Science of the Absolute Chapter 6 - Epilogue






All intentional possibilities of action as an overall concept have to be kept in mind if we are to follow the methodology employed by Narayana Guru in this chapter. Although we have spoken in terms of instrumentalism in the Western context, there is a reversal of the terms of the equation when thought of in the context of Vedanta. The Absolute Self of Vedanta is never an actor but resembles the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle. Instead of a man looking heavenward it is the frenzy attributed to the Unmoved Mover descending into a reality representing the pure Self that is to be given primacy in Vedantic methodology. We are here touching upon the most subtle difference between karma (action) as understood in the Purva Mimamsa of Jaimini and karma as revalued by Badarayana in the Uttara Mimamsa (i.e. Vedanta) The subtlety of this problem has given rise to a vast volume of polemical literature in India. The ramifications of such literature has reached the point of impossibility. It is therefore that we must carefully and clearly discern the methodological and epistemological implications of this chapter.

There is a paradox to be transcended here with the help of maya (the principle of error). All negative and positive factors hiding the pure unity, simplicity and reality of the Absolute are attributed to this principle meant to cover all philosophical error. It was clearly recognized as a negative principle in the fourth chapter. Now some of its necessary, though relativistic, positive aspects have to be thought of in connection with this mysterious factor of indeterminism or unpredicability. Paradox cannot be transcended by philosophy without the help of some such notion and the use of the term "Maya" is only meant to effect without absurdity the transition through the a posteriori and a priori methods of reasoning.


In order to clarify the methodological and epistemological implications let us start by referring to a verse in the Bhagavad Gita (IV.18), where the paradoxical relation between action and inaction are brought out in most categorical and unequivocal terms:

"One who is able to see action in inaction
and inaction in action, he among men is intelligent;
he is one of unitive attitude (yogi)
while still engaged in every possible kind of work." (1)

The two sources of action referred to are not unlike the two-fold seat of frenzy employed by Bergson. Here, however, it is preferable to think of these two factors in terms of the Self. There is an acting Self which, as the unmoved mover is behind all action. Its counterpart would represent the non-Self aspect of the same, when thought of as a conceivable whole or unit entity comprising all intentional or possible actions. In fact, strictly speaking, we need to refer to four different orders of selves: two horizontal and two vertical. This is to serve the purposes of our discussion of the dynamism of the fourfold structure of the Self, and is fully acceptable to the Gita (VI.6) where this fourfold reference is used:

"The Self is dear to one (possessed) of Self,
by whom even the Self by the Self has been won;
for one not (possessed) of Self,
the Self would be in conflict with the very Self,
as it were an enemy" (2)


In previous chapters the ontological Self, though still negative, was revealed with its double set of counterparts in consciousness, giving primacy to the existent. In this chapter the accent is on the subsistent, but the reference to the existent is only to be abandoned in the verses that follow. The arrow between the equation of the Self and non-Self points upwards or downwards as required by each item of dialectical reasoning which the critical reader must recognize carefully for himself. Always the same central normalizing value in the Self is to be given primacy over all other rival selves.

Further we have to notice that actions are meant to resemble dream activity, belonging to the same subtle order. The monstrous actual world of machines cannot easily be accommodated into a world of dreams. Those dreams with more subjective yet horizontalized values involved, might be pleasant; but those with vertical yet objective values might be disturbing nightmares.


Mechanics normally refers to a horizontalized version of reality or value. In contemplation it is a verticalized world that gains primacy. A fanwise expansion in a world of ever-increasing opportunities is not to be kept in mind here. That would belong to a world of contemplative horizontal values. All actions are meant finally to narrow down into purer contemplative wisdom values, so as to take us to the subject-matter of the next chapter. The three dimensions of the structuralism referring to the laws of physics or logical thought tend to get absorbed thus into the pure vertical fourth dimension. This process has been described by Bergson as comparable to the river Rhone flowing into the Lake of Geneva at one end and emerging from it at the other. Bergson's lake analogy is broader or more pragmatic than what is kept in mind by Narayana Guru in this chapter. If we draw an imaginary line across the broadest part of the lake we could get two counterparts between which action and retroaction are constantly establishing homeostatic equilibrium. It is this equilibrium in the domain of rival activities that constitutes the central theme of this chapter.


It is this schematically subjective pair of selves of which are subjected to a backward and forward equation in view of a unitive Self. The central neutral Self is neither an effect nor a cause when certitude about it is finalized. Vedanta stands in no need of ratiocination as in the revalued Vedism of the Purva Mimamsa, where the apurva (a rare unseen value of action) is an effect of action.

The Vedantin wishes to verticalize and reverse this position, and to see the Self neither as a cause nor an effect, but rather as a central Absolute, combining existence, subsistence, and value without contradiction.

In the concluding words of his commentary on the first four sutras (called the catussutri) of the Brahma Sutras, we find Sankara masterly summing up the position of Vedantic methodology. We read in I.1.4:


"As (values such as) son and body, etc, are nullified, as being relative or non-valid, how can the knowledge result of such order as "I am the existent Absolute" ?

Before what is to be inquired into as Self- knowledge, there is inquirerhood for the Self; even when inquired into, this inquiring agent itself is free from all sin or fault.

Just as in worldly matters the terms "body", "soul" etc. are used for purposes of certitude, so too is this a valid instrument of reasoning for certitude regarding the self." (3)

The reversal of methodology has to be carefully discerned in the above text. It will be seen that there is a purification and verticalization of two rival selves by Sankara, one of which is a referent and the other a reference, for arriving at a non-ambiguous certitude in respect of the non-dual Self. There are two sets of pramanas (instruments of knowledge) to be distinguished. The first is referred to as laukika (worldly), while the other equates the ontological and teleological selves in the same context as the Transcendental Aesthetic of Kant. Both the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle and the highest Good of Plato can be easily accommodated in this verticalized version adopted by Sankara .


The difference depends only on a double-sided correction to arrive at a neutral Self. Such a Self is both ontological and teleological at once, as a cause needing no other cause. Ascending and descending dialectics neutralize each other here. One is permitted to say that man is God and God is man. "This here" can be equated to "that there" or vice-versa. A further elaboration of this double-sided method is found in Sankara's commentary on the Brahma Sutras (IV.1.7). A thorough reading of this will be very helpful to the reader.



The position of this chapter is a very special one coming after Chapter 5 which is fully ontological and where the last verse is clearly a mahavakya in an inverse form: sad eva tat "that is existent".

There the ontological Self was purified of all unreality, but the existent character was still retained. In passing over from the ontological side to the domain of metaphysics a paradox has to be transcended. This paradoxical element is Maya hiding truth and is not only capable of producing errors horizontally, which can be finally negated by a negation of all negations, but also has a positive counterpart referring to knowledge (vidya), to be confirmed by double assertion.


Conceptualism through general ideas produces errors in the same way as negative perceptualism. Within the domain of physics the error is produced by horizontal conditionings called upadhis, while in metaphysics conceptual factors having an teleological status are called adhyasa or superimpositions. The Self and the non-Self of this chapter move on the plus side of the vertical axis with an equation indicating a slight descending dialectical reasoning between them for purposes of methodology and value appreciation. We find it definitely stated in the last verse of this chapter that the Self is of a superimposed order called adhyasa (conditioned). Altogether, there is a fourfold possibility of error or certitude, tending to make speculation very thin. The untrained person too much in love with the usual operations based on probabilities, as understood in modern science, is likely to remain unconvinced about the type of argument or evidence adduced here for arriving at certitude. Here we have a teleological self equated back to an ontological one.

We have already referred to the important verse in the Bhagavad Gita (IV.18) showing the method used by Vedanta in transcending paradox. It is Maya that presents the paradox with all its complications and dual implications. It has been therefore called the principle of unpredicability or incertitude.

This Maya principle is treated here as a rival specificatory power or factor, capable of attributing all actions to the actionless Self. It must refer to an abstract conceptual principle of error at the extreme limits of the non-Self. This non-Self and the real Self have a reciprocal interaction, resulting in a fan-like expansion of tendencies in the pure Self which is its own vertical counterpart. Thus, the four-fold limbs of the quaternion enter into interplay, producing desires, knowledge and action, resulting in apparent nominal manifestation by the meeting of counterparts. The fourfold structure of the Self and the non-Self of the previous chapter was equated upwards and ontologically absorbed at the end. Here the superimposed Self is to be equated down, though retaining its status as a positive reference.


The central Self which is the referring one, is itself as near to the neutral ontological and teleological Absolute as possible, allowing the transition from physics to metaphysics to take place. The argument here moves within impossibilities and probabilities as well as between possibilities and improbabilities. As a result much reliance has to be placed on self-sufficing reasoning (svayam-pramanata). We find for example in Sankara's commentary on the Brahma Sutras (IV.1.7) a typical argument by possibility to the question whether we should sit while meditating. Sankara says, "because of possibility it is better to meditate while sitting". Characteristically enough, he does not adduce cogent reasoning from actualities but merely states that sitting is a superior way of meditating to lying or standing because it is possible.
In the Indian logic used by Sankara and others, impossibility and even possibility of one instance under various probabilities, support arguments based on postulation (arthapatti) and impossibility (anupalabdhi). These are the best weapons in the hands of the Vedantin, to be used advantageously against all merely analytic or positive arguments advanced by any rival school of philosophy.
Although Vedanta recognizes other arguments it does not rely on them much. Although analogy is used everywhere in speculation by critical and non-critical philosophy, Vedanta does not use it that much either.
Although the certitude in this chapter is rather thin, it is nonetheless scientific because it transcends paradox through reason. The various attempts even by mathematicians to resolve paradox, including the magnificent case of the Russell Paradox left unconvincing, proves this difficulty of recognizing paradox, not to speak of attempting to solve it in any valid scientific manner.



From the scrutiny of the text of this chapter and Narayana Guru´s own elaboration of items of activity we notice first that they are meant to be conceived of on the basis of an interchangeability between instruments and action. The linking of mysticism with the machine, as found in Bergson's instrumentalism, makes such action as implied in the frenzy of a Joan of Arc, riding on a horse to fight a battle in obedience to the will of God, a truly laudable type of mysticism, understandable in the pragmatic context of technocratic civilization.
Mysticism can include such rare cases as exceptions proving the rule, but the rule has to belong to a more subdued contemplative context wherein expansive horizontalizing tendencies are still kept under reasonable limits, and pure acts can compensate them by their own innate verticalizing tendency. Viewed in such a homogeneous perspective, a Science of the Absolute can only accommodate within its scope milder forms of subjective activity referring to the spirit. In keeping with this treatment of activity the Bhagavad Gita (V.8-9) gives us a pure version of activity whose orientation is vertical rather than a horizontal one.
We read:

"'I do nothing at all' - saying this, he of unitive ways, who is a philosopher (too), should think and, (while) seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, going, sleeping, breathing, speaking, excreting, grasping, opening and closing the eyes, treating the senses to be (merely) related to their (corresponding) sense-objects." (4)

Narayana Guru says the three functions of the Self as an instrument are: desire, knowledge and activity, having a gradation occupying successively three points within the instrument in a positive series in the vertical axis.


When these three levels of the non-Self at the tip of the vertical axis are cancelled out by a one-to-one correspondence with their three counterparts on the negative side of the vertical axis, the resulting certitude characterizes the activity of the neutral Self as a pure Unmoved Mover.
Narayana Guru includes as typical instances such activities as thinking, speaking, grasping and hearing. They are to be viewed almost as automatisms possessed even by a new born babe. It should be noted that these activities are not to be looked upon unilaterally. They are referred to in the commentary in each case as applicable to their respective subjective agencies or selves, and are made to tally with the activities as concepts belonging to the plus side.

As for other examples of generalized activity in the context of the Self and non-Self treated together we refer to the five items in Narayana Guru's comment to Verse 2. They are rising, falling, contracting, expanding and moving. The structural implications of these five movements are easy enough to understand. The last item refers to this horizontal motion. All these activities have to be inside a circle and equated with the instrument also treated as a unit counterpart. The resultant is absolute action as a mystical value. The pure mystical content of the heart of a Joan of Arc, when thought of unmixed with any exaggerated religious or political implications, need not be considered as falling outside the scope of absolute activity as it is to be understood in this chapter.



In Verse 6 select aspects of phenomenal activity are under reference. They are evidently meant to have a coherence between them. It is openly stated that although these phenomenal functionings are seen as distinct expressions of the operation of natural laws, they have all to be understood as one. The unifying element is the Self or the "I'' sense in each person, more overtly referred to in Verse 5 as a concept rather than an inner experience.


Activities, however varied at any level of psycho-physical life, have to refer to the Self which holds them together as a unifying principle. The varied and expansive cosmological functions in nature are capable of being comprised within the scope of the absolute Self, at whatever level they might find a chance to operate. Fire that burns, wind that blows, water that showers, the earth that supports enabling rivers to flow on its surface, have between them a functional and schematic unity when related to consciousness. Each function can be justified only when thought of in terms of unique Self, as implied in the word dharatma or supporting Self.

The five functions seem to suggest a five-fold structure belonging also to the five elementals. The five functional units called pranas (vital tendencies) also conform to this fivefold structural pattern. Besides the overt phenomenal aspects of Verse 6, there is a similar reference to functions within the body which raise or lower and contract or expand horizontally.

From elementals to the highest of intelligible Platonic entities of the universe there are a number of possible functional sets or units. This idea seems to be directly supported by Narayana Guru. We find in the Upanishads many references to these pentads such as the pancagni or five-fold fires. Narayana Guru also accepts a double tired fivefold structure in his comparison of the Self to a revolving lamp hanging high and burning in shadow form.(See Verse 7 of the Atmopadesa Satakam).

The reference to functions inside the body could also be recognized as psycho-physical auscultations. In Verse 7 those activities are referred to as fundamental inner activities also capable being fitted into a structural pattern common to both physics and metaphysics. A schematism belonging to the whole series of verses, when recognized will be helpful in linking them under one master-discipline.


The highest point in the series is found in the ninth verse where the conceptual version of activity attains to a thin degree of abstraction still with the vertical axis for reference on the non-Self side. Kutastha, translated by us as "well-founded", strictly means "rock-fixed". This second meaning is more in keeping with what Narayana Guru means here. Even as a general concept comprising all forms of activity in a dreamlike manner, it is capable of being compared to the silverness of the mother-of-pearl which is a mere superimposed effect and not a basic cause. It belongs to the domain of Maya in its ultimate and positive implications. Although Maya taken as a whole has a greater part of its function on the negative side this positive aspect is also very important. This is because Maya can participate with the bright and dark sides of reality as a basic principle of ambiguity.

The exact number of pentads included in the series ranging from the function of the elementals to the highest intelligibles cannot be fixed even with the help of the Upanishads. Sankara, in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras (11.4.5) also mentions how in the Upanishads there are found differences in the exact number of pranas. In trying to solve this his reasoning is similar to the question one may ask of captain of a cricket team, "How many players do you have?" He can truthfully answer, "We have thirteen (including extras) but only eleven players at a time on the field". In the same way we can fix a higher number of pentads ranging from top to bottom and not fix the actual number. It will be sufficient to recognize the bottom items of the series as perceptual and operating within the body, while the top items are of a conceptual order operating within the universe. Both belong unitively together in the same scheme, with the absolute Self as the linking element. The numerical figures are better when not rigidly fixed.


The difference even between conceptual and perceptual units is not important when they are organically related to an overall structure. The distinction is nominal only. It will be noticed in the last verse that Narayana Guru takes care to put the "I'' in a direct form of speech. This is evidently to avoid the confusion between the rival wills of God and Man which has vitiated much of Western mysticism. In Vedanta it is not a sacrilege but a merit to say straight away, "I am God". There are no ecclesiastical authorities to persecute individuals, as in the cases of Descartes, Bruno, Spinoza, Eckhart and many others who had always to keep an eye open for inquisitional orthodoxy. This meant they could not always openly say what they wished.

Thus it is the "I" that links all grades of functional units of activity, from prime matter to the highest Good. This "I" runs through all mystical or spiritual values from the bottom to the top or vice-versa, eliminating the obnoxious distinction between obeying the "will of God" and one's own true will or voice within. In keeping with a unified Science of the Absolute they are treated here as interchangeable at all levels.



Every religious and philosophical expression in India promises spiritual emancipation and freedom from suffering. The Karma Darsana has also to be treated as implying the same promise. Of the Purva and Uttara Mimamsas this is also true. They both adopt the same frame of reference, technical terms, semantic principles and a similar though complementary methodology. The logic implied in both Mimamsas gives primacy to sabda-pramana (the validity of the word) although the Purva Mimamsa tends to be more realistic in emphasizing the importance of the material and visible world.


The logical way of criticism and speculation is of a more common-sense nature with the Purva Mimamsa. No principle of Maya is found in its method, but the subtle dialectics of structural units belonging to ritualism is employed by Jaimini. Ritual is intended to produce, as an effect, an unseen result (apurva). The ascent from gauna (the relativistic) to the highest point of the apurva at the top of the vertical axis is of the essence of spiritual progress according to the anterior critique of the Purva Mimamsa.

Instead of rejecting all these presuppositions we find Badarayana accepting them. He does not deny the apurva but instead himself postulates a brahman or Absolute for his descending dialectical method. This is also supposed to produce freedom from suffering and spiritual emancipation. Throughout the Brahma Sutras we find this methodology belonging to the same context of Vedic ritualism. Jaimini wholly approves of ritualism, while Badarayana and Sankara tolerate it as useful at times and inevitable in many cases. It is at this point of the meeting of the two tendencies that the equation of karma and akarma has its meaning as a double-sided process involving a verticalized equation between the Self and the non-Self.

If the reader admits such an outline as plausible it will not be difficult to see that in this chapter Narayana Guru has only purified and verticalized the double dialectics involved, fitting it into a unified darsana for his own purposes. This answers the question why Narayana Guru has no longer any use for what is often talked about in the context of Indian spirituality as karma-yoga. The requirements of such a discipline are already implied here and Narayana Guru is satisfied with making a passing reference to karma-yoga in the Yoga Darsana and also in the Nirvana Darsana. Action in spirituality is a necessary evil.


It is wisdom that has to triumph as a more scientific or higher principle. In these verses referring to Karma we read how it is to be transcended by one who follows a pure line of spiritual progress. The Bhagavad Gita (11.49-50), while devoting a chapter to Karma, still categorically states its inferiority:

"Far inferior is (the way of) action to the unitive way of reason 0 Dhanamjaya (Arjuna); resort to reason for final refuge; pitiable are they who are benefit-motivated.

Affiliated to reason one leaves behind here both meritorious and unmeritorious deeds. Therefore affiliate yourself to the unitive way (of Yoga); Yoga is reason in action". (5)

In the Gita, IV, 19 and 37, action is treated in the same way as in the Upanishads. The first verse refers to jnanagni or the fire of wisdom where all works are reduced to naught and the second verse refers to the fire of wisdom reducing all work to ashes.


We read:

"That man whose works are all devoid of desire and wilful motive, whose (impulse of) action has been reduced to nothing in the fire of wisdom, he is recognized as a knowing person (pandit) by the wise. Just as fire when kindled reduces to ashes the fuel, 0 Arjuna, likewise the fire of wisdom reduces all works to ashes". (6)

The Gita also develops a much misunderstood teaching of desireless action known as nishkamakarma. Any wish for results belongs to the Purva Mimamsa. The Gita (XV.3) elsewhere unequivocally says one should first cut down the asvattha, representing the tree of holy relativistic value-systems of the context of Vedism.


Transcending the level in which Karma is tolerated as a necessary evil so as to rise into the domains of pure freedom is a very delicate problem. One accents Karma and in a certain way also rejects it. In the Brahma Sutras (IV.1.18-19) the subtleties of this question are first brought out by Sankara in Sutra 18:
"By the 'power' of work we understand its capacity of effecting its purpose. We therefore accept as settled the following conclusion: all works of permanent obligation, such as the agnihotra (fire sacrifice), whether joined with or devoid of knowledge, which have been performed before the rise of true knowledge, either in the present state of existence or a former one, by a person desirous of release with a view to release; all such works act, according to their several capacities, as means of the extinction of evil desert which obstruct the attainment of Brahman, and thus become causes of such attainment subserving the more immediate causes such as the hearing of and reflecting on the sacred texts, faith, meditation, devotion, etc. They therefore operate towards the same effect as the knowledge of Brahman." (7)

Sankara now answers a question about works continuing after the death of an emancipated man:
"After the death of the body there no longer exists any cause for such continuance; while up to death there is such a cause, viz. the extinction of the remainder of works to be enjoyed." (8)


Replying to another question about a new aggregate of works causing a new enjoyment, Sankara replies:
"Not so, we reply; since the seed of all such fruition is destroyed. What, on the death of the body, could originate a new period of fruition, is only a new set of works, and works depend on false knowledge; but such false knowledge is completely destroyed by perfect intuition. When therefore the works whose effects have begun are destroyed, the man who knows necessarily enters into the state of perfect isolation." (9)

The final doctrine arrived at here no doubt leaves the modern reader gasping. What we would like to add by way of help, is that at least as a reference for the guidance of spiritual instincts the structural implications of Vedic ritualism need not be considered altogether superfluous. An attitude of respect for perennial values helps the aspirant in his superior affiliation to the Science of the Absolute. As we have already said there is a subtle principle of compensation and reciprocity between the counterparts of action and non-action.
Beginning with the elementals as a structural unit with their corresponding action there are endless states of spiritual stability, each one to be considered valuable to the person concerned. Emancipation is a stable form of happiness, resulting from the cancellation of the Self and the non-Self aspects. This personal value is very important to recognize because of the impossibility for anyone of thinking of anything they are not capable of understanding.
We might add in passing that vidhis (obligations) are also referred to by Narayana Guru. Vedanta is usually considered as free from obligations, but as long as wrong actions are possible vidhis have to be respected, as for example, when we say in the chemistry laboratory that one must not pour water into concentrated acids but the opposite is permissible. The obligation spoken of by Narayana Guru is not to be taken as part of Vedism. Looked at in this way, every vidhi has a nisheda (prohibition) belonging to it.


The present chapter also very easily accommodates Spinoza's notion of an "absolute thinking substance", giving it fully operational or functional status. In algebra a function is more of a concept than a percept, while in the physical sciences it is the reverse. In the context of an absolute thinking substance represented by the "I" of Narayana Guru, this pure functional notion need not be repugnant to the spirit of a revalued Vedanta. In fact in the very first verse of the Atmopadesa Satakam, Narayana Guru uses the word karu derived from kri (to do) which also suggests karana (instrument). The term karu as the locus of all activities also comes very close to the absolute thinking substance.
Just as crude ritualism, anterior to its revaluation by Jaimini, has no value as a science, so too, crude action without correct dialectical revaluation should fall outside the scope of karma-yoga. Yet we find in modern India the vogue of calling any active man, even mere politicians and engineers, by this high sounding term. Perhaps for laudatory purposes any meaningless title can be used. Much of what passes for Yoga does not deserve to be included in its scope as a discipline to be understood in a dialectical rather than a mechanistic ratiocinative context.



When placed in its proper perspective the special instrumental or operational point of view is not for us the determining factor. Bergson's analysis of the structure and dynamics of mysticism has also been helpful to us in developing our own point of view. But mysticism as understood in the Vedantic context makes an important distinction between what is called sattvik (pure-clear) action and just ordinary activity. In Vedanta it is a verticalized version of mysticism that is important. This type of mysticism is also found in Buddhism and Taoism. All other expressions are either rajasik (active-passionate) or tamasik (dark-inert) and are of an inferior non-spiritual order.


The mystical expression of Western Civilization with its "Christian charity" and its mystical expression does not correspond to the pure mysticism largely taken for granted in India. We cannot linger here for a comparative study of the two expressions. We can only say that, for the most part, Christian mysticism is a horizontalized version of the purer mysticism of the East. In the mysticism of Vedanta the key words are santih (peace) and ahimsa (non-killing because of a general love of all life). This is also true of Buddhism and Taoism. A horizontalized version of active mysticism, it is true, is more compatible with the progressive motives such as democracy and pragmatism characterizing the modern West. Compassion for all life is one of the key values in Buddhism and this value has been appreciated throughout India. When an Indian peasant finds that it is natural for a Christian priest or man of good works to take a gun on a Sunday afternoon and go out and kill animals for his table, the peasant loses whatever respect he had for such "Christian charity". Such cases as that of a father killing his son who went to hunt with a priest are not infrequent in India, as one such instance is known to the writer himself. Full-flooded generosity to all created beings is a sublimated form of pure action as in electromagnetics.
Without abandoning the analogy of the machine we can think of its apparently motionless spinning flywheel which combines motionlessness with the essence of motion. Narayana Guru in this chapter adopts the same technique of combining action and inaction, as belonging together to the same Self. There is no question of pessimism or asceticism here. Instead a higher conception of spiritual activity is presented which does not lose any of its essence when sublimated in term of higher contemplative standards.


Sattva refers to this higher mode of activity in the context of the three nature modalities of the Samkhya philosophy, completely accepted by Narayana Guru. In fact, this way of thinking is taken for granted in Indian philosophy and one is hardly able to question it at the present time. There is really no need to question it either, because we find that in other important respects Bergson's own law of two-fold frenzy conforms basically to the same frame of reference.
Mysticism is so deeply engrained in the life of the common people of India that it is not possible to find conspicuous examples of its striking expression, as is so easily done in the active and zealous context of Christian mysticism. The popular appeal of a Mahatma Gandhi is essentially mystical. Though, as Bergson suggests, Western influences might have operated in the case of Gandhi and perhaps even of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, whom he brackets together as exceptional examples of the new Christian-oriented mysticism of India, we on our part are more interested in the purer forms of mysticism as a contemplative activity where the red glow of human sympathy for all life characterizes the best of Eastern spirituality. Activity, pure reason, and the white glow of higher mysticism have all to be treated together. Absolutist mysticism cannot draw a line between human happiness and the happiness belonging naturally to the rest of life. The negative notion of non-killing is balanced with a positive notion of love of all life. Like moonlight spread equally on the huts of a quiet and peaceful sea-side village, it is the feeling and activity involved in the uniform spreading of sympathy to all life that is the essential element here. Understood under the aegis of the Absolute and under the guiding watchwords of santi and ahimsa, mystical activity and expression take the form of an absolutely open or generous outlook, for which intellectual awareness or reason or attitudes of behaviour are but natural corollaries. Instead of giving specific instances of Eastern mysticism as promised in the Prologue, we have decided to refer to two poems of Narayana Guru containing a graded examination of the sentiments of kindliness, generosity and love of all life, treated together as the proper mystical outlook for an absolutist way of life.


The first poem is called Anukampa Dasakam (Ten Verses on mercy):




Such Mercy that even to an ant
Would brook not the least harm to befall,
0 Mercy-Maker, do vouchsafe with contemplation
Which from Thy pure Presence never strays.

Grace yields blessedness, a heart Love-empty
Disaster spells of every kind.
Darkness as Love's effacer and as suffering's core,
Is seed to everything.

Grace, Love, Mercy - All the three -
Stand for one same reality - Life's Star.
"He who loves is he who really lives" Do learn
These syllables nine by heart in place of lettered charm.


Without the gift of Grace, a mere body
Of bone and skin and tissue foul is man,
Like water lost in desert sand,
Like flower or fruit bereft of smell.

Those phases six that life do overtake
Invade not wisdom's pure domain;
Likewise the Mercy quality, when human form has gone
In good reputation's form here endures.

That dispenser of Mercy, could he not be that reality
Who proclaiming words of supreme import, the chariot drives,
Or compassion's ocean, ever impatient for all creation
Or even he who in terms clear non-dual wisdom, expounds, the Guru?

In human form here is He not a God
Or perhaps the Law of Right living in sacred human form?
Is He the pure begotten Son of the Lord Most High?
Or kindly prophet, Nabi, pearl and gem in one.?

Is he that soul personified who with holy ashes once
Fever chased away and many wonders worked?
Or yet the other of psychic power who, wandering in agony
Allayed his ventral distress even with song?

Else is he that sage of crowning fame who uttered once again
That holy script already known and writ in Hara´s name?
Or he devoted to the value of the Lord Supreme
Who here departed bodily ere life here from him was stilled?


Dispensing bounty here on earth and taking human form
Is He not that Kamadhenu Cow of all-providing Good
Dispensing bounty here on earth and taking human form,
The Deva-Taru which to each its gifts bestows?



High scriptures meaning, antique, rare,
Or meaning as by Guru taught,
And what mildly a sage conveys,
And wisdom's branches of every stage,
Together they all belong,
As one in essence, in substance same.


In the above verses it should be noted that Sankara, who is supposed to be primarily an intellectual, is alluded to as, "Or who in terms of clear non-dual wisdom expounds ...." The second selection refers pointedly to ahimsa. One cannot claim to carry the Lamb of God as a Good Shepherd on one's shoulders and have it on the table the next night without some sense of emotional conflict or contradiction. Even children understand this by the way they act when a favourite cock of the barnyard is served on the table.


The second poem is called Jivakarunya-Pancakam (Five Verses on Kindness to Life):




All are of one Self-fraternity.
Such being the dictum to avow,
In such light, how can we take life,
And devoid of least pity go on to eat?

The non-killing vow is great indeed,
And greater still, not-eating to observe;
All in all, should we not say, O men of righteousness,
Even to this amounts the essence of all religions?

If killing came to be applied to oneself,
Who, as a favour, would treat such a dire destiny?
As touching all in equality, o ye wise ones,
Should that not be our declaration for a regulated life?

No killer would there be if no other to eat there was-
Perforce, himself must eat!
In-eating thus abides the cruder ill
In that it killing makes.

Non-killing makes a human good --
Else an animal's equal he becomes,
No refuge, has the taker of life,
Although to him all other benefits accrue.



In this chapter action or Karma is to be distinguished from gross activity. It is rather a process taking place between the counterparts of the Self and the non-Self belonging together to the context of the Absolute Self. The Self is nearer to ontological reality and is here compared to an instrument or an organ in less mechanistic terms. What results from such an interaction may be gross or subtle expressions of activity resulting from their bilateral interaction.

Instrumentalism puts the accent on the ontological side. When the balance is correctly struck between the two counterparts, the resulting activity will resemble various forms of contemplative Mysticism. Although its striking and overt expressions might help us to diagnose its true character, they do not directly indicate the content of its true absolutist activity. It is therefore contemplative activity of a subdued kind that we should think of in connection with the whole of this chapter. The non-Self is here compared to a silvery gleam superimposed on a mother-of-pearl.


The means of action is the instrumental Self, and the ends are marked by the high goal of absolutist essence or value. The relational link between ends and means which are not in reality distinct, is the uncertain and ambiguous notion of Maya. Although Maya has been treated in its negative implications in the fourth chapter, it is not without its positive side as uncertainty moves between being and non-being.

Besides these features to be kept in mind, we have to notice that several grades of the Self are implied. The supreme Self (paramatma), the Self of pure reason and the senses (cittendriyatma), and the living Self (jivatma) have their places in an ascending scale beginning with the living Self and ending with the supreme Self. On final analysis the multiplicity of Selfs are not to be recognized, but to be laid at the door of Maya still hanging over from the ontological side. Any vestiges of horizontalism in a merely relational sense is in principle due to Maya. By a descending equation of the Self with the non-Self, Maya is finally abolished and all are cancelled out in the pure absolute Self. Perfect verticalization between the various concepts of the "I'' establishes a link between them which also vanishes. Finally, the levels used for linguistic communication are transcended and this is when we attain the pure Absolute in this chapter as in every other chapter as an integrating norm. We now give a summary of the verses of this chapter.


Verse 1. The reference to taijasah (the dream-agent) indicates that the activity here is not of a gross, inert or mechanistic order. It is a verticalized version of contemplative activity, productive of pure mystical states of mind. A fine and fluid world of events is to be imagined here. The ontological Self has emerged as a concept in this chapter instead of being a percept as in the last chapter. Epistemology and ontology can be treated inclusively in an integrated Science of the Absolute. In every case it is a conceptual Self we have to think of after crossing the middle of the work where the neutral Self was implied. It is not a subject nor object of predication, and like the Tao its reality suffers even by being named. This neutral point is the normative reference for all spirituality, including the attaining of the Absolute indicated in the last chapter.

This first verse gives the central place to any nameable Self as a concept as soon as this chapter permits the author to take his position from the neutral to the positive one. The instrumental status of the Self is brought out by the reference to the multiplicity of actions as possible effects. All these effects are however supported by the instrumental Self as indicated from the expression bahurupadhrik (bearing many forms). Its self-sufficiency is underlined by the term svaprakasa (self-luminous), while its perfect aloofness or loneliness without any horizontal implications is like the Unmoved Mover and is underlined by the term asanga (detached). A pure verticalized version of the Self is thus indicated as a concept. This Self is to be equated with its counterpart as necessary to any discussion on contemplative activity.


Verse 2. Here the only point to be noted front Narayana Guru's own commentary is the sameness implied between the paramatma (Supreme Self) and the cittendriyatma (the Self of pure reason and the senses).


Verse 3. The relation between clay and pot or seed and sprout is a vertical one. This is the same as the cause-and-effect relationship of Vedanta. One is derivable from the other. It is permissible for the Nyaya and Vedanta philosophies to speak of the prior non-existence of a pot and the clay from which it posteriorly sprang. Cause and effect can be equated both ways and give the same reality. It is in this sense that we find the term purvam (prior) pointing to the ontological side of reality.


Verse 4. The ambiguous principle of incertitude necessarily acting as a link between the Self and the non-Self is found in this verse. It persists from the ontological side of negativity and encroaches into the domain of concepts.

The term aropyate (is attributed) suggests an agency on the part of Maya. This has to come from the side of the non-Self as a concept. It is a horizontalizing factor of nescience whose essence cannot belong to any other reality than the pure verticalized Self. The horizontal and vertical tendencies belong to the same Self, at least as references. It is this horizontal factor that is at the root of the multiplicity of things and their interactions. The vertical Self is always independent of such.


Verse 5. This verse refers to the attitude of the wise man (jnah) He has merely to recognize the verity of the fully verticalized status of the Self to be established correctly in the context of the Absolute. By this sort of detachment he remains without the blemish of pluralistic activities that might tarnish his pure Self, independent of all horizontal factors. The only impediment to such a pure state is the ignorance caused by Maya. Once this horizontal tendency is transcended, ignorance disappears.


Verse 6. In this verse phenomenal aspects of cosmology are brought together into a structural unity so as to be equated upwards to the world of pure intelligibles or downwards to the world of perceptual ontological events within the microcosmic counterpart of the universe, having the same structure as the macrocosmic. The laws of nature hold good here. Cosmological events are to be treated as pure algebraic functions so as to be held together by the same Self linking cosmology and psychology.

The one (ekah) referred to is no other than the absolute Self. Here the wind and the river with its flowing movements can be thought of as belonging to complementary structural aspects; the wind being nailed, as it were, to the sky, and the flowing river to the solid earth. The Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads faintly suggest such a structural elaboration.

The linking of the earth as supporter with the term atma is justified because of the rich ontological status of the earth in preference to the sky. Even the sky, when subjected to proper methodological reduction can be given a symmetrical parity with the earth as its negative counterpart.

Rain represents a central value as a beneficent quality blessing him that gives and him that receives. The Tirukkural of Tiruvalluvar also treats rain in this absolutist fashion independently of ends and means:

"Rain creates fit food for them that eat and is itself their food,
Should the sky run dry, there would be neither festivals nor worship (for the Gods) here." (10)


Verse 7. The inner vital tendencies in the most abstract conceptual terms referring to their distinguishing sound or directions are treated here in a unitive manner. When equated with the cosmological unit, the abolishing of the vertical difference imagined by ignorance takes place and the contemplation of the neutral Self is induced. The term sthitah (fixed or remaining) refers to the central one (ekah) which is at the centre of every structural unit, whether cosmological or psychological in the vertical series. Immobility is suggested by this word and points its arrow toward the ontological Unmoved Mover.


Verse 8. The cosmic process from a horizontalized perspective with its creation, subsistence and re-absorption going on eternally and cyclically is equated and abolished in favour of a verticalized version of the Self. Two spiral processes originating at the two poles should be imagined here. The term asti (is or exists) refers to the ontological, and vinasanam refers to the teleological. However this latter does not in reality refer to the Self.


Verse 9. This verse underlines the self-sufficiency and independence of the Self as conceived by a wise man (kovidah) standing independently, as it were, above all conceivable phenomena. The term kutastha (well-founded one, or rock fixed) clearly suggests this. The "I'' (aham) is really the supreme Self beyond all plurality found in the world of the intelligibles. As the supreme Self it represents the goal of all spiritual aspirations.


Verse 10. The second half of this verse finalizes the status of the Absolute understood on the plus side; while the first half detracts from its ontological reality. It is of the order of superimposition (adhyasa), in the sense that concepts are raised above sense data, revealing the empirical world. This high Self belongs to the metaphysical context which is repugnant to modern positivists and empiricists etc. and denounced as "nonsense". It is true that such a Self is not within the range of percepts but raised beyond even the plurality of concepts. Still its validity cannot be questioned if axiomatic thinking in which mathematics thrives is also acceptable to physicists for arriving at their laws and theories.


The Absolute cannot tolerate the duality of subject and object. The very fact of being the content of a concept detracts from the reality of the Self. It is, therefore, compared by Narayana Guru to the epiphenomenon or iridescence imagined in a mother-of-pearl shell.

The terms ekah (one) and eva (even), however, make amends for what has been taken away from the full absolute status of this highest Self. It is further underlined by the terms adya (today) and svopi (as also tomorrow) attesting to its eternal character. This verse finally equates the highest Self backwards to the full status of the central normative Absolute.

By way of conclusion let us add that there is no direct reference in the text to mysticism. As we have said, mysticism is a by-product of the interaction of the Self with the non-Self. When a machine runs smoothly because of intelligent handling and care, no throbbing vibrations are produced. The instrumentalism intended by Narayana Guru belongs to such an order of pure participation between the Self and the non-Self. The examples of mysticism we have given are meant only to clarify structural and other implications of the possible manifold activity between the Self and the non-Self. When finally merged, in principle no action is possible. Action however has to be understood as a reality that cannot be overlooked as existing as a reality outside the vision of the Absolute.



[1] Bhagavad Gita, p.236


[2] Bhagavad Gita, p.287


[3] Our translation


[4] Bhagavad Gita, pp.264-265.


[5] Bhagavad Gita, p.158.


[6] Bhagavad Gita, p.237 and p.,250, resp.


[7] Ved. Sut. Comm. Sank., Vol II, p. 362


[8] Ved. Sut. Comm. Sank., Vol II, p. 363


[9] Ved. Sut. Comm.Sank., Vol.II,p. 363.


[10] "Tirukkural", trans. M Rajagopala Aiyangar, 1950, (Madras, S. India) Verses 12 and 18, resp.