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Darsanamala - Nirvana Darsana

Darsanamala X Class Notes




         And now we come to everybody’s favorite subject to avoid: termination of individuality, popularly known as death.

         There are many forms of death, of which civic ostracism, physical demise, loss of memory, emotional frigidity, mental stagnation, along with various degrees of merger in the unitive state, are some that come readily to mind. It goes without saying that we will be focusing on this last group, taking one major category per class session. Most of the former aberrative states have been dealt with in earlier episodes.

         It was asserted right at the outset of the class that no one knows, and perhaps will never know from this side, what lies beyond the portals of death. All ideas are pure speculation, including that there is nothing, that death is the complete and total end of the individual. That’s as much a religious (a priori) attitude as belief in the most sumptuous heaven filled with rich food and drink and fabulous sex. In all honesty, we will just have to wait and see what lies in store.

         We buffer our lives with imaginary fantasies of the afterlife, which has the primary effect of dissipating our energy and direction during our life. We tolerate all sorts of travesties now because they will all be made right after death by Something Else. On top of that, we put tons of energy into programs to guarantee a preferred slot in the putative afterlife, programs which can come into conflict with a sensible life here and now. We have to get over our worry about what lies in store for us, so we can be more whole in the present. Our worries come from the capricious punishments doled out by parental figures, whom we are projecting onto the neutral Absolute as Gods. The teachings of religion, in this light, are seen to be amplifications of sadistic tendencies called down by our own masochistic inclinations. On the other hand, the Gita assures us that "The all-pervading One takes cognizance neither of the sinful nor the meritorious actions of anyone" (V, 15).

         We talked at length of how our ignorance and willful avoidance of death as it appears to us causes negative motivations and perverted behavior. It is really odd that corpses are covered so they can’t be seen. At Anne’s hospice, bodies are taken out with the hands and face exposed, allowing everyone to have a normal release and closure with the person. Bill recalled seeing his father laid out on the morgue slab. He was nervous going in, but then realized that his father’s essence was not there at all, that this was merely the discarded physical housing of whatever or whoever his father really was. I mentioned how my mother’s strained and aged face grew instantly thirty years younger the moment she died. It left me with a final vision of how she looked in her prime, and made the moment even more beautiful than it already was.

         Anita recounted the story of her mom’s death, where the paramedics wouldn’t even let her in the room to say goodbye to her own dear mother! This is what is meant by behavior getting perverted. Because of fears and ignorance, the most basic kindness and human consideration is swept away. Anita had been trained to be polite, so she held her righteous anger in check. She should have insisted and barged right in. The costume of authority once again trumped the legitimate need of the heart. Worse, she talked with her mother at the end, and felt a reciprocal response even though her mother could no longer use her body to answer. This connection is palpable to anyone attending a death who pays attention. But then the doctor said, “She couldn’t hear you.” As though his job was to spoil the moment as much as humanly possible. How do we get so far from a normal and considerate state of mind?

         The only actual science I am aware of regarding death is the frequently reported measurement that the body loses an ounce of mass right at the moment of transition. It gives new meaning to the phrase “an ounce of soul.” Whatever comprises this ounce has yet to be observed by scientific instruments, though it is easy to feel with an open heart.

         Obviously everyone in the class has had some experience with merging into silence and stillness, whether death, meditation, contemplation of nature, or whatever. If we are comfortable not asserting our individuality and simply letting it be, we are not only imbibing peace, we are practicing in the best way possible for a graceful exit from this particular Dharma Field.

         Our “homework” assignment for this final Darsana is twofold. We have to examine ourselves to become more aware of just what we insist on. We can give up many things easily enough, but there are certain core beliefs and hangups that we cling to mightily. We need to become honest in looking at those, because in the ultimate analysis even these will have to be abandoned.

         Secondly, Nitya has not really spelled anything out here in the final Darsana. He gives the Sanskrit terms for certain levels of merger, but what do these actually mean in terms of our understanding? We have to “write the book” so to speak, fleshing out the bare bones that Narayana Guru and Nitya have given us. In this sense, Nirvana Darsana is the graduate level exam for this study, now passing through its thirtieth month.

         The class closed with some giggles and lightheartedness. We want to maintain such a mature attitude throughout. Death is beautiful, and as Fred pointed out dying to our individuality makes us more alive, not less. All the excess baggage attached to our personal identity can and should be jettisoned. Nothing true is ever lost, only that which blocks truth. You can’t throw away your true nature, but you can toss everything else.

         John Lennon might have just read Nirvana Darsana when he wrote the wonderful song Tomorrow Never Knows. Or perhaps he had imbibed some spiritualizing substance. His original idea was to have the background sung by thousands of monks, but it was too impractical. Still, that’s how he heard it. Put it on your Victrola and sing along:


Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream

It is not dying

It is not dying


Lay down all thought, surrender to the void

It is shining

It is shining


That you may see the meaning of within

It is being

It is being


That love is all and love is everyone

It is knowing

It is knowing


That ignorance and hate may mourn the dead

It is believing

It is believing


But listen to the color of your dreams

It is not living

It is not living


Or play the game existence to the end

Of the beginning

Of the beginning

Of the beginning

Of the beginning

Of the beginning

Of the beginning



Nirvana is of two kinds: the pure and the impure. That which is the pure is devoid of vasana; similarly, that is impure which is conjoined with vasana. (X, 1)


The first thing to be aware of with this verse is that whenever we encounter a dichotomy we tend to expect that both sides are roughly equal. But to be honest, nirvana devoid of vasana is an extremely rare instance, with realization conjoined with vasana being the norm. As I pointed out in the class, we hardly know any of the former type, because they just slip away into the darkness. All our saints and blissmongers throughout history have been guided to some degree by their vasanas, most often taking the shape of a desire to help others. Christ, Buddha, Mohammad, Moses, Mahavira, Leary, Twain, Joan of Arc, you name it. Those are the ones who came back to offer enlightened assistance to us hapless mortals, as Baum would call us. Vasanaless realization is more or less an ideal, like the asymptote in calculus. So we are all impure, and it’s definitely safer to think of ourselves that way, too!

         Amazingly, everyone did their homework and really thought about what they insisted on as a core value, or what they would cling to up till the last moment of individuality. There were several broad ideas, but Bill pulled them all together under the heading of ego. The sense of ‘me’ is what we hold onto with unmitigated tenaciousness. All subcategories such as love, companionship, sense of doership, and so on that we discussed, are all forms of the—usually positive—expression of our egoistic predilections. Realization is the watering down of me-ness with the oceanic input of the Absolute.

         At death we will have to give up our egos, so we want to practice going there ahead of time. And it turns out that the more we can relinquish, the more we become what we always wanted to be anyway. It’s a great paradox, which simultaneously stretches out the tripwire of spiritual ego: look how great I’ve become because I gave up my sense of me. It is precisely here that a guru is most necessary, because it is virtually impossible to step outside ourself without a boost from someone or something else.

         Monks and nuns—as well as their modern counterparts, eternally incarcerated prisoners—benefit from institutions set up to imitate gurus, which allow them the opportunity to surrender their egos to a set pattern of behavior. Of course, the pattern itself carries its own vasanas. Many of us prefer our freedom because we hope we can find better models than those archaic institutions. Still, the motivation for their creation is to provide something like guru guidance to those who want (or need) it.

         Deb shared three recent dreams with us that she had woven into poems, the first expressing the importance of a guru perfectly:



  by Deborah Buchanan


The teacher is waiting

crouched on a small chair.

His eyes greet me,

I bend over, he stands up.

We embrace, our hearts

electric at the touch.

The rolling hills of memory,

the moment's clear sky.

I pull away, attempt to say goodbye.

Smiling the teacher pulls me close:

"Our hearts want to be together."



A snowy valley, glistening mountain slopes

surround the maker of our lives—

the bellows never quits, breathing in and out,

a rush of air. There is no face,

no body, just a shadow. I am handed

a large sheet of paper, handmade and blank.

It is mine to write on, to cover with drawings,

open to all variegations. Close to my face

I feel its ragged surface.



The water's edge laps rocky land,

thin surface of liquid over sere earth.

In the center a jade green

well of water: full of movement,

covered with leaves, flowers—

deep and swirling, the eye follows

water's downward flow.


         Eugene mentioned that sometimes when we go into the void, so to speak, it can be a frightening experience. It’s not always like the third dream above, where all is blissful and serene. When our ego clings to its existence as a separate, albeit mythological, entity, it resists the easy surrender that opens the doors of perception. Eugene has natural episodes of cosmic consciousness. Sometimes he is scared when he emerges into his separateness again, but lately he has been taking it in stride.

         I remember once encountering a black hole in my psyche, with something like a galaxy of star stuff swirling into it. I was being drawn into it too, and I knew it would be the end of “me” once I was inside. Nothing can escape a black hole, at least the way it went in. I recoiled in shock, and the vision faded, but it has remained with me as a clearly etched memory. Somewhere in my core is a black hole. I guess it is natural to pull back from the brink. Yet we are learning to not do that, as we embrace the void in its most beautiful and inspiring aspects. Surrender we must! As Nitya put it in his commentary, “In reality the individual does not exist. Only the Absolute is.”

         Carl Jung’s amazing near death experience, written about in Memories, Dreams, Reflections—his version of Love and Blessings—provides a philosophical vision of the scouring away of the personality at death. At the same time it reminds us of the value of letting go of our small self to embrace the absolute Self, which is our true nature. To set the stage, Jung is in outer space, at least a thousand miles above the earth. He feels this is more than a delirium, it is an actual experience he is undergoing. He is moving toward an Indian rock-cut temple, lit by oil lamps and guarded by a meditating Hindu sannyasin, who is expecting him:


As I approached the steps leading up to the entrance into the rock, a strange thing happened: I had the feeling that everything was being sloughed away; everything I aimed at or wished for or thought, the whole phantasmagoria of earthly existence, fell away or was stripped from me - an extremely painful process. Nevertheless something remained; it was as if I now carried along with me everything I had ever experienced or done, everything that had happened around me. I might also say: it was with me, and I was it. I consisted of all that, so to speak. I consisted of my own history and I felt with great certainty: this is what I am. I am this bundle of what has been and what has been accomplished.

  This experience gave me a feeling of extreme poverty, but at the same time of great fullness. There was no longer anything I wanted or desired. I existed in an objective form; I was what I had been and lived. At first the sense of annihilation predominated, of having been stripped or pillaged; but suddenly that became of no consequence.

  Everything seemed to be past; what remained was a "fait accompli", without any reference back to what had been. There was no longer any regret that something had dropped away or been taken away. On the contrary: I had everything that I was, and that was everything.

  Something else engaged my attention: as I approached the temple I had the certainty that I was about to enter an illuminated room and would meet there all those people to whom I belong in reality. There I would at last understand - this too was a certainty - what historical nexus I or my life fitted into. I would know what had been before me, why I had come into being, and where my life was flowing. My life as I lived it had often seemed to me like a story that has no beginning and end. I had the feeling that I was a historical fragment, an excerpt for which the preceding and succeeding text was missing. My life seemed to have been snipped out of a long chain of events, and many questions had remained unanswered. Why had it taken this course? Why had I brought these particular assumptions with me? What had I made of them? What will follow? I felt sure that I would receive an answer to all the questions as soon as I entered the rock temple. There I would meet the people who knew the answer to my question about what had been before and what would come after.


A part I didn’t read was his later reaction to being brought back to life by his doctor:


I was profoundly disappointed, for now it all seemed to have been for nothing. The painful process of defoliation had been in vain, and I was not to be allowed to enter the temple, to join the people in whose company I belonged.

  In reality, a good three weeks were still to pass before I could truly make up my mind to live again. I could not eat because all food repelled me. The view of city and mountains from my sickbed seemed to me like a painted curtain with black holes in it, or a tattered sheet of newspaper full of photographs that meant nothing. Disappointed, I thought, "Now I must return to the "box system" again." For it seemed to me as if behind the horizon of the cosmos a three-dimensional world had been artificially built up, in which each person sat by himself in a little box. And now I should have to convince myself all over again that this was important! Life and the whole world struck me as a prison, and it bothered me beyond measure that I should again be finding all that quite in order. I had been so glad to shed it all, and now it had come about that I - along with everyone else - would again be hung up in a box by a thread.


I suppose the really amazing part is that we eventually do regard the box system as “normal” reality, and even cling to it in fear that we will lose it. All the saints assure us that we will only lose our ignorance, while gaining everything of value, but still we shrink back in doubt and confusion. Ah, what fools we mortals be!



Most pure, pure—thus the pure is of two kinds, and similarly the impure also is said to be impure-pure and impure-impure. (X, 2)


         Right off the bat we confront the problem of what Narayana Guru means by purity, suddham. We know, by definition, that anything having an opposite is not the Absolute, so this pure-impure dichotomy naturally makes us wonder.

         Suddham is a typical Sanskrit word in that it has many implications. Pure is probably the most generally accurate way to translate it. The MW dictionary defines suddham as: “cleansed, cleared, clean, pure, clear;” also “acquitted, free from error, faultless, blameless, right, correct, accurate, exact.” Purity is further qualified as “simple, mere, genuine, true or unmixed.” In philosophy there is the sense of “veritable or unequalled.” Other works add the senses of “unqualified, unmitigated, and tried or examined.”

         The root in the proper context gives us the sense of “the removal of impurities or anything noxious, to pay off, acquit, or exculpate;” with the Vedantic take being to “make clear or explain.” So we can think of the duality here as something less stark than pure-impure. We could think clear or confused; clear or translucent; accurate or inaccurate; genuine or pretentious; and so on. We want to be careful of terms like purity that might subtly lead us to holier than thou attitudes, or the one most of us suffer from, the unholier than thou attitude.

         All this being said, to make this Darsana sensible we have to accept that there are degrees of merger in the Absolute. And how is this to be graded? If we think we know, we are not merged. This is an essential rule of thumb. If we truly merge, the ‘I’ disappears. If we take a dip in the divine waters and then pull back and say “I’ve got it,” or “I found it,” etc., we will pollute the purity with the taint of ego. Down through the ages, those who imagined they knew committed unspeakable atrocities, and this archetypal tragedy continues unabated and even enhanced in our day.

         Let’s quickly sketch out the four categories mentioned in the verse. Nitya divides them between seers and seekers, the first two being the former. As mentioned in the previous verse, those who are pure-pure, whose sense of 'I' has totally disappeared, are extremely rare—even off the charts so to speak. The seers we encounter are almost all mitigated with some involvement of vasana, of the sense of being an agent of the Absolute and so forth. The class searched fruitlessly for a way to distinguish between those who are actually agents of the Absolute and those who are clothing their personal program in an imaginary divine calling. Our Ganesha noses have to be sniffing all the time to make the necessary discrimination. This marks the distinction between pure-impure and the two impure categories, where the individual motivation predominates.

         Many of those who have an experience of absorption and merger in the Absolute begin at the outset to express it in all humility and idealism. Yet it is common for “impurities” to creep in over time, unless there are continual baths in the Fountain. We talked of political leaders, who invariably begin their careers with lots of idealism, but who have to learn to sling mud in order to get ahead. Eventually the idealism is abandoned, to be replaced by pragmatism, which is to say opportunism. Even criminal activity may become a temptation. Thus the whole system fosters corruption and the enhancement of ego.

         We thought of religious seers like Rajneesh, who began their careers with great erudition and insight, but who over time were corrupted by tiny, tiny compromises, none noticeable by itself, but cumulatively spectacular. The Catholic Inquisition will be the poster child for all time in how far humans can go in the service of imaginary divine edicts. The class decided we have to adopt the motto “I don’t know” as the only protection we have against leading ourselves astray. Once you think or say that you know, the stage is set for the next tragedy to unfold. One of the most important benefits of an education a la Darsanamala is to underscore how little we really do know, and to reinforce our humility.

         Deb and I had talked the night before about how those disciples who find favor with a guru have a more difficult struggle in the long run than those who are slighted or even excoriated. It is hard not to imagine that you are special and above the problems that others have, and this is a major stumbling block. Any self-image, positive or negative, is a stumbling block. It is precisely the impurity the Guru is talking about in this section of verses. We have to fearlessly acknowledge and develop the lack of a self-image, especially one tailored to impress others. So who are you? “I don’t know.” Are you pure? “I don’t know.” Are you holy? “I don’t know.” Are you bad? “I don’t know.” Are you in the 94th percentile? “I don’t know.”

         Nancy gave us a wonderful example, and since she doesn’t read these notes I can tell you about it without tremor. Despite being our local prophet and oracle, she sees herself as someone who loves her sensory life much more than any “realized” state of mind. But the other day she was sitting on her back porch and gazing at the forest, and she suddenly realized that it was just a flat two-dimensional image she was looking at, and interpolating its depth with her mind. Then she became aware it was her state of awareness that mattered most: that each of her senses was only picking up a tiny fraction of the totality of sensations, but that she herself—her awareness of it all—was what supplied the beauty and excitement that the trickle of sense input merely hinted at. And then she thought, “Oh, THIS is what they’re talking about in all those classes!” A welcome epiphany indeed, but we also hope that she never loses her pro-life stance, meaning her love of experience and enjoyment. This study is not about discarding joy, but about discovering the far greater joy that is possible when we transcend our limitations and our learned fixations.

         After class, Deb showed me a Nirvana Darsana-worthy excerpt from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy that echoes Nancy’s back porch samadhi. Prince Andrei is dying, and he thinks back to an earlier realization:

         “Yes, a new happiness was revealed to me—a happiness which is man’s imprescriptible right,” he said to himself as he lay in the semi-darkness of the quiet hut gazing fixedly before him with feverish, wide-open eyes. “A happiness beyond the reach of material forces, unaffected by the external material influences which touch man—a happiness of the soul alone, the happiness of loving! To feel it is in every man’s power but only God can conceive and enjoin it. But how did God ordain this law?….” He fades into an episode of delirium. Later he comes back to the thread:

         “Yes—love” (he reflected again, quite lucidly). “But not that love which loves for something, to gain something or because of something, but the love I knew for the first time when, dying, I saw my enemy and yet loved him. I experienced the love which is the very essence of the soul, the love which requires no object. And I feel that blessed feeling now too. To love one’s neighbors, to love one’s enemies, to love everything—to love God in all His manifestations. Human love serves to love those dear to us but to love one’s enemies we need divine love. And that is why I knew such joy when I felt I loved that man. What became of him? Is he alive?… Human love may turn to hatred but divine love cannot change. Nothing, not even death, can destroy it. It is the very nature of the soul. Yet how many people have I hated in my life?” (Penguin Classics, 1982, p. 1089-1091)


         Moni gave us the perfect analogy for the pure-pure and the pure-impure, from Nitya’s classes that became his book Love and Devotion. St John of the Cross was the thoroughly renounced contemplative who chanted, “Nothing, nothing, nothing. At the top of the Mount—nothing.” In the Gita Govindam, on the other hand, Radha is always dancing around, competing for Krishna’s attention. She believes she has to act, to perform, in order to attract the Absolute. So we have to realize that we are That, and stop imagining we have to bring it to us, or us to it. We can just sit on our back porch and not know, and be content.


Stella responded:


I was also reading about a class note about death, I think if we do not know where we come from then how do we know where we are going?

I think in this dimension, there is only this world.


My grandmother, mother, Bob's mother, Guru Nitya--they are very powerful. God's grace came in my life and left this world. To my grandma I used to say-- before she left this world, "Please show me where you are going, if you go before me." Then every year Sept. 24th, her death anniversary I used to get a big blessing which I wish for that year. When it start to repeat it, I started to notice. I once asked about Guru about this-- the last time I saw him and walked with him alone. I was telling him all about my grandma and asking about the other side of the world. He said, " Do not feel fear, I will tell you where your grandma is. She is sitting in the corner of your heart. Whenever you want to see her and talk to her you can do it, she will answer--you just have to listen." Then he pointed out the morning young sun's light hitting on the dewdrop and the light was going into millions of directions. When we have light with us and within us, so much of our fear disappears.


My Mom comes as rainbow to us children. When we went to see her body in India, in front of Calicut mortuary there is a big rainbow. Whenever some problem occurs at home in India, I see a big rainbow in front of my house here, in States.


After all, once you said, we are here to be with our friends. People come to our life for a good reason. Life is a river that is flowing. People come and people go. We have to learn to be let be and let it be!


Guru Nitya says in his "My Personal Philosophy of Life" (Gurukulam-1986, Third Quarter)  "I do not know if the present life can be continued in another body with a full collection of all the disciplines I have given to myself and all the conclusions at which I have already arrived. So, even if the whole world is going to reproach me and think it shameful for me to wear the mantle of my predecessors, I should declare to my friends that I do not think Advaita Vedanta is the highest form of life. In this respect I hold in reverence the teaching of the Qur'an and the ponderings of Guru Nanak on the meaning and significance of life. Life on earth is to live in full, accepting both the social contract of family and society, and also making oneself competent to be fully conversant with the transcendental sublimity and immanent depth to which once can go, with fullest freedom of one not chained by obligations and sentiments.


"There is a slow transference of each person's life from its belongingness to the hearth of the family to the central core of the universe ether one becomes more and more receptive to the choir of the heavens. One thus becomes partly impersonal and partly super-personal, always carrying within his or her heart a magical core which is at once selfish and selfless."



The most pure is again of three kinds: one in the superior, one in the more superior, one in the most superior; and thus the pure is established in the brahma-knower. (X, 3)


         The present verse spells out the shades or degrees of absorption that will be enunciated in verses 5-8. Yes, that’s right: the three kinds here are actually four. Just as with the three states of consciousness, the wakeful, the dream, deep sleep and turiya. Turiya or the fourth actually encompasses all the others, as it is all-pervading, so name notwithstanding there are only three states in this scheme. Similarly, the three kinds of nirvana-absorption mentioned in this verse are all pervaded by the Absolute, which is the fourth. A dab of confusion keeps us humble.

         Nitya suggests that we can take the cross-shaped scheme of the three (four) states of consciousness and apply it to the turiya quadrant. Thus, within nirvana are the progressive degrees of the wakeful person, the dreamer, the unconscious, and the one who has become the Absolute itself. From our living perspective, these appear regressive rather than progressive: they are going away, disappearing from our purview. Only the first and possibly the second a little bit, matter to us. The third type is described in Love and Blessings, in the chapter CANCELLATION OF GAIN AND LOSS:


         In my travels I went to see Siddharudha Swami in Hassan. The Swami’s ashram was a traditional old institution where many ochre robed swamis were living. Many were coming as well to pay homage to him. Nobody knew the swami’s age, maybe 100, maybe 200, or even 300. It varied according to the informant’s credibility. He looked for all the world like a living corpse.

         At five o’clock in the morning, ten disciples ceremonially came to him, prostrated at his feet, and pulled him out of bed for a hot water wash. Before the bath his body was smeared with turmeric paste, and afterwards he was painted with sandal paste and clothed with a T-string, a dhoti, a shirt and a turban. Then he was decorated with a rudraksha garland and several flower garlands. In the main hall of the ashram he was seated on a throne-like chair, where he sat cross-legged in padmasana. Then there was a ceremonial feeding. He did not open his eyes or mouth, but some milk was smeared on his lips and wiped off. I was told the swami had not taken any food or drink for twelve years.

         This ritual had been going on every day for a very long time. He did not pass urine or stools. I was also told he did not perspire. There was no evidence he was breathing. If he was dead, why wasn’t he decomposing? It was all a mystery. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed the possibility of anyone living without food, drink or breath.

         As the Swami’s face looked like a corpse, it gave me an eerie feeling to sit and watch him all day. The swamis there were very hospitable, and there was nothing lacking for a visit of any length of time, but I only stayed for three days.


         Not exactly appetizing! I think I'd have stayed three minutes rather than three days.

         Narayana Guru represents the first type, the one who is awake to the world and also effaced in merger with the All. Pretty much all the legitimate saints and sages through history fall into this category. Each one probably represents a unique blend of realization in action depending on their temperament, but they are lumped together here as superior knowers of the Absolute. Ramana Maharshi tends more toward the second stage, one who is decidedly withdrawn but can be brought back to participation in the world by the concerted efforts of devotees.

         I suppose now is the time to reprise what I wrote on page 12 of the Introduction to The Psychology of Darsanamala. Editing the last chapter had had a strong negative impact on me, and luckily I was in India immediately afterwards and could have talks with Nitya about it. It sounded like all the energy of our search was going to culminate in the total negation of death. I wondered if we were learning and teaching a system of nihilism or escapism, and if so, was our seemingly enjoyable study of life merely a waste of time? Were we ushering good-hearted people into a buzz saw with a pretence of concern? What was the point of what we were doing? All my fantasies of profound meaning and expanding awareness had been scorched by the final few verses. Here’s what I salvaged after an internal struggle of many months:


The various grades of absorption in the totality of consciousness are discussed in the final vision, Nirvana Darsana. Nirvana is here translated as extinction, meaning the extinction of limited awareness in the bliss of the Absolute. Still, the term 'extinction' can have some rather frightening connotations. It is important to realize that the final verses do not represent the goal of Narayana Guru's teaching, but are included to round out the thoroughgoing presentation of awareness that is required by the Guru's methodology as well as by Indian philosophical tradition. To misunderstand the significance of the last five verses could have a negative effect on the seeker. Nataraja Guru points out: "Here it is the inner enjoyment of the high value implied in the notion of the Absolute that serves as the diagnostic factor. The outer evidence of such enjoyment might be feeble in the eyes of an onlooker who is not conscious of the Bliss of contemplation of the Absolute." As stated earlier, Narayana Guru's highest ideal is closest to that given in the fifth verse, where the knower of the Absolute retains his realization while interacting with the world for its own benefit. This is poetically presented in verses 11 and 12 of his Subrahmanya Kirtanam, in a free English translation by Guru Nitya:


All discernible forms disappear where light is not paired with shadows, and all imaginations cease where beatitude reigns supreme. Such is the resplendence of your supreme state. It is as if your brilliance has swallowed the sun and the moon. Your lotus feet rest in the brilliant fire of the wisdom of the third eye. Oh Lord, reposed on the colorful wings of the phenomenal peacock, my supplication to you is not to disappear.


The moon has gone beyond the horizon. With it also have gone the fantasizing dreams of the night. The sun has risen in the firmament. The moon and the shimmering stars are no more to be seen. It is a good time to immerse deeply into the depth of beatitude. Alas! That does not befit the occasion. It is not the time to be lost in spiritual absorption. Look, here is the world drowning in the dark ocean of misery. In body and mind millions are diseased. By drinking they have increased their torpor. These unfortunate wretches are to be roused from their drunken madness. Oh ye people, wake up now! It is time for you to enter into the cleansing river of eternal wisdom and perennial joy.


Narayana Guru was a living example of his own highest ideal.


         Since the material is rather thin in the third verse, we ranged afield a little bit in the class. It was a good time to take stock of what we’ve learned in our two and a half years of dedication. Anita told several stories of how she had moved from judgmentalism to compassion and understanding, by becoming aware of how we all share the capacity to do harm to others. Specifically she saw how various negative feelings surged up in her when under stress, and she realized how easy it would be for someone to be carried away by them. This took place years before the class, but she has learned to integrate the awareness more fully in recent times. The breaking of the self-image of perfection, which tends to project all its suppressed negativity onto its shadow of the other person or people, is a literal breakthrough. It is possibly the single most important step in becoming a true adult, and one taken by very few, unfortunately.

         Brenda mentioned that after having been in Mexico, where for all its problems people care for each other and are nice to each other, she was shocked at how callous Americans were. The shadow image has grown to massive proportions here, fueled by a gleeful media. Sneering is all the rage. Somehow it is easy to imagine we are blameless when we heap extra blame on other people, excoriating them for their transgressions, however minor. The loudest blamers often turn out to be the biggest hypocrites when the veils fall away.

         Eugene told us the bare bones of a story of forgiveness, where he had spent time with someone he didn’t like and who had even taken advantage of him. He was surprised at himself that he could do this at all, but he didn't feel resentful in the least. Anita added that forgiveness was beneficial to ourself particularly, and the recipient as well. I remember an article that Millie brought to Gurupuja one year, that likened our resentments over previous injustices to burning hot rocks that we kept forever in our pockets in hopes that some day we could throw them at the person we were angry with. Geez—just pull them out and toss them away, and they will stop burning you! If you ever run into that person again, you can heat up some fresh rocks on the spot, but chances are you’ll never have to or even want to.

         Some conflicts surfaced over the different grades of absorption. Does this imply a rating system? Most of us move in and out of absorbed states, and so we are on different levels than our partners and friends. This contributes blocks to communication. So some worried that there was judgment attached to the various levels specified. No, there is not! Each of us is free to have our own opinions about what is right for us, but there is no holier than thou or more absorbed than thou judgment going on. It’s just one way of understanding who we are. Our culture is steeped in judgment and scheming, but we are discarding all that to dance in the joy of the Absolute together. Judging is another set of hot rocks we carry to distract ourselves from seeing truth. We’re turning out our pockets to let go of what’s inside, and applying salve to our burns. And that’s the only kind of salve-ation we advocate.


Part II

         More "homework": Why can we easily feel free and at one with nature or the world when we are on our own, but when we encounter any other person we instantly pull back behind our defenses? Are we hardwired to react this way? How could it be possible to extend the sense of unfettered freedom to our everyday interactions?


Part III

  Beverley wrote, and I responded:


Dear Scott,

Our group is studying The Atmo with Nancy and we have reached verse 10.

It struck me that there is something here connected with your question.


This process (our inner perception of our encounter with others) can be fully understood only by silently absorbing oneself with the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-feeling greater psyche which belongs to everyone. This opens up the floodgates of love and you become one with all. The counterpart of this is you close doors and create exclusions and inclusions.


I read this and at first I cannot see - let alone experience- the leap from the first sentence to the second one.

Later on there is a clue about the psychological dynamics of this 'love' and becoming one with all.....


My body, my mind, my child - in each case the 'my' becomes the centre of a circle of awareness. What is inside the circle is of special importance to us because it is 'ours'. Thus we separate I and the other, mine and not mine, me and not me. This is purely arbitrary. You can contract or expand the circle, you can include or exclude anything or anybody. When you include it is called love and when you exclude it is not-love.


Well, this seems a bit more accessible to me... I think we can work on including more 'others' even if we do not know them. In a secure environment where one feels safe it is easy to smile at strangers and not put up defensive barriers. Perhaps we are not hardwired to shut the doors on the 'other', but we are hardwired to respond defensively when we do not feel safe as, for example, in modern cities..... too many people... too much stress around.... bad vibes as they say.

I am not sure I would use the word love myself in this context. The word has become almost meaningless to me as it is used in so many contexts and with such a wide variety of meanings. On the other hand what other word can I use? Friendly- warm-hearted- trusting - without guile..... yes........ all of these. I am reminded of what Jesus said about loving your neighbour as yourself.....your neighbour being other people of course.





Dear Beverley,

 Very well said! You'll find that Atmo deals with this subject at length, especially in verses 36-42. It's certainly nebulous how it comes about, but for us to be at our best we need to stabilize ourselves in the ground of the Absolute so we aren't always bashed back into our "safe" corner by our encounters. It can and does happen by small but steady increments when we put our energies toward it. That is one of the blessings of becoming absorbed in contemplation of the mystery of life. Good luck in your studies, and good on Nancy for ushering so many small groups through that magnificent book, That Alone. Peace, Scott



The impure-pure is devoid of rajas and tamas and the other is with rajas and tamas. The former is known to be in the seeker of liberation, the latter in those who desire psychic attainment. (X, 4)


         Like IX, 9 (nein nein), X, 4 is a phrase in its own right, meaning "Over and out," or "I’m outta here" in radio jargon. This is a good attitude for serious seekers of truth. Many of those truckers who fill the highways doing their transport of goods from the alone to the Alone while chanting "That’s a big ten-four good buddy!" must be modern versions of sannyasins.

         Narayana Guru takes a last look at seekers here, dividing them into two main categories. They can be summarized by a saying from Suzuki Roshi (aka Motorcycle Rishi) that Bill often brings to class: “You don’t sit [in meditation] in order to gain anything, you do it because it is your true nature.” Pure seekers seek because it is exactly right and a terrific thing to do, while impure seekers are intent on personal profit. The subtlety of this distinction can become a vast gulf in practice.

         Of course, lots of people join a spiritual path to achieve some imagined gain or other. Barring unusual circumstances, we all start out that way. Later on we come to realize that our limited desires are impediments to a real attunement with the One Source, and we joyfully give them up. But initially they are our motivating force.

         Alain de Botton, in his recent and very excellent book Status Anxiety, traces the history of our discomfort. We begin life being appreciated for just being ourselves, no matter how exasperating our behavior. We can scream, spit and soil our britches, and we are picked up and hugged and coddled. Somewhere in the process of transforming into adults, we no longer reliably receive unconditional love. We are appreciated for what we “do,” for how we perform and how much we ingratiate ourselves to others. We begin to scheme ways to recapture love and appreciation, including monetary appreciation. We come to believe we are not enough, and so begin to craft a persona which will meet and charm the perceived criteria of our fellow beings. The anxiety de Botton writes about is the tension between our constructed image of self and its anticipated performance in an uncertain environment.

         I haven’t finished the book, but early in his Solutions section de Botton is offering healthy ways to minimize the exaggerations of our misery. This is good as far as it goes, and he concedes that moderate anxiety can be a positive motivator. But as spiritual seekers we can finish the rectification process through intuitive awareness. Once we discover our true intrinsic value as a spark of the divine whole, when we know in our hearts we are one with the All, there is no more need for us to craft a persona to try to impress our peers. Much of the work on a spiritual path or course of development is to regain this realization and thereby dispense with all the lures and gambits we formerly employed to try to coax love out of a preoccupied world. We become satisfied in the Self, by the Self, and so on. We can then offer others the kind of unconditional love that can remove their impetus for paranoid manipulations, also.

         People often will take up a spiritual study with dualistic conceptions of all the benefits to be accrued. In some ways it can be seen as the ultimate way to gain control over others, to fight the battle of who controls who to the death. Seekers of power are thusly motivated. There are many dualistic siren calls to delve into the mysteries. Over time, if there is healthy development these are discarded, streamlining the bipolarity between seeker and Absolute. It becomes self-evident that bipolarity is impeded by the seeker crafting and managing each situation, and instead an opening up or surrender takes place which merges the two into one.

         Interestingly, Susan’s meditation for the month, that she picked up at a parent-teacher conference, is to learn to tolerate being in a state of discomfort. Our initial impulse is to sooth any discomfort as quickly as possible to return to a peaceful state of comfort. Making things pleasant becomes an all-consuming daily program. This is all about rajas. You have to be very busy to attend to all the attraction-repulsion impulses which continually arise in life. Susan’s teachers were wise to suggest that sometimes a little discomfort is inevitable and can be tolerated to get to a more important goal. Otherwise we drown ourselves in busywork, the squirrel cage of temporary satisfaction. And the result is not the imagined spiritual state, but a tepid condition of stasis, otherwise known as tamas.

         A tamasic condition can very easily pass for a spiritual state. Many seekers take to sequestered lives to avoid the passions of living in the world, and once they shut them out there is a decrease in their misery that may very well seem spiritual. Is what we have come to dead or is it alive? This is a very important question to ask ourself. The Absolute is not solely an absence, it is also a Presence. If we are merely hiding behind cloistered doors it resembles realization only superficially.

         Rajas and tamas compel us to act or withdraw, but sattva teaches us a balanced way to participate in life and even move beyond the gunas. Susan wondered how we are able to lift ourselves out of these compelling forces, because she had recently become cognizant of some of them and they seemed so powerful. The class affirmed that becoming aware of compulsions is the single biggest step in breaking their grip on us. There is no hope of freedom if they remain in the unconscious. One of the best benefits of a class such as this is to make the seeker aware of certain types of instinctive behavior that are generally unseen. Then when they pop up, sometimes we are lucky or clever or blessed enough to notice them. They may still give us some discomfort, but they have been converted from immortal to mortal. Their days are numbered. Nitya says: “The dictates of wisdom and the discipline of yoga are directed against such compulsive behavior. As a part of the yogi’s sublimating discipline, reflexive and autonomous functions are infused with mindfulness and unconscious compulsions are substituted with conscious deliberations.” In other words, sattva is brought to bear on rajas and tamas. Unsullied awareness of our present situation brings light into the picture, augmenting sattva and weakening the other two modalities.

         The impurity mentioned in this verse in respect of the wise (pure) seeker is to conceive of the Absolute in a fixed form, such as a God or Liberated One, thus creating a schism between seeker and sought. Nitya cautions us, “They do not enter the state of pure liberation until their consciousness is freed of their identification with bondage and the notion of liberation as a futuristic possibility.” When the imagined separation between the seeker and the Absolute disappears, the seeker becomes a seer and moves on to verse 5.


Part II

from Beverley in Portugal:


Thank you for the class notes. I am taking this as my motto for the week: "You don't sit [in meditation] in order to gain anything, you

do it because it is your true nature." I suppose the Sufi concept I have remembered—that in meditation one is polishing one's soul so that it might mirror the One more clearly—could also become a way of seeking spiritual brownie points. It is a liberating thought that I meditate because I like doing it as it is my true nature!


My reply:


While there is some truth about the Sufi instruction you mention, at least some schools of Zen disparage the duality as "mirror-polishing Zen." This is like what the Guru talked about in this week's verse, about substituting sattva for rajas and tamas. It's good enough as far as it goes. But the ultimate teaching of the Upanishads is to go beyond the gunas, step completely outside their influence. You've noted the subtle distinction: if you're polishing the mirror you're still focused on yourself, no matter how "spiritual" that may seem to be. Liberation comes when you grow out of that kind of fixation to participate in the All with little or no lingering attachment to your particular piece.


Part III

         A tad more about this mysterious mirror business. Any number of spiritual paths that emphasize purification to achieve their goal necessarily include innumerable steps in the purification process. The idea is that you gradually become all sattvic, or that you polish the mirror until it becomes invisible, at which time it supposedly disappears. Or else being a pure mirror is the whole game. The process tends to become infinite, so you are never “there,” you are always on the way, grievously separated from your true nature. Which is not terrible per se, there is a perverse pleasure in it, but it can open you up to various indignities and unnecessary sufferings, which frequently are unintentionally passed on to others.

         The concept of yoga is that at any place within the admixture of the gunas, and no matter how dirty your mirror, counterbalancing of opposites reveals the Absolute. It also provides the opportunity to dispense with them altogether, if only briefly, and become not just a reflective surface but a coequal participant in the Absolute. We are always “impure” to some degree just by being in existence. Yoga is open to all as a way to transcend any and all limitations engendered by the embodied, conceptualized state.


And this just in from Eugene, who I trust will forgive me for passing it on:


This idea of being fixated on "polishing the mirror" has popped up on television, radio, in conversation with family and friends, etc. It is everywhere! IT IS EVERYWHERE, and therefore, NOWHERE. Catch my drift? Beverley's thoughts about not getting caught in the "polishing" is directly connected to the toughest thing for me to give up: questioning that there is a path. Clean the mirror. I am over it. With love. With joy. With frustration. With focusing on getting rid of negative actions and behaviors. And I am aware that these reactions and sentiments are just actions and sentiments just like this form I have has two eyes and one mouth. Who or what says certain actions are negative? Values can be like fog in its various consistencies. All I want to do lately is shake loose the chains and see what happens not because it is "THE WAY" but because it is one aspect of THE ABSOLUTE. In other words, polishing the mirror can be just as "valuable" as getting yourself in some deep @*#%!


Part IV

  We seem to have struck a nerve this week! This came from Peter M:


Dear Scott,

       I was shoveling decomposed horse shit and oak leaves yesterday, one of my favorite activities. I discovered that my own "Status Anxiety" was alive and well. I sensed a tension within me about whether I will be praised or shown some favorable attention for my "doings." The thought was far uglier than the benign manure in my shovel and wheelbarrow. Thought I'd share this with you. Your highlighting this psychological phenomenon in the class notes this week was very timely. 

        May I rest in what I already am: the silence of light.  AUM  Peter


And my reply:


Dear Peter,

  Yes, that "status anxiety" is more pernicious than we generally realize! It lurks even in the overturning of our complacency about its very nature. It's what the Gita refers to as honor and dishonor, I'm convinced. We must learn sameness as it washes over us.

  The value of our studies is that we can recognize what we've read and talked about when it rears its ugly [or beautiful] head, as you did while engaged in shoveling meditation. That was a goodly step into deeper awareness. Nice going, yet I don't want to praise you unduly, lest it feed that very monster....

  Happy Easter, the time of spiritual and planetary resurrection. Aum, Scott



Having burned everything with the fire of wisdom, aiming the good of the world, doing action according to injunction, the knower of brahma remains firm in brahma. (X, 5)


         As noted in the introduction, this is the climax of our detailed study of Narayana Guru’s masterwork. In it there is a full and expert integration of the horizontal and vertical aspects of life, of perfect participation of the enlightened seer with the needs of the seeker, or with the needs of the world surrounding them. Guided by Narayana Guru’s wisdom in this case, we have been invited to bathe in the ocean of wisdom and mercy, but not yet to drown ourselves in it. Drowning will come of its own accord, in time. We are here asked to pop back out, glistening wet, and share the bounty of our refreshing swim with our fellow beings.

         We should examine this verse closely, as it could be glossed over as four clichés if we aren’t careful. Having burned everything in the fire of wisdom sounds rather traumatic, but in reality it has been a gentle project for the most part. We have examined our ego-based motivations and found that they spring from disturbances in our psyche. The disturbances engender responses to stimuli, and the stimuli themselves are responses to previous stimuli, and so on ad infinitum to the beginning of time. Contemplation has directed us to step back from this conveyor belt mentality, to quit the drudgery of our assembly-line existence and experiment with freedom. We want to be more than mere automatons responding in predictable ways to characteristic stimulations.

         Aiming the good of the world has many possible interpretations. Nitya tells us, “The good of the world is constantly turning it from falsehood to truth, ignorance to knowledge, and expenditure to conservation.” But this can’t be thought of dualistically: “I’m a wise person, so I’m going to turn you to my knowledge.” This gives us obnoxious pests, not to mention dictators and mass murderers What is meant is that after bathing in the ocean, you no longer feel that your needs and opinions trump everyone else’s. Your consciousness has expanded to include the whole situation, of which you are only one aspect.

         Because it is easy for the ego to sneak back into the picture and tilt the balance in our own favor, Narayana Guru recommends acting via injunction. In other words, well-known scriptural admonitions can cover the general pattern of our lives, and the advice of friends and teachers can help flesh this out into practical courses of action. It’s not that we think, “What does the Gita tell me to do?” or “What does the Bible or the Koran tell me to do?” That will lead us to fanaticism, or at best highly inhibited action. We should act freely and unitively, but we have guideposts such as Thou shall not kill or steal, Love your neighbor, or adages like that to keep us from losing our good sense. We can see that the second and third clauses of this verse form a complementary set of inner drive and outer guidance.

         And of course standing firm in the neutrality of an absolutist vision is the best assurance of our continuing to adhere to sane principles. This is the most general injunction of all: that we continually have recourse to the universal ground within, we constantly turn to That, to give us the opportunity to stand outside ourselves and appraise all things circumspectly, without prejudice.

         Anita gave us an excellent example of how to live this verse in actual conditions. Recently she went to visit her daughter and three grandchildren. She related several breakthroughs in her relationship with her daughter, but the most relevant one happened during a conversation about her upbringing. The daughter complained about some things that had gone wrong during her teen years, with implicit blame being laid on Anita for failing to somehow avert them. Most of us in a similar situation will try to defend ourselves, asserting that we weren’t responsible, we didn’t mean it, and all that. Many a discussion is a thinly veiled game of thrust and parry between hurt egos. Anita realized that defending herself was unnecessary and counterproductive, so she merely responded “It must have been very painful for you.” And that was enough. The daughter was secretly asking for sympathy, and she got it. Unfortunately but typically, she wasn’t aware of her needs, and so blamed the other, in this case the M-other, which always leads to strife instead of reconciliation. But Anita was wise enough to see the need beneath the surface game, and responded to that instead. When she got ready to leave for home, the daughter said, “Mom, this was the mellowest visit ever.” Which was a high compliment indeed.

         We can trace the four elements of this verse in this tale. Anita has relinquished at least some of her own needs for reassurance and outer support through her dedication to wisdom studies over a pretty good period of time now. As she said to herself on the way home from her visit, do I need the other person to act in a certain way for me to love them? No, I love them, and that’s what matters. Period. So Anita has burned away her need for certain classes of affection by seeing deeper into what really matters. Her superficial desires are burned up, because they could never again satisfy her. Real love is so much more substantial than lip service!

         Then, Anita aimed the good of the world, which in this case took the form of her relationship with her daughter. The world comes to us in many forms, but it never comes to us all at once—we get it in dribs and drabs. Last week the world for Anita was her family in Arizona, and she wanted very much to have things go well. She was helped in this by some injunctions, things she has learned in many contexts, including Gurukula classes. She had some good advice, mentally chewed on it to make it her own, and was prepared to give it her best shot. It turned out to be a very good shot.

         Lastly, remaining firm in brahman. When Anita’s daughter accused her of dereliction, she probably felt that ego twinge that propels us into the defensive mode. This is a very commonly experienced trigger. But Anita held firm to her neutrality. She disciplined herself to stay centered, and thus was able to rise above herself to offer sympathy instead of antipathy. By doing so she surprised her daughter, and gave her a chance to back down from her position and feel more “mellow.”

         This is what newspapers should report on, instead of this week’s car wrecks. This was a major event. “Mother and daughter successfully communicate!” screams the banner headline. Or how about “Breakthrough at Black Rock!” Even “Accident fails to Happen!” And a perfect fit with our class to boot.

         Earlier this week, Peggy sent a fascinating talk by a neuroanatomist, which you can hear or read at . An expert in brain structure, she had a stroke that temporarily wiped out the left side of her brain. She was able to observe the right brain on its own, which she describes as nirvana. The right brain is the oceanic, nondifferentiated “side” of us, while the left brain is the part that makes distinctions and calculations, that knows “me.” In Nataraja Guru’s terminology, left brain uses metalanguage, while right brain uses protolanguage. From the neurological standpoint, our study is to learn how to integrate left and right brain hemispheres.

         Whether the brain models the universe or the universe models the brain is I suppose a matter of opinion or personal preference. Spiritual folks prefer the former idea, while materialists opt for the latter. Vedantins say that it isn’t a matter of models. There are two general categories of experience to which we have access, that’s all. Verse X, 5 asks us to not take one or the other in isolation, because that leads to various forms of misery. Both together is the way to go.

         The class discussed ways to activate what we can call the right brain factors, since we’re already well versed in left brain strategies. Eugene advocated art: when artistic endeavors take wing they are participating in nirvana or the universal state. Adam averred that all life should be an art form, that whatever you do can and should invite the Absolute in as a dance partner.

         Schizophrenia was discussed as a battle between left and right brains. Our left brain is encouraged to imagine it exists in isolation, and so when natural right brain experiences happen they are seen as hostile rather than beneficent. We don’t know how to bring the universal into our particularity. The very thing that could heal our terror of isolation is fought off as if it was an alien invasion. In human history people were trained to accept and welcome these incursions from “the Gods,” but now they are posited as symptoms of dread disease. Medication is given to block their effects, so that integration can never occur. Schizophrenia is in fact a great blessing. It is how the brain harmonizes itself and reaches for the stars. But the integration process is often very painful. In some cases too painful to bear. Without a wise and supportive guide, some people are driven to suicide to escape the pain. Or else they will do anything to avoid it. There is no well-accepted model for working through it. At these vulnerable times we need love more than ever, to give us hope. There isn’t enough love these days for everyone, it seems. So we dope up the very people who are gaining access to their dark side, right brain, protolanguage, nirvana or what have you. This is highly tragic. We need as many wise seers as we can get. But the political ghouls and corporate shills would much rather manage a world of pharmaceutically lobotomized zombie workers. Pain and fear drives us right into their hands.

         Aaron explained to us how those money interests spread despair, insisting that there is no hope for anyone who has incursions of holistic right brain impulses into the shaky structures of their left brain isolationism. It is really too bad: if you know there is hope, then there is hope; if you are certain there is no hope, then there is very, very little hope. And isolated left brain certitude is inadequate. It is the certitude of the nested ego. Nitya says “[valid] a posteriori certitude is preceded by a priori revelation.” We might translate this as “Left brain certitude is effected by integrating revelations from the right brain.” No truth could ever be more hopeful than this.



Having renounced all action, always established in the Absolute, who moves about the world merely to conduct bodily life—he is the superior knower of brahma. (X,6)


         Nitya likens this type of seer to a windmill. When the wind blow it spins, and when there is no wind it stands idle. Ramana Maharshi exemplifies this stage of absorption. He did not appear to have any motivation of his own, and yet he was the conduit for others to experience profound transformations. He either sat in meditative withdrawal or responded to others as best suited them. He himself had nothing to gain or lose from any situation.

         Eugene wondered if you could sense the presence of something unusual in a withdrawn contemplative. Bill cautioned that we probably can’t know what’s going on inside them, unless something happens to make us aware. We have to pay attention to something other than outward signs. In Love and Blessings, Nitya tells the story of being miffed by Ramana Maharshi’s apparent disinterest, and getting ready to leave. In case you don’t have your copy handy, let me refresh your memory:


         My hero in those days was Swami Vivekananda. Like him I also worried about India’s poverty, ignorance, and illiteracy, and its inability to organize dynamic work projects for groups of people in order for India to buck up and get out of the shackles of lethargy. The Maharshi sat before me like the concrete symbol of India’s inaction.

         For a while I felt sorry I had come. I didn’t know why people were making such a fuss over someone who was not giving people any incentive to work hard to make India rich and beautiful. When the sun was about to set, I saw the Maharshi getting up and going out of the hall for his routine walk. I was told that for many years it had been his habit to walk around the hill. I followed him. He only walked for a short while. Then he sat on a rock.

         It was just a change of place; otherwise he was exactly the same. People sat before him just as they had done in the hall. After a wash, which was done out in the open, he went back to his bed. Some Brahmins sat before him and chanted from the Taittiriya Upanishad. They also chanted some Vedic hymns, which I couldn’t immediately decipher. The atmosphere was very reverent and serene, but my feeling persisted that the Maharshi was just lazy.

         When I had first come, I had stood before Maharshi and saluted him, but he didn’t take any notice of me. Being a young man with a lot of self-esteem and ego, I had wanted to impress everyone with my ability to chant the Gita. After a couple of days of just sitting there quietly and anonymously I became very bored, so I decided to leave. In India it is a custom not to approach or leave a saint without offering some present, so I went out and bought some oranges. I placed them on the ground near his feet and prostrated, even though I didn’t have the least desire to bow before him. He took no notice of me. I thought he was treating me like a shadow or a dead man. I was filled with resentment. I wanted to walk away as though I had done nothing more than my duty.

         For some reason or no reason, I lingered there for a moment. Then what a wonder! Maharshi’s gaze, which had been floating over my head, became slightly tilted, and he looked straight into my eyes. It was as though two magnetic shafts were coming towards me. Both struck me at the same time, right in the middle of my heart. A great darkness began spreading around me, and I felt very dizzy. My body started trembling. I couldn’t control myself. Soon it was as if my own consciousness was an unflickering flame placed in the vastness of a lake of darkness.

         A sort of retrospection started unreeling my memory from the present to the past. It was just like watching my life played out in reverse. I was riveted to the scene, unable to move. Many things that had happened in my life passed before my eyes. Soon I remembered being back in my mother’s womb. At one point I felt a strong physical shaking, and remembered hearing that my mother had fallen off a collapsing bridge while she was carrying me. I continued to retrogress, back before my conception to my existence as a mathematical entity defined only by vasanas and dharma. A great peace filled my entire being, as I became totally absorbed in the interstices of the cosmic matrix. After many years of search I had at last returned to the Source.

         Eventually somebody tapped on my shoulder, and I came back to my senses. The Maharshi was no longer before me, and the people in the hall were also gone. Everyone had left for the dining hall. I was invited to come and eat. I walked as if in a dream. To my utter surprise, when I got to the dining hall I saw that the leaf on Maharshi’s right hand was not claimed by anyone. I was asked to sit there. When food was served, Maharshi looked at my leaf as if to ascertain that every item served to him was also being given to me.

         From that moment Ramana Maharshi was no longer a person to me. He was a presence, or rather he was The Presence. He was that which I was seeking, and he was everywhere. I needed no effort at all to be with him again. What held my heart with an imperiential enchantment was neither the memory of a social person nor the proximity of an unforgettable one. It was as if the duality between the perceiver and the perceived had become merged in a single unitive phenomenon. (pp. 140-42)


         The remainder of Darsanamala presents progressive absorption, which engenders a turning away from transactional participation. It closely resembles senility or even Alzheimer’s. In the West the withdrawal of elderly people from worldly matters is viewed with alarm, as though they are losing something crucial. How much healthier would it be to see that at least some of those people are turning to something more beautiful and less chaotic and demanding than the claims of mortal existence!

         The wind that activates the windmill of the superior knower of the Absolute is the demands and needs of others around them. If the extinguishing gestalt is seen as the blessed fulfillment of life on earth, then they will spin in beams of love. But if their caretakers resent having to deal with them, or are fearful of the emptiness that emanates from them, those negative feelings will be reflected in what remains of their psyche. As Bill pointed out, a healthy person eventually gets to a place where they are unaffected even by others’ projections, and then they seem content and even happy no matter what. But at this transitional stage there are still subtle effects on them from the psychological environment.

         On a strictly personal level, the detachment of a loved one from connecting with you is undoubtedly upsetting. But see what a difference the model makes. If it is thought to be a tragedy, there is lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth. If viewed as a normal return to the primal state, the counterpart of babyhood, it is much more tolerable, even sweet.

         Moni told us of a woman she knew at Cape Cormoran, who lived in a temple there. She went around feeding the animals and birds in a blissful state of unconcern. Visitors always touched her feet and were charmed by her lack of self-awareness. So her life and her impact on others was very beautiful. In America she would have to be institutionalized or would be driven into the wilds. People would be alarmed by her condition, and would want to do something about it, anything rather than let her just be.

         Pretty much everything that’s needed to be said in our study has already been said, so we spent time at the end of class meditating. It is very easy to dive deep in the presence of the small group in which our psyches are harmonized by meaningful discussions of excellent instruction. Like the gradual absorption portrayed in Nirvana Darsana, we become gradually absorbed into the unique mix we comprise each week. Though none of us is ready to completely check out yet, we are all primed for longer and longer baths in the sea. It’s fun to dive with friends!



He knows only when informed by another, does not know by himself—such a person is the more superior. He always enjoys absorption in the Absolute. (X, 7)


         Anita wondered about how values relate to the state of absorption. Values are dualistic in nature, and so they are irrelevant to the one who is absorbed. Good or bad, helpful or not, right or wrong—all of these are based on the impact actions are judged to have in the transactional world. Deciding, judging, assessing, and all the rest are issues for the detached mind standing apart and making a critique. When one is absorbed they do not occur.

         The ultimate value under consideration here at the end of Darsanamala is absorption. To what degree are you merged in the oceanic state? Like all values, this is relevant particularly to those who are not absorbed. They are the ones who call the seer of this verse’s attention back into focus on the transactional realm due to their own needs and demands.

         We tend to presume that whatever happens within the state of absorption is directed by the Absolute itself, (whatever that might mean), so the liberated one is naturally absolved from making decisions regarding value. Within the transactional world values are essential; within nirvana they do not exist. One has to be careful bringing the neutrality of nirvana into the transactional realm, lest the result be like a bull let loose in a china shop.

         Drug induced states of merger are even more problematic. They tend to the tamasic end of the spectrum, and thus can be a form of premature death. Where a purified yogi lives lightly and freely, the stoned seeker is mightily constrained by the poisons in the system, and so is sluggish instead of sprightly. Drugs at most should only be used to glimpse nirvana: they are not a healthy means of entry into it. Because they stupefy the judging part of the mind, they can very easily become a permanent quagmire, a semi-liberation that is more like a mandatory confinement in the calaboose. The difficulty in relinquishing them is the measure of their negative impact. A spiritual being should be able to change direction instantly in response to the lightest breeze.

         When we are absorbed for brief periods and then reemerge into separate awareness, we project our learned perspectives on where we have been. Usually it is the ego that worries about its dissolution, so there is fear of death, loss of soul, loss of control, or what have you. The assurances of yogis are proclaimed in scripture so that we will be sure to put a positive spin on the neutral condition of absorption, and not fear the worst. From outside observations, those who bathe in nirvana are seen to be transformed in time from self-interested, short-sighted, anxious, possibly angry or hostile seekers into loving, empathetic, insightful and calm seers. By their fruits ye shall know them, etc. Since absorption appears to be inevitable eventually, it is well to think of it as a blissful state. Certain religious sects in the west that imagine yoga to be the domain of the devil breed fear in their devotees, but regardless of the level of angst, absorption cancels all transient states of mind. Fear will fall away as surely as everything else.

         Brenda told us she spent the day meditating on her fifth chakra, the visuddhi. She had heard from Joseph Campbell’s account that this was a purificatory practice, and she felt much calmed by it. Charles noticed that the root is the same as suddha, used earlier in this darsana to denote purity. The root sudh means, in addition to purity, pure, clear, clean, to purify, to become free from doubt, to be cleared or freed from blame, and so on. Visuddhi, the throat chakra, indicates all the same elements, and includes settling a debt or correction of injustice, an aspect of the meditation in question.

         Since Eugene is a singer and singing teacher, the throat chakra is prominently part of our classes these days, explicitly or implicitly. Inhibitions close the throat and make singing strained and difficult. Part of the study of music and singing in particular is to relax the psychic restrictions, using the energy of the vibrations to sweep away all mental blocks. Thus recovery of one’s true voice is a most valuable factor in the spiritual quest.

         Deb brought us into the closing meditation by reading a poem by Yang Wan-li, Sung dynasty poet, from the book Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow:


                  Night rain at Kuang-k’ou


         The river is clear and calm;

                  a fast rain falls in the gorge.

         At midnight the cold, splashing sound begins,

         like thousands of pearls spilling onto a glass plate,

         each drop penetrating the bone.


         In my dream I scratch my head and get up to listen.

         I listen and listen, until the dawn.

         All my life I have heard rain,

                  and I am an old man;

         but now for the first time I understand

                  the sound of spring rain

                           on a river at night.


Speaking of rain—a symbol for nirvana if ever there was one—it won’t go amiss to reprise a favorite quote from Raids on the Unspeakable, by Thomas Merton, even though it wasn’t part of class:


  Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By “they” I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even your rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness.

  The rain I am in is not like the rain of cities. It fills the woods with an immense and confused sound. It covers the flat roof of the cabin and its porch with insistent and controlled rhythms. And I listen, because it reminds me again and again that the whole world runs by rhythms I have not yet learned to recognize, rhythms that are not those of the engineer.

  I came up here from the monastery last night, sloshing through the cornfield, said Vespers, and put some oatmeal on the Coleman stove for supper. It boiled over while I was listening to the rain and toasting a piece of bread at the log fire. The night became very dark. The rain surrounded the whole cabin with its enormous virginal myth, a whole world of meaning, of secrecy, of silence, of rumor. Think of it: all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the thick mulch of dead leaves, soaking the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water, washing out the places where men have stripped the hillside! What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech, the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!

  Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.



Not knowing anything by himself, even when informed he remains so—such a person is the most superior. Always without modulation, he is brahma alone. (X, 8)


         By way of summing up the study we have undergone, Nitya mentions three types of seer: thoroughgoing materialists, thoroughgoing idealists, and thoroughgoing yogis who can remain poised at the intersection of the material (or horizontal) and the ideal (or vertical), referred to here as the neutral zero.

         In the first instance the philosophical purview is intentionally limited, and in the second instance activity is intentionally limited. In the synthetic case of the yogi, knowledge and activity unfold naturally and without stress or strain. This of course is the ideal of both Narayana Guru and the Gita.

         Verse 8 describes the final cancellation of individuation, where reemergence from absorption no longer occurs at all. The outward signs of life are feeble and frankly not very appealing to most people. Other than entering the portals of death, this is a very rare state. Narayana Guru’s prayer “Oh Lord… my supplication to you is not to disappear,” reflects a holding onto participation with the world on the brink of these very portals, even as the bliss permeated his bones and pressed to sweep him away. In the verse 3 commentary above, Nitya’s encounter with a true brahmavidvarishtha is related. Here he describes such a one in greater detail:


The most superior knower of the Absolute is not a philosopher and he cannot be placed in any of the three above-mentioned categories. In fact, he is a person who defies placement and categorization. He can be likened only to himself. Like an ocean that has come to absolute rest, his passions are appeased and he does not act either with deliberation or with instinct. His sensory faculties are as if they are put out of commission, and his mind does not appreciate either pain or pleasure. Ego, attachment, the lust for life, sleep and languor have now become irrelevant because the triple modalities of nature—sattva, rajas and tamas—do not any longer monitor his consciousness. Even the oscillation of the ascending and descending vital breaths becomes so pacified that this person seems to have come to a state of suspended animation. Hunger, thirst, and such bodily needs are not known, and all functions, including the excretory, have come to a complete stop. The sustenance of the body is not maintained by the intake of nutrients. Except for the continuation of his metabolic balance in some mysterious way, no sign of life is in him. (446)


Moni pointed out that while such a state outwardly resembles that of a dying or comatose person, it is by no means necrotic. An inner bliss has drawn the person away from our world of chaos to a state of supreme happiness.

         Whatever we may feel about such an apparently feeble condition, we should aim at total absorption when we meditate. If we are instead fantasizing that we’ll get in part way and then come back covered with glory to teach the multitudes, we’ll never get anywhere. We can rest assured that such a total absorption does not happen all at once, or that it is the exception rather than the rule. Most of us maintain a “lust for life” to some degree, and that is precisely the vital urge that brings us back to the world time and again. Entering nirvana should at least round off the personal desires associated with our meditation, teaching us to be open and accepting of the generosity surrounding us. We don’t have to craft a persona, we can simply embrace the whole. Reprising Bergson, we can simply “open our hearts to the onrushing wave.”

         Anita talked about how this very attitude had transformed the way she dealt with her life, and it was helping her get through some difficult times. She is struggling with some health issues, and while doing what she can to ameliorate them, she is also able now to step back and realize she is more than the body. Where we are initially trained to believe we are separate egos solely responsible for our life and circumstances, Darsanamala’s philosophy has led her to trust that she is not just wandering on her own but part of an ocean of benign possibilities. Such supportive wisdom is "a consummation devoutly to be wished."

         Anita has become a dedicated seeker of truth and exemplifies what it takes to learn lessons like these. Through good times and bad she has trudged out to the class, unselfishly acting as a free taxi service for those without cars. She has at times been open about her own shortcomings, and discovered that the roof didn’t cave in when they were acknowledged. In fact, her courage in opening up helped her to access the state of appreciation that has expanded into implicit trust in the Absolute, which has in turn given her more strength to meet and surmount obstacles.

         There are not too many people who have been whelped by American culture who have the dedication to stay with the kind of serious excavation proposed by works like Darsanamala. This is not an ordinary study group: it demands determination and courage on the part of participants. It is a mark of a person’s dedication that when the going gets tough they don’t withdraw to a set of “safe” behaviors, but redouble their efforts to get to the essence of their understanding. They are not afraid to have the cracks in their ego-armor perceived by their fellow students, knowing that these are signs of growth, not weakness.

         This has not been a class where other people’s opinions count for some kind of mystical “grade” of anyone’s understanding. What you learn is what you get. It is highly satisfying when it can be seen to give a person strength and wisdom to persevere in the face of obstacles of whatever source, whether physical, emotional, relational or spiritual. Here at the end, as we “gently, gently merge in sat aum,” the class is realizing that we have all been profoundly affected by our apprenticeship of over two and a half years to Narayana Guru’s last masterwork, so ably exposited for us by Guru Nitya.



Of this, there is nothing avoidable and acceptable. As for the Self, it shines by itself. Thus, having become certain, liberate. Thereafter modulation does not repeat. (X, 9)


         The last two verses are nearly identical, reminiscent of Frost’s “and miles to go before I sleep… and miles to go before I sleep.” This should be a consolation to those who will miss next week, or who were absent this week, since the terrain is very much the same.

         The ‘this’ under reference is the Absolute alone, from the last verse. When one is fully merged in Thisness, coming into manifestation and dissolving back out of manifestation are of no consequence. Nitya therefore neatly translates them as not being “avoidable, acceptable” since only the reaction disappears. Things still come in and go out constantly, but the attention is directed to the essence that stays the same in and through the transformations.

         The word translated as ‘liberate’ comes from the same root as nirvana, so the sense of this phrase is “Having become certain, return to nirvana.” Nirvana, nivritti (cessation of modulation, implied but not used here) and nivartteta (liberate) and avartteta (does not repeat) are all related words. If one were to chant these verses there is an almost hypnotic invitation to merge in peace.

         We have been careful to discern the shining content of nirvana beneath its apparently dead or indifferent exterior. Susan brought an apt E. E. Cummings poem to the class:


since feeling is first

who pays any attention

to the syntax of things

will never wholly kiss you;


wholly to be a fool

while Spring is in the world


my blood approves,

and kisses are a far better fate

than wisdom

lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry

--the best gesture of my brain is less than

your eyelids' flutter which says


we are for eachother: then

laugh, leaning back in my arms

for life's not a paragraph


And death i think is no parenthesis


         We discussed a prevailing undercurrent in the class in general, to whit: if someone is feeling upset or disagrees with what people are saying, they sometimes stifle their reactions, believing that they shouldn’t “disrupt” everyone else with their problems or negative vibrations. Sure, there are times when keeping silent is wise, and it is always good to word a complaint in general, not personal, terms. But spirituality is not about only promoting one side of truth. Others are usually relieved to hear someone give voice to their doubts, or they are glad to have an opportunity to extend their sympathy to one who needs it. Even better, when we speak glibly or partially about truth, it is helpful for someone to point out our shortcomings, so we can improve our understanding. It is very hard when things go badly in one’s life, to have to listen to people talking about how groovy everything is. Compassion has been repeatedly emphasized because even as we slip into nirvana we need to be sensitive to the very real suffering of our fellow beings. Happiness can even seem like a satiric insult to one who is in pain. If we are large-hearted enough, we can “enjoy easily happiness that is ultimate” (Gita VI, 28) and also keep it out of other people’s faces. We need to remember that real problems are real, even if our reaction to them can take many forms. This isn’t about ignoring problems and dealing solely with our reactions—quite the reverse. We overcome our reactions to make us more available to address real problems and opportunities.

         Anita talked about her son having MS, and how she used to worry that she had given him the genetic susceptibility for it. Was it her genes or the father’s? Who's the guilty party here? Then one day she realized “Those aren’t my genes at all! They are as ancient as the world. They are only passing through me.” That’s so right: we tend to take responsibility for things totally out of our control, and feel miserable about them to boot. But if we’d had a choice, of course we wouldn’t have screwed up. Given a test with clear questions and answers, we could pick the right answer every time. But life is more mysterious than that, and all we can do is give it our best shot. Maybe we can feel guilty if we don’t give it at least a decent shot, but lots of things are certain to go wrong despite our efforts. The world is rolling along under its own momentum, and we are along for the ride, not at the wheel. Anita’s wisdom actually drew an audible gasp of admiration from the class, as everyone thought aloud “Yes! That’s right!”

         Interestingly, The NY Times science section had an article the same day on how genetically identical bacteria acted differently from each other under scientifically controlled circumstances. Lately there has been a tide of studies reducing the importance of genes from their godlike position in earlier biology, and the promoting instead of—what? Consciousness, in fact, though science is leery of the term, and will spend a lot of time looking for another “mindless” mechanism to replace genes. Even bacteria exhibit conscious decision-making abilities. In Murchie's Seven Mysteries of Life, he relates the observation of an ameba learning. Neither of these creatures happen to have brains, by the way. Consciousness precedes that organ.

         On the other end of the scale, the class discussed cetacean intelligence in some detail. There were several stories from Anne, Jan, Deb and Scott about encountering whale and dolphin awareness of tremendous force and aliveness. So exciting! It seems that as we merge into oneness, we discover that all beings participate in that oneness as well. Truly, we are never less alone than when alone (Lloyd).

         Our nearly new philosopher, Anita, also gave us a lesson on how we can become unitive in meditation, but then we like to streeeeeetch out into our favorite dualities. Somehow the words painted a perfect picture of the process, and we could all visualize the merging and emerging that are no longer supposed to be happening here at the end of our study. We have passed through several stages of nirvana, and now the merger is so complete that only the Absolute remains. The drop has dissolved in the ocean. That Alone is.

         Nataraja Guru’s commentary on the Yoga and Nirvana Darsanas in An Integrated Science of the Absolute is eminently readable in comparison to the earlier chapters. He adroitly addresses the degrees of purity in merger that Narayana Guru has paradoxically used, thus:


All that glitters is not gold. Tinsel and pure gold have to be graded according to utility or value. Although a globe of the earth is a reality sufficient and complete in itself, one puts arbitrarily conceived lines such as the equator and tropic of cancer, etc. for purposes of communication in analytically referring to its aspects. The absolute content of nirvana is something totally independent of the gradations or degrees of superiority or inferiority that may be attributed to the Absolute. They are useful nonetheless for purposes of intelligent communication. (ISOA II, 426)


         We closed with a meditation on the Gita verse that Nitya quotes by way of bringing his comments to rest: “establishing the mind reflexively in the Self, without thinking of anything whatever” (VI, 25). We began the chapter wondering what we’d be unable to release in order to not think of anything for a period of time. Hopefully the study has coaxed us to treat all our most treasured ideas, beliefs and feelings as equally worthy of being thrown into the sacrificial fire. Those that have value will resurface in good time, but some will seem more like thorns that have been excised and (with any luck) safely discarded where no one else is likely to step on them. Burning them in the fire of wisdom is good. Our addiction to our mentality is measured by our attachment to all these things, and this can only be clearly assessed when we have been free of them for awhile. We are all too similar to addicts who insist that “just a little” of our favorite brew is perfectly all right, and then go on a lifelong bender. It’s certainly to our benefit to “dry out” once in awhile, in order to gain a proper perspective. Therefore merger with the Absolute in nirvana is the most educational thing we can do.


Part II

         Two wise souls weigh in on the sorrows and challenges of life:

         Jan found the Rumi poem she mentioned and sent it over. She read it on the wall of the hospital waiting room (this is Portland, after all!):


The Guest House


This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.


A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.


Welcome and entertain them all.

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.


He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.


The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.


Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.


And the following by Thomas Merton, from the beginning of The New Man (Farrar Straus and Company, 1961):


         Life and death are at war within us. As soon as we are born, we begin at the same time to live and die.

         Even though we may not be even slightly aware of it, this battle of life and death goes on in us inexorably and without mercy. If by chance we become fully conscious of it, not only in our flesh and in our emotions but above all in our spirit, we find ourselves involved in a terrible wrestling, an agonia not of questions and answers, but of being and nothingness, spirit and void. In this most terrible of all wars, fought on the brink of infinite despair, we come gradually to realize that life is more than the reward for him who correctly guesses a secret and spiritual “answer” to which he smilingly remains committed. This is more than a matter of “finding peace of mind,” or “settling religious problems.”

         Indeed, for the man who enters into the black depths of the agonia, religious problems become an unthinkable luxury. He has no time for such indulgences. He is fighting for his life. His being itself is a foundering ship, ready with each breath to plunge into nothingness and yet inexplicably remaining afloat on the void. Questions that have answers seem, at such a time, to be a cruel mockery of the helpless mind. Existence itself becomes an absurd question, like a Zen koan: and to find an answer to such a question is to be irrevocably lost. An absurd question can have only an absurd answer.

         Religions do not, in fact, simply supply answers to questions. Or at least they do not confine themselves to this until they become degenerate. Salvation is more than the answer to a question.


         Both these gentlemen know that mere peace or any other outward appearance of spiritual contentment may mask a multitude of problems. Merton goes on to say that a peaceful meditation is relatively worthless, but a turbulent one in which you wrestle with unresolved ideas can be the most beneficial. In the eternal spirit of paradox, ungrounded strength is a weakness and weakness permitted may reveal its underpinning of strength. Aum.


Part III

Baird sent the following:


Some thoughts on your class notes:


You wrote:

... Things still come in and go out constantly, but the attention is directed to the essence that stays the same in and through the transformations.


A quote by my new favorite Sufi, Inayat Khan:


Seeing the nature and character of life

the Sufi says that it is not very important

to distinguish between two opposites.

What is most important is to recognize

that One which is hiding behind it all.



And later -

... NY Times science section ... Even bacteria exhibit conscious decision-making abilities. In Murchie's Seven Mysteries of Life, he relates the observation of an ameba learning. Neither of these creatures happen to have brains, by the way. Consciousness precedes that organ.


An interesting finding in modern microbiology

is that bacteria communicate with each other

via “quorum sensing” - a colony is quite aware

of their density and exhibit certain behaviors

like bioluminescence only when they reach

a critical level. This is quite remarkable

in the laboratory when you add just one drop

to a large vat and the whole thing instantly

lights up. They know that They Are All One.



The one brahma alone is without a second; nothing else is, there is no doubt. Thus the knower should liberate from duality. Thereafter he does not return. (X,10)


         We have completed our journey across the mala of darshans, the garland of ten visions covering the entire spectrum of manifested existence as the Guru Narayana grasped it. To call it epochal would only trivialize an excursion that in many cases has touched us to the core of our selves. Words are as inadequate to this task as they are to describing absolute Reality. Instead, we will live it and bear witness to the values we have imbibed.

         Deb started us off thinking about how the garland is fastened behind the neck, out of sight, but that there is a cyclic factor implied in the metaphor. It was almost as if she was ready to start over at the beginning! But for now we only want to merge as deeply as possible into that invisible factor that is more than all around us, it is also us. Bill drew a compromise at the end of the class by suggesting we read all the verses out loud next week, a heady review that should reactivate some recollection of the territory we’ve covered, not to mention inspiring additional appreciation for the magnificent project that Narayana Guru has bequeathed us.

         Nitya’s commentary describes a simple clay pot and a fig seed. In the first case, the entire history of the cosmos has unfolded in sequence to produce “this seeming least trifle of an event.” In the second, a trifling dot of protoplasm expands into an enormous tree with manifold ramifications. It’s germane but not mentioned that the tree produces a new seed as its pride and joy, and that the pot eventually breaks and is pulverized back to its original clay. And so each has its own mala of cyclic expression. What arrests our attention is only the most obvious stage of the whole journey from nothing to everything and back again.

         Both the pot and the tree are metaphors for our lives as well: the first of time and the second of space. When we look at who we are now, we think of ourselves in isolation, as trivial events or figures. It is easy to downplay our importance, if we don’t recall the trillions of miracles that occurred in sequence to produce our ordinary self. If we did, we would fall to our knees in gratitude, and we would be sure to play our best game all the time as a token of our appreciation of what we have inherited.

         Few people read book introductions, so I’d like to reprint a bit from this one describing the central metaphor of Darsanamala:


The garland likens consciousness to a series of ten flowers strung together on a golden thread, with a precious jewel pendant in the center. Each flower is a unitive vision, and is described with the utmost economy in ten succinct and evocative verses pregnant with implications.

  Indeed, the image of the garland to epitomize consciousness by itself conveys a number of significant ideas. First, it is a decorative article of dress that is put on and taken off. The clear implication is that the essential Being wears consciousness as a kind of ornament for a time, and when it is removed the wearer remains unchanged. This allusion is in keeping with the Guru's absolutist perspective, and is typical of the vivid poetic imagery which infuses his writings. The perfection of the image is such that we can go on extracting meaning upon meaning: a garland is often given as a gift from one to another, just as we cannot claim to be the creators of consciousness, but rather receive it from the Unknown. It often marks a significant event or celebration, just as our life has an overriding importance to us, and deserves to be celebrated. Each stage of our conscious growth is so like a flower: complex, symmetrically beautiful, complete in itself; and its tinting reminds us of the coloration of our psyche with moods and biases. The golden thread that runs through the whole is an important image, implying an invisible continuity linking the stages of life into a meaningful progression. Even the shape of the garland as it hangs around the neck is significant. The first darsana begins high up on the shoulder with the very origins of consciousness, which may be taken either in general terms or in relation to the birth of the individual. This distinction is in any case minimized in Vedanta. There is a progressive development as the garland is traced in a graceful curve of increasing objectification and subjectification down to the pendant jewel at the center of the neck: the supreme teaching and keynote of the whole, tat eva sat, "That alone exists."

  Following this high point of awareness, as it were, the garland ascends toward the other shoulder. During this second half of the work, consciousness is progressively turning inwards again. Narayana Guru's highest ideal does not, therefore, come at the close of the work proper, but slightly before the end, in the fifth verse of Nirvana Darsana.

  In fulfillment of methodological requirements in keeping with the Indian tradition of a complete presentation, Narayana Guru then goes on to include the progressive extinction of consciousness in the absolute ground.


         Since there is not much to say about this verse, we addressed some lingering questions. Aaron asked about reincarnation and faith. The Absolute is what reincarnates as all This. Who would deny that a tree produces another tree or that a person produces progeny? Whether there is a continuation of some aspect of the personality in the sequence is not speculated on by the Guru, though it is an a priori belief in many religions. Again, from the Introduction:


While it is possible that the garland, after it disappears behind the wearer's back, forms a complete loop to the first shoulder again, any such speculations are scrupulously avoided by both Narayana Guru and Guru Nitya. Their concern is a total presentation of consciousness, and no claims are made based on faith. Speculation on life after death, or any type of speculation, is placed by them in this work as belonging to a psychological reality based on the superimposition of personal values on universal values, and as such it is only a hindrance to the reduction and integration process that receives primacy here.


         Jan asked about the quote from the Mundaka Upanishad, “This Soul (Atma) is not to be obtained by instruction, nor by intellect, nor by much learning.” This is perhaps the most paradoxical notion in all of Vedanta. The essential concept is that a unitive state cannot be produce by dualistic means, period. Duality arises out of unity, and it must be abandoned to rejoin the unity that is our very nature. Since language, thought, computation and all other forms of distinction are dual, binary, of necessity relying on contrast, no amount of clever realignment of those elements is helpful to rejoin the core unity. Even terms like merger, extinction, absorption and so on are only provisional and somewhat misleading. Since life is to be lived, we can intuit that an absolute unity undergirds our existence, but we cannot possess it consciously without losing it to consciousness. What we can do, though, is harmonize the dual elements and balance them against each other, which allows us to let them go, revealing the Absolute Unity that is so easily obscured by chaotic duality. The value of a study such as ours is to sweep away extraneous complications and get to the gist of all appearances, permitting us to deal more effectively with them and also to set them aside more easily when the spirit is so inclined.

         In honor of such an idea, we finished the class with a one-pointed meditation in which we abandoned all thoughts, questions, imagery, beliefs, and all the rest, to the extent possible. To lead us into that state, music is an ideal guru. We listened to the last movement of Charles Ives’ Fourth Symphony, in which the depiction of consciousness breaking away from earthly existence and entering the empyrean is realized with amazing genius and tender beauty. I’ll include some Vedantic ideas from Ives in a supplement to these notes, but for now let it be said that we finished this superlative study by gently, gently merging into?????? From the Hundred Verses of Self Instruction of Narayana Guru, the hundredth verse:


Neither This nor That nor the content of existence am I,

But existence, subsistence, joy immortal; thus attaining clarity,

Emboldened, discarding attachment to being and non-being,

One should gently, gently merge in sat-aum.


Part II

  Ives’ Fourth Symphony is unique, and grows more profound with each listening. My Chicago Symphony recording with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting beautifully captures the mystical feel of it. Like James Joyce’s depiction of a day in Dublin in Ulysses, or Narayana Guru’s depiction of all of consciousness in Darsanamala, and similar to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in its scope, structure and grandiloquence, Ives offers us a global vision of an enlightened state of mind cut loose from linear reality and drifting off lazily into the Unknown. From the liner notes by Paul Echols:


Ever since its celebrated premier in 1965 by Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra, Ives’s Fourth Symphony has ranked as the ne plus ultra of American Symphonies…. The compositional techniques themselves represent a stylistic synthesis of Ives’s most far-reaching and arresting musical ideas, developed over two decades of experimentation. Densely layered textures are formed by superimposing two, three, and even four separate ensembles, centered on different tonalities and proceeding in different meters and tempi, constantly shifting in and out of synchronization. This polytonal, polyrhythmic fabric is not made from monolithic blocks of sound but rather from fantastically intricate webs of contrapuntal lines, moving in different rhythmic patterns and often at different dynamic levels—now prominently in the foreground, then receding to a middle or barely audible background. The individual melodic lines are frequently derived from the familiar Ivesian mix of hymn tunes and popular and patriotic songs (over thirty have been identified to date in the work). The borrowed material is sometimes directly quoted in manner intended for listeners to recognize. But just as often the tunes are skewed into shapes or fragmented into small motivic cells. As these melodic elements undergo structural transformations in a variety of ways, they skitter, in a dream-like fashion, back and forth across the threshold of perceptibility—now distinct, now fading into inaudibility…. There can be no doubt but that Ives intended his greatest work to function on one level as a set of deeply felt religious meditations.


         One of Deb’s best gifts to me ever is the boxed set of Ives’ Hundredth Anniversary recordings, which includes a fine booklet. One of the portraits of Ives in it looks strikingly like our dear Baird Smith. There are also extensive excerpts from Ives’ memos, published as a book By WW Norton in 1972. Ives’ father was a major influence in his unconventional development. Ives writes:


I have a letter of Father’s [in which he says] “The older I get (he was about 42 at this time), and the more I play music and think about it, the more certain I am that many teachers… are gradually circumscribing a great art by these rules, rules, rules, with which they wrap up the students’ ears and minds as a lady does her hair—habit and custom all underneath. They (the Professors) take these rules for granted, because some Prof taught them to them, and [before that some other] Prof taught them to them, etc., ad lib. And when you begin to really consider it, you ask ‘Why? Why do you say this should never be used—this is the right way, this is the wrong?’ They’d be surprised, sometimes dazed, and babble something that some old Prof. has told them fifty years ago.” I am fully convinced that, if music not be allowed to grow, if it’s denied the privilege of evolution that all other life and arts have, if [in the] natural processes of ear and mind it is not allowed to grow bigger by finding possibilities that nature has for music, more and wider scales, new combinations of tone, new keys and more keys and beats, and phrases together—if it just sticks (as it does today) to one key, one single and easy rhythm, and the rules made to boss them—then music, before many years, cannot be composed—everything will be used up—endless repetition of static melodies, harmonies, resolutions, and meters—and music as a creative art will die—for to compose will be but to manufacture conventionalized MUSH—and that’s about what student composers are being taught to do.


I remember, when I was a boy—at the outdoor Camp Meeting services in Redding, all the farmers, their families and field hands, for miles around, would come afoot or in their farm wagons. I remember how the great waves of sound used to come through the trees—when things like Beulah Land, Woodworth, Nearer My God To Thee, The Shining Shore, Nettleton, In the Sweet Bye and Bye and the like were sung by thousands of “let out” souls. The music notes and words were about as much like what they “were” (at those moments) as the monogram on a man’s necktie may be like his face. Father, who led the singing… would always encourage the people to sing in their own way. Most of them knew the words and music (theirs) by heart, and sang it that way. If they threw the poet or the composer around a bit, so much the better for the poetry and the music. There was power and exaltation in these great conclaves of sound from humanity. I’ve heard the same hymns played by nice celebrated organists and sung by highly-known singers in beautifully upholstered churches, and in the process everything in the music was emasculated…. They take the mountain and make a sponge cake of it, and sometimes, as a result, one of these commercial travellers gets a nice job at the Metropolitan. Today apparently even the Camp Meetings are getting easy-bodied and commercialized….

         Once a nice young man (his musical sense having been limited by three years’ intensive study at the Boston Conservatory) said to Father, “How can you stand to hear old John Bell (the best stone mason in town) sing?” (as he used to at Camp Meetings). Father said, “He is a supreme musician.” The young man (nice and educated) was horrified—“Why, he sings off the key, the wrong notes and everything—and that horrible, raucous voice—he bellows out and hits notes no one else does—it’s awful!” Father said, “Watch him closely and reverently, look into his face and hear the music of the ages. Don’t pay too much attention to the sounds—for if you do, you may miss the music. You won’t get a wild, heroic ride to heaven on pretty little sounds.”


As Vivian Perlis, editor of the booklet, put it, “But Ives did not hear pretty little tunes and he had strong opinions about the ‘lily pads’ and ‘old ladies of both sexes’ who only wanted their ears massaged with the same old music all the time.” An absolutist in music honesty and inventiveness, Ives has kept alive the spirit and vision of an individual’s relation with the Absolute in the best manner of the gurus of humankind. What I’ve quoted here dovetails perfectly with the Gurukula world view, if I may dare to name it. Yoga schools and Buddhist churches are the modern humdrum conventions of our time, filled with mediocre rule-followers seeking to escape even more egregious bastions of rules. Few grasp that the rules themselves are a crucial part of the problem. We must always struggle to stay free of the quicksand of conventionality and static, specified mindsets, so we may add one more alive person to humanity’s store. Narayana Guru invites us all to live our lives with that kind of vigorous freedom and intensity. Aum.

Scott Teitsworth