Darśana (also Darśan or Darshan; Sanskrit: दर्शन) is a term meaning "auspicious sight" (in the sense of an instance of seeing or beholding and being seen or beheld at the same time; from a root dṛś "to see"), vision, apparition, or glimpse. It is most commonly used for theophany, "manifestation / visions of the divine" in Hindu worship, e.g. of a deity (especially in image form), or a very holy person or artifact. One could also "receive" darshana or a glimpse of the deity in the temple, or from a great saintly person, such as a great guru.
In the sense "to see with reverence and devotion," the term translates to hierophany, and could refer either to a vision of the divine or to being in the presence of a highly revered person. In this sense it may assume a meaning closer to audience. "By doing darshan properly a devotee develops affection for God, and God develops affection for that devotee."
Darshan is ultimately difficult to define, since it is an event in consciousness—an interaction in presence between devotee and God/guru; or between devotee and image or sculpture, which focuses and calls out the consciousness of the devotee. In either event, a heightening of consciousness or spirituality is the intended effect.
In Indian culture, the touching of the feet (pranāma or charaṇa-sparśa) is a gesture of respect and it is often an integral part of darshan. Children touch the feet of their family elders while people of all ages will bend to touch the feet of a great guru, murti or icon of a Deva (such as Rama and Krishna).
There is a special link between worshiper and guru during pujas, in which people may touch the guru's feet in respect, or remove the dust from a guru's feet before touching their own head.
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.
[Arjuna said:] O god! I see within your body the gods, as also all the groups of various beings; and the lord Brahma 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.
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna describes several visions of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836 – 1886), including Kali, Sita, Krishna, Jesus, Mohammed, as does Mother Reveals Herself, an account of the early life of saint Anandamayi Ma (1896 – 1982).
Darshan also can sometimes have a more mundane meaning. For example, Sivananda Saraswati wrote in his book The Practice of Brahmacharya that one of the eight aspects of brahmacharya (celibacy) is not to look lustfully at women: "You should carefully avoid... Darshan or looking at women with passionate resolve..."
Nagarjuna, one of the most important Indian Buddhist philosophers, wrote in his Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way) that the wise person perceives true reality (tattva-darśana). In Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, darśana came to be an important concept. As scholar Paul Harrison has noted: "By the second century CE, then, the vision of the Buddha (buddha-darśana) and the accompanying hearing of the Dharma (dharma-śravaṇa) are represented as a transformative experience of decisive importance for practitioners, be they renunciants or householders." The term darśana-citta (a seeing mental event) became an important term in Sanskrit Abhidharma literature. Indian Mahayana philosophers Vasubandhu and Asanga divided the Buddhist path (marga) into five paths, of which the third is the "path of seeing" (darśana-marga).
Another common use of the term darshan is its application to the six systems of thought, called darśanam, that comprise Hindu philosophy.
Scholar of religion Richard H. Davis has said that darśana (viewpoint, philosophical school) is one of three terms in classical Indian discourse that could be considered roughly analogous to what today's English-speakers understand as "religion." The other two terms are dharma (duty, morality, a code of proper conduct) and marga (route, spiritual path). According to Davis, "most Hindu texts accepted that religious paths (marga) are relative to the points of view (darśana) and moral responsibilities (dharma) of practitioners, whose individual circumstances may make one or another course of action more appropriate in their particular situations."
"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 darshan'; 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. I see it in the work of Georgia O'Keeffe..."
It can mean radiation or radiance, in the sense of a radio signal being radiated from a transmitter aerial.
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- Sivananda 1988, p. 24
- Mūlamadhyamakakārikā ch. 26, v. 10; Unno 1993, p. 347
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