Don Berry and the Darsana Mala

First, maybe you should stop reading this

and go directly to Don Berry’s website here.

Who is Don Berry? From Wikipedia:

Don Berry (1931-2001) was an American artist and author best known for his historical novels early settlers in the Oregon Country.

He was born in Minnesota but moved to Oregon as a young man and came to think of himself as a native of that state. He attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon. During college his housemates included the poet Gary Snyder, who shared Berry’s interest in Eastern metaphysics.

In 1960 he published Trask, a historical novel about Elbridge Trask, an Oregon settler in the 1840s who was the first white homesteader on Tillamook Bay. It was followed by two sequels, Moontrap and To Build a Ship. The novels have collectively become known as the “Trask novels.” His other works include A Majority of Scoundrels, a history of the fur trade in the Rocky Mountains. Besides writing, his lifelong artistic pursuits included bronze sculpture, sumi painting, and blues guitar playing.

Berry was also an early adopter of the use of the Internet for writing, creating a large body of literature that exists only in cyberspace.


My experience of Don Berry was limited to enjoying his 3 published novels set in the Oregon Territory, books he wrote early in his career. My favorite was the book Trask- a very moving and spiritually stimulating story based on the life of an Oregon trader who opened up the the area now known as Tillamook to white trade with the native people there. Grab that book and read it.

I was pleased to find recently that Berry, before he died a few years back, put up a website with all of his later work, all available for free. It is a treasure trove. To get you hooked on Berry I am going to re-print a portion of his translation of Darsana Mala- a mystical poem from India previously unavailable in the west. Berry’s rendition is beautiful, stunning and goes straight to the heart.

The poem is also a clear explanation of the philosophy of Tantra Yoga, very similar to what I was taught as a young man initiated into meditation. It resonates with me and with the teachings I received when I was 16-28 years old.

What follows is first the section titled Provenance- which explains his interest in the poem and some background. Next I will share the first 3 chapters. For more you have to go to Berry’s site, the link at the top of this post.

The Darsana Mala, or Garland of Visions, was one of the last major works of Narayana Guru, dictated about 1916. His disciple, Swami Vidyananda, transcribed the dictation and made a short commentary on each verse. The commentary was read to, and corrected by, Narayana himself, though he characterized it as being “for children.”

The original dictation was in Sanskrit, but the work was published only in the Malayalam language of Kerala State, S. India, Narayana’s home. In 1976 an English translation was included in AN ANTHOLOGY OF THE POEMS OF NARAYANA GURU, published by the Narayana Gurukula in Kerala.


Narayana Guru’s successor was Nataraja Guru. At Narayana’s instigation, Nataraja received a Western education at the Sorbonne as well as his training in the ancient wisdom-school represented by Narayana himself. in 1948-49 Nataraja Guru undertook the translation of the Darsana Mala into English, and it was this translation included in the ANTHOLOGY. Nataraja Guru also made the Darsana Mala the philosophical frame-work for his own monumental work, the three- volume INTEGRATED SCIENCE OF THE ABSOLUTE, which he completed in 1968. At this writing one volume has been published in Kerala, and the other two are in preparation.

Shortly after Nataraja Guru’s death in 1973, four notebooks were discovered in his quarters at the Ooty Gurukula in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamilnadu. Nos. II & III were his working notes from 1948-49, and contained all the trial translations and corrections of the Darsana Mala, except for the first seven stanzas of Chapter VI, the Karma Darsana. These notebooks were edited and put into typescript by Mark and Judy Albert. They contain anywhere from two to fifteen variations on each stanza.

Sources used in preparing these English prose renderings were: Vol. I, INTEGRATED SCIENCE OF THE ABSOLUTE, containing word-notes, translation, and the Vidyananda Commentary on Chapters I-III. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE DARSANA MALA, (manuscript) by Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati, successor to Nataraja Guru and current Guru of the Narayana Gurukula, for translation, word-notes and commentary on Chapters IV & V. For Chapters VI & VII, word-notes and translations in Nataraja’s hand, written on the back of academic papers in 1948-49. A typescript of the Vidyananda Commentary with word-notes for Chapters VIII-X. For the complete work, the Nataraja Notebooks, v. II & III as noted above.

For the most part these source materials were obtained for me through the kindness of the American sadhu/ scholar Johnny Stallings, long time student and companion to both Nataraja Guru anatarajaguruandfriendsnd Guru Nitya.

For many years I have been indebted to Guru Nitya for his unfailing friendship and generosity in making available to me his own works, as well as those of his predecessors in the parampara. My deepest gratitude to him.

These renderings were made by Don Berry in the Fall of 1979 for the meditation of his son, Duncan.



Adhyaropa Darsana / Metaphors of Creation


At its origin this world

existed as nothingness, dreamlike.

Thereafter the Absolute Being created

everything existent by willing.


At its origin this world

existed as latent function.

Thereafter the Absolute Being created everything

through his own power of MAYA,

like a magician creating an illusion.


At its origin this world

was latent in the Absolute Being

as a sprout is latent in a seed.

Thereafter it manifested itself of its own power.


This power is to be known as two kinds,

brightness and heaviness. As in the case of light and dark,

they are polar opposites,and there is no co-existence.


At its origin this world

was like a picture in the mind.

Thereafter the Absolute Being realized it

in all its variety, like an artist.


At its origin this world existed as PRAKRITI, the matrix of possibility.

Thereafter the Absolute Being worked out its powers like a Yogi.


When knowledge of the Absolute Self is veiled, AVIDYA (ignorance)

arises. Then the name-and-form world looms ghostlike.


This world is emptiness, like some ghostly city.

Thus did the Absolute Being create

this whole universe — a marvel!


If this world evolved in a series of stages

from the sun, then it is not at all from the Supreme Self.

But everything was manifested at a single stroke,

of its own inner vitality, as though

the universe were waking from sleep.


That from which all this world

is manifested like a fig tree from a seed,

That is Brahma, That is Siva, That is Vishnu.

That is the Transcendent.

Indeed, everything is That alone.


Apavada Darsana / Logic of Causality


This world, material, non-material and spiritual,

has all come to be in and from living intelligence.

When existent, everything is Real as Being (SAT).

When non-existent, everything remains Real as Intelligence (CIT).


An effect cannot have existence independent of its cause.

Therefore, how can there be an origination of non-Being?

And how can there be re-absorption

of something un-originated?


That which is not subject to origin and re-absorption

is the transcendent Absolute alone.

The idea of origin and re-absorption as present in the Self

is the veiling effect of MAYA.


As the effect is non-different from its cause,

how can Being arise? And in the same way,

how can there be non-Being for the cause itself?


Because it is an effect, this world

does not have primary reality.

The Absolute alone, as cause, is Real.

Unclear minds mistake it as un-Real.


The One Alone is the Real.

Where can another exist?

If we say “in existence,” it is a tautology.

If we say “in non-existence,” it is a contradiction.


Having carefully analyzed the component parts of existence,

one sees that the whole world is not other

than the Intelligence of the Absolute.

It is as if MAYA had been banished.


Pure Intelligence alone shines.

There is nothing whatever beyond Pure Intelligence.

That which does not shine is un-Real,

and that which is un-Real does not shine.


ANANDA indeed is the Real, and nothing else.

The whole world is of the form of ANANDA.

Apart from ANANDA, nothing else exists.


Indeed, everything is SAT-CIT-ANANDA.

(Being, Intelligence, Value.)

There is not a trace of plurality in this.

He who sees this as if pluralistic,

goes from death to death.


Asatya Darsana / The Illusion of the un-Real


This world is all mind-maya.

But the mind is not in any specific place.

The world is seen in the Self

as the blue is seen in the sky.


This apparent world is an image, created in the mind

by AVIDYA, the veiling ignorance.

When this is re-absorbed by VIDYA, the clear knowledge,

it is as though the whole world were a mere configuration.


To a coward, the ghost looming in the darkness seems real.

To the wise man, the wakeful state is seen

as such a dream-world.


This world is seen as willed images.

It is seen only when willing is present,

as when a rope is mistaken for a snake.


There is no difference whatever

between the willed images and the mind.

That AVIDYA-darkness state (which is the mind),

is a marvel like Indra’s magic.


To the wise man, this world shines in the Self like a mirage.

To an infant, by confusion, even a reflection

may seem real.


As milk remains milk even when churned,

The Absolute Self does not change into some other form.

Therefore, the whole world exists only as an image in the Self,

as if created by Indra’s magic. (Indriyas = the senses.)


MAYA herself is the fundamental cause of the apparent world.

Everything here is only the maya-maker

creating with magical, un-Real effects.


To the mature mind, this universe

seems like a sky-forest mirage in the Self.

But a child sees even a puppet-form as real.


One alone is Real, not a second.

What is un-Real seems indeed to be Real.

But the Siva-lingam is stone only,

not a second made by the mason.


Filed under Mystic Poetry, poetry, Spirituality

2 responses to “Don Berry and the Darsana Mala

  1. shineravindra

    I feel so happy to see this blog while I was searching for Gurus old pic. These teachings touched me too. I’m living in Kerala, the place of Guru. If you ever coming to India, contact me.

    Thank You


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