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Darsanamala - Jnana Darsana


 Introduction to Jnana Darsana


  A simple sketch ushers us into the next stage of our study. It is widely held by religious people and idealists that matter is an evolute of spirit. Scientists tend to believe that spirit is an evolute of matter. In the traditional Indian view also espoused by Narayana Guru, both matter and spirit arise together simultaneously, being mere semantic variations of the cosmic situation. The original dichotomy is between unconditioned and conditioned, or empty and full. When consciousness is unmodified it is called pure, and when it is focused on a particular interest it becomes conditioned. Conditioned awareness cognizes both matter and spirit as related aspects of the state of manifestation. A universe featuring only one of them is absurd: without spirit—what is more widely termed life—there is no awareness. And without matter there is nothing to be aware of.

  The existence of matter is sat; the awareness of spirit is chit. Together they make meaning, ananda. This is what we call the holistic understanding.

  Much of the introduction is a simple presentation of the ten terms that will be defined in the Jnana Darsana. It is worth perusing to keep the scheme clearly in mind as we probe ever deeper into the wonder of awareness. Now on to verse 1.


  Knowledge is one indeed—unconditioned and conditioned; that, devoid of I-consciousness and so on, is the knowledge which is unconditioned. (VII, 1)


  Not much can be said about unconditioned knowledge. Okay, nothing really. The minute it is conceptualized it becomes conditioned. It is possible, however, to sit quietly, and when the quiet is total the unconditioned state can be ever-so-gently intuited. Moments like these can be said to be the aim of meditation at its best. Lots of meditations have goals and reasons and levels of achievement, but that’s a different business altogether. In the spirit of the Bhagavad Gita, Narayana Guru devalues all forms of meditation with specific objectives as being subtle forms of transaction. Merger with the unconditioned Absolute is the only transcendental objective. If you are going to bother spending time sitting still, why not go for the best?

  When we gently, gently merge into the unconditioned state, it has the effect of normalizing our consciousness. If we imagine ourselves to be disconnected individuals, we tend to reinforce certain aspects of our life and downplay others, becoming more and more lopsided over time. Dipping into the unconditioned state is like a healing bath in a hot spring or a cool swim in a mountain stream. Extraneous factors melt away, and the sense of “Ah!” permeates our being. As Nitya reminds us, “The unconditioned state of awareness is our reality and it is always present.” If we can be brave enough to not need to egocentrize everything we encounter, an inner sense of our unity with all will fill us with the “Ah!” which is the first glyph of the “Aum.” We say “Ahhhh… Oooooo… Mmmmm…” Silence…. All four are forms of ecstatic expression.

  Since describing the indescribable has a certain illogical cachet, shall we say, we spent much of the class on other matters. We did have fine moments at the beginning and end where we availed ourselves of the group energies to settle into a penetrating quietude that was quite lovely. In between we shared personal experiences and tipped our hats to the section of Nitya’s commentary on the ubiquity of awareness. One of the most important, even essential, corollaries of realizing our unity with creation is to have reverence for other forms of life. Humankind’s swollen sense of importance is endangering our glorious planet, and needs to be tempered by greater inclusiveness. Our awareness could ever so easily be expanded to embrace the importance of the rest of creation as well. Extending the definition of life to all matter is a further implication of knowing that spirit and matter coevolve, and one is not by any means the product of the other. All of this is readily self-evident to anyone who can let go of the desperate clinging of the ego.

  Several class members noted that thoughts and words emerge from a far deeper level than our conscious awareness. If we had to deliberate everything we said or thought, our output would be paltry indeed. Luckily, we are blessed to be mere witnesses to a vast geyser of awareness and interpretation emerging from the darkness. The ego pretending it is in charge is like the harebrained leader rushing out to place himself at the front of the parade, as in the quote attributed to Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin: “Ah well! I am their leader, I really ought to follow them!” Or in the aforementioned Al Haig syndrome. Trusting our inner voice to be a teacher and wise helpmate goes against our inculcation as “born sinners.” We’ll have to discard all such poisonous baggage if we are going to travel light enough to keep up with the Guru from here on. We can realize we are identified with the tip of an iceberg, and humble ourselves by admitting we only know the tiniest piece of the whole. When we stop insisting the tip is all, awareness of the rest will begin to percolate into us.

  Deb mentioned the beauty of life as the warp and woof of the cosmos. Nitya liked the uncommon ‘woof’ instead of the more proper ‘weft’, and we like to promote its use also, since it acknowledges one of the highest (if not the highest) species on earth, and their characteristic barks of delight. There’s a little bit of divine mockery in ‘woof’ too, perhaps because it sounds so much like ‘spoof’.

  The loom reference recalled a citation in the third volume of Nitya’s Brihadaranyaka Upanishad commentary, from Sir Charles Sherrington (1857-1952), one of the early founders of the science of neurophysiology and co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1932. The internet ( drops some of his fascinating highlights right in my lap(top). He wrote:


“It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the brain becomes an enchanted loom, where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns.”

The Integrative Action of the Nervous System


  I can’t help but offer a couple more quotes to demonstrate that our stodgy view of scientists as arch-materialists is very far out of date, even if some scientists still buy into it:


“If as you say thoughts are an outcome of the brain we as students using the energy-concept know nothing of it; as followers of natural science we know nothing of any relation between thoughts and the brain, except as a gross correlation in time and space. In some ways this is embarrassing for biology.”

Man On His Nature, page 229


“We have to regard the relation of mind to brain as not merely unresolved but still devoid of a basis for its very beginning.”

Man On His Nature


  And this in reference to the tip of the iceberg analogy, showing that icebergs are far more visible than our mentation:


“The eye sends, as we saw, into the cell-and-fibre forest of the brain, throughout the waking day continual rhythmic streams of tiny, individually evanescent, electrical potentials. This throbbing streaming crowd of electrically shifting points in the spongework of the brain bears no obvious semblance in space-pattern, and even in temporal relation resembles but a little remotely the tiny two-dimensional upside-down picture of the outside world which the eyeball paints on the beginnings of its nerve-fibres to the brain. But that little picture sets up an electrical storm .... A shower of little electrical leaks conjures up for me, when I look at him approaching, my friend's face, and how distant he is from me they tell me. Taking their word for it, I go forward and my other senses confirm that he is there.”

Man On His Nature, page 128-129


  Sir Charles would certainly be welcome in any Gurukula! Science can be just as great a source of wonder as religion. The greatest wonder of all may be the matter-of-fact attitudes both sides adopt, which kills the sense of awe and substitutes banality. Why, why, why?



That knowledge modulated as I-consciousness inside, likewise that which is modulated as knowledge of thisness outside, such knowledge is known as the conditioned. (VII, 2)


  One of my favorite mottoes is “self description is stultifying.” Most of our initial relationship to a spiritual program consists in trying to substitute a better self-image for a poorer one. Or we want to be affiliated with a superior religious program, one with improved values over what we formerly knew. But now Narayana Guru is lumping all self-images and all philosophical programs together in one bag and calling it conditioned awareness. This takes the self-generated wind right out of our sails. Absolutely whatever way we define and describe ourselves is limited, and therefore partial and, well, false. The Guru wants us to stop limiting ourselves due to our childish need to ratify our existence in the eyes of ourselves and others. Slightly better, or “new and improved” as the advertisers put it, is basically a fresh deposit of the same old crap. There is an infinite amount of incremental improvement we can amuse ourselves with, or we can drop that game, and go to the heart of the matter and get real.

  As Nitya reminds us yet again, “The sole purpose of our present study is to release the mind from all painful conditioning and to lead it to its original state of pure unconditioned consciousness.” He is not making a distinction between painful and pleasurable conditioning here, by the way. All conditioning is painful, in that it separates us from the full glory of the present moment. And Nitya underscores Narayana Guru’s message: “The most brutishly ignorant man… and the philosopher-seer of the most sublime vision, meditating on the Absolute, are equally subject to the conditioning of consciousness. Whether a person is saying ‘this is a pot’ or ‘I am the Absolute’, there is no substantial difference in the conditional aspect of consciousness.”

  By this stage of our study we should not lament this blow to our pride, we should be deeply grateful. We have seen over and over again how cheesy our fixation on our selfish interests is, and how much more fulfilling it is to step outside our fortified lairs and greet the sun. And yet we slip back repeatedly—”boats against the current”—into believing we need to take matters into our own hands, and only permit carefully calculated sorties out of those lairs. We habitually interpolate attitudes from the transactional world into our spirituality, and become narcissistic instead of generous. We bedevil ourselves with figuring out how and what to do, instead of opening up to the situation and letting it teach us. We remain afraid to let go of imagining we are in charge.

  Anita reminded us this by no means implies that we shouldn’t do things. We still have to function, and we want to offer ourselves to every event we encounter. We have to find the happy neutral mean that stands outside both selfish action and selfless action. We still do everything we do, but we are no longer mucking it up with our conditioned reactions.

  Brenda gave us a perfect example of how to grow above this, and I hope I can relate it accurately. Her mother is severely disabled, and has been a ward of the state since Brenda was three. Four or five years ago, buoyed by a recent marriage, Brenda decided to bring her mother into her home and care for her, which has been extremely challenging and frustrating, as well as rewarding and beneficial for both of them. Early on, Brenda had lots of plans and expectations for how things were going to go. Pretty much all were regularly thwarted by circumstances, and this caused her tremendous disappointment and misery. Very often her efforts were met with scorn rather than appreciation. But Brenda did not relinquish her motivation to be helpful to dwell on her hurt feelings, she gradually learned to let go of her role as director and just listen to what her mother’s needs were at that moment. She shrugged off her disappointment as her own selfish baggage. As she let go of her personal expectations most of the pain ebbed away, to be replaced by a deeper love, which in turn allowed her to be even more responsive and helpful. Lately she can take the ups and downs in stride, retreating for awhile when necessary, reinforcing when possible, and maintaining a steady state of supportiveness and care throughout.

  This illustrates an excellent meditation one could extrapolate from the Jnana Darsana. When our feelings are hurt by contact with the outside world it is direct evidence of our own conditioning. We should look right then at why we are hurt, and that will help us to stand above our own feelings and to clearly assess them. We can quickly learn that dwelling on and amplifying our unhappiness is useless and even absurd. It’s a childish technique that once got mommy’s attention, but hasn’t particularly worked since way back then. Sometimes we have an adult relationship with someone, even a marital relationship, to try to replace that external mother or father image, but it usually fails in a relatively brief time. It is far healthier to bind the wounds and carry on, not as a martyr but as a wise seer.

  Moreover, if we can stop obsessing on our imagined wounds to calmly examine what has happened, we usually become aware that the seemingly hostile situation or person didn’t intend to harm us in the first place, so all the attendant emotional chaos is clouding our vision for no reason whatever. With a little practice, we might even be able to laugh at ourselves in relief!

  Giving up our ego fixation, purely the product of conditioning, is the classic win-win. We no longer feel false pains possibly leading to days and even weeks of depression, and we are much better able to offer our hand to the other in love or simple friendship. They will simultaneously find it easier to let go of their own pains. What could possibly be holding us back?


Part II

  Trappist Monk Thomas Merton is one of the most eloquent writers on spirituality and religion our species has ever produced. The following seems eminently relevant to our current attempt to come to grips with the Karma and Jnana Darsanas, especially the question of how do we relinquish our sense of agency without abandoning our life and its meaning? It’s from Raids on the Unspeakable, New Directions, 1966.


And that brings me to Philoxenos, a Syrian who had fun in the sixth century, without benefit of appliances, still less of nuclear deterrents.

  Philoxenos in his ninth memra (on poverty) to dwellers in solitude, says that there is no explanation and no justification for the solitary life, since it is without a law. To be a contemplative is therefore to be an outlaw. As was Christ. As was Paul.

  One who is not “alone,” says Philoxenos, has not discovered his identity. He seems to be alone, perhaps, for he experiences himself as “individual.” But because he is willingly enclosed and limited by the laws and illusions of collective existence, he has no more identity than an unborn child in the womb. He is not yet conscious. He is alien to his own truth. He has senses, but he cannot use them. He has life, but no identity. To have an identity, he has to be awake, and aware. But to be awake, he has to accept vulnerability and death. Not for their own sake: not out of stoicism or despair—only for the sake of the invulnerable inner reality which we cannot recognize (which we can only be) but to which we awaken only when we see the unreality of our vulnerable shell. The discovery of this inner self is an act and affirmation of solitude.

  Now if we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth. This seems to be the collective endeavor of society: the more busily men dedicate themselves to it, the more certainly it becomes a collective illusion, until in the end we have the enormous, obsessive, uncontrollable dynamic of fabrications designed to protect mere fictitious identities—”selves,” that is to say, regarded as objects. Selves that can stand back and see themselves having fun (an illusion that reassures them that they are real).


  Such is the ignorance which is taken to be the axiomatic foundation of all knowledge in the human collectivity: in order to experience yourself as real, you have to suppress the awareness of your contingency, your unreality, your state of radical need. This you do by creating an awareness of yourself as one who has no needs that he cannot immediately fulfill. Basically, this is an illusion of omnipotence: an illusion which the collectivity arrogates to itself, and consents to share with its individual members in proportion as they submit to its more central and more rigid fabrications.

  You have needs; but if you behave and conform you can participate in the collective power. You can then satisfy all your needs. Meanwhile, in order to increase its power over you, the collectivity increases your needs. It also tightens its demand for conformity. Thus you can become all the more committed to the collective illusion in proportion to becoming more hopelessly mortgaged to collective power.

  How does this work? The collectivity informs and shapes your will to happiness (“have fun”) by presenting you with irresistible images of yourself as you would like to be: having fun that is so perfectly credible that it allows no interference of conscious doubt. In theory such a good time can be so convincing that you are no longer aware of even a remote possibility that it might change into something less satisfying. In practice, expensive fun always admits of a doubt, which blossoms out into another full-blown need, which then calls for a still more credible and more costly refinement of satisfaction, which again fails you. The end of the cycle is despair.

  Because we live in a womb of collective illusion, our freedom remains abortive. Our capacities for joy, peace, and truth are never liberated. They can never be used. We are prisoners of a process, a dialectic of false promises and real deceptions ending in futility.

  “The unborn child,” says Philoxenos, “is already perfect and fully constituted in his nature, with all his senses, and limbs, but he cannot make use of them in their natural functions, because, in the womb, he cannot strengthen or develop them for such use.”

  Now, since all things have their season, there is a time to be unborn. We must begin, indeed, in the social womb. There is a time for warmth in the collective myth. But there is also a time to be born. He who is spiritually “born” as a mature identity is liberated from the enclosing womb of myth and prejudice. He learns to think for himself, guided no longer by the dictates of need and by the systems and processes designed to create artificial needs and then “satisfy” them.

  This emancipation can take two forms: first, that of the active life, which liberates itself from enslavement to necessity by considering and serving the needs of others, without thought of personal interest or return. And second, the contemplative life, which must not be construed as an escape from time and matter, from social responsibility and from the life of sense, but rather, as an advance into solitude and the desert, a confrontation with poverty and the void, a renunciation of the empirical self, in the presence of death, and nothingness, in order to overcome the ignorance and error that spring from the fear of “being nothing.” The man who dares to be alone can come to see that the “emptiness” and “uselessness” which the collective mind fears and condemns are necessary conditions for the encounter with truth.

  It is in the desert of loneliness and emptiness that the fear of death and the need for self-affirmation are seen to be illusory.



That by which one experiences the witnessing of the non-Self, such as I-consciousness and so on, is Self-knowledge, by which alone immortality is enjoyed. (VII, 3)


  Nataraja Guru gives a significantly different translation to this verse, having it mean that the witnessing state of everything—from the ego to the enjoyment of immortality—is Self-awareness. Nitya has it that the Self-awareness of the witnessing state produces the enjoyment of immortality. Both shades of interpretation add to our understanding of the verse.

  Narayana Guru’s own explication includes, “The awareness by which the witnessing Self is experienced is Self-knowledge. It is the final conclusion of Vedanta that liberation is attained through Self-knowledge.” He adds, “By the use of the word eva in the text, it is intended to point out the primary nature of this sole means of liberation. Such an awareness of the Self could be described as unconditioned awareness.”

  Thus Narayana Guru is teaching us a most simple and simultaneously radical form of meditation: to spend some time in a state of absolutely unconditioned awareness. Meditation is all too often a program, replete with steps and stages, fourfolds, eightfolds and multifolds. We are instructed to count our repetitions and imagine an impending result. All of this feeds the fantasizing aspect of the ego, breeding comparisons and consequent superior and inferior attitudes. The Guru lumps this all together as more of the same effluent that clogs our mental plumbing day in and day out. Goal oriented games. Those are fine within the transactional realm, but to discover our liberated nature we need to have surcease from the endless waves of sorrow which bind us to action. (I hope I don’t sound like I’m ravin’ here.)

  Happily we had two fine stretches of nothingness last night, bracketing a noteworthy dialogue. Sunset colors washed over the room, and we had no recourse to artificial lights until after the close. A heady bouquet of lilacs graced our wood stove—altar to the god of heat. Between the transcendent sky and the immanent blossoms we enacted a scenario of great beauty: the sharing of thoughts and insights between fellow humans, a.k.a the wisdom sacrifice.

  The witness is very still. It doesn’t offer opinions. It doesn’t describe anything. It doesn’t react. It doesn’t assess or judge. It is purely aware. The minute the mind thinks “I…” and appends anything, it is no longer a witness.

  Nitya rightly distinguishes two types of witnessing, that of the non-Self and that of the Self. Witnessing the Self means attaining the transcendent neutrality we have been speaking of throughout the study. All too often we confuse this with witnessing the non-Self, or basically observing details of the everyday world. We speak of eyewitnesses to crimes or eyewitnesses to momentous events. The accuracy of this latter version has been thoroughly discredited by recent psychological studies. One professor actually staged a knife attack in his classroom, and then had students describe the assailant and look for him in a police-style lineup. Although the students were actually studying how to be expert witnesses, the average accuracy of identification was around 15 percent, give or take a few points. DNA testing is currently exonerating significant number of people who were positively identified and received life sentences for crimes they didn’t commit. The bottom line is that our perceptions are famously flawed and prejudiced by our beliefs and inclinations. Knowing this should help keep us from jumping to conclusions and flying off the handle, which in turn can help us to move toward true neutrality.

  John pointed out how it was relatively easy to witness aspects of the past, to run them by our consciousness so to speak, but it was supremely difficult to stay centered in a witnessing state in the midst of the intensity of present struggles. Truer words have not been spoken! The heat of battle is the graduate exam, but fortunately we can practice and work up to it gradually by spending time sitting quietly outside the fray. Pushing the lawnmower, with its energetic aum sound, around the yard, and smoking a stinky cigar. Or perhaps you prefer sitting in a sumptuous room burning stinky incense. Or sitting on the shelf of a mountain staring into nothingness and sniffing the freshest air on the planet. Everyone has their druthers, their preferences. When we’re in a place that suits us we can easily let go of all those mental processes we are afflicted with and take a short vacation. With enough practice we can stay centered even as we grapple with life’s multifold disasters. Or more likely, we can regain our center much more quickly after we have been knocked out of it yet again by the vagaries of Fate. Life has its blows, and very very few of us are flexible enough to take them all in stride. We need to know our inner witness so we can regain it as soon as possible, and we need to reach out for the help of our friends too. A good friend will help us to regain our calm, not stoke the fires. We can act more wisely from the eye of the hurricane than while we’re being whirled around in the full blast of the storm.

  Whew!! I need to take a break from all these metaphors myself! Sheesh!

  Anita brought up an interesting issue that took us awhile to connect to the subject, but which actually does. She has been bolder of late to be herself and say what’s on her mind, and to joke around with people more. This is partly due to the influence of Gurukula classes, it seems. To her chagrin, several important people have criticized her about this. She feels bound to her old self by these opinions, and is struggling to accommodate their wishes and still maintain her new momentum.

  This relates to some larger issues than just witnessing, but as we attain our neutral witness state we will certainly find we are less affected by other people’s opinions and demands.

  All that talk we’ve had in so many classes about how we are held imprisoned by social strictures is just a lot of hot air until we actually start to become ourselves, until we begin to heal the schism between our persona and our dharma or our true nature. There is relatively little conflict when we remain frozen in our allotted poses; it’s when we start to turn away from them we notice all the hooks, and the embraces that are chains and straitjackets in disguise. An ordinary person just settles back into the groove and the pressure lets up, but I suspect Anita is not simply looking to accommodate the prevailing ignorance. This is a time to be brave and keep holding to her inner guiding light. Sure, we should entertain people’s criticisms to see how much validity they have, and then go on our way, incorporating the good parts and shrugging off the unnecessary. Life is too short to dance to someone else’s tune all the time. At the same time, you don’t have to force the issue, usually. People are so habitual that they don’t actually see much more than what they expect. We can easily learn to toss them a sop and then forge ahead with our program of growth, as long as we don’t become confused or get upset. It is normal for people to be timid and conventional, and if that’s all they want, so be it. It actually leaves a lot more psychic space for us to revel in.

  This relates to the verse in that the witnessing state is where we maintain our balance whenever we are buffeted and snagged by social constraints or unhappy circumstances. Instead of reacting angrily or anxiously, we take shelter in our neutral understanding. We see why people say what they do, and we see why we have to be more true to ourselves. And we say inward thanks to our gurus and fellow seekers who support us in our journey of Self-discovery. We might even be able to gently confront our conventional friends and teach them to have a more open attitude to other people and other ideas, but we have to first master our own reactivity and tenderness. Remember, Arjuna went to a guru complaining of “the evil of a tender disposition.” Too much sensitivity is as bad as too little. As with Goldilox, in everything we need to get things “just right.”



That by which I-consciousness and innumerable such effects, which belong to the non-Self, are known, is said to be knowledge of the non-Self. (VII, 4)


  One of the most liberating ideas in all of spirituality is implied in this verse and elaborated by Nitya in the commentary. The non-Self captures all our attention almost all the time. We base our self-esteem and even our happiness on transient events, but if we were able to comprehend them as peripheral rather than central, we could bask in the eternal joy of the Self that is always within us. The concept is simple enough, and yet all our studies are to help us redirect our vision from the kaleidoscopic play of events by which we are enchanted, because we have such a hard time fully understanding it.

  The so-called Western view is that external stimuli cause effects within our mind. Such a belief has the unintended consequence of making us feel dependent on the accidental tumult of daily life. We develop an addiction to manipulating our input to maximize what we consider to be beneficial causes and minimize the downside. We become “control freaks” to varying degrees. At times this works very well, but to our chagrin most of life is outside our control. Certainly the important things are. When difficult circumstances occur, as they always do, we are buffeted around by them and can feel unfairly victimized. Or worse, some deeply held guilt makes us decide we are being fairly victimized, and so we participate in perpetuating the disaster. Needless to say, neither of these attitudes is particularly healthy.

  The Upanishadic model of cause and effect being revitalized by Narayana Guru here was covered in depth in the Bhana Darsana. Briefly, consciousness is the cause, and the subjective I-consciousness and objective actuality arise within it as matched pairs of effects. From this model, tainted with the Western scheme, arises the idea of manipulating consciousness to optimize our life. But consciousness, often called the Self, is not subject to manipulation. Lucky for us it is already on an optimal trajectory, one which the Guru is trying to teach us to open ourselves up to. Instead of trying to bring unlimited consciousness under the command and control of the limited ego, he is recommending that we surrender the ego to the wise command of consciousness as a whole.

  The secondary situation under consideration in this verse is that the I-consciousness becomes conditioned and forgets its dependent status, then sets about tinkering with its world. It concocts an inflated sense of its own value, and becomes blind to many subtle aspects of the entity to which it is attached. The more it becomes myopic and self-centered, the more tenaciously defends its turf. Although it is selectively observing its world, it refuses to embrace a larger outlook that might bump it off its throne.

  The key teaching here is that we can have some detachment and distance from the chaos if we see the factors as being non-Self items. They are effects rather than causes. This actually makes them available to being affected by a change in our attitude. They glow when we glow and threaten when we feel threatened. They are beautiful when we see beauty and ugly when that’s what we are looking for. This is a very empowering belief, because while we cannot have much effect on things outside us, we have lots of sway over our own mental topology. We can train ourselves to not be hurt by accidental occurrences. We can bring light and love to those we encounter, and leave off the sulking and the sense of being shortchanged due to other people’s selfishness.

  John pointed out that while all this may be true for a person’s relationship with inanimate or semi-animate objects, as in Nitya’s lengthy example of a man in a seedy hotel, it is much more important in relationships with other people. This is most certainly the case, but it takes awhile to become proficient in relating to people in this new way, since the impact is so much greater. We can work up to it by examining how we interpret even minor details. In the final analysis, whatever causes us grief or pain is precisely the place to turn our contemplative eye.

  Both Moni and Debbie related how they had had very difficult stretches recovering from deaths in the family, but both had emerged recently from the worst of it. We wondered if there was anything in our study that could help us through tough times like those. Nancy felt our inner life was a kind of weather. Storms come and go, and there are sunny stretches too. Sometimes we have to wait patiently for the weather to change. The gunas, the modalities of nature, are very much like weather, and have their separate durations. The study is not a way to eliminate or alter the inevitable ups and downs of existence, so much as it is a way to take them with calmness and a peaceful mien. Opening up to the tides of the Absolute—or its weather, if you prefer—instead of battling Fate to control our destinies, is the option most in harmony with the structure of how we’re made.

  If we try to force the issue, such as in coping with the loss of a loved one, we tend to make things worse rather than better. We exaggerate the sadness or else unwittingly sweep the matter under the rug, pushing it into the unconscious arena where it will cause pain for years to come. We want to know some way to deal with it, and grasp for simple stories so we can wrap our minds around the vastness. We simplify things that are more than we can grasp. This makes us prone to tales of heaven worlds or reincarnation, which true or not, are for the ego imaginary flights of fancy to ease our pain through turning away from the harsh situation itself. Facing what you actually know squarely and fearlessly carries you through the difficulties most efficaciously, but it requires living with the pain and not trying to avoid it.

  Nowadays we often take a pill to ease the pain, and more and more of us are becoming dependent for life on mood altering medications. Pain is thought of as being caused by a chemical. It is very much out of fashion to believe we have a spiritual destiny to work out, and that struggling with our problems is actually how we grow and sometimes even become wise. In the out-of-favor Indian model, chemicals are associated with pain or pleasure, but are equally effects of the underlying cause. The dear mother or father dying is the cause of the pain. Believing our feelings are caused by a chemical means we should neutralize the experience chemically. Chemical neutrality is a kind of living death, but perhaps that is all we can cope with, wounded children that we are. Maybe we’ll never know anything more than our chemistry.

  Toward the end we reaffirmed that what we are studying is not about crushing and disposing of the ego, it is about healing it and locating it in its proper place. It is about being the ego and very much more. As Anne said, we can embrace all egos within our ego, not just cling to our own personal one. When we talk about vast whole systems, the ego gets worried that it will be deposed. We can make a deal with our ego: we won’t depose it if it won’t try to co-opt all the territory outside its native habitat. Then we’ll all get along just fine.

  We closed with a lovely stretch of quiet communion, in which all non-Self items were merged in the soft light of evening.



  When things are known as they are, as in the knowledge of the truth of rope, that is factual knowledge, and fictitious when it is otherwise. (VII, 5)


  A great night where the class added many pounds of flesh to the bare bones of the verse, precisely the aim of the “wisdom sacrifice” of gathering to ponder together. Communion. Out of the many topics we covered, the most salient was precipitated by Nitya’s opening salvo:


In their search for truth, the tyranny of words can be a major hurdle for most people…. The basis of language is words, but in themselves words express no truths. A word is, so to speak, a frame which encloses a meaning which stems from collective agreement…. The relation between language and truth may be compared to that existing between a road map and actual places: “the map is not the territory.” (340)


  The class noted how we are swimming in a sea of knowledge all the time, but we selectively recognize only what we have comfortably marked out by word concepts. Thus, the aliveness of reality is destroyed. Like Procrustes, we cut down reality to match our feeble dimensions of actuality. We relate to the map, and the territory is abandoned.

  Before going farther, this is the very verse where Nitya mentions his seminal differentiation between ‘real’ and ‘actual’, now used as a matter of course in the Narayana Gurukula: “We would very much like to use the English word ‘real’ to mean absolute truth, in contradistinction to the word ‘actual’. Such a concept is not attached to the word ‘real’ by lexicographers. However, in the present study we intend to attach that concept to the word so that the reader will always distinguish the real from the actual.” (341) Actual refers to the truth as in this verse, of seeing passing events as they truly are, whereas real penetrates to their essence. Actuality changes constantly, while reality persists. The territory is real, while the map is actual.

  This distinction is especially important because our word frames do not really match the actuality, much less the reality, of what we experience. Connecting with reality is the overarching subject of Darsanamala, but for the nonce we are also trying to accurately connect with actuality. Improving the match between our frame of reference and the world as it is has a tremendous positive impact on our lives.

  When we think of word frames, we tend to picture a gilded, rectangular frame of fine workmanship. If we were more honest with ourselves we would see that our frames are bent and distorted, with jagged shards of glass and rusty nails sticking to them. In the corners cobwebs lie thick. The gilding is falling off, and whole pieces are missing or crushed beyond repair. Viewing the world through a damaged frame distorts everything. Much of Vedanta study is to repair the frame and throw away the broken parts that keep cutting us to the quick. To undervalue such an enterprise means we have gotten used to the pain of misconceptions ripping our flesh.

  Disdaining the value of words instead of actively renormalizing their impact on us means we will have to be content with all the handicaps we have accumulated over a lifetime. Anita shared a fabulous example. She recently examined a painful watershed experience in her past, and became aware that because of that experience she had internalized an extremely negative self-description. Without being consciously aware of it, for thirty years she had been repeating words that held her in a vise of pain. That secret mantra expanded to color and undermine her whole life. Now she can apply some yoga-dialectic and countermand those words with a positive antidote. When the words cancel each other out, she can stand poised in neutrality, free at last of a major impediment. The most difficult part of the process, by far, is recognizing the hidden and damaged frame. Once sighted, repair is relatively simple, and devoutly to be wished. We should all have healthy frames of reference, and the world would be a far happier place.

  It is well and good to also keep in mind that fixing our frame of reference is only part of the process, that no matter how excellent the frame it can never fully replicate reality. Frames automatically convert reality to actuality. Philosophers and scientists strive to build a frame to encompass everything, so of course their frames are always being amended and stretched. It is better to recognize that reality cannot be reduced to any formula, however grand. We can and should expand and normalize our frames, but we should also bow our heads to the wonder and mystery of reality, ever ungraspable and transcendent. There is no need to squeeze reality into a frame—it should run wild and free. So fix the damage and then step outside all limitations.

  The emptiness and despair of modern life is closely related to accepting only what is framed in words, and disregarding what doesn’t make the cut. The class noted how we are intuitively aware of a vast amount of input, but we don’t pay it much attention until we put it in words. We imagine it only becomes “true” when we conceptualize it. Great thinkers dive into the subconscious realms to have oceanic experiences, but then they come back and try to describe what happened. In the process, a living event changes into a dead replica of an event. It is like visiting a morgue: we admire the exquisite corpse of this or that person’s experience. We nod grimly and identify the body, in familiar terms. And we hope to some day bring out a corpse of our own, to show off in the great human mausoleum. It would be far better to be inspired to go out and imbibe life, and let the dead bury the dead.

  Narayana Guru would very much have us come alive. Living, we communicate worlds without ever having to say a word. When we do speak, we can be aware that we are truncating reality and converting it to actuality. As Deb said, this should bring us a deep sense of humility. We will never imagine our version is the only right one, and try to push it on others. Most importantly, we won’t push it on ourselves. We will use our repaired and beautified frames as a leaping off platform, to soar into the unknown.


Part II

Looking for the real in the actual,

I thought of effective research:


    Seeking the needle of cause

      in the haystack of correlation,

    all the while missing the point:

      the cause of the haystack itself

      is none other than the seeker.




Part III

  Verse VII, 5 also contains the (locally) famous paragraph on the worthlessness of books, lamenting the conversion of so many living trees into dead pulp for no good purpose. Nitya insists, “Even the best of those books contain only information, bits of conditional perceptions or conceptual ideas. They cannot of themselves give us or engender in us that which he who seeks the Self is looking for.” It is certainly jarring to find these words in a book, especially one from which we are seeking to learn about the Self. But it does remind us that much of Nitya’s output was extemporaneous speaking that was captured on paper by those around him who wished to preserve his words to share with those who weren’t present. Those of us who had to be far away from him most of the time are eternally grateful for whatever faint shadow of those exquisite mornings and evenings has remained enshrined in his books.

  Nitya loved books very much. He was surrounded by them and was always looking for more. He considered his own books his children, the only offspring he was going to have as a sexual renunciate. But the diatribe against them here in Darsanamala is well taken. All too often we read wise words and nod in agreement and move on to the next thing. It takes a special effort to bring them alive in the heart. We must read them and then go beyond them, just as we convert written music into a vital performance, for instance. The Gurukula classes are an excellent way to use the words to vault into direct confrontations with their meaning.

  When we hold our classes, someone, usually me these days as editor of the book we’re studying, reads out the verse. Afterwards we sit quietly pondering for awhile and then have a discussion. I consider it a little unfortunate that everybody reads along in their own copy, instead of just listening. In one way they “get more” from seeing the words as they are read out, but they also lose that word-transcending state of mind that comes from listening hard to try to grasp what is spilling out into the air. This is closely connected to what was talked about above in Part I, that we don’t fully accept or recognize things until we structure them verbally. Aural input has a different impact than visual input, even if both are in the form of words. It is more direct and goes much deeper into the psyche. Like the sense of smell, our ability to listen well as modern humans is vestigial. We should use every chance we get to recover that latent aptitude. If you try it you’ll see it adds an extra dimension to the experience.



By the mere presence of which alone everything is illuminated—that is characterized as knowledge of immediate perception, and also as inner perception. (VII, 6)


  Tonight’s was a brief commentary, due to the fact that Nitya put an equal amount at the end of the previous verse. Nowadays I would have merged those three pages into this essay, but it really doesn’t matter. All are linked together in a seamless garland of visions by a golden thread of continuity.

  Narayana Guru refers to the two primary ways of knowing the transactional world as pratyaksha and aparoksha, translated as immediate perception and inner perception. Nitya defined them for our purposes in the last verse:


Vedantins consider the immediate perception and the personal awareness arising during the perceptual experiences as both being aspects of the total perceptive action. Immediate perception is called pratyaksha. Aksha means ‘eye’, and prati means ‘corresponding to’.

  In the case of sight, the knowledge which corresponds to what is experienced by the eye is called pratyaksha. An object held in one’s hand, such as an apple, needs no further proof of its actual existence. When we say “I exist,” the evidence of our existence is equally certain. In this case we arrive at this knowledge not by looking at our physical body. The evidence for self-existence comes from within the person. This kind of inner perception in which the sensory organs play no part is called aparoksha. Para means ‘another’, and so apara means ‘not another’. Thus the word means ‘a perception which does not come from another’. In other words, it is a self-evident perception. (343-344)


  Unfortunately, much of our world is comprised of elements in which certitude is far less apparent. Much of the spiritual and scientific path is a struggle to arrive at apodictic, or incontrovertible, certitude. Anyone who has had an argument—intelligent or otherwise—with someone who disagrees with them about something “obvious” is well aware of how malleable truth becomes when not clearly delineated.

  It is our further misfortune to be satisfied when the muddy waters begin to clear and we are able to perceive things more accurately. Nitya reminds us, “The apodictic certitude of the details of external objects stabilizes the conviction of the reality of a concrete world as a self-founded entity; such knowledge comes as the greatest stumbling block in the attempt to transcend the duality of subject and object.” We are so relieved to become clear-headed at last that we imagine that our experience of actuality accurately reflects reality. We may become comfortable with being a subject in tune with the objects of our perception. And so there is every likelihood that we will abandon our quest at the very moment in which we are finally able to take the first firm step.

  In the spirit of synchronicity this came through just after the class, words attributed to Gurdjieff:


In ordinary thinking, people do not distinguish understanding from knowledge. Therefore they accumulate knowledge, or that which they call knowledge, but they do not know how to accumulate understanding and do not bother about it.

  As a rule, when people realise they do not understand something they try to find a name for what they do not understand, and when they find a name they say they understand. Unfortunately, people are usually satisfied with names. A man who knows a great many names, that is, a great many words, is deemed to understand a great deal - again excepting, of course, any sphere of practical activity wherein his ignorance very soon becomes apparent.

PD Ouspensky: “In Search Of The Miraculous”.


  Gurdjieff is using ‘understanding’ the way we use unitive awareness or wisdom, and ‘knowledge’ in the sense of direct perception or dual or transactional awareness. We talked about this same notion in the class, how scientists are too often satisfied with describing or classifying something, or building theories, but that such knowledge conceals rather than reveals the underlying reality. And we extrapolated this fault to all of us. How often I have correctly named something, and felt that small rush of satisfaction that comes with a correct identification. A holdover from getting A’s in school, and even further back, from parental approval for simple name-form correspondences. Naming is as far as we can safely go with our intellect, and the student of Vedanta will sooner or later realize it is meaningless. Maybe my pile of meaningless nametags is slightly larger than some other person’s, but that’s an even more sordid reason to feel praiseworthy.

  Anita brought up how we often don’t listen to the other person in a conversation. We busy ourselves constructing arguments and rebuttals, and bide our time until we can fling them back. We seldom are brave enough to just listen, and trust that the “holy spirit” will speak through us at the appointed time. But it does. It works. Moreover, when we stop thinking in terms of battles or of self-ratification, we can move to enlightened sharing instead. It's a lot more fun, and even educational.

  Deb mentioned a period in her life when she finished her housemates’ sentences for them. Admittedly it started when she was living with some “stoners” who did take a rawther long time to finish some of their sentences. Then it became the bad habit of thinking she knew what the other person was about to say, and cutting them off. It came across as contemptuous and hurt some feelings. Eventually she became more patient and found that sometimes she heard things she didn’t expect.

  These are just three of the many ways we block the circulation of energy in our interaction with life. As we let go of the me-and-you duality we cling to, we can move to a more genuine participation with the presence of the present. Where dualism squelches meaningful exchanges, a unitive neutrality brings them to fruition. As we put this into practice more and more, we see that we never should have stopped short and been content with the half-baked state of mind that passes for normalcy in our most abnormal society. Clearing away the rocks of superficial perceptions allows our inner light to shine, and encourages others to join us in this happy endeavor.


Part II

This came from Anne in response to last weeks’ notes, but it is still germane, especially the rock part:


 Two quotations occurred to me the other night. One is from Theodore Roethke’s The Awakening: “We think by feeling, what is there to know?”

And the other is from the chapter in The Prophet which deals with words: “For thought is a bird of space which, in a cage of words, may spread its wings but cannot fly.”


I find silence immensely important. Phish put it another way: “time in the forest to dig under rocks or float in the ocean asleep in a box.”  We seemed to have that time as kids but came to find it unimportant as adults when, in fact, we need it more.


  Love. Shanti, Anne



That form of modulation of knowledge, by which the appraisal of the possibility produced by concomitant inherence is deduced, is inference. (VII, 7)


  Two-thirds of the way through Darsanamala we encounter the last of the big, burly commentaries of Guru Nitya. From here on there are only short and gentle challenges. At the top of the Jnana Darsana we also peel ourselves away from the last clinging vines of ordinary thinking, to begin to discover and express our freedom. Diligently meeting mostly weekly for almost two years, we have laid the groundwork for a new and edifying edifice.

  The verse, baffling at first glance, is essentially a definition of inference. Inference simply to means to draw conclusions by reasoning based on data. It’s a very common mode of thought. Nataraja Guru reminds us that even a cow uses inference, as when it bolts if you approach it with a raised stick. So don’t get supercilious over your ability to make inferences.

  Narayana Guru says here that when we infer something, we are appraising possibilities based on concomitant inherence, in other words, by association. Concomitant refers to those things that occur along with other things or events. Inherence means qualities that are essential parts of the thing or event.

  What this means to a spiritual aspirant is that we encounter new things all the time, but we tend to compare them to known factors in our memory banks. While this is undeniably useful for survival and transactional functioning, and so has become our primary mode of knowing, it substitutes a mental image or conclusion for actual experience. We seldom notice that we have “killed” the thing itself and are operating in a self-imposed prison of static concepts. In short, we infer only what we expect and deny any serendipity in what we encounter.

  Nancy shared a recent dream with us that perfectly expressed the thrust of this verse. In it she went down to a waterfront area and saw all sorts of unsavory characters that she wanted to get away from. She went uphill to a tavern and asked the people inside for directions. Then she found herself inside a set of monkey bars, a climbing structure for kids in the form of a rectangular matrix. Instead of metal bars this one was made of sturdy 6 x 6 timbers. She began to feel boxed in, and looked all around for an escape, but whichever way she went she encountered more of the matrix. Then she stopped casting about and looked steadily straight in front of her, in a kind of meditation. She saw that the way was open. She went forward and emerged from the monkey bars. She found herself on a street where she could read all the signs and easily find her way where she was going.

  Nancy’s subconscious was certainly doing its homework for this class! Leaving aside whether the waterfront stands for the freak festival currently taking place downtown and the tavern on the hill was the Gurukula, the matrix represents the concomitant inherence of our mental framework. It’s stolid and unbendable. We can climb all over it but it’s hard to escape, because it represents the way we define reality. Curiously, if we stop focusing on our structure and look straight into what is right in front of us, we gain our freedom. Associations are what exists on the sides. Looking straight forward means letting go of those associations.

  Nitya put this idea in a general way in the commentary: “The relationship between dreams and incipient memories is one of intimate functional dynamism. Just as the synonyms and antonyms of words are classified and grouped together in a thesaurus, so, in somewhat the same manner, associated ideas are grouped together in our mind…. It is not hard to see that ideas of things become interrelated, and how such interrelation produces matrices.” (349-350). Nitya also quotes William James, from The Principles of Psychology: “Objects once experienced together tend to become associated in the imagination, so that when any one of them is thought of, the others are likely to be thought of also, in the same order of sequence or coexistence as before.”

  Nitya provides a substantial survey of eastern and western logic, in which analysis and inference are taken to extremes. His conclusion leads us directly to the way out of our personal matrix of associations:


The trouble with this kind of abstraction is that it takes us away from the whole meaning of our pursuit. Life is not lived in terms of mathematically reduced atomic propositions. Our interest… is that we are on the lookout to see how our life in the transactional world, where we have to be concerned with specific characteristics, catches hold of us and makes us identify with particular individuals, things and events, and also how our consciousness is vivified into multitudinous morbid formations. This makes our return to universal concomitance of one existence… difficult if not impossible. (357-358)


  The gist is that we overlay the beautifully complex simplicity of life with learned patterns of thinking that turn it dark and ugly. Anne noted how this study has helped her to discard negative expectations and frameworks, certainly the major attainment available from the study so far. We should look for several last examples as we prepare to spread our wings and leave our cages for good.

  Jealousy is a prime example of how destructive inference can be. We first become suspicious of a friend because of thwarted hopes or feelings, and we begin to build a matrix of false beliefs about that person. If they say something in all innocence, it can strike us as evidence that they are rejecting us or leaving us for another. Ordinary acts take on hidden significance. Innuendo is transformed into certainty, and our misery increases with each new occasion to misinterpret our friend’s position. Even reassurances from the friend will be secretly transformed into projections of deceitful dissembling.

  Jealousy does not only occur between individuals. Whole nations are subject to it. Christian nations are jealous of Muslim nations for many reasons, and so brand them as evil. Once the mindset is in place, there is no recourse. All attempts to redress problems are treated as sinister gambits and rebuffed. The only solution has to come from the side of the jealous partner, but jealousy is so fixated on the faults of the other that it never looks at itself.

  The image I keep in mind came to me on a walk around town some years ago. I’m a dog lover, and I ran into a cute little dog on a nearby street. I stopped to talk to him, but he just barked at me. He was conditioned to bark at strangers. Nothing I could do produced anything other than redoubled barking. I could not get him to realize my kind intent. Then I thought, what kind of superior being looks at me the way I’m looking at this dog? Am I just barking my conditioning at the very things that are offering me solace and love? Shouldn’t I stop smugly broadcasting my opinions and start listening to what others have to offer?

  I shared a simple example of my own faulty inference with the class. I am deathly afraid of heights, and was even more so as a child. The Good Lord allowed me to grow up in Texas swampland and South Jersey, which is an alluvial delta and as flat as a lake, so I didn’t have to confront my fears for a long time. When I was 8 the family took a first trip to the Virginia mountains. As we drove up into them, my fears kicked in. I became terrified, and lay down on the floor of the car, crying and carrying on. Fear of heights produces a weird kind of extreme tension and nausea. My family laughing at me and my younger brother gazing excitedly out the window only added to my misery. It was an endless road up and up, and I could picture death-defying precipices all around. Finally I got a slight grip on myself and peeked out. It was nearly flat! Virginia mountains are old and rounded. There was absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Well, my pride was at stake, so I kept up the glumness for awhile longer, but even I couldn’t deny the truth: the whole event was manufactured in my imagination. Nowadays I’d say I inferred it from sketchy data.

  When “sketchy data” causes us so much unhappiness, why do we cling to it? What makes us opt for the comfort of inferential identification over being alive? The matrix of our beliefs forms a kind of womb, and it can get pretty cozy in there if we pad it properly with conventionalism. But for students of Darsanamala there is a strong desire to break free of the tyranny of our conditioning. We have only the whole universe to gain, and nothing to lose but our confusion. We fully intend to be born out of the once-nurturing womb of our illusions, into the bright light of day.

  We closed with a reading of Mending Wall by Robert Frost, which perfectly expresses the sentiments of this verse. I’m sure you’ve all read it many times, but here’s a synopsis anyway: There are walls between people, propped up by their unquestioning acceptance of received wisdom. But Nature or Life doesn’t like walls, and it is always knocking them asunder. When the walls come down far enough, two people can walk side by side. Maybe the walls shouldn’t come all the way down, because we love our isolation too, yet there could at least be gaps where we could touch. But so many want to maintain the walls, to keep separate and apart, one on each side. When Frost meets his friend, instead of connecting outside the barriers they carefully set the old blocks back between them, renewing the separation. The urge for Life makes Frost wonder why, and he goes so far as to ask his friend about it. The friend merely mouths an adage that semi-relates to the situation, but it satisfies him thoroughly, defeating any desire for connection that might still survive. Frost muses, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/ what I was walling in or walling out/ and to whom I was likely to give offense.” Our walls offend as well as defend. But they are only made from our mindset, and so are available for deconstruction and transformation if we so choose.



On going near the object to be ascertained and recognizing, “this is the form of the animal whose marks have been heard of”—that by which such knowledge comes is analogy. (VII, 8)


  Analogy and inference go hand in hand. Both overlay a static picture onto reality, useful enough for identification and transaction when accurate, but a block to coming alive spiritually nonetheless. Yet since the Absolute is indescribable, in communication all we can do is offer analogies to it. Narayana Guru is a perfect example of someone who was fully realized, who was also painfully aware of how impossible it was to share it verbally, and yet who felt a powerful call to help his fellow humans trade in their ignorance for more synergistic sentiments like kindness and compassion. Much of his teaching was by example, as when he invited two “untouchable” boys to sit on the dais with him at a large festival where their group had been segregated. Speakers had been arguing about it all evening. The Guru didn’t argue, he acted, simply and directly, in accord with absolutist principles. His only comment was “They are God’s children as much as the others,” and shed silent tears of compassion. The crowd was left to adjust to the new paradigm as best it could. At the same time, Narayana Guru went very far in his teachings with analogies of various stripes, including metaphors and similes.

  As Nitya reminds us, phrases like “children of God” and “the kingdom of God” are metaphors. Even words, including ‘God’, are metaphors for what they indicate. What Narayana Guru is trying to say here in a few words is that we begin our search for truth with the metaphors of words, and seek to bring those metaphors to life in practice, thereby converting analogies into a unitive presence or experience. Such a simple verse bursts with implications in every direction, providing a rich subject for class discussion. Analogy is a form of comparison. Nitya says:


Comparison is the most familiar form of logic which we consciously or unconsciously adopt, as much in science as in poetry. As a matter of fact, the entire theme of our conscious life is a continuous deciphering of the immediate present with the aid of antecedent marks of an analogous previous experience. In other words one’s whole life is a continuing series of metaphors and similes. (359)


  Once again, the very least we can do is define ourselves by healthy and workable metaphors and similes. Preliminary spiritual effort is directed to upgrading the unhelpful and damaging beliefs we have accumulated in the unexamined portion of our life. Beyond that we intend to find a way to step outside of analogy completely, if only temporarily.

  The Jnana Darsana is placed between the Karma and Bhakti Darsanas because that is where the transition from duality to unity occurs. In karma, action, duality is necessary and appropriate. In bhakti, conjunction with Light, duality must be discarded for the conjunction to be possible. Jnana, intelligence, provides the bridge, and like a bridge there is two way traffic between the opposite banks. At times we act in the dual world and at times we concenter in unitive contemplation. As we go farther, action and contemplation are brought together in Yoga, until each complements and infuses the other. Lastly, we merge progressively into the Source in the Nirvana Darsana.

  Each person has to find their own level in this continuum. It is good to have a complete picture, but it is unlikely that we all want to zoom up to the very last verse and then consider our task accomplished. Narayana Guru’s own comfort level was around X, 5. Many of us will be content to hang around somewhere in the seventh, eighth or ninth chapters. We should keep in mind that this is not a linear program. It is a series of visions, which are more spherical or flowerlike. I’m sure everyone noticed right away that linear thinking is an analogy, as is spherical or multidimensional thinking, in which we are comparing thought to a mathematical line or a geometrical solid. Useful analogies, but all the same often unnoticed, and usually under-appreciated because of being taken for granted.

  What we believe to be true is precisely what keeps us from seeing the truth. In a simile we at least retain some cognizance that we are making a comparison: our thought is like a straight line, for example. We go a little farther off the deep end when we move to metaphor and baldly claim that thought is linear. Linear thought. At this point we stop looking for the similarity in the comparison and act as if we aren’t making a comparison at all. The cliché becomes accepted as a substitute for what it describes.

  Much of the class was focused on how we take much for granted because of such logical failures, and this can lead to perilous conditions. When we go along with the fads of popular mythology or propaganda, we become vulnerable to manipulation. I trust this has been adequately addressed in past notes. Another issue also arose, regarding judgment. Judging is often scorned, but is it not another form of comparison? As such, some types of judgment are best avoided, while other types are very important to spiritual development.

  The higher judgment is also called discrimination. We compare what we are confronted with to our well thought out standards and values, in order to decide if a thing is true or worthy of our engagement. Ganesha’s nose symbolizes this primary spiritual ability. We “sniff out” falsehood. Otherwise we can be led very far astray, accidentally or on purpose. Anyone who has raised a teenager or been one themselves has probably observed how the wildest claims are instantly accepted as gospel, while well reasoned, tried and true, commonsense values are rejected with vehemence. Probably it is teenage “wisdom” that rejects judging, because it fights to be free at all costs. Unfortunately there are costs, and there is much to be said for taking them into account. The point being that we should view comparisons positively as well as negatively. As Nitya says, they are of extreme importance to the seeker of truth.

  Negative judgment is perhaps more familiar to us. It is a way for the mind to stay closed against all better information. At its worst it is used to hurl calumny on others, up to and including subjecting them to genocide or murder. The class had some urges to move into the exciting agitation of complaining about all the faults of others who judge harshly, usually in the name of some god. But Deb and Anita brought us back to a focus on ourselves. We cannot cure the world, but we can cure ourselves. In fact, the world may well be as screwed up as it is because of all the people trying to fix it.

  This put Adam in mind of his uncle, who used to say, “If everyone believed the way I do, we would live in a utopia.” Adam knew even as a child that it would be a nightmare world instead. He thought, that’s exactly what we don’t want. People take a simplistic model and want to expand it to everything. When the Absolute creates the result is harmonious and complex, rich and diverse. Why is it we have urges to play God and assume the role of creator, for which we are so poorly qualified?

  All that aside, we need to be clean and expert about how we assess our comparative analysis of the world in which we find ourselves. The analogy that comes to mind is a fellow named Harry Truman who lived in the shadow of the active volcano Mt. St. Helens. He was an old geezer who had spent his life there, and the damn mountain had never erupted before! When earthquakes and tremors began to increase in the core of the volcano, scientists urged him to evacuate. Well, he knew that scientists were just damn fools. He had eighty years of data in his memory in which the mountain had not erupted, and none in which it had. There was the mountain, and here was his memory banks. He judged he could stay. Soon after, when the mountain erupted spectacularly, it was unlikely that even two molecules of his being were in contact with each other for more than a couple of seconds.

  We don’t often pay quite such a price for failure to correctly assess conditions, but sometimes we do. Sometimes a small price is more than we wanted to pay, too. So it behooves us to stay awake and alert, and consider many factors. As John said admiringly, this is really practical stuff!

  To free ourselves of hurtful judgments and to put this all in perspective, I read the following advice before we sat quietly in stillness to close the class:


Verses on the Faith Mind

by Chien-chih Seng-ts'an, The 3rd Zen Patriarch, 606 A.D.


The Great Way is not difficult

for those who have no preferences.


When love and hate are both absent

everything becomes clear and undisguised.

Make the smallest distinction, however,

and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.


If you wish to see the truth

then hold no opinions for or against anything.

To set up what you like against what you dislike

is the disease of the mind.


When the deep meaning of things is not understood

the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail.


The Way is perfect like vast space

where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.

Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject

that we do not see the true nature of things.

Be serene in the oneness of things

and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves.


When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity

your very effort fills you with activity.

As long as you remain in one extreme or the other,

you will never know Oneness.


Part II

  Regarding the highly germane question of how to relate to aggressive fundamentalists who have successfully co-opted the political sphere, I encountered the following paragraph from Nitya’s Gurukula guidelines of December 1973, found in Love and Blessings:


Let one weigh in one’s mind the worthwhileness of whatever religion has come to have a hold on one by birth or proselytization, and discover for oneself the tentacles of fear and superstition that have imprisoned one’s spirit and alienated one’s understanding from the rich legacy of the spiritual and cultural heritage of humankind. Let one spare no effort to break away from the folly of being riveted to the compulsive illusions of fanaticism. Let the flames of truth demolish all walls of separatism and kindle the light of understanding and sweet reasonableness. Let one’s compassion for all strengthen the solidarity of all and enhance the dignity of humankind… [and] let one value the freedom of one’s spirit above all.


  The paradox has always been a dilemma for children of peace: how far can we tolerate people who are not only intolerant but hostile and dangerous? The initial urge is often to oppose them head on, but then you wind up exemplifying the same qualities you intended to oppose. This is precisely the conundrum in which Arjuna found himself at the outset of the Bhagavad Gita. Ordinary options are fight or flight. We are to turn to a third choice, a yogic or dialectic synthesis of the polarity, here expressed as “Let the flames of truth demolish all walls of separatism and kindle the light of understanding and sweet reasonableness.” This could serve as a vivid translation of Gandhi’s satyagraha, for now our finest success story for wisdom in action on a grand scale.

  Additionally, as Anita reminded us the other night, we shouldn’t presume everyone is our enemy based on generalizations. We should look at the other side and see our brethren standing there, with our same motivations and desires. More than half the problem is between our own ears. We should at least do away with the made up part so we can address the real issues more honestly. Ultimately, the wise person knows to do what is possible, to teach and demonstrate peace, and is prepared to retreat to the periphery when the public sphere goes mad, as it regularly does. For this we have to stay awake and alive to the enveloping situation, and not pretend that we live in a fairytale.



The knowledge of “I am,” “mine,” and so on, is individual knowledge; the other, such as “that,” “this,” and so on, is spoken of as sensory knowledge. (VII, 9)


  Once again a seemingly simple verse sprouted wings as we poked and prodded it, discovering in the process why it was lodged near the very top of the Jnana Darsana. Narayana Guru has already sketched the four main types of reasoning according to his lights, perception, self-evident reasoning, inference and analogy. He omits specifying word testimony, found in most Indian systems of thought, but as Nataraja Guru notes that can be considered a subset of analogy.

  We began the Jnana Darsana with unconditioned and conditioned knowledge in verses 1 and 2, and we go out with a mirror image, a summation of conditioned followed by absolute knowledge in verses 9 and 10. The Guru is here distinguishing the knowledge that is internal and known without sensory input from that which is, but reminding us that both are conditioned. We are well aware that sensory knowledge has its faults and limitations, but non-sensory awareness often slips past the censors, which is nonsense! Deb brought out that we mistake those possessively cherished factors highlighted as “mine” and “me” as contiguous with our inner certitude of existence. Thus we mistake our favorite images for reality.

  It is very easy and tempting to make the substitution of individual awareness for absolute awareness. Vedanta insists we are the Absolute, so what’s the problem? Unfortunately the oceanic awareness comes only after shedding the possessive and limiting awareness of “my” take on things. If this doesn’t happen, we are prone to grades of spiritual ego, up to and including the dreaded messianic complex. So it is crucial we keep in mind that the vast majority of our experience and comprehension is partial and in need of continuous reassessment.

  Sometimes it is helpful to realize that our faults are forms of the Absolute too, to raise us out of self-doubt and consequent misery. But we have already achieved that in our study. Now, lest our egos intend to conquer not only themselves but the Absolute, we have to allow the Absolute to conquer us instead.

  Meditation now assumes its rightful place as an essential factor of our further progress. We need to soak in a hot bath of unconditioned awareness, and let it seep into our pores and wash away the dirt of our conditioning. Meditation is where we practice taking off the soiled clothes of our mental configurations, to stand naked for a time. We are free to put them all back on as we resume our transactional games, but gradually we may learn to feel content without them too.

  We are conditioned by what we like even more than by what we wish to avoid. When we first encountered the events that condition us, we had wonderful experiences for the most part. They were good things. We easily identified with them, called them “mine.” The problem is that our desire to repeat them has driven all the new wonderful experiences out of the way, and we have become creatures of habit. This has been covered well already.

  Deb read out An Archival Print, by William Stafford, a poem which portrays how we become fixed by our outlook and by the excuses we make for being who we are. We become like an old photograph of ourself, slowly fading with age, gathering dust in the attic. How poignant! He speaks of the partial disguise we call our character, that we have become the veneer of our life, all the way to the core. He teases us to go ahead and keep up the façade, to keep reinforcing that image, so we can stay unchanged forever. It’s a very powerful poem, found in The Darkness Around Us Is Deep, edited by Robert Bly and still under copyright or I’d type it up for you.

  We have to be somewhat brave at this stage of our study. We have to insist to ourselves that we want to let go of habitual patterns of thinking, that we want to be more than a faded photograph. Darsanamala should have taught us that we are not benefited by all the fishhooks of habit that are caught in our flesh, even as we identify them as our persona, the well-crafted mask we hope will define us as worthy of love. Ick! A mask made of hooks! That should easily make us brave to take it off. But the process is a little bit painful, so we shrink from persevering. After a little struggle, we like to feel we have accomplished all there is to accomplish, and settle back into the familiar person we imagine ourselves to be.

  Narayana Guru, like William Stafford, is very gentle. He doesn’t urge or force us to remove our masks. He believes we can be teased out of hiding by the beauty and attractiveness of the Absolute alone. If we pay enough attention, we may well find out he is right.


Part II

  Nitya mentions several different mental configurations in his commentary, including “my wife” and “that star.” We were honored to have a soon-to-be bride in the class, as an earthside constellation corresponding to the spectacular conjunction of Regulus, Saturn and Venus with a perfect crescent moon in the summer solstice sky. Synchronicity is alive and well it seems.

  The gist of Nitya’s comments was how we attribute various shades of meaning to both inner and outer phenomena that are not inherent in them. When the young woman becomes a wife, she will encounter a number of firmly fixed beliefs about who and what she should be, including perhaps some lurking in her own mind about the meaning of marriage. Even she and her impending husband have different conceptions, without a doubt. If they can agree to share and learn and modify those concepts as they go along, all will be well. We see many examples, however, of those who are not so flexible. Family members may see marriage as the time for young people to “get into harness” of traditional behavior patterns. There is a perennial tension between the youthful exuberance for the new and the older clinging to the familiar. It is not always easy to retain one’s value vision when confronted with ultimatums. Sooner or later unrecognized and/or thwarted expectations will rise to the surface and demand their pound of flesh.

  Another paragraph from the 1973 Gurukula guidelines mentioned in last week’s notes reads:


Let us consider the evil of social taboos, the dehumanizing culture of our forefathers, and the familial and other relativistic obligations that sap our vitality and make us a slave of necessity, always at the mercy of circumstances and fate. Let us do away with all our social fetters and take such resolve that no one can take away the freedom attained by identifying ourself with the truth that frees every earnest mind.


  When we talk about the neutrality of the Absolute, it can be taken as nothing more sensational than not holding to fixed beliefs so we can be open to the present. Those values and activities considered “traditional” by older generations are an admixture of wishful thinking, nostalgia, and fantasy surrounding a small kernel of actual happenstance. We should be respectful and gentle with everyone’s feelings, but if we agree to knuckle under we will lose our self-respect along with our independence.

  This may be easier to visualize when we examine how people of the past conceived of stars. We can see that there has been continuous change in scientific and religious beliefs throughout history. I especially like the currently discredited notion that the night sky is an inverted dark bowl with pinholes in it, allowing the light of God to shine through. Stars as points of light spun around the earth until modern times, and only very recently have we learned that they are kin to our sun, and yet very much unlike each other in many respects. As with Mark Twain’s oysters, who believed they were the final achievement of evolution, at every stage we imagine we have the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As he said, “Now isn’t that just like an oyster!”

  At least with stars, we are far less likely to go to war over our fixed notions. This is due to the much lower “I” factor. The more we believe we possess something, the more we are subconsciously prepared to fight over it.

  Perfect examples of what this means in everyday life are happening all the time. Last Saturday I attended a musical evening where some advanced amateur musicians performed all the Handel sonatas for violin, accompanied by cello and harpsichord. I have just begun working on one of them, so I was delighted to have a chance to hear them performed well. Musicians were invited to bring their scores and follow along, so there was a rare opportunity for us to study some of the nuances of informed playing.

  It was a lovely evening all around, but I was very surprised by not one or two but three people seeing my sheet music and saying something disapproving like “Oh, so you’re going to count mistakes!” The assumption was that only a nasty and callous critic would read the music as it unfolded. Definitely a conversation killer. I guess they thought they were being clever or amusing, but such prejudiced attitudes twist and pervert whatever follows. I thought it sad, but it reminded me that much of interpersonal transaction is handled more like a kick-boxing match than a Japanese tea ceremony. Last one standing wins the prize! They might have said “Oh, you brought the music. What’s that for?” and it would have made all the difference, opening doors instead of closing them.

  Why do we feel we have to have an opinion about everything, that if we enter a conversation without girding ourselves with opinions it is like entering a battle unarmed? Remember the Zen guy’s line: “If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything.” If we are brave enough to set aside the associations that immediately leap to our mind about every event, there is a world of enjoyable learning awaiting us. And it’s one of the least things we can do that will make everyone we meet more at ease and consequently happier to be around us.



Aum tat sat—what is thus instructed, arrived at as the union of the Absolute and the Self, devoid of functions like willing—that is said to be absolute knowledge. (VII, 10)


  Reaching the end of the seventh Darsana concludes all the preparatory work meticulously laid down for us by the gurus. Almost two years of detailed study has brought us here. It is a rare achievement! We have penetrated deep into the Unknown Territory of a modern day Upanishad. The likes of Narayana, Nataraja and Nitya are unlikely to be seen again in our lifetime, giants among us. As Sir Walter Scott (no known relation) put it, “But search the land of living men / Where wilt thou find their like agen?”

  And our achievement is not an end at all, but a preparation to begin in earnest, freed of much of the dead weight we’ve been packing for most of a lifetime. From here on we explore the blissful state of progressively fine tuned merger in Totality, analogously called love and many other names.

  After introducing aum as the word chosen by the ancient rishis to designate the Absolute, Nitya summarizes the possibility we have been presented with:


As Darsanamala is intended to aid the student to realize the union of the Self and the Absolute, the present verse is given as a conclusive teaching that the nondifferentiated knowledge of the Absolute and the Self can come only when all vestiges of conditionings, both psychologic and cosmologic, have fully disappeared…. The imperiential union of the psychologic and the cosmologic indicated in the present verse is not a knowledge that is one among many items of information that one gains through an act of ratiocination or by dualistic cognition. It is a tremendously sweeping and overwhelming denial of all the limiting adjuncts of an individuated self. After one has embraced this indescribable union, even when the previous individuation returns it does not gain the dynamic status of an ego-centered individual again. Both the psychologic ‘I’ and the cosmologic ‘other’ are reduced to mere appearances, and a strong bond of union prevails as a substratum for the superimposition of both ‘I’ and the ‘other’. This knowledge has the existential verity of irrefutability and the subsistential transparency of a boundless Self-knowledge that is not alienated anywhere as a part torn off, or even modulated as an objectivization of any kind. In its absolute value-content it is intensely ecstatic, which can be poorly illustrated by such examples as the total union which is experienced in love. (364-365)


We can note sat-chit-ananda woven through this definition of absolute knowledge as existential verity, subsistential transparency, and value content. In our study we have assiduously sorted out our mental projections and defects to arrive at a reasonable degree of certitude regarding existence. Mental transparency is particularly important as the measure of how prepared we are to move forward in our life free of conditionings. Whatever we cling to will impede the clarity of our contemplation, so we let it go, good, bad and indifferent. We have stopped identifying ourselves with what we believe, because it is never good enough. Belief is already of the past, out of date. Like the contemplative in Atmo, we can now sit alertly, watching the twining vines of attachment snake toward us and adroitly dodging their embrace. Such uncluttered contemplation allows us an unimpeded value vision, where wisdom dances with action on the stage of unalloyed happiness.

  Although most of us still cook up our own programs regularly, we have learned how to relinquish the sense of agency and the urge to warp reality to our personal whims. We are open to the intuition of our divinely bequeathed stream of consciousness. Nataraja Guru puts it this way about the concluding verse of Jnana Darsana:


The ultimate goal of awareness is to establish the identity between the living Self and the Absolute. Within the scope of such awareness, there is neither room for such notions as Brahma (the creator) nor for the willing of the phenomenal world. Therefore, because of its superior nature and its identity with the Supreme Self, it has here been referred to as Ultimate Awareness.


Regardless of whether there is a Creator who wills the universe into being or whether we are the willing creators of our personal point of view, what we are asked to give up is those notions. We aren’t giving up things that are true, we are just giving up our ideas about them. Artificial reefs of flotsam and jetsam have grown up around our dualistic beliefs in willing Creators, and we need to clear the channel so our ship can sail through! As soon as we cease snagging our beliefs into a rockpile and holding onto them for dear life, the natural currents of the ocean will do the sweeping for us. We don’t have to laboriously dislodge the mess and dispose of it piecemeal.

  We talked about this last idea in depth. There is a vast paradigm around painstakingly rooting out all our multitudinous badnesses, I suppose because it’s a way of making money for gurus and therapists. We have been reminded many times that attuning with the Absolute transforms our inner demons into gorgeous statuary, if nothing else. An ancient Chinese saying is that crime and love go hand and hand. Chogyam Trungpa calls our less savory side the manure which enables our good seeds to sprout. He instructs us to never reject isolated parts of ourself, but to accept it all. Acceptance doesn’t mean repeating the mistakes, but being kind to yourself about them. Maybe even laughing about them. I can never quote Long Chen Pa enough on The Natural Freedom of Mind:


Since everything is but an apparition

perfect in being what it is,

having nothing to do with good or bad,

acceptance or rejection,

one may well burst out in laughter!


  Both Bill and Susan found this verse revelatory. Those pesky beliefs about rejecting our “bad” side to advance the “good” are deep seated. After that, we want to teach our bad side to be good. Only when we stop condemning our foibles as the spawn of Satan, and cozy up to them instead, will we cease tormenting ourself. And we don’t have to confess our “sins” to anyone else, though that can be helpful sometimes. We merely have to confess them to our own contemplative eye, never forgetting to relate them to the infinite mercies of the absolute ground of being.

  [Baird later sent this addition:

  An interesting pop version of this idea today is Debbie Ford's book “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers”. She quotes Jung who said that the shadow is “the person you would rather not be.” In this book she teaches that rather than trying to get rid of or suppress negative traits to become whole, we need to first identify these unlovable traits and then find the gift in each one.]

  I’ll close this Darsana with a relevant quote from an American rishi, Walt Whitman, excerpted from his poem, Song of Myself:


I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd,

I stand and look at them long and long.


They do not sweat and whine about their condition,

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,

Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,

Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,

Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

Scott Teitsworth