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Sundari: Hello, John. James has asked me to reply to this for him. I was born in Africa and have worked with the San Bushmen as well as other indigenous people, such as the Native Americans. I too had a deep interest in the origin of the human race and what governed the environmental, sociological and spiritual factors that shaped life as we know it today. It is all very interesting and fascinating; I still have an interest in it, even though I understand it all from a Vedantic perspective now. I have answered your questions below.
John: I’ve been reading a couple of books by Swedish scientist/anthropologist Lasse Berg, some fantastic award-winning stuff about the history of mankind. It’s about what science knows as far as the latest genetics, archaeology and so on. He is not what one would call a “traditionally spiritual type” (I’m not sure what that is anymore anyway). He is very well-respected and has a very human touch to his work, and he has been researching since the ’70s about the past of mankind, etc.
His latest books are about our past as gatherers and hunters on the African continent, and according to recent findings a totally different society and hierarchy emerged only a few thousand years ago when man went from hunter/gatherer in small groups to being farmers, putting up fences to our neighbours, owning land, building armies with the surplus the agricultural work supplied, hierarchic structures emerged, the whole “class-society” with slaves used for work and political leaders, propaganda, killing and taking over neighbouring tribes land and so on… pushing out the remaining hunters/gatherers slowly by claiming to “own” their land. The question he returns to over and over is if man is basically a selfish, greedy, violent species or if this is just a recent development of mankind.
He argues that our “true nature” (although not in any spiritual terms) as a species is basically something entirely different than what we see today. He says we are really are a species of cooperation, trust, love, music, beauty, curiosity, lazy and philosophic and humorous in nature. We are biologically designed for a life in small groups, working a couple of hours per day for food, no belongings more than we can carry on our backs… and so forth. Man has been around in the same physical form as today, for millions of years and just recently totally changed the way we eat and live. He has lived long periods with the San people of South Africa, which they say are the most ancient people on earth, dating 100,000 years back, of almost unchanged lifestyle. It’s known today, as you may know, that Africa is mankind’s place of origin and has later moved out in different periods to Europe and Asia to form the different “races” of today.
I find this whole view of man’s real nature very intriguing. I can feel it’s true deep in my heart. We have strayed unimaginably from our real place in the world and in nature. Lasse Berg also says that it’s no wonder people are feeling shitty in our society; it’s more a question of how we can at all survive in this totally unnatural social and physical environment we have created. Well, to keep it short, how does Vedanta relate to all this? Was man an unconscious ape for millions of years that suddenly became aware of himself when the brain reached a certain stage in evolution? (Obviously, “becoming aware of oneself” is not the same if you ask an Advaita person as if you ask an anthropologist.) How does this view of mankind relate to what Vedanta is calling “awareness” and “knowing who you are,” etc?
Sundari: Vedanta’s view on the evolutionary theory depends on which perspective you take; from the point of view of the self, nothing ever happened and there is no such thing as evolution, because there is no creation. From the point of view of the jiva, or individual, there is an apparent creation which seems to be evolving.
Isvara, before the projection of maya, refers to pure consciousness/awareness, or brahman. Maya is a power (shakti) that exists in awareness or it would not be unlimited. Once maya is projected, Isvara operating ignorance is also referred to as Isvara, or God, the Creator, the dharma field, the macrosmic mind, or the causal body. The creation is made up of the three energies, or gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas, although its nature is pure sattva. The creation is projected with the emergence of the three gunas. Sattva is intelligence, the knowledge that directs evolution (it shapes matter), tamas is the heavy, dense substance of matter, and rajas is the energy required to transform matter. The gunas are consciousness, and collectively they are the substance of creation.
In maya, the apparent reality, or creation, there are two forces: knowledge and ignorance. Ignorance creates involution, which is the identification with matter, or objects. Knowledge creates evolution, the attempt of consciousness to dis-entangle itself from matter (i.e. from identification with the objects, or ignorance).
Isvara, pure sattva operating maya, is not evolving – as it is not contaminated or influenced by rajas and tamas. As pure sattva, Isvara is the cause of maya, not its effects. This is the confusing part – because Isvara also appears as a jiva, or subtle body, and as such is also the effects of maya, so it is both evolving and involving. The effects of maya are called mithya, i.e. that which makes the apparently real appear real. Isvara is not really the effects of ignorance; it only appears as the apparent effects in a different form.
This is hard to understand, but what it means is that everything that is taking place in creation is happening because Isvara (the gunas) is the doer, not the jiva or awareness. The jiva, or individual, which is the self under the spell of ignorance identified with the objects, thinks it is the doer. But it is the gunas that are causing everything to unfold the way it does. The individual does appear to have limited free will, but in actual fact this “free” will is also governed by the vasanas, which in turn are governed by the gunas. So no one is doing anything really. This is the anthropic view: the creation is the way it is because it is the way it is. No one knows the mind of Isvara, because only Isvara has all knowledge. The individual only has knowledge of the objects it has contact with. Isvara is running the whole dharma field.
So everything is perfect the way it is; Isvara has it all programmed, and as the total, or macrocosmic mind, Isvara takes care of everything. Seen from the limited view of the individual, it seems like everything is degenerating and humankind has got “worse.” Many opinions and theories abound about this, from the scientific to the philosophical and the spiritual. People talk about consciousness “arising” or becoming “more aware” or “waking up.” Consciousness is all that is and it cannot become more conscious or more aware, because it is the substrate for everything; nothing exists without it. But consciousness is always free of everything. It cannot “wake up,” because it never slept. One cannot “become” aware, you can only realise that your nature is and always has been awareness, through the application of self-knowledge to the mind, which removes ignorance of your true nature. All of the theories about evolution may have some truth to them, but in the big picture it does not make any difference one way or the other. The belief that things should be different or better is a limited view and a great cause of suffering in itself.
John: If you are not seeking, this interest in oneself and mankind does not arise at all? Isn’t that just the same as total ignorance or is a person who never feels the urge to know anything about anything really the liberated one?
Sundari: Maya, total ignorance, creates samsara, which is the belief in duality. People who are totally identified with the body and the objects have no knowledge of their true nature as non-dual, actionless, unchanging, ordinary awareness. Samsaris, or people who think they are people, are nonetheless the self under the spell of ignorance. Duality causes suffering, so samsaris who, driven by desire, seek relief with the pursuit of objects to complete them. They create religions, distractions and addictions of all kinds, in a vain attempt to end the suffering. This attempt to find a greater meaning is something all people have, even the ones who seem most depraved and lost. It is built in to the creation to seek the self, whether one knows that they are doing this or not. The spiritual path is full of seekers looking for answers; very few of them become finders. The ones that do become finders are the ones that come to Vedanta, because it alone has a proven means of knowledge to remove ignorance of one’s true nature. There are some people though who seem to live life relatively free even though they do not have knowledge of their true nature as awareness. These people live untroubled lives and seem not to need to seek anything. They are not free in that they still identify with the body and the objects, but they enjoy happier lives than the average samsari. It is up to Isvara what karma one comes in with; this is what is meant by one’s “vasana load.”
I hope this helps.
~ Om and prem, Sundari