arivilumeriyarinnitunavan tannuruvilumottu purattumujjvalikkum karuvinu kannukal anchumulladakki terutere veenuvanangiyotitenam
Permeating the knowledge which brilliantly shines at once within and without the knower is the Karu; to that, with the five senses withheld, prostrate again and again with devotion and chant.
~ Sri Narayana Guru (Atmopadesha Shatakam — 1)
The world within and the world without is but one functional reality which Guru calls the Karu. The philosophy of Spinoza is very close to what is contained in the first verse of Atmopadesha shatakam. What Guru calls Karu appears in Spinoza’s philosophy as substance. The substance of Spinoza is self-founded and self-established; it includes within itself all matrices of causes and effects. Spinoza gives two attributes to substance: extension and cogitation. In Vedanta, extension is called vyapti. Spinoza’s concept of extension appears in the Guru’s verse as ‘outside’, and his idea of cogitation is akin to ‘knowledge’ as it is used here. Guru’s expression “at once brilliantly shining” comes in Spinoza’s philosophy as omnia. Furthermore, what Narayana Guru terms as arivilumeri is the same as Spinoza’s intellectus infinitus, uruvilum is the same as motus et quies; purattum corresponds to res particulares; ottu is the equivalent of facis totius universi.
Here, the term Karu is to be understood as both the definable and indefinable — the Absolute, the primeval cause. Literal meaning of Karu is ‘mold’, In a bird’s egg there is a kind of mold contained in it’s genetic code. Human beings also come from a mold that has in it the blueprint of chromosomes. Any effect has a mold — it’s cause. The mold of knowledge is consciousness. The mold of articulated thought is language. The mold of material things is energy. The mold of energy is the law that controls and directs it. Thus, everything in this world, ranging from most subtle to the most gross, has its own corresponding mold. The generalization of all of these is called Karu.
In another sense, that which gives truth and meaning to consciousness and fills it with content is Karu. When it is understood as that which manifests, it has the status of immanence. As references to the mold cannot always be confined to its specificatory aspects, it is also to be understood as the transcendent. It is immanent in universal consciousness and it transcends individual comprehension.
In Guru’s Guhashtaka, he defines Karu as (1) the truth that has no other foundation while itself being the foundation of the entire world; (2) that which is modulating as the attributes of the flux of becoming, both as the known and the knower, and at the same time transcending all modalities; (3) the womb of all while having no womb for itself; (4) the pure duration that is generating the flux of time.
The unitive vision expressed here is becoming more and more recognized by modern day scientists. It is very similar to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory given by Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. As a starting point they divide the physical world into an observed system, which is identical with Guru’s term purattu, outside; and the observing system, which combines in it what Guru terms arivilumeri, permeating knowledge, and uruvil, within. Even David Bohm, one of the main opponents of the Copenhagen interpretation, expresses a position which comes very close to the world vision presented in this verse by Narayana Guru:
“One is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness which denies the classical idea of analysability of the world into separately and independently existing parts….We have reversed the usual classical notion that the independent ‘elementary parts’ of the world are the fundamental reality, and that the various systems are merely particular contingent forms and arrangements of these parts. Rather, we say that inseparable quantum interconnectedness of the whole universe is the fundamental reality, and that relatively independently behaving parts are merely particular and contingent forms within this whole”
(D.Bohm and B.Hiley, On the Intuitive understanding of Nonlocality as implied in Quantum theory)
Narayana Guru tells us: “the supreme knowledge is shining at once as the inner world and the outer world with great resplendence.” It is blazing as this universe, as the Self, as knowledge, as emotions, as value-appreciations. We are to turn with reverence to that universal yolk, Karu, this is the Upanishadic concept of Bhakti.
It is a wonder that we can witness a multidimensional universe which was not present during sleep. The subtle depths from which the contents of dreams themselves come are a wonder. We have done away with all our sense of wonder through acts of analysis and labelling. For a baby every moment is a wonder. Out of their wonder-filled minds, small children can create so much beauty. It is yet a wonder, a joy, that we can see and touch each other. The thrill of that wonder is the adoration I am speaking of. We have to cultivate an attitude of devotion to that known and unknown magic principle which makes all this possible. Adi Shankara says that of all the things which can bring emancipation to a person, there is nothing like devotion. Devotion is wholeheartedness; it is absolute love.