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Isvara Cannot Be Conditioned by Maya
Samuel: You always emphasize how the self is that which knows itself and in the presence of objects knows objects. But in any given experience where there are objects to be known, would one say that Isvara is the knower (rather than the supreme self, which sees only itself)?
Sundari: Yes, you could say that the self is the knowing principle, or that which makes knowing possible, Isvara is the knower and the jiva is the known. Maya makes it seem like awareness is a knower because when maya manifests and the objects appear, there is something for awareness to “know,” as you point out. Although, as you also point out, as awareness sees only itself, there are no objects to see, from its point of view. The jiva under the spell of ignorance, or duality, believes that it is “other than” and separate from what it sees. Once personal ignorance (avidya) has been removed by self-knowledge, there is no more ignorance/maya in my mind, although macrocosmic ignorance/maya continues.
Awareness can be likened to the eyes which see everything and, although we cannot see our eyes other than in a mirror, without our eyes we cannot see. The apparent reality (or reflected reality) is the mirror in which we see the essence of our true selves. All objects dissolve in me. Moksa is the ability to discriminate the subject – awareness (satya) from the objects that arise in you, are made up of you and depend on you (mithya) – but you are ever free of the objects and depend on nothing (satya).
Samuel: Also, as Isvara “controls” maya, is Isvara under the influence of maya (and duality) at all?
Sundari: This is a very important statement, so remember it: if Isvara could be conditioned by maya (the gunas), it would mean that maya is real – and there would be no escape from ignorance.
Think about it: maya is the power in awareness to delude or limit. Awareness is limitless and has all powers – which means that without this power to limit awareness could not be unlimited. Maya is not always manifest and it is neither real nor unreal. But we can say that it creates the categories of real and unreal because when maya manifests, objects/duality/ignorance appear in awareness. Objects are not real, they are mithya, meaning not always present and always changing. Isvara is really pure awareness, which by definition is that which is always present and never changes – satya.
When maya appears, Isvara wielding maya “assumes” the role of Creator and we (apparently) have the two categories in creation: cause/satya and effect/mithya. The cause (subject) is independent of and never affected by the effect (the object.) For instance, looked at from the jiva point of view, if as a potter I create a pot, does the pot know me? No. If as a businessman I create great wealth, does the wealth know me? No. And looked at from awareness’s point of view, does “your” body know you? Does your brain know you? Do your thoughts/feelings know you? NO. The body-mind is inert – it appears conscious because the light of awareness (you) shine on it.
Isvara (jagat karanam) is the both the intelligent cause, that which shapes the materials into form (without ever losing or modifying its own nature as pure awareness); it also gives rise to the material substance (prakriti), meaning the effect from which the forms are created. Isvara associated with maya is conscious (although Isvara is not a jiva, or person) and is not modified by ignorance/maya (the gunas), so therefore can never be affected by the creation (which is not conscious).
Maya is an object known to awareness, as is Isvara in the role of Creator. Like maya, Isvara is always present in awareness but it is either manifest or unmanifest with reference to awareness. Therefore Isvara associated with maya is not real either, although in terms of the apparent person, Isvara in the role of Creator 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. Only awareness is limitless.
The jiva is limited and conditioned by the gunas. However, the jiva is not actually bound, because it is really pure awareness and ignorance can be removed by self-knowledge. Once ignorance of one’s true nature is removed, the apparent person continues to exist in the apparent reality, although as the self no longer under the spell of ignorance (jivanmukta) it is forever free of the notion that it is limited, inadequate and incomplete. The jiva then knows it is nameless, formless unconditioned awareness.
We have been through this teaching before when you asked about prakriti. This is what I said in our last exchange: Isvara associated with maya is independent of prakriti because Isvara is trigunaatita, beyond the gunas. Prakriti depends on Isvara, not the other way around. Isvara is really pure consciousness and gives rise to creation but is always free of the creation.
I hope this helps to clear up this confusion.
~ Much love, Sundari