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No Fight with Vedanta
Ravi: Dear James, it is not so much the location of ignorance, it was to know your view on the difference between jiva and atman. I suppose I was indirectly narrating my experience of the enquiry and of myself as queries about ignorance. My difficulty was that I was unable to reconcile some conflicting statements made by swamis.
James: The jiva is the jiva with a subtle body. It is called jivatman.
Ravi: First I become aware of fear, disappointment, unpleasantness, sadness and other negative mental states which act as forces or drivers in my life. I experience life as jiva with ignorance, avidya, of my true nature and its resulting suffering, samsara. I seek relief from suffering by going to the swami/teacher who is shrotriam and brahmanishtam.
I said, “Swami, I am suffering. I don’t understand why. Please help me.”
Swami: You are atman, sat chit ananda. Your nature is pure happiness itself.
Ravi: Then why am I suffering?
Swami: Because through avidya you are ignorant of yourself and take yourself to be a jiva.
Ravi: Who is suffering?
Swami: You, jiva.
Ravi: What is jiva?
Swami: Atman with upadhi.
Ravi: So jiva is atman with upadhi affected by avidya.
Swami: No, atman is never affected by avidya.
Ravi: Then who is affected by avidya?
Me: Who suffers?
Ravi: But jiva is atman with avidya. If jiva was just atman there would be no suffering.
Swami: No, atman is never affected by avidya.
Ravi: Then who suffers?
And so the double-bind/catch-22 went round and round. I just could not work it out.
James: Let this swami set you straight. When the atman is under the spell of apparent ignorance (avidya) it thinks it is limited, so it suffers because it is actually limitless. When the ignorance about its nature is removed by knowledge (vidya), the atman no longer takes itself to be limited and its suffering stops. Atma’s upadhi is the subtle body. This is where the ignorance resides. Vedanta removes the ignorance from the subtle body, leaving atma upadhi-free. Maya is very difficult to understand because the one trying to understand it is only there because of maya/avidya. It is the source of the confusion, an effect of a cause that is beyond its comprehension. If a qualified jiva exposes its subtle body to teaching by a srotriya the ignorance goes.
Ravi: I keep seeing that jiva as atman-plus-avidya, and that is me as I am now. Yet Swami says atman can never be affected by avidya. I was even scolded publicly at satsang once by Swami for saying what I saw, that jiva is atman plus avidya. The dilemma deepened. I felt there was a subtle separation in Swami’s distinction between jiva and atman rather than a non-dual explanation.
James: It seems by “jiva” the Swami means “atma.” Jiva is atma plus apparent ignorance or apparent knowledge. Neither knowledge or ignorance are real. They are both objects known by atma. Atma can apparently be affected by avidya. The answer to your question lies in the distinction between satya and mithya. What he may have meant is that atma’s ignorance is only apparent ignorance, not actual ignorance.
Ravi: I decided to break out and position myself as atman plus avidya rather than just jiva (fake it till you make it!). Through this change in attitude I experienced a huge difference between a jiva struggling to overcome samskaras, vasanas and dealing with life issues as compared to dealing with them as atman plus avidya.
James: That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, Ravi. “Fake it till you make it” involves positioning yourself as atma plus vidya. You are already atma plus avidya, so how can that help?
Let’s get the Vedanta lingo out of it. Ravi, atma plus apparent ignorance is unacceptably driven by driven by fear, disappointment, unpleasantness, sadness and other negative mental states. He wants to be free of these motivators. He hears that he is atma, meaning “free.” So he takes a stand as atma. This means that he looks at whatever comes up in light of the fact that he is actually atma, not atma plus ignorance. If he is whole and complete, unconcerned, ordinary, actionless awareness any idea appearing in him that disturbs his mind or motivates him to act contrary to his true nature can be dismissed as untruth. In this way he kills the ignorance (“I am small, inadequate, incomplete, etc.”) little by little as it arises, gradually freeing atma of its apparent limitations. All Vedanta boils down to is, “I am free.” If you do not feel free, then you practice knowledge (jnanabyasa).
Ravi: With time, persistence and increasing awareness through continued shravanam, mananam and nidhidhysanam, avidya became less and less. The clarity of recognising myself as atman increased proportionately to the point where I can say with confidence: “I am atman; I have always been atman, just that I temporarily forgot.” But now I know clearly I am atman who had avidya and am now free of it. Phew! All by the grace of God. And life continues. I feel so grateful for the breakthrough.
James: Okay, good. But who broke through what? The answer to this question is moksa. In fact you didn’t break though. An apparent entity – Ravi – apparently broke though an apparent barrier. You, ordinary awareness, observed the breakthrough. There is a world of difference between these two statements.
But your statement about avidya becoming less and less is not correct, because avidya is just ignorance of the self. There are no degrees of ignorance. There are less or more effects of ignorance, i.e. ideas that are not in harmony with the nature of reality. Avidya goes all at once. The point of view from which you are writing this email shows that avidya is still operating in you because the self would never have the problem you express. Reading Vedanta and comparing the teachings of various swamis is not necessarily helpful, because if you are studying Vedanta it means that you are ignorant of your true nature. And this ignorance will make it impossible to discern the true import of the teaching. You will have to accept yourself as the ultimate authority. But this does not work, because Ravi is the last person who is an expert on who he is. At the same time he should not swallow what anyone wearing an orange robe and a long beard and with “ananda” tacked on the end of an already unpronounceable Sanskrit name has to say on the topic of awareness.
Ravi: I do not know why the Advaitins, Indian swamis, will not accept that jiva is a word for the phrase “atman plus avidya.” It seems to be completely unacceptable, even anathema for them.
James: You are talking to the wrong swamis or you have misunderstood them. In any case, why do you care what the Indian swamis accept or not? It sounds to me like you want to be right. It seems to me that the issue around the definition of the word “jiva” is a red herring, a mask for some other bit of Ravi-ignorance. I say give it a rest with the swamis, Ravi. Study the paragraph above where I suggest that you give the Vedanta terminology a rest too.
The real issue is: Why this is an issue? If you understand self-inquiry you will not worry about Vedantic terminology. Vedanta is a beautiful means of knowledge, but it is very simple: understanding the distinction between you as awareness and Ravi, the apparent entity. That is all. It is a very un-Vedantic thing. It is easy to get wrapped up in the lingo and not see the forest for the trees.
Ravi: I accepted that teaching initially and struggled with it until I changed my position of myself. It worked. And so here I am. The years of struggle only served to clarify matters much more poignantly. I wonder if it was a negative-psychology approach/trick by Swami for me??!!! I don’t think so.
James: Well, it is not really about you accepting any teaching. Accepting a teaching implies that you know better than the teaching. Maybe you do not have a very clear teacher. Many so-called Vedanta swamis are merely pundits, intellectuals. And many brahmanisthas are not srotriyas, although they often fancy themselves as such. I agree that it was not a negative-psychology approach. Perhaps you have a bit of guru ego yourself and find your idea in conflict with someone else’s. Vedanta is only a means of knowledge. It is perfect. There is never an argument with it or about it, if you understand this fact, if it is taught properly and if you are a fit student. To see it this way is to view it as a philosophy or a school of thought or a religion.
Ravi: I note in one of your recent emails to Will, Love to Hate, you state: “Hate the sin, not the sinner, because the sinner is the self under the spell of ignorance.”
WOW!! HURRAH!! AT LAST!! CONGRUENCE!!
Sinner = jiva, self = atman under the spell of avidya. I am in complete agreement. This was my experience of myself: self under the spell of ignorance! However, I wonder if Swami Dayananda would agree with that though.
James: Of course he would. It is simply a distinction between satya and mithya. I suggest you give your war with the swamis a rest and put your energy into distinguishing you from Ravi and his opinions. Vedanta is not about Vedanta. It is about you.
Ravi: Thank you so much for the helpful exchange. I appreciate your candour and humour. Warm wishes and many blessings.
James: You are most welcome, Ravi.
~ Love, James