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Isvara and Jiva
Larissa: I do need to ask a question regarding maya. Is it true for me to say in a very simplified way that maya (experience) is awareness plus matter (subtle and gross)? Or is it potential, a dormant power existing solely as the sattva guna until rajas and tamas arrive, Isvara, or the causal body?
Sundari: The way you have worded the question is rather jumbled, so let’s see if this short explanation works for you, as this teaching is central to moksa:
Isvara as pure awareness prior to maya manifesting is called paramatman. Although paramatman is called eternal and imperishable, “eternal and imperishable” infer non-eternal and perishable, and since paramatman is non-dual, it is neither. It is “isness,” being. It is simply that which gives rise to everything, that which is self-knowing and, when objects are present, knows objects. It is prior to and the knower of both the jiva and Isvara. Therefore it has no qualities.
The most subtle “aspect” of this teaching is the irreducible fact that because consciousness implies unconsciousness, it is not, strictly speaking, true to say that awareness is conscious. Awareness is without qualities, it is the non-experiencing witness, and although it gives rise to all objects (who are not conscious) and Isvara associated with maya who is conscious, awareness is not “conscious” in the same way. Awareness is that which makes consciousness possible in that consciousness is reflected awareness. Isvara is conscious because with the appearance of maya there is something for awareness to be to be conscious of, i.e. objects. Isvara is not a person; conscious and unconscious objects (Isvara and jiva respectively, i.e. the creation) arise when maya (ignorance) appears.
Pure maya is pure sattva. When tamas and rajas arise then awareness apparently becomes a jiva and is deluded by maya. Sattva seems to be clear and pure only with reference to the objects appearing in it, which are impure. Isvara is the wielder of maya but is never deluded by maya, so is not modified by ignorance. Purity and holiness are projected by the jiva when
it is under the spell of sattva. Our experience confirms this if we work out the logic: awareness is without parts; being part-less, purity and impurity are dualisms. Maya is a power that exist in awareness or it could not be unlimited. When maya manifests Isvara “becomes” awareness in the role of Creator associated with maya. Isvara is maya, beginningless ignorance. The world we see with our senses and the senses with which we see it is Isvara’s creation. Maya is eternal because it is a power that exists in awareness and awareness is eternal; this is why maya is said to be beginningless. Although its appearance gives rise to the apparent reality which is not real, maya is neither real nor unreal. Maya creates the categories of real and unreal. Without maya, there is no creation, no jiva and no Isvara. Personal ignorance (avidya) ends for the jiva when the self is realised to be its true nature, ending its cycle of incarnation and suffering, but maya, or cosmic ignorance, continues unchanged although it is not always manifest because the creation is not always manifest. When ignorance, or maya, does manifest, Isvara in its capacity as the Creator appears, followed by the apparent creation (Isvara srsti), the world of sentient beings and insentient elements.
Isvara is also always present in awareness but is either manifest or unmanifest with reference to awareness. Therefore Isvara associated with maya, like the jiva, is not real either although, in terms of the apparent person, Isvara is “relatively” real and eternal. In other words, Isvara associated with maya is eternal or permanent with reference to the jiva and the objects it experiences but impermanent with reference to awareness. To say that Isvara associated with maya is eternal with reference to the jiva does not mean that Isvara is limitless with reference to awareness. This is because ignorance or maya only “operates” on a tiny fraction of awareness and because Isvara is resolved back into awareness at the end of the creation cycle. The words “operates on a tiny fraction of awareness” are also used simply to put maya in perspective because the self has no parts and cannot be quantified. It is important to understand this because “partially covered” means that awareness is never actually covered because it is aware of the partial covering brought about by the manifestation of maya.
The big question is: what is the relationship between jiva and Isvara? Jiva can’t see a world that appears to be “out there” unless it is aware and Isvara can’t create the whole objective world unless it is aware. We know that Isvara is aware because its creation is intelligently designed: it all hangs together perfectly.
So there is essentially no difference between jiva and Isvara except in their capacity to create. Isvara creates the objective world and jiva creates the subjective world. They both appear to be conscious because consciousness is the common denominator. This is why Vedanta says they are “essentially” the same. If this is true, then we can eliminate both jiva and Isvara as real and take ourselves to be consciousness.
We can eliminate them as real because their capacities are different. Isvara is not a person with likes and dislikes and jiva cannot create the sun, moon and the stars. And we can eliminate them because neither Isvara’s creation nor jiva’s creation hides consciousness. It is always present prior to the creation and prior to the birth of individuals. You can’t have a macrocosmic creation without consciousness. Something had to exist before Isvara could “bang” the creation into existence. That something we call paramatma, pure consciousness, free of both Isvara and jiva.
Consciousness – me – is never affected by Isvara’s creation or by jiva’s creation. It is the knower of both.
Or you can look at it this way: it is clear that jiva is conscious. Larissa is conscious. It is also clear that Isvara is conscious because the creation is consciously designed. Inference tells us that and inference is a valid means of knowledge. We do not have to meet Isvara in person – not that Isvara is a person – to know that it is conscious. So if Larissa’s consciousness depends on Isvara’s consciousness and Isvara’s consciousness depends on paramatma, pure consciousness, then both Larissa and Isvara are pure consciousness. An effect (jiva) is just the cause (Isvara) appearing in a form. We can’t apply the same logic to Isvara except loosely because consciousness does not “cause” Isvara. Isvara – beautiful, intelligent ignorance – is something altogether different. Isvara is not an effect but it is a cause with reference to the creation. There is only one awareness out of which everything arises and depends upon, but awareness is always free of the objects. Awareness is adjata, unborn. Vedanta is the path of the unborn because it reveals that although there appears to be a creation, nothing ever really happened from awareness’ point of view. All objects are made up of awareness and dissolve back into awareness in that they appear in the mind and the mind appears in awareness. The mind/jiva (subtlebody), like all objects, is an object known to you, awareness. The thoughts that appear in the mind belong to the gunas: Isvara.
The apparent reality (mithya) is a union of paraprakiti or higher reality (meaning Isvara) and aparaprakiti (jiva) lower reality. Their common identity is uparaprakriti: awareness. Isvara is the both the intelligent cause, that which shapes the materials into form (without ever losing or modifying its own nature), and the material substance, meaning the effect from which the forms are created. In any case, both Isvara and jiva depend on pure consciousness but pure consciousness does not depend on either. If you don’t depend on the world or on Larissa, you certainly can’t be either one of them.
They are merely ideas appearing in you, pure consciousness. You never experience a jiva or an Isvara apart from the thought of them. They are objects known to you so they cannot be you. The whole problem starts when you identify with the body, which makes it look like the world is out there, that you are dependent on it and that whatever is in charge of it is controlling you.
The world we know is called “apparently real” because it is not always present and always changing. As long as the apparent entity, or the jiva, is still embodied in the apparent reality, enlightened or not, it is subject to Isvara, the Creator. We know the world is not real because when you analyze it, it resolves into empty space and space resolves into consciousness insofar as you cannot know space without consciousness. It is an object known to you. There is just you, consciousness, in which the jiva, Larissa, appears in a particular a priori environment, i.e. Isvara.
Isvara creates, sustains and destroys the whole universe. Within Isvara’s creation are innumerable jivas, individuals: plants, animals, humans, insects, etc. Jivas are living beings with gross, subtle and causal bodies. Human jivas have intellect which makes them self-aware, self-reflective. This means that they can interpret their experiences. The way that a jiva’s subtle body interprets its experience is its “world.” Its interpretation is its “creation.” When we say the world would not be there without the mind (subtle body), we mean jiva’s interpretation, its projection, would not be there, not that the material world, the senses, subtle body and the vasanas would not be here. We call the jiva’s creation “pratibhasika satyam” or “jiva srsti,” the subjective reality. There is only one Larissa and she sees things a certain way owing to her conditioning. Isvara’s creation is called “vyavaharika satyam,” the objective world. This is the world of science, the objects and the laws which are not under the control of any jiva.
We need this teaching so the jiva does not confuse its creation with Isvara’s. The jiva is in Isvara’s creation and is required to respond to it. This is called dharma, appropriate response. If it responds properly to what Isvara wants, it will be in harmony with Isvara, the creation, meaning its environment. But if it is living in its own world, gets a request from Isvara and responds according to its fears and desires, likes and dislikes, it is quite possible that it will run afoul of Isvara – read: its circumstances – and suffer. So this teaching makes it aware of the difference between the subjective and the objective realities. If it is clear which is which, it can choose to follow dharma, not its own desire in case they are different. There is no problem with jiva’s desires as long as they conform to dharma.
The jiva looks out through the body, identifies with the senses, perceives a world and thinks that it is seeing what is actually there. It knows it didn’t create it. The jiva is seemingly responsible even for Isvara’s creation insofar as unless it looks out through the senses and the mind there is no world for it. But the jiva, which is actually awareness, can’t perceive a world unless Isvara has already done its job as a Creator.
The saying “the world is there because I see it” is true from the point of view of awareness, not the jiva’s. The jiva is seemingly responsible for the external creation insofar as it doesn’t exist (for it) unless it perceives it. However, it should be clear from the example of deep sleep that the jiva doesn’t create the world because there is no world for it when it is asleep. Yet the world is there for other waking jivas. That shows that some other factor – we call it Isvara – is the Creator.
~ Much love, Sundari