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The Relationship Between Maya, Isvara and Jiva
Hendrik: It has been two years since I have had this email from you, and I would like to thank you for answering it. I am/was too spread out all over the place with my Vedic studies, so it took two years to come back to this email. I wanted to understand all of the different paths, peoples, symbols, teachings and the Gita, which after five years I am satisfied. For months I have been looking at videos from James (I believe he is your husband) and am now at my last five videos from his and other channels. I have read a lot of pages from your website library and karma allowed me to get back to this subject again. I understand almost everything now. Much has been cleared in the process except for the questions below.
I hope you can help me further with this. Thank you.
Sundari: Hello, Hendrik. James Swartz is my husband and probably one of the best Vedanta teachers alive. From what you say here, I can infer that you have been trying to make Vedanta fit into all the other paths and teachings you have been exploring. It will not work. Vedanta stands alone and is the only teaching that is totally independent of all paths, teachings and teachers. If you try to interpret Vedanta according to your own ideas, your understanding will more than likely be contaminated. This is why we tell all our inquirers that you need first to be qualified for Self-inquiry, then you need to start at the beginning of the Vedanta methodology and sign on to the logic, leaving all other teachings and your opinions and ideas behind, at least temporarily. Then, most importantly, you need a qualified teacher to guide your inquiry every step of the way to ensure that you are assimilating the teachings and not interpreting them. Nobody has been able to work out these teachings on their own; it is not possible.
We have outlined the methodology of the teachings very clearly on our website and have three free courses available: beginner, intermediary and advanced, which are guided by the right questions to ask and the answers to them. You say you “understand everything now” but that certainly is not clear from this email. In fact quite the contrary seems true. Your email is difficult to answer because your mind is so rajasic. You have written it in such a hurry, without proper punctuation or clarifying what you are actually asking. It makes our work much harder. I have cleaned up your writing and answered your questions below. Whether or not my answers will be of any use to you will depend on whether you are prepared to let go of your own ideas, which may not be likely.
Hendrik: 1. You have explained why bhaktas don’t understand the texts or teachings on chit but it does not address the story which I was focused on: you can see the light of the sun (Brahman), you can be close to the sun (Parabrahma), you can stand on the sun (Krishna). Bhaktas say that the close-contact relationship with the sun/Krishna is the highest and that the light of Brahman is furthest removed and thus lower.
Sundari: First of all, this story is a metaphor and not meant to be taken literally. Secondly, as I told you previously, the terms Brahman, Parabrahma, atman and Krishna all have the same meaning: consciousness. There is no distance between them or anything else, because this is a non-dual reality and there is, therefore, only consciousness. How can you stand on consciousness or be close to it if you are consciousness, the light that makes physical light possible? There can also be no lower or higher. There is only ignorance hiding or Self-knowledge revealing your true identity as consciousness. However, you can and must take a stand in awareness as awareness until such time as Self-knowledge is actualized. When Self-knowledge has done the work of removing all ignorance, only then there is no more “standing in awareness,” because the one who was taking a stand knows itself to be the Self, 100% of the time.
Please note: it is Self-knowledge alone that does the work of removing ignorance, not the doer/ego. Nothing a limited entity such as the jiva can “do” will produce a limitless result.
Hendrik: To me, it seems the complete opposite: form is limited and the sun is limited, as it is a form; touching the sun means limitation, being further away from it (Parabrahma) doesn’t really fit into this example then, but being really far away means non-duality/Brahman.
Sundari: What is the difference between the sun or a ray of sun? Or between moonlight and sunlight? Is there a difference? Yes and no. Where does the moon get its light? If you can answer this, you understand the most important part of the teachings of Vedanta, which is Maya and the relationship it creates between Isvara (pure awareness wielding Maya) and jiva. I have attached two satsangs on this all-important topic: The Complete Teaching and The Maya-Jiva-Isvara Relationship. Make sure you read them both.
Hendrik: I can also say that the entire story is limiting God or limiting as a way of explaining/teaching because to look at the two extremes of (1) standing on the sun and (2) seeing the light of the sun should actually be: a jnani = the sun (merged with it/non-dual), and a bhakta stands on the same sun (it’s still dual but is very close by at the end of sattva/just before the end of Maya); this would be a better way of explaining it, so I think. This clearly shows that bhaktas lack wisdom/understanding of Advaita Vedanta OR WE are wrong.
Sundari: Who is that sees or stands – and sees or stands on what? See above. You confuse satya and mithya throughout this email because you do not know how to discriminate between what is real, unchanging and always present, i.e. you, consciousness, and that which is only apparently real, always changing and not always present, i.e. Hendrik, the jiva.
Hendrik: So I have two questions for you here. One: Is there a verse in some text that uses this example of the sun and the three distances from the sun; where can I find it or who taught this originally? Second: How would you explain the three “types” to me using a story like the bhaktas do?
Sundari: This is a dualistic teaching and you are trying to fit it into Vedanta, which is a non-dual teaching. I don’t know of any text that explains this metaphor as a teaching. James has unfolded the Bhakti Sutras in his book The Yoga of Love. Have you read it? If not, I suggest you do. The bhaktas are fooled by appearances. Dualists say that you are eternally separate from chit, awareness/consciousness/existence. Vedanta says that you are only apparently separate from chit/consciousness and that when you have been properly taught and heard the complete teaching you will understand that you are non-different from chit, or the sun, to use your metaphor.
Just as a wave is water and the ocean is water, so a single ray of light is light and the total rays of the sun are also light. There is no difference between a single ray or the total, because both are light. There is only a seeming difference when we look at the different uphadis. An uphadi is a limiting adjunct, that which makes something look like something else. The subtle body is a limiting adjunct because it makes the jiva look like a person when they are actually consciousness. Although all subtle bodies are made up of the same three energies, the gunas, your subtle body is slightly different from mine or anyone else due to individual karma load, the different configurations of the gunas and where and when your gross body appeared.
Hendrik: (1) The jiva is the “only” thing I don’t understand. Sometimes you use the jiva in different and opposing ways, sometimes it looks like it means atman, then at other times it looks like you use it for the personality/ego, and at other times it looks like something else together, like pure consciousness, with a subtle body (which for me would be the same as the Self still stuck in Maya/Self with mind/ego/personality identified with all of that).
Sundari: You do not understand jiva, because as I said above, you confuse satya with mithya. It is the jiva asking these questions as a jiva, or a person. If this is a non-dual reality, which we know it is, then the only possibility is to see everything from the Self’s point of view. The jiva is the Self, but the Self is not the jiva. There is only a seeming paradox because everything dissolves into consciousness when Self-knowledge removes the veil of Maya, ignorance. Then the mind easily switches between the two orders of reality, satya and mithya, and NEVER confuses the two again. You are no longer the limited jiva trying fruitlessly to understand the Self. You are the limitless Self, thinking as the Self, and the jiva is an object known to you.
Hendrik: You also said that there is just one but there are three kinds. But I don’t get it. Could you clarify it, please? It seems very important based upon what you said: “Concentrate on Self-inquiry into who and what the jiva is so that you can be free of it.” Here I understand the concept of jiva, but I like to use words like “false Self” as a definition. What I don’t get here is the definition of jiva. Does that make any sense to you? I mean, I understand the concept from who I really am and what I am not and that I need to stand firm in it (not intellectually like I do now), but I don’t understand the word jiva, because to me it seems to relate to a whole bunch of other/different types of jiva words/concepts, like I will explain below.
Sundari: I answered this above. The definition of jiva is “awareness with a subtle body.” Jiva is an eternal principle in awareness, a tattva, not a specific person. It is either unmanifest or manifest whenever Maya manifests. The jiva is actually pure consciousness, Paramatma. There is only one eternal jiva appearing as many apparently unique individuals, or non-eternal (personal) jivas. Though the essence of the non-eternal jiva is awareness, the personal jiva disappears at the death of the body. At death, the gross body returns to the elements from which it came, and the subtle body is subsumed back into the causal body from which it came. But the eternal jiva as a principle is always present, with or without a body because awareness is always present.
The eternal jiva has three levels of knowledge; the one individual appears as three types of individuals, or jivas:
1. Samsari, or doer – The jiva who thinks it is a person with a name, a history and an address. This jiva is called the doer, or the human being, the one identified with objects (including all experience). Humans who don’t know about awareness are called samsaris because they are caught up in the web of samsara, the apparent reality, or the hypnosis of duality as I like to call it.
2. Self-realized – There is the jiva who knows about awareness but does not know what it means to be awareness. The knowledge is purely intellectual. This jiva has indirect knowledge and is often called a Self-realized jiva. Although this jiva may have had an experience of being awareness, it has not actualized Self-knowledge. The knowledge is not firm, and ignorance is still present. This is the one who re-identifies with objects or still seeks experience because the vasanas are still binding and doership has not been fully dissolved.
3. Jivanmukta, or Self-actualized – And finally, there is the jiva who has permanent direct knowledge of the Self. He/she knows that their true identity IS awareness and they know what it means to be awareness, while still apparently manifesting as a jiva, or individual. This means that your primary identity is known to be the Self and not the jiva, and Self-knowledge translates fully into ALL aspects of the person’s life. The Self no longer under the spell of ignorance or the person whose vasanas have been neutralized by Self-knowledge is said to be liberated, or “enlightened” (jivanmukta). The Bhagavad Gita says it is a person with “steady” wisdom. We call it a Self-actualized jiva.
The liberated person, the Self-realized person and the samsari have a common identity as awareness. A big problem in the spiritual world is that seekers believe “enlightenment” is a special state to obtain or that Self-realization or enlightenment will make the person limitless. It will not. Nothing is gained by the removal of ignorance, because you always were consciousness. You just did not know it and identified with objects, which is the cause of suffering. Limitless means the mind no longer conditions to anything and is free of the jiva program.
As awareness, you are and always have been limitless. As the person, you are and always will be limited. Removing ignorance of your true nature does not mean that you change as a person or that you must become perfect or “holy.” The person never leaves the apparent reality, and the apparent reality is limited. The person is fine the way they are; they do not need to be perfected. When you know you are the Self and not the person, the person no longer bothers you at all, and Isvara’s world is perfect the way it is, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.
Jiva also manifests as three “little” jivas according to the state that it experiences:
1. As viswa, the waking-state entity. In this state its mind is totally extroverted. It is hypnotized by duality. It chases and consumes experiences because it is controlled by its vasanas. Viswa appears in two forms: (a) free of identification with objects (a jivanmukta) or (b) as a doer (karta), or “person” identified with objects (a samsari). Both a jivanmukta, a liberated person, and a samsari, a bound person, have a common identity as awareness.
2. As taijasa, the “shining one,” awareness with a subtle body, illumining the dream state. The subtle body is turned inward facing the causal body, the vasanas. The experiences it has are just experiences of the vasanas. Jiva is not present in the dream state in the same way that it is present in the waking state. In the waking state, jiva identifies with the doer so the doer is not seen as an object. It is thought to be the subject. In the dream state, there is also identification but the doer/ego can also appear as an object illumined by taijasa, awareness reflected on the subtle body; in the dream you can see the waker going about its business, walking, talking, eating, etc. The doer/ego is a dream doer/ego similar in some respects to viswa but with unique powers. These powers are inherent in the dream state and do not belong to taijasa although in normal dreams it identifies with them. The doer-ego and the events appearing in the dream are just waking-state events that have become vasanas that outpicture as dream events.
The dream state has two aspects: waking dream and sleep dream. It is called the pratibasika state, the subjective state of reality. It is jiva’s creation (sristi). It is not created directly by Isvara but is responsible for an individual jiva’s interpretation of reality. In the dream state (whether the jiva is awake or asleep) vasanas influence how reality is interpreted by the jiva. Isvara provides the raw material for the interpretation, but not the interpretation itself. Ultimately it is all Isvara, but to get to that understanding – which is tantamount to moksa – the jiva has to understand what it is responsible for and Isvara’s role in jiva’s creations, i.e. projections, so that it can be free of both itself and Isvara.
3. As the sleeper, prajna, in the deep-sleep state. Prajna means “almost enlightened.” It is almost enlightened because it experiences the limitlessness and bliss of awareness but lacks knowledge of what it is experiencing, because the intellect is not present in deep sleep. The subtle body disappears in the deep-sleep state, as does the microcosmic causal body (personal subconscious). The personal subconscious belongs to the jiva and produces the jiva’s karma. The deep-sleep state is defined as “a state with no mental activity.” It is the same for everyone because the personal subconscious is subsumed into Isvara, the macrocosmic causal body. Deep sleep is the presence of tamoguna alone. Rajas and sattva are dormant. There is no sense of individuality (ahamkara) in this state, because the subtle body of the individual is not there to be conditioned; the ahamkara belongs to the subtle body. The macrocosmic causal body, another name for Isvara, is the deep-sleep state.
Jiva and Isvara
Although the nature of both the jiva and Isvara is awareness, both the jiva and Isvara are inconstant factors with reference to awareness. Jiva is inconstant because it changes from state to state, and because Self-knowledge removes the notion that it is a limited entity, revealing its nature to be pure awareness. Isvara in the role of Creator is inconstant because logic and scripture (which is just science) informs us that it disappears at the end of the Creation cycle; whatever is created will be destroyed. Isvara in the role of Creator is eternal with reference to the jiva but not with reference to pure awareness, Paramatman, the constant factor.
The Free Person
A jivanmukta knows that it is Isvara because Isvara is the Self. But, because love is the nature of the Self, a free person may worship Isvara even though it knows that as awareness Isvara has a dependent reality on itself, awareness. He or she is totally relaxed, having understood that Isvara is itself, awareness, in the role of Creator, taking care of the Total. Non-dual vision means that you see everything as non-different from you, even though you know that you are not what you see. Furthermore, it means that you fully understand the three jivas and their respective states. The three jivas and their respective states are known to be only appearances (mithya) in you – which means that, enlightened or not, Isvara srsti, or the dharma field, still apparently exists. A jivanmukta automatically follows dharma because it understands that the dharma field is a field of natural laws that the jiva is subject to, enlightened or not.
It is very important to understand that non-duality is not opposed to duality; duality is a superimposition onto non-duality and not real, meaning not always present and always changing. Duality is only apparently real. Vedanta says it has an apparent existence because it can be experienced. When you know that your true nature is awareness and therefore always present and never changing, you can enjoy duality for what it is because you know that YOU are the joy in it. You then see the apparent reality like a mirage; you would not try to drink the water in a mirage even though you can see it and it appears real. You can love, touch and enjoy everything without shame or guilt because you know it is all you. You would not harm anything or anyone for the same reason and you will follow dharma because you want to experience peace of mind, which is the true nature of the mind.
Hendrik: You used these definitions after the jiva:
Atman = pure consciousness/the Self. I would then ask you, what does that mean? Is that pure consciousness inside a body or outside (inside would be atman, outside would be Brahman)? This one seems clear to me; however, when you say “Self” there are different ways of looking at it; is the atman here the Self with or without a subtle body inside the body?
Sundari: See above. What do you mean by “inside” and “outside”? The subtle body pervades the gross body but is not limited to it, because it “belongs” to Isvara, or the causal body, and is therefore part and parcel of its environment. The Self cannot have a body or a subtle body, obviously, because it is a partless whole. But when Maya appears it makes it look like consciousness appears as a subtle body, which “contains” the gross body. The gross body is called the sthula sharira in Sanskrit; it refers to the five elements because it is made up of them and sustained by them. It is basically just food. It is a means for consciousness to have contact with objects and to experience pleasure and pain. The gross body and all it (apparently) experiences are objects known to you, chit, and exists as thoughts in the subtle body. The subtle body is also a thought appearing in you, consciousness.
Hendrik: Individual soul = the Self/jivatman, one but three parts (which I did not understand), original(?) pure consciousness (Why original? Is that something different then pure consciousness (Brahman)? Then you say “plus the subtle body.” Why? Does that second part connect to the first part of the part (3) that comes after the “plus the subtle body” (third is in your sentence “or eternal jiva”)?
Sundari: See above. All words are mithya and just pointers to the truth. There is no such thing as “original,” or “pure,” consciousness, because there is only consciousness. We use these terms provisionally to unfold the teaching on Maya and Isvara. They are eliminated by Self-knowledge as the teachings progress.
Hendrik: What do you mean by “eternal jiva” (reflecting medium)? Then you say “plus the reflection.” Why? Then you say “the non-eternal, or personal, jiva.” This one I get, but I do not know if you mean (personality) with a subtle body? (Because the personality is in the chitta, which is the subtle body). I hope that it is clear because I have lost my own thoughts here many times now.
Sundari: Your confusion stems from the jumbled, unsystematic way you have undertaken Self-inquiry, as well as your lack of discrimination between satya and mithya. Vedanta is a very methodical and progressive teaching, and each stage must be carefully taught, heard and assimilated before moving on. You have not been properly taught, yet you seem to be convinced you have worked it all out. You have big gaps in your understanding. I have also attached the stages of Self-inquiry for you to read.
I explained the difference between the eternal and non-eternal jiva above. When (or where) Maya (matter, or prakriti) is manifest “in” pure existence/consciousness, it reflects awareness. There is no “in” awareness, because there is only awareness; but again, we use the term advisedly. It would be a bit more accurate to say “within the scope of awareness.” In the second “stage” of Creation, the jivas appear when the rajas “aspect” of Maya seemingly “shatters” the pure sattvic mirror of Maya in which are programmed the vasanas/karmas of all beings. These “shards of consciousness,” from tardigrades to humans to whales, reflect consciousness. They are not conscious. It is the reflection of consciousness striking or shining on the reflecting medium that creates sentience. The sentience belongs to consciousness, not the reflection or reflecting medium. The Self is not sentient in the way we understand it, because it is what makes sentience possible. Maya – matter, the three gunas – are not sentient. But when Maya and Isvara come together, sentience – life – appears. So a jiva is three elements: original pure consciousness (Brahman), its reflection (pratibimba) and the reflecting medium, the subtle and causal bodies. The original and the reflection don’t change. They are both pure existence/consciousness. Only the reflecting medium changes (apparently). The psychological and physical differences between jivas are due to their karmas, which are embedded in the sattva “aspect” of the reflecting medium, which contains the blueprint for everything in existence.
Hendrik: Lastly, you explain the so-called (outside of Vedanta) super soul: Krishna/Brahman. However, Brahman is unmanifested, and Krishna is Brahman with Maya (personal form) and manifested as the world. When you use them interchangeably, it makes it harder for me to wrap my head around the entire “three types and the sun” story because in that example Krishna and Brahman are at opposing ends (to).
Sundari: It is clear you did not understand my last email to you, because all your questions in this email are essentially the same. We use different terms for consciousness interchangeably because there is only one Self. To grasp the subtle differences in the meaning of these terms, however, one must understand Isvara, what Maya is and how it functions. It is clear that you do not. That is why you are having such difficulty understanding jiva.
As I said to you in my last email: there is no “super soul” within consciousness – consciousness is all there is. It has no within or without. Vedanta avoids using hyperbolic words to refer to the Self/consciousness. If it does use words like “Supreme” it does so extremely cautiously and always contextualizes the use. There is only one principle in reality, and that is the Self – consciousness. There is nothing above beyond or greater than it. We prefer to refer to awareness as “ordinary” because it is all there is. There is nothing to compare it to.
Although Isvara, consciousness in the role of Creator, and jiva both have a dependent existence on consciousness, pure consciousness is always free of both. Consciousness is Self-existent and present whether or not Maya is manifest, along with the Creator, the apparent Creation, Isvara and the jiva. To repeat: all is consciousness, but consciousness is not it. Can the reflector and the reflection be the same? Yes and no. When you look at yourself in the mirror you know you are looking at your face, but does your face, the reflection, know you? Does the mirror, the reflecting medium, know you? No on both counts. The reflection, the reflecting medium and the reflector are the same, but also fundamentally different. To understand what that difference is, ask yourself which one stands alone and exists independently of the reflection and the reflecting medium. Obviously, only the reflector, consciousness – the one and only non-negatable factor in every single equation.
Hendrik: Jiva is a person, you say; then why use it with connections to consciousness and/or the other stuff? It seems like there are more kinds of jiva then.
Sundari: How can you not connect jiva to consciousness if this is a non-dual reality? What other choice is there? The only question is in what sense you use the word jiva. As I said above, you are using the word jiva thinking as a limited jiva, with no discrimination between satya and mithya. It is clear that you are a sincere seeker, but please read through this email and the last one I wrote to you very carefully. Read the satsangs I have attached, and make sure you read James’ books The Essence of Enlightenment and Inquiry into Existence. I suggest that you sign on for our online courses and start at the beginning, with the beginner’s course, which is based on The Essence of Enlightenment.
If you are serious about Self-inquiry, drop all other teachings and sources. Drop your opinions and what you think you know. You can always take your ideas back if you prefer them, but if you want Self-inquiry to work for you, you must follow our instructions. I am happy to help you, but we cannot teach you if you don’t. Start with a clean slate, as though you know nothing. Whatever ideas you have that are in accordance with the scripture will remain, and all else will fall away if you are truly committed to freedom from limitation.
What do you want most and who do you trust most? Yourself, the limited person, or the limitless and flawless scripture? You decide.