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Nothing Ever Happens
Arlindo: The “nothing ever happens” teaching refers to the fact that from the standpoint of non-dual awareness, the only independent and all-pervasive principle in creation, nothing ever changes or modifies. All happenings are dependent on the modifications occurring in Isvara’s field of actions. Life presents events and situations to us 24/7; it is a flux of pure change.
But from the standpoint of awareness, our true essential nature, nothing ever changes. With the aid of one of our traditional metaphors let’s think of ourselves as space (keep in mind that space is not conscious, whereas we are). Being the first and most subtle of all elements in creation, all objects, events, things, people, etc. depend on space for their appearance, while space never moves, always remaining intact.
All gross and subtle objects constantly appear and modify within space, giving us the impression of time. But from the standpoint of space, nothing ever happens, because space does not need to modify itself in order to accommodate objects. Objects appear and disappear (happen) within the scope of space, while space remains totally unaffected and unmodified (no happenings). Nothing ever happens to you, awareness!
Questioner: Thank you, Arlindo, I agree, space is a great metaphor. Where I get stuck is between self – as our very nature as consciousness – true self as being unattached, unconcerned, totally dispassionate, etc., which I can comprehend, and the portrayal of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita as being such a loving, patient and kind teacher to Arjuna. There is part of me that thinks that “being” the creation also, the source and abiding essence of all manifest creation should still “care” about the goings-on on our planet and elsewhere. This question must come up once in a while?
Arlindo: You are talking of two orders of reality of the one non-dual reality, “the waves and the ocean.” The jnani is firm in its identity as pure awareness (satya). But for as long as its body lives, the jnani must transact in the world (mithya) in the same way other jivas do. It is aware of its primary fundamental nature/identity, but it is also aware of its secondary apparent nature as a jiva, and as a jiva it is called to think and act, but he/she does so in harmony with dharma, otherwise the jnani is not really a jnani.
A jivanmukta (a jiva with firm knowledge) may also respond to the apparent suffering experienced by jivas according to jivanmukta’s own program. For example, I have studied the life of a great jnani/sage of India whose life was but to serve and help the ones in need by alleviating their suffering, and teaching them self-knowledge. He used to travel all over India looking for evolved souls living on the streets in deprivation as mendicants.
“The wise grieve neither for the dead nor for the living,” to quote Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. The jnani knows that the self was never born and will never die. The jnani also knows that the apparent jivas are born and die, and that for most of the time they suffer their fleeting existence, due to self-ignorance. The jnani watches the apparent suffering in the world, knowing perfectly well its root cause. Therefore he/she is not really concerned, because all apparent beings are following their own nature provided by Isvara, as well experiencing their own prarabdha karma (the unseen results of one’s previous thoughts and actions). From the perspective of the ocean, there is no need for any concern regarding the rise and fall of countless apparent waves within itself.
Questioner: The non-dual reality then has plenty of room for both orders of reality? They don’t have to be at odds with one another then, correct? How does the jiva know which order of reality it is representing at a given moment?
Arlindo: Good question. Reality/awareness is non-dual (satya). But due to a power called maya, a sub-order of reality (mithya) is created/projected within awareness. This secondary order of reality exists just like the gold ring exists. But the universe, being a superimposition on awareness, is not “really” real, but only apparently real, the same way the ring made of gold in truth is only gold. The ring is a superimposition on gold, the essential nature of the apparent ring.
Now, how real is the ring? It is not real, because it can be negated. We can only negate that which depends on a more fundamental principle for its existence. If we remove the gold, the gold ring does not stand on its own. The ring does not get confused about its absolute or dependable nature, because the gold ring does not possess a subtle body in order to reflect gold and develop gold-consciousness. The gold ring is inert.
But that is not the case with the human jivas, therefore the relevance of your good question. Jiva is an object in mithya, but a very peculiar one because it reflects consciousness to became self-conscious and intelligent. Jiva is reflected awareness! The three bodies are but the reflecting apparatus. A jiva with firm self-knowledge (jivanmukta) knows its primary, fundamental identity to be awareness, but as awareness one cannot act and transact in mithya. Awareness without the three bodies is not an experiencing entity.
But once awareness manifests in mithya to produce the phenomenon called jiva-hood, it becomes an experiencing entity. But it is important to note that jiva and all other objects in mithya do not exist without awareness, and therefore a jiva in its essence is but awareness, just like the ring is but pure gold. The difference in this analogy is that the gold ring will never realize its true nature as gold, whereas jiva eventually will come to the recognition of its real nature as awareness.
To respond your question, “How does the jiva know which order of reality it is representing at a given moment?”: BOTH. At all moments, the jiva is simultaneously at play in satya and mithya because mithya exists within the scope of satya, it depends on satya. There is no mithya without satya. But it is important to also note that the attributes of mithya do not apply to satya. Satya is the attributeless, existing, conscious, limitless principle from which mithya emerges from time to time.
Self-realization is only possible by the means of knowledge. You cannot separate satya from mithya except in your understanding. Once this understanding is clear and firm, the jiva lives in mithya, properly responding to it as a good doer of actions, but knowing perfectly well that all is but a play of consciousness in conjunction with maya/Isvara, the three gunas and the five elements – all made of one single nature, awareness.