Search & Read
More on Isvara and the Nature of the Jiva
Sundari: Hello, Mike. Apologies for the delay in replying to you, things have been a bit hectic as I have been in transit and have just arrived in South Africa a few days ago to be with my daughter who is getting married at the end of this month. Unfortunately, I can’t always reply straightaway to everyone as ShiningWorld has many emails to reply to. I have been through your replies to our previous email exchange and there is not much to add; you have pretty much assimilated the teaching and are on the right path. I have answered in point form below.
Mike: Dear Sundari, I apologize for writing again before giving you the opportunity to respond but I wanted to write while things are on my mind. I have been contemplating our conversations and I wanted to have my understanding checked for any errors.
Here are my thoughts:
Awareness is all there is. This means that thoughts, feelings, time, space, matter, etc. are simply awareness.
Sundari: Correct, but awareness is not the objects. All objects have a dependent existence on you, awareness, but you as awareness are always free of the objects.
Mike: However, awareness appears as limited, independent, and separate objects (jagat) though its ability (shakti), maya.
Sundari: Yes, absolutely, awareness appears to be limited and dualistic when maya is projected, maya being a power, or shakti, in awareness or it could not be unlimited. Maya also does not “cover” all of awareness – if awareness had parts, which it does not – or if awareness could be quantified, which it cannot. The language that one uses to express self-knowledge is very important, and Vedanta is very specific about this because the language most people speak is the language of experience. Vedanta is the language of identity, so one has to be very vigilant with the use of words. However, words are limited and can only point to the truth as self-knowledge is very subtle.
Mike: It is because awareness is unlimited that it can appear limited. When maya is manifest awareness assumes the role of Isvara, the Creator. Isvara is not bound by maya, quite the opposite. It uses maya to bind through the gunas.
Sundari: Mostly correct, except Isvara does not “assume” and “use” maya as these words imply doership. Isvara is not a person, or jiva, it is simply awareness in the role of Creator seemingly wielding maya. The words “in the role of… Creator” also implies doership but as this is such a subtle point and words have their limits we have to use that term in order to distinguish Isvara as actionless pure awareness from Isvara in the role of Creator wielding maya. The gunas make up the dharma field and do not condition Isvara but there is no such thing as a doer as such. Action seems to take place because of the gunas, or ignorance. Maya is that which makes the changeless appear to be changing.
Mike: As Isvara awareness is the conscious governor of all creation but as the conscious, embodied being IN creation (jiva) awareness is the governed. I am conscious but objects are not. In this way I know they are not who I am. I am ever-present but objects are temporary.
Sundari: Again, this is a very subtle point with regards to language, specifically the word “jiva” in fact. There are two meanings to jiva. One is awareness associated with the subtle body, the self under the spell of ignorance. In this case awareness is governed by Isvara, the Creator, because of identification with objects.
But very importantly, the other meaning of jiva is “pure consciousness” – jivatman. This is what the great saying, or mahavakya, “Tat Tvam Asi” means. It indicates the identity of jiva and Isvara as paramatma. If it meant that jiva and Isvara the Creator (jagat karanam) were identical jiva would not be free because Isvara in the role of Creator is not free. So it has to mean that jiva and paramatma are pure limitless awareness. The jiva is not actually bound because it is really pure awareness and ignorance can be removed by self-knowledge.
Awareness under the spell of ignorance is apparently governed. It is all a play of the gunas, and although the apparent reality can be experienced it is not real. It is all a projection, a dream. Isvara is like the projector, the jiva, or apparent reality, is the movie and awareness is the screen on which the movie is being projected. All objects are temporary, seem to act and are always changing; awareness is ever-present, never-changing and actionless.
Mike: It is important to distinguish between what is real (satya) and what is not (mithya) because identifying with maya creates a sense of limitation and therefore suffering, while realizing I am the unlimited self is true happiness and freedom. Even when the perspective of awareness is established the appearance of objects remains. The tendencies (vasanas) of the jiva persist, and the jiva is still under the rule of Isvara. Enlightenment removes ignorance (avidya) but it does not remove maya.
Sundari: Yes, indeed. As the self is no longer under the spell of ignorance the binding vasanas would have become non-binding through self-knowledge. Therefore you are trigunaatita, free of the gunas.
This does not mean that the gunas cease to exist; Isvara srsti, or creation, continues as “before enlightenment.” The gunas no longer condition you as the jivanmukti, or as the self no longer under the spell of ignorance, thus you no longer project the person’s creation, or jiva srsti, onto Isvara even though the jiva, the gunas and Isvara are objects known to you. However, as the jiva never leaves the apparent reality it is still subject to the dharma field, or Isvara. Therefore the jivanmukti would naturally follow dharma in every aspect of its existence as in order to remain free of the gunas, or samsara (the notion that reality is a duality), a purified, or sattvic, mind is necessary.
This is all about understanding the perspective of pure awareness (again, “pure” is not a good word because it denotes “impure,” which awareness cannot be because it is non-dual but we use the word for the purpose of discrimination) from the perspective of the jiva, or self under the spell of ignorance. There is no such thing as enlightenment really because “enlightened” is your nature – self-realization is realizing you are that which gives rise to the light; neither is there “before or after, in or out” of awareness because there is only awareness; again, this is to point out the importance of understanding how words are used.
Mike: Ultimately, I observe all things but nothing observes me. If I can observe it, it is not what I am.
Sundari: Got it in one!
Mike: I still feel that there is more to be understood. The teaching of Isvara, jagat and jiva seems to be given a great deal of importance so I want to make certain my thinking is clear.
Sundari: The Isvara-jiva-awareness identity is the essence of Vedanta because it is the key to understanding what it means to be awareness as a jiva living in the apparent reality. Isvara plus jiva and jagat make up the dharma field. Their common identity is non-dual reality, awareness, out of which all “orders” of reflected awareness arise. Although all objects share a common identity as awareness they are not the same as pure awareness. However, all the orders and the objects depend on awareness but awareness is always free of the objects. A good analogy is H2O. Water is pure H2O. So are the ocean (Isvara) and the wave (jiva/jagat). But while the wave and the ocean are dependent on the H2O the H2O is free of both the wave and the ocean. Pure awareness is free of Isvara, jiva and jagat but Isvara-jiva-jagat has a dependent existence on awareness.
The most subtle “aspect” of this teaching says that because consciousness implies unconsciousness it is not strictly speaking true to say that awareness is conscious. Awareness is without qualities, it is the non-experiencing witness, and although it gives rise to all objects (who are not conscious) and Isvara who is conscious, awareness is not conscious in the way Isvara is conscious. Awareness is that which makes consciousness possible in that consciousness is reflected awareness. Like Isvara awareness is not a person either; conscious and unconscious objects (Isvara and jiva respectively) arise when maya (ignorance) appears.
Mike: Also, I continue to practice karma yoga and monitor my thoughts while identifying the gunas at play. This does have a very calming effect, and there has been much more peace as a result.
Sundari: Constant application of self-knowledge is what it takes. Karma yoga is vital; one never stops practicing it as a jiva even when ignorance of your true nature is permanently removed because as a jiva, “enlightened” or not, you are not in control of the dharma field. Karma yoga becomes a devotional practice in service of the self, you.
Mike: Thank you again, and I look forward to your reply.
~ Warmly, Mike
Sundari: A great pleasure, Mike, and well done, you are doing just great!
~ Much love to you, Sundari