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Does the World Actually Change?
Paul: Dear James, Hari Om!
Congratulations! You made the list of Advaita Vedanta teachers at StillnessSpeaks.com. Unfortunately, the list also includes the likes of Adyshanti, Mooji, Gangaji, Francis Lucille and Rupert Spira. Except for yourself, there aren’t any true living Advaita Vedanta teachers on the list. No one from Arsha Vidya or Chinmaya Mission or the Ramakrishna Order or even Swami Parmarthananda make it.
James: Chris [Hebard] is a really good guy doing valuable service. He’s been very kind to me. He’s satisfied that I represent non-duality sufficiently. I don’t think he is confused about the difference between Neo-Advaita– i.e. “advaita” – and Vedanta. Vedanta is a category of one, but I’m not complaining, as it increases the exposure of the teaching and these people are making a valuable contribution. There are no differences. They use the word advaita, which they picked up from Papaji via Ramana or from Jean Klein via Atmananda. Neither Jean Klein nor Papaji nor Ramana, for that matter, were traditional Vedanta teachers, although they taught non-duality according to their own lights. No blame. The word advaita and certain basic Vedantic principles that they elucidate – you are not the body-mind, you are awareness, you are not your story/ego – need to get out. So it’s all good. There are no differences.
Paul: The problem I have is basically grammatical rather than philosophical. However, “changing” the grammar could bring up some philosophical questions. The problem is in proving that only non-dual Brahman is real and the world and all external objects are unreal (only apparently real), we say they are inert and changing. The five elements, which in various combinations make up prakriti (nature), are considered inert. The world and all external objects, whether gross matter or subtle matter, are comprised of prakriti. Yet we say they are constantly changing (active voice), which proves they are not truly real but only appearances. However, anything that is inert cannot change. According to the laws of physics, inert objects will continue at rest or in motion in the same direction until acted upon by an external force. So Arsha Vidya instead should teach that the world and all its objects, including jivas, can BE changed (passive voice). But Brahman alone is real because Brahman cannot BE changed.
James: Yes. The key idea is prakriti, which in terms of the dream of Maya does actively evolve. Vedanta provisionally accepts this view. Actually, Maya is consciousness, so it doesn’t evolve, but it looks like it does.
Paul: This problem doesn’t exist in dualist Samkhyan philosophy, which preceded and was absorbed by Vedanta, because purusha is inert while prakriti is ever-changing. In the undifferentiated state of moola prakriti, the three gunas (not qualities but elements) are in equilibrium. When this equilibrium is disturbed, the gunas are thrown out of balance, causing an unending cycle of changes (evolution). Mahat, or intelligence, the first evolute of prakriti, evolves into ttatva (reflected consciousness), and from that evolves manas, the mind, the organs, senses and all the subtle matter which eventually evolves into gross matter. So nature (prakriti) and not purusha is the cause of all manifestations in Samkhyan philosophy. However, mahat and ttatva have no light of their own. Instead the purusha (or soul), a simple entity, not a compound, shines through them. It is immaterial, the only one who is immaterial, and all these various manifestations are material.
Paul: Getting back to Arsha Vidya, if we accept the fact that matter cannot in and of itself change, because it is inert, and therefore it must BE changed, the question then becomes, what changes it? There seems to be only two choices: the atman, whose light is reflected through the intellect (buddhi) or the three gunas (which are qualities and not elements as in Samkhya). However, the gunas are another name for Maya. So the other possibility is that Isvara operating through Maya in vyavaharik satyam uses Maya’s projecting power (vikshepa) to cause apparent movement and change at the level of pratibhasik satyam (jiva shristi). Thus all apparent matter can be changed either externally or internally at this level. However, neither Isvara nor Maya exist at the parmarthika satyam level of Absolute Reality. Therefore Brahman neither changes nor can be changed.
James: The issue, which you seem to understand, is satya and mithya. Neither matter nor awareness actually change, but they seem to when we view them through our senses, which are in Maya and apparently changing. We don’t know that it is identification with the changing senses that makes the world seem to be changing. Well, you know this.
But insofar as the dream of Maya is real, it is possible to effect change because prakriti evolves. That’s what the discussion on free will in Chapters II to VI of the Gita is all about. I’m about to publish a book on the three gunas, which is basically guna management and how it relates to moksa. It should be out in a couple of weeks. Both Paramarthanda and Dayananda make this clear. But the problem is basically Sanskrit. It is not a problem if you have gone though the patashala/yagnashala system and learned the proper definitions of the words, but anyone who hasn’t is going to get confused. It seems it is my job, sadly in a way, to free Vedanta from the rigors of Sanskrit so it is available to a wider audience. Knowledge of Sanskrit is not required for moksa, which is the purpose of Vedanta. Only knowledge of satya and mithya is necessary, which can be taught in any language. English works well. Dayananda held the view at one time that Sanskrit was required, but revised it later. Only knowledge is required, and knowledge can be expressed in any language. It might be interesting to get Carol Whitfield’s view on this, as she is a jnani and a strict traditionalist.
~ Love, James