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The Purpose of the Cause-and-Effect Teaching
Stan: A more practical question: I love reading James’ and other books on Vedanta, and I (think that I) understand most of it, but there’s one topic that I find rather frustrating because it’s so very complicated: the whole theory about Creation, panchikarana prakriya (with difficult terms like tanmatras, perceptive organs, subtle organs, etc., etc.). I’ve read it again and again, but it’s still hard to understand. I’ve also read (or tried to) Inquiry into Existence: The Lamp of Knowledge, but I think this is James’ most difficult book.
In The Yoga of the Three Energies, James writes that “the Creation teaching is not meant to cement clever concepts, but to point out the fact that the Creation is a set-up.” So I’m wondering to what degree we really must understand and know (by heart?) the whole Creation teaching in detail or is it just enough to read about it and – indeed – realize that it is a set-up?
Sundari: Yes, indeed, the Creation teaching is confusing and extremely subtle. The main purpose of the cause-and-effect teaching (as all other prakriyas adopted by the Upanishads) is not to make you believe in causation or the Creation. It is to reveal the truth of the Self being attribute-free, limitless, partless, beginningless and endless consciousness; and that the Creation is neither real or unreal, but has a dependent reality on you, consciousness.
Therefore, since the Self does not undergo any change ever, the karana karya prakriya (cause-and-effect proof) is meant to unfold the fact that not only is the Self is limitless, you are non-separate from it.
Why James says that the prakriya is a set-up is that once you understand the cause-and-effect teaching, the next step, the non-origination teaching in the Mandukya karika, makes sense. The Mandukya karika is the most advanced and subtle of all Vedanta teachings, as it explains why the cause-and-effect teaching is not the whole truth.
It answers the logical question: How can sat, consciousness, be the basis of the material Creation if it is non-dual consciousness? The material Creation is not material. It is a projection caused by Maya, which is not the same NOR different from sat, existence/awareness. You can’t get something out of something that is incapable of modification. Sat is not the cause of anything. How could it be? If it was, it would not be non-dual.
The Mandukya also points out that the Self implies not-Self. When you know you are the Self, there is no satya and mithya for you anymore; they are just concepts/principles used to teach you that you are the Self, and can be discarded. Mithya “becomes” satya because it was satya all along. You see everything as just IS-NESS, a direct experience of existence as your identity, the Self.
So no, you do not have to understand the whole cause-and-effect prakriya by heart, as long as you understand the common identity between consciousness, Isvara and jiva to be sat, the Self: you. Knowing all the details verbatim is not necessary, especially if you understand the non-origination teaching. And if this understanding allows you to discriminate that the existence of all objects belongs to consciousness, that all objects have a dependent existence on you, then Maya is no problem; you understand the principles that run mithya and live free of it.
Does that answer your question?
~ Much love, Sundari