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Does Liberation Resolve Pain?
Jeff: Dear Ramji, I sincerely hope you and Sundari are well – I thought that since a bit over a year has passed from when I first contacted you, I should drop you a brief note to say “hi” and “thanks” (sorry, it’s been a while since I wrote, but I haven’t felt the need to ask any questions). I was actually visiting ShiningWorld.com today and browsing some of Ted’s satsang replies, and I felt a great affection for you. I was actually thinking just the other night about where I might be if I hadn’t got this knowledge/experience thing sorted out – probably in the loony bin!
(By the way, this email turned out to be much longer that I’d initially intended!)
James: Hi, Jeff. I think of you fondly and often, and wondered what was going on with you. I am not surprised that things are going well. Vedanta is great! Yes, we are well, thriving in fact. Life is grand!
Jeff: I’ve been listening methodically to Vedanta each day. I understand now two critical things: (1) the relationship between awareness and the apparent reality of Isvara, jiva, jagat and (2) that karma yoga, and contemplation as a consequence, should continue until that vision of reality (including mithya) is always present and available to me, just like any other mundane knowledge (such that it never needs to be recalled or remembered). At the moment, an applied effort is still required to cognitively resolve mithya, up to the knower, into pure awareness. Perhaps I’m wrong here, but I’ve deduced that the fully ascertained vision of reality implies an effortless cognitive resolution of the apparent reality into awareness (such as when one knows there is a mirage, no further effort is required to cognitively resolve it or remember it is a mirage – it is ascertained and treated as such).
James: You are right, an effortless cognitive resolution is freedom from mithya. Well said.
Jeff: I do have a couple of questions, actually:
1. Concerning the subtle body and what happens when the pranas are withdrawn and the sthula shariram is left for dead: I understand that if I haven’t got moksa yet then the “internal pressure” of the vasanas in the causal body is going to result in a further round in samsara (because the sense of smallness centred on the “I,” or ignorance, remains). But if instead I am already jivanmukti (the sense of smallness centred on the “I” is resolved once and for all and all the prarabdha karma is exhausted with the death of the gross body), is that the end of the jiva for good, just when I’d learned to live with him?
James: If by “jiva” you mean Jeff, yes. The jivatma is an eternal principle and it continues. But the jiva, the apparent individual created by the association of the jivatma with the subtle body, is finished. Its karmic account is closed. Even if there has been no effortless cognitive resolution, the specific Jeff-jiva is toast and a new “Jeff” appears to work out the unfulfilled karma. It is a new Jeff because the personality, Jeff, is an interaction of the existing unresolved vasanas that cause rebirth as they work out in a different time and place. We often remember that we were before (déjà vu, for example), but not who we were before.
Jeff: Do I then just abide as I, pure disembodied awareness, with no particular story/identity?
James: Yes, as you do now with a particular identity.
Jeff: This is a tricky one because at its heart is the fear of death of the jiva and the sense of being erased (so the essence of ignorance). Or does the jiva continue to shine as reflected awareness, but with the fully ascertained vision of the self-shining “I”?
James: That particular jiva is always only an apparent entity, so it is as good as dead to you even when it is present as it is now. So if you have a particular fondness for that person, it is good to see it as mithya while it is still present or it may cause rebirth, although it really doesn’t matter for the reason just explained – it is a different “Jeff.” The complete cognitive resolution of the apparent person negates the sense of doership, i.e. Jeff-ness, and Jeff realizes that he has done everything that needed to be done. He knows that the next time around will be exactly like this time around with a few different details, and he has no particular interest in returning. Although he may have developed an incipient fondness for life, there is no reason for him to return insofar as jivas are only here to get free of “here.” This doesn’t mean that all one’s efforts to be free are wasted, necessarily. It seems Isvara needs a handful of free beings in this earthly plane, so the jnani may be reborn at the behest of Isvara, the needs of the total (samasthi vasana). But even in that case the jnani, like the samsari, does not remember that he was a guy called Jeff in his last life. Or in the event that he did – anything is possible in maya – it would not mean anything to him, because he would know that that his past incarnation as well as his present incarnation is mithya.
Jeff: The fear of death, i.e. non-existence, persists as long as the vision of Reality is not ascertained: strange to be afraid of non-existence, which is impossible. But there it is, the ego is small and afraid (primordial ignorance), limitless “I” apparently collapsed down into a tiny being, what’s to become of “me”?!
James: As you point out, the fear of death – which is just a belief in non-existence, which is not possible since everything is always only awareness – is very strange because what is born is always dead, even when it appears to be alive.
Jeff: Sorry, that seems a little self-indulgent, but I guess it is the fundamental human problem. I think I really need to investigate this ignorance a bit more and see if it comes unstuck.
James: Speaking as the apparent James, I don’t want to go but I don’t want to stay either. The world and the beings in it are not non-existent, but they are as good as non-existent because they have no impact on you, the self. Fear of death is a strange business because the apparent person dies every night when it is resolved into the causal body. You presume that you will be back as the you you think you are, but you don’t know; many people die in their sleep. Yes, probably some more contemplation is warranted.
Jeff: 2. This question is somewhat related to the above but concerns the status of “higher beings”: Assuming there are higher beings that enjoy a much greater degree of ananda than human beings (the happiest of whom only enjoy a fraction of that fullness), and assuming that their bodies are solely subtle (but material) and that they have a predominantly sattvic nature, wouldn’t they all be liberated on account of that sattvic nature because of their sheer reflectivity and resultant ability to know the truth?
James: Not necessarily, although sattva does incline one to inquiry. A high degree of sattva may be a consequence of self-knowledge, but generally it is a consequence of following dharma impeccably. A jiva can follow dharma without knowing that it is awareness. Abilities need to be actualized to bear fruit. The degree of experiential anandam is related to the guna mix. You can get the right mix for intense and prolonged ananda by yoga or jnana, knowledge, by exhausting the binding vasanas and living a sattvic lifestyle.
But the reason higher beings do not seek or gain moksa is this: pleasure does not incline one to inquiry. The jiva is too happy to think about who it is because the intellect is subsumed in pleasurable sensations, so these jivas just exhaust the punya karma that brought them to their respective lokas and then are reborn again as human beings where they suffer and enjoy according to their prarabdha karma. Perhaps they seek moksa and perhaps they don’t.
Jeff: Are they just “aspects” of Isvara and their raison d’être is simply a share of Isvara’s?
James: I don’t understand this question. Can you rephrase it, please?
Jeff: I’m finding it difficult to understand why the ascertainment of knowledge for the human being will result in the resolution of the three bodies, but for much higher, sattvic beings bodies continue to subsist in Isvara (assuming these beings are jnanis).
James: “Higher beings,” whatever these words mean, are not jnanis although jnanis may be higher beings. There are many jnanis who do not have a lot of experiential anandam owing to their prarabdha – I think you are talking about experiential anandam? The bliss of awareness is not experiential; it is self-confidence. It doesn’t guarantee a particular kind of experience in the apparent reality.
The resolution of the three bodies is purely cognitive. It does not necessarily have experiential ramifications, although it may. For example, if a person in extreme pain resolves the three bodies, the pain in the bodies continues – until it doesn’t. The resolution doesn’t immediately resolve the pain, because they are in different planes in the apparent order of reality. It may eventually resolve it in time – depending on the nature of the pain – completely or partially because objects in the same order of reality do affect each other, often in ways too subtle to detect. While the resolution does not necessarily remove the pain, it removes suffering. Suffering is the web of mental and emotional negativity that the mind adds to the pain. The cognitive resolution amounts to knowing that the pain belongs to the bodies, not to the self. So the jnani is both subject to pain and not subject to pain, because jivas are a mixture of pain-free satya and pain-prone mithya, i.e. consciousness and matter. And although satya and mithya are both consciousness, they are not the same. I hope this is helpful.
Jeff: Your replies were very good and cleared up the doubts I was having to some extent. Just to clarify a couple of points then:
From the absolute perspective of the self (so from the point of view of the truth), I am free of the jiva already and always have been, so death and the “loss” of the jiva (I can’t really lose it, since I never had it) is inconsequential.
James: Yes. You never had it. You didn’t create it and you don’t sustain it. Isvara generates it to fulfill an unfulfilled stream of karma. It comes and goes at Isvara’s bequest like all objects. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” However, because the person-object is so subtle – it is just a thought, actually – and is pervaded by awareness, it seems to be living and seems to be “me,” so there is attachment to it. It is virtually indistinguishable from awareness.
Jeff: The trick is to practise the discrimination of the ever-actionless knower from the known (jiva) until the permanent cognitive resolution, or arising of self-knowledge. I appear to lose the jiva every night in sleep without the slightest bother, and it’s only because of continuing to confuse the self with the jiva that the fear of death appears. The self is just ordinary knowing (but actionless). So sitting here right now writing this, there are all the objects, including Jeff, and there is me, the ordinary, actionless awareness of it all.
James: Yes, indeed.
Jeff: The “eternal principle” though, of the jivatma – is that equivalent to the awareness-as-the-knower? What I’m processing here is that awareness is not the knower, but the knower is none other than awareness, just as the the light is not the illuminator, but the illuminator is none other than the light. Knower and illuminator are such with reference to known and illuminated, but their swarupam is awareness and light respectively. Is that knower then jivatma?
James: Yes. It is awareness plus the subtle body, the apparent person. They are one but they are not the same insofar as the jivatma is you, awareness, but you are not the jivatma. Appreciating the difference is liberation. Awareness appears as a jivatma, a knower. It can know because it has a subtle body and exists in the mithya dimension of awareness. Awareness is not the knower, because it is in the satya order of reality and there is no mithya in satya, so there is nothing to know. However, it is self-knowing. It is conscious is-ness, being.
Jeff: It remains, as you say, an eternal principle, and it is present now as me, the knower. However, won’t Isvara and jagat “continue” “in awareness” (as these are also fundamentally eternal, but mithya)? Isn’t awareness’s “power” (maya) co-eternal and therefore along with it the shining of Isvara and jagat?
James: Yes. Jiva, jagat and Isvara (the Creator) are eternal principles. They are manifest when and where maya operates. They become unmanifest at some point and remanifest at some indeterminant point.
Jeff: By “higher beings” I meant apparently individuated “creatures” with a subtle body and antakarana, including buddhi. This could include beings that are enjoying a time in a loka “higher” than this earth, all the way up to devas/demigods. I think your point about being saturated in bliss and thereby having the buddhi subsumed answered that very well. Suffering is indeed a good motivator for truth-seeking. I was struggling with the notion that such beings, with a much more refined intellect and quantum of intelligence, would continue as apparently individual creatures.
James: I suspected that is what you meant. Even if these beings want to know the truth, they can’t until their good karma runs out, because they need a physical body for moksa. There is no way to assimilate one’s experience without a physical body and an intellect. And there are no teachers or scripture in those lokas. And there is no need for moksa, because, as I pointed out, they are saturated with experiential bliss.
Jeff: I guess this isn’t really critical in terms of Vedanta, but I saw what I thought was a contradictory situation. I made the erroneous assumption, however, that such beings might be interested in self-knowledge.
James: No, it isn’t critical, but it removes the belief that if you carry on as you are accumulating merit here that you can get moksa later in heaven (svarga). It was a common belief in the Vedic age, the answer of religious types who were attached to ritualism. They didn’t like the idea of moksa here and now.
Jeff: By the way, when I asked if they are just “aspects” of Isvara and their raison d’être is simply a share of Isvara’s I was thinking of something akin to the Christian concept of “angels.” It is said that angelic beings’ wills are totally and irrevocably aligned with the Creator, so by “aspects” I meant something like “pure reflections” or those in whom a potentiality has been fully realised. This was more a curiosity than something of substance concerning Vedanta teachings (apart from the question about why such beings may not be liberated), and my language is pretty imprecise.
James: I also had this thought when I read your question. Yes, they are “angels.” They are just phenomenological aspects of Isvara. Their wills are aligned with Isvara’s insofar as they experience ananda, bliss, which is the nature of Isvara, but they don’t know there is no separation between them and Isvara, so they are reborn. They are still only jivas. They are still ignorant and bound to their karma, although they don’t know it. It is silly to even talk about them because once they come back here they have to experience whatever karma caused them to be reborn. Maybe they are inclined to moksa and maybe not – who knows?
Jeff: I’ve mulled over those points during the last few days and I think I’ve resolved an error I was making. Since there is only one jivatma subtle body as a principle, I was identifying that with the Isvara total subtle body. That is not correct, as the jivatma and Isvara are two upadhis of pure original awareness.
James: Yes. The jivatma is awareness apparently associated with a single subtle and gross body. Isvara is awareness apparently associated with the totality of gross and subtle bodies. Both are upadhis for awareness.
Jeff: But is it right to say, at the level of empirical reality rather than that of pure awareness, that although jivatma is not identical with Isvara (two different upadhis), it is non-different and also it is one with it? This is meant in the sense of the wave being non-different from the ocean – it’s only identical with the ocean at the level of “water,” but it is ever one with the ocean, nothing other than ocean itself, but not the totality and power of the ocean. Or using your analogy of the sun ray: the ray of sun is not different from the sun, but it is not its entirety either. However, one can appreciate what is “sun” through the appreciation of the single ray.
James: Yes, again. Yes, jivatma does not need to drink the seven seas to know salt water. It only needs to taste a single drop. The essence of the jiva is awareness.
Jeff: Also, you used the terms “Isvara 1” and “Isvara 2” to help me appreciate the difference between jivatma and Isvara: just to clarify, I take it to mean that by “Isvara 1” you are referring to the original pure awareness (“brahman,” “satya”), and “Isvara 2” as that awareness in association with the original subtlest matter, or maya (taken together to be “the Lord”). I understand you steer away from the term “brahman” in your teaching because of a lot of wrong associations and “baggage” around it. Is there any further subtle distinction that I’m missing here?
James: This is basically right, but the teaching is a little more nuanced. Isvara 1 is pure, limitless, original consciousness. This is called nirguna brahman, the self without qualities. It is free of objects. When or where the power of maya appears in pure consciousness all the objects, gross and subtle, are instantaneously fashioned out of Isvara 1. The gross and subtle objects are the three bodies. Isvara 2 is pure consciousness associated with the whole creation. It is called saguna brahman, awareness with qualities. Isvara 1 is also called atma or paramatma, indicating its limitlessness, and Isvara 2 appears as jivatma, an eternal individual, owing to its association with the three bodies. When the jivatmata knows that it is atma, it does not identify itself with the three bodies and is called a jivanmukta. When it does identify with the three bodies, it is called a samsari, an ignorant person.
Jeff: So I am the knower, which is jivatma, being pure awareness shining in/on the individual subtle body (as opposed to the total, macrocosmic subtle body of Isvara). I am unobjectifiable, not available for transaction or experience – and the jiva Jeff is a story that appears “in” me: it has a beginning and end, but I am beginningless and endless. That’s why you say that freedom is “freedom from, not for, the jiva.” Death for the samsari is the end of that story or chapter, and karma writes a new story. For the jnani, the story already ended with self-knowledge and karma is finished.
James: This is correct. The Jeff-story is a construct caused by superimposition, confusing the jivatma with the bodies. A jivanmukta has a story, but knows it is just a story. A samsari thinks he is his story.
Jeff: You once told me that with “enlightenment” you “get to keep your jiva” – did you mean that in the sense that the story of the jiva continues (and is known as such) here on earth until the prarabdha is exhausted? And only in that sense?
James: Got it in one. The idea that one is a specific individual need not be non-present, because the story is mithya and mithya does not cancel satya, because they are in different orders of the one reality, awareness. Many people believe that if there is a story, you are not enlightened. The idea is that story, which amounts to the person, needs to be non-present. So the “two orders of reality” understanding destroys the yoga notion that you have to destroy the mind/ego to be enlightened. You can put it this way: before you knew that you were pure awareness, you thought you were your story; afterwards the thought that you are your story may arise, but you don’t believe it. It is good to keep the idea that you are a specific individual alive because it makes the transactional reality a lot easier to negotiate insofar as everyone in it thinks they are their stories. Jnanis are always acting, pretending they are people, unless they have enlightenment sickness. Then they pretend they aren’t their stories to impress others and make themselves feel “enlightened.”
Jeff: Anyhow, James, thanks again – you’re a godsend.
James: You are most welcome, Jeff. Write anytime.