Divya Drishti: A Preliminary Analysis (Extracts)

Professor Upendra Baxi, Delhi

I am here at the command of Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati, or Satyam, as I fondly call him. Satyam and I go back a long way. Ours was not a relationship of guru and disciple, but a lifelong friendship. He appeared to me one early morning, looking his own charming beloved self, and told me to do no bakwas (idle chatter) but to focus on 'divya drishti'. This is what I do today in a preliminary manner, though I am not sure that it will not end up in more bakwas, which is my fashion, though not my passion!

It is now a few years since Satyam took his mahasamadhi. We will never see him in his physical form, and his bewitching smile, yet we see him every moment. This means that each one of us, whether his disciples or devotees, can see a physical form which exists no more; Satyam thus taught us the first lesson about divya drishti. That drishti is available to us all to the extent that Sri Swamiji is available to his disciples and devotees.

We also see Swamiji through the eyes and the vision of Paramahamsa Swami Niranjan Saraswati and Paramahamsa Swami Satsangi. In that sense we have indirect though real access to Satyam. I have already thus established a preliminary yet vital distinction between direct and indirect divya drishti.

I must now, however, attend to the notion in a more complex manner as an epistemic subject (as a producer of knowledge) rather than as a historic subject (devotee and disciple). This means that the narratives of divya drishti will differ according to one's location and role in history. My request to you today is to give as much respect to my narrative as yours! Progress is made almost always out of a clash of narratives.

As an epistemic subject, I draw some general yet necessary distinctions between and among insight, outsight, and farsight and vision. I also distinguish between the faculty of perception or the capability to have visions as distinct from having a vision or being a visionary. Having dealt with these distinctions, I ask the question whether divya drishti is a gift of God or a human attainment; if the latter, divya drishti can be achieved by people of indifferent or even demonic attributes. I conclude with some reflections on divya drishti of Satyam.

The multiple meanings of yoga

Writing or speaking about yoga is difficult. This is because we mean different things by yoga: as religion, culture, technique. As technique, yoga is universal, trans-religious (cutting across all religions), even non-religious (as speaking to atheists or agnostic persons). Here, yoga is thought principally as a technique that all those born as humans can or, indeed, ought to follow. I have here to leave aside the important question as to whether yoga may extend to non- or trans-human, subjects.

As culture, yoga is thought as trans-cultural, that is, a culture of many cultures, rather than as culture of no culture (to deploy here Sharon Tweak's expression). It is, to put it another way, a way of living.

As religion, yoga is more than a technique or culture; what that 'more' constitutes is a subject of debate, but one thing is clear: it is a matter of faith, or a belief about belief. Unlike culture, it is a way of life rather than ways of living; unlike technique, it is not autonomous, but bound by or held within a distinctive cosmology. To take an obvious example, belief in karma makes no sense outside faith in life after life; the Day of the Last Judgement ordains that this only one life will be judged upon one's only life on earth.

Of course, the distinctions I draw between technique, culture and religion are debatable. Yet it is inescapable that yoga, though a simple word, has many meanings and different histories. Some writers on religion and culture attempt a sharp distinction between the two, whereas others allow a considerable overlap. Likewise, some maintain that what is called 'technique' pervades culture and religion. For the time being, however, the distinctions I make here will have to do. And I build the rest of my thesis on these distinctions.

Divya drishti and neighbouring conceptions

Drishti as an organ of sight is different from drishti as a vision. Sanjaya had divya drishti in the sense that his vision extended to the battlefield in the Mahabharata war. He could convey to Dhritarashtra what actually happened. And, of course, he could not see what ought not to have happened. What ought not to have happened was the cruel war, but it could not have happened according to either Lord Krishna or Prince Duryodhana. For both, the war was inevitable and neither could instruct Sanjaya otherwise. In short, Sanjaya's divya drishti extended to a limited transformation of his charma chakshu, physical eyes. His was the transformation of sight and the change in his sight was only to narrate the events of the war to King Dhritarashtra.

Divya drishti is not an organ of sight; rather it is the seat and source of vision. But what exactly constitutes 'vision' is a matter open to contestation.

Many contest that charma chakshu and prana chakshu both invoke sight. Here, sight contains the potential for vision. My eye surgeon spontaneously equated sight with vision. He had no use whatsoever for the saying that one's vision was intact even when sight was impaired. In this world, the sighted may not have any vision and vice versa. It is often, however, the case that those sighted lack all vision while visionaries all too often do not see.

One may have farsight, but whether that amounts to an insight or a vision is open to much controversy. The same must be said of foresight.

As a process, yoga often speaks of insight. Insight is a sight beyond sight. We may, and not entirely playfully, speak of the distinction between insight and outsight. Often, the sighted do not see what the insightful do perceive. And often the able-bodied see things which the insightful do not perceive. Insight takes one to that which is beyond sight. Yet that which is beyond sight is rendered normal for the later generations. To take an example from science, subatomic particles are not matters of sight but of insights into their 'organization' and behaviour, which now depends on the birth and growth of nanotechnology.

While insight is superior to outsight, not all insights lead to vision. There is a distinction even to be drawn between insight and vision. By vision we mean a comprehensive view of the world and our being in the world within and beyond it. This perhaps, puts the matter strongly. Insight leads to a universalization of norms and state of affairs; so does vision. Surely, insight is superior to outsight because it leads to a generalizable law, which also vision does. Thus, insight is in many different ways superior to outsight. It remains like vision superior to mere sight.

Granting that insight is close to vision, we may persist in drawing a distinction. The law of gravity is an instance of scientific vision, but it is only so because it provides the proof for the general law of causality (A causes B). Scientific vision is that of causality. Religious vision is also that of causality, but its causes are 'divine', not always amenable to human reason or will.

One may describe the scientific vision as 'secular' in contrast with the 'sacred' vision of religion. Both are directed of course, to knowledge of truth. Both are a mix of knowledge and personal experience (narrative). It is in their source that the two orders of knowledge differ. The source of all true knowledge and vision in the sacred is God. The source of all truth and knowledge in the secular vision lies either in the 'natural' or the human being. The source is trans-human in one and human in the other. The nature of insight varies accordingly.

Divya drishti and bhakti yoga

I speak now of divya drishti as attained through bhakti. This is an extremely complex matter because those who follow the path of surrender claim to have an experience which is denied to others and accept no judgement from the outside. They postulate that divya drishti is attainable by the route of bhakti and only the devotees receive it through the grace of God or guru.

There is a lot of discussion about the latter. There is no doubt that yoga as a religion postulates a God, and that divine will and power are absolute. In its play (lila), God may confer on human beings divya drishti for a limited period, or forever, or not at all; but God by definition is possessed of it always. Divya drishti is not a matter of right (in the sense of having rights) for human beings, but a matter of grace.

This also settles the question whether a guru would necessarily have divya drishti; he or she is a guru, not a God. This, however, needs a word or two of explanation. In many traditions of bhakti, a guru is regarded as Govinda (God). When this claim is taken seriously, a guru is equivalent to God; and in this belief, he or she necessarily possesses divya drishti. This must at least be said of the paramguru or adiguru, to whom all gurus owe obedience. A weaker claim would be to say that all gurus are eligible for divya drishti, though all may not necessarily possess it.

The relation between a sadhaka and the guru is one of 'complex equality', to use an expression of Michael Walzer in alien context. That there would be no guru without a sadhaka goes without saying; a shishya is always a sadhaka in-the-making. What is infinitely complex is the relationship between an individual sadhaka and the guru. Broadly, the guru takes the burden of helping the sadhaka to find a pathway. Pathway is undoubtedly important; what matters, as in life, is avoidance of false pathways which lead you to the wrong destination. Besides, treading in the wrong direction also leaves marks or traces which good detection may scarcely afford. Not the least, a wise choice of pathways leads closer to the destination. You save a lot of resources that way.

All said and done, however, a pathway is not a destination. One has to draw a necessary, even vital, distinction between a rasta (path) and a manzil (destination). Not all rastas lead to a manzil. You have to be sure that you chose the right path; only then may the journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step.

There is, however, no certitude that the path one has chosen is right. One has to develop an insight to choose the right pathway. Yoga as a religion offers four ways of finding a right path. Bhakti yoga comprises faith and devotion. Here the sadhaka is guided by total surrender, whether in guru or God, or both. It is He who shows the path; He is the way as well as the destination.

Jnana yoga tells you that the path is offered by true knowledge. Such knowledge is true when ultimately based on faith. At once removed are all impediments to faith. Very often, that coherence of beliefs (like fire burns) is posited via empiricism. Sita in the agni pariksha (test by fire) was neither burnt nor charred. The sacred fire conflagrates, but does not burn. Fire is sacred when it purifies. Purity is something beyond demonstration; it is a state of belief. A jnana yogi is also confronted by the opposite; he or she has to establish a connection (to put it more loosely) between knowledge and belief.

Parampara (tradition) is critical to yoga in both the contexts. It is so because guru is a critical category.

In yoga as a practice or method, one needs a guru, a preceptor, both for hatha yoga and raja yoga. But guru is always a shishya of someone else. The parampara is thus always a guru-shishya parampara. Each guru is as such also a shishya of a mahaguru and in turn the present mahaguru is a shishya of a paramguru and so on, until we reach the figure of adiguru who is the original guru, the guru who is beyond mahaguru and paramguru. Patanjali is the adiguru in this sense. God is adiguru in the theistic tradition. Thus we salute the gurus in all the forms when we salute the present guru; he is just a representative of a tradition.

The traditions vary. Some are fluid and cross what is now known as 'traditional borders'. Yoga as a 'practice' or method is one such tradition often named as a fluid tradition. In contrast, there exist non-fluid traditions which extend best within a region, often a given country. The akharas provide a good example of this latter tradition. They are not open to all; untenably hierarchical, quasi-local, and available only to initiates. Religious yoga is, in general, a good illustration of the future parampara.

The upshot of this brief discussion is to say that while the path of bhakti often gives divya drishti through total surrender to God or guru, in jnana marga such surrender is not always possible and one stops – often to attaining a vision stopping short of divya drishti.

Towards a conclusion

Let me sum up my argument.

We must begin to distinguish between yoga as a technique, as culture, and as religion.

Divya drishti is difficult to define, although it may safely be said that it includes more than sight and that it is different from mere sight, insight, farsight or outsight.

Divya drishti is more akin to vision, but it is also more than envisioning.

Bhakti with viveka often leads to divya drishti; jnana yoga often does not.

It is only Hindu religious theory that guides us more fully towards divya drishti, but this theory, as also comparative religious theory, does not explain all aspects of drishti, as also the relation, if any, between religion and terror.

With these conclusions fully in mind, let us return to the last question: did Satyam have a divya drishti? He had insights, farsight, outsight, many visions, and a vision. If we regard divya drishti merely as a sum total of these attributes, our response shall be in the affirmative. Many of his writings prove this point. But I believe that for him yoga was also a religion. Did he have divya drishti? The answer to this question is yes as well, were we to look at his writings on yoga as a culture of tomorrow. He did not have merely a vision of an alternate future for humankind, but for alternative futures for the human being or human nature.

The question is whether Satyam had a theory of evil. He had no doubt a theory of the good. And that should ordinarily suffice. But there is room for argument that evil exists autonomously of the good and is often productive of the good. Radical evil, evil that we may neither understand nor forgive (to use an early Hannah Arendt formulation) certainly requires a theory of evil.

While undoubtedly regarding terrorism as an evil, Satyam did not feel the need for a theory of evil nor did he help us form a theory about yoga and terror. Future studies are necessary to determine this point, in particular his views on the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata. I hope that the Bihar School of Yoga will take this up in the near future, alongside the thought of Swami Niranjan and Swami Satsangi.

Address, 23 October 2013, Polo Ground, Munger