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The Jiva and the Omniscience of Awareness
Akira: Dear James sensei, thank you for your reply. I have some questions again. When you have time, I’d appreciate your reply.
Sundari: Hello, Akira. As I told you, I would reply for James, so please see my replies below.
Akira: 1. The self is the Creator and takes care of whole world. So does it know what is happening to each individual?
Sundari: Yes, the self, operating maya, is the Creator (or Isvara) and is responsible for the creation, or world (jagat), and as such is omniscient and has knowledge of all objects. Isvara knows the names and forms of all objects but is not omniscient in the same way that pure awareness is omniscient. This is because pure awareness has no knowledge and no ignorance in it. Knowledge and ignorance only manifest with the appearance of maya. Awareness is self-knowing, and because everything is awareness it knows the essence of everything but has no knowledge of the objects, because to awareness there are no objects. This is well-explained in Panchadasi, and it is one of the most important and subtle of teachings.
Akira: If I am the self, why can’t I know what is happening in the other side of the world? Is it because our senses are limited, so can’t perceive all? So the enlightened person can know what is happening anywhere in the world?
Sundari: As I stated above, Isvara is omniscient and knows everything about all the objects. As the jiva you only have knowledge of the objects you have contact with. Enlightenment does not mean that you have knowledge of all objects. When self-knowledge has removed the ignorance of your true nature (avidya) and you know that you are awareness, the individual enlightened jiva then has knowledge of the essence of everything, which is awareness.
Akira: 2. I think you say there is no special experience that will happen when people get to know the self. But isn’t there any clear sign or change? How can one know one is enlightened?
Sundari: Yes, you are right, there is no special experience when self-knowledge has revealed you true nature to be awareness. Awareness, the experienceless experiencer, does not feel like anything. This is difficult for people who have been seeking an experience of the self all their spiritual lives to understand. This vasana is one of the toughest to render non-binding. There is no magic way to put this, it is just what the statement purports to say. How are you going to “experience” experiencelessness? It’s not possible. Awareness, the self, you, is not an experiencer, it is that by whose presence all experience is possible but itself is always free of experience. It is not an object of experience, being the subject, or the cause; it is beyond perception and inference and therefore subtler than the effect. The effect can never understand the cause.
Hence consciousness evolved Vedanta. When the mind is exposed to Vedanta through self-inquiry, it is possible to experience the self in a pure mind; this is called the akandakara vritti. But the vritti disappears and what is left is just knowledge. When self-knowledge removes the ignorance of your true nature, both knowledge and ignorance disappear as well. Only the self remains and is known as your true nature. Many people go through a period of emptiness, even depression, at this stage. This is because the ego “sees” that there is nothing “out there,” the apparent reality really is empty and nothing has any intrinsic meaning. This passes when the knowledge becomes firm and you know that you are the fullness that knows the emptiness.
There is no special “sign” to prove that you (or anybody else) are enlightened. Enlightenment does not mean that anything changes, and the expectation for this is also a block for many seekers. Nothing changes except your understanding. The only change will be that instead of seeking objects to complete you, or for happiness, you are already happy and therefore have contact with everything happily. You are free of the person, Akira. Akira will become your secondary identity and you will be the witness or knower of everything that she thinks, says and does. You will not want to fix her or change her or make her special or different because she will be fine the way she is. The doer will be negated and the binding vasanas will be rendered non-binding, but this does not mean that Akira will stop doing things or having experiences. Her motivation for doing anything will be very different though; peace of mind (sattva) will be what she values most, thus she will always follow dharma.
Akira: 3. We are the awareness and Creator of all, but the individual can’t get what he/she wants, because awareness has to take care of the total. Even if we are still feeling limitation as individuals, if you recommend us to live from the standpoint of awareness, we have to take care of the total, logically speaking. But you are criticizing the bodhisattva ideal. Could you explain more about this matter?
Sundari: When ignorance of your true nature as awareness has been removed by self-knowledge, this does not mean that maya, macrocosmic ignorance (Isvara srsti), changes. It continues to operate as it always does.
As a liberated jiva you will have understood that the dharma field (Isvara wielding maya) is made up of the gunas, and it runs the way it runs whether you are enlightened or not. Isvara does not care if you are enlightened, and neither the jiva nor pure awareness has any control over it; the gunas run everything. The gunas no longer condition the subtle body in the same way but they still operate and always will. As a liberated jiva you will understand what they are, how they operate, what thoughts, feelings and actions very predictably arise with all them. And you will know that it has nothing to do with you, because as awareness you are trigunaatita, beyond the gunas.
You will also know that the dharma field is perfect the way it is and will not want things to be any different from the way they are. No jiva is “responsible” for anything, certainly not the enlightenment of anyone, not even their own. Your statement, “Even if we are still feeling limitation as individuals, if you recommend us to live from the standpoint of awareness, we have to take care of the total, logically speaking,” is not logical at all. How could you as a limited individual take care of the total? It is not possible, and Isvara does not need anyone’s help.
Isvara is taking care of the total perfectly at all times, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. This is an erroneous belief that is imbedded in the spiritual minds of some who think the world needs fixing or saving. It does not. No one but Isvara takes care of the enlightenment or unlightentenment of anyone. If you are supposed to get moksa, Isvara will give it to you. If not, not. This futile belief also presupposes that there is something wrong with the world the way it is.
James is critical of the bodhisattva ideal because it is a bad idea; it says that a jiva can “put off” their enlightenment and return to the world to help others “gain enlightenment.” This is completely illogical. Firstly, “the world” is Isvara and is perfect the way it is, it does not need anyone to be enlightened. Enlightenment is given by Isvara, according to the karma of the jiva. It is grace and grace is earned. Secondly, no one can enlighten anyone; only self-knowledge has the power to remove ignorance. The knowledge is wielded by a competent teacher, but it is the knowledge the gives moksa, not the teacher. Thirdly, for self-knowledge to work and remove ignorance, you need a valid means of knowledge, which Buddhism does not have.
Akira: 4. I am the awareness and producing the world apparently as if God is creating the world; is my understanding right?
Sundari: From the perspective of pure awareness, your statement above is true. As pure awareness – Isvara, maya – the jiva and the world arise out of you, so you are beyond them all and always free of them yet they are totally dependent on you, awareness. However, in the apparent reality where maya is operating, the jiva, or individual, is subject to the laws that make up the dharma field. Moksa is freedom from the jiva, for the jiva, who lives in the apparent reality. The jiva never leaves the apparent reality, and as a liberated jiva self-actualisation means understanding what it means to be self-realised in the apparent reality. As the self you are already free and do not create anything. As the jiva you are not creating anything either, except the subjective world of your perceptions and conditioning, individual creation, or jiva srsti, and projecting that onto the total, or Isvara srsti.
As I have explained above, when self-knowledge removes the ignorance of your true nature and you know that your primary identity is awareness and not Akira, Isvara srsti continues as before and you have are fine with it. You know that there are certain laws that operate in the apparent reality, and you have no problem abiding by them because peace of mind is your primary goal. In addition, you automatically follow dharma by following what is right for Akira, which means understanding her svadharma and taking appropriate action in light of self-knowledge to do what produces peace of mind for her.
Akira: 5. You wrote in the Tattva Bodha commentary, “The individual possess both a subtle and a gross body. While the gross body absorbs awareness like a brick wall absorbs light, the subtle body is reflective and the self can be apprehended in it.”
I couldn’t understand “like a brick wall absorbs light” well; could you explain more?
Sundari: If the sun is shining on a brick wall, most of the light gets absorbed by the wall. But if it is shining on a mirror, all the light is reflected, not so? This is why James uses this analogy: when the mind is pure (like the mirror), it can reflect the light of awareness clearly. When the mind is impure (like the brick wall), it absorbs all the light and the self is not known.
Akira: 6. You say if we want enlightenment we have to give up marriage or partnership (I think you said in audio from Tiruvannamalai; sorry if it’s my misunderstanding). And you said sometimes people say having partner and doing all actions as karma yoga for the partner doesn’t create vasanas. But it doesn’t work that way, you said. Why?
I have a partner, and want to marry. But does it mean I have to give up enlightenment?
Sundari: James is not against relationships or marriage, in fact he is all for love. The reason he teaches that one should not make a relationship or marriage one’s goal if one is seeking moksa is that moksa is freedom from dependence on objects. There is nothing wrong with the objects in and of themselves, but if you want moksa you need to negate the objects by realising that they are value-neutral. The joy is not in the object, it is in you. So, if you want a relationship or you want to marry because you need someone to love you or complete you, it will never work because no object is capable of doing this. This causes bondage, attachment, vasanas and suffering. If your mumuksutva is strong and you still want a relationship, go into it with the karma yoga attitude and see if that works. If you can see the other person not as “another” person but as yourself and are very sure that you are not entering the relationship because you are looking for love, it can work. Even if the “other” person is not interested in self-knowledge (this does make it more challenging), if you can see them and love them as a symbol of self, it could work.
You can make it part of your spiritual practice. It is not easy though. James and I are together because neither of us was looking for anything and we know that our true nature is love. We know we are the self and therefore have no dependence on objects. We know that no one can give us happiness or take it away from us, so we are free of each other. We do not project onto each other and we are never in denial about anything. We live Vedanta because we know we are Vedanta. We are 100% aware of who we really are, 100% of the time, so we are very happy, not because we make each other happy, but because we share the happiness we already are.
Without this approach to a relationship it will be difficult if not impossible to make moksa your main priority. Maybe you need to put moksa on hold for a while and just go fully into this experience of marriage. There is nothing wrong with this; you are young and beautiful and you can learn from the experience. If you cannot not do it, that is, if the vasana for the relationship or marriage is too strong, do it wholeheartedly and enjoy it. Give yourself totally to it, love with all your heart and know that whatever the result is, it is not up to Akira and she will be fine whatever happens.
Akira: I think you got moksa, so maybe having married is not problem for you, but is it different for those who still haven’t got moksa?
Sundari: Yes, James and I are not seeking moksa, because we know we are moksa, so it makes no difference if we have a relationship or not. But there is no reason not to have one, as it is not against dharma. And we are not in a relationship, the relationship is in us.
As I said above, it does not work to seek moksa and to seek a relationship, because that means you are dependent on an object for your happiness and therefore you will not get free of the doer/ego/person/Akira.
Akira: Sorry for so many questions. I may have the wrong understanding. Thank you very much for your kindness.
Sundari: No problem, Akira, these are good questions! Much love to you from James and me.
~ Om and prem, Sundari