It was in the beginning as if non-existence—thereafter,
this world; like a dream, everything was projected by the will alone of the Supreme Lord. (I, 1)
Our in depth examination of Darsanamala got off to a
terrific start with a nice group of 11 or 12, including Peter Moras from
Sonoma, who was one of my co-instigators at the first Portland Gurukula in 1971.
The first verse of the first darsana, or vision, begins with
the moment of creation: “It was in the beginning as if
non-existence—thereafter, this world; like a dream, everything was projected by
the will alone of the Supreme Lord.” Mysteriously, we move from nothing to
something. What’s that all about? We know, we have an inner certainty, that we
exist. We also can look back and imagine a time when we did not exist, and
peering into the future we realize it’s likely that we will cease to exist at
some point. Our present certainty of existence is called sat.
Narayana Guru says “as if” non-existence, because we presume
there was always something. It only seems non-existent because we weren’t there
to observe. Suddenly, or gradually for that matter, we have become aware of a
world, which includes us. This awareness is called chit.
Without awareness, it doesn’t matter what exists. With
awareness, everything matters to some degree. Things which matter a lot draw
our interest, and our interest produces awe and wonder. We find such states
enjoyable, and, as Mick pointed out, the absence of interesting or pleasurable
states miserable. The importance of what we relate to in this world, its value,
is covered by the term ananda.
Sat-chit-ananda is one unit of….
The first darsana is the vision of cosmic projection. We
have been molded by many stories about how the world came to be projected into
existence. If we reduce our thinking to just what we know for sure, these are
all hearsay. We realize we are projecting imaginary pictures we have visualized
in the past onto the present. Narayana Guru considers this a prime cause of our
confusion, and he is asking us in a most gentle fashion to abandon our
speculative thinking and for at least an instant see the present as new and
fresh, untainted by the past. Our vasanas and karma and memories and all that
make the past a heavy weight. It requires a stroke of genius or a stroke of
luck to set all that aside for just a brief moment, to be able to look at the
world around us without our customary projections.
Verse I,1 of Darsanamala asks us for a sincere commitment to
begin its profound study. In a way we should already be enlightened, since if
we cannot step out of our projective dream world to join Narayana Guru in his
unconditioned perspective we won’t really learn anything. We’ll be struggling
to squeeze his vast vision into the small box of our habitual mode of thinking.
It’s like riding a wave: you have to stay out front, cutting through expertly.
Once you fall just a smidgen behind, there is tremendous turbulence and you are
at the mercy of powerful forces.
Henri Bergson concludes his essay An Introduction to
Metaphysics with a perfect image of intuition. Metaphysical intuition is
precisely the enlightened attitude needed in this study, and indeed in all
There is nothing mysterious
in this faculty. Every one of us has had the occasion to exercise it to a
certain extent. Any one of us, for instance, who has attempted literary
composition, knows that when the subject has been studied at length, the
materials all collected, and the notes all made, something more is needed in
order to set about the work of composition itself, and that is an often painful
effort to place ourselves directly at the heart of the subject, and to seek as
deeply as possible an impulse, after which we need only let ourselves go. This
impulse, once received, starts the mind on a path where it rediscovers all the
information it had collected, and a thousand other details besides; it develops
and analyzes itself into terms which could be enumerated indefinitely. The
farther we go, the more terms we discover; we shall never say all that could be
said, and yet, if we turn back suddenly upon the impulse and try to seize it,
it is gone; for it was not a thing, but the direction of a movement, and though
infinitely extensible, it is infinitely simple. (pp. 89-90)
The infinitely simple key is to place ourself at the heart
of the subject, instead of beating around the bush with endless theories and
beliefs. The heart is the same Karu or core of Narayana Guru’s other
masterwork, Atmopadesa Satakam, the One Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction.
When we step out of our projections, however briefly, we automatically sink
into that primary place.
Jan’s six-year-old son sent a question with her last night.
He wondered where love resides. People say it’s the heart, but he doesn’t think
so. He thinks it’s located in God. I think Louis is very wise, as long as he
doesn’t think God is somewhere else, but knows that the Love of God or the
Divine or the Absolute or the Self resides in the core of all beings. When we
place ourselves in That, we are prepared to begin our study.
As incipient memory form alone, in the beginning, this
remained; thereafter the Lord projected with his maya, like a magician, the
entire world. (I,2)
Now we see why the “as if” in the first verse: the cosmic
seedbed of vasanas exists even when there is nonexistence. An infinite sea of
potentials biding their time to spring into actuality, an entire universe must
be created to offer them opportunities for manifestation. The modern scientific
notion of an informational pattern underlying and directing evolution is the
same thing. Truly random complexification would take forever, but the quantum
vacuum contains structural blueprints that guide and “inform” the process.
Science continues to try to imagine this happening without intelligence as a
factor (why is that, I wonder?), so the postulate is these are records of
previous successful patterns that probably DID take forever to evolve in a
former universe, but now that they exist replication proceeds much faster.
It’s important to know that samskaras are memories and
habits from the current life, while vasanas (pronounced WAsanas) are a deeper
level of memories stemming from previous lives. We’re free to view these as our
own personal previous lives—Narayana Guru isn’t going to argue the matter one
way or the other—or as the collective genetic inheritance. Our physical structure
allows us to walk but not fly or swim, and our mental structure directs us to
interpret events within certain frameworks. If such peculiarities were due to
samskaras, we could change them pretty rapidly if we tried, but vasanas are
“below the radar” so to speak. Much effort over long periods of time produces
little change. We’re better off to work with them and flow with them than curse
our fate and try to be something we’re not.
For the Christians out there, vasanas correspond to original
sin and samskaras to personal sin. When we take a body form, we are no longer
infinite. The inevitable limitations of this state, which in a sense “separate”
us from the prabhu (I think Christians call it God), are called original sin.
Our attitudes limit us even further. While these come mostly from our
environment and social milieu, they are ironically called personal sin. Since
sin has gotten a bad name, when you encounter those terms you can mentally
translate, just as you translate Satan or the devil to ego. Takes a lot of the
fear and guilt out of it.
In the course of an honorable life we promote “good” vasanas
and suppress “bad” ones. Psychologists know that mere suppression of unwelcome
memories forces them back underground, where they poison the system in various
ways. Yogis have developed a technique of witnessing, where the upsurging
vasanas are observed and even embraced but not acted out. Failing
reinforcement, they die away. In a severe tradition this treatment is
recommended for both good and bad vasanas, while the Gita and other less
stringent forms suggest reinforcing the good by expressing them.
And yes, good or bad is an opinion, and people have slightly
different values in respect to them, though when sorted out they are all pretty
similar. This is an area to bring your best thoughts, to make your own
selections. You must throw off lame opinions handed down by unimaginative folk.
Seemingly good ideas can have dire consequences as well, so you should think
things through thoroughly. The Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction deals with
ethical matters in depth, while Darsanamala does not. Learning your own dharma
means knowing what to promote as your absorbing interest. Following your own
sense of wonder and ecstasy for growth implies a gentle faith in the universe’s
beneficence, but it is perhaps justified by the encouragement of so many wise
seers and scriptures. To me, the alternative is too horrible to rest on: that
we exist in a dog-eat-dog world where survival of the fittest means killing
before being killed. Sadly, that’s a popular belief of our day, and its fruits
are visible in the many disasters man is busy making.
Science has recently added the notion that survival of the
fittest historically included nurturing and care, even as far back as the
dinosaurs, but it hasn’t percolated too far into society, where every man for
himself is the bedrock. But to the extent we can help our neighbors and spread
good will, we are doing our small part to improve the seedbed from which we all
spring. Hopefully, that’s at least part of what we’re doing with the wisdom
sacrifice of Darsanamala study.
It’s been observed that the brain of a newborn experiences
explosive growth for about two years, producing an incredibly vast number of
brain cells. Then, as the child is directed to certain neural pathways, the
used paths are strengthened while most of the unused ones wither away. Vasanas
are the seeds which sprout to produce this nearly infinite potential, and when
they’re winnowed down to the tried and true they become samskaras. As we age,
our ability to change is greatly reduced, though the dire pronouncements that
we can’t continue to grow and change are patently false. Brain cell renewal has
recently been observed by neuroscientists. What was once Niagara Falls is now a
drizzle, but all doors remain open unless we ourselves give up in despair. A
healthy philosophy reminds us of our potential, now and forever. Samskaras can
be worked with, but vasanas are like riding wild horses: all you can do is hold
on for dear life.
A couple of people have confessed to being confused in the
class. Confusion is an underrated condition. I would venture to say that in the
present circumstance it means the person has set aside expectations and
habitual modes of thought to open up to a new vision. Such a less-conditioned
state of mind is confusing because we don’t have handy labels for what we
encounter, but it’s optimal for listening and learning. The labels actually
prevent learning. The key to enjoying the process is to not focus on the
confusion itself, but recognize it as a vestigial hanging on of old notions.
Use it as a goad to listen harder.
A guru often creates confusion precisely to dismantle the
superficial beliefs of the student, which serve as a block to learning.
Although Narayana Guru is being very straightforward here, that could well be
part of the plot.
The democratic nature of the class also contributes to
confusion when tangential or even shaky ideas are brought up. Again, these are
a challenge for us to sort out the true from the false, to work hard on our
understanding, rather than merely accepting everything as gospel. Usually they
bear some connection with the subject, albeit veiled. Critical discrimination
is an integral part of yoga practice. We’re all students here, learning as we
go along. I was amazed as always how the contributions from each person opened
up new paths to explore, new facets of the truth diamond to admire.
The bottom line is we’re in deep water here, and there is no
fault in being confused. And please share your questions with the group when
you can. It’s such a vast subject, we want to address where you are. Confidence
of knowing the subject matter better will take a long time, but is the point of
the game, after all.
We closed the class with a verse from William Wordsworth’s
Ode, Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. It’s worth looking up the whole poem. Romantic
profound. Because of the reference to vasanas, it belonged with us last night.
I imagine Wordsworth was thinking of Locke’s tabula rasa, and realizing how far
from a blank slate we are when we are born:
Our birth is but a sleep and
The soul that rises with us,
our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire
And not in utter
But trailing clouds of glory
do we come
From God, who is our
Heaven lies about us in our
Shades of the prison-house
begin to close
Upon the growing
But he beholds the light, and
whence it flows,
He sees it in his
The Youth, who daily farther
from the east
Must travel, still
is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the man perceives
it die away,
And fade into the light of
Wordsworth and Narayana Guru
call us to reclaim our divine inner nature, which seems less far off the more
it is contemplated. As we tune into it we can both work with and overcome our
natural limitations, becoming happier and more free for the benefit of all.
(Response to Susan) -
Vasanas, being consolidated memories of the past historical record, cannot be
changed, but they can be allowed to fade away by not being reinforced. As they
fade away they are the same, only wispier. When they die they are the same,
only dead. :) We substitute new ones by focusing on present areas of interest.
Sometimes we're tricked by old vasanas disguised as new ones; in fact, we're
pretty much tricked by everything all the time. But that's why we're looking
into it in the class.
Before origination this was latent in him; thereafter, from
him, as sprout from seed, by his own power it created itself alone. (I, 3)
The subtle unintentional duality engendered by the two terms
‘him’ and ‘it’ here should probably be rectified along the lines of “Before
origination this was latent within it; thereafter, from itself, as sprout from
seed, by its own power it created itself alone.” The use of ‘him’ inevitably
calls forth the echo of an external god masterminding the process of creation,
which is pretty clearly not the aim of the verse.
The basis of Nitya’s commentary comes from the Chandogya
Upanishad, where Svetaketu is instructed by his father to cut open a fig tree
seed and examine what he finds. A nice paraphrase may be found in That Alone,
pages 116 and 117.
The point is there is an unending series of causes which are
effects of the previous cause, ad infinitum, and these oscillate from virtual
nothingness to full expression. When we examine one segment of the process,
cosmologically we can detect a Big Bang universe, individually we find a plant
or animal growing from a seed, or psychologically we see consciousness emerging
from unconsciousness. In all these forms, there isn’t an external frame into
which creation is growing to fit; instead there is an inner urge or drive which
expresses itself from within. There is no god mixing up ingredients in a bowl,
but there is a divinely cosmic principle of expression and development
unfurling itself far and wide, mysterious enough to intrigue and baffle us for
all eternity. Nowadays, it seems that physicists are contemplating such matters
more even than contemplatives, but everyone seems determined to avoid the big
picture if it conflicts with their preferred prejudices.
Nitya sums up the point in a terrific paragraph which I
copped for the introduction and will cop again:
As a result of the
conditioning of the faithful by the established religions, and of the skeptics
by the categoric statements of science, man has become bifurcated in his sense
of his true beingness. Having thus separated him from his true ground—that
substratum that gives rise to all beings—those responsible for this have
largely repressed in him the sense of wonder and delight in which one who knows
his true being lives all the time. Looking in vain for some religious statement
or scientific formula which will neatly encompass the whole mystery of being,
so that we can file it away in our box of consumer goods and calendar maxims,
we have forgotten that the mystery we seek to penetrate is our own mystery.
From the psychological point of view, which for me is the
one most relevant to a spiritual search, the most important point is made at
the end. Nitya says:
A proper philosophical study
should take into account the concrete facts of life and the problems arising
from them. It is easy to say that the world is a projection, but it makes
little sense if one does not follow this with an explanation of how the
projection is experienced as a concrete fact. A philosophy which ignores this
will not help us to emancipate our consciousness from the psychic colorations
and social conditionings which perpetuate our misery. (p. 58)
I took a long walk today, and
every time I tried to focus on going beyond lip service with this idea, my mind
diverted me onto a sidetrack. It’s actually a very elusive business! We are
deeply conditioned to put up and shut up, so when we try to peer into our
nature the very desire to explore throws us off the track. I kept bringing
myself back to the subject, but never got very far before my mind was AWOL once
This may be the key area where religion and philosophy fail:
it’s so easy to say it’s all in the mind or everything’s a projection, but then
what do you do about it? Most often, nothing. Hey, if it’s all unreal, why
bother? Well, if it’s so unreal, why does it bother you? You participate in the
whole universe, whatever its exact status, so you are as real as it and vice
versa. The just accept Jesus ploy is a variant version of it’s all in the mind,
by the way. In each of these cases the thought is just to agree with a simple
idea or formula and then forget about it. Meaningful examination is avoided
once again. We have a million tricks to keep ourselves asleep.
Narayana Guru knows the biggest hypocrites are the ones who
agree to a simple program and then feel superior to others who see things
differently. Darsanamala is given as a structural key to decode our confusion,
but it demands more than a smug dismissal of alternatives. The way
consciousness manifests and operates is going to be vividly described, so that
we can take a hard look at how our conditioning impels us to act. By studying
it the hope is to loosen the claws of impulses arising from our own darkness,
and promote those born of light. We’re just beginning the game, but by verses 7
and 8 of this first darsana the downside of not tuning in is going to be made
very clear. I’ll reiterate that this is to release us from misery, even though
at first blush we are heading directly into it. Hang on!
The power, however, is of two
kinds, known as the bright and the dark; thus, there is no coexistence between
these, as with light and darkness. (I, 4)
Nancy and others brought up a point of confusion around the
word coexistence: probably the intent was to mean intermingling or mixing,
because certainly opposites coexist, they literally inhabit the same
neighborhood (sahavasah is the
word Narayana Guru uses). Here at the beginning of the bifurcation of unity
into duality, light and dark are pure extreme principles. If you are one you
are not the other, you are either the tree or the tree’s reflection in a
mirror. But it is certainly true that they coexist together.
Nitya often spoke of how looking into pure light such as the
sun is blinding, there’s just too much brilliance and it overwhelms all
distinctions. Similarly, in a totally dark place like a cave you can’t see
anything. Only when light and darkness are mixed in approximately equal proportions
does a perceptible world become possible. We inhabit the mean. Absolute cold
doesn’t allow even molecular movement, while anything over 3000 degrees Kelvin
prevents particles from joining together. Like Goldilocks, we have to get it
just right somewhere in between or we can’t exist.
The balance we require and experience springs from the
rotation of the bright and dark principles. Anne talked about the yin yang
symbol, which shows how the longer you’re in one aspect the closer you are to moving
into its opposite. The symbol is by no means intended to be static. It implies
circular movement as perfectly as any still image possibly could.
We had a long class exploring some of the vast implications
of this verse, and barely scratching the surface. Light and dark stand for so
many dichotomies: existence and nonexistence, consciousness and
unconsciousness, life and death, and so on. One very important idea to glean
from all of it is that light and darkness, while distinct, spring into
existence together and operate in tandem—they do coexist! As sophisticated
adults we’ve thrown our voting bloc behind light and turned our backs on
darkness, and go about wondering why our world seems out of balance. We want
everything to be good, and become undone when it doesn’t happen.
When we underline the light and suppress the dark, powerful
countervailing forces are produced, which burst into warfare and other
traumatic eruptions. But those who feel they need to exercise their dark side
as a corrective often become embroiled in negativity as well, causing pain and
suffering to themselves and others. The safest way to unify this paradox is to
step back and contemplate it. We can only properly act from a state of yogic
equanimity, otherwise we tend to wander away from the happy median and into
danger. Gathering together in harmonious discourse and meditation on these
matters, as we did last night, helps move us from bombs to balms.
This, of mind-stuff alone,
in the beginning was accomplished, as if a painting, with all the
picturesqueness seen here, by the Lord, like an artist. (I, 5)
This is one of the verse commentaries that is less than
optimal in my estimation, since it’s clear that the vast field of the subject
was impossible for Nitya to epitomize in a few pages. To get the most out of it
I recommend turning to verse 85 of That Alone, brought from the depths about
seven years later and really unearthing some important implications of an
analogy that Narayana Guru must have liked very well. That verse reads, “No
shadow exists independent of an actual form; as there is no original form
anywhere for the existing world, it is neither shadow nor substance; everything
that is seen is like a snake painted by a master.”
I’m sure everyone has a copy, but just
in case I’ll reprint the parts we read out:
Guru says that when an expert paints a snake and the painting is placed in dim
light, it can frighten a person. The dread can be so great that the person
might even collapse and die. So the painting can function as a snake to some
extent, but as soon as it is closely examined it will be found to be only a
it turns out to be a painting, it does not cease to be. The snake doesn't
disappear. It continues to be what it always was--a painting done by a master.
What changes is your reaction to it. You no longer react with fear but with
great admiration. You say, "Look how lifelike it is! It's wonderful!"
You might want to possess it: "Let me take it home. It's a terrific
picture!" Once you accept it, it is no longer a snake. When you were
dreading it, it was also not a snake. It all came from the mind's projection.
let's go back to the idea of 'wife'. The original clay is there: some flesh, a
body. On it you project your dear wife, just like the potter projected the idea
of pot onto the clay. The process is of course a little different. Here, a
greater potter has done the first part of the work in fashioning the woman, but
it only becomes meaningful when you project the idea of 'wife' on top of her,
so to speak. Does this idea have validity or not? It has validity. Has it full
validity? No. It is valid only until you telephone an attorney to effect a
doesn't only refer to the husband-wife business but is a handy way of
understanding something general in life, where people get infatuated with so
many things and then after some time effect a separation from them. Marriages
and divorces are going on all the time between people and their relativistic
values. They aspire to something, but when they get close to it they no longer
want it. They think it is not what they were looking for. That's because the
beingness of those things has the same status as a painted picture. The
painting is done from within. Is it real or unreal? The Guru says you cannot
say it is real, nor can you say it is unreal. It's simply a wonder.
apply this in your life, you have to look for the being which cannot be
you there is a witnessing self, a saksi. It is the big eye which watches the visions of the
two small eyes,
one seeing the external world and the other the internal world. Only when that
witnessing eye is relied on will you be able to transcend the other two. Until
you come to that experience you will be alternately fearing the snake and
admiring its beauty, and also losing interest again and again and again.
percent of your suffering is imaginary. You sit there and imagine what must be
happening to your father or mother, or your wife at home, or someone else
somewhere else. While you're sitting there, from your last chakra or synergic center, something goes to the next
imagination and then the next. Then the whole thing burns inside. After posing
these problems, Sankara says, "Now find out the real basis of your
experience. To make this experience real, you should tell me definitely what
truly exists, what you truly know of this experience, that will not be altered
at any time."
Even the idea
"I am" is not there when you are in deep sleep. If you are in a yogic
absorption, the central idea is not "I am." The distinction of 'I'
and 'that' is gone. If what is behind these notions is real and unchanging,
your greater insight should rest on that.
In the first four verses of
Darsanamala, Narayana Guru presented a bare bones creation story. Now at the
fifth verse the mind comes into being, and with it the cosmic projection of a
world. Very quickly the Guru is going to show us how we become mesmerized by
our projections and lose our grounding in the Unchanging. We lose touch with
ourselves and focus instead on the play before our eyes. One of the unfortunate
results is that we become very clever to point out the defects in all those
people out there, forgetting that they are us. The observer and the observed
cannot be separated.
we talked a little about the
ways in which our projections manifested as frightening imaginations. It would
be valuable to do some more of this in the privacy of your own home, since the
very act of observing the process, diligently performed, removes that ninety
percent of needless suffering. The remainder is much trickier, so why not take
on the easy stuff first?
Again, in the process there is a
tendency to think of other people’s problems instead of our own, which neither
addresses our suffering nor offers any solace to the imaginary “others” who are
the objects of our largesse. This is an ego feint to throw us off the scent.
Watch how criticism of others leaps into the mind in place of self-criticism,
and gently turn back to yourself. Once cured of this malaise—so ably taught by
our society—you may actually be able to help others for real. But not before.
At the end of class Anne told a long
story of her life, about how she taught herself to let go of judging both
herself and others. She realized that feeling sorry for herself over some truly
major misfortunes was only adding to her misery and she was able to let those
go. For the last fourteen years she has worked in an AIDS hospice, where most
people are severely judgmental towards the patients and reap a harvest of bad
feelings on the flip side. Anne compassionately saw that any of us could be in
the same boat very easily, and imagined herself or her kids as having the
disease. The patients respond well to her enlightened attitude. A perfect
example of Nataraja Guru’s double assertion over double negation.
“Judge not, lest ye be judged,” is
about my favorite Bible quote, and it’s true that how you act and believe comes
back to you in kind. Jack Flanders’ motto is “What’s coming at you is actually
coming from you.” This is the most important lesson to glean from the fact that
we as the Lord of our personal universe project that universe. Anne not only
showed us how to put that wisdom into action, but she unintentionally reminded
us that enlightenment isn’t only something far off possessed by great sages,
but something all of us participate in to some degree. That’s another of
Narayana Guru’s heartfelt teachings (Atmo, v. 48) by the way. We’re all better
prepared to recognize greatness in our friends and neighbors after listening to
potential yogic power, in the beginning this was nature indeed; thereafter,
like a yogi, the Lord of the World unfolded his magical powers. (I, 6)
There’s an important nuance here.
Vaibhava doesn’t exactly mean potential power, it means potent power. According
to the Monier-Williams, vaibhava means superhuman power or might; sakti. The
second definition is grandeur, glory, magnificence. All of those meanings are
meant by Narayana Guru. It’s important to keep in mind the potency of what is
potential. Before what is comes to be, it exists as a potential of the ground
of being. Only in this extended sense is potential the right word to use.
This is the last verse in which “in the
beginning” appears. Considering that verses 3 and 4 treat one subject and the
words in that instance are “before origination,” every verse up till now has
“in the beginning” in it. We may safely say the game has begun, and we’re about
to see what will happen next. But not quite yet. We’re poised at the magical
moment when creation has just bloomed and is not yet tarnished with decay.
Everything is still perfect in emerging out of a unitive impulse from the
ground of being.
half of the commentary deals
with the fear that is properly the subject of the next verse. It’s natural to
want to rush ahead to the stuff that will be most germane to our current
problematic conditions, but we tried to hold back and just appreciate the
magnificence of existence for a time. Up till now Narayana Guru has been asking
us to imagine propitious and harmonious states, in order to keep our
individuated life in perspective. From this point on we will be wrestling with
the tangents we have embarked upon due to confusion of concepts and values. He
wants us to always keep in mind the excellence of the whole to which we all
belong, to make our exploration less unsettling.
Sometimes I ruefully have to say ya
shoulda been there. Last night’s class was, by Gurukula standards, very big.
The overflow crowd of about fourteen moved to the living room. Gurusharan
Jyothi and Peter Moras graced us with their presence from afar, and some rare
birds from Portland also showed up. Matching the splendor of the attendees was
a wide-ranging discussion with innumerable high points. The whole reminded me
how infinitely unique each person is in this world. From a distance we may all
look alike, but once known up close there is a universe of unmatched personal
experience in each one. All the same we are mysteriously able to unite around
ideas and share meaningful interchanges effortlessly. Underneath the surface,
profound energy is generated or at least reinforced by the proximity of the
souls in one location. Add tea and black bottom cupcakes and the room
approaches critical mass, no pun intended….
Speaking of the cupcakes—made by Deb
from an ineffable recipe bequeathed by Jean Norrby—some humble soul left a bag
of homemade cookies on the counter which were only discovered after the fact.
We’ll try to keep them for Sunday, (I can’t make promises) but hope the
perpetrator will identify herself. There’s nothing so sad as cookies in hiding.
Like the Absolute, right there but overlooked by the madding crowd.
Over the course of the evening one
crucial but somewhat incoherently expressed question kept trying to surface. It
was also incoherently answered to an unsatisfactory degree. We could call this
a group grope: the group was groping for what was lurking in the back of the
mind. I guess this shows how old we’ve gotten, but never mind…. Usually I find
that in subsequent readings the invisible gurus answer the question very
beautifully. This morning I was reading verses 6 and 7 in the two Isavasya
Upanishad commentaries by Nitya. In a section entitled The Sublimation of the
Gross, he writes: “We live in a world of two complementary infinitudes. One is
the spiritual infinitude of homogeneity. Its counterpart is an infinitude of
the heterogeneous. Between these two extremes the individuated human
oscillates.” In essence that’s where our question resided. It’s truly a crucial
question that goes to the heart of the paradox of living:
How do we integrate so-called spiritual
and material matters, or does one preclude the other?
Usually in actual practice we vote in
favor of one or the other. Just as we favor pleasure over pain, we become a
partisan and allow the lame leg to atrophy. We are proud to be either a
spiritual person or a materialist. A unitive philosophy believes these aren’t
even two separate things, they are one. Nataraja Guru used the cross (hence:
crucial) of the Cartesian coordinates to integrate horizontal and vertical
elements. Each element by itself is one dimensional; in relation they are two-
and by extrapolation multi-dimensional. In other words, alive. Only when they
are balanced together is the system healthy. The text of those two mantras from
the Isa Upanishad read:
one who continually sees all beings in the Self alone,
that, in all manifested factors the Self also,
person, because of such a vision,
whom all beings are known as the Self alone,
delusion is there
one who beholds this unity? (v. 6 & 7)
a sense the entire Narayana Gurukula philosophy is aimed at answering this
question. I particularly commend verse 20 of That Alone as one of the best
epitomes of an idea running through the entire work. We will be honing in on it
as the weeks go by in Darsanamala. The book just out, Unitive Philosophy by
Nataraja Guru, is a tour de force of integral wisdom, though not for the faint
In a way
it’s fitting that we didn’t
answer the key question. This study in its entirety is one answer. Some have
wondered why go to all the trouble when we already know the answer. I’d say
that we know the answer in words, but we don’t know the answer in “the fleshy
tables of the heart.” (2 Cor. 3,3; thanks to Dr. Mees.) Through the serious
pondering of wise words, known in the Gita as the wisdom sacrifice, we
transform a concept into a living reality. Without the effort, we have to make
do with empty words. It’s deeply satisfying to be joined by so many seriously
questing souls in such a process. Aum.
Self-knowledge shrinks, then ignorance is fearful; substantiation by name and
form, in the most terrible fashion, looms here, ghostlike. (I, 7)
This verse packs a wallop, and another overflow
crowd provided a very
interesting evening of exploration. Sunita and Ashok from Chicago and their
dear friend Tracey from Seattle, Jyothi from Tellicheri, and Johnny Stallings
from Ashwood joined the regular and irregular participants for a potluck and
community diving expedition. I expect that by next week we’ll be back to what
we call normal, about half as many.
In verse 6 we completed the process of
creation and were poised at the perfect moment, akin to the Garden of Eden in
Western mythology. In Darsanamala too, the next stage is the fall, but sans sin
and disobedience to an angry god. The rishis well knew we weren’t issued an
owner’s manual with our body, we have had to figure things out for ourselves.
It makes the game a lot more fun, as long as the spirit of play is maintained.
In Vedanta all mistakes are forgiven, just as soon as you understand them.
In a classroom setting we might have
studied this verse phrase by phrase, and I think I should do a bit of that now.
The class itself was so huge and wide-ranging I’m overwhelmed at the thought of
start with “when
Self-knowledge shrinks.” Under consideration is atma, the capital S Self, the
collective whole rather than the individual self. This is the state of the
Garden, sama, the all-inclusive unitive state. In general, when one self
expands in awareness the other diminishes. Only an adept dialectician can keep
both the immanent and the transcendent in mind simultaneously. Otherwise, as we
become embroiled in our individuation, our small s self takes center stage and
our knowledge of the unitive Self shrinks. This is the critical moment Narayana
Guru asks us to examine now.
As we grow up and as our consciousness
becomes more sophisticated, we begin to distinguish separate items from out of
the original uniform substance. This is actually a very useful thing to do,
allowing us to participate in the world around us. It’s by no means a sinful
act, but it does produce an ego, which is nothing more than the locus of
sensations and ideations experienced by the individual. The problems arise when
we forget the unity underlying all the separate entities. We are trained to be
expert in addressing all the manifold happenings—again, a great thing—but we
get caught up in the game and forget the field it’s being played on. Because we
project our inner sense of bliss onto all those separate items, we imbue them with
a meaningfulness that is not intrinsic to them. Imagine our disappointment when
those items fade away, leaving us feeling bereft. (Maybe you don’t HAVE to
imagine.) But they always do fade away, eventually, despite our valiant
attempts to hold on to them. Since we’ve imagined they supplied our happiness,
we fear our happiness is going away with them.
Darsanamala is carefully designed to
help us reestablish our connection to the unity that is our true source of
happiness, which as Andy pointed out, never went away. It’s always there, in
and through everything, but we don’t see it because, well, it’s invisible. Only
separate items are visible. When folks say “we believe what we see” they are
unconsciously limiting their purview to omit the ground of the Absolute. We
must develop a new way of seeing that isn’t dependent on sense data produced by
the world of multiple selves, anya. We should say “we believe what we know,” or
“we believe what we understand,” instead of “we believe what we see.”
Vedantins call the state of being
focused on separateness “ignorance.” Because of the shrinking of our
Self-knowledge, “ignorance is fearful.” Nitya addresses this aspect very well
in the first paragraph of his commentary. Once we identify with a limited self
and its items of knowledge, we automatically divide the universe into the known
and the unknown. While most of us are comfortable with the known part of
ourselves, somehow a profound and primal inner state of fear becomes associated
with the unknown, and we can run amok precisely to the extent we forget the
interconnectedness of all. A million psychology texts have been written to
partially explore this terrain, but seldom is the cure mentioned: reconnection
of the part with the whole. Narayana Guru at this point in the garland isn’t
introducing the cure either, he is taking a hard look at the disease (which is
exactly what we have: dis-ease). His cure will unfold over the course of the
spent a lot of time examining
fear as a motivator. Anita shared her major lesson of the week. She’d had a
terrifying nightmare, threatening death is the most realistic and also twisted,
dreamlike fashion. When she awoke she was frightened to the depths of falling
back asleep and thereby completing her extinction, so she thought hard of the
most mundane things to keep from falling back into it. Most of us have
experienced powerful fear at some point in our life, and the most common
response is to immerse ourself in trivialities, the “hamster wheel” of life. The
social milieu consists of an endless series of tasks and pursuits to take our
minds off of fear. If you were going to hide truth to keep it safe from
discovery, this might well be the place to put it: right behind the fear. Then
nearly everything we did would lead us away from where we most needed to look.
Johnny pointed out that a Polynesian
tribe of expert dreamers taught that if you are being chased by a dream monster
you should turn and move toward it, not run away. This is in fact the proper
way to deal with fear, but it’s much harder than it sounds. Life is clever to
present us with fearful situations that are perfectly matched to our
weaknesses, and our deeply ingrained biological imperative is to flee. It takes
contemplative patience and practice and a substantial measure of bravery to
stand firm and face our fears squarely. Again, regaining our ground in the
Absolute is the only chance we have of not being unnerved, as Arjuna was in the
midst of his battle in the Gita.
“Substantiation by name and form, in
the most terrible fashion, looms here, ghostlike.” The lake of fear within us
(who knows where it comes from, really) becomes reinforced by description.
Substantiation here means that ghostlike, ephemeral things—fears and ideas—are
made substantial by us putting shapes and words on them. For example, a good
Christian fears God. This “God” is merely a word, to which various concepts are
attached. The concepts are what is meant by the form here in most cases. No one
has ever seen God, but all are supposed to lie down in abject terror in His
presence, and if you don’t you don’t belong to the group. Words upon words are
piled on the believers until they feel they are truly experiencing the fear of
God. Then they can spend their whole life feeling righteous about behaving
timidly according to someone else’s dictates, or lashing themselves over minor
transgressions. Such a truncated life often leads to major transgressions in
the imaginary name of God, crusades for instance. The measure of how much people
inwardly hate this wholesale repression of their feelings while outwardly going
along with it can be seen in the gleeful tortures, the hacking to bits and
burning of nominal nonbelievers. Often, the tortures would be commuted if the
nonbelievers would agree to a short string of words, and more often than not
they chose extensive torture and death rather than say those words. That’s
about as real as a ghost can get.
Of course, God is supposed to have an
upside of blessing you in the future. But what about terrorists? Goblins?
Murderers? No upside here at all. In place of a church, we have television to
instill the fear of others in us. TV is excellent for this purpose, because its
message bypasses the critical thinking areas of the brain to go straight to the
reptilian zones. Firefighters watch a lot of television, so I got to see the
effect close up: after viewing the most outlandish and slanderous presentation
of, say, ethnic minorities they would nod and say “That’s just how it is.” It
proved to them how dangerous the “other” was, and they felt certain that
anybody who didn’t believe it was deluded.
If you boil any of these deranged
beliefs down to their essence, there is nothing but opinion and speculation and
wishful thinking to them. They are truly “ghostlike.”
The human race is currently having a
peak experience of mass hysteria and fear of the other on a scale the
Upanishadic rishis and the more recent gurus could scarcely have imagined, but
they got the principle right from observing smaller-scale disturbances. Fearful
delusions fueled by words and imagery have led to all our disasters of history.
When confined and repressed within an individual, such delusions produce a
similar self-destructiveness, leading to mental and physical disease and the
stifling of love and joy. If we don’t make an effort to root them out, they sit
inside and bide their time, often under a pleasant and law-abiding veneer,
until an opportunity for expression comes along.
Narayana Guru felt so strongly that we
were throwing away our natural inheritance of happiness for no good reason, and
he was passionate about offering a clear-headed pathway back to the bliss that
he knew from personal experience was our inner nature. Subtract the false and
what’s left must be true. He wants us to realize that everyone we meet is a
reflection of our Self, and thus we should show sympathy for everything that
comes along. By loving our world we are loving ourselves and vice versa. We can
only incline our heads in appreciation, offer thanks to Chance for helping us
find our way to this great teacher, and dedicate ourselves to really getting
the meaning of what’s here. My thanks to everyone for a memorable and
is terrible and empty of content, like a phantom city; even as such, the whole
universe is made as a wonder by the Primeval One. (I, 8)
The first thing to notice about the
verse is that it’s dialectically structured: This is terrible—This is a wonder.
Neither side expresses the whole truth by itself; only by pairing terror and
wonder do we come to a neutral understanding of what the whole universe is.
Frankly, I’ve always been frightened of
this verse, which conjures up desolate images like something out of H.P.
Lovecraft. To my delight the class revealed the transcendentally beautiful side
of the realization behind the description of the world as built up out of
projections. It may have only been the effects of Moni’s birthday cake, but to
me this was one of the most inspiring and elevating classes we’ve ever had at
the Portland Gurukula. Of course, Jyothi, in her third and last class with us,
brought a fresh perspective and the “vibe” of Guru Nitya particularly vividly.
And she started us off playing the veena which has sat handsomely but
disconsolately at our house for eight years awaiting the opportunity.
Early on, Bill mentioned that he had
spent the week reflecting on the last
verse, watching the process of fears and
anxieties arising and then
dismissing them. Bringing awareness to neglected areas of our psyche is
precisely what this study is all about.
Nitya gets the gist of Adhyaropa
Darsana perfectly in his commentary, pages 78 and 79:
world presented to us as individuals is not the entire universe. It is a very
limited environment of a relatively few square miles in area, and which belongs
entirely to the present moment. We can perhaps give it a time-span of a few
hours. The problems arising from it are likely to be few and simple, but we
complicate matters which should only arise from, and relate to, our individual
environment, by hooking on to them the structuring of a vast and complex world.
The world with which we complicate our responses to sensory input is the
conditioning passed on to us from generation after generation. This conditioning
arises from the store of information chronicled as the history of human
endeavor and discovery—the story of man’s encounters with nature and his fellow
humans. Thus, 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.
We started off with an exercise
examining one way each of us is drawn away from the present to worry or obsess
over some imaginary difficulty. It took quite a while for most people to come
up with something, probably because I phrased it poorly. Luckily Charles
started us off with one common to everybody, mentioning how watching the news
and realizing how manipulative and narrowly selective of disaster and misery it
was made him derisive and focused on faraway imaginations. Sophisticated people
aren’t too easily sucked in to simply accept the news, but because of its
powerful and effective presentation we still have to struggle to reject it, and
there may well be subconscious attunement anyway. Widespread television news
watching has made America vastly more fearful and anxious and suspicious of
strangers, all based on clever psychological manipulation to sell products and
policies. We may choke back our conscious fears, but experiences we witness
take place on multiple unconscious levels as well. Television is specifically
designed to bypass conscious mediation. Nancy then made an interesting
comparison between television news bias and the individual’s innate selectivity.
We choose what suits us just as the news chooses what suits it. Limitations are
inevitable. Nitya’s commentary reads, “what has been experienced by us in the
past reasserts itself in the present in every situation, appearing as a
frightening and ghostlike presence which haunts us in our transactions with the
world.” (p. 79)
state of humanness is to
identify with our beliefs, yet to not be aware of how we do identify with them:
“I am my ideas,” “I am what I think,” “I am what I have gone through,” “I am my
expectations,” and so on. These might well be consciously denied but are deeply
felt in the body. There’s a lot of resistance in conjunction with letting such
notions go, if only for an hour in a class exercise. But this is an advanced class,
with a lot of collective thought-water under the bridge. Most people are
already familiar with false identifications and have rooted many of them out.
Moni mentioned that often during the day she goes along with certain ideas,
getting swept up by them, but at some point she’ll become aware of what’s
happening and simply drop them. What better advice could there be? Few of us
are able to be so centered in the present that we aren’t pulled out of our
“home” by fantasies, but as long as we don’t identify with them, at some point
we’ll realize what’s going on and let them go, coming back to our center. The
Gita recommends this as its primary meditation technique. The trick, and
hopefully Moni will say more of this in future classes, is to “simply drop it.”
False identifications cling precisely to the extent we are unaware or partially
aware of them. Only an advanced contemplative can consistently get to that
flash of awareness and instantly drop the burden. Most of us struggle much more
than that. Still, if there is a path and we are on it, this is what it is. We
are engaged in a process of releasing identifications with the past and future
and allowing ourselves to join the flow of the present as full-fledged
participants in the game of life. Others then contributed their personal
sticking points, but also contributed how they had successfully resolved their
problems through wise insights.
Nitya says, “Two threatening aspects of
life are our present ruminations on past experiences, which arouse regret and
remorse, and the fear which arises when we contemplate the uncertainty of the
future. Remorse related to the past and anxiety related to the future—so much
of these overlap into the present that the world begins to look like the
Inferno for a great many people…. The here and now is always simple. It is a
great wonder that we insist on complicating it, thereby introducing an element
of dread, by linking it with a dead yesterday and an unknown tomorrow. This we
do at the expense of our enjoyment of the present, which could otherwise be a
loving and meaningful experience of the Self.” (p. 79)
If the proof of the pudding is in the
eating thereof, the class understood the intent of this verse very well. While
beginning with a terrible, empty city we moved to a profound sense of happiness
and communion in the present, precisely the purported loving and meaningful
experience of the Self.
the sun, by stages, was not at all how the world came to be; from the Self this
appeared all at once, as one’s vision comes in sleep. (I, 9)
I know why Nataraja Guru wrote his magnum opus based on Darsanamala. Each verse
opens up such a vast panorama of a single aspect of life that even a two hour
discussion barely touches it. Verse 9 is especially germane to days of modern
times, and I’m daunted in my chair trying to figure out how to find a way into
its Grand Canyon. Always keep in mind that these class notes are nothing more
than a jumping off point for further musing. The nice thing about a class—well
one nice thing of many—is how the wide ranging contribution of different
people’s ideas stimulates new trains of thought and takes us in unanticipated
directions, ostensibly under the guidance of the guru principle present as the
ground of it all. As individuals we are often stuck in our comfort-zone
perspectives even when we don’t wish to be, and group interaction more or less
effortlessly frees up our movement in the stream of consciousness. On top of
that, occasionally a participant will give voice to the word of the guru
itself, as Charles did last night with the help of a double dose of Nilgiris
tea. (Now we know the proper sacrament for him….)
On casual perusal this verse is very
similar to the prating of fundamentalist religious types who have re-christened
their attack on evolution as Intelligent Design. Charles, who hails from Texas
and is therefore more expert in these matters than the average American, waxed
rhapsodic that mainstream religion is about morality, not metaphysics. It’s a
power and control game, an extension of parents disciplining young children
that has a devastating effect on adults. He led us to an examination of the
difference between religion and metaphysics. Susan described how Christianity
in particular, but by no means exclusively, considers the problems of life to
be already solved, so all anyone has to do is behave according to various
strict codes of conduct and avoid individual expression at all cost. Science
too envisions a blind universe of inert matter in which ultimately there is
nothing anyone can accomplish. The similarity is amusing to a degree, but only
after embracing the freedom Narayana Guru advocates and metaphysics studies,
which is in tune with the pulse of rare seers from all religious and scientific
seeks to know the
nonmaterial world just as healthy science seeks to know the material. It’s that
“seeking to know” business that drives fundamentalists wild. Why seek when you
already know everything and God’s in your back pocket? Doubt implies lack of
faith, a cardinal sin and express ticket to hell. Established religion fears
intellectual curiosity because deep down it is aware it has no claim to truth.
If people were free to question, some of them would take their money and leave.
Charles mentioned Dionysus the
Areopagite as a fifth century Christian metaphysician admired by Nataraja Guru.
His philosophy underlines the crucial point in all this: that ignorance means
living in darkness, but when you think you know it is a far greater darkness.
The attitude of humble search and openness to truth in whatever form it may
appear is an antidote to many serious problems. Once religious swaggerers
decide they own truth the blood starts to flow.
Thanks to the divine miracle of the
here’s what Charles quite accurately paraphrased from Dionysus:
The simple, absolute and
immutable mysteries of the divine Truth are hidden in secret. For this darkness,
though of deepest obscurity, is yet radiantly clear; and, though beyond touch
and sight, it more than fills our unseeing minds with splendors of transcendent
beauty … And we behold that darkness beyond being, concealed under all natural
light. - The mystical theology
Then, set free
from the worlds of sense and of intellect, the soul enters into the mysterious
obscurity of a holy ignorance, and... loses itself into him who can be neither
seen nor apprehended...Then the soul comes to know a special joy: fruition of
the touch divine.
- The mystical
The divine dark
is the inaccessible Light in which God is said to dwell. Into this dark,
invisible because of its surpassing brightness and unreachable because of the
abundance of its supernatural torrents of light, all enter who are worthy to
know and see God: and, by the very fact of not seeing or knowing, are truly in Him who is above all sight and knowledge
- letter to Dorothy the Deacon.
This attitude of
entering a Cloud of Unknowing resonates with Narayana Guru’s “not at all”
statement in this verse about what we imagine we know about existence. The
first bit of Dr. Mees’ introduction to The Key to Genesis, which appeared also
in the last issue of Gurukulam in 2001, clarifies the evolution issue:
AND SYMBOLIC INTERPRETATION
first Chapter of Genesis has been generally assumed to present an account or
theory of the creation of the material universe and of the evolution of life.
For that reason it cannot be a source of wonder that modern man, with his
knowledge of material processes in the universe and of biology, has tended to
look down upon Genesis as a poor product of an ignorant mentality. No doubt the
people who knew the meaning of Genesis in past ages would have shaken their
heads if they had come to learn of the modern way which tends to take
everything at its face value alone and to interpret spiritual scriptures as if
they were textbooks of astronomy, physics or biology. For Genesis does not
describe cosmic and biological processes. Its purpose is more profound.
aim of religion is to make man happier and to help him find peace and bliss,
within himself and in his relation to the world without. It does not make
anyone happier to know how the material world is created (assuming that such
knowledge is possible at all) and how the physical processes take place and can
be controlled. In connection with many aspects of science the world has learned
to its cost to what extent control of matter can endanger and destroy peace and
happiness. Atomic bombs and clouds are now looming in the sky threatening to
shatter man’s peace altogether and to cloud his horizon for evermore.
Modern man has
largely lost interest in “established religion”, because its dogmas, based
almost wholly upon a literal interpretation of Scripture, offend his
intelligence. He has become convinced that the great astronomers and physicists
of these days have something to tell us that is more intelligent than the
superstitious and outworn traditions which are contained, according to his
belief, in Scripture. And who can blame him, as long as he does not know the
deeper meaning hidden in the fundamental teachings of [scriptures like]
I consider this essay one of
the most important influences in my life and worthy of reading over and over,
by the way.
Anita put her finger on a very important question hovering
over the discussion, one for which there is no pat answer but which must be
addressed all throughout one’s life. Metaphysicians postulate a ground of
Being, a nirvana, a divine emptiness, some even call it God or the Absolute.
Terminology aside, there is an unmanifested aspect that doesn’t seem to have
any palpable connection to manifestation. Anita wanted to know how they
connect, or of they do. Specifically, Nitya concludes his commentary by saying:
Narayana Guru assists the
student to simplify the complexity of the world by helping him to know the
planet on which he stands, and by giving him a new angle of vision which he can
use, together with a viewpoint he can adopt in every situation. Then he will
have a correct perspective and understanding of the problems presented to him
as they arise. This will change the world described as a “boundless ocean of
misery” into one of clear knowledge and precise laws. Then his understanding of
the world will be more correct and profound, and his ability to deal
appropriately with problems which confront him will be much improved. (p. 82)
The danger is that when there
isn’t a living connection between the ground and the individual, ideas become
frozen, and once petrified, they inspire conflict rather than harmony. As it is
the natural tendency of ideas to become frozen, it is incumbent on everyone to
keep questioning their assumptions and embracing as wide a vision as possible.
Above all we must find our connection with the divine and renew it constantly.
Fortunately this is fun rather than being a chore. The upside of religion is
that it codifies spiritual behavior, to help an honest seeker assess if she is
going wrong by comparing her actions with broadly accepted norms. The Ten
Commandments are one such example, so that if you support killing Muslims, for
instance, you know you are off the mark. If you are stealing resources from the
local inhabitants, no amount of pretension about your chosen religion can
excuse the violation of truth. And since even gentle Narayana Guru mentions
metaphoric hellfire as the result of abusing the other, who is really you in
another guise, there is much value in sorting this out.
Although I wish I could say more I hope I’ve communicated
the gist. The sun is peeking in the window. Aum.
He from whom this world
manifested, as a fig tree from a seed—he is Brahma, he is Shiva and Vishnu, he
is the Absolute, he alone is all. (I, 10)
Today would be Nitya’s 81st birthday. 81 is 9 X
9; nein nein in German is neti neti in Sanskrit, “not this not this” in
English, so that must be the best Guru birthday there is. Last night the Guru
presence was palpable in a group effort that rounded off the first darsana,
revealing it as the masterful and enlightened vision it is. Today I incline my
brow to the mysterious happenstance that brought this particular manifestation
of the Guru into our lives. Aum.
Now let’s look at the verse. As Anita wondered toward the
end of class, what’s with all these guys, anyway? Now that women have been
admitted into the picture of polite society, it definitely seems old fashioned
to have only male gods. We discussed how gods in general came about as poetic
descriptions of scientific principles that eventually became codified and
worshiped by superstitious people; before long the principles were forgotten
and only the imagery remained. As with all contemplative studies, our task is
to bring those principles back to life and dispense with the confusion of empty
or misleading imagery.
I double checked the dikker and noted that sah, the word
translated as ‘he’ here, is neuter per se. Bringing this very important verse
into the modern era we could rewrite it,
“That from which this world is manifested, as a fig tree
from a seed—that is Brahma, that is Shiva and Vishnu, that alone is all.”
I especially like that this brings us to That Alone, making
a clear connection with Atmopadesa Satakam. The All—That Alone, the
Absolute—must certainly transcend or include all gender issues, which concern a
limited but significant slice of manifestation, the part blessed with sexual
separation. This translation reveals what I think Narayana Guru’s intent is,
which I’ll attempt to explain.
Traditional dualistic thinking conceives of intelligent
designers acting at a distance from creation to fashion a world. Thus the three
gods named here would bring about through their activities creation, preservation
and dissolution. Narayana Guru is a nondualist and is saying very poetically
and succinctly that the underlying unitive substance mysteriously expresses
itself through manifestation impelled by an inherent vital urge, which might be
described as having those three parts but which are not being supplied from
outside by external, godly forces. Each element of manifestation, including
every human being, exemplifies the unfoldment of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Without the process of manifestation they don’t exist. In the most real sense
possible, we are That.
Everything existent must first come to be, last awhile and
then disappear. Ridiculously simple, but powerful enough to create universe
after universe. And it happens on many different time scales simultaneously,
from the briefest instant to an individual life to the birth and death of
The present view of physics on the creation of a universe is
amazingly similar to a fig tree sprouting and developing from a seed: a point
source that has at its inception a coding for all future unfoldment in the form
of natural laws. This source then expands and proliferates into an infinitely
branching, budding and flowering universe, one of possibly an infinite number
of universes. Everyone has seen the trees graphing species development in
biology textbooks. Our individual life is an epitome of the macrocosmic
process, springing from an invisibly tiny seed to expand into a being capable
of a myriad complex actions and accomplishments. The vital urge driving each of
us is so powerful that even the chains and wet blankets of religions and social
strictures can only keep it inactive for a brief moment in the cosmic scheme.
For all the efforts of the chronically unhappy, the fig tree’s exuberant growth
cannot be curtailed.
The class brought up so many important and practical ideas,
I dearly wish I could repeat them all. But then this would be so long no one
would read it…. Probably the most important branch of our collective class fig
tree was Chris’ response to the analogy of the gooseberry in the palm of one’s
hand that Nitya presents in his commentary. A berry is so simple and
undeniable; very here and now. But what, she asked, of wishing, of striving, of
wanting to grow instead of just unfolding? In other words, what’s the place for
volition in this picture? This question was expanded by Jan’s allegorical image
of standing in the kitchen trying to prepare a meal while her children bring
problem after problem to interrupt her perfect focus on the task at hand.
Meaning, when is life ever so simple as what we have sketched out in our
abstract imaginings? Anita has a similar experience at work, where she could
almost never stick to one job but had to juggle and sooth many people’s needs
and demands. I’m pretty sure everyone could relate to this stressful aspect of
life. Are volition and multitasking and so on valid spiritual endeavors or not?
Deb and Charles suggested that being in the present was not
necessarily simple or singular. Undeniability can hold for complex issues as
well as gooseberries. For many human beings, complex activities are deeply
satisfying, as long as they’re in tune with their natural inclinations or
svadharma. Like a fig tree, many skills start out simple and evolve into
breathtakingly complex expressions. Part of what impels this development is
dissatisfaction and a desire to be something more than what you think you are.
Many such “unspiritual” attitudes have an important place in the scheme of
things. Not all growth must be unconscious to be properly in tune with our
I think of learning to play the piano as an example. You
start out with very simple, one note at a time melodies, and gradually build up
to more and more fingers beings involved, weaving several lines simultaneously.
At the high end it’s the most complicated activity human beings are so far
capable of. I suppose real musicians achieve what they do through a purely
natural unfoldment, but for ordinary folk we are pushed along by our desire to
do better, and by our love and admiration for things which we aren’t capable of
but others are. As long as such attitudes fuel the enjoyment of learning, I
can’t see that they aren’t worthwhile. And believe me, there’s plenty of
frustration on backsliding days. It’s not always a bed of roses. I guess the
difference is that if you are doing what you love, many different mental states
contribute positively, but if you hate what you do then it’s time to get back
to the Core and realign your life.
Another favorite example of mine is the attitudes of children
towards growing up. We adults recognize the wonders and beauty of being a
child, but often kids are striving so hard to be older that they aren’t
satisfied with being their own age. They think by growing up they’ll become
free, magically. We they arrive at adulthood, many never again even think of
freedom, much less express it. But try to tell a child to be satisfied with
being their present age! It’s not easy. We know perfectly well that their
growth will happen without any special effort on their part, but they don’t.
Mick, who has an extensive background in Buddhism and the
Martial Arts, kept us centered—as always—with the importance of Zen-like pure
action, in which all extraneous thoughts, hope, fears and the like have been
screened off by intense concentration. Such contemplative practices bring us
back to the point source, and so are key to staying happy throughout our life.
But I don’t think they are meant to be a fulltime business, at least for most
of us. Our awareness moves from a single concentered point to an outer world of
complex expression and then back again, pulsating between the extremes. All
stages of the process are important. Since this will be examined in our next
two classes on Cosmic Projection, the ancillary essay to this darsana, I’ll cut
it off here. There’s plenty more to this discussion, without a doubt.
At the close of the class, Mick fairly gasped out “That It!
That’s everything there is to say. There’s nothing more!” Deborah pointed out
that yes, that’s how you feel after each darsana, but then you read the next
and another whole vision opens up.
There is such a vast content to this masterwork, a twentieth
century Upanishad, and we’ve only just begun.
Because the ideas in this essay at the end of the first
darsana are difficult to describe, we limited ourselves to the definition of
superimposition offered in the first three pages. Deb started us off with an
example of going for a swim in a forest stream all on a summer’s day. There is
an undeniably blissful flash of pure feeling as one’s body is immersed in the
cool water or idylls on the bank. But very quickly we say to ourself “I am
swimming.” Before long this is followed by thoughts like “This is what I like,”
“I want to do this again,” “I am a person who loves to swim,” and so on. We
come to define ourselves by what we like and dislike, and by what we’ve enjoyed
in the past. The next time we go for a swim it is still a blissful experience,
but it’s accompanied by our memories of the previous occasion and our sense of
self-identity with the action. Each time we repeat a particular activity there
is more mental baggage and less of the direct experience. Eventually our life
is running on almost nothing but memories and descriptions and we are as good
as dead. Somewhere in middle age, notwithstanding the richness of our modern
environment, most of us begin to feel stifled by the lack of bliss in our
lives, by the clever ability of our well trained minds to identify and name
everything we encounter, instantly shuttling items into a pigeonhole of memory
labeled with our opinion of it.
We did a small exercise of trying to observe the inner voice
that our mind uses to interpret and mitigate direct experience. Anita pointed
out that the inner voice embodies itself as many different people: parents and
siblings, coworkers and friends, cops and bosses, even devils and gods. This is
a convenient way to distinguish various aspects of an argument, as long as we
remember they’re all us and not really out there somewhere. It was clear that
the inner voice becomes such an integral part of our lives that we hardly
notice that we’re talking to ourselves all the time. By adulthood, most of us
are fully identified with our beliefs and preferences ratified by our own inner
monologue, and ready to defend our chosen turf from those who might make
Conflict occurs between people when each is attached to
their preferred framework at the expense of open interaction. Anita gave a fine
example of road rage. It seems even some in our group of timid, genteel
sweethearts fly into a rage when cut off in traffic. We choose to assume the
worst about the other rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt. Our
egos leap to the fore because we are protected by a hard shell of in this case
literal metal. In some more hotheaded places than Oregon, people sometimes even
shoot each other over trivial acts of selfishness or rudeness. Here we just
gnash our teeth and curse. It’s how we teach our children to swear. Anita’s
antidote was to mentally subtract the car from the drivers, reasoning that in a
crowd of just people we defer to others and are polite. It’s only that
defensive shell that unleashes the hidden tiger. So she imagines—well, she
didn’t exactly say—something like people sitting on chairs and holding a
steering wheel but otherwise out in the open. The process of opening up and
enlarging our ego’s zone of defense helps counteract the insular tendencies of
Susan further pointed out that we could tell ourselves
positive stories rather than negative ones about why that driver did what he
did, and spare ourselves a lot of unnecessary grief. Such an elementary
approach, widely applied, would solve most of the world’s problems in a twinkling.
It makes you wonder why we are so drawn to the negative stories.
All this road rage and worse stems from having fixed
interpretations of actuality prepared in advance by our memories and outlook.
Atmo verse 9 provides a perfect analogy for this universal dilemma, in which
pure experience is likened to a tree and our mental interpretation to a vine
growing on it. Eventually the vine becomes so thick it overwhelms the tree, and
if it isn’t pruned back it will kill it. A contemplative witness sitting nearby
is careful to not be ensnared in the vine.
In my editing of the Atmo mini this morning I came across
what could be called the Vedantic version of original sin: “There is no way to
postulate the existence of anything anywhere without making it an object of
awareness.” (p. 191). To know our world we have to do this, and that’s fine as
far as it goes. But our freedom is choked by this objectification. We need to
remember how to dive deep to the ground where experience is unobstructed by the
overgrowths of interpretation. The I Ching says at these deep levels we make no
mistakes. The Vedantin says there we become attuned to our svadharma, to our
way of acting that is so natural to us that we don’t have to go around
providing ourselves with socially approved verbal descriptions and thereby
dulling our reflexes. Onward and inward!
After lots of talking about getting beyond talking, we were
stopped in our tracks by an odd sound coming from just outside. We opened the
window and listened, struggling to not attach our readymade labels “that’s a
coyote,” “it’s hunting,” “there’s a pack nearby,” “some poor animal’s
get eaten.,” “well, coyotes have to eat too.” Uninterpreted it was an eerie,
haunting sound. We were in the presence of Coyote as teacher. We could all
observe very clearly how our minds automatically chipped in with imagined
details from memory, even including a picture of the critter, and how hard it
was to stop the creeper of ideation from covering the tree of the event.
Artistic experiences like that succeed to the extent that they arrest our inner
voice momentarily, allowing us to have a lifesaving breath of freedom from
commentary. This is thoughtfully prevented by the headphones imbued with
somebody else’s running commentary provided at art museums everywhere. At least
once in awhile we should take the tour without the props.
This last section of Adhyaropa Darsana is actually the
introduction, but for literary suspense the clarifications it offers have been
held to the end of the chapter. It has taken a long time for me to wrap my mind
around it, but now that I finally have it seems like the most cogent
description of the human condition imaginable. Well worth a close look for
anyone seeking to grasp the point of Darsanamala.
Nitya uses the analogy of a mathematical point surrounded by
three concentric spheres. Each impetus of life begins at the origination point
and expands through the first sphere of vasanas or incipient memories, where it
is shaped according to the structure of the particular universe and
consciousness where it occurs. For instance, it is directed to re-experience
pleasurable memories and avoid painful ones. Then it expands into the realm of
thoughts and words, where the conscious mind apprehends it, further crafts it
to comply with present circumstances, and takes full credit for it to boot.
Lastly it splashes onto the outer sphere of the horizontal world of material
and transactional events, where it achieves full expression. Very often the
fallacious ego identification with it is reinforced at this point by others,
who naturally see the particular expression as “yours.”
After this the energy or force contracts again.
Ramifications and modifications occur in the horizontal, which are observed and
then processed by the conscious mind into freshly modified and refined
memories, eventually to be epitomized as consolidated memories in the
unconscious inner sphere. Ultimately the vital urge returns to the point
source, which is simultaneously the alpha and omega, the seed which sprouts
into a tree of life only to return to a seed at the end of the cycle.
One of the many corrections implicit in this model is that
we should not so firmly identify the flow of life passing through us as “mine.”
Our personal stake is very much less than we imagine, but we have been trained
from the beginning to call the localized mystery “ours.” A better attitude is
to watch and cherish its unfoldment, recognizing its source in the absolute
ground, and appreciating our opportunity to participate with it. A lot of
frustration can be avoided through this kind of humility, but first we have to
realize how much bigger the picture is than what we imagine. This can also
substitute gratitude towards the Unknown for anxiety over our own shortcomings.
Nitya points out that by stopping our activities, releasing
our egoistic fixations, and sinking into the quietude of the depths we can
actually have a hand in directing our energies to valuable ends. We have to
drop below the level of “mine” and if possible even below our vasanas to have
the maximum effect. Waiting until the vital urge is fully manifest in the
outside world is far too late. That’s the tail end of the process, if it may be
said to have an end. We spend our time mucking about in the outside world
striving to have an impact, but he suggests we examine the other pole of the
pulsation he is describing instead.
Another corollary of Nitya’s model is an answer to an
often-asked question about what is the point of using words. It is true that
words are to be dropped off before one can sink to the core, but life doesn’t
remain only at the core. It pulsates from core to periphery and back, over and
over and on many different wavelengths and time scales. Words as explicit
thoughts are an integral part of the connecting links between the pure source
of the core and the world in which we live and interact. By stifling or
degrading the use of words in the intermediate sphere between vasanas and the
outside world, that world loses its sense of meaning and becomes random and
chaotic, because we have severed or curtailed our connection with it. Again,
this is a very common condition, and one that will be addressed in more depth
in the next Darsana.
The healthy unfolding of vital urges without undue
disruption may be considered being harmonized with truth. The initial impulse
arising from the ground of being is very pure. Unfortunately, we have learned
to warp, twist and suppress it as it emerges into the field of actuality, where
the society further batters it “for its own good.” The outward result therefore
is usually very much less than pure. Furthermore, as Nitya says on page 95: “If
by some chance the actualizing incipient memory is stifled or repressed by a
counter-memory, all that we come to experience is perhaps a muffled uneasiness,
or a dark and choking depression, or even an irrational outburst of hysteria.
We will never consciously know what triggered the ‘irrational’ anguish of the
psyche.” Each of us knows for ourself to how great an extent such feelings
color and degrade our life, and how futile it is to attempt to “rationalize”
One of the high dialectical/yogic art forms of living is to
promote our vital urges in a healthy and harmonious fashion, channeling the
dangerous or negative aspects into constructive outlets while avoiding
repressing them. It goes without saying that a society such as ours that is
highly invested in suppressing individual expression is going to turn out
misery-filled humans who are ticking psychological time bombs on the verge of
exploding at any moment.
Probably that’s why humanity takes it’s fitful steps towards
civilization only in the wake of wars, after the repression has finally broken
through the dead crust in yet another volcanic outburst. Again to quote Nitya
in one of his delightful statements:
seems at first to assail a person as his darkness can be a virile source of
spiritual dynamics, which can ultimately transform him from a conventional
conformist into a genuine being fully committed and dedicated to a truthful
life—the existential validity of which arises from the very essence of his
beingness. When one is ultimately in resonance with his own vertical nature, he
may emerge in the society as a dark threat to its prestructured stability and a
challenge to its social norms. The truthful man makes his breakthrough and
causes serious dents in the shell or crust of society. Sooner or later, others
who love and aspire to the same truth turn to the voice of the rebel; they read
prophecy and promise in his words. In this case what appears in the beginning
as a dark force confronting the individual finally proves to be a fresh lease
of life coming from the perennial fountain-source of the Eternal, the ground of
all. (pp. 98-99)
Early on either Chris or Anita (their voices are nearly
identical when one’s eyes are closed), visualizing Nitya’s pulsation analogy,
asked, “Then what is truth?” One is always tempted to try to answer such a
question, but in reality it’s a koan, like “Who am I?” to take you into the
heart of the matter. Luckily, the question helps us segue into the next
darsana, Apavada, subtitled “Truth by the consistent refutation of the false.”
We’ll be looking at truth from many fresh angles in the weeks to come.
Two more corollaries to the “pulsation model” I thought
worth mentioning. At birth we spend a great deal of time hovering near the
alpha point, pulsating between it and the first sphere of incipient memories or
what are commonly called instincts. The outer two spheres are under
construction during this period. This is why we are so deeply imprinted by what
happens during our early years: any input lodges very close to the core.
Parental directives have the power of Biblical law, and our image of God can
look a lot like grandpa. We are surrounded by giants. Conditioning at this
level is difficult to correct or throw light on without getting back to those
primal depths. Tinkering with the outermost spheres merely adjusts the result,
the persona, the window dressing. It is mainly cosmetic. We must “become as
little children” to enter the republic of heaven and have a lasting effect.
Secondly, when we do get quiet and centered as adults, we
are in a position to rectify injustices suffered by our psyche in childhood and
later. Some quaintly call it absolution of sins. But we are also vulnerable to
the power of suggestion. When we meditate and pray in church we become very
open, so that if poisonous beliefs are presented by the minister they easily
convince us of their verity. Of course, we are also open to wisdom, but I can’t
help but think of the damage being done by the large number of hate-filled
preachers around the globe. And this effect is not just limited to church,
either. I remember when we’d take acid trips and someone would say something
bizarre, we’d be convinced it was true for months. Women in childbirth often
imprint some detail of their environment, and its recall epitomizes the whole
experience for the rest of the lifetime. So whenever we have dropped our armor,
forged in the second sphere for conflict in the third, our “soft parts” are
exposed. As everyone’s armor tends to be invisible, even our own, we need to be
very careful of the things we say to others as well as what we listen to, because
they can have a profound impact.