Darśana:  the highest form of understanding

It’s a gift; it’s like there’s a moment in which the thing is ready to let you see it. In India, this is called darshan. Darshan means getting a view, and if the clouds blow away, as they did once for me, and you get a view of the Himalayas from the foothills, an Indian person would say, “Ah, the Himalayas are giving you their darshana”; they’re letting you have their view. This comfortable, really deep way of getting a sense of something takes time. It doesn’t show itself to you right away. It isn’t even necessary to know the names of things the way a botanist would. It’s more important to be aware of the “suchness” of the thing; it’s a reality. It’s also a source of a certain kind of inspiration for creativity.

Gary Snyder, Poet (gives a naturalistic meaning to darśana)

Darśana (Darshana) is an eastern term inaccurately translated into English by many as ‘philosophy’. The two are not the same. Philosophy is more about “thinking”, it’s made of Philos (love) and Sophia (wisdom), to mean love for wisdom.

The word Darśana is a Sanskrit word rooted in “Drs” meaning ‘seeing’. It is not mediated knowledge, it is immediate, immediate in the sense it has the capability to give you the most liberating knowledge.

We can see the world in three ways: the scientific perspective, the philosophic perspective and the religious perspective. Science thinks about the world empirically, philosophy thinks speculatively whereas religion looks at the world experientially. Science is based on empirical experimentation, observation and objective thinking. Philosophy is based on non-empirical, speculative thinking – subjectively based. Religion or faith is experiential, is subjective – it’s a system of socially valued beliefs and practices. Whereas, Darśana in a sense includes all the three and yet transcends all three. Darshana conceives of the whole in terms of its wholeness.

Darsana doesn’t merely give us a philosophy but it gives us a way of ‘seeing‘ and ‘knowing’ the true nature of reality that includes us, our world and the universe.

Western Philosophy has remained more or less true to the etymological meaning of ‘philosophy’, in being essentially an intellectual quest for truth. Indian philosophy has been, however, intensely spiritual and has emphasized the need of practical realization of truth. The word ‘darshana’ means ‘vision’ and also ‘the instrument of vision’. It stands for the direct, immediate and intuitive vision of Reality, the actual perception of Truth, and also includes the means which lead to this realization.

Chandradhar Sharma

If we keep talking about meditation, spinning and weaving theories, hypotheses, inferences about meditation, we can never taste anything about meditation. Because we simply never meditated. Uttering the word ‘sugar’ even a thousand times will not tell you how sugar tastes and describing water cannot quench the thirst of a parched throat.

Similarly, Philosophy ‘tries; to know the truth, but never really ‘knows’. Darśana never tries to know, but knows.  Philosophy talks about great things — freedom, love, God, meditation. The philosopher never meditates.

This is the reason why more than philosophy, science or even faith, we need Darśana in our lives.

In this information age, we are flooded with information and knowledge seems to be simply available at a thumb touch. We read and learn about many things that make sense to us, but we are not able to integrate them into one ‘knowing’. We seem to be made of different personalities believing at the same time in many things, many of which simply contradict and conflict with each other. With time we get used to living with contradictions and conflict and simply play along with life, taking each day as it comes, being swayed by moods, people and circumstances. A Darśana helps you live as an integrated whole being free of conflict and contradictions.

Vedanta is one such Darśana that I am a student of, where I am learning this skill of seeing, revering and living well. It encompasses snd factors in morality, personal ethics, worldview, happiness, meaning, life skills, purpose, goals, emotional intelligence, the right attitude, the right mindset, motivations, desires, habits, environment, sense of awe and wonder and so many such human aspects, all integrated into one Darśana. This is a feat that philosophy, science or even religion cannot manage to do single-handedly. And it accommodates all three of these without conflicting with the facts of reality.

There is so much that can be said about it, but one has to ‘see’ it to know it. It takes your entire being to ‘see’ and ‘know’: objectivity, intelligence, focus, self-control, forbearance, perseverance, a commitment to a teacher and learning process and most of all an intense longing for freedom, for that vision, for Darśana, and it takes time to get it but trust me, it’s worth a shot!

Note on Sanskrit definition of the term:

  • The tradition defines this as : “samsaya rahitam, viparyaya rahitam, anumana anapeksam jnanan darśanam.” The ‘knowing’ that is free of doubt, biases, free of speculation.
  • Darsanam nama pratibandharahitam pratyaksajnanam of the prameya (object of knowledge). The subject-object dichotomy melts away, what remains is impartite and immediate vision, the vision of the self, the reality.

1 Comment

  1. You tried to describe it to the best of your knowledge. It cannot be described in words, since it ‘happens’ only and the one gets transformed immediately. Also no one can try or practice to ‘see’ it or have ‘darshan’. In China they call it Wu-Wei-Wu ie effortless effort. I have described in my posts about it in detail.


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