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Beginningless, Locationless Ignorance
Ben: Dear Ramji, I will explain myself better. This enquiry and recognition is not an intellectual exercise. It is a living principle which permeates and guides my life and living.
The question boils down to: Where does ignorance exert its influence?
At the macro level, ignorance/maya covers brahman.
Brahman + maya = Isvara (cf. rope and snake; Isvara/Creation is mithya).
At the micro level, ignorance/avidya covers atman. Atman + avidya = jiva = I. The word “covers” implies that the core, inherent nature, of atman is not affected and continues to be sat chit ananda, just that this inherent nature, with avidya at the periphery, so to speak, makes a jiva.
Let’s consider the micro level. As you said, avidya shows up in the subtle body as wrong ideas about one’s self and the nature of the world. Yes, the job of the mind is simply to make thoughts/ideas, whether right or wrong, positive or negative. The question is, why did I buy into, identify with, believe in those wrong ideas? Because I am ignorant of the truth of myself and the world and do not know any better. Who is this I who is ignorant and buys into the wrong notions? Jiva, me. I am responsible. The buck stops with me.
Which am I, jiva or atman = self/me/myself or Self/Me/Myself (cf. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita)?
Instead of jiva, let’s use the phrase “atman plus avidya.” I begin life as atman plus avidya, i.e. even though I am atman, I do not know I am atman. Then Vedanta tells me: you are not jiva (atman plus avidya); you are atman; you are brahman.
By following the instructions given and developing the necessary qualities of an adhikari (cf. Tattvabodha), my paradigm about myself shifts from atman plus avidya to atman. Ignorance is dropped and gone, and I recognise myself as atman. I always was, but now I know. This is my surprise, discovering what I always was, gaining what is already gained, attaining what is already attained (praptasya prapti).
Hence in my first email to you: I recognise I am atman. Until I was reminded of this fact (i.e. by Vedanta), I did not know I was atman. Now I know I am atman. Atman ignorant of the atman it is, or more accurately, I, atman, ignorant of the atman I am. How strange!
Atman, overpowered by avidya and thinking itself to be limited!! How amazing, like cup-space overpowered by ignorance and thinking it is only cup-sized. Or like the game of blind man’s buff where the one whose eyes are superficially blindfolded is overpowered by ignorance and mistakenly thinks he is really blind when he is not blind. Such is the magic power of ignorance, making me believe what is not real to be real (maya). The same principle applies to atman plus avidya.
Isn’t this the lila – that atman can allow itself to be overpowered by avidya? Isn’t this what Krishna meant, “By my maya, I delude all beings,” i.e. pure consciousness, using ignorance to blind itself in human forms and then searching for itself? I cannot come home unless I have left home in the first place.
Jiva is atman-asleep-through-avidya. Awakening is sleeping-atman waking, or attaining, itself (cf. the title of your book, How to Attain Enlightenment). So when it is said that the jiva wakes up/attains enlightenment (jivanmukti), what must ultimately be meant is that sleeping-atman wakes up. And this atman is me!!! I, atman, was asleep through ignorance, but now I have woken up to myself through knowledge. There can be no greater cosmic joke or play, lila. At my expense too. My suffering prior to waking up, in the state of ignorance, was real then, not apparent. Only after waking up can I see the joke. I am the butt of my own joke. By contrast, an awake atman cannot awaken/attain itself. It is already awake/attained, e.g. avatars. Only a human jiva can awaken/attain. And jiva is atman-plus-avidya, me.
To me, this way of understanding jiva and atman, myself, is truly advaitic, not-two, no division, no separation. There is only atman at play, from atman-plus-avidya to atman. How else can one explain jiva and the paradigm shift from jiva to atman in a non-dualistic way? I know that the idea of “atman covered by ignorance = jiva” is not acceptable or kosher in Vedantic circles. The explanation given is that it is the reflection in the subtle body, which is affected by ignorance. But that makes two things, the source and its reflection. There is a subtle separation. I am not a reflection. I am the real thing and this real thing forgot itself.
My understanding is: on atman itself, I, deluded atman, play a game called Life as a human being named Ben. I forget myself as atman and take myself to be the human form. The trap is set and such a life is samsaric. Now Vedanta comes in and says, “Hey! You are not Ben. You are atman.” And I recognise, “Gosh, yes, I am atman.” That’s it. The lila is over.
I am peace and stillness at the core of being. And I continue to use my personality, warts and all, at periphery of being, to function in daily life but I know it is not me. The recognition that we are atman and the blest life that flows from this self-knowledge is everyone’s birthright.
Is my line of enquiry and understanding logical, objective and correct?
James: Yes, it is correct. You summed it up very nicely. Good for you. But I am not sure why you are concerned with where ignorance exerts its influence. Ignorance has no beginning and no location, so the question itself is ignorance.
Ben: To sum up: Where does ignorance exert its influence?
James: The place where this question is coming from is where ignorance exerts its influence, call it what you will, atman or the reflected self.