Search & Read
The Real and the Apparent Yous
James: Note: This email was written by one of my friends, who has realized his true nature through the teachings of Vedanta.
Derek: Salut, Pierre! I trust this email finds you well. I was speaking with my mum about Vedanta, and there was one area that I did not explain very clearly that I hope you could help with.
The scripture tells us that it is righteous (for lack of a better word) to follow/accept our dharma and to work towards clearing up our karma through the practice of karma yoga. James tells us that means living righteously/dutifully and making the right choices (again, for lack of a better word). He implies that, while Isvara ultimately is driving the play of life, it does present us with choices to make so we can do the right thing and clean up our karma.
I was struggling with communicating where/by whom in the play of maya these apparent choices are being made. The subtle body is not conscious (so there is no doer making conscious choices), and the intellect is influenced by the vasanas through the causal (unconscious) body. Can one really say a conscious choice is ever made in maya? With karma yoga it is clear that one must understand that the outcome of decisions/actions are out of your hands, but how would you suggest I better communicate how choices get made?
Pierre: Nice to hear from you. I see the confusion. Basically it’s the pickle of the “free will” debate. Knowing a little from where you are coming from – influenced like most of us by vague and abstract Neo teachings that couldn’t even understand this question, it takes a little time to get this straight. At least it did for me.
The answer to this riddle, like so many others, is in the distinction between mithya and satya. This is a tricky but fundamental field that distinguishes Vedanta from other teachings.
When one knows his or her own true nature, life is lived from the perspective of satya – the true unchanging reality. But you’ll notice I said “life is lived,” which also implies mithya – the changing apparent reality. One way of putting it is that one plays the game of life knowing full well that the apparent Derek is living in the maya world, a world of objects controlled by impersonal forces. Liberation, moksa, is freedom from the unreal brought about by knowing that the unreal (maya) is also the real (awareness).
When life is lived from this level you ultimately know that there are no choices; you know that life is not yours. It is programmed and under the control of Isvara. Isvara means that there is only one being here, one fundamental person with three bodies (gross, subtle and causal). There are actually no individual people, just the one person imagining that it is unique and special when it does not understand the nature of reality.
On the one hand, the causal body is pumping out macrocosmic vasanas for all concerned. On the other, an apparent individual has to deal with the microcosmic vasanas coming from his karma bank. In other words, the vasanas are the doer. If a person hasn’t understood this fully – has not realized his true nature – then his best option is to adopt karma yoga to his understanding until he does. But this means that the apparent individual still takes maya to be reality and then makes apparent choices in an apparent life. And this apparent person should continue to make apparent choices instead of brainwashing himself with the silly idea that is au courant in the spiritual world these days – that sad Neo refrain that there is no doer. No sooner do they say that than they turn around and think they make a conscious decision to do this or that!
So when you say that “James states that life presents us with choices to make so we can do the right thing and clean up our karma,” he is addressing the doer, the karma yogi. When you are awareness you know there are no choices; Isvara presents the maya drama. When you believe you are an individual, you make apparent choices in an apparent world. Assuming you want moksa, you apply the karma yoga attitude and self-inquiry.
But as mentioned above, the mithya/satya distinction is a slippery slope. Does this mean that a realized person never makes a decision or choice? Awareness as Derek still has to negotiate in mithya. Paradoxical as it seems, the apparent ego – the doer – still carries on. Otherwise you would pack it in, leave your wife, kids, home and job and become a breatharian in the forest of Parry Sound. (Well, the option is always available and I’m presently offering installment plans for a minimal fee. Let’s say you throw in the cottage?) ☺
So as awareness, the world does not simply vanish (as the Neos would contend). You know it to be maya in you (awareness), and so you play your part, making apparent choices when required. The difference between you and a samsari is that you know you are not really making the choices, Derek only appears to. A worldly person, on the other hand, is convinced that he or she is the doer.
As for clearing up one’s karma, living appropriately – following dharma – does the job naturally, all by itself. This occurs following realization though there may be a lag before it becomes fully operational. For one, it depends on how firm one’s knowledge is. The firmer the knowledge the more natural it is to follow dharma. Secondly, there may be prarabdha karma, residual vasanas in your karma bank, that need to be exhausted for the mind to become completely peaceful. If this is the case you may apply the karma yoga attitude and self-inquiry to the apparent vasanas as if you were living in the world.
Though this may once again seem paradoxical, it is provisional until the distinction between satya and mithya is more clear and self-knowledge is firm. In any case, enlightened or not, cleaning up shop is routine for anyone wishing to feel better. But it is optional because if your self-knowledge is firm you really don’t care how the apparent you feels.
I hope this clears things up a bit. Feel free to write back if you so choose.
~ Love, Pierre