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The Difference Between Sentient and Insentient Forms
Tess: Today I heard James say that when awareness shines on something, the energies start spinning on this reflection, making things happen. I can understand how this makes humans do things, i.e. creating action, etc. so in a way everything we do is done by Isvara through us. But what about trees, flowers, animals, etc? What makes our bodies breathe, seeds grow and the tide flow?
Rory: Chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita deals precisely with this. Basically, two factors come together to create the world of existence. Vedanta sometimes borrows the Samkhya terms prakriti and purusha, which means matter and spirit – the field of maya and the self. Matter is inert by itself, insentient – just as the moon has no light of its own, the material field has no life without the animating presence of awareness.
James’ teacher Swami Chinmayananda described it as follows: “Spirit itself has no expression except when it plays through matter. When purusha weds prakriti, the world of plurality appears, and the experiences of good and bad in legion are born. Electricity in itself can’t manifest as light. But when it weds the bulb, it is manifested as light.”
Without electricity, a light bulb is just an inert assemblage of glass and metal. The presence of electricity, however, grants it life and it becomes capable generating light. It’s the same with the field of matter and the self. The self is like the universal electricity which blesses the material field with life.
This applies to all life. Animals, flowers, trees, etc. are not much different to human beings. The only difference is that we have a much more developed subtle body and intellect. Plants have only the most rudimentary subtle body and no self-awareness (that we know of, anyway!).
What distinguishes sentient beings from insentient forms like rocks, for instance, is that while rocks have a gross body, they don’t have a subtle body. A subtle body is a reflecting medium for the light of consciousness to manifest itself through form. Ultimately, everything is the very same consciousness/awareness/self, but it expresses itself differently depending on the “equipment” (the gross and subtle bodies).
Tess: That makes sense. It’s interesting to think rocks have “bodies,” ha ha, but it does make sense.
Rory: I’m glad it clarifies things. Really, this entire field of material existence is one big body (the body of Isvara), which appears to manifest as countless trillions of individual forms.