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Creation in a Nutshell
Raphael: Dear Sundari, I hope you are well and enjoying summer. Some weeks ago I was in touch with you regarding some questions I had on the teachings. I have since tried to answer my own questions by researching the satsang section at the website. I am, however, not entirely clear on two issues and would so much appreciate your clarification.
Sundari: Good to hear from you again, Raphael.
Raphael: My first question concerns the relationship between the self, maya and Isvara in the apparent “creation” process. Could you kindly give a clear, simplified description of how creation (apparently) happens and how maya and Isvara work in this process? Despite reading numerous satsangs and the articles you emailed me last time, I am not quite clear on how it all fits together. Also, how does Isvara come into being and who creates, maya or Isvara?
Sundari: I have given you the creation teaching as simply as possible, but I strongly suggest that you read James’ new book Inquiry into Existence: The Lamp of Knowledge, as it covers this topic extensively.
Creation in a Nutshell
It is not really necessary for moksa to understand all the subtleties of creation, and the teaching on this is very technical, but understanding certainly does help to destroy the idea of doership.
Before the individual jiva appears, we need to understand the context in which it appears. In the very “beginning” there is only consciousness – not that consciousness has a beginning. We can call pure consciousness paramatman, or Isvara 1. Maya, or macrocosmic ignorance, is the power to create and delude which exists in awareness or it could not be unlimited. In order to create, Isvara needs two principles: the subject and the object, i.e. duality. Duality is thus a superimposition onto non-duality, awareness. Maya is beginningless because awareness is beginningless, although maya is not always manifesting. When and where it does manifest, it operates only on a “tiny fraction of awareness” because it is not possible to obscure awareness. Maya creates an apparent obscuration, not a real one. This helps to put maya in perspective because awareness has no parts, cannot be quantified and is beyond time and space. 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.
When maya appears, Isvara 1 (pure awareness) appears in the role of Creator. We can call this Isvara 2 – awareness plus maya. Isvara 2 in the role of Creator is also beginningless, but also not always manifesting, because the creation is not always manifest. When and where maya appears, Isvara’s creation, or matter, appears in the form of prakriti, or nature, a fine reflective substance, like a mirror, in which inhere three powers – sattva, rajas and tamas, creating the world of objects, i.e. the effects. Prakriti evolves but awareness does not evolve, because awareness is unchanged by the creation. Isvara plus maya creates, sustains and destroys the whole universe. It is difficult to say if Isvara creates maya or maya creates Isvara because they are essentially the same thing and appear simultaneously.
At the first stage of creation the three powers inherent in maya are not called gunas; the creation is inchoate and in potentia, so these powers are called shaktis – or qualities – and not gunas, because there is no jiva to bind yet. This reflective mirror creates in three stages.
1. In the first stage, sattva (pure knowledge) is predominant and rajas and tamas are suppressed. In sattva all the knowledge of all the forces and factors are contained; it is the seed of all creation because creation is intelligently designed.
2. In the second stage, rajas is predominant and sattva and tamas are suppressed. When rajas ispredominant, consciousness appears as the eternal universal person, or jiva, before it becomes a discrete individual. The jiva is a mixture of matter and consciousness; avidya, or personal ignorance, appears and the potential for confusion about its true nature has been established. The stage is set but the game has not begun – it is not actual confusion yet, as time has not yet appeared.
3. The creation is not complete until the third stage, when tamas predominates and rajas and sattva are suppressed. Here the five elements appear in their subtle forms (tanmatras). They split and recombine with each other, grossifying (panchikarana) into the material gross world we see. The universal jiva (apparently) splinters into many discrete jivas – picture a mirror shattering. The countless shards of mirror still reflect the light and seem disparate, but actually make up the one mirror. This is when Isvara’s creation is complete; here the gunas become ropes which bind because there is something to bind the jiva to, i.e. matter, or identification with a body. The jiva then believes it is a person and incomplete, so starts to act out its programme, which is the conditioning that Isvara plus maya has created for it.
Isvara plus maya now assumes a different role in addition to its role as Creator, called karma phala datta – it facilitates the results of jiva’s actions and delivers its karma. Here time appears because there is a gap between the jiva’s actions and the results of action. Time is the interval between changes, or the space between experiences. Time is synonymous with desire because dissatisfaction arises from not getting what you want or believing you need something you don’t have. The gunas become binding because of time, thus causality is possible, so the causal body is established as an effect of maya/Isvara 2. The macrocosmic casual body is another name for Isvara/maya and has all powers in it (omniscience): the power of knowledge (jnana shakti), the power of will or desire (iccha shakti) and the power of action (kriya shakti).
Creation has two orders or ontological categories: the cause and the effect. Isvara/macrocosmic causal body, the cause, is eternal and not in the same order of reality as the subtle body, or microcosmic causal body, the effect. The microcosmic causal body can be changed by the jiva, either by action or knowledge. There is no causality for Isvara, because Isvara is not affected by the gunas; the creation is an apparent creation made of ignorance and therefore only apparently real. If it were possible for jiva to effect change in Isvara or maya, the whole creation would fall apart. The distinction to be made is that the effects which make up the dharma field are Isvara, but Isvara is not the effects. Isvara is the cause, not the effects. Time and causation only apply to the effects as they affect, change and modify each other.
Avidya, or personal ignorance (microcosmic causal body), originates from the macrocosmic causal body, or gunas, and is what creates samsara, the belief in separation, the wheel of desire, which both reinforces existing vasanas given by Isvara and the resulting karma as well as creating new vasanas = karmas in an endless and repetitive cycle of suffering called bondage, until self-knowledge removes ignorance of one’s true nature.
Isvara and jiva are essentially the same because their true nature is awareness, and together they make up or comprise the apparent reality. But they are also different because jiva depends upon Isvara wheras Isvara does not depend upon jiva. Isvara is omniscient and creates and sustains the whole universe; jiva only knows the objects it has contact with and creates nothing other than its subjective reality. And they are different because their upadhis are different. An upadhi is a limiting adjunct: that which makes something look other than it is. Isvara’s upadhi is maya – it makes pure awareness look like a creator. Jiva’s upadhi is the five koshas, or sheaths (body/mind/intellect/prana/bliss sheaths), which make the jiva look like a doer. Each upadhi is unique to the jiva, which is why one person cannot know what another is thinking, and vice versa.
Isvara as pure awareness prior to maya manifesting (paramatman) is called eternal and imperishable, but it is actually neither. Eternal and imperishable infer non-eternal and perishable, and since paramatman is non-dual, it is neither. It is is-ness, being, existence. 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 awareness has no qualities and is the non-experiencing witness of the experiencing entity, or jiva. Although awareness 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) arise when maya (ignorance) appears.
The apparent reality 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, and the laws that run the dharma field. The jivanmukta, the self freed of apparent ignorance appearing as a human being, is free of attachment to objects created by ignorance. He or she has no problem with Isvara or jiva-hood, because both appear as objects. This does not mean that the gunas cease to exist, but the jiva who knows itself to be awareness knows it is trigunaatita, beyond the gunas. However, Isvara srsti, or cosmic creation, continues as “before enlightenment.” The gunas no longer condition the jivanmukta, or the self no longer under the spell of ignorance, thus the jivanmukta does not project the person’s creation, or jiva srsti, onto Isvara. The jiva, the gunas and Isvara are objects known to awareness.
Enlightened or not, the conditioning the jiva is born with is predetermined, and thus all the choices the jiva makes are a consequence of this as it interacts with its environment. The jiva has “contributory” free will, but not “causative” free will. Causative free will is determined by karma; nothing can be done about it. An arrow released from a bow cannot be stopped mid-flight. Contributory free will is the choices people make in particular karmic situations. They influence destiny. But free will and determinism are only issues for human beings identified with being human beings. As awareness, my primary identity is not a person, so I know I am really free of will. However, the only way to end bondage and to live free of the jiva is to negate the doer, or person, and render its conditioning non-binding through self-knowledge.
Two Orders of Reality: Real and Apparently Real
Although its appearance gives rise to the apparent reality, maya is neither real nor unreal. Maya creates the categories of real and apparently real. Without maya there is no creation, no jiva and no Isvara. When personal ignorance (avidya) ends for the jiva, maya, or cosmic ignorance, continues unchanged, although it is not always manifest, because the creation is not always manifest.
The 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, the 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. Raphael 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 Raphael’s consciousness depends on Isvara’s consciousness and Isvara’s consciousness depends on paramatma, pure consciousness, then both Raphael 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 in the role of Creator – 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’s 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 (subtle body), 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, or spirit and matter. 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. If you don’t depend on the world or on Raphael, 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. This 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.
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. So there is just you, consciousness, in which the jiva appears in a particular a priori environment, Isvara. Within Isvara’s creation are innumerable jivas, individuals: plants, animals, humans, insects, etc. A jiva is any living being with a gross, subtle and causal body. Human jivas have intellect, which makes them self-aware, self-reflective. This means that they can interpret their experiences and their environment. 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 Raphael and he sees things a certain way, owing to his 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, meaning 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, the jiva 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 because 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 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, what we call Isvara, is the Creator.
To recap: when maya appears Isvara in the role of Creator manifests, creating the world and everything in it (the effects). And Isvara wielding maya apparently deludes the self into identifying with the subtle body, which then believes that awareness is something to gain instead of its own nature. It appears as if awareness is individual and “playing out” in a multitude of ways, but as there is only one awareness and we are all it, there is really only one universal jiva appearing as the many. The conditioning, or vasana load, for each jiva created and coloured by the gunas gives rise to the jiva’s apparent individuality. This then gets projected onto Isvara’s creation, giving rise to the individual story the jiva inhabits and thinks it is defined by, suffering accordingly.
Raphael: Thank you ever so much in advance.
~ Infinite blessings, Raphael
Sundari: You are welcome.
~ Love, Sundari