Monday, June 21, 2010

darshan, darśana, दर्शन

It is the practice of this blog (and, okay, by 'practice' I really mean 'whim') that when a word springs to my attention a couple of times in the space of a few brief days, it's time to get it sorted out. Darshan came up twice in an even shorter period than that. First, I noticed it in a comment on a post  at Girish Shahane's Shoot First, Mumble Later blog. Girish was on a tour of Eastern art in Western Europe, and a commenter said "Looks like you are getting a priviliged darshan of all the museums and exhibitions." I thought, okay, that's an Indian word that I do not know, but I get the general idea of the sentence, so let's let it slide. I mean really, isn't there a limit to the ignorance I am supposed to proclaim and then attempt to correct?

Apparently not. Somehow the next morning, I ended up on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog. I say "somehow" because I got there through a series of links on Slate, and because I don't really know what to think about happiness projects, even when they're written into our Constitution. It's not that I'm against happiness or anything, just that it seems to fall where it will. As does misery.

Anyway, somehow the links lead me once again to 'darshan'. Gretchen also found it to be a word outside her ken, but she made an interesting leap with it. According to her research, 'darshan' means sight, or auspicious viewing. According to her, "Darshan is the beneficial glow that comes from being in the presence of a great spiritual leader (or holy place or object). Merely looking at such a person – and even better, receiving his or her glance – bestows a blessing."

The interesting extension that Rubin makes is extending this to movie stars and the like. She hadn't really understood people's need to see and be in the presence of their idols, but the kind of spiritual benefit sought made it all make sense to her. Well, you can read the whole thing here.

But maybe we shouldn't just take Rubin's word for all this. What does darshan mean?

Well, it pretty much means what she said, I think. But here's a bit from the Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna is granted a vision of God:

Hari, the great lord of the possessors of mystic power, then showed to the son of Prithâ his supreme divine form, having many mouths and eyes, having (within it) many wonderful sights, having many celestial ornaments, having many celestial weapons held erect, wearing celestial flowers and vestments, having an anointment of celestial perfumes, full of every wonder, the infinite deity with faces in all directions. If in the heavens, the lustre of a thousand suns burst forth all at once, that would be like the lustre of that mighty one. There the son of Pându then observed in the body of the god of gods the whole universe (all) in one, and divided into numerous (divisions). Then Dhanañgaya filled with amazement, and with hair standing on end, bowed his head before the god, and spoke with joined hands. [Arguna said:] O god! I see within your body the gods, as also all the groups of various beings; and the lord Brahman seated on (his) lotus seat, and all the sages and celestial snakes. I see you, who are of countless forms, possessed of many arms, stomachs, mouths, and eyes on all sides. And, O lord of the universe! O you of all forms! I do not see your end or middle or beginning. I see you bearing a coronet and a mace and a discus—a mass of glory, brilliant on all sides, difficult to look at, having on all sides the effulgence of a blazing fire or sun, and indefinable. You are indestructible, the supreme one to be known. You are the highest support of this universe. You are the inexhaustible protector of everlasting piety.

Maybe I'm missing something, but this seems to be of a slightly different order than seeing Brad Pitt on the street...

On the other hand, it's possible that I'm wrong... 



  1. I haven't read the post yet because it's 11:05pm here and I can barely keep my eyes open, but I have to say, the picture is nice.

  2. Ok, I think I see the meaning. That one might be a little hard to add to my general vocabulary. I shall try to make more then a desultory attempt though. :)

  3. I really liked the Happiness Project book - I would argue, along with Gretchen Rubin, that you can affect your happiness levels.

  4. Glenna, I think both you and I will both witness something in the not too distant future where we can apply the concept of 'darshan'. It kind of means, basking in the aura of, doesn't it? I think it's nice to have a word for something that helps make a bit more sense of it.

    Nice use of desultory. My problem is that I look up this stuff and then make no attempt to incorporate it further into my life. Just yesterday, I was thinking "Now, what did fissiparous mean again? And actually had to look it up on my own blog! Hate when that happens! The problem is that in my mind, I can't help associating it to some sort of fizzy drink.

  5. seenonflicr--

    You're not one of my sisters, are you? Just kidding. (Unless you are.)

    No, I really have nothing against Gretchen's project, and I do think we can adjust our attitude about things to some degree. It's just that ultimately, it comes down to how much one's happiness is made possible by the ability to ignore the suffering of others, and I think we're all already a little too good at that. It's when people take the line that everyone is responsible for their own suffering that I become a bit, yes, fissiparous.

  6. Seana,

    Now I'm wondering what the not to distant future holds...

    "Basking in the aura of", yes, that helps, and in that case, your Brad Pitt picture works for me, (and I'm not a big Pitt fan). I can think of all sorts of uses for it now, none that I'm willing to admit to however ;)

    I'm off to hunt down fissiparous.

  7. Well, I didn't mean necessarily the same thing, but you catch my drift.

    I'm not actually a huge fan of Pitt's either, but the picture seemed apt.

    But didn't I read somewhere that you have a bit of an interest in Simon Baker? Now that'a a guy with an aura.

  8. "But didn't I read somewhere that you have a bit of an interest in Simon Baker? Now that'a a guy with an aura."

    Simon Baker is a nice one, and I always think it's a shame they don't let him use his accent on the show or movies I've seen him in. I mean, where's the honesty in television gone??

  9. Yes, there are a lot of excellent Australian actors in Hollywood and a lot of them have had their original voices suppressed. 22nd century folks will look back in horror, I expect.

    I thought he was excellent in The Guardian and was sorry when it ended. He's a good actor and though I'm glad The Mentalist is popular, I really don't really like the writing that much.

  10. Right, I agree. I watched the first season of The Mentalist, and caught some of the second season, but I eventually lost interest. I'll have to look for The Guardian, it sounds interesting.

  11. Watch it in order if you can.