The Absolute has to have a living content, without which it is nothing
more than a word without meaning in life. The content is the resultant of the meeting, from two opposing sides, as it were,
of physical and metaphysical factors, both reducible in terms of intuition into a common homogeneity. When so reduced into
unitive terms there will be a mutual transparency and participation between matter and mind in a neutral matrix with a constant
osmotic interchange, like respiration mentioned in many of the Upanishads.
Action and inaction meet in such an alternating osmotic
interchange that is both inter-subjective and trans-physical. This grand
osmosis, which includes the macro- and microcosms at once within consciousness,
collective or individual, yields peace and joy without limit. Such are some of
the high claims of Vedanta. (Vedanta Revalued and Restated, Ch. 12)
A key factor in staying alive
and attuned to the world in a healthy way is to reevaluate or even discard old
frames of reference when they become outmoded. The great minds that found their
way into the flow conceived beautiful frameworks to express what they
discovered. We have been blessed with their visions as the religious and
philosophical systems that have been handed down to us, and they can remain
valid for a long time. But they only remain alive if they are reinterpreted by
each succeeding generation. Once conformity with somebody else’s interpretation
is enforced, the visions die. Many examples leapt to everyone’s mind here, not
only Christianity, but “the Founding Fathers,” detachment, God, and on and on.
Once-grand ideas that have been reinterpreted until they bear little or no
resemblance to the original, but have become albatrosses we hang on each other