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Marco: Greetings, Sundari.
It has been a while since my last correspondence. I hope all is well and that the South Africa teaching went well too. My brother and his wife just got back this week. He said he likes James’ teaching. Anyway, a question:
How is it that James can say that Isvara is not compassionate, only that omnipotence trumps compassion? (Page 191 of Inquiry into Existence, verses 157-158.) I have had a challenge over the years not seeing Isvara as a big jiva with likes and dislikes. I began to understand, as James writes in this commentary, Isvara as more like a mechanism, i.e. the mechanism of karma, gravity, etc. unaffected by the jiva’s desires. I have difficulty understanding the place for compassion in this light. Is it that Isvara providing a means to liberate the jiva from its ignorance can be viewed as compassion?
Sundari: Yes, indeed, if providing a means for ignorance to be removed is not compassion, what is? Yet, compassion in the sense that Vedanta uses it is not how humans tend to understand the term, which is generally as kindness and good-heartedness to all beings. Isvara is the intelligent cause behind everything, and its compassion is inextricably linked to its omniscience and omnipotence. Its “job” is to take care of the whole field of existence first. Isvara is the mechanism by which the nature and function of all existent objects are controlled to keep the show on the road and to make purposeful work possible. If this were not so, everything would grind to a halt. Isvara is not a person but simply facilitates the jiva’s karma, and thus the gunas must be able to play out from one end of the spectrum to the other.
As James says in Inquiry, Isvara does not answer prayers, because it is constrained by the law of karma and can only “care” about everyone equally, sinner and saint alike. It actually does not and cannot care one way or about our personal wants, yet it does give us everything we need to survive, even when it does not seem to be doing so, depending on what survival means to you.
The short-sighted view of how the field plays out does seem brutal and uncaring, but in the big picture, it never is. If Isvara did not keep the game going for us, how would we work out our karma? It seems to me that you are still stuck on the idea of good and evil, which we have discussed before.
Marco: Another question arises from a statement on page 200, verses 4-16 (Inquiry). James says that knowledge or ignorance of all objects that fall outside the range of jiva’s perception are known by original witness consciousness. I was of the understanding that it is Isvara through the mechanism of the subtle body that “makes” objects known. In the sentence just above, he says that reflected consciousness is what converts unknown objects to known objects.
Sundari: Consciousness is the witness of all, but what is it witnessing? Itself. Therefore consciousness cannot be said to know objects, because it does not modify to knowledge or experience. Consciousness in association with Maya, Isvara, is the conscious principle and the knower of all that is known and unknown to the individual subtle body, which is why we say Isvara is omniscient. Reflected consciousness, the subtle body – i.e. the reflected medium – is not conscious. The jiva, which is part of the reflected medium (the Field of Existence) seems sentient and is able to know because the light of consciousness shines on it, converting unknown objects to known objects. Isvara alone knows all factors in the field.
Marco: With original consciousness, is there any possibility of any object, either known or unknown? How can there be objects (anything “other”) in consciousness?
Sundari: There are no objects in consciousness. Obviously, there is a Creation because we can’t experience something that doesn’t exist, but the Creation is as good as non-existent because it has no impact on the Self, nor does the Self impact on it. Vedanta first teaches that all objects arise from consciousness, then it progresses to teach that there is no Creation for the Self. If you remember, the cause-and-effect teaching is superseded by the non-origination teaching; we have been through this before as well. The purpose of the cause-and-effect teaching is not to prove cause and effect but to eliminate all the variable factors and expose the only invariable factor – consciousness.
As long as you think matter is real you need a cause for it, then the sat “aspect” of the Self is responsible for the material Creation. But matter is purely a projection. When you dig into it, it resolves into existence/consciousness, the substratum. Sentient and inert are just teaching tools, they don’t refer to real objects in the Creation. We need them because we are teaching people who think they are sentient beings caught in a material world when they are always sat-chit-ananda atma.
Remember, satya and mithya never meet. There are no objects for consciousness to know other than when Maya appears and there is (apparently) something for consciousness to know. But consciousness knows only itself. Isvara also knows only itself and has no problem with ignorance. Maya creates the appearance of objects, which are only apparently real.
Marco: In fact, can an object that is not known be said to exist as an unknown object? Is it not Maya or Isvara that which “creates” the appearance of objects which, as mithya, merely reflect original consciousness?
Sundari: Not exist for whom? Objects don’t exist without knowledge of them for the jiva, but that does not mean empirical objects don’t exist because you do not have knowledge of them. Mount Everest exists whether you have any knowledge of it or not. All knowledge depends on consciousness. The point is, what is the nature of all objects, known and unknown, subtle or gross? Everything real and unreal is an object of consciousness, which is existence.
The existence in existence is only consciousness because you cannot have an object (existence) without knowledge of it, and the knowledge of it as stated above is not possible without consciousness. So all objects are just consciousness in the form of thoughts, i.e. knowledge.
This is basically a useless inquiry because the only real issue is whether or not you understand that you are consciousness and whether that knowledge destroys your sense of doership.
Marco: I guess I need to better understand what James says in the rest of the commentary on those verses.
Sundari: Yes, you do.
~ Love, Sundari